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The Glasshouse turns Russian opera into Geordie Christmas classic for the Fenwick festive window

Posted on 6 November 2023

Fenwicks RNS Still 5

Like the music for this year’s Fenwick Christmas window? Did you know it was created and recorded right here in the region by local artists?

For the second year in a row, Britain’s largest family-owned department store Fenwick has turned to The Glasshouse International Centre for Music to provide the soundtrack for its iconic festive window which this year depicts The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

Music for the window was created by Newcastle-based conductor, Tim Burke who adapted music from Christmas Eve, an opera by Russian composer Nikolai Rimski-Korsakov.

So, how did a Russian opera end up as the soundtrack to a North East Christmas institution? Tim Burke explains:

“I’m a huge fan of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I loved the books when I was a boy and always tuned into the BBC adaptation on a Sunday, it was a big part of my childhood.

Rimski-Korsakov’s Christmas Eve is such a natural fit for the music. It has a real magical feel to it, just like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It’s set in a remote snow-covered village and tells a fairytale-esque story with mythical elements and otherworldly characters. There are so many parallels.”

The Glasshouse recorded a live soundtrack for last year’s Christmas window marking a first in the display’s 50-year history. Royal Northern Sinfonia played well-known and much-loved excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.

For this year’s Christmas window spectacular, Fenwick wanted something even more unique. So, The Glasshouse teamed up its world-class professional orchestra, Royal Northern Sinfonia, with its community choir of young people, Voices of the River’s Edge, to make 2023’s offering extra special. The result: a wintery, whimsical and wonderous piece of original music, created right here in the region for everybody’s favourite festive window.

Alicia Crosbee, aged 21, who sang on the soundtrack, joined Voices of the River’s Edge last year. The choir was formed by The Glasshouse to perform with Royal Northern Sinfonia at the 2022 BBC Proms at The Glasshouse. She talks about taking part in the top-secret festive project:

“I loved working with the musicians of Royal Northern Sinfonia, I was so excited but also quite nervous when I found out we’d be recording the soundtrack for the window with them.

“The players are all incredibly talented musicians, I was honoured that we could be a part of this project with them.”

Highlighting the significance of bringing amateur and professional musicians together for the window, Tim added:

“The Glasshouse is a home for music lovers, whether you’re a pop icon, classical musician, a talented enthusiast, or a toddler with a tambourine. This project was all about bringing local musicians together to make something special.

“I love that a group of young singers have had the chance to record music with one of the best orchestras in the country for the Fenwick Christmas window. That doesn’t happen every day.”

The music for the window was recorded in The Glasshouse just across the river from the famous department store. Showcasing local talent is something both great organisations have in common. Last year The Glasshouse curated a line-up of its exceptional emerging artists to play at Fenwick’s music-come-fine-dining hot spot, Arthur’s.

Leo Fenwick, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Fenwick explains why they decided to work with The Glasshouse once again for the festive window,

“Our ongoing partnership with The Glasshouse is something we’re incredibly proud of. Christmas is a very special time for everyone at Fenwick and the soundtrack to our Christmas window is a huge part of that. This year’s piece created by Royal Northern Sinfonia along with a community choir of young people perfectly aligns with the Fenwick DNA of supporting and showcasing the best talent in the region to a global audience.”

Now that the secret is out and the window has been revealed to the public, how does young singer, Alicia feel about playing a part in this year’s big window reveal?   

“The Christmas window at Fenwick has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I always loved to see the different stories brought to life and I loved taking trips with my family to see the new one every year. I still do!

“It honestly feels amazing to be a part of something that brings joy to families and people of all ages across the North East.

Tim, the man behind the music shares his take as someone who’s made the North East his home, on what the window means to him:

“I love the window, it feels very creative and theatrical, I can’t believe a department store goes to such great lengths to tell a new story to the public every year. 

“I really applaud the effort to make it special and free for everyone to enjoy. It’s a real coming together moment and I can’t wait to take my family this year.”

The Glasshouse and Fenwick are also once again coming together this Christmas to give people the chance to enjoy a festive performance for £5. Fenwick is supporting the music centre as its much-loved £5 ticket scheme helps bring music to all throughout December. The discounted tickets are distributed through local partner charities who support people experiencing challenging circumstances in Newcastle and Gateshead. The aim is to ensure more people across the region have the opportunity to enjoy a festive favourite at The Glasshouse.

Anyone aged 16-35 and interested in joining the Voices of the River’s Edge choir can find out more by visiting Voices of the River’s Edge | The Glasshouse (

Five things you need to know about the music for this year’s window:

  1. The music is perfectly timed to match each and every window in the display. It starts off melancholic to represent the animal’s oppression under the reign of the White Witch. It then starts to thaw just as Narnia does with Aslan’s triumphant return, bringing Christmas at last and the joyous celebrations that follow.
  2. Rimski-Korsakov’s music in the opera Christmas Eve and his other works laid the groundwork for much of the music used in cinema today. Composer John Williams who created instantly recognisable soundtracks such as Star Wars and Home Alone was massively inspired by Rimski-Korsakov and his contemporaries.
  3. A snippet of Carol of the Bells, a well-known Ukrainian song, used in the hit, Christmas movie, Home Alone features in the soundtrack to this year’s window and is sang by Voices of the River’s Edge.
  4. Rimski-Korsakov’s Christmas Eve is based on Nikolai Gogol’s famous folk tale, The Night Before Christmas.
  5. The percussion section of the orchestra really is one to listen out for. From the wintry Tubular Bells tolling at the beginning of the music, into the twinkly Glockenspiel which signals our journey through the wardrobe into Narnia. The jingling Triangle plays as all of Narnia comes out to dance in the thaw. And then the Timpani, or kettle drums climax at the end bringing drama and majesty to the arrival of Father Christmas and the return of Aslan.


