Fenwick's Festive Window

The Music Behind Fenwick’s Festive Window

Fenwick’s Festive Window has been the talk of the town as of recently. Besides its magical display, not many know that the music for it was created and recorded right here in the region by local artists.

For the second year in a row, Britain’s largest family-owned department store Fenwick has turned to The Glasshouse International Centre for Music to provide the soundtrack for its iconic festive window which this year depicts The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

Music for the window was created by Newcastle-based conductor, Tim Burke who adapted music from Christmas Eve, an opera by Russian composer Nikolai Rimski-Korsakov. So, how did a Russian opera end up as the soundtrack to a North East Christmas institution?

Tim Burke, the conductor behind Fenwick’s Festive Window music, explains:

“I’m a huge fan of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I loved the books when I was a boy and always tuned into the BBC adaptation on a Sunday, it was a big part of my childhood.

“Rimski-Korsakov’s Christmas Eve is such a natural fit for the music. It has a real magical feel to it, just like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It’s set in a remote snow-covered village and tells a fairytale-esque story with mythical elements and otherworldly characters. There are so many parallels.”

The Glasshouse recorded a live soundtrack for last year’s Christmas window marking a first in the display’s 50-year history. Royal Northern Sinfonia played well-known and much-loved excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.

For this year’s Christmas window spectacular, Fenwick wanted something even more unique. So, The Glasshouse teamed up its world-class professional orchestra, Royal Northern Sinfonia, with its community choir of young’uns, Voices of the River’s Edge, to make 2023’s offering extra special. The result: a wintery, whimsical and wonderous piece of original music, created right here in the region for everybody’s favourite festive window.

Alicia Crosbee, aged 21, who sang on the soundtrack, joined Voices of the River’s Edge last year. The Glasshouse formed the choir to perform with Royal Northern Sinfonia at the 2022 BBC Proms at The Glasshouse.

Alicia talks about taking part in the top-secret festive project:

The Glasshouse

“I loved working with the musicians of Royal Northern Sinfonia, I was so excited but also quite nervous when I found out we’d be recording the soundtrack for the window with them. The players are all incredibly talented musicians, I was honoured that we could be a part of this project with them.”

Highlighting the significance of bringing amateur and professional musicians together for the window, Tim added:

“The Glasshouse is a home for music lovers, whether you’re a pop icon, classical musician, a talented enthusiast, or a toddler with a tambourine. This project was all about bringing local musicians together to make something special.

I love that a group of young singers have had the chance to record music with one of the best orchestras in the country for the Fenwick Christmas window. That doesn’t happen every day.”

They recorded the music for the window in The Glasshouse just across the river from the famous department store. Showcasing local talent is something both great organisations have in common. Last year The Glasshouse curated a line-up of its exceptional emerging artists to play at Fenwick’s music-come-fine-dining hot spot, Arthur’s.

Leo Fenwick, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Fenwick explains why they decided to work with The Glasshouse once again for Fenwick’s festive window:

Fenwick's Festive Window Music

“Our ongoing partnership with The Glasshouse is something we’re incredibly proud of. Christmas is a very special time for everyone at Fenwick and the soundtrack to our Christmas window is a huge part of that. This year’s piece created by Royal Northern Sinfonia along with a community choir of young people perfectly aligns with the Fenwick DNA of supporting and showcasing the best talent in the region to a global audience.”

Now that the secret is out and the window has been revealed to the public, how does young singer, Alicia feel about playing a part in this year’s big window reveal?

“The Fenwick’s Festive Window has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I always loved to see the different stories brought to life and I loved taking trips with my family to see the new one every year. I still do!

It honestly feels amazing to be a part of something that brings joy to families and people of all ages across the North East.”

Tim, the man behind the music shares his take as someone who’s made the North East his home, on what the window means to him:

“I love the window, it feels very creative and theatrical, I can’t believe a department store goes to such great lengths to tell a new story to the public every year. I really applaud the effort to make it special and free for everyone to enjoy. It’s a real coming together moment and I can’t wait to take my family this year.”

£5 Ticket Scheme

The Glasshouse and Fenwick are also once again coming together this Christmas to give people the chance to enjoy a festive performance for £5. Fenwick is supporting the music centre as its much-loved £5 ticket scheme helps bring music to all throughout December.

Local partner charities distribute the discounted tickets, supporting people experiencing challenging circumstances in Newcastle and Gateshead. The aim is to ensure more people across the region have the opportunity to enjoy a festive favourite at The Glasshouse.

Anyone aged 16-35 and interested in joining the Voices of the River’s Edge choir can find out more by visiting here

A few things you need to know about the music for Fenwick’s Festive Window:

The music perfectly times to match each and every window in the display. It starts off melancholic to represent the animal’s oppression under the reign of the White Witch. It then starts to thaw just as Narnia does with Aslan’s triumphant return, bringing Christmas at last and the joyous celebrations that follow.

Rimski-Korsakov’s music in the opera Christmas Eve and his other works laid the groundwork for much of the music used in cinema today. Composer John Williams, who created instantly recognizable soundtracks such as Star Wars and Home Alone, drew massive inspiration from Rimski-Korsakov and his contemporaries.

A snippet of Carol of the Bells, a well-known Ukrainian song, used in the hit, Christmas movie, Home Alone features in the soundtrack to this year’s window and is sang by Voices of the River’s Edge.

Rimski-Korsakov’s Christmas Eve is based on Nikolai Gogol’s famous folk tale, The Night Before Christmas.

The percussion section of the orchestra really is one to listen out for. From the wintry Tubular Bells tolling at the beginning of the music, into the twinkly Glockenspiel which signals our journey through the wardrobe into Narnia. The jingling Triangle plays as all of Narnia comes out to dance in the thaw. And then the Timpani, or kettle drums climax at the end bringing drama and majesty to the arrival of Father Christmas and the return of Aslan.