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News - Judith Weir appointed Master of the Queen’s Music

Suzanne Jansen
Monday, July 21, 2014

Master of The Queen’s Music

Her Majesty The Queen has been pleased to approve the appointment of Judith Weir, CBE as the next Master of The Queen's Music. Judith Weir, who succeeds Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, is appointed for a fixed-term of ten years.

The Queen will receive Ms Weir on assuming the appointment on July 22 at Buckingham Palace, London. At the same audience, The Queen will receive Sir Peter on the relinquishment of his appointment.

The Master of the Queen's Music is an honorary position traditionally conferred on a musician of distinction. Since the reign of King George V, the position has carried no fixed duties, although the Master may compose pieces for special Royal or State occasions.

Judith Weir said: "It is a great honour to take up the position of Master of the Queen’s Music, in succession to Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, who has given his musical and personal gifts so freely to this unusual national role. I hope to encourage everyone in the UK who sings, plays or writes music, and to hear as many of them as possible in action over the next ten years. Listening is also a skill, and I intend to uphold our rights to quietness and even silence, where appropriate. Above all, our children deserve the best we can give them, and that includes access to live music, whether as learners, performers or listeners."

The Masters of The Queen's Music in the twentieth century have been Walter Parratt (1893-1924), Edward Elgar (1924-34), Walford Davies (1934-41), Arnold Bax (1942-53), Arthur Bliss (1953-75) and most recently Malcolm Williamson, who died in March 2003.


BBC Singers Associate Composer
The BBC Singers is also delighted to announce that Judith Weir is to become its new Associate Composer starting from 2015, in a tenure running until 2018. Weir will be the fourth composer to take up the position, following Gabriel Jackson, Judith Bingham and Edward Cowie, who became the first BBC Singers Associate Composer in 2002.

Weir already has a long-standing relationship with the BBC Singers, who have been performing her music for over 10 years. Her first commission for the group was Concrete which premiered in 2008 at the BBC Composer weekend. The BBC Singers have performed Weir’s music in many notable venues including the Royal Albert Hall for the BBC Proms, St Magnus International Festival, Cadogan Hall and the Barbican Centre.

Paul Hughes, General Manager of the BBC Singers, says: "I’m delighted that Judith – a long-time friend of the BBC Singers – has agreed to join us. Her choral writing is exquisite and fits us like a glove; she has the wonderful ability to curate interesting programmes around her music, and she is an inspiration for younger generations of composers. I look forward to many exciting times ahead.”

Judith Weir says: “Many of my best musical experiences, whether as composer or listener– in performances, recordings and workshops – have been spent in company with the BBC Singers. This world-famous choral ensemble is immensely experienced and professional, but nevertheless always friendly and flexible in rehearsal. It’s with great enthusiasm and pleasure therefore, that I have accepted the invitation to become their next Associate Composer. In the 90th year of their foundation, their record of supporting living composers and new music has few equals, and I feel extremely fortunate to have the chance of working with them on a regular basis in the coming years.”

BBC Proms 2014
The pianist Benjamin Grosvenor will premiere the new work Day Break Shadows Flee for solo piano by Judith Weir on September 1 at Cadogan Hall as part of the 2014 BBC Proms. bbc.co.uk/proms

All enquiries should be directed to Kate Johnson kate.johnson@musicsales.co.uk | +44 (0)7920 197 354

Notes to Editors
Judith Weir was born into a Scottish family in 1954, but grew up near London. She was an oboe player, performing with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, and studied composition with John Tavener during her schooldays. She went on to Cambridge University, where her composition teacher was Robin Holloway; and in 1975 attended summer school at Tanglewood, where she worked with Gunther Schuller. After this she spent several years working in schools and adult education in rural southern England; followed by a period based in Scotland, teaching at Glasgow University and RSAMD.

During this time she began to write a series of operas (including King Harald’s Saga, The Black Spider, A Night at the Chinese Opera,The Vanishing Bridegroom and Blond Eckbert) which have subsequently received many performances in the UK, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium and the USA. The most recent opera is Miss Fortune, premiered at Bregenz in 2011, and then staged at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 2012.

As resident composer with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in the 1990s, she wrote several works for orchestra and chorus (including Forest, Storm and We are Shadows) which were premiered by the orchestra’s then Music Director, Simon Rattle. She has been commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra (Music Untangled and Natural History) the Minnesota Orchestra (The Welcome Arrival of Rain) and the London Sinfonietta (Tiger under the Table); and has written concert works for some notable singers, including Jane Manning, Dawn Upshaw, Jessye Norman and Alice Coote.

