From Jason Overall’s review of the first releases in Selah Press’ Sarah MacDonald Choral Series:
‘This setting of the evening canticles quickly establishes an imaginative, adventurous compositional voice. Cattley’s harmonic language is comfortable in ambiguity, and many phrases attain a weightless feel that has little tonal gravity. Despite this lack of strong pitch center, the music is never harsh or dissonant. Vocal lines are mainly diatonic and even conventional, even as the accompaniment undermines some expected harmonic implications. Of even more interest, however, is the complex rhythmic organization. Cattley contrasts 6/8 organization against 3/4, employing creative use of hemiola, and she explores unconventional beat subdivisions. These rhythmic hijinks will challenge singers, yet they infuse the music with a spirited vitality that is nothing short of bewitching. The Magnificat is written for two-voice choir with only a handful of divided notes in the lower voice, while the Nunc dimittis is cast more consistently in three voices. Where the first canticle dances, the second one sings lyrically. Expansive lines that outline wide intervals gain intensity from a similar rhythmic intricacy, yet restrained within a gentle pacing. Whereas the first Gloria Patri exults, ending fortissimo, the concluding Gloria Patri maintains the expressive flow of the preceding canticle. The organ part throughout is interesting, affording players ample opportunities for interesting solo colors, and of only moderate technical difficulty. This extremely effective service will be useful for adults and children, and while it may require some careful rehearsal, choirs are sure to welcome it into their evensong repertoire.’
The Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians
Volume 29, Number 3 – March 2020
The Ernest Read Symphony Orchestra is looking for ‘A Fanfare for Ernest Read’ in a composition competition leading up to the orchestra’s 90th birthday. Sarah’s fanfare Leviathan has been selected as one of the shortlisted compositions to be workshopped by ERSO with composer Emma-Ruth Richards, conductor Christopher Stark and leader John Crawford in Camden on 15th March.
January 2020 saw the first release of Selah Press’s Sarah MacDonald Choral Series, a series of church music by women composers, curated by Sarah MacDonald. Eight composers were represented in this first batch of pieces, with more to come in subsequent collections. The upper voices version of Sarah’s Fitzwilliam Service came out in this first release, and the SATB version will follow it shortly.
In May, Sarah’s piece Meeting in the Fields will be one of six pieces workshopped by the London Klezmer Quartet and Judith Weir in Benslow Music’s Young Composers Competition 2020. The competition invited composers to create a piece for violin, clarinet, piano accordion and double bass that responded to the celebratory and soulful colours of the rich tradition of klezmer music.
Ivy, Chief of Trees It Is was written for Granta Chorale’s 2019/20 Christmas concerts to fit with this year’s theme, A Christmas Garland. The first performance was in the chapel of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge on 12th December, alongside lots more music about Christmas greenery. The programme included seasonal favourites by Rutter, Britten, Warlock and Henry VIII (!) (Green Grow’th the Holly) and newer works by Janet Wheeler (including The Christmas Life and God Bless You Brother) and Andrew Bruce (There is No Rose). The concert will be repeated on 3rd January in Newport, and the collections from both concerts will go to Jimmy’s, a charity supporting the homeless in Cambridge.
Ely Cathedral Girls Choir sang Sarah’s Fitzwilliam Service in evensong on Wednesday, conducted by Sarah MacDonald and with Aaron Shilson at the organ. This was the second performance of the canticles in their original upper voices version. Sarah MacDonald will be conducting the Fitzwilliam Service again next week when it is sung by the choir of Selwyn College.
Sarah’s piece FourSeascapes has been shortlisted for Yorkshire Late Starters Strings‘ New Music Commission 2019-20. The four shortlisted pieces will be played by the orchestra on 27th October in a workshop with conductor Stuart Hazelton and composer Howard Skempton. Howard Skempton will also be giving shortlisted composers a tutorial session on their pieces.
Sarah’s setting of Andrew Lang’s poem Ballade of True Wisdomwas premiered in Lamlash, on Arran, on 26th August in a celebration of a Pearl Wedding anniversary and a 21st birthday. It was commissioned specially to be sung at the event by a scratch choir. The poem argues that all one really needs to be happy is ‘a house full of books, and a garden of flowers’.
The chapel choir of University College Oxford, conducted by Giles Underwood, sang Sarah’s Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in evensong on Sunday. The setting was originally written for the upper voices of Fitzwilliam College Cambridge and later adapted for mixed choir; this was its Oxford premiere.