“We must tell the story without bias in music” – classical composer writes short stories …
June 17, 2021, 12:06 PM | Updated: June 17, 2021, 13:49
As two forces for positive change in classical music come together, composer Shirley J Thompson speaks to Classic FM about inclusion, black history, and the variety of voices we need to hear in the arts.
On June 17, BSO Resound, the world’s first professional ensemble led by people with disabilities that is the heart of a large symphony orchestra, will present a world premiere by a pioneering black British composer.
Shirley J Thompson, classical composer, virtuoso conductor and violinist, has written a new work, Emanation, which reflects the 60 years of the Independent living movement (ILM) and its impact on the lives of people with disabilities.
“I believe commissioning a new artwork for a special occasion is a glorious way to celebrate,” said Thompson of his new artwork, commissioned by Allianz Musical Insurance. “I hope that Emanation will draw attention to this vibrant community and the changes it has brought about by transforming many lives.
BSO Resound embraces the social model of disability, which is rooted in ILM and the principle that it is not the person who is disabled, but the society and the environment around them that is disabling. The revolutionary model has enabled people with disabilities to be key players in decision-making affecting their lives.
Read more: Learn more about BSO Resound, the disabled ensemble that is changing the world of classical music
Center arm of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, the Classic FM Orchestra in the south of England, this brilliant ensemble has spent over three years defying expectations of what musicians with disabilities can do.
The right instruments, including the expressive MIDI controller called “LinnStrument”, play a crucial role in their musical creation. Thompson’s commission offered the opportunity to expand his scope of composition and write for the orchestra’s devoted LinnStrum player, Sally (pictured below).
“I discovered when using the LinnStrument for the first time that it gave me the opportunity to enhance the instrumental textures of music in ways that I did not have before,” said Thompson.
“The versatility of the instrument to be a soloist or to offer cohesion to the texture has become essential in my creation of the work. “
As audiences return to concert halls, BSO Resound is using this world premiere to call for inclusion to remain a central goal for the sector, even as art venues struggle in the aftermath of COVID-19.
Thompson agrees and highlights the incredible work the ensemble does to promote inclusion in the music industry. “BSO Resound is a great example of how musicians with disabilities can be helped to produce world-class performances on the most beautiful stages,” she says.
“The ensemble is a source of inspiration for people with disabilities who want to reach the highest levels of performance while being an inspiration to all of us. “
Over the past year, classical music and other sectors have also been forced to deal with historical issues of prejudice and racial representation. While Thompson herself has spent her career showcasing the music of ethnically diverse composers, it wasn’t until last year that the industry at large saw the same movement.
“I am encouraged to see that after 30 years of showcasing great works by composers from diverse cultural backgrounds, art leaders see the endless possibilities of directing great productions with these works,” said Thompson.
“The discovery of splendid composers, such as Florence Price, has triggered the excavation of many composers of this type. While there is much that can be done to tell the story of music without bias, there are now publishers and researchers keen to find these potentially historic gems as well as to tout the novelty.
For Thompson, it’s about exploring every voice to offer every perspective.
“It’s essential to make it easier to create as many voices as possible,” she says. “Space to be creative should be paramount for young children through centenarians and beyond.
“Creativity is the driving force of humanity and the more we facilitate everyone’s voice, the more cohesive our different communities will be.”
BSO Sound performs Emanation Thursday, June 17. The concert will be available to watch for 30 days online. See bsolive.com for tickets and more information.