Scenes from the Wild – Cheryl Frances-Hoad
‘Scenes from the Wild is an 80-minute song cycle with music by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, setting words by Amanda Holden that distil the essence of McAnulty’s book into 26 succinct poems. It was Holden’s last completed project before her sudden death in early September  and, as performed by the tenor William Morgan and the City of London Sinfonia in this premiere conducted by Geoffrey Paterson, it’s a captivating work, marrying insightful words to gently powerful music.’
‘A conservationist and an activist, Dara McAnulty’s book [Diary of a Young Naturalist] explores the natural world throughout the seasons, his fascination with flora and fauna being tied up with both his activism and his autism. Holden’s libretto distilled the book down to 26 episodes, spread across the four seasons of a year (2018 to 2019). The result was something of a tour-de-force for both composer and performers, as the song cycle lasted around 80 minutes, as well as a bit of a challenge for listeners.’
The world premiere of Scenes from the Wild, a dramatic seventy-minute song cycle for tenor and chamber orchestra, composed by Cheryl Frances-Hoad to lyrics by Amanda Holden, took place at Southwark Cathedral in London on November 25, 2021. Geoffrey Paterson conducted City of London Sinfonia with tenor William Morgan and movement direction by Sarah Dowling.
Cheryl Frances-Hoad and Amanda Holden began their collaboration in March 2019. Work on how to bring Dara McAnulty’s bestselling book, Diary of a Young Naturalist, to life as a dramatic song cycle began the following year after discovering it on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Book of the Week’. Both were struck by how operatic, pertinent, and, most importantly, hopeful Dara’s story is. Working in close collaboration, the song cycle – which features 27 original songs for a 17-piece orchestra and tenor – was finished in June 2021. News of the sudden and unexpected death of Amanda Holden on September 7, 2021 was received with great sadness by everyone working on the project, and it was with gratitude and admiration for her passion and dedication to this story that the premier performances of Scenes from the Wild, her final original work, were dedicated to her memory.
Amanda Holden wrote:
“The diary, March 2018-19, begins with an echo of Dara’s early memories, then traces the year through his autism and being bullied at school, but primarily through real events that describe his interaction with the natural world. His fascination for all flora and fauna and his horror at their destruction lead on to the start of his activism; by the end of this year he emerges, just before his 15th birthday, knowing where he must go.”
Scenes from the Wild was commissioned by City of London Sinfonia for their 50th anniversary year, with help from Arts Council England National Lottery Project Grants, PRS Foundation’s The Open Fund for Organisations, Cockayne – Grants for the Arts and The London Community Foundation.