CHRISTMAS WITH SONORO
Wednesday 21 December, 7:30pm at Holy Trinity, Sloane Square, London SW1X 9BZ

Classical concerts seldom feel so downright uplifting.” – The Scotsman

In their first London concert since before the pandemic, Sonoro are joined by special guest, writer and actor Andy Hamilton for an evening of festive music and spoken word celebrating the joy of Christmas.

The programme is comprised almost entirely of works by living composers, and the music will be interspersed with readings by Andy Hamilton. A variety of wonderful choral composers are featured including Cecilia McDowall, Ben Ponniah, Roxanna Panufnik, Nathaniel Dett, Kerensa Briggs and Gabriel Jackson.

Neil Ferris, conductor, says: “We’re so happy to be performing in the beautiful Holy Trinity, Sloane Square and its stunning acoustics, with a carefully and lovingly constructed programme of new music and familiar texts, tunes and festive favourites.

Andy Hamilton says: “I’m looking forward to joining Sonoro for their Christmas concert. It will be a great way to kick off the seasonal celebrations and really get into the Christmas spirit.

There will be a retiring collection in aid of Cancer Research UK.

PROGRAMME
Seán Doherty – A nywe werk
Michael Higgins – The Angel Gabriel
Kerensa Briggs – A tender shoot
Becky McGlade – A spotless rose
R. Nathaniel Dett – Ave Maria
Gareth Treseder – Blessed be that Maid Marie
Ben Ponniah – O magnum mysterium
Adolphus Hailstork – The Lamb
Fintan O’Carroll – Suantraí ár Slánaitheora
Bob Chilcott – Pilgrim Jesus
Cecilia McDowall – Now may we singen
Gabriel Jackson – Hush! my dear
Avril Coleridge-Taylor – The Shepherd
Michael Higgins – Coventry Carol
John Rutter – Candlelight Carol
Will Todd – My Lord has come
Roxanna Panufnik – Jesus Christ is born
Adolphe Adam – O Holy Night
Michael Higgins – Silent night
Stuart Nicholson – Ding dong! merrily on high

BOOK TICKETS


Andy Hamilton is one of Britain’s best loved comedy performers and writers. He is
known to millions for his appearances on TV shows such as Have I Got News For You and QI. His one-man stage shows have been a sell-out success in venues round England and at the Edinburgh Fringe. Andy has been a frequent panellist on Radio 4’s News Quiz, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue and Just a Minute. Since 1995 he has starred as Satan in his own award-winning Radio 4 sitcom Old Harry’s Game.

Together with Guy Jenkin he created, wrote, and directed the BBC1 hit sitcom Outnumbered, ITV’s Kate & Koji and the classic Channel 4 TV sitcom Drop the Dead Donkey. Andy’s latest novel, Longhand, published in his handwriting, is now available in paperback. He is also the voice of Dr Elephant, the dentist in Peppa Pig.

 

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.

www.sonoromusic.com

On 12 March 2020, pianist Igor Levit tweeted the following:

He then rushed out of his flat to purchase a cheap camera stand, returned home, then realised he also needed a stand for his phone, so he slipped out again. A friend was co-opted to help ensure the livestream was working. At 7pm Berlin time, Igor Levit gave his first livestreamed “haus konzert”.

Two days before, on 10 March, his birthday, Levit gave a concert in Hamburg; the next, in Cologne, the following day was cancelled, and it was now clear that live music, and similar activities, were being shut down, who knew for how long, in response to the global coronavirus pandemic.

Levit gave 52 house concerts via Twitter, dressed casually and livestreamed from his flat, its minimalist decor interrupted only by the shiny grand piano and a striking painting on the wall behind. It became a nightly ritual, for pianist and audience. He performed whatever repertoire “felt right” – from Beethoven to Morton Feldman, Nina Simone to Schubert and Bach; it didn’t matter, for these performances were about being together when we were isolated in lockdown. Hundreds of thousands of people tuned in via Twitter every night and the livestream feed was crammed with comments, compliments, emojis; there was a potent sense of a shared experience, even though we were all listening on our own, separated by lockdown, yet together. Spontaneous and unplanned, these house concerts helped to alleviate Levit’s – and others’ – lockdown despair and isolation, a means of keeping live music going when it was unclear when we would be allowed back into the concert halls to enjoy live music again, together. The Observer chose Levit’s online recitals as number one in its top ten classical picks for 2020.

