Salve Deus, Rex Judaeorum sets lines from the extraordinary 1611 poem of the same name by Aemilia Lanyer (forgotten voice one) and I was excited by this text from the moment I found it. The piece is subtitled ‘An Easter Cantata’ and is intended to deliver the dramatic narrative of the Passion. There are five movements, 'I. Prologue', 'II. Gethsemane', 'III. The Trial', 'IV. The Journey to the Cross' and 'V. Epilogue' that can be performed as a single piece with a duration of approximately twenty minutes or separately within the liturgy. It is scored for choir, chamber choir, solo soprano, organ and optional bell but could be sung by full or chamber choir throughout with a soloist from within the choir.
The thing that most interested me about this text was the telling of the story from a female perspective, particularly the reference to Pilate’s wife (forgotten voice two), who becomes the solo soprano narrator in my interpretation. Pilate's wife merits a whole thirty-seven words in Matthew 27:19, KJV (also published in 1611), 'When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.' In Lanyer's poem this becomes 'O noble Gov'nor make thou yet pause, do not in innocent blood imbrue thy hands, but hear the words of thy most worthy wife who sends to thee to beg her Saviour's life.' These words in 'Movement III. The Trial' are set against the restless crowd singing crucifigerent, 'crucify him'. Other particularly beautiful phrases include, 'They slept in ease whilst Thou in paine did pray; Loe, they in sleepe and Thou in sorrow drown'd', ('Movement II. Gethsemane') and 'The sun grew darke and scorned to give them light, the moon and starres did hide themselves for shame.' ('Movement IV. The Journey to the Cross').
My thanks go to Luminosa for commissioning the piece for their tenth anniversary and to Rebekah Abbott, Artistic Director, Conductor and musical force of nature for all her work in shaping the performance and remaining committed to the piece throughout the past two years. Happy twelfth anniversary Luminosa and I can't wait to hear it!
Score available following premiere from Composers Edition at
Saturday April 2nd 2022, 7.30pm
All Saints Church, Odiham, Hampshire, RG29 1ND
Programme: McDOWALL: Da Vinci Requiem; WILLIS: Salve Deus; VAUGHAN-WILLIAMS: 5 Mystical Songs. Also includes a talk by Cecilia McDowall.
Tickets at https://luminosamusic.com/index.php/box-office/
The Google is full of phrases like "Encourage new habits", "Using this time to focus on your creative ambitions", "Music is a great comfort, support, escape and creative outlet for us all", "COVID-19 is a real opportunity for musicians".
Before I go on, let me say that I am painfully aware that family and friends are the most important things in these strange and frightening times and my heart bleeds for those I know and those I don't who have lost loved ones to this hideous disease. I also have the utmost respect for all key workers and those keeping our world turning and recognise that the challenges of remaining creative are very well down the list of important things in the world at present.
I am actually still working full time in my teaching job, full time and more to be honest. It turns out that delivering meaningful lessons to Sixth Form Performing Arts and Music students at a time when they can't sing, play, dance, act and be together (with virtually no advance warning) is quite time consuming, if you want to do it properly and care about their well-being (which I always do.) I am on Easter Holiday at the moment. It's actually nice to have some time at home (!) even though we should have been setting off on a cruise of the Aegean islands and Istanbul with my 82 year old Mum (Happy Birthday Mum! We so don't make a habit of this, it was to be a real treat.)
So yes, it's great to have time to actually compose! Only it's not that straightforward.
Currently, I am working from the Music Room (aka the excellent converted garage, my own personal Aladdin's Cave of strange instruments, technology and music trivia), my wonderful husband is trying to house rough sleepers remotely from the shed where my eldest son started living when we ran out of bedrooms and my middle son is trying to produce his (excellent) Drum'n'Bass from the spare bedroom as his Uni course has effectively stopped with little further information forthcoming. His Dissertation is in lock-down in the studios and all his international summer festival DJ bookings have been cancelled. Living back with Mum and Dad was definitely not part of his plan (although I am secretly quite pleased.) The dogs (and dare I say chickens?) are thrilled to have three humans home all day every day.
