World premiere of Scenes from the Wild by Cheryl Frances-Hoad

World premiere of Scenes from the Wild by Cheryl Frances-Hoad
Cheryl Frances-Hoad
© Brant Tilds

The world premiere of Scenes from the Wild, a dramatic song cycle for tenor and chamber orchestra, composed by Cheryl Frances-Hoad to lyrics by Amanda Holden will take place at Southwark Cathedral in London on November 25, with two further performances on November 27. Geoffrey Paterson will conduct City of London Sinfonia with tenor William Morgan and movement direction by Sarah Dowling.

Commissioned by CLS in its 50th year, Scenes from the Wild is an evocative love letter to the natural world based on the teenage conservationist and activist Dara McAnulty’s acclaimed debut book, ‘Diary of a Young Naturalist’. Dara’s book traces a year in his life from his 14th to 15th birthday, from spring equinox 2018 to spring equinox 2019. Dara was diagnosed as autistic as a child and this is intimately tied up in both his writing and his fascination for all flora and fauna, as he explains: “nature became so much more than an escape; it became a life-support system” – and today he sees ecological justice as his mission.

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Cheryl Frances-Hoad and Amanda Holden began their collaboration in March 2019 and work on how to bring this bestselling book to life as a dramatic song cycle began the following year after discovering it on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Book of the Week’. Both were struck by how operatic, pertinent, and, most importantly, hopeful Dara’s story is. Working in close collaboration, the song cycle – which features 27 original songs for a 17-piece orchestra and tenor – was finished in June 2021, and rehearsals with tenor William Morgan had begun. News of the sudden and unexpected death of Amanda Holden on 7 September was received with great sadness by everyone working on the project, and it is with gratitude and admiration for Amanda’s passion and dedication to this story that Scenes from the Wild, her final original work, will be presented on 25 November at 7pm, 27 November at 2.30pm (relaxed performance) and 7pm; all three performances are dedicated in her memory.

Cheryl Frances-Hoad said: “Working with Amanda on Scenes for the Wild was such a privilege: we were in constant contact during the creation of this work, and whilst I was permanently in awe of her knowledge, skill and experience, her warmth, humour and humanity made our collaboration so pleasurable and fulfilling. I am so glad that we were able to meet and run through the score with William Morgan, with me at the piano, before she passed away: it seems impossible that she won't be at the premiere.”

Róisín McAnulty, Dara’s Mum added: “When Dara saw Amanda’s lyrics, he cried. She highlighted the very best of his gentle, strong and poetic soul… I hope she knew how much Dara and all of us, loved her adaptation.”

For its world premiere performances, Scenes from the Wild will be performed by tenor William Morgan, in his CLS debut, with movement direction from Sarah Dowling, and conducted by Geoffrey Paterson. Sarah Dowling, whose past credits include more than a decade working with the ground-breaking immersive theatre specialists, Punchdrunk, will create a physical exploration of Dara’s world, working with William Morgan in the role of our teenage, autistic naturalist narrator, as well as with musicians in their presentation of different birds.

City of London Sinfonia is a sector-leader in research-driven programmes that engage people in interactive music-making and sharing across mental health, social prescribing, dementia care, and hospital settings, winning a Royal Philharmonic Society (RPS) Impact Award for this work in 2020. The programmes are bespoke, but all are driven by the Orchestra’s musicians, in collaboration with our partners, and delivered one-to-one or in small groups, to promote an open and relaxed environment where creative inspiration can flourish. In parallel to the public performances of Scenes from the Wild this November, participants in CLS’ participation projects are responding to extracts of the commission – Cheryl's score, Dara's book and Amanda's text – to reflect on their own relationships with the natural world and to inspire their own musical creations. Music and the mind is also a recurrent theme in Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s work. In 2008, she was Composer in Residence in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, premiering the solo piano work, ‘The Synchronisation and Tempo of the Mind’, at its Symposium; and more recently the chamber opera, ‘Scenes from Autistic Bedtimes’, was workshopped at Opera North in 2012-13.

‘Origin’ is a four-part concert series celebrating the 50th anniversary of City of London Sinfonia across the 2021-22 Season. With world premiere commissions from Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Dobrinka Tabakova and Huw Watkins; a UK premiere from Donghoon Shin; the revival of CLS’ 1996 commission, The Hidden Face, by John Tavener; and performances from guest artists including Sarah Dowling, William Morgan, Geoffrey Paterson and Roderick Williams OBE, ‘Origin’ reflects on CLS’ remarkable history and celebrates what defines the Orchestra today.

All concerts in the ‘Origin’ series will be presented at Southwark Cathedral and have been designed in accordance with current safety guidelines around live public performances during the Covid-19 pandemic*, whilst retaining the familiar signatures of the Orchestra’s seriously informal style. Mask wearing will be encouraged and audience members can choose to experience the performance in flexible and socially distanced seating configurations positioned in the Nave, on big comfy cushions dotted throughout the space or in-promenade, taking in the distinct acoustics throughout the Cathedral.

City of London Sinfonia’s ‘Origin’ series is supported by the John Ellerman Foundation.

Scenes from the Wild is supported by Cockayne – Grants for the Arts and the London Community Foundation, The Leche Trust, PRS Foundation’s The Open Fund for Organisations, and using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.