From a pragmatic point of view, the house concerts were also an incentive for Levit to keep practising, an impulse shared by so many musicians whose performing careers stopped dead in March 2020. Like many of his musician colleagues, in the months before the covid lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, Levit was enjoying a busy career: without concerts, what was the point of practising?

Igor Levit performing in his Berlin flat during lockdown

Igor Levit’s new book ‘House Concert’ (published in the UK by Polity press in November) is about these Twitter concerts – the musician’s need to play, to express oneself through music, and the experience of playing in isolation to an unseen audiences of tens or even hundreds of thousands – but it’s about much more than this too.

Organised in a series of conversations and diary-type entries between Levit and German journalist Florian Zinnecker, ‘House Concert’ explores what it is to be a professional musician in the 21st century, and charts Levit’s career from an unknown young pianist to an internationally-acclaimed performer who plays to sold out houses around the world. It’s about the development of an artist; what it means to “be” a pianist and the need to perform, to share one’s music with others; the role and power of social media, in particular Twitter; the classical music industry; and wider issues of whether it is appropriate for an artist to engage in politics and other pertinent issues of our time – the pandemic, racism, climate change.

Levit’s path to international fame was not an easy one. As anyone who has attended one of his concerts will know, he is an uncompromising player who has a remarkable ability to create an intensity of sound and concentrated emotion when he performs (Alex Ross of The New Yorker describes him as “a pianist like no other”). His choice of repertoire may be considered “narrow” by some: eschewing the big showpieces or “top of the pops” of the pianist’s repertoire, he has instead chosen to focus on a handful of composers, recording and performing the complete piano sonatas of Beethoven, Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and Rzewski’s mighty ‘The People United Will Never Be Defeated’, together with lesser-known works by Busoni, Reger and Ronald Stevenson. As a young pianist at the start of his career, his uncompromising attitude and refusal to “play to the gallery”, as it were, to satisfy the whims of the market by including the popular classics in his programmes, meant that he was overlooked by artist managers and agents who felt he was not sufficiently marketable. This section of the book offers some really fascinating, honest and sometimes brutal insights into the workings and attitudes of the classical music “industry” today – where marketability is placed above artistic integrity. Levit didn’t fit the image that record companies were looking for and he was not willing to compromise; as a consequence it was a long time before he was picked up by a manager who was sufficiently sympathetic to his way of doing things. (An indication of how the industry reacts to the maverick, when Levit recorded Beethoven’s last five piano sonatas for his debut disc, there were more than a few mutterings that he was too young, that it was an impertinence that he should record these works at his age. It was a risk, but it was a worthwhile one: as anyone who has heard Levit perform late Beethoven knows, he is a master in this repertoire.)

The Twitter concerts throw an interesting light on the ecosystem of the classical music business and the power structures within in. In his house concerts, Levit demonstrated that it was possible to reach an audience directly via social media, without the usual tools of the business – marketing, publicity, staging. The simplicity of the Twitter concerts made them special – and for Levit they made him feel strong, that he wasn’t a fake.

For the pianist, Levit makes some challenging assertions regarding interpretation, context and the over-intellectualisation of music and its performance. He eschews the notion that music must have “meaning” or a distinct narrative, or that there is a “right way” to play it, and feels it is “just there to be experienced”. He sees the role of the musician as an “enabler”, one who brings the music to life from the page by making the piece his own.

“I’m telling my own story…the one that’s closest to my heart. The information about what happened to this piece one hundred, two hundred, three hundred years ago isn’t really my business.”

Igor Levit

In the realm of classical music, with all its conventions and tradition, where fidelity to the score and an appreciation of the context in which the music is written is regarded as essential to any “authentic” performance, Levit bucks the trend. Because he’s not interested in tradition or convention; for him it’s all about the music. He’s not interested in whether in his performances of Beethoven we hear the sound of Beethoven. For him, “it’s Beethoven, of course, but played by me.”

A keen activist, the book also explores Levit’s vocal opposition to German right-wing attitudes to immigration, anti-Semitism and online hate crime, and his advocacy for environmentalism, the plight of Syrian refugees. He’s received abuse and even death threats for his views but he refuses to submit to “artistic neutrality”. Does he believe music can make a difference, shift attitudes and effect change? Absolutely not: “If you believe music will make fascists less fascist, then you’re just naive” – and for this reason his music and his activism are kept largely separate, though his large social media following and reputation undoubtedly serves his activism.

