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Chris Hutchings explains his approach to composition


Edinburgh based composer Chris Hutchings specialises in choral music. His works have been performed by the Edinburgh Singers, Chicago A Cappella,  the New London Singers, Cappella Nova, the University of Glasgow Chapel  Choir, and a wide variety of soloists and choirs in the UK, US, Canada  and beyond.

In our Connecting series, artists, venues and creative projects talk about their work and their plans for the future...

Starting out

I've been singing in choirs my whole life, and studied music at school, but the first few pieces that I wrote at university were all for theatre productions. I wrote a few choir pieces at undergraduate level (while studying Maths) but when I went to do an MMus in Composition, I started writing more for choirs (winning the inaugural Temple Church Composition Prize in 2001) and found a real enjoyment in that.

My approach to composition

My aim is to make music that is interesting and breaks new ground without becoming too complex to be approachable to amateur singers. In particular, I like exposing unconsidered or less obvious ideas within a text through music.

Any new choir work begins with the text for me. I'll search for different moods and angles on the lyrics, often looking for less obvious ways of portraying things, or bringing out the structural links that exist in the text through the music. I'm particularly pleased with my recent commission for St Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh - “O Praise The Lord Ye Angels Of His”. The lyrics move from unison singing from the angels, to multi-part singing on “all ye hosts of his”, to all singers working independently on “praise thou the Lord, O my soul” - it sounds simple but is very effective.

Another I'm proud of is “Speravi in Te”, a  setting of Mary Queen of Scots' final prayer. For a sacred piece, it's extremely dark, written in extremis by a woman who was certain she was to die the following day.

Scores for both can be found on my website.

Current work and plans for the future

At the moment I'm working on getting new commissions, as I find it quite difficult to write without a known prospect of performance, and I'd like to find a choir with whom I can build a long-lasting professional relationship and be able to experiment creatively.

I'm also trying to build up a portfolio of pieces for three-part choirs, as tenors in particular seem to be in short supply these days, and always searching for new sources of lyrics that inspire me.

Upcoming events include:

National Youth Choir of Scotland performing “Regis Regum Rectissimi”
Kwazulu-Natal Youth Choir performing “O Vos Omnes”
The release on CD of my “Requiem” (Amemptos Music)
The premiere of my new Compline setting by St Mary's Schola in Arlington Virginia (part of the Assocation of Anglican Musicians' annual conference)

More info

Chris Hutchings received Professional Development funding from Creative Scotland to help improve his online presence - including developing his website. To find out more about Chris and his work visit hutchingsmusic.co.uk.

This article was published on 20 May 2014