British composer and singer Joanna Forbes L’Estrange has been commissioned by the Royal School of Church Music to write a special anthem to celebrate the Coronation of King Charles III on 6 May 2023. Read on to find out more about Joanna’s musical background, her influences and inspirations, and why there are “no rules” to composing…..


Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

When I was 8 years old, my foster father suggested to my younger sister and me that we join our parish church choir of Bisley and West End in Surrey. The choir was small – I remember we only had one tenor, a rather elderly man called Harry – and Em and I were the youngest members by several decades, but it was there that I fell in love with singing in choirs and with church music. For the next ten years until I was 18, it was a routine of Thursday evening choir practices and Sunday services, crunching up the long gravel path to the church, our freshly-washed, dusky blue robes draped over our arms. Most Sundays it was Eucharist but, once a month, we sang Evensong and these were my favourite services. We would often sing the hymn ‘The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended’ which I thought had the most beautiful melody.

By the time I arrived at Oxford University to begin my music degree, I was longing to sing in a really good choir. There hadn’t been a choir at my comprehensive school so my sole experience of choral music had been my little church choir. I remember being at freshers’ fair, walking among the many stalls of clubs and societies and feeling distinctly overwhelmed, when I suddenly spotted a sign saying “Schola Cantorum of Oxford”. I thought: how cool would it be to sing in a choir with a Latin name?! and added my name to the audition sign-up list. A week later, as I walked into the audition room, it occurred to me that I’d never done an audition before and I suddenly became nervous. Imposter syndrome properly set in when I was asked if I’d done Eton Choral Courses – um, no – or been a member of NYC – er, no. I hadn’t actually heard of either thing and was starting to wonder what on earth I’d been thinking putting my name on this list. However, I knew I could sing and I knew that I was a strong sight-reader, having studied the piano and cello to Grade 8 and been blessed with perfect pitch, so I gave it my best shot and….got in! A whole new world of choral music opened up to me over those next three years: we gave concerts in stunning chapels, recorded several CDs and went on tour to France and Japan. I was in choir heaven.

Three years after graduating from Oxford, I joined the five-time Grammy® award-winning vocal group The Swingle Singers as soprano and Musical Director. Over the next seven years I became obsessed with jazz vocal groups and jazz close harmonies, listening to recordings by groups such as Les Double Six, Manhattan Transfer and The Real Group. I wrote some arrangements, my first one being for the four female voices of the group, my arrangement of Amazing Grace. I also enjoyed twenty extraordinary years with Tenebrae, one of the world’s most respected professional chamber choirs, performing and recording many of the greatest choral pieces.

When I was in my early 30s, my foster father became ordained and, a few months before his ordination, he asked me to write a piece of music for our parish choir to sing. I replied “but I don’t compose music” to which he said, in his typical no-nonsense fashion, “well, it’s time you did”. My father Sebastian Forbes is a composer and my grandfather Watson Forbes had arranged hundreds of pieces for the viola but it had never occurred to me that I too could be a composer. I’d written a couple of pieces for GCSE Music but, to be a “proper” composer, I was under the impression that you had to have a calling at birth and be composing from the age of six to qualify. I also thought you had to be a man. I’d been born into a family of professional musicians, sung in choirs for over 20 years, achieved Grade 8 on two instruments and done a music degree and yet I’d never once been exposed to any music written by a woman. It’s unthinkable, really, but that’s how it was. I still have my chorister’s handbook from when I joined Bisley choir; the whole book is about boy choristers and there’s not one mention of girls. We’ve come a long way since then, I’m happy to say.

I am forever indebted to Reverend Richard Abbott for asking me to compose that piece because it set me on my path as a composer. When he died last November, following a long battle with cancer, my sister and I returned to Bisley church for the funeral and the choir sang my setting of Go forth in Peacethe piece I’d composed for his ordination.

All of my experiences singing in choirs have informed my composing but the most significant is my time singing in my local church choir. There are plenty of composers, my father for one, who write highly complex and challenging music; I love to sing that kind of music myself but, as a composer, that’s not what I feel moved to write. It’s strange to recall that after I met my husband, who’d been a star chorister in the choir of New College, Oxford, I went through a phase of feeling quite bitter that I hadn’t been a chorister in a big cathedral choir. Throughout my singing career I’ve become aware that most of my colleagues did indeed attend Eton Choral Courses and National Youth Choir when they were younger and, again, I have felt annoyed that I wasn’t given such opportunities. But now I realise my calling as a composer is to write the kind of music which choirs like the one I sang in as a child and choirs like it all over the world can sing and enjoy singing. I care deeply that my music is as accessible as possible to choirs of all sizes and abilities which is why I record demos of all of my pieces so that singers who aren’t necessarily confident in reading music can listen to their vocal line and learn the notes by ear instead.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

At the start of my career as a freelance singer I was full of self-doubt and rather shy. I’d come from a family of high-profile professional musicians, which felt like a lot to live up to. I was forever comparing myself with my viola-playing grandfather, my composer father, my opera singing uncle and aunt, wondering if I’d ever make the grade. I now know that comparison is the thief of joy – thank you Brené Brown – and try to avoid comparing my career with anyone else’s. I also didn’t know where to begin as a freelancer because, in those days, there weren’t all of the wonderful apprentice schemes that there are now. I had to learn to believe in myself, trust my instincts, forge my own path and seek out mentors. This is the advice I now pass on to young people entering the profession. Everyone’s route into the music business is different and there’s no single path to follow. We have to find our own way and hope to meet people who can give us good advice.

When I became Musical Director of The Swingle Singers, I had to deal with a few sexist comments such as “women are too emotional to be in charge” and “arrangements for just upper voices wouldn’t work because there’s no bass line”. It also took me a while to get used to the particular style of male banter peculiar to those men who’ve been choristers in all-male choirs most of their lives. Leadership of The Swingles had been rather male-dominated since the 1960s and so it was a challenge at the beginning to be a female MD but I’m happy to say that that tide had turned by the time I left the group and Ward Swingle, the group’s founder, wrote me a beautiful card thanking me for having established a sense of togetherness in the group, which meant everything. At Ward’s funeral eight years ago, my arrangement of Amazing Grace was sung as his coffin was lowered into the grave; that was a moment I’ll never forget.

