EX CATHEDRA | Composers in Residence

Ex Cathedra is very fortunate to work alongside two contemporary composers from whom they have given premieres, recorded music, and raised numerous commissioned works. Learn more about them below:

Liz Dilnot Johnson

Liz Dilnot Johnson is a British composer who lives on the beautiful Malvern Hills, Herefordshire. Her music encompasses a wide range from exquisite miniatures to expansive and multi-dimensional works. As composer-in-residence with Ex Cathedra and with regular commissions from the Fitzwilliam String Quartet, her music is featured on BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM and performed all over the world. Johnson’s music is published by Composers Edition

2023 commissions include Before the Ending of the Day for chamber orchestra, Rain for choir and piano, In The Mirror for cello and piano, and The Space Between Heaven and Earth for basset horn and piano. Liz is currently working on new commissions for the English Viol Consort and the York Late Music Festival for performance in 2024.

Large-scale works include I Stand At The Door – a cantata for our time (2021) for chorus and orchestra – ‘Johnson’s love-song to the planet’ (first released as Gentle Flame Cantata 2019), also featured in the award-winning music video Can You Hear Me?, with texts by Greta Thunberg, Kurt Masur and David Hart.

When A Child Is A Witness – a requiem for refugees (2022) reinvents the traditional Requiem Mass to raise awareness of the plight of those seeking refuge, bringing communities and art forms together in a celebration of those who seek and offer sanctuary. Blurring the divide between performer and audience, this award-winning multifaceted work was featured as part of Coventry City of Culture 2022 performed by Ex Cathedra at Coventry Cathedral. Soloists include Lucy Russell (violin and Hardanger fiddle) Kadiale Kouyate (West African kora) and Gabriella Liandu (mezzo-soprano). Watch the performance here (available 8th-30th June 2022).

Johnson’s debut double album Intricate Web (2017) features the ‘palpably exciting’ Clarinet Quintet Sea-change, six string quartets and the thirty-minute Cello Suite: ‘Johnson’s masterpiece so far’, along with songs setting words by Kathleen Jamie, Jo Shapcott and Gabriela Mistral.

Her collaborative project Scintilla explores interior and exterior worlds through poetry, music, live electronics, dance and film, working alongside choreographer Dane Hurst. Scintilla has been supported by Sound and Music’s New Voices scheme, Arts Council England, HMUK, PRSF and WildPlumArts.

Johnson’s mentors have included Judith Weir, Julian Phillips, Jonathan Harvey and Liz is currently mentored by Tess Howell.

To learn more about Liz and her compositions, you can visit her website: https://www.lizdilnotjohnson.co.uk/

Alec Roth

The seeming paradox is characteristic of Alec Roth’s music – somehow timeless, yet refreshingly new. Appealing to a wide audience, its surface simplicity is welcoming, while its underlying richness and depth reward repeated listening. Some of this can be explained by his unconventional background as a composer.

Born near Manchester in 1948 of German/Irish descent, his family were not musical, but at the age of five the serendipitous gift of an old upright piano set him on his way. Throughout school, university and a series of jobs (research scientist; teacher of maths; film animator) his creative energies were increasingly channelled into amateur music-making. These years laid the foundation of his approach to composition – practical, flexible, pragmatic. But at the age of 28 he decided that his intense sense of vocation demanded a more formal study.

Durham University provided a sound traditional training, and he specialised in conducting. “I’m still basically self-taught as a composer, but by learning scores to conduct them, I was having composition lessons with the likes of Haydn, Holst, Ravel etc.” A conducting career beckoned. But an invitation to study at the Academy of Indonesian Performing Arts (ASKI) in Surakarta proved irresistible.

“My biggest turning point – personally, as well as musically – was going to live and study in Java. The aim was to learn gamelan, but the experience profoundly challenged my thinking about my own musical culture”. On his return he founded the Gamelan Programme at London’s Southbank Centre. But he also determined to return to composition, applying his new ideas to the sounds and traditions he had grown up with. This soon became possible in an unexpected way.

Notable performers of his music have included the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Scottish National Orchestra, Academy of St Martin in the Fields (four commissions including Departure of the Queen of Sheba), London Sinfonietta, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Allegri String Quartet, Voices8, The Sixteen, and the Choir of St Paul’s Cathedral. His music has been programmed at major UK venues and festivals; broadcast on BBC Radio and Television; recorded on the Hyperion, Signum, Nimbus and other labels; and since his signing by Edition Peters in 2015, is increasingly heard around the world.

Three long-term working relationships lie at the heart of Alec Roth’s creative development:

His reputation as a choral composer results from a long, fruitful and happy association with Jeffrey Skidmore and Ex Cathedra, in such works as Earthrise and A Time to Dance.

The subtleties of his vocal music in works such as My Lute and I and A Road Less Travelled have been inspired by the tenor Mark Padmore and guitarist Morgan Szymanski, for whom he has also composed a concerto and solo pieces.

His many collaborations with the writer Vikram Seth include a four-year sequence of works co-commissioned by the Salisbury, Chelsea and Lichfield Festivals (2006-9) featuring the solo violin of Philippe Honoré, including the oratorio The Traveller. Seth’s book The Rivered Earth (2011) describes their creative partnership, including an account of “the pleasures and pains of working with a composer”.

In 2015 a Finzi Trust Scholarship enabled a sabbatical in Leipzig to study the cantatas of J S Bach as an inspiration for his own work.

In December 2020 he moved to Germany at the invitation of church musician and choral conductor Nikolai Ott, initially to attend a performance of Earthrise by the Mössinger Kantorei, then staying on during the Covid pandemic. This informal residency led to a number of choral works to German texts, including two Bonhoeffer motets, and six chorales for insertion into the Johannes-Passion by Heinrich Schütz. Ott also commissioned the orchestral version of Earthrise, which he premiered in 2022 with another of his choirs, the Kantorei der Karlshöhe, Ludwigsburg.

To find out more about Alec and his music, head to his website: https://www.alecroth.com/index.html