Last Man Standing

In 2018 I collaborated (for the second time) with composer Cheryl Frances Hoad on a song cycle for baritone Marcus Farnsworth and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

The work, Last Man Standing, was commissioned for the World War 1 Armistice Centenary and premiered on 30th November 2018 at the Barbican Hall.  The programme also included Vaughn Williams’s massive Fourth Symphony, inspired by his wartime service in the Medical Corps, and Arnold Bax’s 1917 tone poem ‘November Woods’. There were 89 players in the orchestra for this concert (our piece required 4 percussionists, playing everything from authentic WW1 trench whistles to ‘lion roars’, and marching in gravel boxes). The concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.


“What a premiere! Incredible, touching masterful work by Cheryl Frances-Hoad & Tamsin Collison, superbly performed by Marcus Farnsworth, Paul Michael Hughes’ magnificent BBCSO and Martyn Brabbins conducting for the second night in a row for me. Not forgetting Kenneth Richardson’s lean, telling staging. Bravi Tutti!”

Bill Bankes-Jones, Tete a Tete Opera Company

“The combination of text to music is brilliant.  The relationship of the voice and words to the orchestra ‘support’ is so fine.  The composer found a marvellous means of ‘accompanying’ the voice, never covering it, and letting us hear the words so beautifully…..   That is an art form unto itself”.

Robert Moran, composer

“The text by Tamsin Collison is direct, clear and pulls no punches. “Rats as big as cats grow fat/On the flesh/Of fallen friends/And lice feast on the sluggish blood/Of those men left alive’.

Matching the forcefulness of Collison’s words is music by Frances-Hoad which is highly dramatic, beautifully scored and full of imaginative touches, with quotations from popular songs of the period used in strikingly pungent orchestral contexts. The vocal line was negotiated by Marcus Farnsworth with skill, beauty of tone and strong characterisation.

The playing seemed utterly assured under Brabbins’s direction, and altogether it was an impressive contribution to the series of events that have marked the centenary of the end of the Great War.”

Alan Sanders, Seen & Heard International

“The outstanding concert – probably of the year, actually – was the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Martyn Brabbins conducting Arnold Bax’s November Woods, a Vaughan Williams symphony and the premiere of a monodrama by Cheryl Frances-Hoad – ‘Last Man Standing’ – for baritone solo (Marcus Farnsworth) and orchestra.  It’s a WW1 commemoration piece – quite the best piece of its type I’ve heard. I saw the War Requiem at English National Opera – this wiped the floor with it.

It’s such an interesting piece and so exciting to discover a composer who really understands a) how to write for the voice but b)  how to use that with orchestra so that it’s not smothered by great big sound.  And does drama! She knows how to write drama!”

David Benedict, Saturday Review, BBC Radio 4