Aled Jones “couldn’t resist playing” Commotio’s latest CD, Night, on his Radio 3 show. Classic FM presenters have added it to their regular playlist, and one of the tracks — Richard Allain’s Ubi Caritas — has even made it on to Classic FM’s recent Smooth Classics compilation CD.

To anybody who has heard Commotio in performance, such public endorsement will come as little surprise — although conductor Matthew Berry was a little baffled at Ubi Caritas being described as ‘smooth’.

“It’s a real privilege for Commotio to be featured on the disc,” he acknowledged, “but I was a little perplexed by the incongruity of placing Richard’s work between extracts from Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Mozart’s 21st Piano Concerto! However, it’s very encouraging that such a contemporary work should be recognised as such. It defies the notion that contemporary music is all about wails and screams, or ‘squeaky gate music’, as I have heard it called recently.”

Commotio, of course, has always been on a mission to make contemporary music accessible to audiences, and prove that there is more to it than “wails and screams”.

Next week they will demonstrate the point in emphatic style with an Advent concert in Jericho that eschews the usual seasonal fare; instead, this will be a programme of festive music by young composers from Europe and America, with every piece featured written within the last 15 years.

One of the pieces to be performed at St Barnabas Church has special significance for the choir, as Matthew explained: “Henry Howard’s work Song for Lydia is dedicated to former Commotio member Lydia Corfe Press, who tragically died in a climbing accident in the Alps in May this year. Henry, too, sang with the choir and we have performed several of his works before.”

Another special inclusion is the world premiere of Ave Maria by Slovenian composer Ambroz Copi, whose works also feature regularly in Commotio’s concerts, and who has dedicated this piece to the choir.

“This new work turned up, dedicated to the choir and myself, unprompted, and already published by Astrum,” Matthew said. “From what Ambroz has told me, the work is very personal to him, so this makes the dedication even more of an honour.”

The programme also sees the choir renewing its acquaintance with Richard Allain, whose works they have been performing since 2005. Cradle Song, to be performed on December 6, was originally written for Chantage, the winners of the BBC Choir of the Year competition in 2006, and had its world premiere in Lincoln Cathedral.

Also featured are works by Swedish composer Fredrik Sixten, Finnish composer Jaakko Mantjarvi, Polish composer Pawel Lukaszewski, American composer Frank Ferko and British composers James Whitbourn and David Bednall.

What particular challenges, I wondered, had this diverse selection of pieces presented to the choir?

“Pawel’s works are the hardest as they are quite segmented and as a conductor I have to try and eliminate any sense of ‘stop-starting’.

“The dense, often jazzy harmonies proffer the choir an intense aural challenge. Nonetheless, they are extremely rewarding to sing. I first came across his work a few years ago, and I was particularly taken with the settings of the Advent Antiphons, four of which we perform. Pawel recently got in touch, unprompted, wishing us all the best — the wonder of Google alerts.”

There are also linguistic challenges in Mantjarvi’s Pseudo-Yoik and Sixten’s Mariahymn.

“Pseudo-Yoik is in nonsense Lappish, parodying the stereotype of the Lappish language rather than the original language,” explained Matthew. “His work has been very popular with the choir — it presents a challenge both linguistically and rhythmically.

“Fredrik Sixten I first met at the World Choral Symposium in Copenhagen in July, and he offered me some scores and a CD. I was very taken by the lovely little miniature Mariahymn. Fredrik forwarded a complimentary set, and this will be the UK premiere. It will be our second ever performance in Swedish.

“Luckily the choir is full of linguists willing and able to guide the rest of us, although we did get a native Swedish speaker in to help us at the first sing-through of the work.”

It must be extraordinarily difficult, I suggested to Matthew, to put together a Commotio programme. “It’s not easy,” he agreed. “I have to through-compose a concert in my head. Variety is as important as the order. Often I am ‘accused’ of ending the concert on a rather sombre, more reflective note, but it certainly won’t be the case on December 6. I always aim to include unusual, rarely heard repertoire, that will challenge the choir but prove accessible to the audience.

“The appeal, as ever, is to introduce the audience to a concert of unusual programming. A sizeable chunk of the repertoire they will never have heard before. The Monty Python phrase ‘And now for something completely different’ comes to mind.”

And presumably no wails, screams or squeaky gates.

Commotio’s Advent concert, Rejoice, O Nations!, is at St Barnabas Church, Oxford, on Saturday, December 6, at 8pm. For tickets and further information, visit