While on their current North American tour, The King’s Singers will be meeting up with some former members of the group, including composer, arranger and performer, Philip Lawson.
They are delighted to be performing a piece written specially for them and the Illinois Wesleyan University Collegiate Choir, by Philip at Bloomington, IL on Thursday 19 February 19:30. This occasion is of particular note as it falls on his birthday!
Here Philip Lawson speaks on how the piece came about:
“I was delighted while still in the group to receive a commission from Illinois Wesleyan University to write a piece for their choir and The King’s Singers, and when I found out the world premiere was going to be on my birthday, I had to book a flight to go and hear it! Choosing texts for the work was proving hard until in my music room I stumbled across an old copy of James Joyce’s poem collection “Chamber Music”. This being one way of summing up The King’s Singers’ approach to performing, it seemed like serendipity, and I set to work reading the collection and choosing three of the poems to set. James Joyce trained as a singer from an early age, and undertook some professional work in Dublin in his early twenties to supplement his then meagre reviewing and teaching income. When the American writer Djuna Barnes became interested in his work she said “I realised Joyce must have begun life as a singer, and a very tender singer, and – because no voice can hold out over the brutalities of life without breaking – he turned to quill and paper, for so he could arrange, in the necessary silence, the abundant inadequacies of life, as a laying out of jewels-jewels with a will to decay.” Joyce’s musicianship comes out frequently in his writing, and particularly in the 36 poems written in his early Dublin years, which were published in 1907 with the title “Chamber Music”. They pre-date his meeting with lifelong partner, and later wife, Nora, and his many and varied struggles with health and work, and are imbued with the youthful though somewhat wistful freshness of, as Joyce describes himself in the period of their composition, “a lonely boy, walking about by myself at night, and thinking that one day a girl would love me”.
My settings of three of the poems for The King’s Singers and the Illinois Wesleyan University Choir attempt to use the dialogue between sextet and larger choir to portray a dichotomy which I perceived to be there when I first read through the collection. The active pursuit of love is offset by deep, inner self-doubt, in the manner of the finer Elizabethan lyrics which inspired the young Joyce, and in this there is perhaps an adumbration of the sombreness which often fired the writer’s later work.
I’m really looking forward to hearing these pieces sung for the first time next Thursday in Bloomington, Illinois, and sharing a birthday drink with some old friends afterwards!”