Jonathan Dove’s new piece for amateur choirs premières

Jonathan Dove’s Arion and the Dolphin, specially written for amateur choirs and as a companion piece for Carmina Burana, has just had its première. Barbara Eifler reports back.

A commission takes time to come to fruition, and so it was that despite having been at Making Music now for four years, I had not witnessed the start of the process which has now resulted in a new piece by one of the composers most popular with amateur choirs: Jonathan Dove.

Arion and the Dolphin is conceived as a companion piece for the reduced instrumentation Carmina Burana which uses percussion and two pianos as accompaniment. If, as a choir, you have gone to the length of assembling a large choir plus children’s voices, this work now allows you to turn that into a full evening’s programme.

I attended Dulwich Choral Society’s premiere alongside the composer himself (whose sister-in-law sings in the choir). A second premiere was taking place on the same night in Chelmsford, with the Waltham Singers conducted by Andrew Fardell (who was instrumental in shaping the vision for the commission).

A slight intake of breath might be occasioned by the fact the piece features a soloist countertenor – will he be expensive, and difficult to find? But on the first count, no more than other soloists you use; and on the second count Making Music can help – we now have two countertenors’ details we can share: Robin Blaze and Benjamin Williamson who sang the roles in Dulwich and Chelmsford respectively and therefore come highly recommended.

The work itself I think is great fun, both for singers and audiences. The narrative and arc of the music is clear and engaging; it’s not too difficult for your average choir (I did the workshop a year ago and am not a habitual or experienced singer: and I thought I would definitely manage to learn it, had I a few months to do so).

Plus, it’s got some great numbers, including an admittedly rhythmically quite tricky one for the men, but some gorgeous tunes, too, particularly for the countertenor.

My slight concern would be that the children are underused in this piece, so you may want to be careful in how you ‘sell’ it to any youth choir you want to link up with. However, if you are matching it with Carmina or other repertoire which gives them more to do, then that would balance that out. Jonathan will also in due course be providing a fully orchestrated version, in case you want to produce a full throttle Carmina in tandem with Arion.

I would definitely be up for hearing it again – and for singing it.

If you're considering the work for your group, have a listen to the workshop recording tracks or have a flick through the sample score. Both Edition Peters (for Dove) and Schott Music (for Orff) are offering special rates to Making Music members for the next two seasons (2016-18) - find out more on our discounts page.

Happy programming!