Saturday 13 October 2018

Crowd-funding & collaboration: new choral music from Lumen

Benjamin Thiele-Long and Lumen
Benjamin Thiele-Long and Lumen
There are a surprising number of composers who operate under the radar, without a significant media presence. Lumen choir and its conductor Benjamin Thiele-Long aimed to help correct this with their crowd-funded disc Lumen de Lumine which was recently released on the Convivium Records label. Lumenis a relatively new amateur ensemble which aims high, and I recently met up with founder and conductor Benjamin Thiele-Long to find out more.

Benjamin Thiele-Long
Benjamin Thiele-Long
The new disc contains 14 pieces by 12 composers of varying ages and backgrounds, many will be new names. Benjamin Thiele-Long and the choir created a very open process from the start, and Benjamin describes the selection of the final pieces for the disc as iterative and collaborative, rather than him specifying everything from the start.

The choir was very much part of the process, getting feedback from the composers so that it was a joint journey. And as part of this, they produced a video with the composers explaining the pieces and their background.

The pieces on the disc are very varied, Clive Whitburn's Who is my neighbour is a commentary on global political issues, whilst Joanna Gill's Safe in the arms of He is a very personal, moving piece, and for Et lacrimatus est Jesus composer Margaret Tesch-Muller set herself the challenge of setting the shortest verse in the Bible.

Benjamin describes that idea of the disc as having something for everyone, and he feels that people will hear at least one piece that they like. Also, the group is hoping to convey something of the excitement the choir feels on discovering new music.

Lumen performs a wide mixture of repertoire, and the Saturday after Benjamin and I speak he is conducting the choir in a concert of Tudor anthems by candlelight. Usually, they sing a mixture of modern pieces and polyphony highlighting what Benjamin feels are the synergies and similarities between the two.

Lumen is very much an amateur choir in that the singers want to be there, and Benjamin characterises them as very curious and enquiring, whether the music is old or new. The group performs music that excites the members, and they want to introduce people to new music. The group is based at St John on Bethnal Green where it rehearses and performs.

Originally Benjamin wanted to create a choir something akin to The Sixteen but comprising amateurs, people not drawn to singing in a church or a cathedral choir. He was looking for a rehearsal venue, yet had little or no money and was lucky enough that they were able to rehearse and perform at St John's, with the concerts being free and St John's taking the money from the bar and the collection. The concerts are thus open to everyone and so the choir is part of the local community.

Lumen is not a big group, it started with eight singers, then grew to 12 and is now 16. Size does not matter to Benjamin so much as the quality of the singers, and that they enjoy it. Benjamin feels that in some ways the smaller group is more approachable to its audiences than a larger one, and with 16 singers they bring out the layers and textures of the music. And if the group occasionally overstretches itself, the singers rise to the challenge.

So they have done things like performing Howells' Collegium Regale at Evensong at St George's Chapel, Windsor (in December 2017), yet there are people in the group who do not read music. The new recording, is thus something the choir is rightly proud of.

Benjamin would love to see other groups developing the idea, of a choir providing the platform for composers via crowd-funding. And Convivium Records were encouraging and enthusiastic about the project. Benjamin has hopes there will be another disc, but it was a big job and after all, he has a day job too.

Benjamin trained as a lawyer and was a barrister for over seven years, and now works in PR and communications. He was a boy chorister and had a choral scholarship at Royal Holloway College. He read psychology and in fact, the chapel choir, directed by Lionel Pike (now Emeritus Professor of Music), was the only choral group open to the non-music students. Benjamin joined and fell in love. He feels that he was lucky to have Lionel Pike as mentor and conductor, and Benjamin aims to emulate Pike's approach including explaining the pieces to the choir

After college, Benjamin was a super-numerary at Guildford Cathedral and then whilst he was at the Bar he set up a choir, Carmen Judicibus. He finds a sense of fulfilment in his work different to that he gains from music, and the two are complementary in other ways has his firm sponsored Lumen's disc.

Lumen de Lumine - Convivium Records
Before creating Lumen, Benjamin did a lot of work in musical theatre and his arrangements and re-scoring work there gave him confidence as a composer, and in fact, there was a piece of his in Lumen's first concert. This was a setting of Paul Laurence Dunbar and Benjamin's piece on the disc Dreams is a setting of the same poet, thus bringing things full circle.

Lumen de Lumine: new sacred and spiritual choral music
Sam Olivier - There is no dusk to be
Carmen Bradford - My people hath been lost sheep
Simon Whiteley - The way of life
Benjamin Thiele-Long - Dreams
Michael Woliakowski - Beati quorum via
Matt Wetmore - O Sapientia
Brian Moles - Most glorious Lord of life
Clive Whitburn - Who is my neighbour?
Kit Graham - Lullaby
Margaret Tesch-Muller - Et lacrimatus est Jesus
Barry Hopwood - Agnus Dei; The Lord's Prayer
Joanna Gill - Safe in the arms of He
Benjamin Thiele-Long - O Nata Lux
Benjamin Thiele-Long (conductor)
Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Double concerto for bandoneon and violin (★★★½) - CD review
  • The choral music of Richard Allain (★★★½) - CD review
  • Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots returns to the Paris Opera - Opera review
  • Modified Rapture: Verdi's Aida from the Met (★★★½) - Opera review
  • The Emperor's Fiddler - violinist David Irving on historical approaches on his new disc - interview
  • Schubert's Winter Journey - Robin Tritschler and Malcolm Martineau at Wigmore Hall  - (★★★★★Concert review
  • Swan songs - Gerald Finley and Julius Drake at Temple Song  (★★★★★)  - Concert review
  • Love & Obsession: Robert & Clara Schumann and Brahms at Conway Hall - concert review
  • New dance double bill from New English Ballet Theatre & The English Concert (★★★★)  - Ballet Review
  • Pared down & claustrophobic: La Tragédie de Carmen from Pop-Up Opera  (★★★) - Opera review
  • Vividly theatrical, lyrically sung, but.... - Salome at ENO  (★★★★) - Opera review
  • A forgotten tradition: premiere recordings of two English symphonic works from John Andrews & BBC Concert Orchestra (★★★½) - CD review
  • Huw Watkins - Two concertos and a symphony (★★★½) - CD review
  • Jiri Belohlavek & the Czech Philharmonic in Janacek (★★★★½) - CD review
  •  Home

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