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30th June, 7.30pm
The New London Orchestra
St John the Baptist Church, EN5 4BW

Carol J. Jones, chrysalis

Lili Boulanger arr. Joshua Ballance, Deux morceaux

Grace Williams, Sea Sketches

Josef Suk, Serenade


we chatted with Carol J Jones, whose piece chrysalis is opening this year's festival...


How did you start composing?

I did a little improvising on the keyboard growing up however, I never knew that composing could be a career. It wasn’t until I started studying at Cardiff University that I learned about this fantastical world of composition, and since then I’ve tried to learn as much as possible. I’ve taken part in various courses and summer schools, and I’m currently in the final stages of a DPhil in Music Composition at the University of Oxford.



It’s obviously a massive leap of faith entrusting your compositions to performers: have you had any particularly inspiring experiences with performances of your work?

I’m always amazed by how players can take a piece and bring out new colours or characters in the music. It’s a big leap of faith for players to perform new music too, and I’ve been fortunate to work with some fantastic musicians over the years. Opera North Orchestra recently performed evergreen for orchestra as part of their Minute Masterpieces scheme. They brought such life and vitality to the music. I remember sitting and wondering what else could this ensemble do.


The original recording of chrysalis last year was particularly inspiring. We recorded it in lockdown conditions, so I had no idea how it was going to turn out. The first time I heard it together was we filmed the dance video it was originally written to accompany. It still amazes me how something that was conceived and recorded so disparately could finally come together. 



If our audience wanted to listen to some music that inspired chrysalis, or complements it, what would you recommend?

Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s Illumine was very much in mind when writing the opening. It weaves each player into the piece beautifully whilst creating this tense, ethereal sound. James Macillan’s Memento also achieves this well, with each player starting with a short motif before handing it on to the next player.


If you’re looking for something more upbeat, Caroline Shaw’s Three Essays is fantastic to listen to. She sets up the expectation you're listening to a polite Neo-Baroque piece and then brilliantly smashes those expectations. [If you enjoy the Shaw, you can hear the Brompton Quartet playing her Entr'acte on 7th July.]



And as a more light-hearted way to get to know you, if you were a pizza, what toppings would you have and why?

Oh, it would have to be a Pepperoni with extra chilli oil or jalapeño peppers. I can’t handle it but I just love that kick of heat!

we sat down with Joshua Ballance, our Artistic Director, who's conducting the concert, to chat about the music...

Tell us a bit about the programme you’ll be conducting. Why these pieces?

Well as ever with our programming it’s rather a mix! The Suk was written in 1892; Carol’s piece that we’re opening with in 2021, so there’s rather a span. 


The first half of the programme is unabashedly nature-themed. We’re opening with chrysalis, which is inspired by the development of butterflies and their breaking out of their chrysalis. I’m so glad we’re doing this: Carol wrote the piece originally two years ago for string sextet, and when I heard it I thought it was so good we needed an orchestral version, so we’ve commissioned this new arrangement and this will be the first performance.


After that we’ve got another arrangement of a pre-existing piece, this time two movements about gardens by Lili Boulanger. We’re big advocates of the Boulanger sisters here: you might remember the Mithras Trio playing some of Lili’s music in 2021, and Ben & Robin performed pieces by Nadia last year, so it’s lovely to continue flying the flag. A little personal connection to these two pieces is that I actually played the first for my Grade 8 piano (!) and it’s stuck with me as this totally divine musical gem ever since, so it’s so nice to come back to it in this new form.


Concluding the first half we’re doing Grace Williams’ Sea Sketches. Unsurprisingly, the sea has always been a fixation for British composers (think Britten’s Peter Grimes, Elgar’s Sea Pictures, or Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony), and given Williams’ was born and spent most of her life in the seaside town of Barry, it’s hardly a shock that she joined this tradition with her Sea Sketches


Although Williams wrote her Sea Sketches at the age of 38, it’s generally seen as her first work in what would become her ‘mature’ style. Suk’s Serenade is a similarly early work, and he was a mere 18 when he wrote it. It’s my favourite of the many string serenades that abound: it perfectly fits the genre, never too serious, but with a gorgeous slow movement and wonderfully fresh, tuneful outer movements.



If our audience wanted to listen to some other music related to your programme, what would you recommend?

Debussy’s symphonic sketches La mer immediately come to mind, both to contextualise the Boulanger and the Williams. If you fancy something else nautical, John Luther Adams’ Beyond Ocean is a post-minimalist take on the same theme.


It makes sense to listen to some Dvorak alongside the Suk, both for the chronological/geographical similarity, but also because Suk studied with Dvorak and married his daughter! If I’m honest I blow hot and cold on lots of Dvorak, but a real winner is the 13th Quartet, for which it simply has to be the Pavel Haas Quartet recording. The second movement in particular is out of this world. Simply amazing.


And as a more light-hearted way to get to know you, if you were a pizza, what toppings would you have and why?

How about a Quattro Frommagi? Lots going on, but somehow it works!

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