SANSARA Artistic Director Tom Herring is struck by the similarities of cooking and music-making, especially when it comes to directing or conducting an ensemble. The need for experimentation and occasional disaster is important in both. Tom isn’t that great at following recipes, with the inevitable veering off course that comes with interesting consequences.
“Whilst you are not totally responsible for the outcome, in that ingredients have their own flavors, singers their own voices and musicality, your influence in bringing certain elements together and the ways in which you manipulate them is vital for the success of the finished product,” he said.
SANSARA is an award-winning vocal ensemble focused on the performance of a cappella choral music. In 2015, the ensemble won the London International A Cappella Choral Competition. The competition was a real turning point for the group. Several of the pieces performed in the heat and final became part of the group’s core repertoire and were included in its debut recording Cloths of Heaven in 2017.
The group is a staple of different events and festivals, including the Temple Winter Festival in London. SANSARA’S program for the Temple Winter Festival interweaves works by masters of the Renaissance with 20th and 21st century composers.
The pairing of early and modern music is nothing new. What is most exciting about the combination is the narrative potential that unfolds when pieces written centuries apart are heard side by side, possibly for the first time. This stance requires a totally open-minded approach to enable pieces from different eras and sensibilities to enlighten and transform each other in new and often surprising ways.
“It is particularly striking when old and new music speak directly to each other, as with the opening phrases of Tallis’ O nata lux and MacMillan’s O Radiant Dawn, which are almost identical — a deliberate echo that serves as a humble reminder of our rich choral heritage,” Tom said.
The carefully considered and precise ordering of these juxtapositions is something that Tom has always focused on with SANSARA, drawing connections between pieces at multiple levels; from broad thematic and textual elements down to tiny details of melodic and harmonic material.
For its return to the Temple Winter Festival, SANSARA had a specially curated program that aimed to conjure the aura of mystery and excitement of Advent before turning toward the Nativity and Christmas. With such a wealth of repertoire to choose from, programming for this time of year can feel like an impossible task: Do you go down a well-trodden path of crowd-pleasers, or try to find something as new as possible? The aim of this program was to find a middle ground with some well-known favorites such as Britten’s Hymn to the Virgin and carols such as Es ist ein Ros entsprungen alongside lesser-known pieces such as Byrd’s beautiful O magnum mysterium - Beata virgo and the more recent works by Oliver Tarney and Kerensa Briggs.
With such an amazing building to work with at Temple Church, SANSARA was excited to explore the space as much as possible, enjoying the range of acoustics that the building has to offer with its glorious dome and main nave. The program had a broad range of styles and textures which will showcase the choir’s versatility and palette of musical colors. The group also performed with an elite team of ten singers without a conductor, increasing the level of intimacy and contact with the audience.
SANSARA has a lot of exciting plans in the pipeline for the next year. One that Tom is particularly looking forward to is the collaboration with composer and artistic director Joe Bates on a choral-electronic project, premiering at the Barbican’s Sound Unbound festival in May 2019. The project includes music for choir and electronics by Jonathan Harvey alongside a new piece by Joe, music by Arvo Pärt and arrangements of chants by Hildegard of Bingen for solo soprano and live electronics.
Tom recently became interested in human relationships with technology and the ways in which they can be explored through music.
“The combination of choir and electronics has immense potential to examine this crucial and increasingly relevant issue and I’m looking forward to developing this line of SANSARA’s work in the coming years,” he said.
To find out more about SANSARA, visit its website.