‘Vor Singet’ – composer Joseph twist takes us between the lines

This weekend the Sydney Chamber Choir (see our post), presents their concert “Bach to the Future” performing three of JS Bach’s great motets, and building on them with the works of contemporary composers who include Richard Marlowe, Stephen Paulus, and Gabriel Jackson. Amongst this cohort is a young Australian composer, Joseph Twist who is in fact, a member of the choir. Twist’s ‘Vor Singet’ will receive its world premiere in this performance. 

Twist describes ‘Vor Singet’ as “really being about Bach, specifically his great Motet, and the way that Bach’s music seems to have stood the test of time so well. His music is ubiquitous even now, after hundreds of years. My piece is a personal musical reflection of this idea – it represents a fascination with Bach from an Australian composer born in the 1980s’. This is Twist’s second piece built around JS Bach’s motet for double choir “Singet Dem Herrn”.

Twist has studied music composition extensively acquiring a string of composition awards.  The letters after his name include a PhD in composition. Represented by the Australian Music Centre, Twist has also equipped himself to write screen music and counts Richard Mills and Nigel Butterley amongst his mentors. As a consummate improviser, JS Bach may well have regarded Twist with pride, because Twist will shortly attend the Dartington International Summer School of Music in the UK, to which he has won a scholarship to study jazz piano with Lewis Riley.

 Twist is a busy composer, but still finds time to conduct and to sing. A composer writing for singers with first hand knowledge of the voice is enough to make any singer weep with gratitude. His piece ‘Vor Singet’ could be summed up as a convergence of Baroque, jazz and vocal aesthetics. He says “ It is a fairly plaintive piece, which uses a chorale from Bach’s motet ‘Singet Dem Herrn’, sung by a semi chorus, around which the rest of the choir hums rich, jazz-based harmonies, or repeats the words “Sing to the Lord a new song.” Combined with this is a cello obbligato, which incorporates other musical ideas from Bach’s motet. ‘Vor Singet’ is yet another example of the unwavering impact of Bach on music in the 21st Century. This performance of ‘Vor Singet’ will be followed directly by Bach’s motet – hence the title ‘Vor (before) Singet’. 

Though influenced by many different styles, classical concert music has probably been what Twist has drawn on most. “I suppose more generally, I like to think of my music as ‘eclectic’, ‘democratic’ and ‘expressive’.  I’m also inspired by jazz, film music, pop music, musicals… all sorts of things. Each of these styles has equal potential for being incorporated into a meaningful and intelligible musical style. One of my major objectives is to be very expressive in my music, permeated by strong melodic writing and a rich harmonic language that resonates well, whether it is sung by a choir or played by an orchestra”.

 Joseph Twist is a serious and thoughtful musician, set to question the artificial divides that compartmentalize music and able to transcend them in his music. Audiences will look forward to hearing ‘Vor Singet” this weekend and it will enable them to respond as individuals, to his music. Possible too then, that we would draw on a phrase from Twist’s namesake and ask for “More please?”

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