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York choir presents UK premiere of French masterpiece

Posted on 16 May 2014

University of York student vocal ensemble The 24 has pulled off a major coup in the classical musical world by becoming the first UK choir to sing a rarely-heard masterpiece by French composer Jean Francaix.

The 24

Ode a la gastronomie, written by Francaix (1912-97) 61 years ago, is a 15-minute work for 12 voices, inspired by a 19th century guide to food and behaviour.

Conducted by Robert Hollingworth, a Reader in Music at the University of York, the piece will be one of the highlights of the choir’s ‘Fête française’ programme on Wednesday, 21 May at the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall.

Robert Hollingworth, who is also the founder and director of I Fagiolini, one of the UK’s top professional vocal groups, said: "This work is an extraordinary testament to the French attitude to food and dining, told through the rich texture of a 12-part choir.  It ranges from almost religious advice on how to pace yourself at a meal, what subjects not to talk about, the erotic properties of the black truffle and the deleterious effects of food on the digestion.

"Why the piece has not been performed is not entirely a mystery, given the considerable musical challenges it poses to performers, as well as how to make sense of a piece for a non-French audience when it is practically a social document of post-Revolution French attitudes.  But the music's good humour, louche musical style and utter Frenchness will, we hope, endear it to our audience."

Jean Francaix’s son Jacques was thrilled to hear that his father’s work was to be performed and will be watching the concert via a live video link. The choir has also received interest from BBC Radio 3 programmes The Choir and In Tune.

Jacques Francaix said: "You cannot escape noticing that Robert Hollingworth's own ensemble, I Fagiolini, carries the name ‘the little beans’ which destines Hollingworth forever to be the interpreter of a piece called, 'Ode to gastronomy'. My father would have been delighted by this astonishing coincidence and also because this profoundly original composition was only performed two or three times during his lifetime.”

The 24 has a progressive approach and a reputation for performing lesser-known repertoire. At Easter, they took part in a 17-day tour of China and Hong Kong under eminent conductor Zhu Bu Xi.

Fête française will take place at the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall on Wednesday, 21 May at 7.30pm.  The programme also includes Daniel-Lesur's Le Cantique des cantiques, Poulenc's Sept chansons, Pérotin’s Viderunt Omnes and Guillaume de Machaut’s Douce dame jolie. Tickets are £8 (concessions £6; students £3). For more information or to buy tickets visit Alternatively, call the Box Office on 01904 322439 or email

Go to to watch the concert live online.  

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