Posts Tagged ‘choir’

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Alien visitation

November 14, 2012

Last year, after putting it off for quite a while, I finally faced up to words which are incredibly familiar to anyone who’s sung in an English church or chapel choir – the Magnificat – as I said in my post about it, they were so familiar and so inextricably associated with the musical settings they’re sung to, that it took considerable time and effort to leave all that behind and find a way to approach the words afresh.

girl sky angelAnd now I’m setting them again, but this time I have something completely different in mind from the rather austere, timeless ritual quality which I tried to evoke in my first setting, which gave the words to the whole choir (men and women) all together, so that they were taken up as if by a whole community, joining together to enact a ritual as one.  This time I wanted to concentrate on the more personal and particular aspect of the scene – a young girl, alone, suddenly visited by something supernatural, inexplicable, indescribable.

I’m writing my new setting for the choir of girls’ voices at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge – which is made up of girls between the ages of about 7 to 16.  I can be fairly sure that the music will be different from a traditional Anglican setting because I am basing it around an electro-acoustic tape part created from the sounds of girls’ and women’s voices raised in laughter, shouts and song.  The actual girls of the choir sing in unison, strongly, with a kind of fierce joy, and their voices and the organ are immersed in the swirl of sound from the tape.

The choir will give the first performance in their final Luminaria (a beautiful service of based on one of the old monastic rites) of this term, on November 27th at 6.30, conducted by Edward Wickham.

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Ouija, Celadon, Messiaen, Magnificat, Slow Tide II

April 8, 2012

This is a quick news post with dates of some upcoming performances:

First up, Celadon will be played in two concerts given by the distinguished Korean musicians Kyung Sung Cho, Hyo Young Kim and Seungmi Suh during their visit to Cambridge this month – at 5.30pm on Wednesday 25 April in the Recital Room, University Faculty of Music (West Rd), and on Saturday April 28 at 5.00pm in Robinson College Chapel.

Next, I’m writing and presenting a programme in BBC Radio 3’s long-running Saturday morning series Building a Library on Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie; it’ll be broadcast on Saturday May 26th at about 9.30am.

Ouija will receive its first performance at 8pm on May 23 in Sidney Sussex Chapel, in a recital by Peter Sheppard Skaerved which also includes the premiere of Sonata Sospesa by Poul Ruders, and Bach’s G minor sonata and D minor Partita.  Full details and tickets available from Cambridge Summer Music Festival.  This is the piece conceived as a kind of séance, in which the violinist seeks to communicate with unseen spirits (see two earlier posts here and here).  Sidney Sussex Chapel will be a wonderfully atmospheric setting.

There will be further performances of Ouija at the Holywell Music Room in Oxford on November 2nd, and in London (details still tbc).

Later that week Gonville & Caius Choir, with senior organ scholar Annie Lydford and their director Geoffrey Webber, will give the second performance of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis I wrote for them (the Caius Service) – this is on Sunday 27 May at 6pm in Gonville and Caius Chapel.

And in June I will be giving a concert in Bonn, which includes performances of a newly revised version of A Sense of Touch (originally for four pianos: here in its alternative version for two pianos and tape) and the first performance of Slow Tide II.  This is a rethinking of the music of Slow Tide, a piece for two pianos and two percussionists, keeping most of the harmonic and melodic material, but radically rethinking the sonority and texture, and recasting the piece for piano, MIDI keyboard and tape.  The sounds of the MIDI keyboard and the tape are being realised by Jo Snape in The Hague.  The programme will also include more of my piano music.   This is on Tuesday June 12th in the Schumannhaus, Bonn, with the support of the Institut Français.

[Image: Celadon ceramic art, Korea]

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Caius Choir premiere

February 7, 2012

It was such a pleasure to hear the choir of Gonville & Caius College under their conductor Geoffrey Webber sing the new Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis which I wrote for them, on a wonderfully wintry, dark and snow-laden Sunday Evening.  It’s an unusual setting in many ways, and the choir and organist so quickly latched on to what it is about, and gave a really excellent first performance.  And it was an incredibly challenging programme, which also included three pieces by Cheryl Frances Hoad and a new set of responses by Robin Holloway.

It was very good to see so many friends who braved the weather to hear it.  I’m delighted that Geoffrey has suggested that they will sing the piece again next term, so if anyone was unable to get there on Sunday, do come along. As soon as I know the date I’ll post it up on this site.

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Song of Simeon

January 18, 2012

Last winter around Christmas I wrote a Magnificat: it was strange, and in the end quite exciting to immerse myself in words I’ve known very well for years and years but haven’t ever set to music before (see a post about this).  In England, the vast majority of occasions when a choir sings a Magnificat are Choral Evensongs, so it really made sense to follow up that piece with a Nunc Dimittis, setting the words of the old man Simeon when he sees the infant Jesus.  At some point last year I mentioned to composer Robin Holloway that I’d written the Magnificat and was now thinking about a Nunc Dimittis, and he said  – you’ll enjoy it: the Magnificat is an awkward text to set because it’s all chopped up into short separate sentences, but in the Nunc everything flows on in a single unfolding vision.

Looking at the two texts I can see exactly what he means, but strangely, I ended up finding the Nunc much harder to set.  I got stuck just once in the Magnificat, and found a way through that within a few days.  In the Nunc I made only a very uncertain start, and then got stuck for several months; later attempts in the summer to make a fresh start did little better.  It could simply be that it wasn’t a top priority, but at any rate, the musical ideas wouldn’t come.

The next thing that happened was that Geoffrey Webber offered to give the first performance of the Magnificat with the fantastic choir of Gonville & Caius College – but it was agreed of course that I’d write a Nunc Dimittis to go with it.   And then, once Christmas was done, there actually wasn’t a huge amount of time left in which to write it.  The sticking point (‘For mine eyes have seen thy salvation…’) didn’t open up straight away, even then, but when it did, what turned out to have been the crucial issue was rhythm.  It was only when I found the right rhythm, and with it momentum, flow, that the melodies and harmonies came, and then they came very easily.  All the earlier attempts went nowhere because they weren’t in the right underlying tempo, metre, groove.

So it’s done now, and I’m really looking forward to hearing the first performance, at Evensong on Sunday 5th February – it’s a superb choir and I’ve no doubt they will do it proud.  It’ll be an exciting service, with a new set of Responses by Robin Holloway and an anthem by Cheryl Frances Hoad.

And now I’m beginning to have an idea for a completely different setting of the Magnificat…

(to hear some of my other choral music, go to >listen/voices)

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sounds of spring

May 4, 2011

Last month I enjoyed the chance to hear a short piece for four horns and choir which I wrote a few years ago for the opening of an outdoor theatre.  This is our Eden, a song of gardens, flowers and trees. It was beautifully performed by horns and singers alike – and it’ll be recorded on a CD this summer, along with the carol As Joseph was a-walking.

Meanwhile, I’ve been writing a new piece for violin and piano, for Guy Button.  Spring seemed to be what was in my mind, and a rather Italian, Vivaldi-ish spring too, hence the name Primavera.  It’ll get its first two performances next month in London (GSMD, July 5) and Winchester  (July 6).