Vasari Singers – committed to new music
Vasari is a great supporter of contemporary music, with a reputation for seeking out new and challenging modern repertoire. We regularly commission and première works, and have made many notable world première recordings. Since 2000, the choir has commissioned more than 25 new works. The choir is always looking to perform and commission new works, and is actively seeking to promote new British composing talents.
The choir’s most recent commissioning project in 2012 saw Vasari work with two leading British-born organist-composers, Jeremy Filsell, and David Briggs, two write substantial a cappella pieces for the choir.
These have been premiered, and recorded on CD, in 2013. Funding for these new commissions was gratefully received from the BBC Performing Arts Foundation and the RVW Trust.
In 2014 the choir plans to undertake another large-scale commission with British composer Jonathan Rathbone. Best known for his close-harmony Swingle Singers arrangements, Jonathan also has a deep understanding of sacred choral music (indeed, Vasari has premiered and recorded two of Jonathan’s anthems) and we look forward to announcing more detail about this project in due course.
Below is detailed works that the choir has given UK or World Premieres of, and also works commissioned by Vasari Singers.
Performance Premieres (and commissions)
- David Briggs: Pange lingua (commission and World Première 2013)
- Jeremy Filsell: Epitaph (commission and World Première 2013)
- Daniel Burges: Open to me are the gates (World Première 2013)
- Roger Burges: Three Duparc songs (World Première 2013)
- Thomas Blumire: The Arionic Blessing (World Première 2012)
- Alan Smith: View me Lord (World Première 2012)
- Ward Swingle: Romance (World Première 2012)
- Gabriel Jackson: I am the voice of the wind (World Première 2011)
- Francis Pott: When David Heard (UK Première 2011)
- Michael Berkeley: Time no longer (World Première 2008)
- Gabriel Jackson: Requiem (commissioned and Premièred in 2008)
- Matthew Wood: Preces and Responses (World Première 2008)
- Francis Pott: The Cloud of Unknowing (commissioned and premièred in 2006)
- Jonathan Rathbone: Corpus Christi Carol (World Première 2005)
- Gabriel Jackson: Now I have know, O Lord (commissioned and premièred in 2005)
- Stephen Barlow: When I see on Rood (commissioned and premièred in 2005)
- Richard Blackford: On another’s sorrow (commissioned and premièred in 2005)
- Barry Bignold: Peace (commissioned and premièred in 2005)
- Humphrey Clucas: Hear my crying, O God (commissioned and premièred in 2005)
- Jeremy Filsell: Mysterium Christi (commissioned and premièred in 2005)
- Philip Moore: I saw him standing (commissioned and premièred in 2005)
- Ward Swingle: Give us this day (commissioned and premièred in 2005)
- Will Todd: Angel Song II (commissioned and premièred in 2005)
- Daniel Burges: O Lord, support us all the day long (World Première 2005)
- Daniel Burges: O be joyful in the Lord (World Première 2004)
- Humphrey Clucas: Remember O Lord (World Première 2003 – 20-part motet)
- David Bray: Unto thee, O Lord, will I lift up my soul (commissioned and premièred in 2003)
- Daniel Burges: O saviour of the World (commissioned and premièred in 2003)
- Marcel Dupré: La France au Calvaire (UK Première 2002)
- John Sidgwick: London, Here I come (UK Première 2002)
- Daniel Burges: Preces and Responses (commissioned and premièred in 2002)
- Diana Burrell: Alleluia (commissioned and premièred in 2001)
- Bob Chilcott: Dances in the streets (commissioned and premièred in 2001)
- Humphrey Clucas: Rorate coeili (commissioned and premièred in 2001)
- Humphrey Clucas: Remember O Lord (commissioned and premièred in 2001)
- Howard Goodall: The secret garden (commissioned and premièred in 2001)
- Roxanna Panufnik: Laughing song (commissioned and premièred in 2001)
- Marcel Dupré: De Profundis (UK Première 2001)
- Marcel Dupré: Quatre Motets (UK Première 2001)
- Jonathan Cole: Bridal Song (World Première 2000)
- Michael Finnissy: Golden Sleep (co-commission with Steyning Music Festival, 1996)
- Humphrey Clucas: Evening Service for Double Choir (World Première)
- Humphrey Clucas: Incarnation (World Première)
- Humphrey Clucas: My God, my God (World Première)
- Humphrey Clucas: Requiem (World Première)
- Humphrey Clucas: Round me falls the night (World Première)
- Humphrey Clucas: Stabat Mater (World Première)
For 2005, to celebrate the choir’s 25th anniversary, Vasari Singers commissioned 10 new works. These are below, all of which can be heard on our critcally acclaimed CD, Anthems for the 21st Century.
