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As we return to live music-making after a year and a half of silence, The Bach Choir and Musical Director David Hill announce the premieres of ten newly-commissioned contemporary choral works.
Three of the works to be performed this season use texts written by members of the Choir, including the Royal Festival Hall premiere of Richard Blackford’s covid-inspired cantata setting the medical diaries of a Choir member who spent three months in intensive care, and a climate-change inspired commission from Gabriel Jackson.
This July, the Choir also announces a call for scores for the Sir David Willcocks Carol Competition to premiere two new carols at Cadogan Hall, and heads to the studio to record six diverse pieces from award-winning young composers for its Bach Inspired project.
Richard Blackford and Gabriel Jackson world premieres at the Royal Festival Hall
We return to the stage with the Philharmonia Orchestra on October 24th for a post-COVID programme of music for reflection and hope. This includes the world premiere of Richard Blackford’s Vision of a Garden based on the COVID diaries of Choir member Peter Johnstone, who spent three months in intensive care with the virus in Spring 2020.
Setting moving words by Johnstone himself, Ivor Novello award-winner Richard Blackford’s Vision of a Garden incorporates text from the COVID diaries filled out by NHS staff at Addenbrooke’s Hospital while Johnstone was sedated on a ventilator. The diaries, which explain that the medical team played music to him while he was sedated, helped Johnstone to separate out fact from delirium and to come to terms with his experiences: “A nurse gives me diaries of my time in ICU. Reading them, I am overwhelmed with love for these people I never knew, who only knew me as a bundle of symptoms”
The Bach Choir hope to be joined by a choir of singers from the NHS, in a programme of music that includes Fauré’s Requiem and Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. The Bach Choir will sing the original theme by Tallis to new words, written by a Choir member especially for the performance. To buy tickets for the concert click here.
The Promise: climate-change inspired commission and online film
The Royal Festival Hall concert opens with the world premiere live performance of Gabriel Jackson’s The Promise – which will also be released online. Commissioned by The Bach Choir, The Promise is a new unaccompanied piece for choir setting words of optimism by Laura-Jane Foley, a soprano with Choir. Foley took inspiration from the journey of darkness to light during the pandemic, with shops and theatres being shut and dark, but an optimistic outlook ahead. “On the blackest of nights, a star-less sky. All light extinguished, all plans abandoned. Still we can trust that the light will return. In darkness there’s hope: The Promise of Dawn”
Members of the Choir recorded their parts individually during lockdown and made video recordings in groups of six. The powerful short film envisioned by CDC Films presents a modern fairytale, following a young child entranced by the beauty of a forest in spite of the grave threats of climate change. The Bach Choir will perform the work with the film at the Royal Festival Hall in October ahead of the UN Climate Conference in Glasgow in November 2021.
Two new Carols: call for entries from composers of all ages
Now open for entries, The Bach Choir’s Sir David Willcocks Carol Competition once more invites composers of all ages to contribute to the Christmas carolling tradition, with the winning carol premiering at The Bach Choir’s Carols at Cadogan on Monday 20 December 2021. The Competition is named for Sir David Willcocks, musical director of The Bach Choir for 38 years and a prolific arranger and composer of carols.
First held in 2017, this year’s Competition will select two winners for the first time, allowing composers both young and old to contend in a year of reduced opportunities. The winning entry will be judged by David Hill, John Rutter and Jonathan Willcocks. Full terms and conditions for entry are available here along with past winning composers.
Six diverse contemporary composers – all inspired by Bach
In a new recording to be released in the Choir’s 2021/22 season, Bach Inspired commissioned six award-winning young composers to write new works in response to chorales from Bach’s St Matthew Passion. The new pieces have been composed by Charlotte Harding, James B Wilson, Héloïse Werner, Gavin Higgins, Carmen Ho and Des Oliver, each in response to a particular chorale from the St Matthew Passion. Each composer had complete freedom to choose their text and was invited to challenge, explore and take risks. The broad text selections range from Christina Rossetti and George Herbert to Arthur Rimbaud’s Les Illuminations and a poem by Sarojini Naidu, and match chorales including the Passion Chorale: O Sacred Head Surrounded (O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden) and Be near me, Lord, when dying (Wenn ich einmal soll scheiden).
The six new commissions come in response to a second year in lockdown without the Choir’s sell-out Easter performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion in English, an annual fixture in the Choir’s calendar, which it hopes to resume for Easter 2022. The choir recorded these new pieces and their corresponding Chorales in July and will be released in the Spring. To read more click here.
Continuing the British Choral Tradition
Nearly 150 years old, The Bach Choir has a strong tradition of both preserving our choral heritage and commissioning new music to extend the tradition for future generations. It felt even more important to contribute more new choral music from such a challenging period as the UK rebuilds and celebrates its choral tradition.
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