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Luke Styles

There’s something about the music of Luke Styles that inspires critics to coin eye-catching comments. The British and Australian composer’s works have been described as everything from ‘aggressively trendy’, ‘elegantly creepy’ and ‘defiantly cool’ to being ‘made with great care and a ridiculous amount of talent’. This year, his fortieth, sees the addition of two major new concert works to the Styles catalogue. Tracks in the Orbit, a saxophone concerto for jazz legend Iain Ballamy, is set to receive its first performance at Cardiff’s BBC Hoddinott Hall on 29 April 2022, while the world premiere of Voices of Power, a Three Choirs Festival commission for contralto soloist, choir and orchestra, is scheduled to follow at Hereford Cathedral on 28 July.

Voices of Power, to a libretto by poet and author Jessica Walker, contemplates the nature of power across the centuries. Its six protagonists include figures as diverse as Boudica and Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great and Margaret Thatcher, Eleanor Roosevelt and Jacinda Ardern. “Our intention was to examine different aspects from power seen from the perspective of powerful women,” notes Luke Styles. “We look at powerful women conforming to a classic male stereotype: Margaret Thatcher, for example, lowered her voice to sound more authoritative, like a man. That downward shift in pitch will be quite clear and playful in the music. Boudica and Elizabeth I illustrate the violent use of power, but we look more at Elizabeth’s single-minded rejection of family and relationships. It ends with aspects of power that are more collaborative, compassionate and long term in their application, what we probably need from our leaders if we’regoing to survive into the future.”

Voices of Power stands as a natural successor to Styles’s hour-long symphonic song cycle for bass-baritone, chorusand symphony orchestra, No Friend But The Mountains (2020). Composing the latter, he notes, delivered invaluable lessons on how to write effectively for chorus, on dramatic pacing, when to insert orchestral interludes, and how to develop the trajectory of one solo voice over the course of a long piece. His Three Choirs Festival score was written for choristers aged fourteen to twenty-five, talented young singers ready to take and hold the spotlight, and for a soloist he first heard while working as an usher at Wigmore Hall.

“I was captivated by Hilary Summers from that moment,” recalls Luke Styles. “It’s great now to be able to write for a voice of such extraordinary power and range. Her contralto straddles four octaves and defies traditional gender classifications. It touches the baritone register usually associated with male singers but also reaches to the top of the mezzo-soprano range, which you’d normally expect to hear a woman sing. There’s this chameleon-like presence to her singing which I find fascinating and fun. I want to play with that in Voices of Power as part of a piece that belongs to the great choral tradition of the Three Choirs Festival.”

Image Credit: Sam Walton