When I see on Rood
Music: Stephen Barlow
Words: Anon. late 13th/early 14th century
There’s something about this anonymous 13th/14th century poem that seems timeless, and dramatically highly evocative. Its concision belies undercurrents of powerful emotion, mixing ritual with a very human outpouring of shock, pain and grief. The language itself seems achingly beautiful to me, the words resonate, the vowel sounds invite a sense of lyricism. I was particularly drawn to the idea of a crowd reaction, a unified response to an image that draws from all of us at the very least a deep rooted personal revulsion, and a shudder of responsibility. It is certainly an immaculately conceived poem, encapsulating a piercingly painful recognition of what makes us human.
© Stephen Barlow, 2005
Stephen Barlow was born in England, began his musical life as a chorister at Canterbury Cathedral and then studied piano, flute, French horn, percussion and composition at King’s School, Canterbury. He then won the Organ Scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was Musical Director of the University Chamber Orchestra and Chamber Choir and founder of the University Bach Choir. There followed a period at Guildhall School of Music, where he studied conducting under Vilem Tausky.
In 1977 Stephen Barlow made his debut conducting ‘The Rake’s Progress’ for Glyndebourne Touring Opera, the beginning of a long association with Glyndebourne. In 1979 he co-founded and conducted Opera 80 where he was Music Director between 1988 and 1991. During this period he was also resident conductor at the English National Opera (1981-1984), conducted with Scottish Opera, Dublin Grand Opera, Opera Northern Ireland and Opera North. In 1989, he made his Royal Opera debut at Covent Garden (‘Turandot’), where he later returned to conduct ‘Die Zauberflöte’ on the occasion of the Bicentenary of Mozart’s death. In 1996 he took up the Artistic Directorship of Opera Northern Ireland.
Stephen Barlow made his international debut in 1989 conducting ‘The Rake’s Progress’ for Vancouver Opera. His US debut followed in 1990 when he conducted ‘Capriccio’ with the San Francisco Opera and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. He made his Australian debut in 1991 with ‘Die Zauberflöte’ for Victoria State Opera.
In addition to his extensive operatic work, Stephen Barlow has conducted many of the major UK orchestras, including the LPO, ECO, CBSO, BBC Philharmonic, BBC Scottish Symphony, Bournemouth Symphony and Scottish Chamber Orchestras and the City of London Sinfonia. Further afield, recent concert appearances have taken him to Europe, Australia, South Africa and the USA In 1997 he was appointed Music Director of the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra.
Recent recordings include Joseph James’ ‘Requiem’ with Sumy Jo and his own new children’s composition ‘Rainbow Bear’ in collaboration with his wife, Joanna Lumley, as narrator. 2005 sees the premiere of his own new opera ‘King’ in Canterbury Cathedral, conducted by the composer.
Music: Richard Blackford
Words: William Blake
I wrote “On Another’s Sorrow” on September 2nd 2004, the day after the school siege in Beslan in North Ossetia. Broadcast images of terrified children fleeing to escape Chechen gunmen influenced my perception of Blake’s simple song of innocence and gave it deeper significance. It became for me a poem about compassion, about our ability to feel the suffering of others, to be willing to cry “Never, never can it be” should we become uncaring. How God could allow such suffering then and after the recent tsunami disaster also made me wonder about Blake’s serene acceptance of God’s presence at times of sorrow. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s response, that “we must focus on a passionate engagement with the lives that are left” seemed to be the best of what we are capable.
