Now it’s your turn! For our first #singwithG6 we have chosen one of our favourite pieces: a sacred motet by Josef Rheinberger which the composer first penned in 1855 at the age of 15. It is perhaps his most famous choral work, which looks backward to the great sacred music of the Renaissance.
We recorded this piece from our separate homes during isolation and hope you will enjoy singing along from yours!
Hello from us all at The Gesualdo Six! As we await the start of Advent and our festive concert series, it feels like a good opportunity to talk about a few of the wonderful projects that we enjoyed this autumn before we look ahead to a few of the exciting things that are coming up towards the end of this year!
It so happened that autumn would take us to all the constituent parts of the UK, starting with St. Asaph in North Wales. The cathedral there is stunning and proved to be a perfect acoustic for our Mother Earth programme. We enjoyed a delicious cream tea in the sun overlooking the graveyard, which includes the last resting place of organist and composer William Matthias, who’s music all the members of the group have performed in other guises.
We had a wonderful time in early October working with the fantastic trumpeter Matilda Lloyd. These type of collaborations are a really wonderful way to refresh ourselves musically: allowing us both to explore new repertoire and to learn from and grow with fellow musicians. So it proved working with Matilda, and with her it was a delight to revisit some past venues in Wells and Clifton in Bristol. On our way back to London we performed at Hurstbourne Tarrant, at the kind invitation of some of our patrons.
We revisited a further three venues in the middle of this October: St Mary’s, Warwick with Leamington Early Music performing Music of the Heavenly Spheres, some English Motets at the Little Missenden Festival (followed by some karaoke!) and Passion and Polyphony at North Luffenham (after some cricket nets).
A few days later including rehearsals and preparation in London, we boarded a long train to St. Andrews to continue our tour of UK nations. The rail journey was stunning, especially along the Firth of Forth. We were very excited to work with the choir of St. Salvator’s Chapel and their director Claire Innes-Hopkins in a joint evensong as part of the St. Andrew’s Voices Festival. More collaboration here in Scotland too, as we performed live alongside light shows by LuxMuralis.
We were particularly pleased to run two workshops over a very busy few days! It was brilliant to work alongside two very talented young Scottish consorts: Cantus Firmus and a group formed from St. Salvator’s choir. We also ran a come-and-sing on Haydn’s Creation giving us a chance not only to meet lots of keen local singers but also to perform a few short solos from this great work!
In between singing we managed to play a little cricket on a windy Scottish beach, much to the bemusement of locals, tourists and golfers! Our last engagement in Scotland was a lovely chance to sing Byrd’s Mass for Five Voices to a packed St. Salvator’s Chapel as part of the Festival Eucharist.
Our final stop on our mini-tour of the UK was the Derry International Choir Festival, a first visit to the Emerald Isle for some of the group! It was a real pleasure to learn a little about the history of the beautiful maiden city and wonderful to meet so many international musicians at our concert there.
Looking ahead to Advent, we were very excited to release our second CD Christmas in early November, and recorded some videos with the wonderful David Hinitt to go alongside the CD, which will become available through advent.
Returning to the Belgian town of Verviers for a second time on the Eurostar, we were excited to present a small amuse-bouche of advent works at the end of our Passion and Polyphony programme. After travelling from Verviers to St. Pancras we headed to Muswell Hill and Owain’s kitchen for a planning meeting, in which we conceived this little round-up. So there you are! You’re up to date!
Keep tuned for Part II of our November Update, which will look forward to some of the coming events and projects that we’ve been busy planning!
We are delighted to be Ensemble in Residence at St Andrew’s Voices, Scotland’s only festival dedicated to the voice and vocal music.
As part of our residency this coming October, we will take part in a range of performances, services and workshops.
We will be joining forces with award-winning light-projection artists Luxmuralis in sound and light installations that will transform the interior of some of St Andrews’ most beautiful spaces.
Our repertoire includes music by Hildegard von Bingen, Cristóbal de Morales, Owain Park, Alison Willis and Veljo Tormis.
