Monday, August 19, 2013

St Nicholas in Palestine

St Nicholas of Myra
The Palestine Choral Festival takes place 22-31 August and features a large number of local and international choirs giving a number of concerts of Sacred Music and associated events taking place in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth and many other towns. One of the highlights of the festival will be a performance of Benjamin Britten's St Nicholas in Beit Jala. This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) and there are a number of events taking place worldwide in celebration of this major British composer. It is particularly appropriate that a performance of this cantata about the life of St Nicholas should take place in Beit Jala, as the saint lived there for a number of years in a cave over which a Greek Orthodox church now stands. Inside there is a most unusual icon of him appearing over Beit Jala and protecting it from bombs during the 1948 war, when against all odds and heavy attack the town and church escaped destruction.

Benjamin Britten
I am fortunate enough to be involved in the performance which takes place at the Latin Church in Beit Jala and some other events too. I hope to manage a visit to the Greek Orthodox Church to see the cave and the icon and will post photographs if I succeed. Below is a YouTube of Britten's St Nicholas (audio only) in a live performance from 2011. Stephen Layton conducts the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, the Holst Singers and the boys of the Temple Church Choir. The part of St Nicholas of Myra is sung by tenor Allan Clayton who will reprise this role in Beit Jala next week. You can buy a very fine recording by the same forces here.

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