Media enquiries: Jackie Thompson,

Phone: 0191 4434602

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About The Glasshouse International Centre for Music

The Glasshouse International Centre for Music is a home for live music lovers.

It’s a place where you can hear rock legends or pop icons on the same night as folk trios or string quartets. Where new musicians are nurtured and showcased on the same stages as platinum-selling performers. And where youth choirs and tambourine-shaking toddlers practise in the same spaces as its acclaimed orchestra, Royal Northern Sinfonia.

Because as an international centre for music they’re focused on creating and celebrating outstanding music – whether that’s unearthing or growing talent from the region or bringing the world’s best artists to their stages. And as a charity they’re focused on making sure all of that is available to anyone – no matter where you’re from, how old you are, how much money you have, or what challenges you face.

Which is why every year more than 2 million people are able to join for top-notch gigs, concerts, and classes – in their venue at Gateshead Quays, out in communities across the North East, and through livestreamed performances and digital lessons.

Whether you’re making it up or taking it in, you’ll find music lives and grows there.

More about The Glasshouse International Centre for Music

  • From global stars to artists starting out, The Glasshouse has hosted 10,022 performances, totalling 4.7m tickets. To have seen every performance would have meant seeing one show every day for 27 years.
  • It’s hosted over 220,000 music lessons for North East folk. The region’s young people have learnt to play, sing or produce with us, on over 1.7m occasions.
  • Royal Northern Sinfonia perform at The Glasshouse, tour the region, and have played to international audiences on four continents, with livestreams reaching people across five.
  • Like stepping stones, artists like Ward Thomas have worked their way from their free stages to selling out its big hall and getting global recognition.
  • The Glasshouse regularly opens its doors to a wide range of conferences and events. Since 2004, they’ve welcome over 400,000 delegates from the likes of Greggs, NHS and British Engines, and many, many more.
  • The charity is one of Gateshead’s biggest employers, and so far it’s generated £500m of economic value to the region.
  • The charity has been the proud guardians of The Glasshouse for almost 20 years, safeguarding it when live music was put on hold during the pandemic.
  • The centre has 630 panes of glass and stands 40m tall.

 About Royal Northern Sinfonia

Royal Northern Sinfonia is the orchestra of the North East and Cumbria, based at The Glasshouse in Gateshead. They are the UK’s only full-time chamber orchestra – 37 awe-inspiring musicians coming together to play gorgeous classical music by the world’s greatest composers, old and new.

Since their first concert in 1958, Royal Northern Sinfonia have earned an exceptional reputation for vibrant, passionate music-making across the UK and beyond, representing the North East on a worldwide stage. In 2023, they headlined the first weekend-long BBC Proms festival to take place outside of London, travelled to South Korea for Tongyeong International Music Festival and became the resident orchestra in new concert series in Middlesbrough and Carlisle.

Royal Northern Sinfonia regularly collaborate with top conductors and classical stars, such as Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Benjamin Grosvenor and Dame Sarah Connolly, and have taken to the stage with pop legends Maximo Park, Sam Fender and Self Esteem. Highlights of the next year include a Schumann symphony cycle with Principal Conductor Dinis Sousa, a UK wide tour with clarinettist Julian Bliss, the Big Bruckner Weekend at The Glasshouse and guest appearances from Elisabeth Leonskaja, Isata Kanneh-Mason, Christian Tetzlaff, Jess Gillam, Angela Hewitt and Steven Isserlis.

Royal Northern Sinfonia are working hard to make classical music more accessible and more inclusive. That means playing in more places across the North than ever before, championing new artists and new music, and encouraging musicians of all ages and stages to keep growing their skills – from sitting side by side with The Glasshouse’s Young Sinfonia to partnering with the Royal Philharmonic Society to support women conductors.

The Royal Northern Sinfonia family also includes Chorus of Royal Northern Sinfonia, made up of over 80 singers from across the region who perform regularly with the orchestra and on their own, and RNS Moves, an inclusive ensemble of disabled and non-disabled musicians who create unique, ground-breaking interpretations of classical favourites and brand new sounds.

About Fenwick

Britain’s family of style pioneers since 1882. Fenwick offers a curated edit of luxury across fashion, beauty, and lifestyle, presented in an inspirational shopping environment across nine stores and digital. Fenwick is the largest family-owned group of department stores in the United Kingdom offering in-store events, bespoke services, treatment rooms and innovative restaurants. @FenwickOfficial