Opera + Classical Music Features

Spotlight: New premieres from composer Luke Styles

We talked to Luke Styles about his innovative new works.

The composer Luke Styles has established a reputation for specializing in collaborative and inter-disciplinary ways of creating music, as well as for taking up unusual aspects of well-known works. In his 2013 Glyndebourne Premiere piece, Vanity, he used some of Shakespeare’s Sonnets in an original way, focusing on the familiar themes of mutability and evanescence in music of distinctive power and melodic invention. His two new works, receiving their world premieres on 29 April and 28 July respectively, seem set to reflect this individuality.

The first of these is Tracks in the Orbit, a concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra, which will be heard for the first time this Friday, in Cardiff, conducted by Fiona Monbet. It’s very much in keeping with this composer’s way of thinking that he should focus on this instrument, often called “the devil’s horn” and certainly posing unique challenges. We asked him about his inspiration for the piece, which originated in a request from the soloist Iain Bellamy to write him a concerto. “I couldn’t resist this request and now here we are.” Luke was himself at one time a jazz bassist, so it’s not surprising that he relishes the chance to combine jazz and classical music.

Luke says that in this concerto, he has “…listened to Iain’s playing and what interests him and developed this into a three movement work full of grooves, sweeping melodic lines, pockets of improvisation and joyous play between soloist and orchestra.” Asked about the challenges presented by the instrument, he says that the only real one was bringing it to a reasonable concert length – “If there were no duration limit I think I could keep going and going with this combination.” Quite a prospect!

“…Luke Styles has established a reputation for specializing in collaborative and inter-disciplinary ways of creating music…”

His other new work, to be premiered at the Three Choirs Festival on 28 July, is a choral piece titled Voices of Power. It was commissioned by the Festival and the Philharmonia Orchestra, and features the contralto Hilary Summers and the TCF Youth Choir, conducted by Sam Hudson. The text is by Jessica Walker, and it examines power across time from the perspective of powerful women, from Boadicea to Elizabeth I, to Margaret Thatcher and Jacinda Ardern.

Jessica Walker has worked with Luke for over ten years, which he says is the basis for “…collaborative relationships which can lead to the creation of many works together and a deep connection between the multiple art forms inherent in the work we are making.” Hilary Summers’ voice is one they both know and love – “It really all comes from the voice.” It’s a very powerful sound, which inspired the focus on power, and as Luke says, “There is a default in our culture for choosing male examples for almost anything, when a female example exists but is often overlooked… the issue is challenging this default.”

With a keen eye on the conflicts of the present day, he says that it is those voices of power which are “…most collaborative, compassionate and who hold the long term best interest of the people and the planet to heart are overwhelmingly female. It is these voices we need to have in the majority and who are in the ascendancy.” A distinctive view, and one which will no doubt provoke discussion at the Three Choirs Festival in July!

• Further information on the two performances can be found here and here.

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Spotlight: New premieres from composer Luke Styles
Vanity @ Organ Room, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Lewes