Shauna Beesley Wins The Willgoss Choral Composition Prize for 2024

Shauna Beesley is the winner of the Willgoss Choral Composition Prize for 2024, for her work, Journey, as announced by the  Music Performance UNSW. The Willgoss Choral Composition Prize recognises rising composers celebrated within their community and aims to create a lasting contribution to choral composition in Australia. The adjudication panel was headed by Sonia Maddock UNSW’s Head of Culture and Choral Director. Beesley will work with UNSW choral ensemble Corde and Maddock to realise her award-winning composition in performance at the John Clancy Auditorium, UNSW in October 2024.

Journey is a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay which expresses dissatisfaction at being forced to race through life and failing to spend time to absorb the beauty that is around us. It is very suited for choral writing where the texture of unaccompanied voices can create an atmosphere that expresses space, timelessness, shimmering heat, and open countryside.

Says Beesley, “I wanted to capture, in music, a sense of longing that is constantly being forced to accelerate. In the poem Millay writes about Cat birds and Whip-poor-wills. I listened to recordings of these birds’ calls and transcribed them into the music. They appear throughout the work and give the singers an opportunity to improvise as well as sing the written score. I also recently saw the film Maestro, about Bernstein. and he quotes Millay in the film: “I only know that summer sang in me A little while, that in me sings no more.” I was writing Journey at the time I saw this, and it delighted me to know that Bernstein also knew and loved Millay’s poems.”

Beesley adds “In this piece, I have put the vocal qualities of each part as an important consideration. As a professional singer, I try to write in a way that is challenging, but also respects the tessitura, the legato line and phrasing of each voice type. It is important to me that the text is audible, expressive, and enjoyable to sing. There is also ambiguity in the poem, and this allows each singer space to bring some their own interpretation to the text.”

Shauna Beesley is a composer, singer, pianist, organist, opera producer and choir director. She has recently returned to Australia after spending many years working in England, Syria and Switzerland. In England she sang with the BBC singers, the Hilliard Ensemble and John Eliot Gardiner. She also worked on many community composition projects in London in collaboration with the Royal Opera House, English National Opera and Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.

Previous winners of the Willgoss prize include John Rotar in 2022-3 for Songs about birds, forests, flowers and mountains, Oliver John Cameron in 2020-21 Five Lullabies for Uncertain Times, Philip Eames in 2019-20 for This Great Unrain, Ronan Apcar  in 2018-19 for Preludes.

The Willgoss Choral Composition Prize is generously supported by Dr Richard and Sue Willgoss.




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