Covid was a huge challenge to all artists, of course. I kept myself sane by being creative, writing and recording a lot of music at home, but I missed the camaraderie of being with other musicians. There’s nothing like it.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

I love writing to a commission brief because having certain parameters in place before I put pencil to manuscript paper actually gets the creative juices flowing more readily than when I’m composing without a brief. For example, with the commission for the coronation piece, the scoring, duration, subject matter and accessibility were all established before I began writing. Once I’d found my text, the music came relatively quickly. I’m currently working on a number of other commissions: I’m writing a grace setting for Churchill College in Cambridge for their non-auditioning choir Inter Alios to sing at formal dinners; the brief here was to keep it short and simple and for the style to be something along the lines of my Give us Gracewhich is a gospel-inflected setting of a Jane Austen prayer. I’m also writing a part-song for a wonderful upper voices choir in north London called Jubilate; for this one, I’ll write my own words which is something I enjoy doing; it’ll be about the joys of singing in choirs.

Of which works are you most proud?

It’s hard to say because each piece/song I’ve written has made me proud for different reasons. I’ve written a number of songs for upper voices, often incorporating ideas surrounding gender equality, including Twenty-first-century Woman which we recorded at Abbey Road Studios in 2018 with an all-female choir, band, engineering team and production team. I conducted the session and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. We also made history by being the first ever all-female recording session to take place at Abbey Road Studios. That was a proud moment. I made a music video which features, among others, Prue Leith, Joanna Lumley, Ruby Wax, the Bishop of London, the Harlequins Rugby Team… I also wrote a song called A place for us maids to mark 40 years of women students at Cambridge and one called A woman (wearing bloomers) on a wheel which is a witty Victorian-style song about the impact which the invention of the bicycle had on women’s clothing. It’s been made into a wonderful film by the National Youth Girls’ Choir of Great Britain, filmed on location at the Beamish Museum in Durham. For the Military Wives Choirs of Great Britain I co-wrote a song, with my husband Alexander, called We will remember them which tells a war story from the perspective of wives married to fighting soldiers.

Of my church pieces, I think I’m most proud of my King’s College Service and my Preces and Responsesbecause they’ve been sung so many times by choirs in the UK and the USA. I’m also thrilled that Tenebrae chose to record my Advent ‘O’ Carol on their latest Christmas album. It’s a stunning recording.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

A good tune, something memorable such as a refrain or chorus, jazz-inflected harmonies, rhythms which spring from the natural rhythms of the words I’m setting. I’m not a ground-breaking composer, I’m not stretching the boundaries of choral music or finding a brand new compositional language. I don’t have any desire to win competitions (although I do have a secret desire to write an Oscar-winning end credits song for a film!) or to have accolades bestowed upon me. I just want to write lovely music which choirs want to sing.

How do you work?

I write at my lovely old Steinway piano which I inherited from my father when he inherited his mother’s piano. I have to have a tidy room in order to feel creative so I often start the day with a general clear-up – I have two teenage sons so there’s always plenty of stuff lying around! Then I settle down, recite the text aloud a number of times until (with any luck) a melody begins to suggest itself to me. At this point, I start to sing as I accompany myself on the piano. Harmonies come as does an overall shape and, once I start to commit the music to manuscript paper, I’m immersed and tend not to come up for air until I’m hungry for lunch. If I feel blocked, I go for a blowy stroll across the fields into the village and usually get some great ideas as I walk which I sing into the voice-memo app on my phone, much to the amusement of passing dog walkers!

Tell us more about ‘The Mountains Shall Bring Peace’, your special coronation commission from the Royal School of Church Music….

I was keen to find words which reflected not only King Charles’s faith but also something of his passion for the natural world and his love of the outdoors. When I think of our former Prince of Wales, I picture him walking in the Welsh mountains or in the Scottish Highlands; I’m Welsh born and my father’s side of the family is Scottish so it’s familiar territory for me. I’m also all too aware that this Coronation is taking place during a very turbulent time for our country and our planet and so I was searching for words which would in some way give us all hope for the future. I settled on the opening verses of Psalm 72 because they perfectly encapsulate all of this and more. It’s generally believed that this Psalm was the coronation hymn for the King of Judah; the words speak of the king’s role in relationship to his people and to God. But best of all is the third verse which, in the King James version, reads: “The mountains shall bring peace unto the people”. What could be more perfect? It also gave me my title.

Central to the commission brief was a big, singable tune, the kind of memorable melody which anyone and everyone can enjoy singing at the tops of their voices. So, instead of writing the piece from start to end, I began with this melody, honing it over time until I was satisfied with it. When I was setting the words “the mountains shall bring peace unto the people” I created a melodic shape comprising rising and falling 4ths which, together with the melodic sequence, depicts the mountains.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

If you can make a living doing something you love, to me that is success. Contentment is everything. I may have made more money being a barrister (which is the profession suggested to me by a school career’s advisor!) but I don’t think that would have made me happy because I always knew, from the age of 2, that I wanted to be a musician. When I’d just graduated from Oxford I wasn’t ready yet so I did a PGCE and taught music in a secondary school for three years, having singing lessons every week until I felt ready to start auditioning for singing work.

I never take my career for granted and am grateful every day that I get to earn a living from composing, singing and coaching choirs.

What advice would you give to young/aspiring composers?

I would say this: there are no rules. Stay true to yourself and write the music you feel compelled to write, whatever form that takes. Authenticity is everything. By all means be inspired by other people but don’t feel you have to write like they do. We are all different and we were put on this earth to be uniquely ourselves. Don’t compare yourself with other composers; stay in your own lane.

On a more practical level, having additional strands of income which can sustain you during lean composing patches can be a lifeline. For me, it’s being a session singer for film and TV soundtracks and coaching choirs and a cappella groups. It’s good to have lots of strings to your bow if you want to be a freelance musician. I learned that from my grandfather Watson Forbes whose autobiography is actually called “Strings to my bow”. He was the viola player in the Aeolian String Quartet but he also wrote arrangements for the viola, conducted orchestras and was an examiner for the ABRSM.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?

