Bernard Hughes’s Seek the Peace of the City received its premiere performance on Wednesday 15 May at choral evensong broadcast live on BBC Radio 3. We wanted to know more about Bernard and his new composition.
Who or what has been the single biggest influence on your work?
The big looming figure for me has always been Stravinsky, since hearing the Rite of Spring and Symphony of Psalms as a teenager. Of more recent composers, I would mention Judith Weir and Magnus Lindberg.
Tell us something about how you discovered composition or why you became a composer.
My father was a church choirmaster when I was a child and he had some manuscript paper lying around the house which I spontaneously started writing on at about the age of seven. No one told me to, I just did it, and have never stopped.
What is your experience of sacred music?
I spent time in the choir loft watching my father conduct when I was quite young. I can remember from those very early days two pieces in particular that fascinated me: Purcell’s Rejoice in the Lord Alway and Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus. Two sacred pieces are up there with my favourite of all pieces: Bach’s St Matthew Passion and Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. I find them endlessly nourishing.
Tell us about the introit you’ve composed. How did you choose the text and what does the piece mean to you?
Seek the Peace of the City was commissioned by the Festival, with the text chosen by the vicar of St Pancras, Anne Stevens, from the Book of Jeremiah. The music is largely polyphonic and quite intricately structured. The text is delivered at different speeds in different voices, from a slow cantus firmus to the faster delivery mainly in the soprano line. There are three points where the music comes together in a homophonic gathering point.
What’s next for you?
A new recording of music of mine for narrator and chamber orchestra, paired with premiere recordings of similar works by Judith Weir and Malcolm Arnold, is being recorded this summer for release in 2020.
Any other interesting facts people ought to know about you?
I am a very enthusiastic cricketer and run a club in west London. In a previous life I performed as a comedian, and was part of the show that won the Perrier Award (Best Newcomer) at the Edinburgh Fringe.