Premiere of James Whitbourn's ‘Zahr Al-Khayal’ at the Konzerthaus Berlin

Since his appointment as HMC’s Music Director last October, composer James Whitbourn has been building a new college choir. Over the past two terms the choir has sung work by Mark Miller, Ralph Vaughn Williams, John Rutter and others – including James’ own settings and compositions. James’ reputation as a composer and conductor preceded him. As Chris Whitehouse, a member of the London based chamber choir the Elysian singers, says, his work has ‘an essential beauty that draws one back time and again.’ His work with HMC’s choir can be heard in our mid-week evening service where its reputation for clarity, sweetness and depth has grown.

This coming Wednesday, 8 March, International Women’s Day, the choir will be singing work by two women composers: Amy Beach’s ‘Peace I Leave With You’ and Eleanor Daley’s ‘Set me as a Seal Upon Thine Heart’ – and for the first time this year, James won’t be conducting. He will be at the Konzerthaus Berlin preparing for the premiere of his new work, ‘Zahr Al-Khayal’ (Flowers of Imagination), scored for voice and full symphony orchestra and sung in Arabic by his long-time collaborator soprano Fatma Said. Egyptian born and German trained, Fatma Said will be artist in residence at the Konzerthaus from 6 – 12 March. Her concert on 11 March will feature work by composers including Ravel, Bizet, Manuel de Falla, Sherif Mohie El Din and Farid El Atrash and Mohammed Abdel Wahab for whom, James has arranged three songs. ‘Zahr Al-Khayal’ is a love poem from the dynasty roughly contemporary with Tutankhamun and the orchestration not only includes two newly-commissioned sistra replicated from those found in Tutankhamun’s tomb and transported from the UK in specially commissioned cases, but is, says James, his first piece with a title in hieroglyphs.

If you are in Berlin, the concert begins at 20.00 on 11 March and more information can be found here.