Christopher Finch - Conductor
Nigel Nash - Piano
David Heyes - Double Bass
(Scroll down or click a composer's name to view programme notes...)
|Michael Tippett (1905-98)||Five Spirituals from A Child of our Time
1 Steal away
2 Nobody knows
3 Go down, Moses
4 By and by
5 Deep river
|Christopher Stunt (1939-2008)||Nocturne (Nigel Nash, piano)|
|Morten Lauridsen (b.1943)||1 Sa nuit d'été
2 Soneto de la noche
3 Sure on this shining night
4 Epilogue - Voici le soir
|Aaron Copland (1900-90)||In evening air (Nigel Nash, piano)|
|Eric Whitacre (b.1970)||Three flower songs
1 I hide myself
2 Go, lovely rose
3 With a lily in your hand
Long time ago
|Two Moods & Wistful/Jazzy (Nigel Nash, piano)|
|I bought me a cat|
|The Cat and the Mouse & Scherzo Humoristique (Nigel Nash, piano)|
|John Rutter (b. 1945)||Birthday Madrigals
1 It was a lover and his lass
2 Draw on, sweet night
3 Come live with me
4 My true love hath my heart
5 When daisies pied
Despite the fierce battle fought during the American War of Independence, the relationship between our two countries has indeed grown to be immensely important, not just politically but also culturally. This special relationship, fostered on shared ideals and a common language is in evidence in the choral music that is produced and performed on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
The UK is often viewed as home to one of the richest choral heritages in the world, from the excellence of its cathedral music tradition, the quality of the choirs found in so many universities and college choirs and the world-leading reputation of the professional choirs such as the Monteverdi Choir, The Sixteen and Polyphony. In America there is an equally strong choral tradition to be found in the secular university choirs and professional ensembles. Over recent years, composers such as Lauridsen and Whitacre have produced some truly remarkable works that have established an important place in the core repertoire of British choirs, whilst British composers of the last 100 years have been increasingly influenced by American musical genres, particularly ‘Spirituals' ‘Gospel' and ‘Jazz'. This concert celebrates this very important musical relationship, featuring a selection of some of the very best American repertoire alongside music originating in this country that owes a great deal to musical genres born in the USA.
Sir Michael Tippett (1905-1998) was a British composer whose own deeply held humanist and pacifist beliefs were often expressed profoundly in his music compositions. Having completed his study at the Royal College of Music in the 1920s, he moved away from London to allow himself more freedom to explore his compositional thoughts, whilst also participating in varied musical and social initiatives. During the next decade of his life Tippett became increasingly alarmed by the threat of war in Europe and took an active interest in the politics of the left. At the outbreak of war in 1939, his long held pacifist views led to his refusal to commit to the war effort, declaring himself a conscientious objector, and eventually serving three months in Wormwood Scrubs.
His horror at the injustices and oppression of this era provided the catalyst for the composition of his great oratorio A Child of our time. Written between 1939-1941, the libretto (also written by Tippett) was inspired by a series of real life events that affected Tippett deeply: the assassination in 1938 of a German diplomat by a young Jewish refugee, and the Nazi government's reaction in the form of a vicious pogrom against its Jewish population - the so-called Kristallnacht.
Tippett writes 'I knew from the first that the work itself had to be anonymous and general, in order to reach down to the deeper levels of our common humanity. ‘A Child of our Time' is indeed a Passion; not of a god-man, but of a man whose god has left the light of the heavens for the dark of the collective unconscious.&r
Tippett's tripartite form was modelled on the structure of Handel's Messiah. However his decision to include five spirituals at key points of the narrative is influenced significantly by the utilisation of Lutheran chorales in Bach's settings of the Passion. Through these spirituals: 'Steal Away,’ 'Nobody Knows,’ 'Go Down, Moses,’ 'By and By’ and 'Deep River’, black Americans had communicated their own plight and suffering by equating their oppression to that of the Jews in Old Testament stories. In using them in this context, Tippet sought to evoke not only the torments of contemporary Jews in wartime Europe but also those of anyone 'rejected, cast out from the centre of our society onto the fringes: into slums, into concentration camps, into ghettos’.
In 1958 at the behest of his publishers, Tippett extracted the spirituals from the oratorio and re-scored them for voices alone. The genius of these arrangements lies in Tippett's ability to rearrange the orchestral accompaniments effectively as choral parts that retain the direct expression of the original.
