poppy field The centenary of the outbreak of the First World War produced two commissions late in 2014.


Strange Service for choir (SSAATTBB), organ and percussion was commissioned by Voce Chamber Choir, London (conductor Suzi Digby) and performed in November 2014. Strange Service superimposes a poem by Ivor Gurney with a 19th century German soldiers’song, & ‘Ich hatt einen Kameraden’, creating a new perspective in which soldiers on both sides of the war share a common sense of loss. Dreamlike descriptions of Gurney’s Gloucestershire hills and rivers contrast with the plodding conformity of a military drum.


Home by Christmas, a large-scale, semi-staged community cantata, was commissioned by Bristol Plays Music to mark the centenary of the outbreak of war. Following the lives of a young couple, Edward and Connie, from the golden months of the summer before the war, through their anxious letters sent between home and abroad, we arrive at the full horror of battle on the front. The work ends with the Christmas Truce, where soldiers on both sides (and audience) movingly sing Stille Nacht/Silent Night in both English and German.

This event involved almost 500 performers, including massed from Bristol’s Gurt Lush Choir (director Sam Burns) and UWE; a specially formed boys’ choir, symphony orchestra (Bristol Schools’ Philharmonia with UWE orchestra); three soloists (Esther Mallet, soprano, Matt Price, tenor and Martin lePoidevin, baritone) and audience participation. The work also included two interludes, ‘Waiting’ and ‘Shell Shock’, composed by A level student composers at local schools. Home by Christmas was performed at the Colston Hall, Bristol, in December 2014.

Strange Service - excerpt

Home by Christmas - Women of Britain - excerpt

Home by Christmas - Finale

It was conducted by Ian Holmes with stage direction by John Hartoch. Scoring: 2 fl (2 doubling piccolo), 2 ob, 2 cla, alto sax, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 3 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, piano, harp, organ, timpani, percussion (3 players).

  • all music © Mark Lawrence
  • all photos © Mark Lawrence unless otherwise credited
  • website:

‘. . a truly incredible premiere. . . the project did much more than commemorate an important moment in history. There was an overwhelming sense of community spirit and togetherness in the hall last night . .’

Director, Bristol Plays Music.

. . the most superb example of inspiring work involving so many participants of all ages and talents . . ‘. I, and many others I spoke to, were visibly moved at the end of the evening

Chair, Bristol Music Trust

home by christmas

photography by Theo Cottle