So, to return to my point, "Encourage new habits" is certainly an inevitability at the moment for all of us. We are all having to find ways to adapt to this strange new reality. Some are obviously difficult, I say again my heart absolutely goes out to those who are dealing with the coal face of this disease, both workers and families. but for most of us we are struggling with loss of freedom, fear of the virus, lack of face to face human contact and completely empty diaries. I am (as a natural optimist) finding some positives, partly because Mum wants me to, "Tell her something nice!" every day. I am enjoying actually being at home, spending time with my son, walking the dogs. I am seeing potential in Zoom meetings for my family when we are fundamentally scattered to the four winds. Would we have thought of doing a Zoom Meeting for Mum's birthday or a family meeting with my four boys in any other circumstances? Probably not, but I hope it is something that will become a part of our family life, as well as (obviously) real family gatherings rather than just virtual ones.
"Using this time to focus on your creative ambitions" is more difficult. I am still very focused on my creative ambitions...always, it's basically what makes me tick. But creative? Not usually a problem...but not so easy at present. I am still writing. I've been writing music since I was seven (seriously), but in the present circumstances, with premieres and performances cancelled for the foreseeable future, no immediate deadlines and very limited physical interaction with other musicians it is more of a challenge than I would have imagined. Is there any point writing that piece if you know it may never be performed? Never actually be given life? I guess I am finding that temporarily my creative ambitions have changed. I am revisiting and revising earlier works (sometimes a really nice surprise!), re-crafting rather than creating new work but balancing this with writing new pieces with a specific and real purpose at this time. I am taking control of all the admin that I never have time to do usually....and let me tell you the admin as a composer frequently takes as much and more time than actually writing the music! I am updating my website and researching contemporary opera, The Mabinogion and Gwenllian, the twelfth century Welsh Warrior Princess...can you see where this is going? Actually I thought it was going towards three nights in October but now I'm not quite so sure....see the problem?
"COVID-19 is a real opportunity for musicians". I am all for positive thinking but it's not a great time for musicians is it? Or anyone really. Talk about new opportunities to the musicians (like my son) who have seen all their bookings for the foreseeable future vanish. As one musician friend pointed out, even those that have been re-booked and re-scheduled are still basically work lost....no musician can actually perform in two places at once. However, what is inspiring is how musicians have gone, "OK, how do we make the best of this?" I am loving seeing the house concerts, the pieces posted online, the folk festivals happening virtually, the generous streaming of opera, theatre and musicals that is now a part of this brave new world but I can't quite do that myself, not yet anyway.
So in summary, for me and I can only really speak for myself, the headlines are;
In conclusion, yes this is the most difficult time any of us can remember. Mum says in some ways it's actually worse than the War, because, "You can't see the enemy and at least you could talk to people". However as musicians we are lucky because it is true, "Music is a great comfort, support, escape and creative outlet for us all". Whilst being overtly creative may not be an option right now I wonder if there are things we will ultimately be able to take from this darkest of times that make us more creative and more connected than ever before when this is all over.
On Friday 8th March 2019 "Non Omnis Moriar" for Upper Voices was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 as part of the Afternoon Concert program for International Women's Day. You can listen at 1:26 here.
The piece was recorded by the BBC Singers as part of a wonderful concert in association with BASCA reflecting on the Refugee experience in September last year.
There is more information about the poet and the music at the end of this blog but I would like to let the poem speak for itself. it is quite simply one of the most powerful poems I have ever read and I can only hope my music does it justice.
If you would like to listen the broadcast can be found here
NON OMNIS MORIAR
(Not all of me will die.)
Text from the poem by Zuzanna Ginczanka (1917-1945)
Not all of me will die – not my proud estate,
Meadow tablecloths, wardrobe castles strong, acres of fine bedsheets, linen treasures great,
And dresses, light dresses – these are my swansong.
Because I leave not a single heir.
