Recent Commissions and First Performances
Comfort – Lillie Harris
Premièred by the Chapter House Choir in York Minster
13 November 2021
Comfort was commissioned by choir member Adrian Fuller and his sister Katharine Carter, in honour of their parents Graham and Olwyn Fuller.
‘Hope’ and ‘comfort’ were foremost ideas in our early discussions about this work. And as I wandered through York Minster on a beautiful sunny winter afternoon, I was struck by its closeness with, and acceptance of, death: the burial stones in the floor with all their partially-worn engraved messages and memories, the legacy items of pilgrimages, and the ancient cemetery beneath the cathedral itself. In this piece, I have sought to bring these ideas together in order to create an embrace of warmth, love, and understanding – one that acknowledges the sadness of loss but also celebrates the joy in a life well-lived, and brings voices together to express support and comfort.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the dead … that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.
For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass.
The grass withers, and the flower thereof falleth away.
And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again.
.. so will I comfort you.
Everyone Sang – Roderick Williams
Premièred by The King’s Singers, The Chapter House Choir and the Chapter House Youth Choir in York Minster
5 November 2016
This piece was commissioned by Stephen Williams, director of the Chapter House Choir. Stephen asked for three interlocking pieces which would, to a degree, be independent of each other while also working together. He also suggested the Siegfried Sassoon poem Everyone sang, acknowledging that the concert date is near to Remembrance Sunday and that it would be proper to commemorate the continuing anniversary of the First World War. To this end I have used the famous phrases from the Laurence Binyon poem For the Fallen which could be sung as almost a plainsong mantra by the Youth Choir. The words from the Latin Mass which petition for peace (dona nobis pacem) seemed like the obvious text for the Chapter House Choir.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.
FROM THE LITURGY
Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the while
Orchards and dark-green fields; on – on – and out of sight.
Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Difted away… O, by Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.
Benedicamus Domino – Andrew Carter
Premièred by The Chapter House Choir in York Minster
18 December 2015
Thank you, Stephen and the choir, for asking me to write a carol for the Chapter House Choir’s fiftieth Carols by Candlelight. Feeling particularly grateful that both the choir and its erstwhile conductor have weathered the passage of time, I wanted to write a Thanks be to God! offering in my favourite form, while exploring some of the rich sonorities which the present choir excel in.
The Benedicamus refrain came to me at once, last January, and was then put aside in the hope that a text would evolve. Within the traditional framework of stanza and refrain I decided on the simplicity of a single rhyme to overarch the whole. Again, in common with very many Christmas texts, I wanted at a time of celebration to reflect on the less fortunate in our world.
Come Spirit – Paul Mottram
Premièred by the Chapter House Choir in York Minster
16 May 2015
Come Spirit is a ten-minute accessible gospel / modern jazz choral work for choir and jazz trio that was commissioned by the Chapter House Choir. The work is a resetting of two Pentecostal hymns: the familiar ‘Come Down O Love Divine‘ and the less well known ‘Holy Spirit, Truth Divine‘.
This was tremendous fun to compose. The nature of the texts and associated musical ideas and styles seemed to demand a more expansive approach for full development, and to allow for some structural compositional weaving between the two. This was also encouraged by the exciting combination of choral and instrumental forces. With the jazz trio being such a compact yet self-sufficient musical unit, capable of setting up both rhythmic groove and the harmonic framework, there is plenty of scope and choice as to how the choir can be employed.
Arcadia – Judith Bingham
Premièred by the Chapter House Choir in St Olave’s Church, York
8 November 2014
When I asked the poet Robin Leanse if he had any poems about World War I, he wrote to me to say that he was on holiday and had been walking by the Somme. There he was reminded of a Rimbaud sonnet about Rimbaud finding a dead soldier in a beautiful landscape, during the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. He immediately wrote a poem as a response to the Rimbaud, which points ahead to the thousand upon thousand of men who would die in similar fields, 40 odd years later.
It struck me that the two poems would go together very well, and Robin kindly made a beautiful English translation of the Rimbaud. The music is in two definite halves as well, portraying the sensual and impressionistic beauty of the Rimbaud, and then the more gestural and saddened response of the Leanse.
Song Cycle: vive la vélorution! – Alexander L’Estrange
Premièred by the Chapter House Choir, together with other choirs from the route of the Tour de France Grand Départ in Yorkshire, in York Minster.
28 June 2014
In 2014 The Chapter House Choir was delighted to be able to commission the amazing British composer Alexander L’Estrange to create a new choral cantata for the cultural festival happening to coincide with the Tour de France Grand Départ in Yorkshire.
“Saturday night’s concert in York Minster was a true celebration of cycling, singing and Yorkshire… From the heartfelt to the hilarious, each of the assembled choirs had their moment to shine, with highlights including the assembled children for Fine And Dandy and the men taking the fore in The Men Who Ride For Fun. Congratulations must go to the Chapter House Choir for this ambitious commission and welcoming Le Grand Départ with singing and smiles.” Martin Scheuregger, York Press
The commission Song Cycle: vive la vélorution! is a 45-minute joyous creation for massed choirs and jazz quintet celebrating the thrill of the great outdoors, cycling and the history and development of the bicycle. It is an absolute tour de force that takes singers and audience on a whimsical ride through a huge range of popular music styles including jazz, music hall, and folk accompanied by jazz quintet, bicycle bells, pumps and horns.
