Song cycle for Roderick Williams and Susie Allan – Thaxted Festival and Music at Paxton

Sarah is thrilled to have been co-commissioned by the 2022 Music at Paxton and Thaxted Festivals, with support from RVW Trust, to write a song cycle for baritone Roderick Williams and pianist Susie Allan.

The cycle, A Square and Candle-lighted Boat, is a companion piece to Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel. The five songs set poems with an emphasis on home by Frances Cornford, a cousin of Vaughan Williams.

The premiere will take place at the Thaxted Festival on 2nd July, with a repeat performance at Music at Paxton on 22nd July.

Whale by Whale – George Mackay Brown Centenary Project

Orkney Camerata marked the centenary of Orcadian poet George Mackay Brown in 2021 with their project Words into Music: Continuity and Change in collaboration with the George Mackay Brown Fellowship. In the first phase of the project, writers were invited to submit poems and short pieces of prose, which composers were invited to respond to musically in the second phase. Sarah’s piece Whale by Whale is a response to Jane McKie’s beautiful poem of the same name which can be read here.  Selected composers were given a mentoring session by Gemma McGregor before the nine works, including Whale by Whale, were premiered by players from Orkney Camerata at St Magnus Cathedral on 22nd May 2022.

The Robin Carol premiered by Granta Chorale

Granta Chorale’s Christmas concert this year was titled ‘Noel!’. Many pieces in the programme contained the word ‘Noel’, ranging in time from anonymous medieval carols to two brand new specially-written carols – Sarah’s The Robin Carol and Janet Wheeler’s Noel, Noel, Noel.

The Robin Carol takes as its starting point the words of the nursery rhyme The North wind doth blow – ‘The North wind doth blow, and we shall have snow, and what will poor Robin do then? He’ll hide in a barn and keep himself warm, and hide is head under his wing’. However, in a departure from the nursery rhyme, the robin sings ‘Nowell’ while he is sheltering from the cold. Later the piece draws parallels between the robin’s need for shelter and humans’ desire for protection, using a plainsong quote from compline: ‘Hide me under the shadow of your wings’.

An image of a robin standing on a twig with berries
Collage by Sarah for Granta Chorale’s Christmas poster

Psappha Composing For Piano Scheme

Sarah is thrilled to be one of six composers participating in Psappha’s Composing For Piano schemes in 2021-2022, writing a piece for pianist Benjamin Powell. The composers will have three workshop sessions over several months, an intervention day and a final recording session in May.

O Western Wind – RVW150 commission published by Stainer and Bell

Sarah was delighted to be asked to write a setting of Ursula Vaughan Williams’ beautiful poem O Western Wind.. An anniversary to help Stainer and Bell mark Vaughan Williams’ 150th birthday next year. Ursula Vaughan Williams was RVW’s second wife, a tireless ambassador for his music after his death, and a talented poet and novelist in her own right. This poem, written on the 35th anniversary of his death, makes it clear that her love for him had not dwindled in the intervening years:

O Western Wind: An anniversary
This was our world’s end day, dear love,
An end of time but not of tears,
The end of touch, the silenced word,
The first day of our separate years.
When will time end for me, dear love,
Or end for both in darkest night,
Or shall I find, in that unknown
Your hand is mine, and mine your own?
Sarah’s setting is now available from Stainer and Bell as part of their Choral Now series, and hopefully will be of use to choirs planning to mark the anniversary next year.
The front cover of O Western Wind, with the Choral Now image, a green treble clef patterned like a leaf


The Garden In Spring – video released

The specially-recorded video of Charlie Pemberton and Sarah MacDonald’s beautiful performances of Sarah’s The Garden in Spring and Janet Wheeler’s Said a Blade of Grass has now been released on YouTube.

The Garden in Spring – a commission for Newnham College

Sarah, along with fellow Newnhamite and MazeMusic composer Janet Wheeler, was delighted to be asked to write a song for a recording session for Newnham College’s Alumni Development Office. Soprano Charlie Pemberton, a choral scholar at Newnham, and pianist Sarah MacDonald, Director of Music at Selwyn College, constructed a programme with a garden theme. The recording took place in Newnham’s Old Labs on 1st September.

Janet Wheeler’s song sets Khalil Gibran’s Said a Blade of Grass. Sarah’s song, The Garden in Spring, sets part of a poem by Fredegond Shove, a poet who attended Newnham during the 1910s. Fredegond Shove had two collections of poetry published during her lifetime; she was a relation of Ralph Vaughan Williams, who set four of her poems as songs. Unfortunately she is now very little known.

Fredegond Shove in a black and white photo taken by Lady Ottoline Morrell. She is sitting at a table in a garden and focussed on something in her hands.
Poet Fredegond Shove