SPECTRUM Concert: Review by Alan Cooper


Today’s concert given by Spectrum, the University New Music Ensemble under its artistic director, the talented John Frederick Hudson was devoted to the Chamber Music of Judith Bingham, currently guest composer-in-residence at the University.

The Cathedral of Trees is a piece for unaccompanied soprano voice. Judith Bingham said that Alison Wells, the singer who had requested the piece wanted something really difficult that would test her technical and artistic prowess. With this piece she got exactly that in a setting of a rather fine poem by David Lyons. Just look at the opening words:

If thoughts were flowers, and words could heal our pain,
I would give my friend a garden filled with songbirds
Where tree leaves whisper to a stream…


These are splendidly deep, emotionally powerful words. Judith Bingham’s fabulous setting not only matches the text, it does what only the most gifted composers can do and lifts the words towards another realm entirely. Filled with treacherous leaps demanding perfect accuracy, with endless expressive nuances achieved using delicate trills, feather light staccatos, and many other tiny but telling effects, this was expressive music par excellence. Sudden shifts in dynamics and lots of very high notes that must not be overdone or attacked too vigorously – this needs a singer with way more than even above average artistic sensitivity. A reason for despair? No, not at all, because we had Jillian Bain Christie. Her performance was by far the artistic highlight of the whole evening. Everything this music demands, she delivered, and then some. She was magnificent…

– Alan Cooper