THE 2018 York Early Music Christmas Festival opens on Saturday, buoyed by booming ticket sales.

"It's selling really well but we still have room to attend Juice Vocal Ensemble's Snow Queens on Tuesday and 'a bit of room' for Improviso this Sunday, Spiritato! on Wednesday and Ex Cathedra next Friday," says festival director Delma Tomlin, newly decorated Cultural Champion at the 2018 York Culture Awards at York Theatre Royal.

The festival begins with Yorkshire Bach Choir and Yorkshire Baroque Soloists' sold-out performance of J S Bach's Christmas Oratorio at the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, on Saturday at 7pm, conducted by Peter Seymour.

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Juice Vocal Ensemble

Written in 1734, the Christmas Oratorio is rarely heard in its complete form. The six sonatas written for the feast days of Christmas and New Year present Bach at his most festive and vibrant.

The vibrant young quartet Improviso make their YEMCF debut with A La Venue de Noel at the National Centre of Early Music, Walmgate, on Sunday afternoon at 1pm.

Improviso, whose members met at the Royal College of Music, were selected as one of the EEEmerging ensembles supported by the NCEM and Creative Europe for a year. In the line-up are recorder player Fatima Lahahm, now studying for a PhD at Oxford University; Baroque violinist Elin White; Baroque cellist Florence Petit and theorbo player Johan Lofving.

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Voces8: York debut

They will be performing composed and improvised Christmas music from three centuries and four countries, including works by Charpentier and J S Bach's organ trio sonatas.

Another debutant will be Voces8, presenting Balulalow, Lullabies To An Infant King, music spanning 400 years from their Winter and Christmas albums, at the candle-lit NCEM on Sunday at 6.30pm.

Renaissance favourites by Michael and Hieronymus Praetorius, Schutz, Scheidt, Byrd and Tallis sit alongside works from Benjamin Britten, Frances Pott, Philip Stopford (a Voces8 commission) and composer-in-residence Jonathan Dove.

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The York Waits

"I knew they were very good, but did I expect them to have sold out two months ago? Perhaps not, but they have hit the right note, drawing in the younger generation," says Delma.

Joglaresa's 7.30pm concert by candlelight at the NCEM on Monday has sold out too. Director Belinda Sykes leads her five-piece in Heigh Ho, The Holly!, a Yuletide celebration of the Holly King's triumph over the Oak King in folk and medieval carols and wassails. "Joglaresa return every year, and always with a very entertaining concert," says Delma.

Juice Vocal Ensemble present Snow Queens, their new wintry programme full of snow, frost and ice, on Tuesday at 7.30pm. Composer and alto Dr Kerry Andrew is joined in the candles' glow by two felllow University of York alumni, sopranos Sarah Dacey and the aptly named Anna Snow, to perform new works by Tarik O'Regan, Emily Hall, Benjamin Tassie, Alison Willis and Chris Warner; plus new arrangements of ancient carols, such as Coventry Carol, Hollyberry Song and Down In Yon Forest, Renaissance lute songs and folk songs. Listen out for Kate Bush's December Will Be Magic and Judy Collins's Winter Sky too.

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"This is not traditional Early music," says Delma. "They are more progressive music makers, pushing back the boundaries of traditional Christmas music."

Only a few tickets are left for Spiritato! on Wednesday at the candle-lit NCEM at 6.30pm. Their line-up includes former University of York students, while leader and violinist Kinga Ujszaszi was part of the NCEM's EEEmerging Artists programme.

"They enjoy making music in their own way, in a lively and engaging style," says Delma, introducing their evening of Corelli, Lorelli, Locatelli and Scarlatti works, plus the frosty landscape of Vivaldi's Winter from Four Seasons, in La Notte di Natale, Music for an Italian Baroque Christmas.

"They played here two years ago, when they were on the way up and we're very pleased to have them back in their full glory," adds Delma.

Bathed in candlelight, The York Waits perform Make We Joye Now In This Fest, Old English and European Music and Song for the Festive Season next Thursday at 7.30pm at a sold-out NCEM

Ex Cathedra's 7.30pm concert next Friday, The Heaven Of Your Desires, has been moved from St Lawrence's Church to the NCEM, and the Dodo Street Band conclude the festival with Celtic Gypsy Klezmer, Folk in a Joyously Wild Maverick Mix in their sold-out NCEM debut next Saturday at 7.30pm.

Tickets are on sale on 01904 658338 or at