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Masses for our time: RLSBC wows its audience

Masses for our time: RLSBC wows its audience

Monday 14th November 2022

On Saturday November 12th, the RLSBC presented a ground-breaking programme of works by 20th century and contemporary North American composers, in the modern surroundings of the new hall at King’s High School, Warwick.

As our Musical Director, Lee Dunleavy, wrote in the programme note: “Have you ever wondered what goes through the mind of a conductor when selecting music for a choir to perform? … more and more the question which comes to the top of my thinking is – what are we wanting to say to the world in which we live? Are we telling a story which has something to say to you, our audience?”

He went on to explain: “Over the course of our 2022/3 season we explore and reflect on the familiar words of the Mass across time and circumstance… but in tonight’s programme they form the sculptural armature around which concerns of our time are built.” The opening work, the Missa Gaia by Libby Larsen, which uses words from a wide variety of sources, reminded us that it is not that we have dominion of nature, but rather that the Earth let us live with it. This was followed by an impassioned Credo by Margaret Bonds, who as a black woman working in a world dominated by white male composers faced racism and prejudice throughout her life. The second half saw a performance of the concert version of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, which pleads for the world to return to a ‘simple song’, a profound message of peace and hope and faith and reconciliation.

No wonder members of our audience found the concert ‘compelling’ and ‘thought-provoking’. But it was also an utterly joyous celebration of the power of music to uplift the soul, and the choir gave of their very best, with commitment and enthusiasm, despite having had only eight weeks of rehearsals in which to learn some really very tricky music. We had two wonderful soloists, Lynda Nwabudike (soprano) and Jack Dolan (tenor), and were ably supported by an excellent group of instrumentalists - strings, woodwind, electric guitars, keyboard/piano and an absolute army of percussion. Audience members commented on ‘the fabulous sound produced by all the performers’.

It is beyond doubt that Saturday’s concert succeeded brilliantly in communicating an important message to our audience, as well as providing them with a great evening’s entertainment. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Lee Dunleavy for his vision in proposing such a programme, and for the huge amount of work he put in at rehearsals and during the run-up to the concert, as well as his energy and enthusiasm on the night.

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Spotlighting Female Composers

Spotlighting Female Composers

Friday 9th September 2022

Doing our bit to raise the profile of women in music

The Observer recently (August 7) published an article highlighting the unjustified neglect of female composers, and drawing attention to the launch of a new record label aimed at addressing this issue. La Boîte à Pépites (The Jewel Box) was founded by French cellist Héloïse Luzzati, and its first release will be launched in the UK on 30 September. The release will be devoted to the music of Charlotte Sohy, and it is available to pre-order on Presto’s website, where downloads of the recordings are already available (Click Here).

So what has this got to do with the Royal Leamington Spa Bach Choir? Well, we too are doing our bit for female composers… If you’ve had a look at our plans for the 2022-3 season, you’ll have seen that our November concert will include pieces by two North American women composers, Libby Larsen and Margaret Bonds.

Libby Larsen was born in 1950, and her works include four operas, several symphonies, and numerous choral, vocal and instrumental pieces. With Stephen Paulus, she was the co-founder of the Minnesota Composers Forum. We shall perform her Missa Gaia, written in 1992, which explores human beings’ relationship to Earth via the form and spirit of the Mass, using a rich tapestry of environmental texts.

Margaret Bonds (1913-1972) was one of the first Black composers and performers to gain recognition in the United States. She did much to promote the music of black musicians, and her own compositions and lyrics addressed racial issues of the time. Her Credo, of which the RLSBC is to give the UK premiere, is an excellent example of this, as it sets the text of a rather unusual Creed, written in 1904 by the social reformer W. E. B. Du Bois.

Because the work of so many women composers is poorly known, scores are hard to come by, and we have had to order our music from the United States, at some considerable expense. We are delighted to report that we have received generous financial support for our undertaking from the Ambache Charitable Trust (Click Here). This organisation, founded in 2013 by Diana Ambache, is dedicated to raising the profile of music by women, by funding events which promote the work of women composers to the widest possible circles.

To follow this, our ‘Come and Sing’ workshop in February will feature music by Marianna Martines, a friend of Mozart and Haydn. We hope you will be able to join us, at our November concert and again in February, to discover and enjoy this undeservedly neglected music by women!

(To read the Observer article referenced above, please Click Here)

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