A Festival Evensong alongside University of St Andrews’ renowned choir of St Salvator’s Chapel will feature the world premiere of Emma Wilde’s ‘Light is Withheld’ alongside music by Benjamin Britten, Owain Park and Paweł Łukaszewski.
Tickets for our events, which include two concerts, a vocal masterclass, a workshop on Haydn’s Creation and two Festival services are available here: Ticket Link.
Owain Park, Director of The Gesualdo Six, writes: We were all thrilled with the standard of the entries, 307 in total, which arrived from six continents in a variety of interesting styles. Singing through the pieces has been an immensely enjoyable experience, and it is heartening to see composers writing so well for the ensemble’s specific requirements. Alongside the winners, the judges decided to award two further prizes in each category. We are delighted to reveal the results of our 2019 Composition Competition.
22 years and above winner: Alison Willis (UK) 22 years and above highly commended: Ryan Malone (USA) and Karen Lemon (Australia)
21 years and under winner: Jacob Beranek (USA) 21 years and under highly commended: Aleksander Jan Szopa (Poland) and David Nunn (UK)
‘The Wind’s Warning’ by Alison Willis and ‘Abendgebet’ by Jacob Beranek were premiered by The Gesualdo Six at Cadogan Hall on Thursday 7 March 2019.
In addition, ‘Evening Prayer’ by Ryan Malone, ’Abendgebet’ by Karen Lemon, ’Ave Regina Caelorum’ by Aleksander Jan Szopa, and ‘Da pacem Domine’ by David Nunn, will be performed by The Gesualdo Six in their 2019-20 season.
Young Composers’s Workshop
We look forward to running two composition workshops for entrants in the 21 years and under category with composers Cheryl Frances-Hoad and David Bednall later in 2019.
Feedback from the judges
Cheryl Frances-Hoad It is incredibly heartening to see such interesting choral writing from all over the world in 2019! The winning and highly commended entries stood out for us because of their idiomatic word setting, excellent command of vocal line, harmonic colour, and suitability for the Gesualdo Six’s voices and programming style. As judges, we were delighted with the huge number of entries this year, many of which we think could easily garner many performances by choral groups all over the country and beyond. Read More The composers of the winning and highly commended pieces have obviously taken great care to think carefully about the text before setting words to music, and we would urge all the composers who entered the competition to do the same: we felt that occasionally the rhythmic stresses of the text were ignored, leading to an awkwardness in the music that no amount of melodic invention or dynamic interest could hide. Whilst very grateful to see a wide range of harmonic language in the submissions, we would also urge composers to combine innovative choral writing with a real command of melodic and harmonic line: too often interesting chords were arrived at in a way that seemed unprepared or unthought about, which lessened the intended impact of the material.
Nigel Short I was very impressed with the overall standard and quality of the writing. I would ask composers to try and make their scores as easy as possible to read: whenever possible, include key signatures rather than relying on the notation software to add in all the accidentals. If you include a piano reduction, make sure that the notes are the same as in the score – otherwise it’s impossible to tell which is correct! It saves musicians a huge amount of time if they can assimilate information quickly when they pick up a new score. Read MoreI’d also encourage composers to think about the journey before they begin composing. There were numerous good ideas but in too few cases were those ideas really explored and developed, which led to many pieces lacking some sense of structure. Rather than simply stopping a piece altogether to start up with a new idea, whether it be harmonic or rhythmic, try to create something that carries the listener and performer throughout.
Kate Johnson It was greatly encouraging for the future of choral music to know that there were over three hundred entries for this year’s Gesualdo Six Composition Competition, supported by Music Sales. A generous number of the submissions were of a high enough standard to be seriously considered: they encompassed a real effort on the part of the writers in one or more of the areas of composing to the brief, faithful text setting, thoughtful development of compositional ideas, clear and accurate presentation on the page and a promising grasp of harmony and counterpoint. In particular I felt that the entries in the ‘21 years and under’ category showed aptitude in originality of style. I hope that the winners can learn a great deal from the live performances given by the group.
