Explore themes of slavery and freedom as Errollyn Wallen combines spirituals and contemporary classical techniques with her barrier-breaking Orchestra X.

Spirituals were introduced to Hull in 1871 by the Fisk Jubilee Singers: an African-American a cappella choir of ex-slaves. Commissioned to mark the bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, Mighty River takes inspiration from William Wilberforce. An English politician, philanthropist and leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade, Wilberforce was, fittingly, a native of Hull.

Errollyn Wallen MBE is equally at ease as a singer-songwriter of pop-influenced songs, an Ivor Novello award-winning composer of contemporary new music and the librettist of 15 operas.

Orchestra X, features the finest emerging musicians alongside the most distinguished virtuosi in the UK. In its representation of all nationalities of the world, Orchestra X testifies to its motto: “We don’t break down barriers in music…we don’t see any."

Speaking about Mighty River, Wallen says that:

"Composing for the orchestra is my favourite challenge [and this] work is an especially important one for me. It is an innate human instinct to be free, just as it is a law of nature that the river should rush headlong to the sea. That is the concept behind Mighty River.

“Slavery claimed the lives of countless people, but somehow my ancestors found the grit and determination to persist in spite of the conditions in which they found themselves. I dedicate Mighty River to my great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother. Though I never knew her, I am driven on by her courage in the face of dreadful odds and am inspired by her example not merely to survive, but to thrive."

This piece was recently featured in the two festival weekends of the PRS Foundation New Music Biennial 2017 as part of Hull City of Culture 2017 and at the Royal Festival Hall, London to great acclaim. HERE Errollyn discusses the ideas and motivations behind this moving project for the New Music Biennial.  Mighty River was broadcast live from the festival in Hull on BBC Radio 3. Hear an extract from one of the performances above. 


Image credit: Cathy Masser



 Live recording of Mighty River from PRSF New Music Biennial July 2017 at Hull City Hall featuring Orchestra X