Let your curious hands through my Jew things browse, if conscience allows.
Meadow tablecloths, wardrobe castles strong, acres of fine bedsheets, linen treasures great,
And dresses, light dresses, if conscience allows.
You and your loved ones, recall my name and face,
As you remembered me when showing them my hiding place.
Drink to me! Drink to me!
Drink to my grave and supposed wealth, my remains your prize.
Drink all night, drink!
And when the sun does shine,
Start hunting for gem-stones, digging for gold,
Through mattresses, fine drapes, candlesticks and dresses, light dresses.
Feathers ripped from cushions, clouds of gutted quilts,
Will snow upon your hands, turn your arms to wings,
Pure white down will bind with my blood congealed,
Letting you take flight,
My angels, my kings.
Non omnis moriar.
The text used is based on a translation by Marek Kazmierski with permission
Zuzanna Ginczanka’s Jewish parents fled the Russian Civil War, settling in 1922 in pre-War Poland. Although, as a poet, she published only a single collection of poetry in her lifetime, the book O centaurach ("About the Centaurs"), it created a sensation.
Ginczanka left Warsaw in June 1939 to spend her summer vacations with her grandmother. Following the outbreak of the Second World War her grandmother’s business was immediately expropriated and their living quarters requisitioned for Soviet officials. This forced Ginczanka to move to the larger and more anonymous Polish city of Lvov. Before they left, her grandmother packed all the family heirlooms and valuables like table silver into her luggage, both as a means of
keeping it safe and to provide for Ginczanka's future dowry. Once she arrived in Lvov Ginczanka narrowly managed to avoid arrest by Ukrainian forces targeting Jewish population.
Nazi Germany invaded Poland on 22 June 1941. The female concierge in the building where Ginczanka rented a flat saw her opportunity to rid herself of the unwelcome tenant and at the same time enrich herself. In the summer of 1942 she denounced Ginczanka to the Nazi authorities as a Jew hiding in her building on false papers. The Nazi police immediately attempted to arrest Ginczanka, but other residents of the building helped her escape. They finally succeeded in capturing
her but this arrest did not result in Ginczanka's execution as on this occasion she escaped from captivity. The incident led Ginczanka to write her best known poem "Non omnis moriar".
Zuzanna Ginczanka frequently changed hiding places, but was eventually detained in the notorious Nazi prison, Montelupich but she never admitted to being Jewish. There is no certainty as to the exact place of Ginczanka's death but there is a broad consensus on her having been executed by firearm, either by single firearm or by firing squad. Ginczanka was 27 years old.
Musically the piece is based on elements of Jewish prayer modes that give rise to the dark cluster chords supporting the solo soprano lines. The poem contains lists of items that make up Ginczanka’s “proud estate”, her “Jew things”, reminding us of her grandmother packing the valuables before their flight to Lviv. These are set aleatorically, with every individual voice listing them with rising hysteria at different points throughout the piece. The phrase “Non omnis moriar” is also repeated at various points, binding the piece together and reminding the listener that they are listening to the words of a young woman writing what would become her lasting message to the world.
In a bitter footnote, Zuzanna Ginczanka's betrayers were arrested and tried for collaborationism. "Non omnis moriar" formed part of the evidence against them. (This is considered by many scholars to be the only instance in the annals of history of a poem being entered in evidence in a criminal trial.)
THE WIND'S WARNINGRead Now
On Thursday evening (7th March) The Gesualdo Six will give the world premiere at Cadogan Hall of The Wind's Warning, my setting of the poem The Wind by Ivor Gurney. Gurney is still relatively unknown so I thought I would say a little about him.
Ivor Bertie Gurney (28 August 1890 – 26 December 1937) was an English poet and composer, particularly of songs. Born in Gloucester he sang as a chorister at Gloucester Cathedral from 1900 to 1906 then won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music to study with Stanford who allegedly said he was "unteachable". Gurney suffered his first breakdown in 1913.
