LONDON — Every Christmas Eve, the British composer Cecilia McDowall follows the same routine.
At 3 p.m., as family members arrive at her London home, she goes into the kitchen, turns on the radio and starts making a Christmas pudding — a slow-cooked, booze-soaked British dessert — while listening to the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, perform its Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.
That service of Bible readings and Christmas music is one of Britain’s best known festive traditions, broadcast live on radio stations worldwide, including on around 450 in the United States. A spokesman for the choir estimated that 100 million listeners would tune in.
But this year, McDowall won’t be in the kitchen. Instead, she will be sitting in King’s College’s huge Gothic chapel, listening as the choir performs “There Is No Rose,” a carol she has written especially for the event.
John Tavener and Arvo Pärt have written for it, as well as more surprising names like Harrison Birtwistle, a British composer of spiky modernist pieces.
King’s is far from alone in trying to bring new carols, or at least new settings of old texts, into the Christmas repertoire. McDowall said she had written 10 carols since the 1980s, starting
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