I have recently been commissioned to write a new organ piece for this year’s London Festival of Contemporary Church Music which will be premiered in a live broadcast on BBC Radio 3 Choral Evensong on Wednesday 14 May. This continues my close relationship with the festival with my previous two sets of Responses any my motet Verbum caro factum est being featured in previous years. Greatly looking forward to getting started.
There is a really nice review of The Music of Herbert Howells in this month’s Gramophone. The review, by Geraint Lewis, states: ‘This book…is a handsome volume…and astonishingly detailed’, ‘Phillip Cooke himself uncovers the sensuous radiance of the Gloucester Service and its legacy’, ‘Anyone who wants to know anything about Howells will find this book both treasure trove and invaluable extension to the existing bibliography’. Nice.
I am very excited to announce that the first CD of my work will be released on the 14 April 2014. The CD, entitled Phillip Cooke, Choral Music will be released on the Regent Records label and will be available to buy from all good record stores, the Regent Records website and from iTunes. It features 10 pieces of mine from 2008-12 all performed by the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge, Tim Parsons (organ) and Onyx Brass – all conducted by Sarah MacDonald. There will be two ‘launch’ events: the first at Aberdeen University on the 17 March where I will be playing selections from the CD and discussing my work (as well as selling CDs…), the second will be at the JAM concert at St Bride’s, Fleet Street in London on the 20 March where Selwyn and Onyx will perform one of the tracks, The Hazel Wood in a concert that also features Paul Mealor’s The Farthest Shore. I will be giving a pre-concert talk before the concert and selling CDs as well.
There have recently been two favourable reviews of my recent book on Herbert Howells, The Music of Herbert Howells which came out in October. Classical Music Magazine referred to it as ‘a highly welcome scholastic overview of broad swathes of Howells’s output’ and praises the contributions by Byron Adams and Graham Barber. The TLS referred to the book as ‘an excellent resource for anyone who wants to understand fully Howells’s…musical landscape’. Not too bad I guess.
To be honest, it hasn’t been the most productive second half of the year with various other commitments getting in the way of composing (teaching, moving house, Howells book, new baby…) but I have managed to finish three short choral pieces. The most significant is There is no rose which was written for Aberdeen’s leading chamber choir, Con Anima and performed twice over the Christmas period. Continuing the Advent theme, there is a short setting of the Matin Responsory and a little Wedding gift, Wedding Introit. It was a busy time with premieres and performances, and I have uploaded recordings of Veni Sancte Spiritus (Aberdeen University Chamber Choir, St Asaph Cathedral), O lux Beata Trinitas (King’s College Chapel Choir, Aberdeen, St Machar’s Cathedral), O Sacrum Convivium (ditto) and the Second Service (St Andrew’s Cathedral Choir, Aberdeen, St Andrew’s Cathedral). There is also a live recording of the premiere of the song-cycle Sudden Light by Jeremy Huw Williams performed at this year’s Sound Festival in Aberdeen. More to follow soon. PAC
2013 was a successful, if challenging year with much change in my professional and personal life. It began with possibly the highlight of the year – the weekend of recording that took place in Cambridge in January for the forthcoming CD of my choral works. This was an amazing experience and I look forward greatly to the release of the CD in March this year. January also saw me move to Aberdeen to take up my new lectureship in composition at the university – this has been a great opportunity for me and I have very quickly felt part of the team in a flourishing music department. It wasn’t easy being away from my family for the working week (flying home at weekends) but we coped. February saw performances of my new cantata The Hazel Wood in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and St Andrews, and March saw the first full performance of the Three Partsongs in London (both thanks to JAM!). June saw a return to Cambridge for the premiere of The Eternal Ecstasy at Selwyn, which will be featured on another CD to be released this year. Other composition highlights included multiple performances in Aberdeen (by various choirs and performers) two performances in Ely Cathedral and various performances of my Preces and Responses in the USA. Two other highlights occurred in September: The Music of Herbert Howells was published by Boydell and Brewer (the culmination of four years of relatively hard work) and my second child, Alex was born. The whole family is now based in Aberdeenshire and we look forward to a more settled year. Performances are already planned for St Paul’s Cathedral in March and the US premiere of the Evening Service later this month. PAC
As another year comes to an end, I thought I’d turn my attention to a Christmas-themed blog entry (as I’ve done the previous three years – with varying degrees of success), and as always I got stuck as to what to write about. Should I make a point about bad Christmas pop-music? Or wax lyrical about the Verbum caro factum est plainchant? Or write a survey about all the recent settings of There is no rose? I could do, but then I remembered a piece that always lightens my heart – John Joubert’s carol, Torches!