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Christopher Stunt's love of composing and piano playing, ever since he was 8 years old, finally led him to do a music degree at Bristol University in his mid 50s, following a very successful career as a lawyer in London. During his time as an undergraduate he joined Bristol Bach Choir and became a very keen member for some 10 years, writing a carol and other pieces for the choir. He sadly died in October 2008 and we would like to remember him by performing this Nocturne, which was one of his favourite pieces and was written in the 1980's.The work has a pastoral, lyrical feel to it, and he uses a very rich harmonic language that explores the whole range of the piano keyboard - a truly beautiful piece which can be downloaded on www.scoreexchange.com
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Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943) is a contemporary American composer and conductor of Danish descent. He has been professor of composition at the University of Southern California for over 40 years and was awarded the prestigious US ‘National Medal of Arts' in 2007. His compositional output includes seven song cycles, which have become core repertoire for choirs the world over. His setting of O Magnum Mysterium is surely now one of the most frequently performed choral compositions of the last 30 years.
His musical language is influenced heavily by Gregorian Chant and a predisposition to achieve fluency and progression by the use of unresolved major 9ths over first inversion chords. The American Musicologist Nick Strimple describes Lauridsen as 'the only American composer in history who can be called a mystic, (whose) probing, serene work contains an elusive and indefinable ingredient which leaves the impression that all the questions have been answered&r.
Composed in 2005, the original three movements of ‘Nocturnes' were conceived as an integrated choral cycle, whilst also allowing for the separate performance of each movement, made possible by their structural completeness and textural and motivic independence. In contrast to his previous song-cycles, this work uses poetry of three twentieth century poets: The German Rainer Maria Rilke (written in French), the Chilean Pablo Neruda, and the American James Agee.
The final epilogue ‘Voici le soir' was composed in 2008 to a text by Rilke, and provides a unifying conclusion to the work, which the composer felt was absent in the musical theatre inspired ‘Sure on this shining night' that had originally concluded the song cycle.
This delightfully simple piece, dating from 1945, quotes Theodore Roethke at the beginning: 'I see, in evening air, How slowly dark comes down on what we do’ . It is arranged from music that he wrote for the film‘The Cummington Story'.
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Eric Whitacre (b. 1970) is nothing short of a global choral phenomenon. Accolades in international media have hailed him as
‘the hottest thing in choral music', ‘that rare thing, a modern composer who is both popular and original' and describe his music as ‘works of
unearthly beauty and imagination'. Whitacre is an American composer who now resides in London. A CD of his work performed by his own
(British) choir was awarded a Grammy, and his online ‘virtual choir' projects have received millions of hits on social media.
Having received little formal musical training before the age of 18, his first semester at the University of Nevada in 1988 would change the path of his career. After gaining a place in the choir, he began to explore the world of choral music beginning with Mozart's Requiem. He writes: 'It was like seeing colour for the first time, and I was regularly moved to tears during rehearsals, crushed by the impossible beauty of the work. I became a choral geek of the highest magnitude, I mean I lived for rehearsals and performances'.
The university choir had a tradition of performing a different version of ‘Go Lovely Rose' every year, and during his second year at university Whitacre set about writing a setting as a gift to the choir's inspirational conductor, David Weiller. The resulting composition, premiered in 1991, was given a subsequent performance at a regional choral convention in 1992, where the piece was signed up by a musical publisher who encouraged Whitacre to write two further pieces to complete a set of three flower songs.
This set therefore demonstrates Whitacre's first formal steps on his swift journey to the summit of choral compositional acclaim. They are infused not only with a deep and profound understanding and exposition of the text but also show characteristics of an exuberant and highly gifted student who is experimenting joyously in the rich and varied range of choral sonorities and colour.
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Aaron Copland (1900-1990) was an American composer, composition teacher, writer, and conductor. He was instrumental in
forging a distinctly American style of composition, and is often referred to as "the Dean of American Composers". His best known
compositions from the 1930s and 1940s were written in a deliberately more accessible style than his earlier pieces, including the
ballets Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid, Rodeo and his Fanfare for the Common Man. The open, slowly changing
harmonies of many of his works are archetypical of what many people consider to be the sound of American music, evoking the vast American
landscape and pioneer spirit.
Copland composed two sets of American songs (1950, 1952), comprising 10 songs in all. Originally scored for solo voice and piano, they were subsequently arranged by Copland for voice and orchestra. The three songs to be performed tonight have been transcribed for chorus and orchestra by Irving Fine (1914-1962), an American composer hugely respected by Copland, who was immensely impressed by the "elegance, style, finish and...convincing continuity" of Fine's music.
In 1950, Britten and Pears gave the premiere performance of the first set of Old American Songs in Aldeburgh. His source was a collection of original song sheets of ballads, hymns and minstrel songs at Brown University.
Simple Gifts is a mid-century Shaker tune that Copland made famous in his ballet Appalachian Spring.
Long Time Ago began life as an old Spiritual song. It underwent several transformations until the English-born composer and singer Charles Edward Horn (1786-1849) adapted the melody as Near the Lake where Drooped the Willow.
Two Moods & Wistful and Jazzy (Nigel Nash, piano)
‘Wistful' and ‘Jazzy' are two of ‘Three Moods', written in 1921. Copland himself noted that ‘Jazzy' "is based on two jazz melodies and ought to make the old professors sit up and take notice".