“What I personally feel is that we created a really special event, for an audience that was largely new to us or does not regularly come to our concerts. We sought out and welcomed a range of other choirs to help us fill the Minster with people anticipating Le Grand Depart by singing the L’Estranges’ specially composed, fun, witty, joyful, moving, atmospheric music.” Felicia McCormick, The Chapter House Choir
The première performance, in partnership with York Minster, took place in a packed Nave of York Minster on 28 June 2014. The performance involved 340 amateur choral singers from across Yorkshire, accompanied by the Call Me Al Jazz Quintet, and was conducted by the Chapter House Choir’s Musical Director, Stephen Williams.
“An excellent score, a monumental venue, a large group of positive, collaborative singers, great organisation and administration and a ‘blitz’ spirit made this project feel very special.” Stephen Williams, Musical Director, The Chapter House Choir
The cantata was great fun to perform with beautiful original songs by Alexander and his wife Joanna Forbes L’Estrange and re-workings of well-known songs such as Daisy, Daisy and Scarborough Fair. Alexander L’Estrange writes:
The huge combined choir sounded magnificent! …… The organisation by the CHC, and the good-humoured, fun but efficient atmosphere they created. Stephen Williams musically organised and conducted the whole thing brilliantly. He, Claire Duckworth and all the CHC team were a pleasure to work with throughout…… I enjoyed the challenge of York Minster and feel I did a good job musically. This was also the first time I had collaborated with my wife (lyricist Joanna Forbes L’Estrange) on a large-scale piece, and we both enjoyed the experience hugely.
Choirs who sang at the première of Song Cycle on 28 June 2014 in York Minster: Adult Choirs: Abbeydale Singers, Sheffield; Aire Valley Singers, Shipley; The Aysgarth Singers; Burley in Wharfedale Community Choir; Cantores Olicanae, Ilkley; The Chapter House Choir, York; KVU Singers, Keighley; Musicality Singers, Richmond; Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus; Youth and Children’s Choirs: Huddersfield Choral Junior Choirs; Leeds Cathedral Choir School; York Junior Youth Choir
“We were made extremely welcome …… and it was great to feel part of such a unique experience with such a large group of like-minded and enthusiastic singers. I think everyone really got into the spirit of things and there was a real buzz and excitement. I thoroughly enjoyed the direction of Stephen Williams and the energy and interpretation he brought to the music and thought he brought everyone together fantastically well and brought out the best of us and the music.” Hilary Pye, The Abbeydale Singers
Song Cycle was made possible by the following funders: Arts Council England, The Foyle Foundation, The Emerald Foundation, Split Infinitive Trust, The Sylvia and Colin Shepherd Charitable Trust, The Patricia and Donald Shepherd Trust, The John S Cohen Foundation, The Bostock Foundation. The première performance was sponsored by The John Lewis Partnership and The Shepherd Group. The vocal score has been published by Faber so that this fabulous fun-filled work can be performed and enjoyed by choirs and audiences world-wide.
In Memoriam – Gabriel Jackson
Premièred by the Chapter House Choir and Coro in the St Luke’s Church, Chelsea
21 April 2014
These beautiful lines, from Tennyson’s extended elegy to his friend Arthur Hallam, reflect a paradoxical feeling of both absence and presence which were felt in the months following Clare’s loss and, though deeply coloured by sadness, it was our privilege to commission Gabriel Jackson to set them. The first three stanzas of In Memoriam begin with different ‘voices’, the ethereal (Sopranos and Altos), the more earthly (tenors and Basses) and the intensely personal (unison voices), each rising to widely spaced (though densely packed) chordal arches of great radiance. The poetry is given its final intensification in a radical change. The paradox, iterated line-by-line, is given in dialogue to two solo voices who alternate toward a conclusion left hanging in the air.
Thy voice is on the rolling air;
I hear thee where the waters run;
Thou standest in the rising sun,
And in the setting thou art fair.
My love involves the love before;
My love is vaster passion now;
Tho’ mix’d with God and Nature thou,
I seem to love thee more and more.
What art thou then? I cannot guess;
But tho’ I seem in star and flower
To feel thee some diffusive poser,
I do not therefore love thee less.
Far off thou art, but ever nigh;
I have thee still, and I rejoice;
I prosper, circled with thy voice;
I shall not lose thee tho’ I die.
ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON
Marriage to My Lady Poverty – Bob Chilcott
Premièred by the Chapter House Choir in the Chapter House of York Minster
23 June 2012
Marriage to My Lady Poverty was commissioned by a member of the Chapter House Choir. The title is taken from a poem by Charles Bennett, the words of which are as follows:
Here is the ring I have made for my Lady Poverty
A ring I have woven from grass and wayside flowers
It will sing on her hand like a skylark
I am the bird who has come to take the crumbs from your hand
In my soft grey plumage I fly to our wedding barefoot
I am far too shy to look at you
We need no more than birds
They sing at dawn and wander wherever they please
We ask for nothing more than the birds of the sky
We ask for song
We need no more flowers
They flourish all summer and sleep all winter long
We ask for nothing more than the flowers of the field:
We ask for blossom
As I fly from our wedding I look back over my shoulder
My husband is the flower in my heart
His ring will sing on my finger
When I hear the song of the lark I shall think of you
When I lie in the open field on a bed of meadow-sweet
I shall hear your music singing me to sleep.