Between the Sandhills and the Sea
A Tribute to Vera Brittain & Winifred Holtby
For your GRAMMYⓇ Consideration.
GRAMMYⓇ Category: Classical Compendium
Hannah Holman, violoncello
Michelle Alvarado, piano
Sonya Cassidy, narrator
This recording project honors the lives and work of groundbreaking British authors and social reformers Vera Brittain (1893-1970) and Winifred Holtby (1898-1935). A nurse during WWI, Brittain was also the only woman to chronicle the Great War in depth.
Working near the front lines, Brittain witnessed the devastation of war while caring for both British and German soldiers. Among others, she lost her only brother, a fiancé, and later, her grief-stricken father. Brittain wrote with searing passion about her life-changing experiences, and she eventually became a devoted pacifist.
In her 1933 memoir Testament of Youth, Brittain reflected on the "post-war frenzy for memorials—as though we could somehow compensate the dead." But there was no restitution for a generation lost. She wrote of the "stone architecture" that covered the "soil that held so much agony," lamenting, "Only the sandhills and the sea remained unchanged."
Like Brittain, Winifred Holtby, campaigned for peace and women's rights. She is also remembered for her interwar work in segregated South Africa. Holtby advocated for the unionization of Black workers through the Industrial & Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU). Moreover, in 1934 she established the Society of Friends of Africa providing funding, grants, and sponsorship for native people. In 1940, the Winifred Holtby Memorial Library was built in Johannesburg in her honor. The first library of its kind in South Africa, it was ‘equipped solely for the use of non-Europeans...and intended to serve native women as well as men.’ Holtby’s landmark feminist novel, South Riding, was published in 1936.
As activists, Brittain and Holtby campaigned together tirelessly with Brittain summing up their work in three words: “peace, justice, compassion.” Their collective message was a cautionary tale, informed by a keen understanding of the horrors of war, and an unwavering desire to promote gender and racial equality.
Each musical movement contemplates the loss, heartbreak, and isolation, as well as the courage, perseverance, and ambition, experienced by the authors. Brittain and Holtby’s powerful words are woven throughout the musical passages, which are alternately hopeful and ascending, and mournful and anguished.
The program opens with an homage to Holtby titled No Mourning By Request, and it concludes with Epilogue: Immortal Flower, a peaceful thought of eternity. The five-movement work Between the Sandhills and the Sea, focuses on Brittain's experiences during WWI.
This project was first presented in 2021 on a tour of the American Midwest, including a performance at the stunning Voxman Music Hall in Iowa City. "Movement I: Time" premiered at Carnegie Hall in 2018.
All music by Eric Starr, except “L’Envoi” by Edward Brittain. Poetry by Winifred Holtby, Vera Brittain, and W.E. Henley. Music recorded at Gurari Studios at The National Opera Center, NYC. Poems recorded at Another Tongue, London. Music recorded, mixed, and mastered by Jeremy Gerard. Cover Art (oil on gesso board) by Amanda Besl. Produced by Eric Starr and Delia Starr.
Edward Brittain's setting of Roland Leighton's L'Envoi is © The Literary Executors of the Vera Brittain Will Trust (1970). L'Envoi excerpt is heard in "Movement V. Refuse to Forget" from circa 1'53" - 3'26".
This recording is intended to be enjoyed in sequence.
Total Running Time: 58 min. 40 secs
UPC Code: 198004851350
Bronx Bound Records © 2022
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Reviews and Testimonials:
"Starr is after the universal here, with both text and music illuminating the ties that bind us all - loss and dissolution, yes, but also perseverance and the indomitability of the human spirit...The result is a momentous music, redolent of an aching for transcendence and a deep empathy for the subject matter. Between the Sandhills and the Sea is an emotionally complex, sometimes challenging but ultimately accessible, inviting and deeply rewarding work."
-Buffalo News, Arts & Entertainment (USA)
"A moving musical tribute to two great women of the 20th Century. Between the Sandhills and the Sea is a phantasmagoria of shifting emotions. Cellist Hannah Holman and pianist Michelle Alvarado navigate the evocations of loss, heartbreak, and isolation, as well as courage, perseverance, and ambition, with enormous sensitivity and commitment...Actor Sonya Cassidy's readings are pitch-perfect, downplaying any sentimentality while pointing up the underlying emotions, as she so masterfully does..."
-Limelight Magazine (Australia/UK) (★★★★1/2)
"This program combines readings of poems by the two authors, sensitively performed by Sonya Cassidy, with music for piano and cello. Eric Starr's music reflects the seriousness of the issue....The dialogue of cello and piano develops sometimes very melancholy, or even downright sad, sometimes fluid and light, but always eloquent and evocative. All in all, it provides a thought-provoking experience, in relation to the strong texts of the two authors."
-Pizzicato Journal (Luxembourg) (★★★★)
"This project is particularly beautiful...incredibly imaginative and superbly performed...Some of the writing is markedly fantastical, some almost chivalrous...This is powerful. There should be more projects that juxtapose performed poetry and music in this way (rather than musical settings). The whole disc is strangely invigorating (given its subject matter). Lest we forget ... and it is clear Starr has not. Compelling."
-Fanfare Magazine (USA) (★★★★)
"Eric Starr's tribute to two heroic and impactful women of the early 20th century is a provocative and heart-wrenching celebration of perseverance. [The compositions are] intensely resolute and reflective, alternatingly pensive and probing; a meditation on the will to do good and carry on in the face of unthinkable suffering."
-Chronogram Magazine (USA)
“Eric Starr's project is truly valuable in this volatile world, and it’s clearly very powerful.”
-James Kent, Director of the BBC/Heyday Films biopic Testament of Youth
“Eric Starr's project sounds like the most wonderful tribute to two extraordinary women!”
-Juliette Towhidi, Screenwriter of the BBC/Heyday Films biopic Testament of Youth
"Eric Starr's tribute to Vera Brittain and Winifred Holtby, Between the Sandhills and the Sea, combines readings of the two authors' poems with evocative and moving music for piano and cello. One senses in the work the same powerful themes that animated their lives and their writing, an undertone of sorrow for what was irrevocably lost in the Great War, a new-found joy in their love for each other, and a determination to use their own lives to make the world a better place."
-Elaine and English Showalter
co-editors, Between Friends: Letters of Vera Brittain and Winifred Holtby