In partnership with the ORA Singers Composer Competition
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Composer Testimonies

ORA Singers has commissioned over 45 composers to write choral works that reflect the highest quality of choral writing today. Learn from these astounding composers and their testimonies at Composer Create.

ORA Singers, founders of Composer Create, is a unique choral group in that it specifically commissions 'reflections'. These are works that draw upon inspiration from another work, taking an idea, a theme, a chord, or the text from an early work and rewriting with a 21st Century reflection.

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OLIVER TARNEY

Oliver Tarney was born (1984) and educated in Lancaster, moving on to read music at Manchester University. After completing a Master's Degree in composition, and training as a teacher, he is now Head of Composition and Singing at Winchester College in Hampshire. He sings regularly with the college's chapel choir. Oliver has worked extensively with singers of all ages in choirs, communities, and classrooms. He is passionate about inspiring others to find a love of singing.


COMPOSITION

IN HOMEWARD FLIGHT- A reflection on the plainchant antiphon, 'Maria Virgo'.

The feast of the Assumption can be a difficult one to appreciate; it has had a long and complicated history. As well as contemplating the divine, this reflection on the plainsong antiphon Maria Virgo assumpta est, and its specially-written text by Lucia Quinault, speaks of the humanity at the heart of this story: a mother returning home to be reunited with her child, from whom she has been parted. 

The piece rocks between two harmonic planes, through which fragments of the plainsong melody are heard as though caught in the air. It makes its final ascent whilst conveying the wonderful and evocative image of the King of Kings, Jesus, waiting to welcome his mother into the Kingdom of Heaven, ‘amid the silent stars.’

Oliver talks to Composer Create about his ORA Singers commission…

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RICHARD ALLAIN

Richard Allain's works encompass a wide range of styles, including music theatre, sacred choral music, song-writing and works for children. He has worked with many of the country’s leading choirs and musicians and choral music is at the heart of his output; he was, for many years, Composer in Association for the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain. Deeply committed to music education, together with his brother Thomas, Allain has written several cantatas for young voices. One such collaboration, Jake and the Right Genie was commissioned by the Surrey Millennium Youth Festival. It has since been performed by over 10,000 school children and, in 2005, an entire Yorkshire village!

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Richard Allain explains his commission to Composer Create.


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COMING SOON

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HARRY ESCOTT

Born in London, Harry Escott’s musical education began as a chorister at Westminster Cathedral before going on to complete his studies at The Royal College of Music and Somerville College, Oxford University, studying composition under Robert Sherlaw-Johnson and Francis Pott.

Harry Escott first came to prominence in 2005 with his score to the influential psychological horror film Hard Candy. Since then, Harry has worked with such stellar directorial talents as Michael Winterbottom (on both A Mighty Heart and The Road To Guantanamo), Nick Broomfield (Ghosts), and 2014 Oscar winner Steve McQueen (Shame).

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COMPOSITION

O LIGHT OF LIGHT- A reflection on Thomas Tallis 'O Nata Lux'

Tallis is often remembered for his impressive, technically ambitious and beautiful masterpiece, Spem In Alium. And yet, his simplest motets are the ones that have the most profound effect on me. At a little over 2 minutes in length, O Nata Lux is a masterclass in simplicity. It is a piece that has been distilled to its essence, nothing is superfluous. The result is a beautiful motet with a piercing clarity of intention. I have borrowed a handful of melodic clippings and some of my favourite harmonies from the original to create a piece that, I hope, amplifies my interpetation of O Nata Lux: a heartfelt plea to be accepted into heaven at the end of life on earth.

Hear Thomas Tallis' composition, O nata lux, followed by Harry Escott’s reflection below.

Find out about Harry’s commission by watching his Composer Create interview…

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ERIKS ESENVALDS

Eriks Esenvalds is one of the most sought-after composers working today, with a busy commission schedule and performances of his music heard on every continent. After study at the Latvian Baptist Theological Seminary and the Latvian Academy of Music, he was a member of the State Choir Latvija. In 2011 he was awarded the two-year position of Fellow Commoner in Creative Arts at Trinity College, University of Cambridge. Ēriks has won multiple awards for his work and undertakes many international residencies working on his music and lecturing.

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Could you tell us a little about your experience of writing a reflection as opposed to your other compositions?