Enlisted as a private soldier in the Gloucestershire Regiment, he began writing poetry. He was wounded in the shoulder in April 1917 then gassed in September the same year. In March 1918, Gurney suffered a serious breakdown, writing several songs whilst hospitalised despite the piano sounding, he said, like "a boiler factory in full swing because of the stone walls". He subsequently received an unconventional diagnosis of nervous breakdown from "deferred" shell shock.
Gurney was regarded as one of the most promising men of his generation, publishing his second volume of poetry, War's Embers, in May 1919 to mixed reviews. He wrote many songs, instrumental pieces, chamber music and two works for orchestra, War Elegy (1920) and A Gloucestershire Rhapsody (1919–21). Sadly in 1922, his mental health caused him to be declared insane and Gurney spent the last 15 years of his life in psychiatric hospitals where he wrote both literary works and music. Much of his musical output remains unpublished and unrecorded.
The Wind's Warning is a setting of what is believed to be his last poem. According to the editor of the collection in which the poem appears, it was written on the back of an Oxford University Press letterhead dated 6 March 1929 and signed 'Valentine Fane' by Gurney. (He frequently used different names on his later manuscripts.)
The poem is a bleak reflection on the passing of time and lost opportunities. Musically the piece uses vocalisations to create the sound of the wind against which are set gently dissonant clusters. Melodic motifs drift in and out until the middle section, "At dawn a thin rain wept" which becomes more lyrical and tonal. The piece finishes with a return to the opening soundscape.
I am delighted that The Gesualdo Six are performing this piece and very much look forward to hearing it!
Tickets available https://cadoganhall.com/whats-on/choral-2018-19the-gesualdo-six/
Score coming soon at https://composersedition.com/composers/alisonwillis
I accidentally shot and killed my girlfriend because I thought she was a swan...Read Now
Well these things happen..... at least they do in English Folk Music.
On Sunday 3rd March 2019 the wonderful Voces Inauditae will give the world premiere of my choral piece Swansong in Edinburgh. I thought in this blog we could explore the background to the piece....
The piece is based on the British folk song Polly Vaughan. The unfortunate Polly takes a walk by the setting sun and takes shelter among the bushes when the rain starts, pulling her apron over her head. Her boyfriend is simultaneously out hunting "with his dog and his gun" and on seeing what he believes to be a swan in the bushes shoots it dead. Overcome with remorse he runs and tells his father who helpfully tells him he must not leave the country before his trial. Polly appears as a ghost, first to Jimmy reassuring him that she knows it was not his fault and then during the trial to beg her uncle, (the judge) to let "Young Jimmy" go free, insisting they are never going to hang him "for the killing of the swan".
This was clearly an unfortunate accident, however one might wonder why Young Jimmy thought shooting a swan was a good idea at all seeing as it has been illegal since at least 1482 (The Act of Swans) and is on record as being frowned upon since 1186. At the very least he would have been imprisoned.
It would be good to think that this was an early example of nature conservation but it is generally considered that swans were the preserve of the rich, specifically the reigning monarch, because they tasted good. Anecdotal evidence suggests that they range from being tough, chewy and fishy, to being a bit like goose-flavored venison.
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies however suggested it tasted "very dark and rich. It's a bit like pheasant with a hint of venison as well." Sir Peter, a keen environmentalist, said he had called the RSPB after a whooper swan expired near his property. He was advised, he said, to dispose of the bird. "I was under the illusion that it would be all right to eat the best parts, rather than feed them to the cat," he said.
(The Guardian 19th March 2005)
He was cautioned, but living north of the border thankfully prevented the then Master of the Queen's Music ending up in The Tower!
Regarding provenance, Baring-Gould commented that there is some similarity to Celtic legends about "The Swan Maidens” and Roy Palmer recalls the story of the death of Procris in classical antiquity. A more mundane interpretation is that the invention of the rifle inevitably led to an increase in accidents while hunting!
