recommended 21st-century music that should frighten no one but make them pause
frequently for thought (not least through her beguilingly idiosyncratic
titles)' - Guy Rickards, Gramophone, September 2017.
Among today's brightest luminaries, Cheryl
Frances-Hoad, born in 1980, has been composing to commission since she was
fifteen. Classical tradition (she trained as a cellist and pianist at the Yehudi
Menuhin School before going up to Cambridge (Gonville and Caius), gaining a Double First, and then King's College, London), along
with contemporary influences including literature, painting and dance, have
contributed to a creative presence provocatively her own. 'Intricate in
argument, sometimes impassioned, sometimes mercurial, always compelling in its
authority' (Robin Holloway, The Spectator), her output - widely
premiered, broadcast and commercially recorded, reaching audiences from the BBC
Proms and festivals to school workshops - addresses all genres from opera,
ballet and concerto to song, chamber and solo music.
She's a composer
who cheerfully, skilfully and imaginatively bridges all styles. 'Everything
from the great classical works to jazz, pop and electronic music, anything from
Bach to Ligeti, inspires me, and I feel very lucky not to have to worry about
whether I’m in or out of fashion musically. I find it really exciting to
collaborate with all manner of different artists, as well as people beyond the
arts'. In its rhythmic twists, its 'felt' more than calculated durations, its
brittle attacks, lush harmonies and sudden oases of dawn wilderness, its
mischievous denial of the expected, much of her work suggests a self-portrait.
'Thought and planning aside, composition for me is largely about distilling
feeling to the nth degree … a massively more confident, heart-on-sleeve version
of the real me, everything magnified and sent over the edge.'
prizes and awards notwithstanding – 2002, a good year, included a Mendelssohn
Scholarship, the Bliss Prize and (jointly) the Harriet Cohen Award – she's a
musician agreeably in touch with society, reality and modern-day economics,
taking obstacles in her stride. (The 'Failure CV' on her website goes entirely
with the person.) 'I think you have to be determined to the point of utter
bloody mindedness … A thick skin for rejection is very useful, and somewhere
(however deep down) you need total self-confidence in what you are writing' (The
Cross-Eyed Pianist, 'Meet the Artist', 24 January 2013).
Frances-Hoad’s music is melodic, passionate, equal parts humour and reverence …
I urge you to become acquainted with this composer’s work … worth your time' -
Stephanie Boyd, American Record Guide, March/April 2018.
Lantern Tales (November/December 2015). This
cycle of five songs sets words by the South Yorkshire poet Ian McMillan from
his collection Magic Lantern Tales (2014) written in response to
interviews and documentary photographs by Ian Beesley. In 1994 Beesley was
appointed Artist-in-Residence at the Moor Psychiatric Hospital in Lancaster
where the majority of patients suffered from senile dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Here he came across a drawer full of glasses and another full of photographs.
Some patients had been in the hospital for decades and for those who had died
with no living relatives, their last few possessions were placed carefully into
these drawers. ‘Many of the photographs,' remembers Beesley, 'were related to the
First World War, soldiers [...], family gatherings, weddings with the grooms in
uniform. These glasses were the glasses they must have used to look at their
fading photographs perhaps [in an] attempt to pull back some fading memory. Two
simple wooden drawers containing a visual eulogy to forgotten lives. This
experience prompted me to photograph and interview as many men and women who
had experienced the First World War before it was too late'.
Cheryl says, 'tells the stories of three of the elderly people interviewed by
Beesley: Lily Maynard (101), Harry Holmes (100) and Mabel Walsh (104).
'Lily found a
young man cowering in the bushes on her way back from the fair during a
thunderstorm. She rather liked him, so she coaxed him out and took him home.
They started going out and were planning to get married when he was called up.
He went to the Somme (July-November 1916) and never came back. Lily never
was a decorated war hero, serving at Ypres, when he returned to Bradford to be
a painter and decorator. He became good friends with Harry Ramsden (of fish'n
chip shop fame). The pair loved to while away the hours down the pub, but when
Harry K found a teetotal wife, the pub trips had to stop ... until Harry H
hatched a cunning plan, for Harry R to buy a dog so that they could walk it (to
the pub) every day! This continued for many years, unbeknown to Harry R's wife.
When Harry R died, his wife had to start walking the dog. It promptly lead her
to the pub where Harry H was propping up the bar …' All Harry ever wanted was
'a stroll, and a pint, and a kiss'.
used to go out with J B Priestley before he was famous, but "he was an
argumentative bugger" so she had to "jack him in". She found a
fiancée who was more her type, but, loading a truck in 1918, he was killed
instantly by a tiny piece of shrapnel. She never married.'
