Christopher Finch - conductor
Nigel Nash - organ
Bristol Ensemble - leader Roger Huckle
A Handful of Singers
The Red Maids' School Chamber Choir
(Scroll down or click a composer or work to view programme notes...)
|Thomas Tallis||The Lamentations of Jeremiah|
|Samuel Barber||Adagio for Strings|
|James Macmillan||St Luke Passion|
James MacMillan spoke to David Allenby from Boosey & Hawkes music
publishers about his St Luke Passion and how it turns the spotlight on the chorus
and returns to Baroque roots.
You have been continually drawn back to the Passion narrative. Why is this?
I've always enjoyed a fruitful fascination with the Passion story, and there are deep reasons through history why artists and composers have been attracted to it, right up to our own times. The story is compelling and the images are powerful, prompting a variety of responses. Each time I return to it I try and find different perspectives. Some are purely instrumental. Others follow more familiar formats with choir, such as the Seven Last Words from the Cross or the St John Passion.
What drew you especially to St Luke's telling of the story? How does it differ from St John?
My setting of the St John Passion took a particular approach, examining the human drama, and was almost operatic in impact. So returning after a five-year interval I wanted to take an alternative direction. St John stands apart from the other three so-called Synoptic Gospel writers who share structure and common material and, of those three, St Luke has a special appeal for me. As well as relating Christ's life and teachings, Luke is concerned with the idea of the Kingdom of God which points forward to the same author's Acts of the Apostles. This started me thinking about a more spiritual, inward and pared-back approach to create a focused work about an hour long.
How did you select the texts from St Luke's Gospel?
I decided to frame the Passion narrative with a Prelude exploring the Annunciation to set the scene, and a Postlude taking us beyond the Crucifixion to the Resurrection and Ascension. These incorporate Gospel texts where Luke explains the Kingdom of God. The main body of the work sets Chapters 22 and 23 complete. The other major decision was to use English throughout. I'd been struck at performances of the St John Passion how engaged the audience was with the narrative sections in English, and several people, perhaps not church regulars, came up to tell me how the story had gripped them, as if for the first time. This was perhaps because we are so used to Latin settings, or to German when we hear the Bach Passions. So I opted for English only and decided not to include any extraneous texts beyond Luke's Gospel.
Why did you dispense with soloists and focus on the chorus as narrator?
I decided to do without the usual tenor Evangelist and bass Christ. Everything would be sung by choral forces. This posed quite a few challenges for me as a composer and for the chorus who would have to be very busy. I'd used a chamber choir narrating the story in the St John Passion, and I envisage in the St Luke Passion a flexible approach with a semi-chorus and the choir. I tried to make the choral writing as varied as possible, sometimes homophonic, sometimes with upper or lower voices, at other times just a unison line. The crowd sections move into polyphony to show the chaotic, angry or fearful world of the street.
Using the children's choir to depict Christ imparts a special quality. How did this come about?
Any Passion that casts Christ as a soloist immediately makes him take human form as an adult male, whereas I wanted to examine his otherness, sanctity and mystery. Employing a children's choir grants a measure of innocence to Christ as the sacrificial lamb, while the vocal line is either in unison or in three parts reflecting the oneness or Trinitarian implications of God.
How did you select the orchestra to balance the choral forces in this Passion?
The orchestration was dictated by my pared-back approach and practical issues for choirs that might want to hire an orchestra and can't always afford additional brass or percussion. It has taken me back to the Baroque origins of the oratorio, employing a distinctive Handelian chamber orchestra with organ and timpani. There is a single flute and clarinet, while oboes and bassoons have doublings for expressive reasons, plus two horns and trumpets. The use of organ together with cello or double bass solos gives a continuo feel, but support for the chorus is also at times provided by the string or wind choirs.
How do you view the state of new choral music today?
I'm genuinely surprised and delighted by the amount of new choral music being commissioned and performed by choirs today. I would never have believed this possible when I think of the world 30 years ago. The landscape has totally changed and I'm finding choral writing becoming much more central to myself and other composers. The thirst for new choral music from audiences is equally marked and most welcome.
