Congratulations to Club Member and composer Liz Johnson whose major new cantata Gentle Flame was given a five star review by Chris Morley, when it received its première performance on Tuesday 12 November at The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.
The words of Greta Thunberg thread through Gentle Flame, with additional texts by Kurt Masur, Liz Johnson and David Hart.
‘…the one thing we need more than hope is action… Act. Do something.’
Gentle Flame was programmed alongside Bach’s cantatas Nun komm der Heiden Heiland and Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme with an evocative Advent Responsory from the late Richard Marlow. For this performance, The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir and Baroque Orchestra were conducted by Jeffrey Skidmore OBE and the mezzo-soprano soloist was Samantha Lewis. Violinist Lucy Russell featured as soloist and led the RBC students on period instruments.
Liz Johnson’s own words: ‘Gentle flame, guide our way’ open her new cantata in an uplifting Advent call to the manger. Darker fragments of poetry by David Hart weave through the piece, but the central climax sets Kurt Masur’s own account of the moment in 1989 when he stood up publicly against the East German state, opening the Gewandhaus doors to protestors during the candlelit demonstration that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall shortly afterwards.
The work is a dynamic exploration of the questions we face in modern times and our responsibility to act. The final section of the music returns to Greta Thunberg’s words:
‘Once we start to act, hope is everywhere.’
Chris Morley wrote: ‘. . . Liz Johnson’s Gentle Flame Cantata, a passionate engagement with the Advent theme of knocking at the door. . . . This is a constantly gripping work, its choral textures and devices always arresting and communicative, its use of this Bachian orchestra colourful and resourceful, its links with Nun komm der Heiden Heiland unobtrusive but cogent, and the Holstian vision of its concluding movement, an extended setting of Thunberg’s ‘You have stolen my childhood’, making a perfect ending. . . . Skidmore’s forces performed this wonderful piece with skill and commitment, and Samantha Lewis was the undemonstratively eloquent mezzo soloist. Three Choirs programmers, this is one for you.’
Liz Johnson’s Gentle Flame Cantata is supported by Wild Plum Arts ‘Made at the Red House’ residency, and is proudly available through Composers Edition website.
Sarah Musgrave, Publicity and Marketing Officer