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Trinity Laban Symphony Orchestra opens Venus Blazing season

Thu 11 October 2018

Trinity Laban’s Venus Blazing season began last week with a performance of Grace Williams’s Symphony No. 2 by the Trinity Laban Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Jonathan Mann, current Sir Charles Mackerras Junior Fellow. 

Trinity Laban BMus Composition alumnus and Press/PR intern Will Howarth reports –

Attended by the composer’s niece, the concert took place in the magnificent setting of the Hawksmoor-designed St. Anne’s Church in Limehouse.

Interviewed recently for Classical Music magazine, Venus Blazing artistic director Sophie Fuller commented that:

“Expectations of the kinds of music that women might create are changing – women are no longer expected to write dainty, small-scale, pretty works.”

‘Dainty’, ‘small-scale’ and ‘pretty’ are certainly not words to describe Williams’s Symphony No. 2. It is a complex and ambitious work – dramatic, richly orchestrated and full of bleak melancholy and the urgent foreboding of the wartime through which the composer lived.

Harmonically, the piece is dark and ambiguous, with major and minor thirds unsettlingly juxtaposed, occasionally relieved by brighter chords which emerge like rays of sunlight through storm clouds, though always strained and ephemeral. Wistful melodies surface on oboe and violin, hinting at folk-song, though distorted and disquietingly elongated.

At times, the music suggests the atmosphere of a mysterious witchy ritual with tremolo strings and the lurking rumble of a sinister tam-tam. The third movement, perhaps the most narrative in structure, calls to mind the stealthy approach of an encroaching army, picking its way through darkened fields before making its sudden and thunderous assault.

Grace Williams (1906-1977), the first female composer to be celebrated in Venus Blazing, has long been neglected by concert programmers and record labels, though her highly accomplished work easily rivals her contemporaries for depth of musicality and inventiveness.

She spent the earlier part of her life immersed in the metropolitan music scenes of London and Vienna, studying under Ralph Vaughan Williams and Egon Wellesz and attending the opera ‘almost every night’.

However, suffering with depression and stress-related health problems, she chose to remain away from the spotlight in her birthplace of Barry in Wales during the latter part of her life. She declined an offer from Benjamin Britten to be his personal assistant and even turned down an OBE for services to music.

Venus Blazing will continue throughout this academic year, introducing overlooked female composers and giving their music the long-overdue exposure it deserves.

Upcoming concerts in the series include:

THU 25 OCT 13.05h

St Alfege’s Church, Greenwich

Trinity Laban String Ensemble, conducted by Nic Pendlebury

Elgar Serenade for Strings in E minor, Op. 20
Errollyn Wallen Photography (mvt 1)
Grazyna Bacewicz Concerto for String Orchestra
TBC New commission 


THU 25 OCT 19.30h

Peacock Room, King Charles Court

Warlock and his British Contemporaries

Poldowski Song selection
Peter Warlock Serenade for Frederick Delius for piano 4 hands
Morfydd Llwyn Owen Song selection – Spring, Tristesse, The Land of Hush-a-bye (selection) for soprano and piano 
Peter Warlock Song selection
Adela Maddison Song selection 
Rebecca Clarke Song selection
Granville Bantock Hamabdil for cello and harp 
Peter Warlock Song selection


THU 1 NOV 19.30h

Goldsmith’s, Great Hall, Richard Hoggart Building

Trinity Laban Symphonic Winds, conducted by Timothy Reynish

Thea Musgrave Journey through a Japanese Landscape – Concerto for Marimba and Winds
Elizabeth Maconchy Music for Woodwind and Brass 
Judith Bingham Three American Icons
Emily Howard Deep Soul Diving


Keep an eye on our What’s On page for more Venus Blazing concerts.