Leading North West choir Salford Choral Society is to perform the world premiere of an exciting new choral piece, The Gardener, by award-winning young composer Lucy Armstrong, a graduate of Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music, on 23 April.

The 25-minute piece was conceived before the Covid pandemic and has taken more than two years to bring to life through Zoom meetings and telephone calls during the various lockdowns.

It celebrates the power of nature and green spaces and was commissioned following an unexpected legacy given to choir member Avril Danczak by her late aunt Margaret Henstock, who was a keen gardener.

The vibrant and accessible piece follows a day in the life of the garden from First Light to Dusk Falls, thunderstorm included. It will be the centrepiece of the choir’s next concert, Our Wonderful World, a celebration of pastoral music, taking place at the RNCM on Saturday 23 April at 7.30pm.

Salford Choral Society Music Director Tom Newall. Image credit: Salford Choral Society

The piece is the result of a close collaboration between composer Lucy Armstrong, librettist Rebecca Hurst and the choir itself, represented by music director Tom Newall and choir members who took part in creative writing workshops to inspire the piece.

Salford Choral Society Music Director Tom Newall – also a graduate of the RNCM – said: “It’s not often a choir commissions its very own piece and we’re all incredibly excited to give the first-ever performance of The Gardener.

“It’s a bold, fun composition that allows the choir to showcase how good it is at storytelling through music. I can promise the audience a very special experience.”

He added: “We very much hope the piece will live on beyond the premiere and we are encouraging other choirs to come and listen and take it on for themselves.”

Theatre for the ears

Composer Lucy Armstrong – an RNCM graduate whose works are broadcast regularly on BBC Radio 3 – said: “I set out to write a piece that was fast-moving, visceral and dramatic, a piece that played to the strengths of the choir.

“The music was written during the Covid lockdowns and I wanted to write something exciting that the choir would enjoy singing when they finally got to sing together again. It was a joy to respond musically to Rebecca’s vibrant, multi-layered text.”

Writer Rebecca Hurst, who has a PhD in creative writing from Manchester University, held creative writing workshops with the choir as she developed the distinctive libretto.

She said: “I think of this piece as theatre for the ears – there are characters and narrative and a real sense of place.

“It all started from a loose idea – to write something connected with gardens and the natural world. It’s exciting to see it all coming together – Lucy and I can’t wait to come to the performance!”

The Gardener will be performed by the 100-strong choir and a 36-piece orchestra (players from the Manchester-based Piccadilly Symphony Orchestra).

Following the premiere, Salford Choral Society will be making scores available for hire – including the orchestral score and a piano reduction.

The Gardener will premiere on Saturday 23 April, 7.30pm, at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester. Booking information here.

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