In the heart of London’s East End, Spitalfields is an area of great creative and cultural diversity. As a long-time home for artists and musicians, the area brings together an eclectic mix of some of the hippest hipsters in London with old hands who have been around for many years and have been sharing their creativity through art, sculpture and music.

The London Gypsy Orchestra at the 2012 Festival
The London Gypsy Orchestra at the 2012 Festival

In celebration of this history and the vibrant future of the area, Spitalfields Music has created two annual festivals. Their Winter Festival, which runs from 6-17 December, brings together seasoned professional artists with local musicians to create intimate performances of classical music old and new.

Creating new music

One of the commitments of Spitalfields Music is to bringing new music to the people of East London. As such, they have a history of commissioning new musical pieces that can be performed in the area and are suitable for the spaces that are unique to Spitalfields.

The first of these to take place in the Winter Festival is being created as part of an event called Join the Crowd. Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang has created a piece for 1,000 voices entitled Crowd Out that will be presented as part of the Summer Festival in 2014. The Join the Crowd event at the Winter Festival gives singers from all backgrounds, even those with little or no experience, the chance to join in the creation of a unique performance that will take place at the Arnold Circus Bandstand alongside performances in Berlin and Birmingham. Later in the evening, The Crowd will get the chance to perform at the Bandstand with a few pre-rehearsed pieces as part of the illumination event.

Lunchtime culture

Throughout the festival, there are lunchtime concerts that can make for a pleasant interlude in a day spent shopping or exploring around Spitalfields and its famous market. On 14December, four choirs and soloists take to the stage at the Bishopsgate Institute to explore the art of the protest song, with unique takes on political marching songs, football chants and union melodies in an event that promises to be an inspiring and uplifting hour of song.

On 16 December, Spitalfields Church is taken over by singers from local law firm Allen & Overy, who are bringing together soloists and ensembles from the company to showcase their musical talents in their lunch hour to brighten up your own.

Talk and music

In the spirit of sharing and education that comes with the festival, a number of the concerts are preceded by a talk from the artists involved in the music. The Insight series of talks gives the opportunity for festival goers to hear from ensembles from all over the world, soloists of great international standing and directors of innovative youth projects to bring fresh blood into the world of opera and classical singing.

Free to ticket holders for the respective events, these half hour-long talks give an added insight into the background to the music showcased at the festival.

Free events

While some of the paid concerts are already sold out due to their popularity and intimate locations, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved for very little money or even for free. A programme of free events includes the assembly of The Crowd for the 2014 Summer Festival performance and the switching on of the Arnold Circus Bandstand lights, designed by Turner Prize-winning artist Rachel Whiteread.

See the lights go on at Spitalfields
See the lights go on at Spitalfields

Although some of the events are free, many have allocated tickets to ensure capacity is not exceeded and the enjoyment of participants is not compromised so check on the Festival website and reserve your tickets before you go.


With a wonderful collection of wintery music in evocative settings, the Spitalfields Winter Festival promises to bring festive cheer throughout December to those lucky enough to attend.

Image Credits: Spitalfields_E1 and Spitalfields_E1

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