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Saffron Hall at Christmas and New Year: Britten Sinfonia, BBC Big Band, BBC Concert Orchestra and The Wizard of Oz

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One of the festive period's most enduring choral pieces can be enjoyed as part of the Christmas season at Saffron Hall.

Britten Sinfonia, the award-winning Saffron Walden venue's resident orchestra, performs Handel's Messiah with conductor David Watkin, leader Thomas Gould and the Choir of Jesus College, Cambridge, on Saturday December 18 at 7.30pm.

The piece holds a special place in people's hearts at Christmas, perhaps more so in 2021. After a year without the Hallelujah Chorus, the Cambridge-based chamber orchestra will give an impassioned performance with a stellar line-up in the 740-seat auditorium.

Saffron Hall's resident orchestra Britten Sinfonia
Saffron Hall's resident orchestra Britten Sinfonia

There is a real cracker of a programme on Saturday (Dec 11, 7.30pm) when the BBC Big Band, conducted by Barry Forgie with singer Emer McParland, brings "A Swinging Christmas" to the halle.

The concert will feature big band versions of Christmas carols alongside yuletide numbers such as Santa Baby, I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm, Baby It's Cold Outside and Diana Krall's version of Jingle Bells, to name just a few.

The programme will also feature a selection of sparkling big band and swing classics to warm the audience on a winter's night.

The BBC Big Band
The BBC Big Band

Saffron Hall, which opened in the grounds of Saffron Walden County High School in 2013, is also presenting its first panto this year, with families able to enjoy a Christmas production of The Wizard of Oz, with a live band and professional cast (Wed Dec 22-Wed Dec 29).

This spectacular and colourful Christmas show is packed with jokes, dazzling dance routines, lavish costumes, glittering scenery and endless fun for all ages.

And the BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Michael Seal, will get 2022 off to a celebratory start with their New Year concert (Sun Jan 2, 4pm).

They will be joined by stunning pianist Louis Schwizgebel for Ravel's heartfelt piano concerto and soprano Soraya Mafi, so expect fireworks of the musical variety.

BBC Concert Orchestra (53495170)
BBC Concert Orchestra (53495170)

"As the cold weather sets in and Christmas is upon us, we're looking forward to our festive concerts," said Saffron Hall chief executive Angela Dixon.

"We're also delighted to present our first pantomime this Christmas. The Hall has been dark over Christmas and New Year since it opened in 2013 and we're looking forward to the sound of laughter raising the roof.

"I'd like to thank all of the artists, ensembles and their administrative staff who have worked so hard to bring us great concerts over the autumn, often working under huge pressure, against all odds."

The Wizard of Oz (53495168)
The Wizard of Oz (53495168)

Meanwhile, the Saffron Hall Trust has been awarded £120,000 in the third round of payments from the Government's Culture Recovery Fund.

The cash, which is from a pot of more than £1 million awarded to hundreds of cultural organisations across the country, will help towards the increase in operational costs and overheads and shortfall in income due to reduced ticket sales and other income streams caused by the pandemic.

Last year, Saffron Hall was one of only a handful of venues outside of London to reopen and presented over 70 socially-distanced events, employing more than 740 musicians. Its schools and community work reached more than 3,000 people through more than 60 online sessions, workshops and projects during the period.

Go to www.saffronhall.com to find out more about its festive schedule and to book tickets.

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