We need to foster a love for classical music when children are in primary school and keep that going all the way through to the end of secondary school. Singing in choirs, learning to play an instrument, going to orchestral concerts, hearing wonderful choirs in beautiful acoustics….all of these experiences at a young age create adults who love classical music just as listening to pop music, playing in a band and going to see bands live create adults who love pop music. The trouble is that unless the government makes music a priority in schools again by investing in schemes such as free instrumental lessons for a year, trips to concerts etc classical music will be seen as elitist, exclusive to the independent school sector or to families who can afford to pay for instruments and music lessons. I went to very unremarkable schools but, in the 1970s, even there we had a recorder group in my primary school and sang every day in assembly and in the classroom. The problem we’ve got nowadays is that very few primary schools have someone who can even play the piano. It’s been proven time and time again that schools thrive where there is a good arts programme; failing schools have been revived by installing a good arts programme. Music should be an essential part of the curriculum as learning an instrument improves learning across the curriculum.

What’s the one thing in the music industry we’re not talking about but you think we should be?

Gender bias. I have been singing on film soundtracks for over 20 years and have never been conducted by a woman and have only once (last year) recorded a soundtrack composed by a woman. It used to be the case that all of the sound engineers and producers were men too but that has changed in recent years and you’re just as likely to see a woman setting up the microphones etc as a man. We now have (at last) girl choristers and women lay clerks and choral scholars so things are gradually moving in the right direction. Let’s see more women on the conductor’s podium in London’s studios next, please!

What do you enjoy doing most?

Spending time with friends who enjoy making music for fun, even if it’s also their profession. On New Year’s Eve, our house was full of friends and music. We had everything from a teenage bagpiper to a jazz jam around the piano with our sons Harry (piano) and Toby (double bass) to an impromptu performance by my friend Grace Davidson (soprano) of Handel’s Let the Bright Seraphim, accompanied by Nigel Short (Artistic Director of Tenebrae) on the piano and trumpet obbligato courtesy of Mark Armstrong (NYJO Director), to a raucous sing-song of a brilliant arrangement by my husband Alexander L’Estrange (who writes for The King’s Singers) of ABBA’s Happy New Year at midnight. We also love to have a cappella singer friends over for dinner and to sing Take Six arrangements for fun. Once a month, we meet up with friends in a pub in London who love to sing 16th-century music by Tallis, Tye, Byrd and Gibbons from part-books with original, early notation. Eclectic is the word! No matter what the style of music, there’s nothing better than making music with friends.


The Mountains shall bring peace is Joanna Forbes L’Estrange’s specially-commissioned coronation anthem for the Royal School of Church Music. Find out more about the project here

Follow the project on social media with hashtag #singfortheking

Joanna Forbes L’Estrange is an internationally renowned British soprano and jazz vocalist, specialising in contemporary music of all styles. A Master of Arts music graduate of Oxford University, she began her career as soprano and Musical Director of the five-time Grammy® award-winning a cappella group the Swingle Singers and, since then, has enjoyed a busy freelance career as a concert artist, studio session singer, song writer, choral composer and choral leader. She has also appeared on television as a judge for the Sky 1 series Sing: Ultimate A Cappella.Joanna has performed on many of the world’s most famous stages, from New York’s Carnegie Hall to Tokyo’s Orchard Hall to La Scala Milan and the Châtelet in Paris. In the UK, she has sung to a packed O2 Arena with Pete Tong and the Heritage Orchestra and at the Proms, Edinburgh International Festival and Glastonbury as well as for the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. She is much in demand as the soloist for Will Todd’s Mass in Blue and her solo concert repertoire also includes Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts and numerous works by Steve Reich, Stockhausen, John Adams and Luciano Berio, whose iconic masterpiece Sinfonia she has performed fifty times with the world’s leading orchestras and conductors. Recordings include a cappella and solo jazz albums, contemporary orchestral works, CDs with the award-winning chamber choir Tenebrae and hundreds of soundtracks to video games and Hollywood films.Joanna’s choral compositions and songs are published by RSCM, Faber Music and andagio. In 2018, she made history by organising and conducting the first ever entirely female recording session at London’s Abbey Road Studios, recording her song Twenty-first-century Woman as a charity single for International Women’s Day with an all-female band, choir and production team. All proceeds from downloads of the song go to charities supporting girls’ education worldwide.

www.joannaforbeslestrange.com

Following on from the success of the first Choral Inspirations project in 2019, Sonoro has launched Choral Inspirations: Volume 2, a collection of six contemporary works for choir inspired by well-known ‘choral classics’ by Bach, Brahms, Elgar, Franck, Lotti and Mozart, written at a level that choirs everywhere will be able to sing.

Composers Rebecca Dale, Michael Higgins, Cecilia McDowall, Oliver Tarney, Gareth Treseder and Errollyn Wallen CBE have been commissioned by Sonoro to write new works for choir, each inspired by well-known choral classics, such as Franck’s Panis angelicus and J S Bach’s Jesu, joy of our desiring.

Artistic Directors Neil Ferris and Michael Higgins say, “We are so happy to be able to continue the ‘Choral Inspirations’ project and build on the outstanding success of the first set of new pieces in 2019. As well as introducing six new works into the choral repertoire, our aim is to encourage amateur choirs to have the confidence to sing more ambitious and contemporary music, and we are looking forward to introducing our wonderful new pieces to our partner choirs around the country.” Neil Ferris continues: “The composers of our new commissions have all been so skilful at writing at a suitable level for amateur choirs, without being simplistic.”

Composers & pieces

  • Edward Elgar/Oliver Tarney The Spirit of the Lord
  • A. Mozart/Errollyn WallenAve verum corpus
  • César Franck/Rebecca DalePanis angelicus
  • Antonio LottiCrucifixus a 8/Cecilia McDowallCrucifixus Reimagined
  • Johannes BrahmsGeistliches Lied/Michael Higgins See, I am God
  • S. Bach/Gareth TresederJesu, joy of our desiring

All six pieces, and the 6 classic partner pieces, are recorded by Sonoro and released online as freely accessible video and audio tracks, both as tools to help choirs learning the works, as well as for anyone to listen to and enjoy. All twelve pieces are released in a new album,Choral Inspirations: Volume 2, available from Spotify, AppleMusic, Deezer and YouTube.

