Dubai: A Dubai-based music composer has won the coveted Ivors Novello Awards 2022 from the United Kingdom, with her piece for unaccompanied choir, All Shall Be Well, making the cut in the Choral Award category.
The highly talented Joanna Marsh, told Gulf News on Thursday: “Winning one of the Ivors Composer Awards is an absolute career highlight for me. It represents the peak of music industry affirmation for music creators — the musical equivalent of an Oscar.”
She said her piece, All Shall Be Well, is for choir and is based on a text by Julian of Norwich from her book ‘Revelations of Divine Love’ which was the first book in the English language by a woman.
“It was commissioned and performed by ORA Singers who have a very active international performance schedule. I wrote the piece during the height of COVID-19 in the UAE and somehow, the text picked up on the zeitgeist of that time: Our sense of security in future of humanity was being profoundly shaken. Looking back to an ancient text from 1400 that contained strong messages of faith and quoting in the piece some ancient music from that period gave a sense of time and place. Humanity has always had to endure uncertainty and all we can do is hold fast to what we know to be true and good,” she said.
Marsh, who is the wife of Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports, has been living in Dubai since 2007 when Griffiths was offered the job. “I honestly wasn’t sure it was the right move for my career as a composer but somehow gradually, as ever when you take a bold step, things fall into place.
Within six months, I was commissioned to write a piece of orchestral music inspired by the Burj Khalifa. That piece is now on display in ‘At The Top’ as the score takes the shape of the Burj Khalifa tower itself, written out by hand. This was quickly followed by some work with the BBC Singers. And at that time, social media was getting going, so very soon my location really didn’t feature any more. I was as visible as any of my colleagues who were working in cities that had far more established classical scenes. I now have exciting commissioned work on my books that stretches far into 2024.”
But how has Dubai and the UAE inspired the composer in her?
Marsh’s answer is prompt. “I have written many pieces inspired by UAE themes, including the architecture, poetry, historical figures and experiences I have had while being here. The piece I am most proud of, however, is my first opera ‘My Beautiful Camel’ which is based on a story I devised with celebrated librettist David Pountney. It was designed to be a piece that would entice the local Dubai audience into an appreciation of modern contemporary opera. Therefore, it is dual language (English and Arabic) and contains lots of local colour and entertaining characters that people here would recognise. Very sadly, the first performance (in New York) was cancelled just as COVID-19 started and as it is very expensive to put on opera and the opera world is suffering greatly now due to so much lost revenue and nervous audiences it will not be reinstated. But if anyone would like to dip their hand in their pocket, we could make it happen here in Dubai.”
She said there are great numbers of talented musicians working here in Dubai. particularly in the commercial music industry. “However, it is not so easy to be a composer because of the lack of classical musicians employed in either a full time professional orchestra or in an opera company. It is those kinds of musical institutions that provide the ecosystem to make a fully-fledged music scene.”
That said, she said the choral festival ChoirFest Middle East that she has co-founded with her colleague Shelley Frost, The Fridge, is currently undergoing huge growth. “From this year onwards government schools in the UAE as well as private schools will take part to coincide with its 10th year anniversary. Music is a universal language and singing is something that anyone can easily participate in and the levels of reward are exponential, both personally and societally. This engagement will bring the UAE into a whole new level of musical participation that may well be the envy of nations who consider themselves far more advanced in their support of music and young musicians.”