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It is not often noted that Thomas Tallis was a rather slow developer as a composer.
Over the course of his long life, the music he wrote tended to get shorter, clearer,
and more concise, and he gradually developed the certainty of direction and the
intensity which characterise his best pieces. The process is however obscured by
the differing musical demands of the English Church under the four monarchs
whom he served. The Lamentations of Jeremiah is a late piece, written while
Elizabeth I - the last of the four - was on the throne, and it shows all the
characteristics of his late style, with clear textures and shortish sections.
The Old Testament book of Lamentations was probably written shortly after the
destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC. It is traditionally ascribed
to the prophet Jeremiah, though modern scholars doubt that it was his work. It
was written as a poem, and as an acrostic - the letters of the Hebrew alphabet in
order are used to start each line. Tallis follows the Renaissance musical tradition
of setting these letters to music at the beginning of the verse they introduce -
Aleph, Beth, Gimel, Daleth and He. The section of the Lamentations set to music
by Tallis was said or sung as the first and second lessons from the service of Matins
on Maundy Thursday. It is most likely however that Tallis's piece was not intended
for liturgical performance, but rather for private use in the homes of Catholic
recusants. As often with his music, the words can be interpreted as having a
symbolic meaning for Elizabethan Catholics: suggesting the oppression of priests,
and asking Jerusalem (= England) to return to the Lord (= the true faith).
The choir is divided into five parts. In our performance they're Soprano, Alto 1, Alto 2, Tenor and Bass, although there is some evidence that Tallis intended it to be sung by men's voices only, at a lower pitch. There are two sections, parts 1 and 2, which are actually separate pieces usually sung consecutively.
Listen out for:
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The Adagio for Strings is certainly Barber's best-known piece. The music was written in 1936 as the slow movement of his String Quartet op. 11, and arranged by him for string orchestra the same year. It is on many people's list of the most beautiful music ever written, often evoking phrases such as ‘sense of longing’ and ‘deep sadness’. It is a beautifully controlled arch form, starting with one note played on the first violins, to which is added slowly shifting harmonies; the music gradually rises to an intense climax, and then dies away via a varied reprise of the opening to a serene ending. It lasts about 8 minutes.
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The Scottish composer and conductor Sir James MacMillan is one of the best-known musicians of his generation. He has written a lot of music in many different genres, including four symphonies, several operas, concertos, chamber and choral music. The St Luke Passion (2012-13) is his second, after the St John Passion (2007); he has said that he plans to write four - one setting of each of the Gospels.
Five things you need to know about the St Luke Passion
Five wonderful things about the St Luke Passion
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The Bristol Ensemble is the city's only professional
orchestra, founded in 1994 by its Artistic Director and
lead violinist Roger Huckle. It is a musicians' collective
with a core of 25 musicians and a further 50 musicians,
all experienced players in a range of musical genres.
The Ensemble has flexible configurations, from a piano
trio through to full symphony orchestra.
The orchestra holds a pivotal position in South West music, presenting a varied programme of concerts and events in the region's major venues.
The Ensemble has worked with outstanding international artists and soloists, including Dame Evelyn Glennie, Freddy Kempf, Gilles Apap, Peter Donohoe, Andrei Gavrilov, Chloë Hanslip, Matthew Barley, Alan Schiller, Willard White, Emma Kirkby, James Bowman, Andy Shephard, Wayne Marshall, Leslie Garrett, Emma Johnson, Natalia Lomeiko and Jiafeng Chen. The orchestra is known for collaborations with other art forms including film and media work, as well as its highly acclaimed contemporary music series Elektrostatic at the Colston Hall, working with artists such as Gabriel Prokofiev, Juice, Get The Blessing, Charles Johnston, USA group Eighth Blackbird and Bhangra group RSVP. Through Elektrostatic Bristol Ensemble has commissioned over 50 new works by British composers.
