On 20 April mezzo-soprano Ema Nikolovska and pianist Joseph Middleton premiered Tansy Davies’ The Ice Core Sample Says at Leeds Lieder – an 11-minute song commissioned for the festival with the generous support of Ian and Ann Wood. Watch the world premiere here.

The Ice Core Sample Says is a setting of a poem by Nick Drake from his collection The Farewell Glacier  – librettist for Davies’ operas Between Worlds (2014) and Cave (2018). The new song gives voice to deep, ancient ice – that of core samples taken from continental glaciers. Core drills bring up samples up to 800,000 years old; their layers encode the history of the climate. Accordingly, Davies notes, the ice “sees all of time all at once and speaks warnings from pre-history and the beyond.”

There is a still, epic quality to Davies’ work, derived from spacious chords that cover the extremes of the piano’s registers; it opens, in similar mood, with a vocal line that repeatedly and inexorably rises across the entire vocal range, as if an ancient shamanic voice. The characteristic groove of Davies’ music is evident too in repeating dyads and melodic cells, as well as sections that ask the singer to channel Joni Mitchell. Davies discusses the creation of The Ice Core Sample Says here.

On 14 May Nikolovska performs ‘What I Write Now’ from Davies’ Troubairitz for soprano and percussion at Wigmore Hall in her concert with guitarist Sean Shibe, where they also premiere a new work by Cassandra Miller; the excerpt from Davies’ 2010 work, inspired by and setting the poems of female troubadours from 12th-century Provence, translated by Derek Mahon, appears alongside songs by Joan Baez and Bob Dylan.

Mark Padmore opened Leeds Lieder in 2023 with Destroying Beauty, another ecologically-inflected song by Davies setting an excerpt from John Clare’s autobiographical prose sketches from the 1820s. The passage captures the fragile beauty of the Northamptonshire landscape, as well as suggesting a fearful intimation of its eventual destruction.