Between Worlds: first rehearsal with the composer

Amongst its many performing commitments this year, the University Chamber Choir is busy preparing a new piece being written especially for the choir and ensemble by Deal-based composer and performer, Anna Phoebe.

Anna’s new piece, Between Worlds, is a distant cousin of the Cellular Dynamics project, a collaboration between the Music department and the School of Biosciences exploring links between music and science. What’s new about Anna’s piece is that it is a direct, original musical response both to scientific research and to the laboratory environment, drawing on hi-resolution spectroscopy, video evidence and even sampled sounds from the laboratory to create a musical reflection, or response, inspired by the material gathered.

The Choir had the opportunity to work with the composer at Tuesday night’s rehearsal, at which Anna also played the violin in two of the movements. One of the sections features a dialogue between solo soprano and violin above a slow-moving choral backdrop, and it was thrilling to hear the solo violin lifting and skirling around the concert hall, weaving highly decorative arabesques around the soaring soprano line. It’s the first time that Anna has written for choir, and it’s apparent that she has an innate grasp of writing for the ensemble, structuring the vertical sonorities to create colours and contrasts.

What is striking about the piece is that it’s an engaging emotional, and highly expressive, response to the scientific environment; Anna’s musical language employs added-note chords and suspensions, the occasional slight portamento effect in the voices, creating a richly-colourful musical landscape. Her vision for the piece is cinematic in scope, and there are some scintillating dissonances, highly-charged moments that require the choir to know exactly where their notes are, and to have courage to sing them confidently to make the dissonant colours ring. Elsewhere, the texture includes field recordings made in the laboratory – the clinking and tapping of day-to-day lab equipment – such that the music sounds as though the lab itself is stirring into life; the fabric of the laboratory environment reaching out from the visual imagery and to become part of the sonic environment, a unique connection between science and sound. Last night’s rehearsal was the first step in building the composition, and putting the choir and solo lines together; there were some wonderfully atmospheric moments (notwithstanding the fact that several members of the choir were away that night) that have the Choir looking excitedly ahead to further movements as the piece unfolds.

The Choir and Anna will perform several movements from Between Worlds in a concert on Friday 8 March at Wye Parish Church, a taster of what’s to come when the piece receives its full premiere in Colyer-Fergusson Hall on Friday 7 June. It promises to be quite an event…

 

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