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Musgrave at 90: Summer Report


Musgrave at 90: Summer Report

Thomas Le Brocq

The new season has begun and the nights are drawing in; but, while there is still lots more Musgrave to look forward to this Autumn, let us recap on what has been a spectacular summer.

Birthday Concert in New York

Gathering just off Times Square in the atmospheric Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Harold Rosenbaum, the New York Virtuoso Singers, the American Brass Quintet and host of special guests joined on May 27 to celebrate the birthday itself, wth Thea in attendance. Wonderful tributes from collaborators past and present, Nicholas Daniel and Ashley Putnam, were interspersed among performances of Thea’s choral, chamber and rare outings of her operatic music, plus world premiere performances of Whirlwind for solo oboe and La Vida es Sueño, performed by the Mexican baritone José Adán Pérez  and pianist Michael Fennelly. Full concert details here

Ivor Novello Award 2018

Straight after the concert Thea and Peter dashed across the atlantic to attend the 63rd Ivor Novello Awards on May 31 at Grosvenor House, Park Lane, London. The Scottish-American composer Thea Musgrave was presented with The Ivors Classical Music Award, in recognition of her outstanding body of work in the classical genre. The Ivor Novello Awards are the UK’s pinnacle recognition of song writing achievement, celebrating composers of all genres of music. Previous recipients of the Classical Music Award include Richard Rodney Bennett (2004), John Tavener (2005), Harrison Birtwistle (2006) and Peter Maxwell Davies (2010).

The award was presented by longtime friend, Nicholas Daniel. To an audience of the industry’s most notable names, including fellow award-winners, Billy Ocean, Billy Bragg, Stormy and Ed Sheeran, Thea gave a speech about the power and universality of music and the absolute importance for all children, no matter their background, to have access to learning an instrument. 


Thank you for the (Chamber) Music

It would be impossible to mention all of the performances of Thea’s work but in early June a flurry of concerts in the UK and US added to the momentum of the birthday week. On June 2, whilst the New York Virtuoso Singers performed highlights from the birthday concert (Rorate Coeli, Voices of Our Ancestors) at New York’s Symphony Space, the York Late Music Ensemble in the UK hosted a portrait concert, the final part in their season-long focus on Musgrave’s music. Jennifer Cohen (flute), Alice Masterson (piano), William Descrettes, (cello), Lynette Quek (electronics) performed Narcissus, Snapshots, and the UK premiere of D.E.S. — In Celebration for solo cello. The Marsyas Trio contacted Thea earlier this year to seek permission to create a clarinet version of her popular Canta Canta and on June 8 it received its world premiere at London’s Spitalfields Festival. Now recorded, the recording will be available on NMC Recordings from October — pre order here

The Queen’s Medal for Music 

On June 7, Thea was awarded the The Queen’s Medal for Music in an audience with Her Majesty The Queen at Buckingham Palace. Musgrave was welcomed by the Queen’s Master of Music, Judith Weir and conversed with The Queen for half an hour — the details of the exchange, of course, remain secret!   

‘Scottish-born composer Thea Musgrave has been a musical pioneer for many decades. With innovative use of space, sound and colour, her work has made rich contributions to numerous genres, including opera and orchestral music. Now aged 90 and resident in New York, she is still energetically at work, a warm-spirited, optimistic inspiration to her many listeners, performers and colleagues around the world.’  — Judith Weir.


BBC SSO Portrait Concert

There is a long relationship between Musgrave and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, they gave her her first major commissions following her studies in Paris in 1950s and have since performed over 15 of her works several times, commissioning several others. it is a relationship Musgrave has spoken a lot about this year: 

‘the BBC Scottish was that it had a policy of helping young composers learn their craft, because although you can learn a lot in school, then comes the practicality of learning how to write for an orchestra and how an orchestra functions. That’s where I began to learn how to work with an orchestra, the BBC Scottish—thank you!’

On June 15, the Dutch conductor Jac van Steen conducted the orchestra in their performance of Musgrave’s Song of the Enchanter, Memento Vitae and Two’s Company with Nicholas Daniel and Evelyn Glennie, who reunited for the first time on the concert stage to perform the work for first time since its premiere in 2005. At the beginning of the second half of the concert, Thea was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate in Music from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and gave a brief speech thanking the conservatoire and reiterating the her gratitude to the BBC SSO. The concert was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on June 29.

