Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Sally, Queen of Scots: The Rise of Scottish Composer Sally Beamish

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Sally, Queen of Scots: The Rise of Scottish Composer Sally Beamish

Article excerpt

IN THE IDYLLIC, ROLLING Scottish countryside known as Sterlingshire, the tiny rural village of Gartmore perches remotely like a remnant of a once bustling market center. An imposing dwelling on the high street named Forth House beckons the guest into its labyrinth of rooms where evidence of children and pets tumbles from every corner. On a damp day in March 2008, this writer was welcomed into the homey kitchen where composer Sally Beamish held forth for an interview over steaming mugs of tea. It would be difficult to guess, unless one had researched Beamish's prolific composition career, that such an isolated environment was home to one of Scotland's most heralded emerging composers, one beloved much as royalty in this rugged landscape.

A short walk with Beamish through the back garden leads to a refurbished potting shed, now comfortably equipped with the necessities of her trade. It is here where Beamish escapes to immerse herself in her inner world, pouring out the many notes of her imagination into scores for voice, for instruments, for orchestras, for chorus . . . for a seemingly endless array of musical combinations. Of particular interest to singers are her compositions for solo voice that continue to contribute unique and challenging additions to contemporary literature. When meeting Beamish in person, one is immediately taken with her soft spoken and modest demeanor, especially surprising for one hailed as one of the best and most respected composers in the United Kingdom. As one interviewer described, "A quietly assured and composed woman who appears endearingly shy at times, there is an admirable strength of will coursing through Beamish . . ."1

Within only two decades, Sally Beamish's fertile pen has yielded some 150 compositions-no small accomplishment for a composer embarking upon a new career in her thirties while simultaneously raising three children and supporting her (now former) husband's musical career. With a catalogue of works showing dozens of pieces in almost every genre, Sally Beamish has captured the hearts of her countrymen with her devotion to Scotland as her home base and her love of all things Scottish. Her music has now been broadcast worldwide and she has received commissions from Japan, Australia, Scandinavia, Europe, and the United States.

Hailed in Scotland as a composer "at the top of her game and the pinnacle of her profession,"2 Beamish is now beginning to make inroads with North American audiences. A recent concerto for cello, The Song Gatherer, was unveiled in November 2009 with the Minnesota Orchestra under the baton of Osmo Vanska and featuring English cellist Robert Cohen. The world premiere of The Song Gatherer, which received enthusiastic reviews, invited a return visit for Beamish to the United States and further expanded her international career. This marked her second visit to Minnesota; in March of 2007 Stephen Isserlis performed her arrangement of Debussy's Cello Suite with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.3 The Song Gatherer received a premiere in Great Britain with the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester in December, 2010, a year that also produced a new Beamish concerto for percussionist Colin Currie with the Bergen Symphony Orchestra.

Born in 1956 into a musical family (her mother a professional violinist who freelanced with the Academy of St. Martin's in the Field, her father an amateur singer), Beamish studied piano and viola from an early age. She trained at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester on violin, later changing to viola, and she eventually became one of London's busiest freelance violists, performing with such esteemed groups as the London Sinfonietta and Lontano. In spite of the active career as violisi, however, Beamish always had gnawing at the back of her mind the desire to create music, not just to perform. Following the more practical course of performance, she kept her desires on the back burner until one day an event of almost monumental proportions took place that forever altered her course-her precious viola, a 1749 Gabriella from Venice, was stolen, never to be returned. …

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