The University of New Hampshire Concert Choir and Chamber Singers present Phoenix Rising: English choral music rising out of turmoil and war in the first half of the twentieth century, featuring North American premiere performances of major new discoveries in music by Ivor Gurney, George Butterworth and York Bowen. Also music by Roger Quilter, Gustav Holst, Percy Grainger and Ralph Vaughan Williams.
This evening of choral music will depict the music of a nation in turmoil at the end of an Empire, and then thrown into two wars. How composers both reflected and tried to transcend these times remains supremely relevant today, as we continue to grapple with many of the same challenges as a civilization.
The two UNH choirs combine to present a concert of new and neglected music from the first half of the twentieth century. Three of the major pieces on this program: Ivor Gurney’s The Trumpet (1921), George Butterworth’s In the Highlands (1912), and York Bowen’s Mass (1954) will be receiving their North American premiere performances at this concert.
Gurney and Butterworth were probably the two most gifted composers of their generation, but this promise was never fully realized as both were, in different ways, casualties of World War I. Butterworth was shot and killed by a sniper on the Somme in 1916, and in the same campaign, Gurney was seriously gassed. A few years after the war Gurney was committed to an asylum and wrote very little after that time. Gurney’s The Trumpet is a strikingly original work for chorus and piano that is nothing at all like anything else being written in England at the time. Butterworth’s setting of In the Highlands for SSA and piano is more traditional, but no less masterful in its foreshadowing of conflict.
York Bowen is mainly known for his piano music and chamber music, so it is a real pleasure to find he also wrote a Mass ,still unpublished, in 1954. The edition used in this performance was transcribed from the composer’s manuscript over the summer by conductor William Kempster.
The program is rounded out by seldom-heard works by more established names in English choral music at the start of the twentieth century, and includes Percy Grainger’s At Twlight, a rare set of choral songs by Roger Quilter, and hymns and anthems by Vaughan Williams and Holst.