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New setting of BCP Holy Communion gets Oxford premiere

A new setting of the BCP Holy Communion gets its premiere in Oxford later this month.

International renowned composer Richard Pantcheff has written the work for the City Church of St. Michael at the Northgate, Oxford.

“The BCP is not only important from an historical perspective, but it’s a living, breathing thing and we are its custodians. It brings a great deal to our worship,” says Richard who is Evensong organist at St Michael’s. “While there is so much other change and uncertainty, we don’t want to abandon this marvellous legacy, which has served so well for many centuries.”

During the pandemic lockdown, the Church didn’t give up on music. It began to use a solo Cantor accompanied by the organ at its services. Three years later the BCP Evening service has developed its own repertoire.

The new work could be described as a hybrid. Richard’s brief was to write a setting of the Communion, which could be sung by a solo Cantor and organ, but also existed in a version for full choir and organ with the possibility of the congregation to join in.

“It’s was quite a tricky brief,” he says. “You can’t write something extremely difficult because the congregation will just be lost. Equally, so many of the modern congregational settings are ‘pretty dreadful’. Finding something that is musical strong, got a character of its own, is in keeping with the words but can be sung by the congregation and also enjoyed by the choir was the nature of the challenge.”

Richard wrote the setting through the summer and composition is just hard work. “You’ve got to have a desire to do it,” he says. "Then it just a job of knuckling down and getting it onto the page.”

For a couple of movements in this piece, Richard says he went back to his archives and used some ideas that I’d written some years ago, but about which he’d forgotten.”

He’s happy with the final composition which is now in final rehearsals. “It’s fairly intuitive and designed to be easy to pick up,” he says.

As you would expect, there will be nerves for the composer on the first Sunday morning. “It’s always a question of whether it works as a piece of music. Until you hear it in context, especially for a piece of liturgical music. It has got to work within the structure of the service. Until you see and hear for the first time you don’t really know.”

The first performance of Richard’s new setting is 26th November and will be sung by a Cantor.

The service is published by Composers Edition.

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