'Thou hast searched me and known me'

Side view of assistant director of music at Truro Cathedral Joseph Wicks

I am always excited to see what concept lies behind the latest cathedral choir concert programme. Whilst he does involve me in the music choice, my colleague Chris is a gifted programme constructor, and this year’s Summer Concert is particularly enchanting in its conception. We will traverse the last 120 years of composition in chronological order, starting with Parry in 1902 and ending with British born Dubai resident Joanna Marsh in 2015. Indeed, we have a great deal of female composers represented this time.

I can claim some credit for Joanna Marsh’s work making the cut, having introduced Chris to her music recently. I first discovered Jo’s music in Cambridge a few years ago, and together with my colleagues in The Gesualdo Six, we first performed some of her ‘Arabesques’ which she originally wrote for The King’s Singers. Here was music, we thought, that truly spoke with such an attractive yet accessible voice. Throughout her music, she plays with mirage-like textures phasing through the voices in a very sophisticated manner, using piquant harmonies extensively that really grip the listener, sustaining dissonances seemingly forever. This is, crucially for our choir and its sensibilities as an ensemble, combined with a very deep sense of the text she is setting. We have chosen to perform ‘Thou hast searched me and known me’, the famous opening verses from Psalm 139, and I happen to think that this text goes alongside Jo’s compositional voice perfectly. As it describes God’s all-knowing nature and just how far it reaches, so the piece continually searches, seeks to conclude. Rather poignantly, the piece does not seem to reach consonance at the end, falling short, at the words ‘Such knowledge is too wonderful for me: it is high, I cannot attain to it’.

Joanna Marsh's ‘Thou hast searched me and known me’ will be performed by Truro Cathedral Choir at their summer concert on Saturday 22nd June at 5.00pm. Visit our What's On section to find out more.