Twenty years ago the Hepton Singers performed a concert which consisted entirely of music by women composers, which at the time was a ground-breaking thing to do. It speaks volumes that in 2012 it is still a ground-breaking idea…
However this choir has never been afraid of breaking new ground, and it seems fitting that in a year in which a theme within Hebden Bridge Arts Festival is women in music, that we should play our part in bringing some less familiar music to a wider audience. Less familiar by no means implies music of a lesser quality, as we shall endeavour to show in what promises to be an exciting evening.
Because there has been very little a cappella choral music written by women prior to the twentieth century, most of the programme will consist of contemporary music, with the notable exception of plainchant from the twelfth century by Hildegard of Bingen. We shall sing O virtus sapientiae. We shall also sing music by Thea Musgrave, including the only pieces we shall be repeating from our programme from twenty years ago (Four Madrigals by Sir Thomas Wyatt), but also her delicious piece Subway Piranhas, a wickedly humorous setting of an Edwin Morgan poem, from On the Underground, set 2, The Strange and the Exotic.
Sheena Phillips is a Scottish composer currently living in America. As well as publishing choral music online (www.canasg.com ), she is a prolific composer in a wide variety of styles. We shall sing Songs of Love and Longing, an atmospheric setting of five Emily Dickinson poems, and Swart Smeked Smithes, an energetic piece setting mediaeval lyrics which should get people’s feet tapping!
Judith Weir is probably the best-known of the composers whose music we shall be performing, and her fame is well-deserved. We have chosen two beautiful settings of George Herbert poems, Vertue and Love bade me welcome, both very moving, with some luscious harmonies.
Kerry Andrew is a young woman making a name for herself in London, both as a performer and composer. Her vocal trio piece The Song of Doves concluded the national memorial service for the victims of the 7 July 2005 London bombings; and in November 2010, she was a prize winner in the Making Music category of the British Composer Awards for her composition Fall. She expresses her wilder side in her vocal music; by contrast her choral pieces are characterised by flowing vocal lines and subtle evocations of mood. We shall be singing Before the ending of the day from her sequence Dusk Songs, and O lux beata trinitas.
Closer to home, there will be another chance to hear Alison West’s composition Afresh, seven times, which was very popular with both choir and audience at its first performance two years ago, and Heptonstall-based composer Katie Chatburn, who trained as a composer at the Royal Academy of Music, will conduct the world premiere of her specially commissioned piece Triduum*, confirming the choir’s never-wavering commitment to new music.
There will also be an exhibition in Heptonstall Church (open daily during Hebden Bridge Arts Festival) which celebrates over 2000 years of music by female composers. This exhibition was created in Budapest by Maria Viz and Roger Scaife. It features fifty women who have made significant contributions to the archive of Western Art Music internationally and locally, and includes photos and portraits, biographies, commentaries, sample scores, resource material, a time line and a supporting DVD. A discussion forum will precede the Hepton Singers concert on Sunday 1 July at 7pm.
Tickets for our concert are available from Hebden Bridge Arts Festival