Composer Feature

Liz Johnson – Composer Feature

Liz Johnson was born on the south coast of England and started composing seriously in her mid-30s when she took a ‘year out’ from her school classroom-teaching job to do a Masters in composition at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. She was encouraged not to go back to the day job, and has had an amazing adventure being a composer since then. Liz now lives on the beautiful Malvern Hills, facing west towards the Welsh border, with her husband and her dog.

Tomorrow, we’ll be performing two movements (“Watching Medusa” and “Pig”) from her piece, Jo Shapcott Settings. Liz writes:

Jo Shapcott is an English poet who loves to turn our common perception of things on its head. In ‘Watching Medusa,’ the myth of the serpent-headed monster (the sight of whom turns people to stone) is explored. ‘Struck dumb’ in front of us, the statue tells of her overwhelming desire to stay still – not due to terror but because of her fascination and love for the ‘sweet hissing mouths’. I wrote this song for the incredible vocalist Loré Lixenberg to explore every facet of her voice, switching between the gutteral sounds emanating from the semi-frozen statue and the siren voice of the serpentine seducer.

‘Pig’ can be read as a critique of the way women are judged, if you wish. But originally I wrote it for a male singer, as I was interested in creating works for male voices with female composer and lyricist – trying to redress the balance. This new version was also created for Loré, and both songs have been recorded on my debut album Intricate Web, along with two more Jo Shapcott Settings: ‘Elephant Woman’ and ‘Cabbage Dreams,’ plus a setting of Kathleen Jamie’s large scale poem ‘Sky-burial’ for voice and string quartet, with the Fitzwilliam String Quartet (MSV 77206).”

Liz described one of her influences for her setting of the Medusa myth:

“I first came across the writings of Italo Calvino in his Six Memos for the Next Millennium back in 1999. He talks of the Medusa myth and takes inspiration from Perseus – the hero – who, ‘to cut off the Medusa’s head without being turned to stone, supports himself on the very lightest of things, the wind and the clouds, and fixes his gaze upon what can only be revealed by indirect vision, an image caught in a mirror’. This idea of engaging with a subject through a reflection, an indirect gaze, has been really important in my own creative work.”

We were immediately drawn to these pieces when going through the call for scores submissions, to this setting of the Medusa myth and how it is represented through the theatricality of the pieces. Carrie and Henrique have been digging into this piece and we’re thrilled to present it on Sunday Feb. 18 at Trinity Episcopal in Toledo.


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