Read Kate Molleson's Article on Musgrave in The Herald, Scotland 

Two Premieres at Wells

Two new choral works were given life this June as the Wells Cathedral Choir and director Matthew Owens premiered a new Missa Brevis and Collect for the Birth of John the Baptist. Both highly singable, functional cathedral works these new additions to the repertoire, are part of an ongoing project at the Cathedral to create living Cathedral through contemporary music. Thea met the host of commissioners and the young choristers themselves, many of the young singers visibly thrilled to have someone with such experience there. Wells Cathedral also invited Thea to attend a lunchtime concert of her works performed by the students, after which she gave a lecture to the composition students. 


Mary, Queen of Scots Re-release

Forty years after the premiere recording of Musgrave’s seminal opera Mary, Queen of Scots, Lyrita released a restored version on July 6. It was released on CD in 2002 on Novello Records but has been unavailable for quite some time following its initial print run. Recorded in one take from a live performance at the Virginia Opera House, this cleaned-up version taken from the original master LP features stella performances from leads, Jake Gardener and Ashley Putnam. Available to purchase here and to stream online via Spotify

BBC Proms

There is no bigger classical music festival than the BBC Proms. But it is not only its size that makes the two-month series special, it is diversity of the audience that it welcomes. Audience members of all levels of exposure to classical music, from countries all over the world, attend the seventy-odd concerts each year. 


'Her music is bold, theatrical and full of wit... Musgrave learnt the rules decades ago. She has also long known how to break them.' - The Times (London)

It offers no greater platform for contemporary classical music to reach the widest audience, and this year, on August 7, it was no different. Richard Farnes, former Musical Director of Opera North, conducted Phoenix Rising in his Proms debut with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The work is both dramatic and serene with a touch of humour in the middle section, where the horn player (representing the forces of light), banishes the timpanist (the leader in the forces of darkness) from the stage. A near-capacity audience (over 5000 seats total) chuckled accordingly and warmly received the work’s orchestral invention an lyricism. The concert was broadcast on radio live and on national television on August 10. 

Reviews: The Times ★★★★ | | ★★★★


Edinburgh International Festival 

‘I remember the very first Edinburgh Festival’ Musgrave recounted in her pre concert talk to festival patrons ahead of the performance of her Turbulent Landscapes at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall, ‘they lined the streets with baskets of flowers of all colours —in postwar Scotland, that was quite something!’ Indeed, Musgrave would go on to conduct her own Mary, Queen of Scots at the Festival in 1977. Two concerts contained her music: the first being the August 5 concert by the National Youth Choir of Scotland, masterfully directed through her On the Underground Set 2: The Strange and the Exotic by conductor Christopher Bell. On August 9, now with Thea in attendance, having flown up from London the morning after her Prom, she received the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Royal Medal from HRH Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex. That evening, Martyn Brabbins lead the BBC SSO in and sea-theme programme contain Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony and Thea’s Turbulent Landscapes. Outside of the concert hall, Thea participated in a seminar about gender equality in the arts, led by actor and Equity president Maureen Beattie, Artistic Director of the National Theatre of Scotland Jackie Wylie, film producer Alison Owen, and veteran Scottish Arts Critic Ruth Wishart. 


exquisite, image-rich music superbly played.’ — The Scotsman


one of the finest, freshest contemporary works I’ve heard in a long time — 


Coming up…

There is still plenty more to come!

  • September 20-22 Featured Composer of the 2018 Leicester Festival

  • October 1-5 BBC Philharmonic Concert of BBC Radio 3 Afternoon Concert

  • November 10-17 Utopia Opera (NYC) presents The Story of Harriet Tubman

  • November 22-25 Stockholm International Composer Festival 2018: Thea Musgrave

  • November 28 Da Capo Players at NYC's Merkin Hall

  • December 14-15 Trinity Laban Conservatoire (London) stages a new production of A Christmas Carol