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Christmas Overtures by Nigel Hess and Gordon Thornett Receive Multiple US Performances

Dec. 19, 2021

Nigel Hess and Gordon Thornett's popular overtures for Christmas have received multiple performances this season. Nigel Hess's A Christmas Overture is vivacious and colouful. Commissioned by John Rutter for his 2007 Christmas Festival, it proved an instant success with audience and orchestra alike. Traditional carols, skilfully juxtaposed and interwoven, provide the thematic material. They are, in order of their appearance: "Ding dong! merrily on high", "Deck the hall", "Il est ne le divin enfant" (enchantingly scored for pastoral woodwind), "Infant holy, infant lowly" (lyrical cor anglais and violin solos), "Personent hodie" (a fanfare-like call to attention), "We wish you a merry Christmas" (a jovial fugue), and "Angels, from the realms of glory" which brings the overture to a majestic close. Fragments of other carols appear along the way to enrich the texture of what is surely one of the most attractive orchestral pieces yet written for the festive season.

This December, A Christmas Overture is performed throughout the US: in Pennsylvania by the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra, led by Gerardo Edelstein; in Alabama by Scott Speck and the Mobile Symphony; and in Illinois by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Alastair Willis. To date, this work has been performed over 150 times in the United States!

(Nigel Hess/A Christmas Overture/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/John Rutter, conductor)

On December 5, Gordon Thornett's Festive Overture: The Joy of Christmas was performed in Montana by the Great Falls Symphony, led by Grant Harville and in Pennsylvania by the Westmoreland Symphony, led by Daniel Meyer, on December 18. The composer notes:

"Festive Overture: The Joy of Christmas aims to capture the joyful anticipation and excitement of the coming festive season, whilst also highlighting its real significance. As well as using familiar carols and Christmas tunes, I have incorporated some slightly lesser known songs, such as the American version of "O little town of Bethlehem" (played by solo violin), the French carol "Il est né le Divin Enfant", the old English "Wassail Song" and, towards the end, a 17th-century German carol "All my heart this night rejoices." To add to the feeling of anticipation, snatches of the children's song "Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat" are heard from time to time, and observant listeners will spot the inclusion of a number of other well-known Christmas songs throughout the piece."  

A chamber version of Festival Overture: The Joy of Christmas is also available.

(Gordon Thornett/RTE Concert Orchestra/Gavin Sutherland, conductor)

To learm nore about Nigel Hess and Gordon Thornett, visit:

Nigel Hess
A Christmas Overture (2007/arr. 2010)
for orchestra
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Gordon Thornett
Festive Overture: The Joy of Christmas (2010/arr. 2018)
for chorus and orchestra

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