Composer Richard Blackford’s beautiful large scale work Pietà – commissioned by Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and premiered last year at Lighthouse, Poole’s centre for the arts – has been honoured with a prestigious Ivor Novello Award as part of The Ivors Composer Awards 2020. 

Announced at a two-hour ceremony broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, Pietà won the composition ‘Oscar’ in the Choral category with judges citing it is as “ambitious, dramatic, colourful and powerful whilst also being performable”.  

It is a new setting of the Stabat Mater, the medieval hymn to Mary that portrays her suffering as Christ’s mother during his crucifixion, incorporating poignant poems from Requiem, the most famous work by celebrated Russian poet Anna Akhmatova whose student son was arrested at the height of Stalin’s terror in 1938 and shipped to an Arctic labour camp. Her epic struggle to discover his fate is immortalised in the work. 

“It is the delicate balance of emotional extremes, of crisis and the hope of salvation, that I tried to reconcile during the composition,” the composer explained in his programme notes. 

Commissioned by Bournemouth Symphony Chorus, of which Blackford is president, Pietà features distinctive writing for string orchestra and also for children’s choir. Its premiere at Lighthouse in June 2019 was conducted by the choir’s director Gavin Carr and recorded for subsequent release on Nimbus Records with Bournemouth Symphony Youth Chorus and the strings of Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra as well as featured soloists Amy Dickson, Jennifer Johnston and Stephen Gadd. 

“Bournemouth Symphony Chorus is very proud of this recognition of the excellence of Richard’s work,” says Chorus Manager Carolyn Date MBE. 

“The first work we commissioned from him was Voices of Exile – settings of refugee poetry and it is even more relevant today. He is always ahead of the curve and always references important issues. 

Elspeth McBain, Chief Executive of Lighthouse, adds: “It is a great honour to have hosted the premiere of this important work commissioned by our wonderful Resident Chorus. The choir are ambitious not only with their performances but also in commissioning such significant new works. 

“We are delighted that Pietà has received international acclaim from the music industry and it is wonderful to have such positive news after such a turbulent year. 

“For more than a century Bournemouth Symphony Chorus has been a beacon of excellence in the choral tradition and we are enormously proud to have been its home venue for more than forty years. After two lockdowns we are so pleased that the Chorus is now back rehearsing (COVID-safely) in its home venue. 

Bournemouth Symphony Chorus rehearses weekly at Lighthouse, its principal concert venue, and has a membership of around 160 singers. Most of its concerts are given with Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, but it also performs independently with other orchestras, a capella, with organ or smaller ensembles. Conductors with whom it has appeared in recent years at Lighthouse include Marin Allsop, Andrew Litton, Tamas Vasary, Richard Hickox, Kees Bakels, David Hill, Nicholas McGegan, Lawrence Cummings and Kirill Karabits. 

The Chorus actively promotes singing with young people and established and manages the Bournemouth Symphony Children’s Choir and Bournemouth Symphony Youth Chorus, which also rehearse at Lighthouse. It has also participated in concerts with youth orchestras, performing major works such as the Berlioz Grande Messe des Morts, Orff’s Camina Burana, Britten’s War Requiem and James MacMillan’s Little Mass. 

Published 4 December 2020