My setting starts with a unison chromatic theme in uneasy alternating 7/8 and 5/4. Call and response of sopranos and altos with tenors and basses lead to the first outburst of “No, never, can it be.” The material develops and climaxes on the second “O, never!” .The final contemplation of God’s presence is hushed and returns to the original theme, but with altered intervals. The final “O he gives to us his joy” is sung pianissimo in sustained harmony before returning to the unison of the opening.
© Richard Blackford, 2005
Richard Blackford was born in London and studied composition and conducting at the Royal College of Music, then with Hans Werner Henze in Rome. He was the first Composer-in Residence at Balliol College Oxford and Director of Music at the Royal Ballet School, during which time he conducted his ballet Plea To Autumn at the Royal Opera House. His music, which includes five operas, music for thirty-three theatre productions, music for the concert hall, film and television has been performed and broadcast all over the world. The feature film Song For A Raggy Boy, for which he wrote the music, won 11 awards at international film festivals in 2003/2004. His work has been recorded on Sony Classical, Decca, Argo, Warner Classics and EMI. With over one hundred and twenty film and television credits to his name Richard has collaborated with Roland Joffe (City Of Joy), Maya Angelou (King), Ted Hughes (The Pig Organ),Tony Harrison (Prometheus, A Maybe Day in Kazakhstan, The Kaisers of Carnuntum, The Labourers of Herakles, The Prince’s Play). He is recipient of several awards including the Huston Film Festival (First Prize), Royal Television Society Award, Mendelssohn Scholarship and the Tagore Gold Medal. His acclaimed Mirror Of Perfection, recorded by Sony Classical (SK 60285), was filmed by the BBC and is performed frequently around the world. Millennium, the ten-part CNN/BBC series for which Richard wrote a four-hour orchestral and choral score was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement In Music. His cantata Voices Of Exile, first performed in 2002, was the subject of a Meridian TV documentary and will be performed on 20 April 2005 by The Bach Choir and Philharmonia Orchestra and subsequently recorded at Abbey Road.
Music: Barrie Bignold
Words: Bob Cassidy
This motet is all about the poem. Any temptation I might have had to show off was subjugated by the power and simplicity of ‘Peace’, which I commissioned from my old friend, film editor, poet and general Renaissance Man, Bob Cassidy. It poses many questions about spirituality, religion and identity in the 21st century. The setting is simple but emotionally engaged, the soloists used as much for verbal clarity as for the symbolism of their being often locked in octaves, but physically as far apart as possible. The piece offers a resolution of sorts, but even then with a wry sting in the tail: “Let your wounded angels sleep in new-built holy houses”.
© Barrie Bignold, 2005
Barrie Bignold is a television and media composer who has written music in just about every style for every purpose. He was nominated for an Ivor Novello award for Best Original Music for a Television Broadcast in 2001. Having often written for voices but never having written a concert/liturgical piece for choir, this Vasari commission has been immensely rewarding.
Music: Humphrey Clucas
Words: Psalm 61 (vv. 1 & 3) and Psalm 115 (vv. 17 & 18)
‘Hear my crying, O God’ is scored for eight-part unaccompanied choir, though the full eight parts are not employed all the time. Certain ideas recur, the Scotch snap and the rising and falling scales of the opening, for instance. Almost throughout, there is simultaneous crotchet and quaver movement. It is a piece full of fear; the concluding ‘Praise the Lord’ is distinctly muted.
© Humphrey Clucas, 2005
Humphrey Clucas has spent much of his life writing choral music, a high proportion of which is liturgical; he has written pieces for a dozen cathedral and college choirs, beginning with his well known Responses, for King’s College, Cambridge. But there are also concert works; his Requiem (unaccompanied) and Stabat Mater (with string quartet) were both written for the Vasari Singers.
His most recent premiere was ‘Symphony for Organ’, given in Westminster Cathedral in September, 2004. It is the latest item in a large body of organ work.
