LYC Blog #9: The Forgotten Music of the Convents

Conductor Olivia Shotton explains her discovery of a piece performed by LYC at their weekend with Genesis Sixteen, and her research into the music of Italian Convents

Published November 2023

On 21st-22nd October, London Youth Choirs and Genesis Sixteen, led by Harry Christophers (Conductor of The Sixteen), Tori Longdon, and a quartet of Genesis Sixteen alumni, joined together for a weekend of music-making, culminating in an informal performance. I have the (not entirely!) unique but very privileged position of working with both of these organisations, as the Genesis Sixteen Conducting Scholar (2022-23), and as the current Conductor of London Youth Choir West.

Genesis Sixteen is made up of promising choral singers aged 18-23. As the Conducting Scholar, I conducted the ensemble under the watchful eyes of Harry and Eamonn Dougan. Conversely, as Conductor of LYC West, I conduct 30 singers aged 7-11, which is a very different kind of rehearsal!

Part of the role of the Conducting Scholar is choosing repertoire to conduct. In July, my cohort broadcast a service of Choral Evensong on BBC Radio 3, for which I suggested a relatively unknown piece by Caterina Assandra: an 8-part setting of ‘Salve Regina’. If you had the good fortune of attending the informal concert at the end of the LYC/Gen 16 weekend, you will have heard this piece close the performance.

I first discovered Assandra’s music during my Fellowship at the Royal Academy of Music (2021-22), when I was researching and performing music from the Italian convents of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. I came across the piece on Spotify, recorded by Italian ensemble Cappella Artemisia, a female collective who specialise in Italian convent music. I could not find the score online, so I contacted the founder and director of the ensemble, Candace Smith. She kindly sent me her edition, along with details of how she had altered it for use by her group, and her re-constructed first soprano part. Part of my Fellowship involved editing scores, as parts are often lost, copied down incorrectly or simply laid out in ways that make it tricky for modern performance. Using Candace’s edition of ‘Salve Regina’, I made it suitable for use by mixed voices and cleared up a few possible errors in the score to produce the version performed by Genesis Sixteen and LYC.

Historically, music by female composers has not received the performance platform that it deserves, and Italian convent music is no exception. Convent music would have been composed in a gated environment, so it was especially exciting to see the young people facing the challenges of this tricky music head-on, and bringing it to a 21st century audience. In an uncertain time for the arts, collaborations like this weekend will help to cement the future of choral music by continuing to expand and diversify both repertoire and audiences.


Olivia’s professional ensemble, The CONVENTional Project, specialise in performing music from the Italian convents of the Renaissance and Baroque. They recently performed Chiara Margarita Cozzolani’s Vespers of 1650 at the Wimbledon Music Festival. 


Conductor (LYC West)


Olivia graduated with distinction from the Choral Conducting MA at the Royal Academy of Music (2021), and was a 2021-22 Fellow. She is the conductor of the University of London Chamber Choir and University of Greenwich Choir, Assistant Conductor of Ealing Symphony Orchestra, and she was the 2022-23 Genesis Sixteen Conducting Scholar. Olivia founded the professional early music ensemble The CONVENTional Project, performing music from the Italian convents.

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Her previous engagements include Assistant Chorus Master to Simon Halsey in preparing the Academy Chorus for a performance of Mahler Symphony 3 under Semyon Bychkov, Fellowship with The National Youth Choirs of Great Britain (2022), participating in the Dartington International Summer School Advanced Conductor programme (2022), Assistant Musical Director with the British Youth Opera production of Hansel and Gretel (2021), and semi-finalist in the DIMA International Choral Conducting Competition (2021).

Alongside her conducting, Olivia is in high demand as both a workshop leader, leading workshops on behalf of VOCES8 and The Sixteen, and as a singer, performing with several professional ensembles, including London Voices.


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