Britain's Judith Bingham to compose work for a cappella choir
The Barlow Endowment for Music Composition at Brigham Young University has selected Judith Bingham of London, England, as the winner of the 2004 Barlow Prize to compose a new work for a cappella choir.
In 2006 a consortium of three renowned choirs has agreed to premiere her composition-the Ensemble Singers of VocalEssence in Minneapolis, the BBC Singers in London and the University of Utah Singers in Salt Lake City.
"The new work will mark the first partnership between Judith Bingham and the Barlow Endowment as well as the first collaboration between the endowment and all three choirs," said Thomas L. Durham, executive director of the Barlow Endowment.
Out of 134 applicants in the endowment's other commissioning programs, the Barlow Endowment granted $52,000 to 11 composers who will write works for the following: George Tsontakis (St. Paul Chamber Orchestra), Augusta Read Thomas (Alarm Will Sound Ensemble), Stephen Hartke (eighth blackbird), Sebastian Currier (Network for New Music Ensemble), Philippe Bodin (Genevieve Feiwen Lee, piano), Harold Meltzer (Cygnus Ensemble), Geoffrey Gordon (Duo46), David Sargent (Lawrence Vincent, baritone), Christian Asplund (Seattle Experimental Opera), Steven Ricks (John Sampen) and Neil Thornock (Nathan Wood, string bass).
The judging panel included the endowment's board of advisers: Bruce Polay, Melinda Wagner, Murray Boren, Claude Baker and Lansing McCloskey. Invited guest judges associated with the 2006 premieres of Bingham's new choral work included Philip Brunelle (VocalEssence), Michael Emery (BBC Singers) and Brady Allred (University of Utah Singers).
The endowment, the ensembles in the consortium and Bingham decided that a Jan. 1, 2006, date would allow the composer adequate time to complete the composition and give the participating choirs enough lead time to prepare the work for performances in 2006. In an exchange with Durham, Bingham said, "I am absolutely thrilled to bits to have won the Barlow Prize! It is a great honor to have won this famous prize, and I really hope I can do justice to it."
Born in Nottingham and reared in Sheffield, Judith Bingham began composing before she entered the Royal Academy of Music in 1970 where she studied composition and singing. She found herself in demand following her studies, accepting several commissions and awards. From 1983-1996, she sang with the BBC Singers. This relationship yielded a rich collaboration between an esteemed choral ensemble and a singer/composer with a growing reputation.
"Bingham is one of the United Kingdom's most widely and regularly performed composers," said Durham. "Her piano trio 'Chapman's Pool' garnered 80 international performances in only two years, establishing a rare popularity for a contemporary score."
Her large catalog of works includes eight orchestral works, 16 chamber pieces, 13 piano and organ solos, nine works for winds and brass, nine vocal selections and a theater piece. In sheer numbers, however, her choral compositions dominate her output with over 40 offerings. She publishes with Maecenas Contemporary Composers Ltd. of Surrey, England.
The Barlow Endowment began in 1983 when Milton A. Barlow, of Chevy Chase, Maryland, made a generous donation to the composition area of Brigham Young University's Music Department (now the School of Music). His daughter, Alice Barlow Jones, now represents the family as an ex-officio member of the Barlow Endowment's board of directors.
Although 20 percent of the endowment's annual earnings go to BYU's School of Music, the charter directs that the bulk of the profits should support the creation of new art music. With that charge the organization has commissioned 172 new works by 150 composers in the last 21 years. The endowment counts among its commissioned works Melinda Wagner's 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning Concerto for Flute, Strings and Percussion premiered by the Westchester Philharmonic. Year after year, admired soloists and ensembles premiere Barlow compositions from such composers in many of the world's respected venues.
The annual Barlow Prize endures as the endowment's most prominent commissioning venture and typically awards the winning composer between $10,000 and $20,000 to compose a new work.
"Rather than offering composers prizes for works already written, the endowment only supports works yet to be written," said Durham. "This requirement separates the Barlow Endowment from organizations who instead offer prizes and awards for extant compositions. Accordingly, the organization sponsors the creation of a bona fide new work rather than merely awarding a composer for a work taken off the shelf that may be years old."
The endowment sponsors two other commissioning programs that divide tens of thousands of dollars among several composers who apply for these funds. Promising and established composers in collaboration with a particular performer or ensemble may apply to the endowment's General Commissions program. The LDS Commissions offer support to composers belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or other composers whose works engage LDS subject matter. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owns and operates BYU, home to the Barlow Endowment.
The Barlow Endowment's philosophy of uniting composers with choirs and other ensembles for its Barlow Prize stretches back to the inception of the endowment in 1983.
"The founding directors desired not only to promote the creation of new music, but to get that music in front of the public through performances in prominent venues by great artists," said Durham. "That philosophy soon evolved to include forming performing consortia so that these new works would have more than a single premiere performance. Because so many worthy compositions languish after their first performance, the endowment reasoned that multiple performances of newly commissioned music might offer more of a 'launching pad' for the work."
"The fact that Judith Bingham will receive three performances from excellent choirs will augment the luster of a single premiere and give her composition a better chance to gain a foothold in the repertoire of modern choral music," said Durham.
The three choirs in the consortium are free to schedule Bingham's premiere anytime during calendar year 2006. Each has a strong record of performing newly composed works.
"Programming contemporary music always involves risk, but the example set by the BBC Singers, the Ensemble Singers of VocalEssence and the University of Utah Singers reminds us there is value in supporting the creation of new art music," said Durham. "Concert works beloved by the public were all themselves premiered at one time; indeed, the history of music is a history of new music."
"The Barlow Endowment hopes this year's Barlow Prize may spawn a work of sufficient magnitude to be counted among the choral world's most prominent modern literature," he said. "In the meantime, we all await a potentially splendid addition to the choral repertoire-a major new work with three performances planned for 2006."
Writer: Thomas L. Durham