I Bought Me a Cat is a whimsical children's song in the style of 'Old MacDonald,’ with a verse repeating and adding a new animal with each iteration (the last 'animal’ being a wife!).
The Cat and the Mouse (Nigel Nash, piano)
The piano was Copland's first instrument and so was the natural vehicle of expression as he found his way as a composer.
He wrote a number of shorter programmatic pieces, none more delightful than this piece, subtitled Scherzo Humoristique.
At a concert of student works -- including his own -- the young Copland was approached by Jacques Durand of the prominent music publishing
firmDurand, who offered to publish this piece. It was the first of his pieces to be published, and was based on Jean de la Fontaine's fable
of The Old Cat and the Young Mouse.
It depicts an exciting chase with much scampering around the keyboard depicting the mouse, and quiet chords portraying the cat stalking. The mouse's music alternates more rapidly with that of the cat as the chase presses on, until in five dramatic chords, the cat pounces. Then there is a coda marked ‘softly, in a funereal manner'! The whole piece could easily have been used as the background to a Tom & Jerry film, and you must use your imagination to decide exactly what is going on.
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John Rutter (b. 1945) is one of the UK's best loved composers. His compositions embrace choral, orchestral, and instrumental music,
and he has edited or co-edited various choral anthologies including four Carols for Choirs volumes with Sir David Willcocks and the
Oxford Choral Classics series. From 1975 to 1979 he was Director of Music at Clare College, and in 1981 he formed his own choir, the
Cambridge Singers. His many immediately accessible works are performed throughout the world, particularly at the major Christian festivals -
Christmas just wouldn't be the same without Rutter!
Birthday Madrigals was written at the invitation of Brian Kay, conductor of the Cheltenham Bach Choir (and president of the Bristol Bach Choir), in celebration of the seventy-fifth birthday of the great American jazz pianist George Shearing. The first performance was given, in his presence, in Cheltenham Town Hall on 3 June 1995 by the Cheltenham Bach Choir.
The opening movement ‘It was a lover and his lass' was in fact written in 1975, with Rutter stating that he always intended it as an opening movement of a longer work. The subsequent four movements also take their text from the madrigal era, hence the title of the suite. A unique fusion of madrigal idiom with a distinctly jazz influenced character, makes for a quirky but hugely entertaining work. The 1st, 3rd and 5th movements show this jazz influence in its purest form, although Brian Kay's former career as a member of the ‘King's Singers' is surely also an audible influence on the vocal arrangement. In sublime contrast, the other two movements are madrigals of subtle beauty and sumptuous harmony.
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David Heyes studied double bass with Laurence Gray and Bronwen Naish and later at the Royal College of Music in London.
He completed his post-graduate studies in Prague with the renowned soloist and teacher, Frantisek Posta (Principal Double Bass, Czech
Philharmonic Orchestra). David is in great demand and his engagements as a soloist, teacher and ambassador for the double bass have taken
him to 12 countries over the past few years. He has been a juror at a number of international competitions and was Chairman of the Jury
for the 2008 Brno International Double Bass Competition, held at the Janacek Academy of Music & Drama (Czech Republic).
David was appointed as Specialist Double Bass Tutor at Wells Cathedral School, a position he has held for 14 years, and for a year was Contemporary Performer-in-Residence at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. He is a founder member of Ensemble Bassissimo, Basso Bravura! (with soprano Sarah Poole) and Duo Concertante (with solo violinist Catherine Lord), is Director of The Vienna Collection, London Chamber Soloists and Bass-Fest, and in recent years has premiered nine contemporary concertos for double bass.
David's collaborative work gained him a prestigious award from the David Walter Charitable Trust of New York for his pioneering activities as a soloist, teacher, publisher and commissioner of new music for double bass. He works with composers throughout the world and is particularly interested to expand the double bass repertoire, by commissioning new works and by rediscovering forgotten ones, and since 1990 almost 500 works have been written for him.
In 1986 David founded the publishing company Recital Music and in 1994 The British & International Bass Forum (BIBF). He is an acknowledged authority on the history of the double bass having written articles and reviews for the leading specialist magazines including The Strad, Bass News, Music Teacher, Double Bassist, ESTA News & Views and Classical Music.
David has given recitals, masterclasses and workshops throughout Britain and abroad including UK (Trinity College of Music, Royal Northern College of Music, Royal Academy of Music, Royal Welsh College of Music), USA (University of Montana, University of North Texas), China (Central Conservatory, Beijing), Norway (Norwegian Academy of Music), Netherlands (Rotterdam Conservatoire), Spain (Palma Conservatoire, Inca School of Music), Portugal (Escola Superior de Musica, Porto) and Denmark (Carl Nielsen Academy).