John Rutter CBE I thought the standard of presentation of the entries I saw was higher than I ever remember in any comparable competition, and there was plenty of imagination in evidence as well as great stylistic diversity. Most of the composers got to the heart of their texts and showed a real understanding of writing for The Gesualdo Six. The winning entries ‘worked’ especially well, being memorable for the performers and audience alike.
About the winning pieces
The Wind’s Warning – Alison Willis
The composer writes: “The Wind’s Warning is a setting of what is believed to be the last poem – ‘The Wind’ – written by Ivor Gurney. According to the editor of the collection in which the poem appears, it was written on the back of an Oxford University Press letterhead dated 6 March 1929 and signed ‘Valentine Fane’ by Gurney. (He frequently used different names on his later manuscripts.) The poem is a bleak reflection on the passing of time and lost opportunities. Musically the piece uses vocalisations to create the sound of the wind against which are set gently dissonant clusters. Melodic motifs drift in and out until the middle section, ‘At dawn a thin rain wept’ which becomes more lyrical and tonal. The piece finishes with a return to the opening soundscape.”
Abendgebet – Jacob Beranek
The composer writes: “While setting ‘Evening Prayer’ by the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I realised that these words were not only a prayer for the evening, but also the prayer of one in the evening of his earthly life. Bonhoeffer, who had been imprisoned for plotting the assassination of Adolf Hitler, wrote this prayer in jail, only months before his execution. Therefore, as I wrote the end of the composition, I wanted to conclude it in a manner fitting Bonhoeffer’s own perspective on death and life. It occurred to me that a powerful yet peaceful ‘Amen’ was necessary to complete this image, and the idea suddenly struck me to set the ‘Amen’ to the tune of the Lutheran chorale ‘Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott’ (A mighty fortress is our God). For me, this allusion would perfectly represent Bonhoeffer’s hope amidst death and strength amidst evil. It was not until later that day that I happened to learn the circumstances before Bonhoeffer’s death: the day before his execution, Bonhoeffer conducted his final Sunday service inside the Flossenbürg concentration camp. As the Gestapo entered to escort Bonhoeffer to his ‘trial’, Bonhoeffer concluded the service and led the congregation with one last hymn: ‘Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott.’”
About the winners
Alison Willis – winner, 22 years and above
Alison Willis (b.1971) is an award-winning composer whose works have been performed and broadcast internationally. She studied composition with Alan Bullard (Colchester) and George Benjamin (RCM).
Her music has been described as, ‘Intensely moving’, ‘Beautiful yet pragmatic’ and ‘Saying what you have to say and then stopping’. She finds particular inspiration in historical sources and events, social issues and enjoys working collaboratively with both young people and adults. Alison is also an experienced pianist, organist, folk musician and Musical Director, enjoys composing music for theatre and is a Trustee of the Martin Read Foundation, supporting young composers.
Recent works include ‘Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep’, released on Blossom Street’s album ‘This Day’ (January 2019), ‘The Ballad of the Harp Weaver’, released on Juice Vocal Ensemble’s ‘Snow Queens’ CD (December 2018) and ‘Non Omnis Moriar’ premiered by the BBC Singers (September 2018). Her work for Hampshire County Youth Choir, ‘Pax Vobis’ was performed as part of the Remembrance service at Winchester Cathedral (June 2018) and ‘A Light Not Yet Ready To Go Out’ for the London Concert Choir, raising awareness of and money for Breast Cancer Now, premiered at Holy Trinity Sloane Square in March 2018.
Jacob Beranek – winner, 21 years and under
Jacob Beranek (b.1998) is an American composer and pianist. He currently serves as the first-ever Composer-in-Residence of the Midsummer’s Music Festival, which has commissioned two new pieces to date, Death’s Door (2017) and Partita melodica (2018). Other recent performances of Jacob’s music have occurred in Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, as well as the Czech Republic and Switzerland.
