A Five Star Review for Composer Liz Johnson
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
Darkness and Light
Those of you attending the inspirational piano recital by Pavel Kolesnikov last November will have noticed that the lighting in The Forum was quite subdued – unlike the artist or indeed the audience. Some liked it, and felt it aided their concentration on an intense, and through- played programme. Others did not, a particular point being made that it was difficult to read the programme (true!). The Committee has considered this question on previous occasions and of course it is impossible to please both sides of the debate. Our view remains that this is essentially something for the performer(s) to decide.
This stance was reinforced for me as I was lucky enough to be present when Pavel was practising on the afternoon of the concert. With the help of Malvern Theatres’ technical crew, he paid meticulous attention to the exact position of the piano, the overall level of lighting in the hall, and the spots lighting him, both whilst playing and standing to take the applause. I had to ‘deputise’ for him on the latter, so he could see for himself. (And for a moment I was imagining what it must feel like to receive a standing ovation…)
John Gregory, Chairman
Peter Thomas (1947 – 2020)
It is with great sadness that we report the death recently of our former Club Secretary, Peter Thomas. He had been suffering from Motor Neurone Disease.
Peter retired as Secretary at the last AGM after five years in that office, a period of considerable innovation and achievement for the Club, both artistically and in other ways. His choice of artists was inspired (for example, bringing The Emerson Quartet to Malvern for their only UK appearance during a European tour). He created the Elgar Centenary concert last April, when The Brodsky Quartet played to a near capacity audience, a concert recorded for later broadcast on Radio 3. He oversaw the successful introduction of a seventh (Sunday) concert, as well as schools concerts and the popular morning ‘Coffee and Cake’ concerts at Elmslie House.
When Peter first joined the Committee some eleven years ago, he overhauled the Club’s house style to its current, professional appearance, taking advantage of his newly learned skills in graphic design. Peter loved music and loved the Club, devoting many hours to ensure it would continue to flourish. That it is currently in such a strong position is testament to his contribution over many years, for which I, his fellow Committee members and, I am sure, all of us are truly grateful.
We extend our deepest condolences to his wife, Barbara, and to his family.
John Gregory, Chairman
Club AGM – 2 July 2020
As the coronavirus pandemic developed, and the social distancing guidelines prevented a physical Annual General Meeting, the Committee decided to hold a virtual meeting, to take effect on the date we had originally planned – Thursday 2 July.
Unsurprisingly, this was new ground for all of us. If the crisis measures had been likely to be short-lived, the AGM could have been simply postponed, but the only certainty was uncertainty. The Charity Commission advised submitting annual reports as usual, even if they had not been adopted by memberships; we preferred to consult our members first. The invitation, agenda, instructions for voting, Trustees’ Annual Report and the Annual Accounts, were all sent to members by 16 June. Most were sent by email; others by post.
All resolutions, to adopt the Annual Report and Accounts, and to elect a committee for 2020-2021, were passed unanimously. Thanks are due to all sixty two members who voted, whether by post or email. That is a few more than attended our AGM in 2019, when we provided wine and canapés, followed by a piano and cello recital.
The AGM marked the retirement of Sarah Musgrave as Publicity and Marketing Officer, to be replaced by Dick Stockford. Sarah held this demanding post for five years, spending many hours preparing the Club’s brochures and programmes, and advertising its concerts, all done with charm and meticulous flair. On your behalf, the Chairman has presented her with a David Austin voucher, in the hope that her long awaited house move will now happen, and that she can choose and plant some roses in her new garden.