The Experiential Orchestra has been granted exclusive permission by Schirmer and Novello and Company to be the first to record Dame Ethel Smyth's career-culminating masterpiece, "The Prison."
Soloists will be Sarah Brailey and Grammy-Award winning Bass-baritone Dashon Burton; the Chorus will be drawn from the Grammy-nominated Clarion Choir under the direction of Steven Fox.
EXO's Smyth Recording Project will create a world-class recording of this 75-minute symphony, using newly-created professional parts engraved by Matthew Browne and edited by James Blachly.
Blachly will be giving the US Co-premiere with the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra April 7; the Cecilia Chorus of New York will perform the piece on May 11. EXO will be the first orchestra to create a commercial recording.
For more information about how to support the project, please click here, or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Dame Ethel Smyth
British composer Dame Ethel Smyth was famous for breaking gender barriers through her music and her effective activism in the suffrage movement, for which she went to jail in 1910. Until 2016, she was the only woman in history to have had an opera performed at the Met.
Determined to become a composer despite discrimination based on her gender, she defied her father, studying music in Leipzig. In short order, she met and became close with Dvorak, Grieg, Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms, among others; Tchaikovsky once wrote: "Miss Smyth is one of the comparatively few women composers who may be seriously reckoned among the workers in this sphere of music."
Critics of her music could often only hear her music in terms of her gender (one review said of her opera The Wreckers that it was "pretty good-for a woman." Others saw her as one of the great English composers, and treated her music as such. But even favorable reviews tended to make some derogatory comment about either her gender (finding the music "too feminine") or her femininity (finding the music "too masculine").
In 1934, on a festival of her music organized on her 75th birthday, Sir Thomas Beecham conducted a gala concert in the presence of the Queen. By that time, however, her deafness had advanced to such a degree that she could not hear the rapturous applause.
ABOUT THE PRISON
Composed in 1930, The Prison is Smyth's last large-scale work, scored for two soloists (portraying The Prisoner and his Soul), chorus, and orchestra. Sometimes called an oratorio or a cantata, it is similar in scale and scope to the vocal symphonies of Mahler.
Due to her advancing deafness, shortly after composing this piece, she ceased to compose at all. It is her culminating work in several regards, both in content, textual significance, and musical language; the libretto is by Henry Bennet Brewster, who was her lover and one of her closest and life-long friends, with whom she exchanged more than 1,000 letters between 1884 and his tragic death in 1908. After he died, she wrote "I felt then like a rudderless ship aimlessly drifting hither and thither." Shortly before the premiere of The Prison, she personally undertook to have the full text published as a book.
The depth of her intention may be understood from the quote she chose to place on the title page from Plotinus: "I am striving to release that which is divine within us, and to merge it in the universally divine."
To date, there are no commercial recordings of the work, and it has been performed very rarely since the premiere in 1931, conducted by Smyth herself. Indeed, there are no records of any performances with orchestra in the US. With this recording of top-level musicians and with the best production team available, we aim to bring this extraordinary music to the attention of music lovers around the world, and, in time, to inspire other orchestras to perform this masterpiece. For that reason, we have created preparing performance-ready computerized parts and providing them to the publisher for their use going forward.
As EXO Music Director James Blachly says, "we believe that the world is finally ready for her music."