Musically the piece, for SATB choir, takes elements of the folk melody and reworks them using spoken word exhorting the audience to "listen" and sustained largely modal chords (in keeping with the folk tradition of the British Isles) but with a distinctly twenty-first century twist supporting the telling of the tale through the different voices.
I have combined this with a Latin text, Cycni (13.77) by Martial, a Roman poet from Hispania (modern Spain) best known for his twelve books of Epigrams, published in Rome between AD 86 and 103
Dulcia defecta modulatur carmina lingua
cantator cygnus funeris ipse sui.
As how to swans, their truth's reward, belong
A joyful death, and sweet expiring song.
As a folk singer myself, (Polly Vaughan is one of my favourite songs to sing!) I hope I have managed to tell the story adequately. My thanks to Chris Hutchings and Voces Inauditae and all very best wishes for the concert on Sunday...I very much look forward to hearing the recording!
LOVELY THINGS THIS WEEK....Read Now
I am absolutely delighted to hear that my piece The Wind's Warning has been selected as the winner of The Gesualdo Six's composition competiton. It is a particular honour as the judges read like a who's who of contemporary choral music, Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Nigel Short, Kate Johnson, John Rutter and of course Owain Park. I am looking forward to the premiere at Cadogan Hall on March 7th this year. The piece features wind like vocal sounds in a setting of a dark poem by Ivor Gurney, believed to be the last poem he wrote.
It has also been my pleasure to attend two CD launches in the last few weeks, both of which have pieces of mine on them. Snow Queens by the awesome Juice Vocal Ensemble is a collection of winter music by contemporary composers. Kerry Andrew, Sarah Dacey and Anna Snow's voices are a magnificent blend and their innovative choice of repertoire and attention to detail make this a very special CD...not just for Christmas! My piece, The Ballad of the Harp Weaver, sets a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay. It tells the story of a mother desperate to clothe her young son during the harshest winter for many years. They have nothing but a "harp with a woman's head that nobody will buy", if you want to know the rest of the story listen here. I do love to tell a story in music and this is definitely influenced by another of my passions, English folk music!
The second launch was for This Day by the equally fabulous Blossom Street, featuring works by female composers to mark the centenary of women getting the vote. Sung by the female voices of the choir and directed by Hilary Campbell both the launch concert and the CD are stunning, exploring a wide range of music representing frequently under-represented women composers from the past hundred years. I couldn't be more pleased with the recording of Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep, a setting of the poem of the same name by Mary Elizabeth Frye.
The poem was allegedly inspired by a German Jewish woman, Margaret Schwarzkopf, who was staying with Mary and her husband. Margaret was worried about her mother who was ill in Germany but she had been warned not to return home because of increasing unrest. When her mother died, the heartbroken young woman told Frye that she never had the chance to "stand by my mother's grave and shed a tear".
My setting uses cluster chords and elements of Jewish scales to tell this story. It was written in memory of my Uncle Francis, a fine musician and a truly gentle man.
You can listen here.
I am also delighted to report that at time of writing Snow Queens has entered the classical charts at 22 and This Day at 11. Congratulations to them both!
World premiere March 20th 2018 at Holy Trinity, Sloane Square, London (Sold out!)
London Concert Choir (cond. Mark Forkgen)
Listen to the premiere here....
SATB and piano/organ
Versions available for SSA, 1 part and 2 part choirs with piano/organ.
Scores available from Composers Edition (with huge thanks for their support) here.
One in eight women in the UK will face breast cancer in their lifetime. And every 45 minutes, another woman dies from the disease.
50% of proceeds from sales go to support the work of Breast Cancer Now,
the UK's largest Breast Cancer charity whose aim is that by 2050 everyone who develops breast cancer
The piece is in three movements that can be sung individually or together as a whole and is intended to be achievable by many different choirs.
This piece was commissioned by Adrienne Morgan.
However it is also inspired by Adrienne Morgan.
Adrienne is an extraordinary woman, she is a scientist, a campaigner and many things to many people. The libretto of the second movement, whilst about every woman is compiled from the things people said about her when, struggling to find up-beat words that worked, we crowd sourced the lyrics (subsequently edited by Adrienne’s niece Charlotte Morgan.)
