Blossom Street Choir, based in London, plan to record a NAXOS disc celebrating the 100th anniversary of some women receiving the vote. They will showcase British female composers of the last 150 years including Judith Weir, Judith Bingham, Cecilia McDowall, Roxanna Panufnik, Nicola LeFanu, Elizabeth Poston, Elizabeth Maconchy, Jane Joseph, Imogen Holst. Usually a mixed gender choir, this will be the first time they have produced a recording where the compositions are performed by an all female line up.
Hilary Campbell, now the conductor of Blossom Street Choir, explained to WMN that things began around ten years ago when she and seven other students from the University of York set up an octet. They were originally an un-conducted choral group performing a wide range of repertoire. Their first big break was when they were asked to sing at the Snooker finals on the BBC.
A couple of years later, Hilary and most of the group moved to London. She had originally intended to become a singer but ended up studying conducting at the Royal Academy of Music. She was the only woman on her course. Around the same time, the group developed into a chamber style choir, which is their current form, with Hilary stepping in as conductor.
Hilary explained that they have a keen interest in giving the spotlight to women composers. ‘There are quite a few recent organisations who are really championing new composers, but fewer looking back into the past. What about the women composers that were doing great things but weren’t really afforded much limelight?’
They hope to have a number of singers, Hilary as conductor and four instrumentalists on the recordings. Some of the pieces include piano, clarinet, organ and cello. ‘I’m hoping to have a big team so that we can achieve a depth of sound and richness that the music deserves.’
Blossom Street Choir has also been working with Judith Weir, who is Master of The Queen’s Music. They run an annual project at the Royal College of Music where six post graduate student composers write a piece for Blossom Street over the course of a few months. Judith explains how choral music is written and Blossom Street give demonstrations of different choral styles. The students give the group different things to try out and there is a final performance at the end.
Hilary is one of few female conductors of a professional choral group in London. We asked her if she had experienced any challenges in the past.
She explained that overall she has been quite lucky – she was the only women in her year when she studied choral conducting at the Royal College of Music. She explained that despite this she did have one frustrating story. A chamber choir she once worked with almost didn’t appoint her because a chair on the committee at that time had taken issue with her hairstyle. A while after working with them she was told that he had felt that her hair said something about her that may not fit in with their chamber choir.
‘With that exception, I haven’t found that I’ve faced too many challenges. It can be kind of isolating when you’re one of few women in that field. I’m lucky because I love my job, but I long for a day when there are many more of us in prominent positions as well. The BBC Singers have just appointed Sofi Jeannin as their new principle conductor and I’m sure that will be a very positive step forward.’
The Blossom Street Choir have recently successfully completed a crowdfunder campaign for the project and hope to release their NAXOS disc in the Autumn.