There are still some tickets remaining for this coming Wednesday’s son-et-lumiere concert by vocal ensemble ORA at the Cutty Sark on the Greenwich waterfront. Sadly, they’re not siting themselves under the ship’s famous copper hull – so I’ll still have to wonder what that might have done for the acoustics – but the ship’s studio theatre, embedded in the framework of the lower hold, should provide enough atmosphere of its own. (At the very least, you could think of it as an upmarket Thekla.)
While the concert will feature various Renaissance choral masterpieces – including several by Greenwich’s most famous composing son, Thomas Tallis) eight brand new pieces will be receiving their world premiere, in keeping with ORA’s belief that we’re entering a second golden age of choral composition. Five of these will be using Tallis works as a compositional springboard, while the other three take inspiration from other Renaissance creations and translations.
- Richard Allain presents his own reflection on Tallis’ cantus firmus ‘Videte Miraculum’ which echoes and develops the original’s musical ingredients (including plainsong, false relations, polychoral writing and an antiphonal diffusion of one of the opening harmonies).
- Alec Roth’s ‘Night Prayer’ is a “macaronic” answer to Tallis’ plainsong hymn ‘Te lucis ante terminum’: a triple treatment in which Latin and English versions of the text run in parallel both to each other and to a wordless vocalese interpretation of the plainsong, each with its own appropriate and different rhythmic approach.
- Ken Burton’s ‘Many Are The Wonders’ is a layered “gospel-influenced reflection (in) traditional and contemporary choral styles” on Tallis’ ‘Loquebantur’, drawing creative inspiration from the original’s “fluid jazz-like motion, interspersing of solo and group, the false relations in Tallis’s harmonies… akin to the ‘bluesing’ of notes in gospel music, and of course the subject matter – the Day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts chapter 2, which describes a mighty rushing wind filling a room and those present simultaneously declaring the wonders of God in different languages – (which) gave much scope for painting a musical picture.”
- Before studying under Robert Sherlaw-Johnson and Francis Pott (and long before a career including work as soundtrack composer and cello-playing mainstay for North Sea Radio Orchestra), Harry Escott was a young chorister at Westminster Cathedral chorister. Having recently returned to choral music (this time as a composer), Harry’s contributing ‘O Light of Light’, a salute to Tallis motets and in particular a development of ‘O Nata Lux’, from which he’s “borrowed a handful of melodic clippings and some of my favourite harmonies… to create a piece that, I hope, amplifies my interpetation of ‘O Nata Lux’: a heartfelt plea to be accepted into heaven at the end of life on earth.”
- Frank Ferko’s ‘Reflection on Thomas Tallis’ If Ye Love Me’ is another piece founded on a Tallis motet, but this time feeding the work through “updated forms of modality” and “a twenty-first century aural prism”, dividing the choir between four-voice Tallisian counterpoint and the harmonically-compressed tone-clusters approach more familiar from the works of Béla Bartók, Charles Ives, Lou Harrison and Cecil Taylor.
- Jonathan Dove’s ‘Vadam et circuibo’ builds on the first eight bars of Counter-Reformation composer Tomas Luis de Victoria’s epic motet ‘Vadam et circuibo civitatem’, twirling out a more frenzied interpretation of the original.
- The enthusiastic, cleverly irreverent polystylist Kerry Andrew (who performs experimental folk music as You Are Wolf, as well as working with a capella trio Juice, “joyfully anarchic jazz/classical/rock collective” DOLLYman and jazz-folk sextet Metamorphic) offers her setting of ‘Archbishop Parker’s Psalme 150’ using “(a) basic verse form which begins to be pulled apart by the choir, all the while aiming to retain a feel of rowdy celebration. The setting is in the ‘vulgar tongue’ (e.g, that dreadfully uncouth Middle English) and has quite a peculiar form that I tried to reflect in the musical rhythm. I do imagine that this is sung by slightly drunken sixteenth-century peasants, happy to be singing in their own language.”
- Onetime Birtwistle student John Barber – who now divides his time between classical compositions, his acclaimed avant-folk-pop band Firefly Burning and the Woven Gold singing project (which unites refugees and asylum seekers with established British jazz and classical musicians) – provides a setting of the “flower-amongst-thorns” text ‘Sicut Lilium’ (offsetting the Renaissance-era Antoine Brumel setting which may or may not also be performed at the concert) John’s explanation of his own interest in the central image is that “to me it suggests that you can’t have faith without doubt and you can’t have love without the possibility of losing it.”
Most if not all of these pieces will have been recorded for ORA’s upcoming third and fourth albums (following last year’s double-whammy of their William Byrd-inspired collection ‘Upheld By Stillness’ and their Savonarola-influenced collation of Renaissance Miseres, ‘Refuge From The Flames’). Both of these new recordings will be launched as part of the event.