Sing with Sonoro

From July 2022 to March 2023, Sonoro will take all twelve pieces on tour to provide workshop, side-by-side performance and “come and sing” opportunities with choirs around the UK in Newcastle, Derbyshire, Chester, Reading and London. Led by conductor Neil Ferris and Sonoro’s professional singers, the workshops are open to all and aim to give choirs the confidence to sing more ambitious and contemporary music – and by touring and workshopping the music, it means that the new pieces get directly into the consciousness of choirs up and down the country. The project draws on the wide impact and success of Choral Inspirations Vol 1 in 2019 and contributes brand new music to the choral repertoire.

Choral Inspirations with Sonoro will bring so much to the music programme at the University of Reading. Two outcomes are particularly important for us – an amazing opportunity for our students to experience sitting and singing next to professional musicians, and secondly, sharing the experience with singers in our local community and connecting through music.” – Victoria Ely, conductor & Artistic Director of Music at Reading 

Praise for Choral Inspirations: Volume 1

Everyone enjoyed it hugely… the singers are still on a high!” Simon Davies-Fidler, Voices of Hope and Quay Voices, Newcastle

“Most enjoyable and inspiring.”

“A well-balanced programme of familiar and new pieces.”

Find out how you and your choir can get involved here


About Sonoro

Sonoro, one of the country’s foremost ensembles, have gained recognition for their warmth of tone, colour and blend.

Combining a passion for excellence in choral music and choral education, Sonoro have rolled out education projects, side-by-side performances, conducting masterclasses and new commissions that have gained significant recognition.

A rich, robust texture, abundant in vibrant colour and undoubted excitement.” The Guardian

Their performing programme has included appearances at internationally renowned festivals and concert halls, including the St Magnus International Festival, Orkney, the Wimbledon International Music Festival and King’s Place, London and in St Gallen, Switzerland.

Outstandingly refreshing.” BBC Music Magazine

Their album Christmas with Sonoro was Christmas choice in the BBC Music Magazine in 2018, which followed on from their critically acclaimed debut Passion and Polyphony featuring works of James MacMillan and Frank Martin.

Classical concerts seldom feel so downright uplifting.” The Scotsman

www.sonoromusic.com

The Royal School of Church Music announces the ‘Platinum Project’, a special choral music commission from award-winning British composer Thomas Hewitt Jones to commemorate Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in June 2022.

In Our Service’ is a 4-minute anthem with themes of service and dedication, celebrating the RSCM’s Royal Patron, HM The Queen. The text has a deliberately wide appeal to ensure it has a lasting value beyond the Jubilee itself.

Encouraging for all

Written as an attractive and uplifting piece of music, which is really enjoyable to sing, ‘In Our Service’ is adaptable for different ensembles/situations – 4-part/SATB choir and organ, unison/2-part with piano and leadsheet, and a full symphonic orchestration available for hire. Music packs are available to download from the RSCM’s online shop at £19.95, together with optional backing tracks, videos and other resources to inspire others to take part.

Designed to be performed by a wide variety of groups, from cathedral and church choirs, choral societies and chamber choirs to community choirs and in schools, RSCM is inviting all choirs to join in singing ‘In Our Service’ and to share their performances via the RSCM’s website and on social media using the hashtag #RSCMplatinum to create a wonderful, collaborative celebration of this unique occasion through shared musical expression.

RSCM Platinum Project

Listen to a full performance of ‘In Our Service’ sung by St Martin’s Voices, directed by Andrew Earis, with organist Polina Sosnina: In Our Service (mp3)

Hugh Morris, Director of RSCM, says:

‘We wanted to be able to celebrate our Royal Patron’s unique Jubilee; and for us as a charity to commission this new piece was a fitting way of doing that. We have made sure that it’s accessible, easy to learn, and rewarding to sing, and very much intend it to be an ‘Anthem for all’, be that cathedral or church choir, community choir, school choir; indeed pretty much any group of singers. As a charity, RSCM works to encourage, nurture and inspire musicians in a wide range of contexts. I warmly encourage you to include singing this piece in your Jubilee celebration planning; and to join us on an exciting journey for this project over the next few months. Keep us up to date with your progress on social media!’

Thomas Hewitt Jones says:                                        

‘I was delighted to be asked by the Royal School of Church Music to write a choral anthem to celebrate HM the Queen, their Royal Patron, on her incredibly special jubilee. Typifying selfless service to her country, her very existence encourages togetherness – so the opportunity to celebrate her with a new and inclusive, yet weighty, piece of choral music that can be sung by choirs all around the UK really resonated for me.

When searching for words to set to music, it became apparent that many of the Queen’s royal speeches over the years have contained pertinent and thoughtful messages, all relevant to today’s world. I wanted to incorporate many of these in the anthem, so I decided to write new words inspired by certain quotes which particularly stood out. I hope that the result is a vibrant, uplifting (and, if I’m honest, quite emotionally-charged) piece of music which celebrates both the reign of our incredible monarch, and the ever-valuable medium of choral singing – arguably one of the most natural, uplifting and unifying experiences of the human condition.’

RSCM hopes that this special commission will not only encourage groups to come together to sing, but will also draw attention to its wider activities, aims and vision as it approaches its centenary in 2027. One of RSCM’s most important annual activities is Music Sunday, which celebrates the role of church music in worship and the dedication of all church musicians, and aims to reach out into the community and join with others. This year Music Sunday takes place on 12th June, the weekend after the Jubilee.


About the Royal School of Church Music

The RSCM is the Salisbury-based, national, independent charity supporting, nurturing and sustaining church music. As the central ‘home’ of church music, RSCM provides relevant education, training and resources to its membership, the wider church, and beyond. It is committed to encouraging the best of music in worship, and to advocating music as a tool for growth of the church.

The RSCM supports thousands of Affiliated churches across the UK and worldwide through its international partners. In addition, it also supports many schools and Individual members, and its work is sustained by thousands of Friends, Regular Givers and other donors.

RSCM is an open, life-long learning organisation, offering face-to-face and distance education and training through its programmes, published resources, courses and activities.

