Judith Bingham has, until recently, combined the careers of professional singer and serious composer – an almost automatic coupling in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, but a rarer one in more recent times. Born in Nottingham, and raised mostly in Sheffield, she studied both disciplines at the Royal Academy of Music of London; her composition studies there with Alan Bush and Eric Fenby were later supplemented by lessons from Hans Keller. She was awarded the Principal’s Prize for Composition at the Academy in 1971, and six years later the BBC Young Composer Award.
Meanwhile, after singing as an amateur with the then BBC Choral Society (now the BBC Symphony Chorus), she had begun working as a freelance member of the BBC Singers and several other choirs and vocal ensembles. In 1983, she joined the BBC Singers as a full-time member of the alto section; with them, she toured extensively, and sang many solo parts. She left the Singers at the end of 1995 to concentrate on her activities as a composer, though she continued to sing professionally for some years.
Judith Bingham’s compositional voice is a distinctive one: her singer’s feeling for expressive melodic lines is complemented by a strong rhythmic and harmonic sense. Her music is never purely abstract in conception, but always shaped and coloured by extra-musical sources of inspiration – both from the natural world and from the world of the arts and ideas. Not surprisingly, she first made her reputation with a series of choral works, many of them based on texts compiled from disparate sources as an integral part of the compositional process. Several of these were for the BBC Singers, but there were also pieces for various other professional, amateur and collegiate choirs, including Salt in the Blood, written for the BBC Symphony Chorus to perform at the 1995 Proms.
As Bingham’s composing career has developed, the scope of her activities has gradually widened, to include pieces for brass band, symphonic wind ensemble and various chamber groups and solo instruments, concertos for trumpet and bassoon, and a series of three impressive works for large orchestra: Chartres (1988), Beyond Redemption (1995), a BBC commission for the BBC Philharmonic, and The Temple at Karnak (1996). However, her choral output has continued unabated, ranging from three-minute anthems to the 35-minute Otherworld, for chorus and orchestra, first performed at the Three Choirs Festival in Hereford in 2000 and repeated the following year by the Plymouth Music Series of Minnesota.
The Christmas Truce, inspired by a celebrated incident in the First World War, was first performed by the BBC Singers and the Britten Sinfonia in Norwich in 2003; and The Ivory Tree, a music-drama for soloists, chorus and ensemble, had its first complete performance in Bury St Edmunds Cathedral in 2005. A smaller but significant commission, was announced for the new carol in the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge in 2004.
Profile © Anthony Burton