On Wednesday 23 November, the Musicians Benevolent Fund will host their annual Festival of Saint Cecilia at Westminster Cathedral. Each year a new anthem is commissioned for the festival and we spoke to the composer of this year's work, Laudate Dominum, about how he became involved in the festival.
As well as being a composer and conductor, you’re also a trustee of the Musicians Benvolent Fund – how did you become involved with writing the anthem this year?
This year the Musicians Benvolent Fund
(MBF) joined up with the Sing Up
programme to premiere the Festival of Saint Cecilia anthem as part of their national schools singing programme. I was asked to write this year’s anthem because of my previous experience of working with children's choirs. [Corp is Musical Director of the New London Children’s Choir
]. In February the first version of Laudate Dominum
was premiered in Birmingham Town Hall and also published by Faber, but I’ve written a second version for the festival, which will receive its premiere at Westminster Cathedral
on the 23 November. It is unusual for the Saint Cecilia Festival anthem to have been premiered before the festival itself, but we wanted the Sing Up version to be available for the whole year.
Tell us a little about the piece.
Laudate Dominum is a Latin setting of Psalm 150. Children have no particular barriers when it comes to language- they like the sounds they make – so it was no problem that the piece has Latin text. The composition has three parts which link together thematically: an opening section which sets the mood of praise, then a middle section which is singer-friendly in a bouncy 6/8 (which I felt youngsters could attach themselves to) and a final section, which is much more contemplative and sombre. This may strike some people as slightly unusual – Psalm 150 is quite joyful so perhaps you would expect it to be noisy and jubilant – but I wanted to show that you can praise God in a quietly joyful and reflective manner.
How has the piece changed for the Festival of Saint Cecilia?
The promise was that the piece would become more ornate, but in fact it’s gone the other way. By taking the children’s part out it has become more streamlined so the version for the festival is actually going to be slightly different. I thought about making it more elaborate by doubling up and making it eight parts, but in the end I decided that if I wanted it to be performed by choirs up and down the country in future, I couldn’t make it too complicated, as that would alienate choirs that don’t have many singers.
Why did you pick Psalm 150?
It was a joint decision really – when I spoke to Martin Baker
[Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral] we came to the conclusion that using a standard text such as a Psalm would be ideal, as there would always be a use for it. Although many people have set music to Psalm 150, I couldn’t think of a modern setting in Latin, so hopefully this will find its place.
Interview by Annie Reece