October brings us a initial selection of scores by newly signed Angela Elizabeth Slater, also works for varied instrumental and vocal formations by Aleksandra Vrebalov, Anthony Gilbert, Daniele Venturi, Gordon Crosse, Ian Stephens, Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson, James Erber, Linda Catlin-Smith, Liz Dilnot Johnson, Mark Bowden, Philip Cashian, Prach Boondiskulchok, and Susannah Self.
Angela Elizabeth Slater
for soprano or mezzo-soprano and chamber ensemble
This four-minute song commemorates Sir John Manduell’s supreme efforts, depicting, with lyrical lines undermined by distorting harmonies, how the best attempts can often create, beneath the surface, their own corrupting enemies. He skilfully kept them at bay, until his very last years. The first two stanzas symbolically pull ther expressive vocal line from within the preceding, harmonically dense, string episodes; the latter two, in ‘leadership’ fashion, provide the core lines for the final two clearer, increasingly climactic string passages.
for solo violin and string quartet
One of Schubert’s best-loved songs, the Serenade (1828) lends itself readily to instrumental treatment. I made the arrangement for solo violin and chamber orchestra in 2006; it appears on the Deutsche Grammophon CD; Mendelssohn MacMillan Mozart, performed by Nicola Benedetti and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, conducted by James MacMillan. I later arranged the Serenade for solo violin and string quartet.
for solo cello
Prelude No.1 has the feeling of a person searching and searching for a “way out”, or a kind of grace or salvation. They search and search again without success, until they finally come to the realisation that perhaps grace and salvation resided in the search itself.
for piano solo
In writing this piece for piano, I wanted to find a way to thicken the texture of my compositional world. Because the piano can sustain, there is an inherent possibility for the layering of sound, like the undertones in painting where many colours can be superimposed, generating an overall hue, or atmosphere. I became interested in working with pitch in a layered way, to create a more ambiguous or diffuse sense of harmony.
This was my way of approaching a kind of subtle complexity, which comes not from an attempt at virtuosity, but from a desire to deepen my experience of composition, to wander into the shaded areas.
The piece is dedicated to Stephen Clarke, who commissioned it through the Canada Council for the Arts.
Liz Dilnot Johnson
for SATB choir and organ
This short, tuneful anthem summons up the beauty of the natural world, based on words from Psalm 8. The new final verse invites reflection how best we can nurture our planet for years to come. Composed to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the Church of St Matthias at Malvern Link, September 2021
for unaccompanied choir with baritone solo
Lady Margaret Wall introduced me to Gerard Manley Hopkins’ extraordinary The Windhover – one of her late husband’s favourite poems. We had been searching together for a text that both summoned up an element of the dawn chorus and also had some personal connection with Sir Nicholas for this new Ex Cathedra commission.
As part of my preparation for composing this piece I set off before dawn in April, in search of the ‘windhover’ the country name for a kestrel.
The opening sequence of chords maps out Sir Nicholas Wall’s name in musical notes, creating a sequence of subtly shifting harmonies capturing that magical moment of stillness just before sunrise.
two pieces for flute, viola and harp
This short chamber piece in two movements is a reworking of two sections from Act II, Scene 2 of my opera Sea Change. The opera is set in an imagined future where most of society lives under the sea in individual pods, whilst a small group of people survive on the surface. In the part of the scene which inspired the first movement, we see Sedna — leader of the people on the land and voiced by the viola in this transcription — revealing a sapling to her protégé, Anouk.
Wych Elm was commissioned by National Youth Arts Wales in celebration of the National Youth Orchestra of Wales’ 75th Anniversary.
The first performance was given online by members of the National Youth Orchestra of Wales on 21st October 2021.
for string trio
Ligatures are graphical symbols used c. 9th-15th centuries to notate groups of notes. This set of short pieces explores different gestures, and the idea of connectedness in general. The first piece, Portrait, is a tribute to a musician and an important teacher of mine, Rita Wagner. It is a portrait of her energy, humour, and kindness. The second, a Sarabande, was written in Cornwall, and partly depicts by its open skies, old churches, and rhythms of nature. The third, Grao, is a paraphrase of a Thai traditional court piece found in “Khon” theatre, with a distorted Viennese lullaby inserted. The final movement, Chorale, begins with a distant memory of a melody that fades in and out of consciousness, and ends in a prayer.
for mezzo soprano and chamber orchestra
At the beginning of lockdown I embarked on composing my fifth symphony, inspired by Jung’s The Red Book. I searched for a way to focus on a fragmentary aspect of the work that could reflect the context of the current pandemic. I found useful insights via the conversations of Sonu Shamdasani and James Hillman in their book Lament of the Dead. In particular, they discuss the idea that The Red Book invites us to connect with the dead from all of time as a form of transformation and self-actualisation.
The Anatomy of a Woman for marimba and string orchestra
A woman’s body is fed by many tributaries that flow like a river secretly within her. These fluids are hidden from the outside world, repressed, sent underground. The embodiment of her flow is contained within the coiled serpent at the base of her spine. This concealed kundalini energy informs the opening of HER BODY.
HER BODY develops to reflect on the life of a woman, her magnificence, her essence. The flow of her internal river becomes intertwined with other bodies in a cosmic dance where there is no longer male or female body, but just body contained within an inner and outer landscape. HER BODY is our shared experience of embodiment.