MARCH, 4 2021
A Century of Music by British Women (1921-2021) on International Women’s Day
I’m delighted to be able to present this concert with my London Chamber Ensemble, celebrating International Women’s Day, with a programme I’ve devised of chamber music by British women. This spans exactly a century from 1921 to the present, with a world premiere, and I’ve selected a wide range of strong, personal voices, juxtaposing ensemble pieces with solos and smaller works. A similar programme was originally to be in London’s Southbank International Chamber Music Season, but since they remain closed, I’m thrilled that the fabulous St John’s Smith Square, in Westminster have welcomed us and have been able to film this concert in house as a live performance.
It’s been great to discover all sorts of treasures by Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979), Grace Williams (1906-77), Ruth Gipps (1921-99), Thea Musgrave (b.1928), Judith Weir (b.1954), Errollyn Wallen (b.1958), Cheryl Frances-Hoad (b.1980) and Helen Grime (b.1981). I think it’s really important to celebrate British women with the fine music they’ve written over the past century, in a range of styles, some of it unjustly neglected. I’ve been fortunate to have many pieces written for me throughout my career and I’m thrilled to have a new work by Errollyn Wallen, which I will include on my next album. It’s good to think that the Trust of Ralph Vaughan Williams, the Royal College of Music composition professor of both Rebecca Clarke and Grace Williams, has supported my commission. Errollyn Wallen’s new piece is inspired by the extraordinary woman Sojourner Truth (1797-1883), an American abolitionist and women’s rights activist who was born into slavery.
The music of the ‘historic’ composers in our programme – Clarke, Williams and Gipps was not well known until a few years ago but has seen a revival and it was harder for them to achieve success as composers then. Clarke took a job as a professional violist in a London orchestra and both Williams and Gipps worked in education. Fortunately it’s becoming easier for women composers to be recognised. Judith Weir being appointed the Master of the Queen’s Music in 2014 was a significant first for women. She has done quite a lot for education too and her violin duos Sleep Sound ida’ Mornin’ from Atlantic Drift (which I recorded on my album Violin Muse for Divine Art) were originally composed for the New England Conservatory Preparatory department’s festival for Contemporary Music.
Two years ago, on International Women’s Day 2019, our London Chamber Ensemble album of Grace Williams Chamber Music was released by Naxos, supported by the British Music Society – all world premiere recordings. We’re delighted all her music on our album has had such a good reception. Grace Williams played violin and piano but her favourite instrument was the trumpet and she incorporated it into both her major chamber works to brilliant effect. We’re very happy to be able to give this Nonet a rare outing and to perform this live as the finale to the concert.
I should like to thank everyone who has made this concert possible, particularly the Ambache Trust.
Madeleine Mitchell 1st March, 2021
Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979) – Piano Trio (1921) 23′
Judith Weir (b.1954) – Atlantic Drift duo for 2 violins (1995-2005) 9’
Helen Grime (b.1981) – Miniatures for oboe & piano 2005) 5′
Judith Weir (b.1954) – The Bagpiper’s String Trio (1985) 8′
Cheryl-Frances Hoad (b.1980) – Invocation for cello & piano (1999) 3′
Thea Musgrave (b.1928) – Colloquy (violin & piano, 1960) 11′
Ruth Gipps (1921-99) Prelude for bass clarinet (1958) 6′
Errollyn Wallen (b.1958) – Sojourner Truth for Madeleine Mitchell violin & piano (2021) 5’ – World Premiere
Grace Williams (1906-77) – Suite for Nine Instruments (1934) 14′
Livestream concert will be available here at 8pm on 8 March 2021 and for a month afterwards (donations welcome): https://www.sjss.org.uk/online-performances
Madeleine Mitchell (violin), Joseph Spooner (cello), Sophia Rahman and Ian Pace (piano), David Aspin (viola), Gordon MacKay (violin), Lynda Houghton (double bass), Peter Cigleris (clarinet & bass clarinet), Nancy Ruffer (flute), Bruce Nockles (trumpet), Alec Harmon (oboe)