The three poems
are framed on either side by 'Marching Through Time', offset by a pedalled
tolling 'bell' in shades of green - the 'colour' of the note/key E for the
composer: 'They marched through the streets of these Northern towns, and their
winding sheets and their hospital gowns are not all we remember of these
marching men'. In the course of each number there are telling homage-allusions
to songs or individuals associated with the First World War period. I, V - 'The
Lads in their Hundreds' (A Shropshire Lad, A E Housman/George
Butterworth, 1911: Butterworth lost his life, shot through the head, at the
Battle of the Somme, August 1916). II – Keep the Home Fires Burning (Lena
Guilbert Ford/Ivor Novello, 1914: 'They were summoned
from the hillside,/They were called in from the glen,/And the country found
them ready/At the stirring call for men') III – Pack Up Your Troubles in
Your Old Kit-Bag, and Smile, Smile, Smile (George and Felix Powell, 1915:
'Smile, boys, that's the style. What's the use of worrying?'). IV – Elegy
(Thomas Moore/Cecil Coles, 1907: 'When weary wretches sink to sleep/How
heavenly soft their slumbers lie!/How sweet is death to those who weep,/To
those who weep and long to die!' Coles was killed by a German sniper on the
Western Front, April 1918, aged twenty-nine.
Tales was premiered by Nicky Spence and Iain
Burnside at The Venue, Leeds College of Music, as
part of the Leeds Lieder Festival, 2 April 2016.
Star Falling (24 July 2004); Blurry Bagatelle (2017) 'Star Falling, a contemplative miniature
for piano,' writes the composer, 'was penned and sent as a gift in an attempt
to stop a partner from leaving me. It did not have its desired effect (which in
retrospect was tremendous luck!). A simple, calm reflection on some of the
lines in Else Lasker-Schüler's 1910 poem Versöhnung (Reconciliation),
it was written purely intuitively in a matter of hours.' The sonority and
spacing of the 'white' C major close lingers long and achingly. 'We want to
wake the night,/Pray in the tongues/That are shaped like harps./[...] And our
lips want to kiss,/Why do you hesitate?/Does my heart not verge on yours -/Your
blood colors my cheeks red./We want to reconcile with night,/When we embrace we
do not die./A big star will fall into my lap.' Lasker-Schüler (1869-1945), 'the
Lady Gaga of the Weimar Republic' (Rick Fulker), was notorious in the cafés of
Berlin for appearing in costume as a Persian girl or Egyptian boy. Versöhnung
was published in 1912 in Der Sturm, illustrated by Lasker-Schüler's
fellow expressioninst, Franz Marc (1880-1916). 'Why did you illustrate [this].'
she asked him, 'are you also painfully lost as I am, that I have no roads anymore,
Bagatelle was a commission in association with the
Royal Philharmonic Society, marking the thirty-fifth anniversary of the
Presteigne Festival founded by Adrian Williams in 1983. The fifth of a series
of six 'Bagatelles after Beethoven', contributed by six composers – Martin
Butler, Jack Sheen, Gabriel Jackson, Michael Zev Gordon, Cheryl, David Knotts –
the inspiration of the collection was Beethoven's final set of Bagatelles, Op
126, published in 1825. Paul Conway writes: 'Blurry Bagatelle was
influenced by Beethoven’s Op 126 no 5 (Quasi allegretto). Phrases and
gestures from the model [though not its G major key] found their way into the
new piece, whose title alludes to chords sustained by pedal and fingers. The
central episode [dolce e piangevole] sets the letters of the name
“George Vass” [current artistic director of the Festival] as a nod to his
sixtieth birthday year'. Stylistically, the music alludes somewhat to the pages
of the Homages piano cycle (2009-15). The first performance was given by
Tim Horton at St Andrew's Church, Presteigne, 25 August 2017.
Incomplete (17-18 August 2013) This aphorism
after Aristotle – 13 bars plus a lunga pausa – was written for the
wedding of Cheryl and the American trumpeter and percussionist, Brant Tilds, 31
August 2013. The three singers on the occasion were Natalie Raybould (soprano),
Jennifer Johnson (mezzo-soprano) and Anita Mackenzie Mills (soprano). 'At the
touch of a lover everyone becomes a poet'.
Love Bytes (July 2012), commissioned by the Tête à Tête Festival, sets a text
by the audio producer, director and librettist Tamsin Collison. 'A virtual
romance. Two cyber lovers ask themselves exactly who is on the other end of the
line - Can you trust your heart in the digital age?' 'Wide-eyed yet restrained
excitement' no more, to the fading strains of a vibraphone (she) and cello
(he), 'They close their laptops/I-pads/blackberries, pick up their coffee cups
and walk off in opposite directions'.
