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Harvard University Choir



The Big Picture is a cantata posing the question "does music actually have colours ? " which I originally wrote for the 2019 reopening of Aberdeen Art Gallery.  It has just received its North American premiere, by Harvard University Choir under Edward Elwyn Jones, which you can hear here (beginning at 54'50".)

 

This excellent performance sounds, to me, very different from the Aberdeen premiere, and also from the Delphian recording by Bristol Choral Society - in the sense of being alternative, rather than better. The scoring of the piece is for two choirs, including in the original version, a big community chorus with a very large age range; while Harvard perform it with two light and agile-sounding groups of people who are roughly the same age. Bristol's forces were again "different" and I've enjoyed all these versions and found them equally acceptable.

 

It reminds me of when a composer colleague (I think it may have been Judith Bingham) observed that there is no such thing as "a choir", simply groups of people who sing together, and who can otherwise vary in every possible characteristic. This I think is the challenge, but also the joy of choral writing. Musically you're restricted to not much more than a 3-octave range. But meanwhile, every time a new group perform the piece, it's re-born under different circumstances. (By comparison, symphony orchestras are much more standardised in how we expect them to sound.) This is especially true of compositions which have a community element, ensuring even more variability. For perenially interesting results, I highly recommend working this way.

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer

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