Founded by Sir Sydney Nicholson in 1927, the RSCM’s original emphases were English and choral. Now, in a diverse international context, the RSCM’s work is far broader and more diverse, and aims to make all its work ecumenical in purpose, nature and content.

HM The Queen is RSCM’s Royal patron, and its president is The Most Revd and Rt Hon The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury. The organisation celebrates its centenary in 2027.

rscm.org.uk

About Thomas Hewitt Jones

Thomas Hewitt Jones is an award-winning composer of contemporary classical and commercial music. Since winning the BBC Young Composer Competition in his teens, his music has been published by many of the major music publishers and is frequently heard in concert and on radio, TV and in the cinema.

Thomas’s diverse catalogue includes small instrumental, orchestral, choral and ballet works, and his large number of choral titles includes seasonal carols. ‘What Child is This?’ (OUP) has become a choral classic of recent years, garnering large numbers of performances each season. In 2021, he released ‘Can you hear me?’, an acclaimed response to the COVID19 pandemic.

thomashewittjones.com

On 19 June 2017, St John’s Smith Square announced its 2017/18 Season. 

In a characteristic programme, punctuated by a range of Festival celebrations, St John’s Smith Square continues its core mission to provide a home for Baroque music within the UK’s only concert hall dating from the Baroque period while equally championing new music. International artists sit comfortably alongside emerging talent and St John’s Smith Square also continues to provide a vital and unique central London home for the best in community music.

Festivals at St John’s Smith Square

This season, St John’s Smith Square presents seven festivals, each with their own distinct identity, featuring the highest calibre artists and repertoire as expected of its renowned programming approach.

The 32nd Annual Christmas Festival curated by Stephen Layton (9 – 23 December 2017) includes concerts with regular favourites Ex Cathedra, The Tallis Scholars, Solomon’s Knot, the choirs of Clare College Cambridge, Trinity College Cambridge, Christ Church Cathedral Choir Oxford, King’s College London, City of London Choir, the National Youth Music Theatre, Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. New to the Festival this year are Vox Luminis and the London Choral Sinfonia. A very special bonus for December will be organ curator David Titterington’s marathon undertaking to perform the organ works of JS Bach on the magnificent Klais organ at St John’s Smith Square. The Bach in Advent series comprises daily recitals, usually at 6.00pm, from 3 – 23 December 2017, and these will be open to all, free of charge.

The Holy Week Festival (26 March – 1 April 2018) returns after the huge success of the inaugural festival in 2017. Curated by Nigel Short and Tenebrae and featuring a mix of ticketed concerts and free late-night liturgical events, St John’s Smith Square will once again resound with choral music for Passiontide. Artists include Tenebrae, Polyphony, the Britten Sinfonia, Gabrieli, Skylark (from the USA), Aurora Orchestra, Ex Cathedra and The Tallis Scholars.

The London Festival of Baroque Music (11 – 19 May 2018) will have a French theme. In this, the 34th Festival since it was originally launched as the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music in 1984, the LFBM commences its new system of working with different Guest Artistic Directors for each festival. To develop the French theme, the Guest Artistic Director for 2018 is the conductor Sébastien Daucé who will be bringing his own Ensemble Correspondances for a staged setting of Charpentier’s Histoires sacrèes (17 May 2018). The Festival will also celebrate the 350th anniversary of the birth of Couperin.

Following the ‘taster day’ in May 2017, Rolf Hind and friends will return for the iconoclastic Occupy the Pianos festival (19 – 22 April 2018). The growing stable of pianistic trailblazers will be joined by percussion, voice, film and elements of theatre in an exploration of the two broad subjects of Nature and Technology. The festival will also feature a performance of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ ground-breaking Eight Songs for a Mad King.

The Brook Street Band (and friends) lead a weekend Festival in February (23 – 25 February 2018) exploring the varied musical styles that informed and shaped the composer Georg Muffat. The Band will explore his legacy in the form of chamber and orchestral music by composers including Bach and Handel, with four concerts (plus a dance-music workshop and illustrated pre-concert talks) providing a comprehensive musical survey, as well as a natural ebb and flow in terms of mood and scale, small chamber versus orchestral line-ups, and art music versus dance music. Concerts include music from Muffat’s Armonico Tributo as well as a selection from the two volumes of Muffat’s ground-breaking Florilegium 

Also in February, St John’s Smith Square welcomes back the Principal Sound Festival (16 – 18 February 2018), which this year will focus on the music of Luigi Nono, alongside works by Rebecca Saunders, György Kurtág, Claudia Molitor and, once again, Morton Feldman. Artists featured include Exaudi, Explore Ensemble, the Bozzini Quartet, Siwan Rhys, George Barton and Jenni Hogan.

Americana ’18

Throughout the calendar year of 2018, St John’s Smith Square celebrates music from America in a series of concerts curated by the conductor David Wordsworth. Highlights include a celebration of Stephen Montague’s 75th birthday (9 March 2018) with a day of events including his complete works for keyboards and the London premieres of a number of his concertos. There will be a whole day of events, stretching for 13 hours (to represent the 13 stripes of the Stars and Stripes flag) on Independence Day (4 July 2018) and in Autumn 2018, there will be a focussed festival of American music.

Other features of Americana ’18 include the Carducci Quartet playing Philip Glass (23 March 2018), the London Chorus with Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, celebrating the centenary of Bernstein’s birth (8 March 2018) and Orchestra Nova in a programme that includes the complete chamber version of Copland’s Appalachian Spring (22 May 2018). The pianist Zubin Kanga will give a concert of music by Terry Riley and John Adams among others (9 February 2018) and the Crouch End Festival Chorus will collaborate with the Brodsky Quartet in a programme including music by Randall Thompson, Copland and the Barber Adagio (10 February 2018). For everyone, there is an opportunity to ‘Come and Sing the Bernstein Musicals’ (17 March 2018).

Period Instrument Performance

Period instrument performance is always at the forefront of St John’s Smith Square’s programme. La Nuova Musica and The Holst Singers, both familiar to St John’s Smith Square audiences, collaborate for the first time in a programme of Handel and Mozart (13 November 2017).