Adrienne also has incurable breast cancer.
From the first conversation we had she made it very clear that this piece was to be a celebration of the things that were important in life.
I think maybe our favourite lines are those in Movement III, taken from the Epic of Gilgamesh, an epic poem from ancient Mesopotamia that is often regarded as the earliest surviving great work of literature. They are spoken by Siduri, an "alewife", a wise female divinity associated with fermentation (specifically beer and wine), as she attempts to dissuade Gilgamesh in his quest for immortality, urging him to be content with the simple pleasures of life.
“But until the end comes
Let every day be full of joy.
Let music and dancing fill your home,
Savour your food, wear bright clothes,
Love the child that holds your hand
For these alone are the concerns of humanity.”
Whilst written to be performed together each movement can also be performed separately.
We hope you enjoy both singing and listening to our piece.
I would be delighted if you would let me know if you are performing the piece and consider having a retiring collection for Breast Cancer Now.
Performed by Selwyn College Choir, Cambridge, prepared by Sarah MacDonald and conducted by Michael Bawtree,
Simon Hogan (organ), Onyx Brass (trumpet solo). With thanks to John Armitage Memorial Trust.
Norfolk born Edith Cavell was executed by German firing squad at dawn on October 12th 1915 having been found guilty of treason by a court martial. As a nurse in German occupied Brussels she worked with patients of all nationalities and helped some two hundred Allied soldiers escape to safety in the neutral Netherlands. Her execution caused worldwide condemnation.
The text for this piece was inspired by two short poems by award winning poet Chloe Stopa-Hunt. The poems combine words that Edith Cavell is known to have spoken to the Anglican chaplain, the Reverend Stirling Gahan, including "In life, in death, O Lord", a quotation from the final verse of 'Abide With Me' that they repeated together on the night before her execution. A motif from that hymn is repeatedly sung by the choir towards the end of the piece.
The other part of the text is drawn from the authorised statement given by Dr. Alfred Zimmerman (German Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs) on October 24th 1915 in response to the international outcry about the execution of a woman.
During the research for this piece it struck me that in many instances Cavell and Zimmerman were saying the same thing. Both seem to say that she knew what she was doing and that she was aware of what the punishment would be if she were caught. Both imply that she was judged justly. The text reflects this by using shared words as pivot points between different sections of text.
We must remember and honour the men that died in World War I but let's not forget the women who also suffered in so many ways as a result of this terrible conflict. Edith Cavell, an ordinary woman who did extraordinary things.
We will remember them.
EDITH CAVELL 1865 - 1915
2017....a good year!Read Now
Five years ago I decided to have a renaissance.
I have always written music ever since I was about six years old, it's just what I do! However, following some success in my late teens/early twenties I had three children in very quick succession and drowned under a tsunami of terry nappies. It is fair to say that, whilst still writing....often by candlelight in the caravan outside, I may not have produced by best work...
The boys are now 18, 19 and 20 (and 28) and over the past few years I have been delighted to find that people still seem to like my music! So this blog is a reflection on what the year has brought and how my renaissance is going....
I didn't really like secondary school. In fact, I really didn't like secondary school. I got banned from the music rooms just before my Grade VIII piano by a headmistress who seemed excessively keen for me to go and play with Cindy dolls in the playground.
I didn't. Three reasons;
i) I needed to play the piano.
ii) Dolls. Seriously? Teddy bear girl all the way....
iii) Why were 14 year old girls playing with Cindy dolls?!
So on the first day of Hampshire Music Service's "Heard Differently - Dickens Recomposed" as composer in residence in January I admit to being a little nervous about working with two classes of Year 9s, (although obviously I didn't let on to anyone at the time.) But you know what? They were brilliant!
