The Oxen was originally composed in 2021 as a movement of my Dorset Jubilate, commissioned by Wareham Choral Society and their musical director Hazel Ricketts to celebrate a return to public performance as the COVID-19 pandemic began to abate. The present setting has been arranged – or, perhaps more accurately, recomposed – for the Christmas concert of the Marlborough Concert Orchestra, of which I have been fortunate to have been appointed Principal Conductor and Musical Director.
With the move from unaccompanied voices to orchestral instruments new opportunities presented themselves. The present version of the piece therefore opens with the sound of a church bell tolling twelve times for midnights and closes with the sound of cowbells to evoke the kneeling oxen of the title. The soprano part is broadly similar to that of the choral version, although the sustaining power of orchestral instruments allows for certain phrases to be extended, creating a feeling of anticipation and, perhaps, a heightened sense of atmosphere.
The Oxen, in its original form, was first performed by Lucy Braga, soprano, and Wareham Choral Society, conducted by Hazel Ricketts, on 4th December 2021.