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John Joubert

Publisher: Novello & Co

Wings of Faith (2003), 143
Commissioned by Ex Cathedra for the Birmingham Millenium Festival 2000
Text Writer
Stephen Tunnicliffe
Novello & Co Ltd
Chorus and Orchestra/Ensemble
Year Composed
1 Hour 55 Minutes
chamber choir, youth choir
Solo Instrument(s)
speaker (male or female), soprano, alto, tenor, 2 baritones

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Programme Note
John Joubert Wings of Faith (2003), 143
Part 1: 55 mins
Part 2: 60 mins

Wings of Faith was commissioned by Ex Cathedra for the Birmingham Millennium Festival. It was originally intended as a full-length oratorio in two parts, the first dealing with the period between the Resurrection and the Ascension, the second that between Pentecost and Peter’s vision of a universal church. In the event only the Part 1 could be completed in time for the Millennium and this received its first performance on 21 March 2000 in St Philip’s Cathedral, Birmingham, by Ex Cathedra and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group conducted by Jeffrey Skidmore. Encouraged by the quality of this performance and the warmth of its reception, I resolved to complete the work as originally planned by adding Part 2, subtitled The Transforming Spirit, the composition of which was completed in 2003.

© John Joubert

The first complete performance of Wings of Faith was given by Ex Cathedra and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jeffrey Skidmore on 22 March 2007 at The Oratory, Birmingham.

Note on orchestration

Percussion (1 player): side drum, tenor drum, bass drum, tambourine, triangle, cymbals, tam-tam, crotales, xylophone, glockenspiel

When Part 1 is performed alone, the following instruments are NOT required:
Cor Anglais
Bass Clarinet

Preview the score

….Joubert’s most recent work, Wings of Faith, is a full-length oratorio of two hours’ duration, commissioned by Ex Cathedra to celebrate the Millennium. The first part was composed in March 2000, but the composer determined to finish the work as originally envisaged and completed the second part in 2003. The complete oratorio received its world premiere in the ornate surroundings of the Oratory, Birmingham, in March 2007, three days after the composer’s 80th birthday…. Both parts of Wings of Faith consist of a Prologue and Epilogue that frame four scenes dramatizing a Biblical episode. Each scene is preceded by a spoken narration and a solo aria (or ensemble) followed by a chorus. Part One, subtitled The World Fulfilled, deals with the events following the Resurrection leading up to the Ascension. Part Two, subtitled The Transforming Spirit, begins with the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and concludes with St Peter’s vision of a universal church. Joubert has drawn on a number of literary sources for his text: the revised English version of the Bible for the narrative segments; the English Hymnal for the three hymns and a specially-written libretto by Joubert’s long-time literary collaborator Stephen Tunnicliffe, who provided the words for the arias, ensembles and choruses. The Narrative of the work is unfolded by the speaker, using the words of the Revised Version and accompanied by a sustained ‘reciting chord’ on the organ, whilst accompanied by soloists singing the words of the characters of the story. Arias and ensembles express the emotions of the various characters and the chorus represents the crowd. In these expressive passages, the orchestra plays a major part and Joubert’s judicious use of his instrumental forces is expert: the piccolo sheds light on the final chorale of Scene Six from Part Two, whilst the xylophone-flecked concluding chorus from the following Scene is equally memorable. Wings of Faith is a magnificent achievement, fully deserving of the sustained ovation it received. The loudest cheers were reserved for the composer – deservedly so, for Joubert has created a compelling, grippingly scored and cleverly constructed sequel to Bach’s St Matthew Passion. It is part of a great British choral tradition from Parry, Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Britten and Tippett; whilst echoes of those great composers resonate at certain points in Wings of Faith, they are subsumed into a language which is confidently and unmistakably Joubert’s own. …A recording of this oratorio would be very welcome indeed.
Paul Conway, Tempo,01/10/2007
Wings of Faith works fabulously well, for Joubert triumphs on almost every front, both musically and dramatically. His writing for orchestra -- here, fourteen gifted section leaders and soloists of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, incorporating five strings, four woodwind (with some striking doubling of piccolo, cor anglais and bass clarinet), horn, piano, organ and percussion -- reveals the hand of a seasoned master. One revelled in the magnificent sweep of the work and the sheer excitement at the evident craftsmanship Joubert brought to bear. It's a scintillating, bracing, urgent work, and Joubert handles his large choral and instrumental forces with utter confidence. Every nook and cranny of the score seemed replete with rich implication and weighty event. ...Wings of Faith is a gold nugget -- or rather a whole golden garland -- and should be seized on with alacrity by other leading choral societies. For those with distinctive solo voices in their ranks, it could prove a godsend.
Roderic Dunnett, Music & Vision,05/05/2007
Its high point came when, in the domed splendour of the Oratory, the excellent Ex Cathedra choir and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra gave the premiere of his Wings of Faith, a large oratorio finished four years ago. It sounded as gratifying to sing as it was luscious to hear, and its unpretentious sincerity was deeply touching. Of the soloists, the vibrant tenor Nicholas Mulroy managed an impressive quick-change act twice over, from an anguished Doubting Thomas to a fervant martyr Stephen and then to a benign centurion, while Natalie Clifton-Griffith was in radiant voice as Mary Magdalene. Jeffrey Skidmore’s direction was impeccably sympathetic. Let’s hope that Wings of Faith flies into the canon of English choral classics.
Richard Morrison, The Times,26/03/2007
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