Adopt a Composer: evening songs in the city

Jess Griffin of the Chandos Chamber Choir reflects on the premiere of works written with the group by Laura Snowdon for the Adopt a Composer project. 

The summer term for the Chandos Chamber Choir began with an exciting programme to rehearse, consisting of pieces all written by women composers. This included the two pieces written for us by Laura Snowden as part of Making Music's Adopt a Composer project, and we were looking forward to trying out the final versions. 

Laura and Cherry Smyth, the author of the text of Laura’s piece Evensong, joined us for the final rehearsal before our concert. They were very positive about how the pieces sounded and provided some useful last minute feedback and inspiration. Cherry joked that she might have used some different words, easier to articulate, if she’d known they would have to be sung!

On July 4 the big day arrived, and we had been working hard to learn all the pieces for our concert at St Pancras Church, London. We all knew it was a challenge and the rehearsal beforehand was solid hard work. But once we started singing Eleanor Daley’s Upon your heart, early on in the programme, which is straightforward to sing but extremely beautiful, we seemed to grow in confidence and really worked together.

Conductor James Davey rehearsing with the Chandos Chamber Choir

We carried this energy into performing Laura’s pieces, which were almost at the end of the first half of the concert, and I feel that we managed to pull off a sincere and convincing performance. The first piece, City, is “intended to depict a busy, interconnected city, with the sun coming down towards the end of the piece,” and “sets the scene for the start of Cherry’s poem”.  It’s somewhat tricky to sing, being in 5/4 time, especially when you have the third soprano part! The piece then merges into Evensong, about an evening that “was all safe and calm” with comforting darkness, and “despite being in a big city," there was a sense of “the interconnectedness of everything."

Personally, I felt the concert was a joyous celebration of women composers. Although the choir were nervous about the challenging pieces, they had worked really hard and were confident and cohesive on the night. This was greatly enhanced by the honour of being able to perform the world premiere of Laura’s pieces as it inspired us to surpass ourselves.

The audience seemed to enjoy it too. Sally from Making Music said, “the whole concert was impressive and had such a lovely atmosphere. Evensong was fantastic, so atmospheric." Cherry Smyth called our performance “exhilarating” and Lizzie Ibrahim from BBC Radio 3 described Laura’s pieces as a “gorgeous, ethereal and minimalist cityscape for voices."

I have greatly enjoyed the whole process of creating the pieces with Laura and bringing them to life. I really hope we will be able to perform them again many times (and perfect the third soprano part!) and find a way to work with Laura again in the future.

 

Evensong (by Cherry Smyth)

The way evening comes in
(or on or down)
brings the word closer
than its ever been:
the blue levelling deeper, evening to a fade,
that seems to make the colour
brighter, the best possible
way to age. I keep watching
its beauty as if I could learn it,
shaking a month’s dust from
a carpet out of the top window,
my face paused in the cold air,
joining indigo,
the lidless city,
invulnerable,
the universe heard.

 

Chandos Chamber Choir: Twitter / Facebook / YouTube 

Composer Laura Snowden: Twitter / Facebook

Poet Cherry Smyth: Twitter 


The Adopt a Composer project matches vocal and instrumental leisure-time music groups with some of the UK’s most promising composers to collaborate on creating a new piece of music. If you’re a music group or composer and you’d like to take part, find out more.