His work has garnered national recognition in several competitions, including the Edwin Fissinger Choral Composition Prize, Steven Stucky Young Composers Competition, NFMC Jr. Composers Competition, and Project 21 Prize; honorable mention in the ACF NextNotes Competition and American Prize in Composition; and Finalist in the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards. Besides self-publishing, Jacob has eight works published by Alliance Publications, Inc. (distributed by Hal Leonard).
In addition to composition, Jacob is a serious pianist and devotee of Czech music due to his heritage. He has had the privilege of studying music in Prague during visits in 2015 and 2017, and returned in November 2018 for the European premiere of his Památník at Prague Castle by the Band of the Castle Guards & Czech Police.
Jacob has served as a Composition Fellow at the Talis Festival & Academy in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, and has also studied at the Curtis Institute of Music Young Artist Summer Program. He is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Music in Composition at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music. You can learn more about Jacob and his musical endeavors at www.beranekmusic.com.
Ryan Malone – highly commended, 22 years and above
Ryan Malone (b. 1976) is music director for Herbert W. Armstrong College (a four-year liberal arts college) and Imperial Academy (a private K-12 institution), both sponsored by the Philadelphia Church of God in Edmond, Oklahoma. Read MoreThere he has written and produced four full-length musicals, two oratorios, plus he has produced eight inspirational vocal/choral albums that included dozens of original works, arrangements of traditional hymns and show tunes. Throughout his composing career, Malone has also composed a variety of works, including instrumental works (three commissioned for weddings), art songs for his wife, soprano Paula Malone, as well as compositions for his many students and ensembles that he teaches. In 2010 he served as composer in residence for the Norman High School string quartet. His transcription of Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs for soprano and piano trio was premiered by the Eroica Trio along with his wife in 2011 and recorded in 2018 on the Xolo label by Tess Remy-Schumacher, Hong Zhu and his wife Paula.
Karen Lemon – highly commended, 22 years and above
Karen Lemon is an Australian composer and musicologist whose qualifications include a PhD in Musicology from the University of Sydney (on Schoenberg’s post-tonal music c.1910) and a License in Dalcroze Eurhythmics from Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, USA. Read MoreThough a pianist by training, in performance she has been most active as a chorister and vocalist. Despite studies in composition in her undergraduate days, it has only been in recent years that Karen has focussed more intently on composition; her works have received small international performances and have been prizewinners in composition competitions. Karen has worked as a lecturer in Musicology at the Universities of Sydney and Tasmania. She currently divides her time between Australia and France.
Aleksander Jan Szopa – highly commended, 21 years and under
Aleksander Jan Szopa is a Polish-American organist, pianist and composer. He started composing at the age of 15 and has amassed a portfolio of over sixty compositions, focusing on writing for organ, piano, a cappella choir, and orchestra.
David Nunn – highly commended, 21 years and under
David Nunn is a London-based composer studying with Helen Grime at the Royal Academy of Music, having previously studied with Julian Anderson and Christian Mason. Read MoreHe has recently completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Cambridge. His music is often characterised by textures which seem to revolve and rotate as if in a kaleidoscope, and a rich, vivid harmonic palette. Recently, his projects have included a work for a mixed quintet drawn from the BCMG, a concert of new music for chamber orchestra by a collective of Cambridge undergraduate composers, and a work for the choir of St. John’s College with live electronics. Upcoming projects include an installation at The Hepworth Wakefield and collaborations with The Hermes Experiment, Psappha, and ensemble recherche.
Over the last few months, we have been planning a second Composition Competition to coincide with our fifth anniversary and debut appearance at the Cadogan Hall. After the success of our inaugural competition in 2016, we are delighted to be able to reveal the details of our next competition, running from 2018 into 2019.
We have engaged prominent musicians Cheryl Frances-Hoad (composer, Chester Music) and Nigel Short (conductor, Tenebrae) as judges, and the winning pieces will be considered for publication by Novello & Co, part of the Music Sales group of companies.
The Gesualdo Six will premiere the winning works as part of our debut concert at the Cadogan Hall in London on 7 March 2019. Our concert forms part of the Choral at Cadogan series, which also features the Tallis Scholars and VOCES8 as guest artists.