London Bach Society make their contribution to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with a concert which brings together the Steinitz Bach Players and Tenebrae under the direction of Nigel Short (30 October 2017). St John’s Smith Square continues marking the Reformation’s anniversary when Gabrieli and Paul McCreesh return with their recreation of a 17th century Lutheran Christmas morning (7 December 2017) 

Following their debut performance back in April, the Armonico Consort and Baroque Orchestra with Christopher Monks will give a performance of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 (4 October 2017), continuing the celebrations of the 450th anniversary of Monteverdi’s birth.

The young conductor, Joel Sandelson, brings his period instrument orchestra Wond’rous Machine for a concert of Corelli, Purcell and Lully (28 October 2017) and soprano Anna Dennis will give a concert of Purcell songs with Sounds Baroque directed by Julian Perkins (19 January 2018).

The European Day of Early Music (21 March 2018) will be celebrated at St John’s Smith Square with a performance in collaboration with the London Handel Festival, and there will be more Handelian celebrations when Stephen Layton directs a concert with Florilegium, soprano Mary Bevan and countertenor Tim Mead (27 February 2018).

Opera

Opera always plays a significant role in St John’s Smith Square’s calendar. Bampton Classical Opera continue to champion the work of Salieri (12 September 2017), this time with his The School of Jealousy, a work that almost certainly inspired Da Ponte and Mozart to create Cosi fan tutte. Later in the season Bampton return to give a programme illustrating the life of the legendary singer Nancy Storace (7 March 2018) marking the bicentenary of her death.

In October there is a chance to hear the opera stars of the future when St John’s Smith Square hosts the final of The Voice of Black Opera Competition (3 October 2018) featuring six young singers accompanied by the City of London Sinfonia , conducted by Kwamé Ryan. There is a further showcase opportunity when Irish Heritage Opera visit to celebrate 44 years of bringing Irish operatic talent to the stage (12 April 2018).

La Nuova Musica return with Handel’s Orlando (1 February 2018), the start of an annual cycle of Handel operas at St John’s Smith Square. There is more Handel in April when Christian Curnyn and the Early Opera Company return with Giulio Cesare (11 April 2018). Further opera can be found during the London Festival of Baroque Music when La Nuova Musica return with Iestyn Davies in the title role of Gluck’s Orfeo (13 May 2018). 

Moving on from the baroque period, Kensington Symphony Orchestra present Puccini’s La Bohème conducted by their music director Russell Keable (21 May 2018).

Orchestral Performances

St John’s Smith Square enjoys close relationships with many of the UK’s top orchestras. The London Mozart Players and Howard Shelley’s innovative explorations of great piano concertos this season features works by Schumann, Saint-Saëns, Mendelssohn, Shostakovich and Grieg whilst the Orchestra of St John’s continues its My Music series with celebrity guests including Sir Simon Jenkins, Lord Archer and Lord Hague. 

As part of the Southbank Centre’s Belief and Beyond Belief series Matthew Barley leads a performance of Sir John Tavener’s The Protecting Veil with the City of London Sinfonia (2 December 2017).

Orchestra Vitae return with an intimate programme of Mozart and David Lang which will be presented ‘in the round’ (7 November 2017) and then in the spring with a programme within the Americana ’18 season including Copland’s Third Symphony and the Gershwin Piano Concerto (2 March 2018). Another classic American Third Symphony, this time by Ives, is featured in a programme marking the return of the English Symphony Orchestra which also includes the Copland Clarinet Concerto, Piston’s rarely performed Sinfonietta and a newly commissioned work from Jesse Jones (18 April 2018).

In Spring 2018, St John’s Smith Square welcomes the European Union Chamber Orchestra for a programme of Haydn and Mozart (21 February 2018). 

The Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra have five concerts this season, and the Kensington Symphony Orchestra once more brings its unique programming style to St John’s Smith Square in its 17/18 concert series. The Royal Orchestral Society and the Salomon Orchestra also return to St John’s Smith Square for regular concerts including a performance of the Berg Violin Concerto with violinist Ben Baker and Schmidt’s Symphony No. 4 conducted by Holly Mathieson (16 October 2017).

Choral and Vocal Music

Given the outstanding acoustics at St John’s Smith Square, many choral societies return year after year and 2017/18 is no exception with performances of Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius given by the 1885 Singers and Orchestra and the Malvern Festival Chorus (14 October 2017), Brahms’s A German Requiem with The London Chorus (11 November 2017), Islington Choral Society (18 March 2018) and the Anton Bruckner Choir (28 April 2018), Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Vaughan Williams’s A Sea Symphony with Twickenham Choral Society (8 July 2018), Handel’s Joshua with the Whitehall Choir (17 November 2017) and Haydn’s The Creation with Vox Cordis with the Orchestra of St Paul’s (21 November 2018).

As part of the Southbank Centre’s Belief and Beyond Belief festival St John’s Smith Square is delighted to once again welcome The Cardinall’s Musick with a programme of music from the 16th Century to present day. The English Baroque Choir celebrates its 40th birthday with a performance of Bach’s Mass in B minor (24 March 2018) and the London Choral Sinfonia return with a programme that places music by James MacMillan, Eric Whitacre and Morten Lauridsen around the Requiem of John Rutter (22 February 2018)

New Music and Emerging Talent

The celebration of new music has always been central to the programming at St John’s Smith Square and this season is no exception. Among those whose works will receive premieres at St John’s Smith Square in 17/18 are Gregory Rose, Sally Beamish, Alexandra Harwood, Hanna Kulenty, Patrick Brennan, Khyam Allami, Nimrod Borenstein, Owain Park, Arlene Sierra, Kareem Roustom and Jesse Jones.

The highly praised Young Artists’ Scheme at St John’s Smith Square enters a fifth season with three extraordinary talents. The Bukolika Piano Trio present music by Boulanger, Hanna Kulenty, Messiaen, Górecki and Panufnik alongside more familiar works by Beethoven and Dvořák; the violinist Mathilde Milwidsky performs music by Arvo Pärt, Janáček, Clara Schumann, Grieg and Richard Strauss, while the piano and percussion duo of Siwan Rhys and George Barton offer programmes including music by Vinko Globokar, Kagel, Cage, Feldman and Sir Harrison Birtwistle. All three Young Artists will be showcased as part of a special concert (17 September 2017) within Open House London. 