This absorbing and highly readable book is neither diary nor straightforward artist biography. It shifts back and forth between periods in Levit’s life, from student days, to now, and explores a variety of themes, not all of them musical. It not only showcases the remarkable achievements of a charismatic classical musician, it also reveals their anxieties and doubts, strengths and weaknesses, and offers an important snapshot of the difficulties faced by professional musicians in a highly competitive industry riven with convention, power structures and tradition. The success of Levit’s house concerts – and similar livestream projects from other musicians all around the world – perhaps prove that the industry does not necessarily need all the trappings of “the business” to communicate and share the power and joy of music with others.

‘House Concert’ is published by Polity books (November 2022). Further information here

The Royal Choral Society (RCS) celebrates its 150th anniversary with a season of concerts which reflect its illustrious history and its connection with some of the most significant names in the musical world, including Charles Gounod, Giuseppe Verdi, Antonin Dvorák, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Edward Elgar, Ethel Smyth, William Walton, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Malcolm Sargent, who had a 39-year association with the choir. The current music director, Richard Cooke, who joined in 1995, sang in King’s College Choir under David Willcocks and was chorus master under the batons of Bernstein, Abbado and Tennstedt among others.

A much-loved British institution, the Royal Choral Society has a long-standing association with the Royal Albert Hall where it gave its first performance on 8 May 1872 under the baton of its founder-conductor, Charles Gounod, at a time when live performance was the only means to hear music. Independent and self-funding, the Society has striven to keep the artform alive with performances of the great works of the choral repertoire, including during wartime with its morale-boosting concerts of Messiah, Elijah and The Dream of Gerontius.

Under the direction of Richard Cooke, the choir has sung rarely performed works by Berlioz – The Damnation of Faust & Grande Messe des Morts – while Mahler symphonies and Requiems by Verdi, Mozart and Britten have been performed to acclaim. The choir has also premiered many works in the UK, including Verdi’s Requiem, Dvorak’s Stabat Mater and Ramirez’s Misa Criolla. The choir’s Easter tradition of the Good Friday Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall has become something of a national event, with near sell-out annual performances, and the Society is now firmly established in the Royal Albert Hall’s Christmas programme, with 16 festive performances to look forward to this year.

In May 2021, the choir found itself in the national spotlight when, in something of the spirit of its wartime performances, it gave a socially-distanced performance of Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall at a time when it was forbidden for amateur choirs to rehearse or sing indoors in groups of more than six. The performance, deemed ‘professional’ by the DCMS, led the way for non-professional choirs to return to Covid-safe rehearsals and performance.

Find out more about the RCS’ illustrious history here: Royal Choral Society – History

Highlights of the Royal Choral Society 150th anniversary season:

THE WORLD OF SAMUEL COLERIDGE-TAYLOR

Sunday 9 October, 7.30pm, Fairfield Halls, Croydon

London Mozart Players

Royal Choral Society

Croydon Philharmonic Choir

Richard Cooke: conductor

Ben Hulett: tenor

Fenella Humphreys: violin

A celebration of the music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor including the epic Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast.

Born in Holborn and raised in Croydon, Afro-British Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was regarded, by Elgar no less, as the most talented composer in Britain. He was a household name in the early twentieth century, thanks to the popularity of his biggest hit Hiawatha. Every summer for some 30 years, thousands of people descended on the Royal Albert Hall for ‘Hiawatha Season’ – a dedicated two-week stint of Coleridge-Taylor’s immense choral work, sung by the Royal Choral Society, with the Royal Albert Hall turned into a Native American ‘reservation’, a tradition only brought to a halt by the Second World War.

In this concert Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast is reimagined for a modern audience, surrounding it in music from Coleridge-Taylor’s contemporaries – Elgar’s The Spirit of the Lord and Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. The programme also includes Coleridge-Taylor’s Violin Concerto, performed by Fenella Humphreys, the score of which was lost on RMS Titanic and had to be subsequently rewritten.

It is interesting to note that the Performing Rights Society was founded as a direct result of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor selling the publishing rights to Hiawatha to Novello. He never earned a penny more from his blockbuster hit and died in 1912 in relative poverty.

