Making new music

It is with great excitement that we can now announce our collaboration with two student composers from the University of Bristol, who have taken on the challenge of producing a new commission written in response to the Sound and Silence project. Following a lively conversation with Dr Emma Hornby and Dr John Pickard in the Music Department, it was decided that Sara Garrard, a second year PhD student, and David Bevan, who having just finished his undergraduate studies, is going onto a Master’s in composition – would be fantastic additions to the project.

Both composers have been set slightly different tasks. David, with his background in sacred choral repertoire, has been asked to write something for one (or all!) of the cathedral choirs, taking into account the large forces of adult and chorister voices available and the organ, a distinctive part of the cathedral’s soundscape since its installation in the late 17th century. With this in mind we have asked David to think about the different acoustics you might encounter as a singer at the cathedral, from the passageways of the cloister and side aisles, to the sonority of the Nave and glimmering reverberations of the Eastern Lady Chapel. We have also asked David to draw on a liturgical text setting, giving his composition the flexibility to be performed during a service or as a standalone concert piece. As David writes:

‘In response to the Sound and Silence project and inspired by the tragedy of recent terrorist atrocities throughout the world, I am working on a setting of ‘Vox in Rama’; the communion antiphon for the feast of the Holy Innocents.’ 

In contrast, Sara’s composition will be written and performed by Schola Cantorum. Schola, directed by Emma Hornby, is a small choir made up of only female music students, who specialise in medieval music, but often perform new compositions. This is a group Sara knows well, having sung and composed works for them before. The brief for this second composition is much more open and can draw on some of the more secular aspects of our research – the way sound can change an experiential sense of a building, how time can be marked by silence, what sounds remind you that the cathedral can be a shared space in the city. Sara writes of the commission:

‘I really enjoy writing for Schola Cantorum. It could be said that with the group’s repertoire ranging from very old to very new, we connect the centuries in our voices just as the fabric and space of the cathedral spans the years. Who has sung these notes, or used this space and shared these silences? We attached different meanings to silences; there are different kinds of silence; within the space of the cathedral, there are many different ways and times in which, as in a piece of music, ‘silence may be kept’. In my writing I have been much concerned with the relationship between text and meaning to sound and music. I anticipate that adding to this a specific consideration of silence itself and meanings beyond words, will add a new dimensions to my compositional thinking.’

Both commissions will be submitted by the end of the summer and performed later this year. We hope that Sara’s work will received its debut performance with Schola Cantorum at the Brigstow Institute Showcase on Tuesday 24th October at the The Station in Bristol city centre.





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University of Bristol / Brigstow Institute / Bristol Cathedral

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