Regular Concert Series & Chamber Music

St John’s Smith Square hosts its regular Thursday Lunchtime Concerts, which feature, among others: Yeomen from The Musicians’ Company; prize-winners from the Oxford Lieder Festival; performances from St John’s Smith Square’s Young Artists 17/18; artists featured at the Dartington International Summer School and a monthly organ recital series programmed by St John’s Smith Square’s organ curator, David Titterington. Particular highlights of the lunchtime series include the Pettman Ensemble with Stephen De Pledge and guest violinist Clio Gould (7 September 2017), the chamber choir Siglo de Oro (9 November 2017), the Duke Quartet (1 February 2018) and the violinist Daniel Pioro (22 March 2018).

The Sunday at St John’s programme, in its fourth year, once again includes a number of mini-series within it. Returning artists include I Muscanti and Leon Bosch who will give a series of concerts juxtaposing Russian chamber music with premieres by the composer Alexandra Harwood. Lucy Parham also returns with her Sheaffer Sundays ‘Composers in Love’ concert series featuring well-known actors such as Harriet Walter, Tim McInnerny, Patricia Hodge and Simon Russell Beale.

The Revolutionary Drawing Room reaches the Razumovsky Quartets as it enters the second year of the complete Beethoven Quartets cycle (concluding in the 2018/19 season) and the pianist Julian Jacobson gives four concerts in his 70th birthday year that bring together masterpieces by Schubert, Beethoven and Prokofiev. Deniz Gelenbe and friends give two concerts of romantic chamber music while Ensemble de Note makes its St John’s Smith Square debut with a series of early classical chamber music performances. The Prince Regent’s Band will give a fascinating programme of 19th century band music (5 November 2017) and the soprano Elin Manahan Thomas together with Elizabeth Kenny (lute and theorbo) will set the scene for Christmas with their programme ‘Now Winter Comes Slowly’ (3 December 2017).

The virtuoso brass ensemble Septura opens the audience’s ears to new sounds as they make their St John’s Smith Square debut in a sequence of concerts entitled Kleptomania, playing arrangements of great works written for other instrumental combinations.

Piano recitals include a performance with Sibelius scholar Joseph Tong in a Nordic themed concert to mark the 60th anniversary (to the day) of Sibelius’s death (20 September 2017) and Blüthner Pianos present a series of concerts to showcase their instruments with the pianists Tom Poster, Dmitry Masleev and Martin Sturfalt. Russian pianist Dmitri Alexeev is another pianist celebrating his 70th birthday at St John’s Smith Square (2 November 2017).

Southbank Centre at St John’s Smith Square

The collaboration with Southbank Centre continues for 17/18 during their period of refurbishment. Highlights include the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment with Sally Beamish’s The Judas Passion (25 September 2017) and Rachel Podger playing and directing the OAE in a concert featuring two of Mozart’s Violin Concertos (27 November 2017). The London Sinfonietta return under their founder conductor David Atherton to give a performance of Henze’s landmark work Voices, based on 22 folk songs from around the world (11 October 2017) and St John’s Smith Square will also host some of the London Sinfonietta’s 50th birthday celebrations as they revisit many of the most iconic works from the past 50 years including music by Xenakis, Colin Matthews and Sir Harrison Birtwistle.

Highlights from Southbank Centre’s International Chamber Music Series at St John’s Smith Square include the Emerson Quartet in concerts on two consecutive nights with the late quartets of Beethoven (31 October and 1 November 2017) and Steven Osborne returning with friends to perform Messiaen’s monumental Quartet for the End of Time alongside Shostakovich’s Second Piano Trio (14 November 2017). Southbank Centre’s International Piano Series at St John’s Smith Square includes concerts with Bertrand Chamayou, Víkingur Ólafsson, Boris Giltburg, Alice Sara Ott and George Li.

Richard Heason, Director of St John’s Smith Square said: “St John’s Smith Square is unique amongst London’s concert halls. It is the oldest, yet most flexible, concert hall in London and as such I am very proud that we are able to offer a programme that is so diverse but equally filled with events and festivals of deep integrity. The programme at St John’s Smith Square is forged through collaborating creatively with many hugely talented and generous musicians and my grateful thanks go to all those who enable this programme to be offered. We look forward to welcoming artists and audiences to this iconic venue throughout the coming season.”

 

Booking information:  

Box Office 020 7222 1061   

Book online http://www.sjss.org.uk  

 

St John’s Smith Square 2017/18 Season booking opens:

Monday 3 July 2017 for St John’s Smith Square’s Patrons

Friday 7 July 2017 for St John’s Smith Square’s Friends

Monday 10 July 2017 for General Booking
(Source: press release)

A guest post from Jane Shuttleworth

Among amateur musicians, we choral singers are an incredibly lucky bunch. We get to perform with top professional soloists, conductors and orchestras in the country’s best concert halls, without needing music college degrees and whilst still being able to do regular day jobs that pay the mortgage. When I was invited to contribute to this series, there were any number of memorable performances I could have chosen: my first ‘Messiah’, in the Royal Albert Hall; Bach Passions with professional baroque players; a Remembrance day War Requiem in Toronto; another ‘Messiah’ with Ben Heppner; Mahler’s Eighth Symphony… I’ve chewed through a fair proportion of the choral repertoire, but the piece I’ve chosen to write about comes from one of the works that has thus far eluded me – Haydn’s ‘Creation’.

The chorus, “The Heavens are telling” closes Part One of Creation; it was a staple of my church choir’s repertoire when I was a young girl soprano, and we often sang it either as an anthem during a service or at concerts. Everything about it delighted me, particularly the sheer exuberance of the opening phrases, and the madcap dash to the end when the words all tumble out with increasing urgency and the harmony ratchets up the tension; and the simple fact that it was really loud. But the contrasting trio sections with their graceful fluidity, their cast of angels and air of mystery enchanted me too.