From the first session with Professor Holly Furneaux to the final multi media performance at Milestones Museum in Basingstoke they were positive, focused and hugely musically creative. The final pieces, about Miss Havisham and Inspector Bucket, included music from every pupil, either live performance, composed songs or a collaborative Garage Band soundtrack to the film footage they had made. They were an absolute pleasure to work with and I know they (and we) were very proud of what they created!
January also saw the broadcast on BBC Radio 3 of a short programme about JOURNEYS, my piece reflecting on the ongoing Refugee Crisis for Chiltern Youth Chamber Orchestra commissioned by the Adopt a Composer scheme 2015/16.
In February I returned to Bristol to hear the outcome of the instrumental pieces commissioned as part of the Old Hispanic Office project at Bristol University. Wonderful new pieces by composers including Miranda Driessen, Mauro Agagliate and Mathias Vestergard. It was fascinating to see how divergent the musical outcomes were from a single point of departure! (More on The Old Hispanic project later). In other news I Musical Directed Phantom of the Opera and had some really useful meetings with Adrienne....of which more later.
March was a busy month....at one point I had to set up an Excel spreadsheet to see how everything could fit! First up was "Paschalia", commissioned by Choir & Organ magazine and premiered by Rupert Gough at Royal Holloway. "Heard Differently" culminated in the performance at Milestones, "Dawn. Brussels. October 12th 1915", a piece for double choir, organ and trumpet, received a fabulous premiere by Selwyn College Choir (with thanks to Sarah MacDonald), conducted by Michael Bawtree as part of JAM's Music of Our Time concert. (You can listen here). In true jet-set style I then flew up to Aberdeen for a workshop with the fabulous Juice Vocal Ensemble and also the premiere of Thomas LaVoy's Endless.
Another exciting day was the Martin Read Foundation workshop. I am honoured to be a trustee of MRF, a charity that supports young composers through funding, tuition and professional performances. The workshops were an opportunity for our selected young composers to hear their draft pieces work-shopped by a professional clarinet and piano duo (Broncano-Mnich) prior to their first performance at the Martin Read Festival in May. We certainly have some names to listen out for in the future.....know any young composers? Point them to www.martinreadfoundation.org.
May saw the MRFestival, a wonderful day of contemporary music making featuring premieres of works by our supported composers. "THEY", a choir piece written for Chris Hutching's Choirs Against Racism project was performed in Nottingham, and my Vespers inspired by the medieval "Old Hispanic Office" were premiered in a concert by Bristol Cathedral Choir and Christchurch Cathedral Choir (Oxford) alongside other choral works commissioned as part of the Old Hispanic Office Project (Bristol University) led by the fabulous Emma Hornby. (You can listen to this performance here.) We (my huisband and I) also had a very hot weekend at Lechlade Festival playing rocking English Folk with our band Mad Magdalen....my teenage self cringed as we (may have) tried to smuggle prossecco onto the festival site....I'm glad to report no such poor behaviour at Wessex Folk Festival in June due to an excellent and very good value fruit cider and real ale stall.
My Magnificat (a response to Arvo Part's Nunc Dimittis) was beautifully performed by The Cantus Ensemble (dir. Dominic Brennan) in London in July, alongside pieces by two other outstanding composers, Janet Wheeler and Sarah Rimkus. You can hear this on my Listen Page.
In August I had a number of mini choir rehearsals and development meetings with the absolutely fabulous Adrienne Morgan. It is always a privilege to be able to work with a choir to develop ideas and the sessions reading through the draft scores and ideas, both with the mini-choir made up of Adrienne's friends and relatives and with the whole London Concert Choir were vital in developing the final score (and text and title) for "A Light Not Yet Ready To Go Out (An Affirmation), due for performance in March this year. (Tickets here). It has been a pleasure and a huge responsibility writing this piece. Adrienne lives with metastatic breast cancer and wanted to commission a piece that dwelt on the important things in life whilst not ignoring the darkest moments. It was not under any circumstances to be "hippy". Over several meetings (and excellent soup) we honed the text and tried out musical ideas and I think we are really proud of what we have produced. The piece will be available through Composers Edition in SATB, SSA, 2 Part and One part choir (with piano/organ accompaniment) versions in the hope that as many choirs as possible (of all abilities) can access it with proceeds from the sale of the sheet music/downloads going to support the amazing work of Breast Cancer Now.