Today, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor is being ‘rediscovered’, but the RCS has a long-standing association with him.

https://www.royalchoralsociety.co.uk/concertdetail.htm?event=624


CHRISTMAS WITH THE ROYAL CHORAL SOCIETY

Monday 12 December, 7.30pm, Royal Albert Hall

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Richard Cooke conductor

Mary Bevan: soprano

The RCS has sung at the Royal Albert Hall every Christmas since 1872 and this year celebrates its 150th Christmas in its spiritual home. Its festive programme will be packed full of glorious carols old and new and includes best-loved carols for the audience to join in singing.

https://www.royalchoralsociety.co.uk/concertdetail.htm?event=625

CAROLS AT THE HALL ROYAL ALBERT HALL

17, 18, 21, 22, 23, 24 December (various times)

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

National Youth Choir of Great Britain

Richard Cooke: conductor

Greg Beardsell: compere

Soloists tbc

Fifteen carol concerts in the lead up to Christmas at London’s favourite venue, these events are a firm favourite for families wanting a traditional, fun, singalong festive concert featuring Christmas classics and popular carols. The brilliant Greg Beardsell hosts all 15 concerts.

https://www.royalalberthall.com/tickets/events/2022/carols-at-the-royal-albert-hall/

 

HANDEL’S MESSIAH ON GOOD FRIDAY

Royal Albert Hall, Good Friday 7 April 2023, 2.30pm

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Richard Cooke: conductor

Keri Fuge: soprano

Marta Fontanals-Simmons: mezzo-soprano

Andrew Staples: tenor

James Clerverton: bass

The Royal Choral Society’s 147th year performing this beloved oratorio at the Royal Albert Hall on Good Friday. The choir performed Handel’s Messiah in its first season in 1872, but 1876 saw the first Good Friday performance at the Royal Albert Hall, and it quickly became an annual Easter tradition, only interrupted by the Blitz in 1940/1 and the 2020/1 Covid pandemic. The choir is thought to have performed this work more than any other choir with an estimated 280 performances.

In 2020, the RCS’ Messiah on Good Friday was an early lockdown casualty and the choir produced one of the first ‘multivideo’ performances – Hallelujah Chorus, broadcast on Good Friday to launch the Royal Albert Hall’s #RoyalAlbertHome initiative.

In 2021, due to Covid, the choir performed Messiah on Trinity Sunday instead of Good Friday, with 119 singers socially distanced on stage, only organ and trumpet accompaniment, and just 800 in the audience at the Royal Albert Hall.

The RCS’ video of the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ has had 11.5 million hits on YouTube and is the ‘go to’ video for all manner of celebrations.

https://www.royalalberthall.com/tickets/events/2023/messiah-on-good-friday/

 

A CHORAL CELEBRATION!

ROYAL CHORAL SOCIETY’S 150TH ANNIVERSARY CONCERT

Royal Albert Hall, Sunday 7 May 2023, 2.30pm

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Richard Cooke: conductor

The Royal Choral Society’s special 150th anniversary concert, featuring the best in choral music.

Join the Royal Choral Society in its spiritual home to enjoy the drama of the Dies Irae from Verdi’s Requiem, the emotion of Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius and the ebullience of Parry’s Jerusalem – works inextricably linked to the choir’s illustrious history. Also on the programme is Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus and Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus both of which featured in the choir’s first concert in 1872, works specially commissioned for the choir by Malcolm Sargent and Roxanna Panufnik, plus a few other surprises along the way.

And for the singers in the audience, the opportunity to join in ‘beltissimo’ with favourite anthem, Parry’s I Was Glad.

The Royal Choral Society will be accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, with Richard Pearce on the organ, all under the baton of the choir’s Music Director of 27 years, Richard Cooke. After the Covid woes, the choir intends to raise the roof of London’s favourite venue in celebration of the sheer joy of singing.

www.royalchoralsociety.co.uk


For further media information/interviews, please contact Frances Wilson | frances_wilson66@live.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

An exhibition at The Georgian House in Edinburgh, opening in June, will tell the remarkable story of Felix Yaniewicz (1762-1848), a celebrated Polish-Lithuanian violinist and composer, who settled in Scotland and co-founded the first Edinburgh music festival in 1815. Alongside the exhibition, there will be a programme of talks, lecture-recitals and musical performances.

Josie Dixon, Yaniewicz’s great-great-great-great-granddaughter and founder of The Friends of Felix Yaniewicz, says: ‘Putting this exhibition together has illuminated so many aspects of Yaniewicz’s colourful story, featuring a Polish King, his encounter with Mozart in Vienna, escape from the French Revolution and a lost Stradivarius. We are thrilled to be sharing with the public for the first time a remarkable collection of heirlooms reflecting his life and career, in celebration of his musical legacy in Scotland.’

After a cosmopolitan career in Europe, Felix Yaniewicz arrived in London around 1790 and eventually made his way to Edinburgh where he lived from 1815 until his death in 1848. It was the discovery and restoration of a historic square piano bearing his signature that led to new research on his career and a project to celebrate his role in Scotland’s musical culture.