Music: Jeremy Filsell
Words: Alice Meynell
The inspiration to use the poetry of nineteenth-century poet Alice Meynell (1847-1922) in “Mysterium Christi” came from the Dean of Windsor, the Very Revd David Conner (a co-dedicatee of the piece), who based his sermon on her poem “The Unknown God” in June 2004. In it, the poet finds herself in church, observing a stranger approach the altar rail to receive communion. She then watches him return to his place to pray. David Conner, in his sermon, spoke of Meynell’s vision of Christ within another human being; Christ being found in a neighbour – whether stranger or friend. Through him she recognizes Christ’s presence and perceives, within him, humanity’s struggle for expression and release. He represents the locus found in us all of Christ’s struggle to be born within us. It is the identity of the human spirit straining for expression and release.
For Meynell, the stranger becomes a source of blessing: “From that secret place, And from that separate dwelling, give me grace!”, seen, no less than the eucharistic bread and wine so recently consumed, as a means of grace and a sacramental presence. The poem awakens the recognition that all people through whom Christ struggles for expression and release are the means by which a healing, restorative and redeeming power can be mediated. Even the stranger here forms the channel through which a profound sense of human solidarity is communicated and shared.
The anthem opens in mysterious dissonance and a strong tonality only emerges at the first appearance of the motto chordal idea “O Christ in this man’s life”. The following verse is then set in an animated passage with toccata figuration in the organ part underpinning fugal and syncopated vocal writing above. The gathered momentum is suddenly interrupted by a static harmonic section (v 3) where the motto idea returns at “Christ in his unknown heart”. The evocations successively of ‘battle’ and ‘peace’ are set in musically characteristic antithesis before an affirmatory passage incorporates the motto chordal idea once again (v 5/6). The predominantly rhythmic countenance of the music eventually dissipates to recall the earlier-heard tri-tonal falling ‘peace’ phrase (“Christ in his mystery”) and the coda re-visits both the atmosphere and music of the opening.
© Jeremy Filsell, 2005
Jeremy Filsell has established an international concert career as one of only a few virtuoso performers on both the Piano and the Organ. He has performed as a solo pianist in Russia, the USA and across the UK, including appearances at St John’s Smith Square, the Wigmore and Conway Halls in London. He was Pianist with the European Contemporary Music Ensemble between 1989 and 1991 and his Concerto repertoire encompasses Mozart and Beethoven through to Rachmaninov (2nd & 3rd Concertos), Shostakovich and John Ireland. In recent years, he has recorded for Guild [www.guildmusic.com] the solo piano music of Eugene Goossens, Herbert Howells, Carl Johann Eschmann, Bernard Stevens and the two Sonatas of Liszt’s pupil Julius Reubke.
As an organist, his extensive discography comprises solo discs for Guild, Signum, Herald and ASV. He has recorded for BBC Radio 3 in solo and concerto roles and a solo career has included recent recitals in the UK, USA, Germany, France, Finland, Norway and masterclasses in Ireland, USA, and in the UK at the Royal Northern College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music.
A Limpus prize winner for FRCO as a teenager, Jeremy Filsell graduated from Oxford University, having been Organ Scholar at Keble College. He subsequently studied Piano as a post-graduate with David Parkhouse and Hilary McNamara at the Royal College of Music. He is currently a Lecturer in Academic Studies at the Royal Academy of Music, a piano tutor at Eton College and a Lay Clerk in the choir of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. In 2004 he recorded the six Organ Symphonies of Louis Vierne on the 1890 Cavaillé-Coll organ in St Ouen Rouen for Signum and forthcoming recital engagements are in the UK, USA and Switzerland. He is nearing completion of a Doctoral thesis in analytical and contextual study of the music of Marcel Dupré.
Music: Gabriel Jackson
For this very special commission I wanted to write a piece that reflected the particular character of the Vasari Singers – transparent, refined and meticulous, but also possessed of great fervour and virtuosity. Jeremy Backhouse proposed a text that was sacred, but not liturgical, which led me to the great Sufi mystic Al-Junaid. Couched in language that is as erotic as it is spiritual, the text seemed to demand a setting of great inwardness. The piece is largely restrained and intimate; intertwined melismatic tendrils of melody alternate with hushed homophony and self-communing murmurings, rising to a climax of fierce brightness and intensity before sinking back to the meditative calm of the opening.