To this day, it’s a bit of a mystery why I joined the choir: I think it was mainly to escape Sunday School, but I had always enjoyed trying to sing along with hymns. One of my earliest memories is standing on a pew next to my father, trying to sing a hymn and asking him what all the words meant. I wasn’t particularly good at singing – the school choir-mistress had made that quite clear. But David Strong, the choirmaster, was willing to take on any trebles who wanted a go, and he put in extra time with us before adult choir practice to help us learn our parts.

And this is really the point of this article. Thanks to that early experience of good Anglican choral music, I have spent my whole life singing in choirs; church and chapel choirs, big choral societies, and smaller chamber choirs. I’ve sung in big concert venues, a fair number of cathedrals and have been moved to all extremes of the emotional compass by music I’ve sung. And it’s all thanks to David Strong, that organist who took the time and effort to bring children into his church choir, and just as importantly to let us sing the same music as the grown-ups. This sort of thorough, accessible and (most importantly) free musical education is so hard to come by and should be valued, supported and lauded wherever it can be found.

I only realised just how grateful I was to David Strong when I heard last year that he was seriously ill, and I was glad that I had the opportunity to get back in touch and thank him. He died a few days before I sang my first St Matthew Passion, in Durham Cathedral, and some of the tears I shed during that concert were tears of gratitude.

We sang plenty of other good repertoire but “The Heavens are telling” captured my childhood imagination so strongly that it’s the piece that sums up my early choir years, and whenever I hear it, I think of my 10-year old self, singing out with more enthusiasm than accuracy, and still oblivious to just how much amazing music-making I had ahead of me. And if I ever get to sing Creation, I’ll be thinking of David…and probably resisting the temptation to attempt the soprano line that I used to sing with such delight.

Jane Shuttleworth is a singer, recorder player and writer, reviewing
for Bachtrack, Early Music Review and her own local music website
Music in Durham (www.musicdurham.co.uk). She currently sings alto in
The Durham Singers, a 40-voice chamber choir specialising in
unaccompanied music, and in Voces Usuales, an occasional cathedral
choir.

 

‘Music Notes’ is a new occasional series, mostly comprised of guest posts, in which contributors discuss favourite or significant concerts, performances, artists, recordings or musical experiences. More ‘Private Passions’ than ‘Desert Island Discs’, the series is an opportunity for people to share their love of music and attempt to explain why certain pieces, places and artists have such distinct resonances and associations for them. Further information about the series here:

https://crosseyedpianist.com/2014/04/29/music-notes-a-new-occasional-series/

Claudio Monteverdi

The Vespers of the Blessed Virgin – Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)

Saturday 8th December 2012, Landmark Arts Centre, Teddington

Twickenham Choral Society & Brandenberg Baroque Soloists

Sopranos: Philippa Boyle & Grace Davidson

Tenors: Peter Morton & David Webb

Basses: Lukas Kargl & Charles Rice

Conductor: Christopher Herrick

Twickenham Choral Society, with the Brandenberg Baroque Soloists, and six solo singers, gave an enjoyable and very committed performance of Monteverdi’s Vespers to a sold out Landmark Arts Centre in Teddington.

Contrary to popular musical myth, Monteverdi did not write the Vespers especially for St Mark’s in Venice, though they may have been performed there. Nor were they specifically an ‘audition piece’ for the post of maestro di cappella. The work may have been written for wedding festivities in the church of St Andrea, Mantua, for the text contains the sensuous love poetry drawn from the Song of Solomon. The birth of the composer’s daughter, whose namesake was that of the Blessed Virgin, may also have been a motivation for the composition. Whatever the origins of the work’s composition, it is Monteverdi’s first sacred work. Published in Venice in 1610, the work is monumental in scale, requiring a choir large enough to cover up to 10 vocal parts in some movements, and split into separate choirs in others. The choir is also required to accompany several soloists.

Vespers were recited or sung in the evening, and the text of Monteverdi’s vespers adheres to the traditional order of the office of Vespers: it includes recitation of psalms, the singing of the Marian office hymn Ave Maris stella, and culminates in a Magnificat (the Song of Mary). The psalm settings are those used for the feast days of Mary and other female saints. In addition to these standard movements, Monteverdi also included motets for one, two, three and six voices, and an instrumental sonata movement into which the chant Sancta Maria ora pro nobis is skillfully woven. The work has become one of the most popular from this period of late Renaissance/early Baroque music, not least because it combines the profundity of the liturgy with secular music, and presents an array of musical forms – sonata, hymn, motet and psalm – without comprising the scale or cohesiveness of the complete work.

The venue for the concert, The Landmark in Teddington, a deconsecrated church turned arts centre, was perfect for this music in both atmosphere and acoustic, and there were times, particularly in the Concerto: Audi coelum, a tenor duet with “echoes” and choir, during which one of the tenors sang the echoes from the back of the apse, to the accompaniment of theorbo, when we might have been in San Marco, Venice 400 years ago.

The choir were joined by the Brandenberg Baroque Soloists, a new orchestra which plays period instruments, including three sackbuts, chamber organ, Baroque cornetti and theorbo. They provided an authentic accompaniment, underpinning the singing with devices distinct from this period such as ground basses, drones, and some fine ostinato ‘cello lines.

Founded in 1921, Twickenham Choral Society is an amateur vocal ensemble, which draws its membership from a wide area of west London, and has a proud tradition of performing a broad repertoire from every era. They rose to the many challenges of Monteverdi’s music and text (it is isn’t always easy to sing well in Latin) to give a highly committed performance which combined great clarity of diction and attention to detail, dynamic shading and colour, and at times deep emotion and drama. The polyphony and counterpoint were handled with aplomb, allowing us to enjoy the many strands of Monteverdi’s writing, and the choral set pieces were complemented by intimate writing for solo voices, accompanied by a single instrument, such as theorbo or ‘cello, or the choir. The first half closed with a rousing Psalm 147: Lauda Jerusalem, which shone with the celebratory joy implicit in the text.

This was an impressive and meticulously prepared performance, brought together under the skillful baton of conductor Christopher Herrick, who has been working with Twickenham Choral Society since 1974. I look forward to further performances by the society.

For further information about forthcoming concerts, please visit www.twickenhamchoral.org.uk

Brandenberg Baroque Soloists