The Yaniewicz & Green square piano was the subject of a crowdfunding campaign in 2021, in partnership with the Scottish Polish community, with donations from all over Britain, Poland, Germany, Norway, France, Italy, Switzerland and the USA. Its arrival in Scotland last year was celebrated with two recitals hosted by the Polish Consulate in Edinburgh. The exhibition at The Georgian House will be the first opportunity for this beautiful instrument to be seen in public.

The exhibition ‘Music and Migration in Georgian Edinburgh: The Story of Felix Yaniewicz’ brings together a unique collection of musical instruments, portraits, manuscripts, silver and gold personal possessions, letters and autographs, many of them passed down the generations in his surviving family, and almost none of them seen in public before. Together, these will offer fascinating insights into the career of this charismatic performer, composer, impresario and musical entrepreneur, who left a lasting mark on Scottish musical culture.

This exhibition has been organised in collaboration with the Adam Mickiewicz Institute and co-financed by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland.

Barbara Schabowska, Director of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, says: ‘The figure of Felix Yaniewicz, an internationally renowned Polish-Lithuanian violin virtuoso, is a perfect example of how remarkably universal the language of music is. The exhibition, celebrating his fascinating travel-filled life, is a chance to initiate transnational dialogue – not only between Scotland and Poland, but also with everybody who finds themselves moved by Yaniewicz’s music.’

The exhibition will be accompanied by a programme of events in Edinburgh, including illustrated talks, lecture-recitals and musical performances at the Georgian House, and an ‘in conversation’ event at Ghillie Dhu with critically-acclaimed writer and broadcaster Armando Iannucci on music, migration and Scotland.

The exhibition ‘Music and Migration in Georgian Edinburgh: The Story of Felix Yaniewicz’, hosted by National Trust for Scotland and organised in collaboration with the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, takes place at the Georgian House, Edinburgh, from 25 June until 22 October 2022.

Events

Plus a special event for our festival weekend, at Ghillie Dhu:

yaniewicz.org

As the Meet the Artist interview series approaches its 10th birthday, I’m delighted to feature a new interview with one of the first people I interviewed for the series, back in 2012, award-winning composer Thomas Hewitt Jones. 


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

Without a doubt, my paternal grandparents (both composers) were hugely significant influences on me, both musically and in terms of my career trajectory so far. My grandfather Tony was a great craftsman and studied with Nadia Boulanger; my granny Anita wrote educational music that is extremely accessible for young string players, yet is of consistently high quality. Both had studied harmony and composition techniques with the lovely man that was Bernard Rose while at Oxford (who told Tony in an early supervision “you’ll never get a girlfriend unless you cut off your beard”… anyway the next week Tony announced with a wry smile that he was engaged to Anita); however, over her lifetime Granny’s music did better commercially than Tony’s, who wrote entirely for himself (and often wrote choral music that was high quality, yet challenging to both listen to and perform). He once got offered a large amount of money to write music for a TV ad for a building company, and turned it down. I like to think that I have ended up with a mix of both approaches to composition, although I personally enjoy writing music for a wide audience which is nevertheless genuine, with…that ever-important word these days…integrity.

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

I think that we live in a difficult time for composers who want to write music that has what I call ‘horizontal’ emotional narrative. There’s so much soundbitey ‘vertical’ contemporary classical music that is constructed like pop music, built around earworms and varying textures over a repetitive chord sequence rather than maintaining melodic, rhythmic and harmonic interest over time. Music can do so much more than just an earworm intended to get high numbers on Spotify.

On the other end of the artistic spectrum, I’ve got an amusing commercial music track called ‘Funny Song Cavendish’ that has gone mega-viral on TikTok (currently 2 billion streams, and countless celebrity videos as I write this). It is a lesser-discussed part of the music streaming arguments that are currently taking place, but newcomer music usage platforms such as TikTok present difficulties for composers and publishers because royalty streams are not always transparent until legislation is fought for in retrospect. I’ve actually recently been voted on the Ivors Academy Senate Committee for this year, and I’m going to be campaigning for this, and many other similar issues that will hopefully make issues of streaming rates more transparent for the composers of tomorrow. My overriding feeling is that composers in the year 2022 feel that they must write a certain type of music that will serve them well financially through the algorithms of streaming services, rather than being musically satisfying – rather than pushing artforms to a new and exciting place – which is, in my humble opinion, a sorry place to be.