She now lives in London, where she has had a long association with Spitalfields Music Festival; and in recent years has taught as a visiting professor at Princeton, Harvard and Cardiff universities. Honours for her work include the Critics’ Circle, South Bank Show and Elise L Stoeger awards, a CBE and the Queen’s Medal for Music. In July 2014 she was appointed to the 388-year old royal post of Master of the Queen’s Music.

Recent and forthcoming premieres include Ave Regina Caelorum (Merton College Choir/Cheltenham Festival 2014) Day Break Shadows Flee (Benjamin Grosvenor/BBC Proms 2014) and Good Morning, Midnight (Alice Coote, Aurora Orchestra/Wigmore Hall 2015). Judith Weir has begun work on a music-theatre piece with a new libretto by Ben Power, co-produced by Scottish Opera, The Royal Opera House Covent Garden and the Frankfurt Opera.

Judith Weir’s music is published by Chester Music and Novello & Co. She blogs about her experiences of cultural life in the UK at judithweir.com.

Master of The Queen’s Music
The office of Master of The Queen's Music is the musical equivalent of Poet Laureate. It is an honour conferred on a musician of great distinction. Since the reign of King George V, the position has had no fixed duties, although the Master may choose to produce compositions to mark Royal or State occasions if he or she wishes to do so. The Master of The Queen's Music is paid an honorary stipend for her work.

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, was appointed in March 2004. On the appointment of Sir Peter, the term of the position was changed from life tenure to ten years, giving more composers the opportunity to take up this honorary position.

The Master of The Queen's Music is also greatly involved in The Queen's Medal for Music in 2005, which rewards individuals who have made a significant contribution to the community at large, though music. The post of Master of The King or Queen's Music has a long history. Kings and queens dating back to the Middle Ages and earlier would employ a band of musicians as part of their households. Records show that Edward IV had 13 minstrels, 'whereof some be trumpets, some with shalmes and small pypes,' whilst Henry VIII's band in 1526 consisted of '15 trumpets, 3 lutes, 3 rebecks, 3 tamborets, a harp, 2 viols, 9 sackbuts, a fife and four drumslades'. The number of musicians in the Sovereign's band grew over time and became known as 'the Musick'.

The office of Master of the King's Musick was first created in the reign of Charles I when Nicholas Lanier was appointed in 1626. From this time onwards there were Masters of the King's or Queen's Musick who were responsible for the band of Royal musicians. These bands were Court musicians, playing at meals for the Sovereign and the Court's entertainment.

During the reign of James II in the late seventeenth century, the role of the Musick became more important. In addition to its ordinary duties, it was employed, together with the gentlemen and children of the Chapel Royal, in the performance of the odes annually composed for the King's birthday and New Year's Day. These odes were composed by the Master himself. Between 1674 and 1700, Nicholas Staggins composed several Royal birthday odes as Master. The production of such odes did not last long, however, and soon the Master's duties were reduced to attendance at Royal Weddings and baptisms, and other State occasions.

The Musick continued in this way through to the end of the reign of Queen Victoria, and the role of the Musick and the Master gradually diminished in importance and profile. By the time of King Edward VII in the early part of the twentieth century, the band no longer performed any concerts at all, though the musicians sometimes played at Court functions.

Under King George V, the number of musicians with Court appointments dwindled and the position of Master of the King's Musick eventually became an honorary one.

Sir Edward Elgar was greatly influential in shaping the role of Master when he served under King George V. He was appointed as Master of the King's Music in 1924 (the 'k' of 'Musick' was finally dropped during Elgar's service). His compositions included 'The Nursery Suite' for Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret in 1931.

The Queen's Coronation in 1953 saw musical compositions from two Masters. Sir Arnold Bax (Master from 1942-53) had the honour of composing the Coronation March for The Queen, whilst Sir Arthur Bliss (Master from1953-75) wrote a Processional for the Coronation.

For The Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977, Malcolm Williamson, one of the longest serving Masters (from 1975 - 2003) composed Mass of Christ the King and set to music a hymn written by the Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman, for the occasion. In 1985 he composed Songs for a Royal Baby in honour of the birth of Prince Henry of Wales.

Masters of the King or Queen's Music in the past 100 years
Walter Parratt (1893-1924)
Edward Elgar (1924-34)
Walford Davies (1934-41)
Arnold Bax (1942-53)
Arthur Bliss (1953-75)
Malcolm Williamson (1975-2003)
Peter Maxwell Davies (2004-2014)

BBC Singers
The BBC Singers are the UK's only full-time professional chamber choir and one of the BBC's six performing groups. Their concerts are broadcast on BBC Radio 3. David Hill is the Chief Conductor of the BBC Singers. More information can be found by visiting the BBC Singers' website www.bbc.co.uk/singers


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