Composers from across the UK came together in late 2022 and early 2023 to collaborate on new music dedicated to LFCCM founder Christopher Batchelor in recognition of two decades of his championing the cause of contemporary sacred music. In this series, we talk to a number of the composers involved in the project. Today, we’re talking with emerging young composer Sarah Cattley.
How did you first become interested in composition?
I had written a few things when I was younger for piano lessons and for school, but when I was 17 my AS Music class got the chance to compose for four musicians from the Britten Sinfonia. It was my first time writing for real professional musicians, and it goes without saying that they were amazing. We had multiple workshops with the performers who really took our ideas seriously, and although the pieces were being written for coursework it felt like we were writing real music for the first time and not just technical exercises. Some of our pieces were performed as part of a concert in the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, and having them heard by an audience really completed the feeling that they were “proper” music.
How important is sacred music overall in your compositional output? Why?
Most of my output at the moment is choral, and a large proportion of that is sacred. I joined a chapel choir at university and that was my first exposure to what felt like a whole parallel universe of choral music that had been there the whole time without me ever knowing about it - canticles, Preces and Responses, psalmody, and so on. I like how it combines a long and rich history with a rather rugged sense that this is music for a purpose and needs to slot into the structure of the liturgical year and the rehearsal schedule of the choir and all that sort of thing - it’s sacred music, but it’s also practical. My chapel choir was so friendly and close-knit so it was a real joy to write pieces for us to sing together.
The LFCCM was founded in 2002. Tell us how you first became aware of the Festival, and how you first came to be involved.
I first heard about the LFCCM through its Call for Scores project - I submitted my Fitzwilliam Responses in 2017 and they were sung at St Pancras. In 2019 the Festival commissioned me to write another set of responses for the Radio 3 broadcast evensong.
If you could change something about the Festival, what would it be?
I would want it to be better known! The LFCCM does such a lot to foster new church music and is really welcoming of new voices through its Call for Scores. That should definitely be celebrated more widely.
You’ve donated your time and energy to a celebration concert that opens 2023’s LFCCM. Tell us about your contribution, and why you chose to take part.
I absolutely leapt at the chance to be involved in this project! My Festival broadcast commission in 2019 was the first big commission of my career at a time when I was not very well established, and so it was a huge turning point for me. Being part of this celebration commission is a small way for me to say a heartfelt thank you to Christopher Batchelor and the LFCCM! It’s also lovely to get the chance to be part of a collaborative project with so many other composers.
My contribution to the collaborative compositional jigsaw is an organ Introitus. I’ve used a motif by Christopher Batchelor, a lovely series of chords from his Missa Brevis for Four Voices, which crops up throughout the piece.
What other events and projects do you have coming up next?
Until last year I hadn’t written much for the organ, but I’m really itching to write more for the instrument. It can do such a lot - and I love that because organs are (mostly!) so big and immovable, and tied into the acoustics of the building they’re in, they make the whole building part of the performance. I’m delighted to have another organ commission in the works at the moment, to be performed in the summer.
Any interesting facts people ought to know about you?
It’s probably not interesting to anyone except me, but I’m really enjoying learning to play the recorder! I’m trying to collect a whole consort of recorders of different sizes; my partner got me a tiny little garklein recorder for my birthday which is delightfully pocket-sized so these days I don’t tend to go anywhere without a recorder - just in case! You never know when you might need one…
Sarah’s piece for solo organ, “Introitus”, receives its premiere performance at St Pancras Parish Church on Friday 12 May 2023.