Contemporary composers take centre stage

Press Release: 16 April 2012

Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus are presenting both Philip Wilby’s “A Bronte Mass” and Karl Jenkins “The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace” on the same bill and in partnership with the internationally acclaimed Black Dyke Band at Sheffield’s City Hall on Saturday 28th April. Such is the sheer volume of superb classical music that more often than not composers have been long dead before listeners get the chance to be enthralled by their compositions. Hence opportunities to hear such thrilling current works should be grasped with both hands. Prof. Philip Wilby will even be “In Conversation” with broadcaster and journalist Trisha Cooper prior to the concert.

The Armed Man will be performed with a ‘big screen’ projecting images that reflect the mood and texts of the piece. The combined visuals of war, hatred, bigotry and violence juxtaposed with human life and faith will undoubtedly tug at the emotions. Indeed the Chorus has purposely added to the imagery with scenes from the Sheffield Blitz bringing the horror of wartime even closer to home.

Wilby and Jenkins are respected contemporary musicians and composers but with very different routes into the classical world. Born in Pontefract in 1949, Philip Wilby was educated at Leeds Grammar School and studied Music at Keble College, Oxford. After graduation he worked as a professional violinist with the Covent Garden and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestras, and subsequently took the post of Principal Lecturer, and later Professor of Composition at the University of Leeds. He is widely known as a composer for Brass Band, with many of his works featuring as test-pieces for major competitions throughout the world, including the British Open, British National and European Brass Band Championships. His 1999 brass band composition “… Dove Descending” was featured in the 2007 BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall.

Jenkins route, though less conventional, is more probably the better known. Born in Penclawdd in 1944, South West Wales, he learned music theory and piano from his father. As a young gifted oboe player, Karl was a member of the National Youth Orchestra of Wales, read music at the University of Wales, Cardiff, and continued his studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London. However rather than becoming a lead classical musician, or conductor his path led him to playing jazz at Ronnie Scott’s club, winning first prize at the 1970 Montreux Jazz Festival as a member of the group Nucleus, and performances with Soft Machine at prestigious venues such as the Carnegie Hall, the Proms and the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island. When Soft Machine disbanded in1984, he started a highly successful media company with Mike Ratledge, writing jingles and music for adverts. It was his phenomenally successful 1994 album Adiemus: Songs of Sanctuary that brought him to the attention of the classical music world. He has since been made a fellow and associate of the Royal Academy of Music, and a fellow of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama whilst in 2005 he was awarded an OBE for his services to British music.

Karl Jenkins work was composed in 1999 for the Millennium celebrations. Its message is summarised in the final chorus which begins with Mallory’s words: “Better is peace than always war”. When Jenkins was composing the Mass, the tragedy of the Kosovo massacres unfolded. The piece became known as “The Armed Man: a Mass for Peace” with the horror of the conflict reflected in its dedication to the victims of Kosovo. It was at this time that Jenkins decided to make the second movement a simple performance of the Call to Prayer; sung in mosques every day. The Chorus have engaged Qamar Zaman, a 35-year-old muezzin from the Madina Masjid mosque on Wolseley Road to perform this most unusual addition to a classical work. The Armed Man is now a popular favourite, with its Benedictus often featuring on Classic FM.

Wilby’s “A Brontë Mass” is a slightly more recent composition. It is a challenging and beautiful work which features poems by Charlotte, Anne, Emily and Branwell Brontë interspersed with sections of the Latin Mass. The version for baritone soloist, choir, brass- band, organ and harp will be an excellent vehicle to highlight the extremely talented Black Dyke Band, and will see the Chorus joined by colleagues from Halifax Choral Society.

Wilby describes the work as ‘a psychological journey, moving from the melancholy dark nights of November into the clean new dawn of the turning year, complete with ecstatic angel’s song and some distantly twinkling stars’ but this gives little hint of the deeply spiritual quality which also pervades the work.

Altogether Saturday 28th April looks set to be a totally intriguing and exciting evening of music and visuals. Tickets are available from the Sheffield City Hall box office on 0114 2 789 789 and admission to the “In Conversation” at 6pm is free to all ticket holders.