About this project
Liz Johnson's new CD Intricate Web is coming out in May 2017. Watch the video above to see and hear music and images from the CD, plus goats & chickens...and the Fitzwilliam String Quartet! Any extra funds we can raise will go towards the premiere of Liz's Jo Shapcott Settings by Loré Lixenberg...
We are fundraising to cover the final costs for Liz's new double album - award-winning music with original artwork & contemporary poetry. Artists: Dora Williams, John Barrett and Ben Hartley; Poets: Jo Shapcott, Kathleen Jamie, David Hart and Gabriela Mistral; Performers: the renowned Fitzwilliam String Quartet, contemporary singer Loré Lixenberg, multi-clarinettist/pianist Ronald Woodley and Canadian cellist Heather Tuach.
The CD is complete - hoorah! and will be released on May 19th 2017 but there are still outstanding costs...! Exquisite sounds: wild, sensuous, intriguing, beautiful - be a part of it...
'Liz Johnson is a British composer with a very special gift and distinctive style... a major composer deserving wide recognition...
...breathtaking... a magical performance...' (Métier)
Our Story – Music/Poets/Artists/Musicians
We started recording back in 2014 in the beautiful St Martin’s Church at East Woodhay, nestled in woods on the English South Downs. With producer Andrew Hallifax’s steady hand at the helm - and amazing ears at the headphones - slowly but surely we recorded Liz’s six string quartets, cello suite, a huge clarinet quintet (and trio) and a set of songs.
Now all the recordings are complete we have created a double disc beautifully produced by Divine Art on their Métier label. They describe the album:
‘Intricate Web’ ...accurately describes her compositional technique which is complex and detailed, requiring top class performers. It may also describe the way in which the pieces here have been assembled, splitting cello solos and vocal pieces between the quartets to create a web of fascinating sounds and textures.'
The music on the Intricate Web album stretches across from Liz's first instrumental work - the prize-winning quartet Images of Trees, to three newly commissioned works: Sea-change, Watching Medusa and the Cello Suite: Reflections of an Eccentric English Artist (more on these below…). When Ron Woodley asked Liz to compose something ‘beautiful, wild, extravagant’ including five of his clarinets – she did! But it took Liz six years to complete the score of Sea-change, which is the most ambitious work she has written yet... The music draws inspiration from a book of poetry Crag Inspector by David Hart.
Set on the remote island of Bardsey off the N Welsh coast, Crag Inspector explores the dreams and nightmares of a poet who is seeking to find his artistic voice. The music of Sea-change starts meditatively, and then gets swept away into a world of fantasies. As well as the clarinettist being surrounded by five different clarinets, the members of the string quartet also play five instruments each – egg shakers, Swannee whistles, claves and voices (plus the violin/viola/cello!). The music morphs from calm breaths to comic gestures, to achingly beautiful music – terrifying one moment and soothing the next. Liz has worked with poet David Hart on several other works (Inflorescence, Almost…) and one day all this ‘Craggy’ music will become a fully staged and choreographed opera… (...one day…)
Sky-burial is Liz Johnson’s award-winning setting of Kathleen Jamie’s stunning poem. Mapping the journey taken by a woman being carried up through a natural landscape to her final resting place, the poem conjures up magical images: ‘Now… part the blue sky/ to a dark pupil, intelligent eye,/ ice-black retina of stars/ slip me in…’ ending with the words ‘…The wind unravels me/ winter birds will arrive.’ The music charts its own journey and takes the listener through different worlds of sound, finally settling onto gently undulating chords with the voice humming, into nothingness.
Jo Shapcott is one of the leading poets of her generation, twice winner of the National Poetry Competition (UK), and Liz has set four of her distinctive poems: Pig, Watching Medusa, Elephant Woman and Cabbage Dreams from Jo's 'Her Book: Poems 1988-1998' (published by Faber & Faber).
UK artist John Barrett has created a set of dreamlike images for the Jo Shapcott Settings including the songs capturing the weird and wonderful world of Jo Shapcott, in newly commissioned artwork for the CD.
Liz also commissioned the image accompanying the tender lullaby Sleep Close that sets words by Gabriela Mistral.
The striking CD cover image ‘In pursuit of happiness’ is by painter Dora Williams, an artist with whom Liz started a fruitful collaboration in 2015. Liz and Dora have been working together on a number of projects; sometimes Liz composes music inspired by Dora’s artwork, and sometimes Dora paints inspired by Liz’s music. Dora Williams has created a series of these paintings one of which is included in the CD booklet: Sky-burial. Another new work (as yet untitled) has recently been inspired by music from the string quartet Images of Trees.
Artist Ben Hartley’s unique style and charisma have been inspiration for one of Liz’s major works, the Cello Suite: Reflections of an Eccentric English Artist. Spanning nearly 30 minutes of music the immense Cello Suite is inspired by Ben’s life and work.
When Liz met Bernard Samuels, the curator of the Ben Hartley collection, she decided to create a large-scale work for solo cello weaving together different elements. Firstly, short folk-like melodies inspired directly by Ben’s paintings including Cock-A-Dandy, Busy Lizzie and Billy Snack. These are easy and fun to play and are playable by amateur or young cellists. Secondly, more technically challenging music centred on Hildegard of Bingen’s exquisite hymn to the Virgin Mary: Ave Generosa. Hildegard’s music is at first hidden within lyrical and complex lines, gradually being revealed as the music reaches its conclusion. The final thread woven through the music is made up of brief improvisatory moments by the cellist, seamlessly linking one idea to the next and allowing the player to explore his/her own treasure trove of sounds freely.