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

It’s always an enjoyable challenge to write to a brief. As artists throughout time have invariably found, the difficult commissions are the ones where there is a clear cognitive dissonance during the creative process – if, for example, there are words a composer doesn’t particularly want to set, or a subject matter that doesn’t really interest him or her. The really great craftsmen can transcend these situations – but the arts at their best are an honest expression of humanity. A composer is invariably emotionally naked, and audiences aren’t stupid so they will realise pretty quickly if music isn’t authentic. I’ve been lucky not to have to deal with such situations, but in the arts there is nowhere to hide!

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles or orchestras?

I am incredibly lucky to have worked with some of the finest players around in recording sessions so far, many of whom have become friends as well as colleagues. The COVID lockdowns in 2019-21 were an interesting time because everyone was recording at home, but we managed to still make things work and release albums. As well as writing the music I very much enjoy the music production process as well, so these things came together during that time.

Of which works are you most proud?

I’m not sure that a composer can judge his or her work. Each piece of music you write is like a new offspring, but as soon as it has grown up and left home, it’s no longer yours. For this reason, I make a point of deleting files and throwing away copies of pieces of music that have had copyrights assigned and are published and out in the ether. If people email asking me for copies of pieces, I genuinely can’t help – and I occasionally hear things on the radio that I’ve forgotten I’ve written! As a writer, the thing you are working on is the only piece you are aware of.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Approachable and mainstream, yet high quality and with integrity. That’s what I hope anyway, but it’s not for me to judge.

How do you work?

I have a lot of technology in my studio, and I love using it. That said, I believe that the key elements of music composition are exactly the same as they were in Bach’s time, that great melody and harmony (or interesting texture used in a way that is satisfying in narrative) are key to an emotional experience that makes great music.

It strikes me that today there are a lot of ‘noodlers’ who can’t look at a score and hear it in their head, and can’t compose away from their DAW [Digital Audio Workstation]. For me personally, that isn’t quite right. There is a place for every approach, and improvisation is incredibly important for all-round great musicianship. But for me, the first idea isn’t necessarily the best one, and while noodling might make for perfectly good underscore underneath an emotive speech in a film, it won’t break the mould as a standalone piece. (It might satisfy a mass radio streaming audience who are using music as background wallpaper though.) The creative process is full of contradictions so I always approach each project differently. As Stephen Sondheim so wisely said, ‘Content dictates form’.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

A second performance. I think many of my peers would agree – if you ever meet a load of composers in a bar, they’ll either be chatting about the PRS, or about second performances.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

This will sound facetious, but – like the human condition itself, the route into a musical career is also full of contradictions and there is honestly no set way to approach a career in music. I’m sure many would agree that it’s about hard work, luck, and being happy to be poor while you are building up a reputation in your early years. It took me 8 years after leaving university to make a successful living as a composer. Hopefully the horrendous swagger of entitlement of the generation above us (typified by the likes of certain members of our cabinet) will cause a reassessment of honesty, integrity and equal access for talented newcomers that will filter through to the arts as a whole. But that might be wishful thinking.

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

I think that two ends of our industry have to meet in the middle, and everyone needs to be unjudgmental. I think ClassicFM has done such a huge amount for music appreciation in the general population, and I love its straight-to-the-point promotion of great melody. I also really enjoy listening to the Ligeti Piano Concerto. I think that great music needs to be given as much of an airing irrespective of commercial viability, background or composer’s gender.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Last time I did this, I said I would like to be in a hut by the sea, with a wife and kids if I’m lucky. Well now I have a wife, Annalisa and one kid. Maybe next time I do this, I’ll have another kid, but hopefully not another wife!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being with my wife and kid.

What is your most treasured possession?

My wife and kid.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Don’t ask.

What is your present state of mind?

I’ve got a huge amount of writing to do at the moment, on top of some mixing, so I’m extremely busy, but happy to be working on projects at the moment which are employing other musicians. Using live musicians is really important, and never more so than post-COVID. Software sampling is really great these days, but still nothing beats many musical brains working as one…


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. His music is regularly featured on Classic FM, including most recently ‘Christmas Party’ (his seasonal violin concerto, written and recorded for violinist Simon Hewitt Jones). In 2021, he released ‘Can you hear me?’, an acclaimed response to the COVID19 pandemic. Recent commissions include ‘In Our Service’, written for the Royal School of Church Music’s Platinum Project to commemorate the Queen’s platinum jubilee.

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