Irwin Mitchell mjf originals commission awarded to Esther Swift

The 2018 Irwin Mitchell mjf originals commission has been awarded to Esther Swift as mjf continue to champion women in music. The award-winning manchester jazz festival (mjf) brings its exciting, eclectic mix of events to a variety of venues across Manchester city centre from 20 - 28 July this year. Recognised for celebrating contemporary jazz through adventurous programming, each year the Irwin Mitchell mjf originals commission provides a talented regional artist with an exceptional opportunity to present new work. This year’s commission has been awarded to harpist and composer, Esther Swift, with her composition Light Gatherer, an instrumentation of voice, harp quartet, string trio, piano, saxophone, trombone and percussion.

To mark the centenary of women being given the vote in this country, Esther celebrates the diversity embraced by manchester jazz festival by writing a new work which will showcase the harp in an unusual and unexplored contemporary jazz language. Esther will take words, exploring their meaning and their sound, and create a series of pieces which experiment with texture, purpose and expectation.
Esther Swift said: "The Irwin Mitchell: mjf originals commission is a bit of a dream come true for me. It has come along at a really exciting point in my creative development and I am itching to write the music and play it with my friends." 

For 23 years, manchester jazz festival has championed and been firm advocates of women in music through the festival programme and special projects; mjf introduces, mjf originals and new scheme mjf hothouse. In 2017, mjf are proud to say that 50% of all bands that played included women in their line- up, translating as 49 out of 98 gigs having a strong female presence. This percentage is unrivalled by any other UK jazz festival and the 2018 programme looks to be no different. 2018 also sees mjf become associate members of the PRS Foundation Keychange initiative, Keychange is a pioneering European initiative which empowers women to transform the future of the music industry and encourages festivals to sign-up to a 50:50 gender balance by 2022. Esther Swift epitomises this initiative through her work in the Clouds harps quartet and continues to help mjf in sustaining an equal gender balance, we are thrilled to be able to support her composition journey.

Artistic Director of manchester jazz festival Steve Mead, said: “I’m absolutely thrilled that Esther will be producing Light Gatherer for mjf 2018. Not only does it promise to be an intriguing piece of new work, but it helps us build on our historical achievements in celebrating female creative talent across our programmes, it adds to our increasingly impressive canon of commissioned work and it brings together some of the outstanding artists we have living and working in the north west. The 2018 suffrage centenary, and our appointment as a Keychange Associate, naturally add a special dimension. My priority is for mjf to sustain its solid reputation for balanced, adventurous programming that continues to inspire audiences and support artists – and always questions the norm.”

Now in its fifth year, mjf originals is again being sponsored by Irwin Mitchell. The continuity of this support has enabled mjf to pioneer exciting, innovative new works by northern artists. Roy Beckett, regional managing partner at Irwin Mitchell in Manchester, said: “Irwin Mitchell is once again delighted to be sponsoring the mjf originals series. manchester jazz festival continues to go from strength to strength and I think it is appropriate that this year’s Irwin Mitchell mjf originals commission, Light Gatherer, celebrates the city’s proud past as the birthplace of the suffragette movement here in Manchester.”

Esther’s style draws on her folk roots from Scotland where she was born and combines her love of jazz, minimalism and dance music, which she discovered whilst studying at the RNCM in Manchester. She also weaves in influences from her travels around the world to Mongolia, Brasil, Malawi and Quebec. The line-up will include her harp quartet Clouds, as well as string trio Eblanas and prestigious jazz musicians Richard Jones, Rich Mcveigh and Jeff Guntren.

Esther regularly travels the world with her own music, performing with different projects in many guises, recently visiting Chile, New Zealand, Malaysia, and Europe. She has performed in The Albert Hall, WOMAD Festival, Celtic Connections and Akordeonale with fiddle and harp duo Twelfth Day, as well as appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and regularly on BBC Radio 3. With her harp quartet Clouds she has performed in Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, Edinburgh Harp Festival, and received a commission from The Wales Harp Festival for her work The Twa Sisters.

The manchester jazz festival programme, including full details about Light Gatherer will be released late April at and on mjf’s social media platforms, including Twitter @ManJazzFest and Facebook @manchesterjazzfestival.