© Gabriel Jackson, 2005
Gabriel Jackson was born in Bermuda in 1962. His earliest musical education was as a chorister at Canterbury Cathedral; he subsequently studied composition at the Royal College of Music, first in the Junior Department with Richard Blackford, and later with John Lambert, graduating in 1983.
His music is regularly performed and broadcast throughout the world. Particularly acclaimed for his choral works, he is a frequent collaborator with many of the world’s leading cathedral, collegiate and chamber choirs: the Nederlands Kamerkoor, the BBC Singers and the Berlin RIAS-Kammerchor among them. Strongly influenced by medieval and Renaissance techniques, he has also written a number of consort pieces for the Clerks’ Group, Chapelle du Roi, Cappella Nova, I Fagiolini and the Orlando Consort. At the inaugural British Composer Awards in 2003 he was the liturgical category winner with O Doctor Optime, written for the choir of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.
A strong involvement with the visual arts has produced a series of ensemble pieces based on textworks by Richard Long: for example, Black and White Trio (1988-9) for clarinet, violin and piano, commissioned by New Macnaghten Concerts, Rhapsody in Red (1990) for two pianos, commissioned by the Tate Gallery. He has also curated concerts for Tate Britain, Tate St Ives and the British Music Information Centre’s Cutting Edge series.
Recent works include Warldis Vanitie: Ane Mirrour for Marie Stuart (2001), a madrigal cycle on 16th-century Scots texts, A Woman’s Life and Loves (2002), a half-hour companion piece to Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben with newly written poems by Sophie Hannah, Salve Regina 2 (2004), for the 800th Anniversary of the foundation of Beaulieu Abbey. Current projects include a 40-part motet for the Tallis quincentenary and a concerto for two pianos and strings. Later this year Delphian Records will release a CD of his choral music sung by the choir of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh.
Music: Philip Moore
Words: Anne Griffiths, trans. Rowan Williams
The words of “I saw him standing” are a translation, by Rowan Williams, of a Welsh hymn by Anne Griffiths. She was a farmer’s wife without formal education, who died in 1805. She wrote a small number of hymns that are remarkable for their bold and extravagant imagery and sustained emotional density. The translation is not literal but is instead an attempt to create something of the energy of the original.
The words fall naturally into three sections and this is reflected in the music; the first and third sections are slow and sustained, while the middle section is fast and energetic. In the first section there is dialogue between the tenor and basses, and the altos. The sopranos’ first entry is delayed until the words “It will be Oh, such a daybreak.” The central section of the work is generally less chordal and more contrapuntal, with sometimes fairly thin textures.
© Philip Moore, 2005
Philip Moore was born in 1943 and received his musical education at the Royal College of Music in London, from where he graduated. In addition to his RCM qualifications and his Fellowship from the Royal College of Organists, he has a Bachelor in Music degree from the University of Durham.
His first post was at Eton, where he taught for two and a half years, before moving in 1968 to Canterbury Cathedral as Assistant Organist to Dr Allan Wicks. In 1974 he succeeded Dr Barry Rose as Organist and Master of the Choristers of Guildford Cathedral. Philip Moore has been Organist and Master of the Music at York Minster since 1983, succeeding Dr Francis Jackson who had occupied the post since 1946.
Besides his work at the Minster, Philip Moore gives organ recitals both in the UK and abroad. He is also known for his work as a composer, and has written extensively for choirs and organs. There are also works for chamber ensembles, including a string quartet and a sonatina for Cor Anglais and Piano. The larger scale works include three cantatas, as well as a concerto for organ and orchestra. Three years ago a song cycle was performed in the Purcell Room by James Bowman, and in October 2002 an extended choral work, for Double Choir, Solo quartet and organ was performed in St John’s, Smith Square, by the Sarum Consort.
He conducts the York Musical Society, a chorus of 140 singers that specialises in the performance of large-scale choral works. Last year a performance of Verdi’s Requiem was given to a capacity audience. He has made several recordings both as a solo organist and choir director, several of them winning critical acclaim. In 1997 a CD of his choral and organ works was released. Other compositions of Philip Moore have been recorded, both in this country and in the USA.
