Spring may have finally sprung in London, but today at the Royal Albert Hall it’s Christmas, as the venue announces its full line-up for this year's festive season, with a stellar cast ranging from the Welsh Guards to a gospel choir, and Birmingham Royal Ballet to Father Christmas.
The Hall has played a central part in the country's Christmas celebrations for more than 145 years, and this December the building and its surroundings will be transformed into a magical winter wonderland as it welcomes carollers, composers, musicians, TV comedians and, of course, the man himself – Father Christmas – for a festive party like no other.
The season will include the unveiling of stunning new Christmas compositions from David Arnold (Sherlock, James Bond) and John Rutter, while focusing on reaching out to those who are lonely and isolated at Christmas, through a reduced-price ‘Friendship Matinee’ for members of charities and community groups, and a Relaxed family concert.
Lucy Noble, Artistic Director at the Royal Albert Hall, said: “I’m absolutely delighted that our Christmas season in 2018 will celebrate all that audiences love about Christmas at the Royal Albert Hall. It’s especially thrilling to see the programme open to such a diverse range of people, with traditional family events alongside brand new events, including concerts for people who might be lonely or isolated, or those who will benefit from a more relaxed performance environment. This year's Christmas season is about opening our home to everybody: we can’t wait to invite people of all ages and backgrounds to come and celebrate Christmas with us.”
The programme includes jazz (Guy Barker’s Big Band Christmas), comedy (a 30th anniversary Christmas Whose Line is it Anyway?), gospel music (courtesy of the London Community Gospel Choir), cinema (Home Alone screening in the Films in Concert series), and a perennial festive favourite in Handel’s Messiah.
For glitz and glamour, there’s A Hollywood Christmas: a glittering, all-new show featuring tunes from beloved films such as A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Nightmare Before Christmas and many more, hosted and compèred by the great American musical conductor John Mauceri.
Traditional Carols return for four performances on 23 and 24 December, with original compositions from John Rutter, President of the National Youth Choir of Great Britain (NYCGB), and James Bond composer David Arnold, whose new version of Silent Night will celebrate the piece’s 200th anniversary. These concerts also feature the Royal Choral Society, a key part of the Hall’s history since 1871, the NYCGB – the most inspiring organisation for young choral singers in the UK – and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Especially for families, My Christmas Orchestral Adventure brings a festive flavour to the smash-hit classical show, My Great Orchestral Adventure, introducing children to classical music with the help of a full symphony orchestra, and encouraging them to sing, dance and join in as they help the conductor to get Santa’s map to him ahead of the Big Delivery on Christmas Eve.
Also for children, The Snowman™ and Paddington Bear™ – live in concert – celebrates two national institutions. The event marks 40 years of Raymond Briggs’ enchanting, timeless picture book, with the indelible 1982 animated adaptation accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performing Howard Blake’s famous score, injecting tingle-down-the-spine magic into Walking in the Air. The other half of the show features Herbert Chappell’s charming score – commissioned by Michael Bond – as the audience is taken on a journey from Paddington’s first meeting with the Brown family to his debut as a conductor at the Royal Albert Hall.
Christmas will commandeer the Hall’s families shows in the smaller spaces too, with a trio of distinctive takes on Dickens’ seasonal classic to choose from, including a live recital, Michael Rosen reading his own Bah! Humbug!, and Brother Wolf Theatre presenting A Christmas Carol as told by Jacob Marley (deceased). The Hall’s magical Father Christmas adventure also returns, after selling all 2,360 spots in 2017. As well as Guy Barker’s Big Band Christmas in the auditorium (“this show really does have the makings of a midwinter institution” – the Times), there’ll be festive Late Night Jazz in the Elgar Room from Michele Drees Jazz Tap Project and Phoebe Katis. That’s also the venue for a special edition of acclaimed feminist spoken word project That’s What She Said.
Taking the festive message beyond the building, the ‘Royal Albert Hall Songbook’ will be filled with seasonal songs, as Albert’s Band take their specially-created show for elderly and isolated audiences to care homes, hospitals, day centres and hospices.
True to the venue’s vision of being open to all – and on the heels of an award-winning Relaxed Prom in 2017 – there will be a special Relaxed Performance of The Snowman™ and Paddington Bear™ on 20 December especially for people with autism, sensory and communication impairments and learning disabilities as well as individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind or partially sighted.
Acknowledging that Christmas can be a lonely time of year for many people, there will also be a Friendship Matinee performance of Carols at the Royal Albert Hall on 23 December, providing people who are part of a charity or community group, and may not usually come to the venue, the opportunity to celebrate Christmas together for just £5. Young singers will perform alongside the London Community Gospel Choir at their concert on 18 December, giving them the incredible opportunity to perform at the Royal Albert Hall, and will also participate in Education & Outreach workshops during the season.
Finally, as the angel atop the Christmas tree, Birmingham Royal Ballet will return with their critically-acclaimed production of The Nutcracker, which was adapted especially for the Royal Albert Hall in 2017.