One of the most rewarding experiences of our 2016 competition was running a composition workshop for entrants in the younger category, with sixteen young composers attending to hear their works sung as part of a masterclass and concert. This time, we hope to deliver two workshops for young composers in London and Manchester, and we are currently applying for funding to realise this ambition.
In addition, John Rutter CBE will hold a Q&A session on score presentation before the submission deadline, providing composers with an opportunity to learn from his vast experience of publishing scores and notating music for their own submissions.
Article by Ashley Marshfield – Director of Choral Studies at King’s Bruton
On Friday 17th November, King’s were fortunate to welcome the Gesualdo Six and their leader Owain Park to give a series of masterclasses to the King’s School Choir, Chapel Choir and Chamber Choir.
The group put the choirs through their paces with real attention to detail and thoughts on making phrases sound as musical as possible. It was a fantastic experience and a real boost to have professional singers performing in amongst our own pupil voices. The whole day really lifted the sound of our choirs to an incredibly impressive level.
During the afternoon, The Gesualdo Six ran a workshop with prep school children from All Hallows and Millfield. The boys and girls had a superb time and experienced singing rounds, ‘mash-ups’ of popular music combined with some beat boxing! The afternoon finished with a short recital to demonstrate to an appreciative audience what they had achieved during the afternoon.
The day culminated with The Gesualdo Six giving an evening performance in the Memorial Hall. The concert was a well-attended event with first-class music ranging from Loquebantur by Thomas Tallis to a performance of an impressive work Sequence: ‘In Parenthesis’ composed by the group leader, Owain Park. Equally comfortable with more light-hearted works, the concert also included selections of Folksongs from the British Isles and Light Music. It was the culmination of what was an excellent day of choral music at King’s and a wonderful experience for all. The group thoroughly enjoyed their visit and are keen to come again!
Our first Composition Competition was held in 2016, in conjunction with St John’s Smith Square and Music Sales. The judges were John Rutter, Stephen Layton, Kate Johnson, Owain Park and members of the group.
We were all amazed by the number of entries (173) and the extremely high standard of work. It was particularly pleasing to receive submissions from all over the world from composers of all ages, and in a variety of interesting styles. We enjoyed looking through all the entries, and it was wonderful to see composers writing so well for the group’s specific requirements.
In the 18-and-under category, the winner is Joanna Ward, with For a number of coins.
In the 19-and-over category, the winner is Phillip Cooke, with Judas Mercator Pessimus.
The two winning works were given their world premieres on Sunday 19 June 2016 at St John’s Smith Square, and the winners formally presented with their awards.
Young Composers’ Workshop
In October 2016, we ran a composition workshop for entrants in the 18-and-under category with composer David Bednall; sixteen young composers attended to hear their works sung as part of a masterclass and concert.
About the 2016 Competition [archive]
Composers are invited to submit a new work for The Gesualdo Six’s inaugural Composition Competition. The winning works will be premiered by the group at St John’s Smith Square on Sunday 19 June 2016. A prize fund of £1000 is available.
2016 marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and the 450th anniversary of Gesualdo’s birth. Works by Shakespeare and words set by Gesualdo make up some of the chosen texts for composers to set, alongside poems by Christina Rossetti and Emily Brontë.
This competition is open to all composers, divided into two age categories: 18 years and under, and 19 years and above. The deadline for submissions is Friday 15 April 2016 at 5pm.
The competition is supported by St John’s Smith Square and Novello & Co Ltd, part of the Music Sales Group of Companies.
2016 marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. We have included two texts by William Shakespeare in our competition: passages from Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice.
2016 marks the 450th anniversary of Gesualdo’s birth. We have included two texts that he set to music during his lifetime: Sparge la morte and Judas mercator pessimus.
Rossetti and Brontë
Composers are also invited to set poems by Christina Rossetti and Emily Brontë, A Birthday (My heart is like a singing bird) and Fall, leaves, fall.