Music: Francis Pott
Words: Psalm 23
This muted and modest piece was conceived as a section in a much longer work, The Cloud of Unknowing, which began as an extended anthem (though with a strong humanitarian dimension to its appropriation of sacred and other texts) but developed into a cantata for tenor soloist, SATB/SATB chorus and organ. There, the setting of Psalm 23 derives its impact from studied exclusion of the cumulative Armageddon which precedes it. That culminates in an ironic juxtaposition of ‘the Lord is on our side’ and the (marginally adapted) ‘taboo’ verse from Psalm 137: ‘blessed shall he be that taketh their children and dasheth them against the stones’, while the tenor soloist unavailingly reiterates ‘the dead are all on the same side’, a line by the French poet of the Great War, René Arcos. Composition of this passage was overtaken by the unspeakable events of Beslan during 2004, and it was this harrowing concentration of maternal grief -rather than any specific gender-related point-making -that suggested a heightened pathos to be found thereafter in exclusively female voices. The music of Psalm 23 is largely consonant and seeks to suggest a contemplative turning inward from extremities of suffering. Heard in isolation, it lacks the poignancy of juxtaposition to man’s inhumanity, but this freestanding version may perhaps find some life of its own for more straightforward reasons.
© Francis Pott, 2005
Francis Pott (b. 1957) held music scholarships at Winchester and Cambridge, studying composition at the latter with Robin Holloway and Hugh Wood and the piano privately with Hamish Milne in London. Formerly Lecturer in Music at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, he is now Head of both Composition and Research Development at London College of Music & Media. In frequent demand as a pianist, he has received many national awards as a composer and in 1997 gained First Prize in the second Prokofiev International Composing Competition in Moscow. In 1999 his oratorio A Song on the End of the World was the Elgar commission of the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester. His works have been heard in seventeen countries worldwide, broadcast on both sides of the Atlantic, issued extensively on CD and published by four major houses in the UK. He is currently completing a major critical study of the complete works of Nikolai Medtner, due for publication by Ashgate in 2007. He lives with his wife and two children near Winchester.
Music: Ward Swingle
Words: Tony Vincent Isaacs
I was lucky to have a poem written for the occasion by Tony-Vincent Isaacs. Tony had previously put words to the music of Scott Joplin for the Swingle Singers “Rags and all that Jazz” album. For this new poem, called “Give us this day”, I¹ve written a very simple four-part setting so that the words (and their important message) are quickly understood.
© Ward Swingle, 2005
Ward Swingle was the product of an unusually liberal musical education. In his home town, Mobile, Alabama, he grew up with the sound of jazz and played in one of the great Big Bands before finishing high school. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from the Cincinnati Conservatory and studied piano with the celebrated Walter Gieseking in postwar France. In Paris in the sixties he was a founding member of the fabled Double Six of Paris, then took the scat singing idea and applied it to the works of Bach, hence The Swingle Singers, whose early recordings won five Grammies.
On 20 February 2003, Ward Swingle was named “Officier de l¹Ordre des Arts et des Lettres” (Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters) by the French Minister of Culture and Communication.
Music: Will Todd
Angel Song II is inspired by the idea of angels singing on Christmas night. The music weaves a gentle melody over the aleatoric textures of the accompanying voices. The text is designed to create the echo of the word ‘Hosanna’, but with no consonants, so that the music feels as if it comes from ‘on high’. It is hoped that this movement might one day form part of a larger choral work inspired by the idea of voices from heaven.
© Will Todd, 2005
Will Todd was born and brought up in the North East of England and studied composition from an early age. Whilst much of his music is based around North Eastern themes, his love of story telling has led to the creation of a number of important dramatic works on diverse subjects ranging from murder in 1960s New York to ancient Nordic Myths. His extensive output includes opera, musicals, oratorio, orchestral works and works for children and amateur performers. His work has been featured on Radio 3, Classic FM and Radio 2, recorded on CD and performed throughout the UK and USA.