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Norwich Service

The Lord Mayor’s Composition Prize for 2022 was awarded to Norwich-born composer Sebastian Johnson for his setting of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis for choir and organ, which was premiered on 17 January 2023 at St Stephen Walbrook by St Stephen’s Voices, directed by Andrew Earis, and organist Polina Sosnina. It was part of a celebratory concert also featuring  choral works by Purcell and Howells, followed by the presentation of the award to the composer by the Lady Mayoress of London, Mrs Felicity Lyons.


Sebastian Johnson was educated at Norwich School and went on to be a bass choral scholar at Norwich Cathedral. In 2017/21, he attended King’s College London, where he studied Music at undergraduate level, graduating with first class honours, and Composition at postgraduate level, finished with Distinction. He was a member of the Chapel Choir of King’s College London, which sang several of his works, including Hear my Prayer O Lord and Balulalow. He was also a member of Genesis Sixteen with Harry Christophers in 2017/18, which led to a number of professional singing engagements around the UK and Europe. He now works at Stainer & Bell as the Publishing Intern, and as a freelance typesetter and arranger in his spare time. He continues to compose regularly and was recently commissioned to write Ave Regina Caelorum for Keswick Hall Choir in Norwich. Click on the portrait photo to visit his website.

Sebastian Johnson says about the Norwich Service:


The Norwich Service was inspired by my time as a bass choral scholar at Norwich Cathedral. Singing in that space every day was a very special experience, which undoubtedly shaped me as a musician, and I grew to love the glorious acoustic nature of the Cathedral. As a result, the musical gestures and textures used throughout the Norwich Service seek to make the most of that acoustic space. Whilst largely profound and contemplative, the music is punctuated by moments of marked animation and soaring soprano lines. The music itself is generally accessible with few divisions and would be just as suitable for Norwich Cathedral Choir as it would be for a parish church choir. I found out about the competition from my brother who shared a link with me to a website listing a number of composition competitions. He has been one of my strongest supporters, and pushes me to enter my work into competitions that I wouldn’t be confident enough to enter by myself. I am glad that he persuaded me to enter this one!

The score is available to buy as a single purchase or 30-copy download licence from Stainer & Bell by clicking on the image below.

Subsequently, Sebastian Johnson was commissioned to compose a new carol for the annual Musicians' Company Carol Service at St Michael's Cornhill, where Ring Out, Ye Bells! was premiered on 15 December 2023. He says about the commission:

I stumbled over the poem Ring out, ye Bells by African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar quite accidentally whilst researching potential texts to use for the commission. I was immediately captured by the text’s vibrancy and joy and its subject matter - bells - which, for me, are intrinsic to the spirit of Christmas. Whilst I did not use the whole poem in my piece, I was certainly inspired by the whole text and I would recommend that everyone read it. In translating the text to music, I made sure to reference bells and tintinnabulation as often as possible through the use of largely pentatonic harmony and descending fourths at the outset and the constant rhythmic drive throughout. Ring out, ye Bells! was a joy to write and I am honoured to have been asked to do so.

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