Miniatures from an Exhibition

By Mark Ellul (bass)

I’m incredibly excited about returning to the Whitworth Art Gallery on Sunday 19th June for our Summer concert. The Whitworth was founded in 1889 for the “the perpetual gratification of the people of Manchester”. In 2015 it completed a £15 million pound renovation to huge critical acclaim, winning the ArtFund Museum of the Year award. It has a reputation for bringing together art of refreshing originality and innovation, while remaining true to its history as a Mancunian institution, built and sustained by the Industrial revolution and the textiles industry.

Our programme is also a collision between the established and the unconventional: beautiful a cappella partsongs by Mendelssohn and Finzi and pieces by Debussy, Monteverdi and others. In stark contrast, we are performing six new pieces, commissioned from composition graduate students from down the road at the University of Manchester. They have written miniatures inspired by paintings at the Whitworth, each taking a very individual and imaginative view of the artwork. It has been a revelatory experience to rehearse these pieces, dealing with technically and interpretively challenging passages which each require a new vocal approach. Walter Pater said “All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music”, and the transliteration of visual art into sound is a special kind of artistic endeavour which can bring new meaning to the work. It is especially interesting preparing for the concert, as few members of the choir have seen the paintings, and it will be fascinating to encounter them on the day of the concert and see how closely they resemble the mental images inspired by each piece of music.

This is one of the most original and ambitious musical projects I’ve been involved in, and I can’t wait to see how the whole programme comes together on the 19th June.