Here are the words for woman.life.song, the 45-minute cantata I wrote for Jessye Norman, whose 2000 Proms performance is being re-broadcast this evening on BBC Radio 3. Jessye herself conceived the idea for this work, and commissioned these texts from Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and Clarissa Pinkola Estes.
To mark our inclusion in this mostly retrospective 2020 Prom season, the work’s original conductor David Robertson and I recently spoke to Radio 3’s Andrew McGregor, and part of our heartfelt conversation will be heard during tonight’s broadcast. We reflected on what a huge undertaking this project had been for us all. In my case the new work had been three years in the making, and Jessye had been thinking about the idea for longer than that, planning it as part of her artist residency at Carnegie Hall, where the music was first performed in spring 2020.
Hearing my own music, a great deal of it at once, in a high profile event like this left my head in an exploded state, not really able to assess the performance. But my memory has definitely re-asserted that the playing for this Prom by the London Sinfonietta was very beautiful, and that Jessye gave the music the towering attention that she was famous for in all her repertoire (which was very wide indeed. For instance you’ll also hear Schoenberg and Strauss in this concert.) I remain amazed that any of this ever happened in the first place.