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We are thrilled to present this CD of music by Alec Roth, with whom we have worked closely for many years, as Jeffrey explains in the booklet:

Alec Roth has been Ex Cathedra’s de facto composer-in-residence for 15 years. He is a friend, a valued colleague and a trusted adviser. There is so much to learn from working so closely with a distinguished composer and it has been a great privilege.


For choir, children’s choir, orchestra, tenor, violin and speaker

The Traveller was the third in a series of four major works with words by Vikram Seth and music by Alec Roth, commissioned jointly over four years by the Salisbury, Chelsea and Lichfield Festivals (2006-09). Each work featured the violinist Philippe Honoré as soloist, and each took a different geographical/cultural area as its starting point.

The Traveller is scored for solo violin, solo tenor, mixed choir, children’s choir and an orchestra of strings, harp and percussion. India provides the literary/cultural point of departure. In addition to writing six new poems, Seth translated some 20 classic Indian texts from a rich variety of traditions and languages.

Taking as its theme “the Ages of Man”, The Traveller is divided into six main sections:

  1. Unborn
  2. Child
  3. Youth
  4. Adult
  5. Old
  6. Dead

followed by a short epilogue for the tenor soloist alone.

Each part is introduced in turn by a speaker reciting one of the seven verses of the great “Hymn to Creation” from the Rig Veda.

In this universal tale of Man’s journey through life, the role of The Traveller is taken by the solo violin, The Companions by the choir and The Poet by the tenor soloist.


For children’s choir and piano (with optional percussion)

Alec Roth writes…

Earth and Sky was commissioned by the BBC for the Proms 2000 season. In keeping with the millennial theme, a work presenting a vision of the future was requested. Trying to be helpful, the BBC provided me with a video containing the predictions of various experts, but their ideas seemed dizzyingly contradictory.

Then the simple thought struck me that however varied and complex the answers, the big questions remain the same. We may now have a map of the human genome, but how to use the map? “How shall I know where I should go? How may I see the I that’s me?”

So, a song of questions – this was the idea which I took to Vikram Seth, who had agreed to write the words for me. The resulting poem is entirely monosyllabic, enabling a variety of rhythmic treatment. I love its permutations and its imagery of paradox and inversion, and I have amused
myself by playing similar games with the musical material. But there is seriousness as well as fun – the text’s juxtaposition of the certainty of death and the search for meaning and purpose in life achieves great poignancy when sung by young voices.

As a musician I am hopeful that, no matter how the world develops, future generations will still come together to “dance and sing and play”. The
mysterious power of music to bind us socially and inspire us individually seems to be built into our genes.

As I write this, over twenty years after the first performance of Earth and Sky, the outlook appears bleak, as the true nature of mankind’s despoliation of the planet becomes clear. Yet hope for the future comes from the children and young people increasingly making their voices heard with their urgent questioning. Our children are closer to the earth in both time and space. Mother Earth speaks through them. We should listen.


“Alec Roth has forged a particularly strong collaborative bond with the Indian poet and novelist Vikram Seth… [who] has woven all his sources together into a very satisfying libretto. Inspired by the texts, Roth has set the words most effectively to music. If I say that his music is not complex, I do not mean that disparagingly. Rather, the music communicates very directly to the listener… By stripping the music back to the essentials in these ways, Roth puts his music at the service of Seth’s libretto and the results are illuminating.

“Roth also uses a children’s choir, here the combined forces of Ex Cathedra Junior Academy of Vocal Music and six pupils from Lordswood Girls’ School … These young performers have been prepared expertly by Rebecca Ledgard. At a time when so much concern is being expressed – rightly – at the lack of provision of music education in schools it’s great to find youngsters getting an opportunity like this to sing music which stretches them – in a sensible fashion – doesn’t condescend to them, and involves them in a serious large work with adult performers. This, I think, goes to the heart of Ex Cathedra’s longstanding and successful educational programme in Birmingham.

“[Earth & Sky] is sung by the upper voices of Ex Cathedra Senior Academy of Vocal Music and Ex Cathedra Scholars. These young musicians acquit themselves admirably. Their singing is clear, committed and accurate; tightness of ensemble is a notable feature. Earth and Sky is a vital, effective piece which, I should imagine, is great fun for young singers to learn and perform…

“Jeffrey Skidmore, who incisively and sympathetically conducts both the works on this disc, has championed Alec Roth’s music for some 15 years now. In the booklet he expresses his satisfaction that Roth’s music is now being widely performed and appreciated. In no small measure, that’s due to the recordings that Skidmore and Ex Cathedra have made; these have given Roth’s output welcome exposure and I hope this new disc will spread awareness of these two pieces…

“excellent performances”

Read the full review at www.musicwebinternational.com

“Alec Roth’s The Traveller charts the ‘Ages of Man’ through the words of Vikram Seth in instantly accessible music with an Eastern twist. The millennium-inspired Earth and Sky presents a series of existential questions in rhythmically catchy musical packaging” (BBC Music Magazine)