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Ely Catherdral


Ely Cathedral is commissioning leading young British composer James Olsen to write a major new work for Ely Cathedral boy and girl choristers, organ, professional orchestral musicians from the Britten Sinfonia, Cathedral clergy and altar servers, and over 250 Cambridgeshire schoolchildren, to be performed at Ely Cathedral on 22 June 2020.

Children at Ely Cathedral outreach eventThe new work, titled Ad orientem: An Ely Liturgy, tells the story of how the original Anglo-Saxon monastery at Ely founded by Saint Etheldreda in 673 was destroyed by the Vikings in 870. Conceived especially for the Cathedral and inspired by Ely's history and ecology, it will combine theatre, music, liturgical elements to create a site-specific work which makes use of different parts of the building in performance.

The project aims to give school children from Ely and the surrounding area the opportunity to sing in the Cathedral even if they have had no previous musical experience. Participating schools include Ely College, Ely St Mary's CofE Junior, Rackham CofE Primary, Hilgay Riverside Academy and Ten Mile Bank Riverside Academy. As part of the project, James and musicians from the Cathedral and the Britten Sinfonia will deliver a number of workshops in participating schools, introducing the children to local Anglo-Saxon history and medieval music.

The work will also contain a series of short meditations by a larval eel as it makes its 4,000 mile journey eastwards from the Sargasso Sea near North America to Ely, written especially for the work and read in the performance by the distinguished local writer Francis Spufford.

James OlsenThe project has been largely funded through a donation from the Farmington Institute. The Cathedral is also offering individuals and local businesses the opportunity to become patrons of the project: from as little as £10, patrons will see their name printed in the published score as well as receiving other benefits.

Composer James Olsen says: 'It's an honour and a thrill to be asked to write this new piece for Ely Cathedral. Many of us love the hymns and church music we sang as youngsters, and the Anglican choral tradition is in many ways the bedrock of British musical life. But our beautiful cathedrals can seem a bit scary if you've never been inside one, which is why this project is so important to me. By giving over 250 Cambridgeshire schoolchildren the chance to sing in this magnificent space, this project will help to pass this precious musical tradition on to the next generation. This project is particularly special to me because, three years ago, I decided to make Ely my home. I have huge admiration for all that the Cathedral does, and am delighted that we are collaborating on this project which I hope will be of benefit to our community.'

The Very Revd Mark Bonney, Dean of Ely, says: 'I am delighted that Ely Cathedral is commissioning composer James Olsen to create this unique new work for us. The Cathedral's musical tradition is one of its great treasures, and by giving hundreds of local schoolchildren the opportunity to sing alongside Cathedral musicians and members of the Britten Sinfonia in this magnificent space, a new generation will discover the richness and beauty of that tradition for the first time. This project is not simply about music, however: participating children will learn about the Anglo-Saxon origins of the Cathedral through special workshops and tours, and bring that history to life in a spectacular final performance which will combine music, drama and liturgy. We owe our Cathedral's existence to the patronage of countless individuals who wished for this great building to inspire future generations and I therefore very much hope that individuals and businesses will consider continuing that tradition of generosity by supporting this project.'

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For further information, enquiries and requests, please contact Lesley Ann Thompson, Ely Cathedral Director of Communications & Commerce / 01353 660350 / 07930 918885

Notes to Editors:

1. 1 x Image 'Children at Ely Cathedral outreach event' (Photo Credit: Ely Cathedral) and 1 x Image 'James Olsen' (Photo Credit: Olsen Verlag)

2. James Olsen ('Brilliantly imaginative'-Tom Service, The Guardian), born in 1982, has seen performances of his music by leading international orchestras and ensembles in the UK and continental Europe, including the London Symphony Orchestra, the London Sinfonietta, the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Britten Sinfonia and Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. He read music at King's College, Cambridge, where he gained a double starred first, and studied composition with Wolfgang Rihm in Germany. James is especially passionate about composing high-quality new works for children and young people, and recent projects include a 'musical documentary' commissioned by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day and performed at the national D-Day 75 events in Portsmouth by 100 schoolchildren alongside local community musicians and members of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. James teaches music at the University of Cambridge, is the founder of the music publishing company Olsen Verlag, and publishes a weekly vlog on YouTube to give aspiring young composers and musicians an insight into the life of a professional composer. He has lived in Ely since 2016.

3. Highly regarded by historians and architects from all over the world for its beauty and size, Ely Cathedral is widely acknowledged as 'one of the wonders of the Medieval world'. Visible for miles around, the Cathedral is often referred to as 'The Ship of the Fens'. The present building dates from 1081 and is a remarkable example of both Romanesque and Norman architecture. In addition to its unique Octagon Tower and magnificent Lady Chapel, Ely has the third longest nave of any UK Cathedral. The Cathedral's role today is not so far removed from its days as a Benedictine monastery and offers regular daily worship with a special emphasis on choral music. It still maintains a resident choir of 22 choristers and 6 lay clerks and so continues the tradition of choral evensong every day of the week during term time. As well as being a major visitor attraction, the Cathedral serves as a cultural focal point for East Anglia by providing a unique venue for the arts & music, for exhibitions, concerts and theatre. Most recently Ely has gained global recognition a prominent film location including Elizabeth: The Golden Age, The Other Boleyn Girl, Macbeth, The King's Speech and The Crown.

4. Britten Sinfonia was established just over 25 years ago as a bold reimagining of the conventional image of a chamber orchestra. A flexible ensemble of some of the UK's leading soloists and chamber musicians came together with a unique vision: to collapse the boundaries between old and new music, to collaborate with composers, performers and guest artists across artforms and genres; and to create involving, intelligent music events that both audiences and performers experience with an unusual intensity. Based in Cambridge, Britten Sinfonia is an Associate Ensemble at the Barbican in London and Resident Orchestra at Saffron Hall, with residencies in Norwich and Cambridge, and performs a chamber music series at Wigmore Hall.

5. Olsen Verlag is a lightweight music publishing and promotion company based in Ely. We see no distinction between 'art' music and 'educational' music and believe that new classical music of the highest quality can be performed and enjoyed by children and young people as much as adults, by community musicians as much as international professionals, by anyone with an open mind as much as seasoned experts. We are a social enterprise, and reinvest all our profits in our business in order to bring new music to ever wider audiences. Since our formation in 2017, we have assisted arts organisations in raising over £70,000 to fund new music projects.