George Arthur wins Three Choirs Festival Choral Composition Competition

Peter Dyke (left) and Hereford Cathedral Voluntary Choir

George Arthur from South London has won the inaugural Hereford Three Choirs Festival Choral Composition Competition run in association with Hereford Cathedral Voluntary Choir and Novello Publishers.

Composers aged 30 and under were invited to submit a short setting of a sacred text, suitable for performance as an introit to a service of Choral Evensong. Five pieces were shortlisted from 82 entries to be rehearsed and performed by Hereford Cathedral Voluntary Choir (HCVC), conducted by Peter Dyke, Assistant Director of Music of Hereford Cathedral, at a workshop in Hereford on Saturday 25 April.

The competition forms part of the 2015 Three Choirs Festival programme and is supported by the Friends of Hereford Three Choirs Festival. George Arthur’s winning introit, an a cappella setting for double choir Prayer of Thomas Ken (‘Glory to thee, my God, this night’), will be performed by the choir at Choral Evensong during the 2015 Hereford Three Choirs Festival, and will be published by Novello.

The competition judges were Professor Paul Mealor of Aberdeen University; Kate Johnson, Creative Manager and Jonathan Wikeley, Choral Editor of Music Sales Ltd, representing Novello; and Peter Dyke. The shortlisted composers – Isabel Irvine, Timothy Parsons, Jacob Partington, and Samuel Wilson − were invited to attend the workshop at which HCVC sight-read the five entries, rehearsed them for 15 minutes each and then performed them. Choir members’ opinions about the pieces, expressed over tea, were taken into account as part of the judging process.

‘ I was delighted by the five pieces we shortlisted,’ said Peter Dyke. ‘Each composer responded very thoughtfully to the task of writing an Evensong introit that would be rehearsed in just fifteen minutes. All the music had much to commend it, but George Arthur’s Prayer of Thomas Ken created an beautiful meditative atmosphere with relatively simple means, despite going into eight parts for a few bars, and its poised harmony and hushed ending will form a perfect start to the Three Choirs Festival Evensong on Sunday 26 July.

‘Hereford Cathedral Voluntary Choir performed magnificently,’ added Mr Dyke, ‘never losing concentration for a moment during the three-hour workshop and positively revelling in the challenge of sight-reading five totally unknown pieces of music. I do hope we can repeat the process in the future to give more composers the chance to hear their music live!’

Commenting on the competition experience, George Arthur said: ‘The brief to write an introit was such an appealing one: the opportunity to capture the excitement of Evensong in a piece that should feel almost like a single breath, starting softly, building in the middle and disappearing as quickly and unobtrusively as possible. It is a big responsibility; if the introit is wrong it can mislead us as to everything that follows – when it is right we should feel ready in heart and mind for the liturgy that follows.

‘The choir were a joyous surprise! They were a cohesive, sensitive and accurate group who knew instinctively what Peter Dyke wanted. They very quickly got to grips with my piece - only one corner required some detailed work. That meant that the majority of the rehearsal could then be dedicated to shaping and understanding the piece. It was wonderful to hear Peter’s comments to the choir as to how my piece “should go”. It was clear that he had got to the core of what I had intended straight away and understood my intentions. 

‘I was profoundly impressed by the work of the other composers. There was a maturity and confidence in the voice of all of the composer’s works which suggests to me that church music in this country has an exciting and dynamic future.

Paul Mealor said: ‘We heard an amazing amount of top quality sacred choral music at the Three Choirs Composition Competition. Each of the finalists really brought something different and fresh to the genre. George Arthur’s winning piece seemed to bring all of the elements needed for a successful introit into one, two-minute piece – memorable and full of character, challenging without being undo-able and questioning whilst also offering a moment’s reflection. I’m sure this will become a much performed and enjoyed introit.’  

Jonathan Wikeley said: 'Writing a short musical work is no easy task. This competition was a fine example of how short pieces which are easily learnable can still take the listener on an exciting and complete musical journey. All five composers followed their detailed brief successfully with delightful and incredibly varied results; offering a collection of works that will hopefully be performed and enjoyed by choirs and audiences many times over. George Arthur’s Prayer of Thomas Ken was a gem of an introit – a simple, yet memorable idea, elegantly treated – with beautiful harmonies and a well-crafted structure, that will no doubt delight choirs for years to come.’

Back row, L to R: Judges Peter Dyke, Paul Mealor, Jonathan Wikeley

Front row, L to R: Shortlisted composers Samuel Wilson, Isabel Irvine, Jacob Partington, George Arthur (Timothy Parsons was unable to be present)

Composition competition finalists and judges

[PHOTOS: TONY PRIME]