On a different note (pardon the pun) the month ended with a great afternoon listening to The Rafters, a five piece folk band from Hampshire and actually one of my very favourite bands. I admit to being biased as my son (the 20 year old one with long dreadlocks) is one of the members but their five part vocal harmonies are just sublime....and their instrumental skills are pretty good too (even if they do keep "borrowing" Mad Magdalen songs....)
In October I was really pleased to be asked to deliver a couple of sessions at the Hampshire Music Service Secondary Music Conference, one about "Heard Differently" centred on using technology in the classroom and one about Practical Composition. I also took up post as accompanist to Luminosa Young Voices, a youth choir in Hampshire that is teaching children to love singing and work to a really professional standard whilst having fun. It has subsequently become one of the highlights of my week, despite a bit of a car accident (totally not my fault), on the way to rehearsal in January this year. I was also delighted to have two songs for mezzo and piano premiered at King's Place as part of the Women of the World Festival - what an excellent event!
November saw my next visit to Aberdeen (where I am a PhD candidate) for tutorials with Paul Mealor and Philip Cooke and a workshop with the incredible BBC Singers. I have to say I thoroughly enjoy being a student again for a few weeks a year and am looking forward to returning imminently. Composition is basically a solitary occupation and I find it really useful having other people shining a light on my work (and hearing the work of so many other contemporary composers).
"Rosarium" for upper voices was performed for the first time by Dulciana in Dublin in December conducted by the very talented Eoghan Desmond. Based on the medieval concept of a "garland of roses" it sets five short texts related to the Virgin Mary as rose.
So, it has been a busy year and I would like to think my renaissance is coming on nicely. All the boys were home for Christmas (so I didn't do much composing on 25th December!). I am about to go back to Secondary School for a project about War Art, have a piece being performed in Nashville Tennessee as I write this and another in California in May, "Love in Idleness" for harp won the Future Blend Project in January, I have been commissioned to write a piece for Hampshire Youth Choir for a service of peace and reconciliation at Winchester Cathedral in June and am very much looking forward to the premiere of "A Light Not Yet Ready To Go Out" in March.
Thank you to everyone who has helped in my journey so far. Here's to 2018 being another good year!
Busy times....Read Now
So March is looking pretty busy!
March 1st - Paschalia (The Chapel, Royal Holloway) 1pm: Premiere Performance by Rupert Gough
A bright and cheerful passacaglia for Easter, commissioned by Choir & Organ Magazine and to be featured with interview in the March/April edition.
March 11th - Composition Workshop with the Broncano-Mnich Duo and the young composers selected as mentees for the Martin Read Foundation.
March 15th - Heard Differently - Dickens Re-composed, (Milestones Museum, Basingstoke), 6.30pm
A multi media performance created with the year 9 pupils of Richard Aldworth school, re-imagining Inspector Bucket from Bleak House and Miss Havisham from Great Expectations, commissioned by Hampshire Music Service in association with Professor Holly Furneaux, advisor to BBC's Dickensian.
March 23rd - Dawn. Brussels. October 12th 1915. (St. Bride's Church, Fleet Street, London). JAM's Music of Our Time as part of the Brandenburg Choral Festival). Selwyn College Choir (Cambridge) and Onyx Brass, cond. Michael Bawtree. The world premiere of my new piece about Edith Cavell, the World War I nurse executed for her extraordinary work helping soldiers of all nationalities.
And then I jump on a plane to Aberdeen for the premiere of my new work, "Winter", for Juice Vocal Ensemble in workshop on Friday 24th March.....
And of course, most importantly my fifteenth wedding anniversary to my wonderful husband Graeme (that'll surprise him!)..........
Alison Willis is a composer and musician based in the East of England.