Photo: NYCGB Alumnus James Burton conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Children’s Choir at the 2019 Tanglewood Festival. Hilary Scott

8 August 2019

National Youth Choir to sing pieces composed by NYCGB Alumnus James Burton at BBC Proms 49 – Lost Words

We caught up with James ahead of the concert at the Albert Hall on 25 August.

“I was so happy when I heard that NYCGB was going to be singing some of my music at the Proms this summer! I was taken to a Prom as a 6-year old and sat on the floor listening in the arena and have loved it ever since, so to be included as a composer this year is a pretty overwhelming feeling, doubly so that I am a former member of the choir. 

I was a member of NYCGB from 1990-1996, and I loved singing in such a big group and tackling all of the challenging repertoire. As well as enjoying the fantastic atmosphere, friendships and musical accomplishments, NYC also gave me a valuable start in conducting: I was a section leader, then an assistant conductor and, after studying orchestral conducting at music college, a little time later I returned as an Associate Conductor. It’s lovely to be involved with the choir again this summer.

In 2017 I was appointed Boston Symphony Orchestra Choral Director and, alongside conducting the orchestra’s symphony chorus The Tanglewood Festival Chorus, last season I founded the Boston Symphony Children’s Choir. The singers are 10-14 year-olds from all over Boston and they have already performed an opera at the Tanglewood Festival, appeared with the Boston Pops, and the choir recently gave the world premiere of the piece which NYCGB will perform at the Proms.

Co-commissioned by The Boston Symphony and the Hallé Orchestra, I have composed a 35-minute, 12 movement setting for upper voices and orchestra or piano. The Lost Words is based on the magical book by Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane, which seeks to put nature words which were omitted from a junior edition of a dictionary back in to the consciousness of children. The book has happily spread to schools all over the UK and seems to have caught and inspired the imagination at a time when there is so much concern about the loss of nature.

It has been a joy for me to create musical portraits to go alongside the beautiful illustrations and wistful and witty acrostic poems. As part of an entire concert based on the book, NYCGB are singing 2 of the movements from my piece: Newt is a pun-filled tale of unrequited love, and Willow paints a gentle conversation between us (the ‘listeners') and the enigmatic tree. The version for piano was premiered this summer at Tanglewood, and the entire piece will receive its orchestral premiere with the Hallé Orchestra at the Bridgewater Hall on 5th July next year. The piano/vocal score is already published by Edition Peters, and we are now working to produce a version which has Jackie Morris’ gorgeous artwork on the cover.”

The National Youth Choir of Great Britain are performing James Burton’s pieces as part of BBC Proms 2019: Prom 49: The Lost Words on 25 August at the Royal Albert Hall, London.

Tickets / More info

The performance will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3. 

Applications are now open for the NYCGB Young Composer 2019/20 Programme. Click here for more info and details of how to apply.