On 11 April Sean Shibe and Dunedin Consort, conducted by John Butt, premiere Chanter by Cassandra Miller at the Barbican’s Milton Court – a new guitar concerto that will then tour to Saffron Walden, Glasgow, and Edinburgh, and Ghent. The 21-minute work was co-commissioned by Dunedin Consort (supported by John Ellerman Foundation), Barbican Centre, Saffron Hall, Australian Chamber Orchestra, and Cheltenham Music Festival. In November 2024 Shibe will give 11 performances of Chanter on tour with the Australian Chamber Orchestra.

Chanter is cast in four verses and a coda, played continuously: ‘Rippling Sea’, ‘Bellowing’, ‘Sleep-chanting’, ‘Slowing Air’ and ‘Skye-dreaming’. The title of the coda makes reference to the a recording by Scottish smallpipes player Brìghde Chaimbeul, whose live performance of O Chiadain an Lo, recorded in Sligachan on the Isle of Skye, provided a key musical prompt for much of the work’s material and atmosphere. Though the original melody is from 1784,  Chaimbeul arranged it for the small-pipes and transposed it into the Dorian mode.

Creating Chanter saw Shibe join in Miller’s process of ‘automatic singing’. One afternoon in her apartment Shibe sang along to Chaimbeu’s track; he then sang along to his own recorded voice over and over, reclining on the sofa, until he was somewhere between sleep and waking: “sleep-chanting”, in Miller’s words. From this Miller created a warbling, folk-like, sighing mantra, repeated by the guitar until it reaches a dreamlike landscape – all the while carried by the string ensemble’s rippling, lulling, and rocking.

The title of the piece refers to the part of the bagpipes on which the melody is played, often with many evocative and heartbreaking ornaments, with Miller especially captivated by the finger vibrato: “waving the finger in the air to make a ‘timbral trill’”, Miller says, “drawing attention (as moth-wings to light) to that moment (or flight-path) of the melodic line”. Sometimes Chaimbeu’s original melody peaks through in the string ensemble, “as occasional shafts of richly-coloured light.” 

On 14 May Shibe is joined by mezzo-soprano Ema Nikolovska for another world premiere from Miller at Wigmore Hall. Later that month, on 24 May at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival, Apartment House and Anton Lukoszevieze premiere a new work for cello and sustaining instruments; the Festival also sees Chamber Choir Ireland perform Miller’s The City, Full of People (2023) on 22 May.