The Traveller – Unending Love Weekenders – EX CATHEDRA Choir & Academy of Vocal Music, BRITTEN SINFONIA, Birmingham Town Hall – Sunday 1st May 2022 5***** David Gray & Paul Gray

Traditional – Raga Kirwani

Roxanna Panufnik – Child of Heaven
Alec Roth – Earth & Sky
Roxanna Panufnik – Unending love

Alec Roth – The Traveller

This truly magical concert came as the closing event to a mini-festival exploring an exchange and fusion of South Asian and European musical traditions. Presented by Ex Cathedra as part of Commonwealth Games Birmingham 2022 Festival, Unending Love Weekenders introduced audiences to stunning performers and performances from both musical traditions, as well as incorporating talks and workshops for adults, children and families in everything from Indian rhythms and traditional songs, to the wonders of Bollywood. The workshops were part of a Creative City project generously supported by Birmingham City Council.

In his programme note, artistic director Jeffrey Skidmore writes:

“It is a great pleasure to welcome you to this project which has been a long time in the making and features many of the artists from our region, the UK and from around the world. What an extraordinary array of talent! I should like to thank all the funders who have made this possible, and particularly Arts Council England. It promises to be a great celebration of local, national and global culture.”

This concert consisted of works by two astonishing creative talents.  Roxanna Panufnik and Alec Roth are part of what might be described a new musical renaissance in the composition of choral music in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Both composers have local connections to, and commissions from, Ex Cathedra, and both are towering, yet incredibly humble, composers. They represent a kind of new, mostly secular choral music, which is full to the brim of exquisite beauty of melodic and rhythmic line; of shimmering, radiant harmonies, textures and timbres; a true and easy for the listener to follow musico-dramatic/poetic structure.

In the works performed in this concert there is a perfect melding – or symbiosis if you will – of words and music. Moreover, there is perhaps what all artistic creatives hope for: a true, honest & sincere expression of the human condition – of our lived-experience and human emotions. It is certainly not the first time we, as reviewers, – and many other members of a Panufnik/Roth audience – have been moved to tears. In these composers – and indeed in the texts and authors they choose to set or to collaborate with – there is a real sense of authenticity and of a consummate, deeply felt storytelling. If you are going to hear these composers, our advice: take tissues!

As the programme note explains:

“The main work is titled The Traveller, a collaboration between Roth and the best-selling author Vikram Seth (A Suitable Boy, An Equal Music).  Alongside 6 new poems, Seth draws from some 25 classic Indian texts from a rich variety of traditions and languages………to fashion a piece that tells of the ages of life – from Unborn through Child, Youth, Adult etc.

Alongside The Traveller are two works by Roxanna Panufnik which fuse the sound worlds of choral and South Asian music: Child of Heaven commissioned by Ex Cathedra setting a text about Dawn from the Rig Veda; and Unending Love, which gives the festival its overall name. In both works, Panufnik embraces the modes and rhythms of Indian Classical music.”

In terms of the performers in this very exceptional concert, there were stunning performances from internationally renowned tenor, Mark Padmore, representing The Poet in the narrative; such exquisite beauty of line and of tone. Similarly, Philippe Honoré, representing The Traveller – and playing the Kustendyke Stradivarius violin on loan from the Royal Academy of Music – was an extraordinary, and at times highly virtuosic partner to Padmore. The third role, that of Narrator, was taken with superb grace and presence by professional storyteller of epics, author and academic, Vayu Naidu. It was also a huge joy to experience the world class, totally engaging playing of the Britten Sinfonia, together with the Liverpool-based Milap, an Indian Arts & Cultural Trust with the mission “Uniting Hearts Through Arts”.

Final words of praise must go to the young voices of the junior and senior children taking part as members of the Ex Cathedra Academy of Vocal Music under the superb direction of both Rebecca Ledgard (Director of Education) and Suzzie Vango (Conductor). In The Traveller Alec Roth takes us through “the Ages of Man”, and presents these ages in six main sections: Unborn, Child, Youth. Adults, Old, Dead. The beauty, musicianship & skill of the young singers in this work cannot be overstated, and they are an enormous credit to the many years of work the Director of Ex Cathedra, Jeffrey Skidmore, and his remarkable team have accomplished since Jeffrey founded the group in 1969.

Vayu Naidu narrator

EX CATHEDRA Choir & Academy of Vocal Music

MILAP Indian Arts Development Trust
Students from Lordswood Girls School
Jeffrey Skidmore conductor
George Parris associate conductor

Mark Padmore tenor
Philippe Honoré violin
Vayu Naidu narrator


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