The world premiere recording of Cassandra Miller’s The City, Full of People is now available to download. The 16-minute pieces for sixteen unaccompanied voices appears on Folks’ Music, released on the Louth Contemporary Music Society label on 24 November alongside works by Laurence Crane and Linda Catlin Smith. It is performed by the National Chamber Choir of Ireland and Paul Hillier, who gave its world premiere in June 2023 in Dundalk; they presented the UK premiere of the piece at the Aberdeen Sound festival on 27 October. The City, Full of People was commissioned by Eamonn Quinn of Louth Contemporary Music Society with funding provided by the Arts Council of Ireland and Robert D. Bielecki Foundation.
The recording has featured on BBC Radio 3’s Record Review, the New Music Show and RTÉ Lyric FM. The piece reflects the preoccupation of Miller’s music with longing, lamentation, and return. Its material is derived from the concluding refrain of Thomas Tallis’ Lamentations of Jeremiah I, transformed by Miller’s own automatic-singing as she traced canons in the original work while meditating.
I remember the first time I heard the Tallis Lamentations as a teenager; the choir singing from the back of the church in a dark service during Holy Week. I don't remember if I knew in that moment – the moment where Tallis' music pauses for the striking call to return – that the words meant 'Jerusalem, Jerusalem, turn back to the Lord your God', or if I knew about the destruction of the First or Second Temple, or if I had any way to understand these ancient laments for Jerusalem, “How lonely sits the city that was full of people!”.
What I do remember is the clarity of that message through the music. Tallis' setting of the word 'Jerusalem' is enough to make anyone yearn to come back to a long-forgotten god. I suppose I've become a non-believer over the years; always holding a vague but deep-felt sense that I might need to return one day. In my wanderings (certainly aimless when compared to my youth), I have turned to company and community in lieu of a spiritual life. This composition – with each duo and trio as a congregation of its own – celebrates that scenario, both for its beauty and its incompleteness.
The sixteen voices are divided into 6 groups, whose music alternately overlaps and separates as the piece unfolds. The singers may choose to face slightly towards the audience while still maintaining a close group connection. The piece can be staged in different ways, with singers surrounding the audience, spaced out amongst them, or positioned down a central aisle.
…it is like witnessing Tallis through a gauze veil…Divided into three long verses, each begins by dwelling at length in a minor mode, before a beautiful stepping down into the dominant major chord. It is like a gift. Clouds clarifying to reveal sunlight…Everything has obtained maximum clarity. It is a remarkable moment.
Bachtrack (Lawrence Dunn), 19 June 2023 *****
November also saw Canadian premieres of Miller’s orchestral music. Swim, inspired by Robert Schumann’s “Rhenish” symphony, which premiered with Dinis Sousa and Royal Northern Sinfonia in September this year, was performed by co-commissioners the Victoria Symphony and Kalena Bovell on 4 and 5 November. La Donna, a 2021 work inspired by the Trallalero street singing of Genoa, also made its North American debut in November with Otto Tausk and the Vancouver Symphony. A recording of the 15-minute work from the Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya conducted by Benjamin Shwartz has also just been released – stream here.