Johnson and Alistair Hogarth, Lament (September 2009), to a poem
by the former Poet Laureate, Sir Andrew Motion, 'was written for the Cultural
Olympiad “Artists Taking the Lead” project - which we didn't get'. 'Then we
shall walk out together as before/Hand in hand through the streets and the
parks/Where birds sing when the rain passes away'.
Conceived as a response to Britten's Canticles I and II,
'the cutting edge of the vocal lines increased by their density and the bold
gestures of the piano writing' (George Hall, The Guardian), Invoke
Now the Angels (2013), a joint-commission to mark the centenary of Britten's birth,
was premiered by The Prince Consort at the Wigmore Hall, 22 November
2013. For the text Cheryl commissioned a poem from the Jamaican
poet and essayist Kei Miller. Tensionally, the work phases strikingly between
drama, dream and decay.
the Oxford Lieder Festival, The Thought Machine (August 2016)
sets ten poems from Kate Wakeling's first collection of children's poetry, Moon
Juice (2016) – an anthology 'full of
curious characters and strange situations ... musical, sometimes magical, and
full of wonder at the weirdness of the world'. On the one hand, the words and
currents, the fantasy, of a child. On the other, the sophistication and tides,
the fantasticality, of an adult. Cheryl has journeyed the Schumann road before
(One Life Stand, 2011), and her way with subtexts, associations, parody
and distillation – the notion of obeisance - has always been Schumannesque. At
times Robert's Album for the Young or Scenes from Childhood seem
but a step away from The Thought Machine. The creator as 'moonstruck
maker of charades'. The trickiness of the vocal and piano writing is
considerable. Especially, one notes, the attention to pedalling, prolonged
depression of the damper (as well as sostenuto in 'New Moon') leading to
a dancing resonance of overtones and misty images floating in and out of focus.
Unexpected twists bring a smile, for one the 'optional egg shaker, or any other
percussion instrument that rattles' allocated to soprano and baritone in the
sixth song, 'Machine'. For another the theatrical cues: 'Baritone could act as
if asleep in a car' ('Night Journey'); 'Soprano could have been staring
horribly at the baritone … making the baritone freeze' ('Rita the Pirate').
'Shadow Boy' touches magic, 'Comet', closing the cycle, thrills.
The Thought Machine was given its first performance by Sophie Daneman, Mark
Stone and Sholto Kynoch (dedicatees respectively of the second, third and sixth
numbers), at the Holywell Music Room, 27 October 2016.
Scenes from Autistic Bedtimes (2012-13) ‘Any encounter with
disability is for most people an encounter with difference.’ Linked by a
unifying leitmotif ('It is showertime; it is bedtime'), these three
scenes from a projected chamber opera were workshopped in Leeds, with Natalie
Raybould among others, during Cheryl’s tenure as DARE Cultural Fellow in Opera
Related Arts in association with Opera North and the University of Leeds
(2010-12). ‘I look back on my DARE Fellowship as one of the turning points of
my composing career. Being able to concentrate on writing for two years, and
having access to such a wealth of operatic and academic knowledge and
experience was incredibly valuable, artistically and personally.’
The libretto was
the idea of Stuart Murray, Professor of Contemporary Literatures and Film at
the University of Leeds, Director of the multidisciplinary Leeds Centre for
Medical Humanities, and author of Representing Autism (2008), the
pioneering book on the condition – one ‘surrounded by misunderstanding and
often defined by contestation and argument’. ‘I do think,’ he's said,* ‘that
historically the representation of autism has largely been a history of
misrepresentation. The classic example is that there are still many many people
who believe that if you are autistic you necessarily have special skills, that
you're good at maths or memory or calculation or music - a cultural narrative
going back to Dustin Hoffman's [autistic savant] character in Barry Levinson's
film Rain Man from the 1980s.
'Our scenario is
about a parent taking a child up to bed. Repeatedly. A lot to do with autism is
about repetition. I really like the idea of repeating a whole sequence of
events with slight differences. Originally I intended just the internal voice
of a child who cannot communicate verbally. But once I'd written the first
experience of bed time from that point of view, I almost immediately, without
stopping, went on to the reaction of the parent. So each evening, each bedtime,
we have these two voices - competing on the same topic from different angles,
asking questions, responding to the moment. Having filmed (and shared) the
spinning, twirling, very idiosyncratic movements of the younger of my two
autistic songs, Lucas, was something I was also keen to convey. The thing I
love about opera is that it’s all so fantastically artificial, in so many ways
so brilliantly preposterous. Those great moments when you realize that it's
through the seemingly very artificial that you actually get to a wonderful kind
of truth telling.'
condition to be shown as it is - manifestation not metaphor - lies at the core
of Autistic Bedtimes.
* 'Autism and Opera - Two Weeks of
Autistic Bedtimes', DARE interview, 21 June 2013
© Ateş Orga 2018