+ Find out Erik's answer

Whenever in my work I have been using a poem or a folk-song, or another quotation, I have done this with full respect to both, the material and the source – not to ignore them, but to understand their hidden beauty and the story. The same attitude I have when thinking about the performers – I avoid of using particular compositional techniques which definitely would be against the nature of the instrument or voice.

After Suzi Digby’s invitation to write a reflection on William Byrd’s “Infelix ego”, I put myself in a seat in a library where I read several books and articles about Girolamo Savonarola's life and meditations, his final writings, also about William Byrd and his heart-crying motet “Infelix ego”. Only after this fundamental research I felt I could humbly start to touch their worlds of the text and music, and what was even underneath them.

Do you have a particular process that you follow in composing? Are you systematic or sporadic?!

+ Find out Erik's answer

Systematic, definitely! Before composing any second of music I brainstorm - when all cells of my body are set to an awakening or "excite mode". It includes lot of reading, also expanding my library and using critical thinking. When a story of the new piece has been created, which happens usually one month later, I am ready to sit at the piano and compose music. Why at the piano? - because it helps faster to find the harmony scale of the piece.

A couple of months ago I went to a wonderfully atmospheric concert by candlelight in the Tower of London by the recently formed choir, ORA; an evening of the choral works of William Byrd, interspersed with new commissions of works inspired by Byrd. I was particularly knocked out by this piece by the Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds. It’s a reflection on Byrd’s Infelix Ego, which itself was a setting of Savonarola’s meditation, whilst under torture, on the Psalm Miserere Mei. The cascading swell of voices made me wonder why so much of singing is about being on the note, rather than investigating the murky world of the sounds that lie between them. Esenvalds uses the keening of that in-between world to stunning effect. Suzi Digby conducted the ORA Singers in Eriks Esenvalds’ Infelix Ego.

— Rory Kinnear, BBC Radio 3
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OWAIN PARK

Owain Park is a prize-winning composer, published by Novello. His music has been performed across the world, by ensembles including the Tallis Scholars, the Aurora Orchestra and the Norwegian Soloists Choir. Recent works include Shakespeare Songs of Night-Time for Stephen Layton and the Holst Singers, and Beati quorum via, commissioned by the Wells Cathedral Chorister Trust for The Countess of Wessex. His compositions have won awards from organisations including the National Centre for Early Music, and his music has been broadcast on BBC Radios 3 and 4, and Classic FM. Owain is also a conductor, singer and organist. He conducts The Gesualdo Six, a male-voice ensemble specialising in early music, but also performing works as diverse as Ligeti’s Nonsense Madrigals.

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Tell us about your commission...

+ Read Owain's answer!

In 2014 I was asked by Lady Suzi Digby to write a piece for her new choir, ORA. The brief basically said, "we'd like you to write a reflection on the Sanctus and Benedictus from William Byrd's Mass for 5 voices". That was a piece that i'd sung as a chorister, and I knew really really well, and I was really pleased that it was those two movements as I loved the arching musical phrases. Quickly I scouted around for a text. I have quite a lot of poetry at home but I couldn't really find anything that I thought fitted. So, I ended up actually going to a charity shop in Bristol, near the concert hall, St George's, and there I picked up a fantastic book of contemporary poetry, and it contained work by Kathleen Raine. This poem was called 'The World' and I find it a fascinating work cause she uses very few words: 'Void', 'burning', 'travels' and 'stillness'; and they're all slightly changed each time they come back to create a web of themes. And that really struck a chord with me.

The simplicity of the poem enabled me to be quite free. I also set some of the vowels from William Byrd's piece, so there's a mixture of humming, vowels and the text, and all of these combined to create a sort of 'other-worldly' texture. 'Upheld By Stillness'; the whole world just being gently travelling in space. And that's kind of how I saw William Byrd's 'Sanctus' and 'Benedictus', the way that the lines open out and keep calling to each other throughout the piece.

"I remember the first time I heard that piece, and it was that recording, I had never heard it in a concert. And I was blown away by the beauty of the singing. The music from William Byrd, I can hear running through the piece; it was an amazing process to go back 400 years and re-work with, some of the music that I grew up singing as a chorister, in a new light, finding my own compositional voice in the process..."

Owain Park, BBC Radio 3, May 2018