The creation of new songs is the whole point of this event, and it has become a significant part of both the Leeds Lieder Day of Song and of the larger biennial Festival. This one was the seventh for composers and poets, and as usual, it brought forth a set of happily collaborative young artists: opportunities were there for five local poets and five student composers to meet, chat and bond in song-writing partnerships, then to have the songs performed in a workshop, and finally, to have the ‘fixed’ versions performed in a public concert. According to main organizer Graham Hearn, “Collaboration of this sort is an effective way to bridge the gap between a composer and his text, which is usually written on a sheet of paper by someone he doesn’t know, has never met, and may even be dead”.
Beach Huts, the words of its three stanzas provided by Tanya Nightingale, presents a woman returning to the same scene at different points in her life, as a young woman expecting a child, with her growing family, and lastly, alone. Max Gregory was composer and piano accompanist for this. References to water, surf and waves on the beach (“Her dreams are waves” is the final line) were seen as most significant, so the music rippled forward throughout, with subtle variations and some low chords in the third stanza. Narrative details from the middle (“The boy strides/ on ahead, his passion in his arms”) were passed by. Soprano Amber Coates, in an understated performance, conveyed a pleasant sense of the song’s enigmatic quality at the end.
At the Lake, words by Josie Walsh, deals with the sights and sounds of a winter walk animated by images of the same setting in summer. Its conclusion was loudly emphatic. Composer Kirsten Waudby-Tolley’s bold ambition was to represent the “simultaneous fusion and disconnection” of present, past and future becoming one “as we look and listen”, and we got a fairly good sense of this from accompanist Japsisingh Valecha and mezzo Claudia Chapman. Repeated simple sequences, a slightly Brittenesque flavour and a number of fortissimo outbursts took us to “a shadowy boatyard, near leafless trees/ and mist-purple hills, that wait and listen”.
There is plenty to pick out from Anthony Dunn’s cleverly mournful poem Tell the Flowers, but I felt that composer Alex Gowan-Webster tried too hard to get hold of it all: the pudding seemed over-egged. Soprano Ella Taylor and accompanist Jordan Platt coped very well with his demands – long and raw resonances, spoken and whispered phrases, strident contrasts – and gave us an interesting final line, spoken by both of them together.
The maneki talisman at the centre of Becky Cherriman’s Lucky Pendant is a beckoning cat, and the poem seems typical of her work – a close-up focus on a sexual relationship, intimate and erotic details, significant repetitions, cunning wordplay – which received sensitive treatment from composer Adam Sangster. Simple two- and then three- note sequences (pianist Matt Lam) led to an insistent and rather frantic conclusion, and spoken words were inserted effectively. Some lines really stood out – for example “She gathers the dishevelled petals/ of her nightshirt around her”. Tenor Kamil Bień gave a performance which became impressively richer as he progressed.
John Irving Clarke’s poem was given its subtitle Play it, Sam, in the programme in error – it should have been Every time we say goodbye. It was the most memorable of all the songs. Composer Matthew Warren recognized it as a kind of nostalgic tribute to popular film music of the 1940s, and his efforts brought Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and late night televison screenings of Casablanca to mind. Tom Baston was superb at the piano, and mezzo Sarah Harrison moved slowly down the steps of the central aisle from the back, a lovely diva in black and silver, her voice appropriately meditative. It was a dramatic touch which was apparently added at the very last moment before the concert, and it worked brilliantly. Serendipity!