John Joubert may be the most successful British (well, sort of British…more of that in a moment)composer you have never heard of, a composer of real craftsmanship, integrity and ability – perhaps the last in a line of composers with a melodic gift, whose oeuvre extends from symphonies and operas to sonatas and short choral works. In fact if it wasn’t for Torches (and to a lesser extent, There is no rose) I guess very few people would know of him. He was born in 1927 in Cape Town (which doesn’t make him British at all, but I think he is British in an empire sort of way…bit like Edmund Hillary) moving to the UK in 1946 firstly on a scholarship, before settling down to a life of academia and composition. He has written over 170 works for many of the country’s leading orchestras, ensembles and choirs and his music has been widely published, recorded and broadcast. Perhaps I like him the most because he did all this whilst teaching composition at Hull University (followed by Birmingham) – I like to imagine him passing the time of day with Philip Larkin (his near contemporary and fellow Hull University employee) perhaps suggesting a collaboration that never happened (in fact they looked quite similar – all balding pates and thick-rimmed glasses…though Joubert looks a good deal less sinister than Larkin…)?
Torches was written in 1951 and was already an established part of the repertoire before its inclusion in the first book of Carols for Choirs in 1961 – it has since gone on to become a much-loved Christmas favourite and has been performed hundreds of times across the world. I think much of its appeal lies in the simple, folk-like melody that is repeated over and over again – there is something quite’ primitive’ (and I’m not making a point about sophistication here) about the melody with its strong falling fourths and dotted rhythms, this emphasised by the quick tempo (the piece is generally finished in about a minute and a half), all those parallel fifths and powerful organ chords stressing the beat and little else. Although the melody varies little with each repetition, the accompaniment has subtle alterations with almost unnoticed chord changes subverting the harmony, tickling the ear with different possibilities. Unusually, it is written in the main for unison voices (with a rather fetching middle section for unaccompanied SATB) this only adding to the feel of something rustic and more vernacular than other Christmas offerings. I think what makes this piece so pleasing is twofold: it is memorable – once you’ve heard it (and I do recommend listening to it) you’ll be singing ‘Torches, torches, run with torches’ for the rest of the day (which you may or may not want) and secondly it is because it is fast and joyful (which is impressive for a piece largely in a minor key) – too much Christmas choral music is soft, gentle and thoughtful, but mainly slow. It’s nice to have something foot-tapping every so often – it actually makes you want to run around with torches!
So there you go, John Joubert for Christmas No.1 in 2014 with Torches – probably not, but maybe by writing this, a few more people may become aware of this fine composer in his Indian Summer. Merry Christmas.
A picture of composers David Matthews and Tom Hyde with yours truly during the ‘Connecting Britten’ study day at Aberdeen University last week. A great couple of days, with great talks, concerts and meals.
Autumn is a busy season of premieres and performances for me, with the majority being in my adopted home town of Aberdeen. Many of the performances are by the Chapel Choir of King’s College (the University chapel) who are performing the Three Partsongs and three motets in a concert in the chapel on the 22 November. Prior to this they have given the premiere of two motets in recent services: O lux Beata Trinitas (27/10) and O Sacrum Convivium (03/11) and will give the Scottish premiere of the third, Veni Sancte Spiritus, on Sunday 10 November. Jeremy Huw Williams gave the premiere of my song-cycle Sudden Light as part of the Sound Festival at St Machar’s Cathedral, Aberdeen on the 30 November and on the 11 November the Girl Choristers and Lay clerks of Ely Cathedral will perform my first setting of the Evening Service in evensong in the cathedral. On the 13 November the University New Music Group (conducted by me) will perform three works of mine and two arrangements in the chapel at 17.15. Looking slightly further ahead, the choir of St Andrew’s Cathedral, Aberdeen will give the Scottish premiere of my Second Service on the 4 Decemeber and the Aberdeen based choir Con Anima will perform my new carol, There is no rose, twice, on Saturday 14 December. I should imagine after that, the good people of Aberdeen will be truly sick of my music. PAC