Our latest commission
Hertfordshire Chorus has a long established reputation for innovative programming. Under the musical direction of David Temple MBE, one of the UK’s leading choral conductors, the choir’s drive to encourage young composers has produced some of the most outstanding and successful new choral music of recent times.
A new work exploring the intersection of Indian and Western cultures and experiences
We commissioned a young, talented Indian-American composer and vocalist, Shruthi Rajasekar to create a work for Hertfordshire Chorus to celebrate the 75th anniversary of India’s independence. It received its world premiere in St Albans Cathedral on 22nd October 2022.
The commission is about the life of Sarojini Naidu, a prominent activist, politician and poet .
Naidu studied in India and the UK, was a suffragist and a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi. An important figure in India’s struggle for independence from colonial rule, she was a powerful advocate for civil rights and women’s emancipation.
This new composition highlights the themes of her life through the use of cross-cultural and musical genres, involving Indian and Western instrumentalists and vocalists as well as Hertfordshire Chorus. We are delighted that Shruthi’s mother, world-renowned veena player and vocalist Nirmala Rajasekar will be joining us to premiere this exciting new work.
Shruthi discusses her influences and plans with David Temple in Episode 3 of Hertfordshire Chorus TV.
Credit: Alia Rose Photography
Shruthi Rajasekar‘s family originates from South India. Her parents came to the UK but now live in USA where Shruthi was born. A disciple of her mother, internationally renowned Carnatic musician Nirmala Rajasekar, Shruthi comes from a background steeped in Carnatic music as well as having studied Western music from an early age.
Shruthi is a graduate of Princeton University and was subsequently awarded a Marshall Scholarship in 2018 to study composition and ethnomusicology in the UK. Her work was summed up in the recommendation for this scholarship as ‘not only exquisitely beautiful but able skilfully to honour and transcend cultural boundaries between Indian and Western classical music’. Composition honours include the KHORIKOS ORTUS International Award and the Global Women in Music Award from the United Nations & Donne in Musica. As a soprano and Carnatic vocalist, Shruthi has been recognized by the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) and the internationally-televised Carnatic Music Idol USA.
She is passionate about exploring the intersection between Indian music and Western classical music and expressing facets of the post-colonial legacy through the combination of these genres.
David Temple writes about meeting Shruthi and the origins of the commission in his latest blog.
“When I first read Sarojini Naidu’s biography, I noticed echoes of her background and spirit in my own life. I, too, come from an artistic Indian family; I, also, have pursued my dreams in earnest, never permitting the world to persuade me that a woman of colour could not be ambitious.
I traveled to England for graduate education, living a stone’s throw from where Sarojini Naidu studied in London. Picturing her on those familiar streets, I find myself wanting to ask her questions: how did it feel to have that incredible independence? And how did it feel to know that this freedom was sweet but short-lived?
The country that was liberating her mind was also crushing the spirit of her home under its controlling rule. The classmates with whom she passionately discussed moral ideals in theory could not accept that in practice, they were profiting from the disenfranchisement of her people.
I recently came across a video of Sarojini Naidu speaking in the United States in 1928. It is a privilege to witness her strength and conviction. In the footage, she corrects the American perception that all women in India are repressed. This part elicited a wry smile from me, for every South Asian has had the all-too-familiar experience of challenging Western stereotypes of us and calling out this racism.
There were many important reforms that Sarojini Naidu fought for in India, but she was not driven by outsider views of her culture. Rather, she sought to realise India’s best version of itself. I love my home country of the USA, and I love my native home of India, but even today, I find that the West still misunderstands some of South Asia’s complexities. Projects like this collaboration with Hertfordshire Chorus allow all of us to explore nuances, refine our perceptions, and be more open in our hearts”.
Shruthi Rajasekar 2021
Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949) was a prominent activist, politician and poet. She was born into a Bengali family in Hyderabad. She initially studied in Madras, and at the age of 16 won a scholarship to King’s College London on the strength of her poetry, and then went on to Girton College Cambridge. She was fêted in London in the 1900s as the poet of an exoticised India. Her poetry was heavily influenced by Edmund Gosse, Arthur Symons and W.B.Yeats.
During her time in London, Sarojini encountered the women’s suffrage movement and quickly became a campaigner and activist, which she remained for the rest of her life. On her return to India, she maintained correspondence with poets in Britain but also embarked on a political career, joining the Indian National Congress.
She had met Mahatma Gandhi in London in 1914 and became very close to him, accompanying him on the famous Dandi Salt March in 1930 and the Round Table Conference for Indian-British cooperation in London in 1931. She was an important figure in India’s struggle for independence from colonial rule as well as being a powerful advocate for civil rights and women’s emancipation. She was the first Indian woman president of the Indian National Congress. In 1947 she became governor of the United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh), a post she retained until her death in 1949.
Naidu’s poetry includes children’s poems and more serious themes such as patriotism, romance and tragedy. Her first volume of poetry, The Golden Threshold (1905) was followed by The Bird of Time (1912), and in 1914 she was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. One of her most famous poems, In the Bazaars of Hyderabad was described as shining ‘like an Oriental gem’ by the New York Times in 1913. She is sometimes called “the Nightingale of India” for the musical nature of her writing.