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Byrd Takes Flight

Corvus Consort (vocal ensemble) and Music on the Edge (saxophone and flute)

Corvus Consort presents ‘Byrd Takes Flight’, its commissions project for 2023, commemorating 400 years since the death of William Byrd.

“Byrd Takes Flight” sees Corvus Consort join forces with instrumental duo Music on the Edge to present a groundbreaking convergence of old and new, as voices and instruments intertwine to explore soundworlds that transcend the centuries between them.

Four newly-commissioned works explore the enduring strength of Byrd’s influence, which stretches right through to the 21st century. Each new commission is composed as a partner piece to a particular work by Byrd, placing Byrd’s musical voice in direct dialogue with the voices of some of today’s most exciting young composers.

In Byrd Transubstantiated, Shruthi Rajasekar draws out heightened emotion and drama from Byrd’s iconic Ave verum corpus, particularly exploring the tensions around Byrd’s Catholic faith in Protestant England. Taking a more broad harmonic inspiration from Byrd, Derri Joseph Lewis focuses on the imagery of rain and new growth in Rorate caeli desuper, painting a vivid and characterful picture of water droplets throughout much of his piece. With her trademark handwritten graphic scoring techniques for Ecce respice populus tuus, Anna Semple constructs a beautiful tapestry using fragments from Byrd’s Ne irascaris Domine, in her search to bring out the anguish of the text, again exploring the tumult of Byrd’s private faith. And in Vigilate Harry Baker draws inspiration from his background in jazz, to reinterpret Byrd’s setting of the same text into a pulsating journey, full of drama, energy and rhythmic impetus.

The programme will also feature music by Byrd performed with instrumental improvisation, casting his original music in a fresh and emotionally-heightened light. The harmonic language of the Renaissance lends itself effortlessly to a treatment of improvisation and experimentation, and this has been a key strand of the combined ensemble’s collaboration since their first project together in 2020.

‘Byrd Takes Flight’ features a choir of 10 voices alongside instrumental duo Music on the Edge, all under the direction of Freddie Crowley. The combined groups can also offer a pared-back unconducted version with 5 voices and two instruments.

William Byrd – Ave verum corpus
Shruthi Rajasekar – Byrd Transubstantiated (new commission after Byrd’s ‘Ave verum’)
William Byrd – Rorate caeli desuper
Derri Joseph Lewis – Rorate caeli desuper (new commission after Byrd’s ‘Rorate caeli’)
William Byrd – Ne irascaris, Domine
Anna Semple – Ecce respice populus tuus (new commission after Byrd’s ‘Ne irascaris’)
William Byrd – Vigilate
Harry Baker – Vigilate (new commission after Byrd’s ‘Vigilate’)

Shruthi Rajasekar is a multi-award-winning Indian-American composer and vocalist exploring identity, community, and joy. Shruthi creates intersectional music that draws from her unique background in the Carnatic (South Indian classical) and Western classical idioms.

Derri Joseph Lewis is a prize-winning Welsh composer and sound-artist, writing music for concerts, stage-works and installations in Europe and America. He has written vocal works for Oxford Lieder Festival, Ludlow English Song Weekend, soprano Helen Charlston and the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain.

Anna Semple is a London-based composer and performer interested in exploring embodied methods of music-making and composition using visual processes. Recent commissions include works for the Royal Opera House, The Sixteen, The Marian Consort, Waterperry Opera Festival and Corvus Consort, among many others.

Harry Baker is an award-winning British pianist and composer active at the highest levels of both jazz and classical performance. He has performed his work with artists including Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Fatma Said and Danielle de Niese at Wigmore Hall, Ronnie Scott’s, the Konzerthaus Dortmund and the Verbier Festival, Switzerland.

We are extremely grateful to the Fidelio Charitable Trust, Vaughan Williams Foundation and Hinrichsen Foundation for their support.

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