As a freelance composer Alec Roth has completed over 70 commissioned works in a wide range of genres including opera, music-theatre, song, choral, orchestral, instrumental, Javanese gamelan, and music for children. His many collaborations with the writer Vikram Seth include the opera Arion and the Dolphin, oratorio The Traveller, choral suite Shared Ground, and numerous songs and song-cycles. Between 2006 and 2009 they created a series of four major works co-commissioned by the Salisbury, Chelsea and Lichfield Festivals. Vikram’s book The Rivered Earth (Penguin, 2011) tells the story of their collaboration, including an account of ‘the pleasures and pains of working with a composer’.
Alec is currently Composer-in-Residence with Jeffrey Skidmore’s choir Ex Cathedra. In 2011 they recorded a double-album CD of his music including Earthrise for unaccompanied choir in 40 parts, commissioned to celebrate Ex Cathedra’s 40th anniversary. In 2016 Hyperion released their recording of the large-scale cantata A Time to Dance.
He has also developed particularly fruitful working relationships with tenor Mark Padmore and guitarist Morgan Szymanski, who feature on ‘Sometime I Sing’, the latest CD of his music on the Signum label; and with the Allegri String Quartet, whose recording of his 2nd, 3rd and 4th Quartets was released by Nimbus in 2016.
Recent commissions have included a suite of partsongs, Stargazer, composed for and premiered by the vocal group VOCES8 for the Three Choirs Festival; three anthems, Suscepimus Deus, I will Move Thee, and St Albans Alleluias for St Alban’s Cathedral; and Night Prayer for Suzi Digby and the ORA Singers which features on their new recording on Harmonia Mundi.
Alec Roth – Night Prayer
Thomas Tallis’s Te lucis ante terminum has held me under its spell since I first sang it in my youth. Its plainsong melody has been a recurring obsession, appearing (usually hidden beneath the surface) in many of my works – most recently the 3rd String Quartet and the cantata A Time to Dance. With music based on plainsong, an immediate challenge for the composer is how to pin down the chant. Tallis’s triple-time solution is supremely elegant, providing the slow-dancing heartbeat of his setting. My version, being macaronic, applies different rhythmic treatments to the Latin and English words. In each verse the Latin is sung in strict two-part canon, against which the English flows more freely. A wordless counterpoint, derived more loosely from the plainsong, appears below or above (both, in the final verse). The working-out took some time, but I chanced upon a solution providing some gratifyingly Tallis-like harmonic clashes. Being an inveterate lover of puns, I couldn’t resist heading the score with a quotation from the Song of Songs: “Talis est dilectus meus”. I am most grateful to ORA for the opportunity to pay homage to a composer and work which mean so much to me.
This commission will be released on ORA’s third album in February 2017.