The New English Orchestra and Singers gave a series of memorable Recreatios - times of rest and refreshment - in the world famous Roman Pantheon and at the British Embassy to the Holy See during a visit to Rome.
At the invitation of Francis Campbell, the British Ambassador to the Holy See, the NEO and Singers gave a special concert during an evening reception at the British Embassy on 24 September.
The superb 40-minute concert that included nine works from around the world was warmly received by the distinguished guests including priests and nuns who work for the Vatican.
The concert concluded with 'Laetatus Sum' a 16th century choral piece by Monteverdi and the magnificent 'Easter Hymn' by Mascagni, an early 20th
century Italian composer.
Ambassador Francis Campbell expressed the heartfelt appreciation of the guests present when he said: "The New English Orchestra and Singers are great cultural ambassadors for our country.
"It was very poignant that in their repertoire, at the British Embassy this evening, they performed pieces from around the world that captured the religious dimension of their Christian faith.
"Furthermore, the timely visit of the NEO to Rome with its ecumenical nature, mirrors the joint Catholic-Anglican Pilgrimage being made today by Cardinal Walter Kasper and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, to Lourdes."
Ambassador Campbell added: "I very much look forward to the visit of the New English Orchestra and Singers to Rome next year."
The concert concluded with a piece from Taizé, 'Surrexit Christe', before the musicians and singers joined the guests for a buffet on the roof-garden.
The Archbishop of Canterbury's Representative to the Holy See and Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, the Revd David Richardson, was among the guests at the Embassy.
Afterwards Nigel Swinford, the conductor and founder of the NEO, said: "It was a great privilege to play in The British Embassy to the Holy See where
we met senior members of the Vatican Curia as well as the Archbishop of Canterbury,s representative in Rome.
"This was the first time that the NEO and singers had performed in a British embassy anywhere in the world."
Mr Swinford added: "We are delighted that we have already been invited by Ambassador Campbell to perform again next year."
The Recreatios, reflective meditations in music, linked by words from the Bible were performed by a versatile group of eight talented musicians and 17 singers.
The sound of a trumpet in the piazzas outside The Pantheon and the Basilica welcomed visitors inside to the three different performances held at 11am, 2pm and 4pm on two bright sunny days in these popular tourists haunts.
A special feature of each Recreatio was the procession of singers and musicians through the audience as they sang their final piece.
At both venues a deeply prayerful, tangible hush descended on all those present, including tourists from many nations. Some people were visibly
moved to tears as they encountered the presence and power of God .
The Pantheon, commissioned as a pagan temple by the Emperor Hadrian in AD 117-118, is still the largest un-supported dome in the world. It was saved from demolition when it was given to Pope Boniface IV in 608 and preserved, virtually unaltered as the Christian church Santa Maria ad Martyres.
The NEO and Singers also gave three performances in the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. The Basilica, situated in the piazza behind the Pantheon, is the titular church of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster. The Basilica houses the relics of St Catherine of Siena, one of the Patron Saints of Europe, and the tomb of the Dominican Friar Blessed Fra Angelico, the Patron Saint of Artists.
The NEO, based in England, was founded in 1976 by Nigel Swinford, its creative Musical Director and conductor to bring together professional
musicians of different Christian traditions including Catholics and Anglicans.
As well as frequent performances throughout the UK, the NEO is a regular visitor to Salzburg during the Music Festival and has also performed in Sweden, Russia, Switzerland and Spain. This late September visit followed a successful visit to Rome last year where they performed at the Church of SS Vincenzo e Anastasio, near the Trevi Fountain.