Heather Tuach has created a tour de force with her extraordinary premiere recording of the Cello Suite: Reflections of an Eccentric English Artist. She worked closely with Liz to find the exact soundworld she had imagined. This includes an array of extended techniques which are always held within a context of beauty.
Ronald Woodley also spent many hours with Liz in each of the stages of composing process, trying out things on all the different clarinets, and helping Liz zone in on the most amazing sounds he is able to make on his miscellany of pipes! He plays no less than five clarinets ranging in size from the huge big Mamma contrabass to a bijou E flat in the piece that he commissioned: Liz's Clarinet Quintet Sea-change. Multi-talented, Ron also accompanies two of the songs on piano with a beautiful sense of line and colour.
When Liz first heard Loré Lixenberg sing she decided that this amazing vocalist would be someone to work with! Loré’s interpretation of the four Jo Shapcott Settings is unique… Watching Medusa is the newest addition to the set of songs and was written specially for Loré. Tapping into Loré’s extraordinary vocal ability, the music takes her from bottom 'Z' to top C sharp …and with everything in between… including instructions for: ‘ghostly whispers’, ‘yapping like a dog’, ‘serpentine’ and ‘death voice’. Terrifying... Stunning!
The Fitzwilliam String Quartet (affectionately known as the FSQ) started their relationship with Liz Johnson in 2001 when her first quartet Images of Trees won the BCMS Composition Competition. Since then Liz has composed several works for the quartet, each one exploring new sonic territory. Founder member of the FSQ, Alan George says: 'I really think that altogether this has been one of the most significant and rewarding recording projects the FSQ has undertaken - EVER! ...Thank you for the marvellous music!'
Divine Art Métier blurb says this about Intricate Web:
'Liz Johnson is a British composer with a very special gift and distinctive style, definitely in the avant-garde mold yet not totally alien to ‘traditional-music’ lovers. ‘Intricate Web’ is not only the title of one of the quartets here (there are four numbered String Quartets and two other works for the quartet) but also accurately describes her compositional technique which is complex and detailed, requiring top class performers. It may also describe the way in which the pieces here have been assembled, splitting cello solos and vocal pieces between the quartets to create a web of fascinating sounds and textures.
The Fitzwilliam String Quartet is undoubtedly one of today’s most celebrated ensembles with a fine reputation in the world of new music. Cellist Heather Tuach plays solo in the breathtaking Cello Suite. Soprano Loré Lixenberg deals with the immense difficulty of the writing in the Jo Shapcott Settings and Ronald Woodley provides a magical performance on several clarinets. In all, a superb introduction to a major composer deserving wide recognition. Over 157 minutes of music'
Exceptional contemporary compositions
Varied works by British composer
First recordings of all works
Recorded in England between 2014 and 2016
Album duration 78:14 + 79:23
Interpreted by leading ensemble and soloists
Booklet notes in English
All song texts printed in booklet
Luxury digipak and illustrated booklet
Sample track on YouTube String Quartet no.2 For Elliott (part 1)
More about composer Liz Johnson
Liz Johnson started out as a Primary teacher. When she decided to take a year out to do a Masters in composition, her tutor Philip Cashian persuaded her not to go back to the day job, and she has never looked back...!
Since then, Liz’s music has been performed all over the UK, in Europe, Russia, the USA and in August 2017 in Canada too. Her fourth string quartet 'Sky-burial' won the IAWM Search for New Music 2016 prize and 'Moon Incantations' for children’s choir reached the finals of the British Composer Awards.
Liz was mentored by Judith Weir and has worked with top performers in the UK including the Brodsky Quartet, Roderick Williams, the Opera Group (Covent Garden), Ensemble Bash, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG), Ex Cathedra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
Her most recent commission, Colwall Requiem for Aleppo, was first performed in April 2017 ‘…with musical beauty that embodied both the individuality of every performer and their unanimity of intent.’ (Liz Garnett blog)
Liz continues to work with young (and old) people designing and leading innovative composition projects in schools and in the community, 'creating an environment of appreciation of how music is created/constructed and showing that we all have a voice, a creative spark within ourselves.' (Kyle Horch, Prof. of Saxophone, Royal Academy of Music and BCMG musician)
Visit Liz Johnson's Youtube channel for more music:
And Liz's website for even more music and info:
Risks and challenges
The only risk we have is not raising enough funds, as our project is complete!
So the main risk is: if we don't raise enough money Liz may have to sell her dog to pay the final bills…which would be a shame… ☹ (He's a really nice dog)
The budget for the project was initially intended to record a single CD of Liz's String Quartets. But when we were offered extra funding from Birmingham Conservatoire BCU to record the new Clarinet Quintet as well, we realised that a single CD would not have enough room ...and so the costs expanded.
With a second disc to fill, we decided to go for it! We were able to include the Cello Suite, the songs and the clarinet trio Towards the Sea.
Funding details and costs:
The main funding for the CD project was from the Peter Dilnot Memorial Fund, amounting to £26,500.
We also received a total of £9,000 from Birmingham Conservatoire BCU Research Funds towards the writing and recording costs of the clarinet quintet. This totals to £35,500.
The final pre-production costs came to £36,257.40
The post-production costs are a further £11,253, bringing the entire costs to £47,510.40
We are still awaiting news of another funding bid which may cover some of these costs but even so there is a shortfall... towards which Kickstarter will make a significant difference.
Fortunately, the good news is that the CD will be out in the shops this month (May) and we have already received the pre-release copies, which look and sound fantastic!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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