Film and TV engagements include music for BBC Bristol Natural History Unit and TV productions, such as the David Attenborough series Life in Cold Blood. The Ensemble has also recorded soundtracks for several computer games, and produced several CDs. Among recent films, Any Human Heart won a BAFTA and an Ivor Novello award for best music score for Bristol composer Dan Jones. In addition to its public performances, the Bristol Ensemble runs education programmes for children and adults, through Preludes and BeMoreMusical.
Preludes is an inspirational, long-term classical music education project in which primary school children learn to read music, sing and play a range of instruments in an inclusive and supportive setting. Its success has been celebrated with the award of the inaugural St George's Prize For Music.
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|A Handful Of Singers was established in 2002 and has forged a
reputation as one of Bath's most respected choral ensembles.
Originally a literal handful of experienced singers, the group has
operated since 2005 as a versatile chamber choir of 20-25 auditioned
singers under its award-winning conductor, Christopher Finch.
A Handful of Singers has regularly performed at major events in and around Bath, including several performances at Party in the City, a performance with Bath Philharmonia in the Bath International Music Festival and a concert entitled Divine Music for Trumpets and Voices, under the baton of Ben Hoffnung and in the presence of the Duchess of Cornwall, in Marlborough College Chapel. It has collaborated with the region's best instrumentalists and young vocalists, including acclaimed organists David Bednall, Shean Bowers, Samuel Hudson, Amy Lyddon, and Owain Park. Major works performed include the Chilcott, Duruflé, Faureé, Goodall, Howells and Mozart Requiems, Bach Magnificat, Bernstein Chichester Psalms, Charpentier Te Deum, Copland In the Beginning, Handel Dixit Dominus and Dettingen Te Deum, Haydn Te Deum, Kodaly Missa Brevis, Lauridsen Lux Aeterna, Frank Martin Mass for double choir, Mozart Vespers, Parry Songs of Farewell, Rachmaninov Vespers, Vaughan Williams Mass in G minor and Vivaldi Gloria. The choir's next concert, on Saturday 24th June in Prior Park College Chapel, Bath, will feature Rheinberger's Mass in E flat for double choir.
Many of the solo roles in the choir's concerts are sung by members of the choir, and groups from within the choir readily undertake a variety of engagements for Roadpeace, the American Museum, private companies, weddings and other special occasions.
The choir's CD, Sing... Be... Live... See... (4-Part Music 4PM/12174), features the works of great American composers Frank Ticheli, Matthew Harris, Morten Lauridsen and Stephen Paulus alongside an exciting array of European composers including Jan Sandström, Rihards Dubra and Franz Biebl. A Handful of Singers undertook its first foreign tour in May 2015, giving two performances in Ireland, and will make a second tour to perform in Tuscany in October.
Charlotte de Grey
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|Music plays a vital role at The Red Maids' School. Musicians at the school give numerous performances throughout the year, featuring a wide range of choral and instrumental music. The Chamber Choir is one of six vocal ensembles at the school which rehearse weekly, with entry to the Chamber Choir being by audition. The singers at the school have regular performing opportunities throughout the year, including singing at the school's main services such as Founder's Day, the Carol Service and Easter Service, singing at the many concerts held at the school, and also performing at various external events, including concerts held at St. George's and at The Lord Mayor's Chapel. The school also runs a biennial choir tour, which last year included singing mass at The Basilica of St. Peter in Vatican City, Rome.||
Lucy Barratt, Elysia Cains, Emily Cazalet, Eloise Cook, Lauren Figes-Jones, Isla Furey, Amy Goodsall, Jenny Griffith, Ellen Haley, Emma Hebbron, Alice Holder, Mia Jakeways, Emma Jervis, Emma Jones, Francesca Lee, Ruby Lightwood, Imogen Morris, Caitlin O'Sullivan, Rosie Owen, Alice Pleat, Lucy Reddiford, Thea Rickard, Alice Rivers, Georgia Scott, Molly Whitworth, Daisy Wood, Kitty Wright
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