The work examines aspects of power from the prism of strong women over two millennia
Following the successful premiere of his saxophone concerto, Tracks in the Orbit, in April, the British and Australian composer Luke Styles presents his second major premiere of 2022, Voices of Power, at Hereford Cathedral on Thursday 28 July as part of the Three Choirs Festival, conducted by Samuel Hudson.
Voices of Power, a 40-minute oratorio for contralto soloist, choir and orchestra, is set to a libretto by poet and author Jessica Walker and contemplates the nature of power across the centuries. The protagonists of the piece are seven powerful females stretching over two millennia, from Roman times to the present day: Boudica [pictured] , Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great, Margaret Thatcher, Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton and Jacinda Ardern.
“Our intention was to examine different aspects of power seen from the perspective of powerful women,” notes Luke. “We look at powerful women conforming to a classic male stereotype: Margaret Thatcher, for example, lowered her voice to sound more authoritative, like a man. That downward shift in pitch will be quite clear and playful in the music. Boudica and Elizabeth I illustrate the violent use of power, but we look more at Elizabeth’s single-minded rejection of family and relationships. It ends with aspects of power that are more collaborative, compassionate and long term in their application, what we probably need from our leaders if we’re going to survive into the future.”
Commissioned by the Philharmonia Orchestra and Three Choirs Festival, Voices of Power was written for choristers aged fourteen to twenty-five, and for Hilary Summers, a soloist Luke Styles first heard whilst working as an usher at Wigmore Hall. “I was captivated by Hilary from that moment,” he recalls. “It’s great now to be able to write for a voice of such extraordinary power and range. Her contralto straddles four octaves and defies traditional gender classifications. It touches the baritone register usually associated with male singers but also reaches to the top of the mezzo-soprano range, which you’d normally expect to hear a woman sing. There’s this chameleon-like presence to her singing which I find fascinating and fun. I want to play with that in Voices of Power as part of a piece that belongs to the great choral tradition of the Three Choirs Festival.”
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