New Music Biennial 2019 - Chineke! and Roderick Williams


As part of the Performing Rights Society’s New Music Biennial, the Chineke! Orchestra has specially commissioned a new work by composer/baritone Roderick Williams.

Since its foundation in 2015, a central policy of Chineke! has been to champion the music of composers of BME heritage in every programme that we perform, and especially to commission new works. Roderick Williams was the ideal choice for this PRS New Music Biennial 2019 commission - known across the world as a leading baritone, and with an ever-increasing number of works to his name as a composer, we are delighted that Roderick has written a piece that will include him as soloist. Three Song from Ethiopia Boy will be a work that we can feature in future concert programmes, particularly a jazz-inspired programme that we plan to tour in the 2020-21 season. The PRS New Music Biennial 2019 initiative has been a wonderful catalyst in enabling this new work to come to fruition, and our performances in the QEH and Hull, together with the NMC Recordings release, will serve as a springboard to many further performances in the future.

Based on the poetry of Chris Beckett, Roderick was inspired to develop this narrative melodically into a piece scored for voice and orchestra -Three Songs from Ethiopia Boy.

Chris Beckett’s book of poetry about his upbringing in Ethiopia was brought to my attention by chance by a pianist with whom I was rehearsing.  My gaze happened to fall on the book and I picked it up, asking about its author, a friend of my accompanist. As I opened it to rifle through, I happened upon the final poem in the book ‘The Goodbye Tree’, and a sense of music began to play immediately in my head.  I knew instinctively that my search for texts for this very special Chineke! commission was over.  The dust and the heat, the rhythms, the colours, the infectious joy, the impish cheekiness of Beckett’s poems screamed out to me as being the perfect match for the effervescent spirit of this unique orchestra. I was a little apprehensive in contacting Chris, afraid he might not be that happy to have me to play with his poetic creation but his response was just as joyous.  I know above all else that setting Chris’ poetry was going to be a great deal of fun.

Roderick Williams

Three Songs from Ethiopia Boy will be performed in London at Queen Elizabeth Hall on Sunday 7th July and at Hull City Hall on Sunday 14th July.

PRS Foundation’s New Music Biennial is a critically acclaimed free festival presenting 20 pieces of new music across two festival weekends, at London’s Southbank Centre (5th – 7th July 2019), by Absolutely Cultured in Hull (12th – 14th July), broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and available for download from NMC Recordings.