Showing posts with label Alex Woolf. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alex Woolf. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

A new Requiem, with cellist as angel

I first met Alex Woolf a few years ago when he was still a teenager on the Aldeburgh Young Musicians programme, testing his wings in composing and conducting. Since then he's been through university, graduated and set up as a seriously promising twenty-something composer, with a profile that's fast expanding - and it was particularly pleasing to see that his new Requiem, written for the World War I commemorations, is to be premiered in a special charity concert this Saturday with tenor Nicky Spence, cellist Laura van der Heijden and the chorus Vox Luna, as part of a programme of much and varied British choral music. The words mingle the traditional Requiem Mass with new poetry by Gillian Clarke, the National Poet of Wales. Here's a guest post Alex has written for us on why he wanted to write a Requiem and what we can look forward to in it. JD

Guest post by Alex Woolf

This Saturday (9th June), I’ll conduct the premiere of my Requiem, a piece I’ve been working on for the better part of a year. Over the last few years I’ve become addicted to choral music in particular, and this is my most substantial work to date. Ahead of its premiere – featuring tenor Nicky Spence, cellist Laura van der Heijden, and the fantastic Vox Luna Chamber Choir – it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to reflect on such a large and rewarding undertaking.

Why a Requiem? First, Mozart’s Requiem was the first piece of any kind I can remember truly falling in love with; in a sense I literally grew up with it, singing all four vocal parts at various times as my voice developed. Requiems soon became a wonderful way of discovering so many figures I now count amongst my favourite composers, and it feels especially exciting to dip my toe into such a rich and special musical tradition. Second, I wanted to mark 100 years since the end of the First World War, and this seemed the perfect way in which to do so. My Requiem will be the second half of the concert; I’ve built the first half out of choral masterpieces by Purcell, Parry, Tavener, MacMillan and more, all designed to prepare us for the experience of a Requiem – and for the act of remembrance more generally – in various ways.  

Laura van der Heijden and Alex Woolf
The Requiem proceeds in a sequence of nine movements, alternating between large choral settings of the traditional Mass and soloist-led settings of new poetry by Gillian Clarke (National Poet of Wales). The Requiem therefore appears to shift in and out of focus, from ancient to modern language and from choral grandeur to chamber-scale intimacy. Despite Gillian’s wonderful poetry explicitly about war (for which she won the Wilfred Owen Award in 2012), I was keen to choose poems of hers that are less obviously concerned with one specific event, and that grapple more generally with issues of loss, remembrance and redemption, always aspiring toward the universal. In this sense, I hope that the whole work will both act as a fitting memorial to the First World War and offer a deeply personal experience for each listener.

I’m thrilled that Nicky Spence is tenor soloist for this Saturday’s premiere performance. I’ve known Nicky for several years, and wrote a set of Shakespeare songs for his As You Like It disc with Malcolm Martineau back in 2013. He has a dream voice to write for: expressive, dramatic and moving in equal measure. I can’t imagine a more perfect performer to squeeze every ounce of character out of my music, and to do full justice to Gillian’s haunting poetry. 

Binding the whole Requiem together is the solo cello, played on Saturday by the phenomenal Laura van der Heijden. Laura and I were lucky enough to win the BBC Young Musician and Composer competitions respectively back in 2012, and I’ve been keen to write for her ever since. In my Requiem, I’ve imagined the cello as a kind of messenger between the earthbound voice of the choir and the divine voice of God, between that which we hear and that which passes all understanding.

I hope that Saturday evening will be a really special occasion, and I’d be delighted if you are able to join us! The concert is in support of Children & the Arts, and takes place at Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Square, London (SW1X 9BZ) this Saturday, 9 June, at 7.30pm.