Mayflower on the Sea of Time
28th July-1st August 2023

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Philip Sawyers  Mayflower on the Sea of Time


English Symphony Orchestra & Chorus
Conductor: Kenneth Woods
Soloists: April Fredrick (Soprano), Thomas Humphreys (Baritone)

About this Concert

Philip Sawyers’ oratorio “Mayflower on the Sea of Time” was commissioned by the Worcester City Council to mark the 400th Anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower to America. The work traces the journey of the pilgrims fleeing religious oppression through a perilous journey across the ocean to an uncertain life in the new world. On their arrival in Massachusetts, there is a clash of cultures between the pilgrims and the indigenous population, who ultimately become the pilgrims salvation during their first hard winter.

Philip Sawyers – composer

Philip Groom – librettist

Discover More

Philip Sawyers and Philip Groom in Conversation


Programme notes by the composer

Philip Sawyers (1951 – ) Mayflower on the Sea of Time


The 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower was in 2020. My task as a composer was to write a substantial choral/orchestral work to celebrate this event and the challenges that the Pilgrims faced in the New World. 

My librettist wrote an imaginative piece that incorporated both a narrative and a reflection on the wider implications the story contained. So human attributes and frailties, moral, religious and political questions are touched upon.

ESO Composer Laureate, Philip Sawyers Photo by Jason Ashwood

The resulting Oratorio, Mayflower on the Sea of Time, is in 4 parts. The soprano and baritone soloists take on multiple roles as both narrators and different characters from the story. The first part, persecution and journey, gave me scope among other things for an exciting ‘storm at sea’ section. The second part, Arrival in the New World, features historic characters, some from Worcester City, and also includes some of the communities’ children. One of the main characters, Edward Winslow, was educated at King’s School Worcester Cathedral between 1606 and 1611. We also meet the first Native Americans that the Pilgrims encounter and the music takes us through their sometimes peaceful and sometimes antagonistic co-existence. The third part is Survival and Making our Community. Musically this is a fast ‘scherzo’ section with an equal mix of humour (wives berating their husbands for excessive drinking!) and pathos as the hard first winter led to the deaths of many in the settlement. The fourth part includes a joyous celebration, the first Thanksgiving, and reflections on what happened to some of the characters we have already met. I have interpolated a short quote from Thomas Tomkins’ motet ‘We brought nothing into this world’ during Susanna’s final outburst of grief. Tomkins was appointed as inspector of the choristers at Worcester Cathedral in 1592 and spent most of his later years in Worcester. The final section of part 4, The Sea of Time, ties the themes together with an almost timeless relevance to the human journeys we all share. The last duet between the soprano and baritone soloists is a setting of some lines reflecting the mystic qualities of the natural world by one of America’s most iconic poets, Walt Whitman. The last joyous chorus brings the work to an affirmative close.

Philip Sawyers

April Fredrick, ESO Affiliate Artist - soprano

Hailed as ‘astonishing and luminous’ (Bachtrack), soprano April Fredrick’s work spans opera, orchestral song, art song, oratorio, and historical performance. She loves words and stories and the way that they fire composers’ imaginations and the audience’s imagination in turn, connecting us with those who have come before. 

An Associate Artist with the English Symphony Orchestra, her world premiere performance of ‘Jane’ in John Joubert’s Jane Eyre with the ESO was described as ‘utterly riveting, with a terrific dramatic sense’ (Music and Vision). She has also recently recorded two acclaimed albums with the ESO on Nimbus, Visions of Childhood and ‘Judit’ in Bártók’s Bluebeard’s Castle. 

With a growing reputation for championing new works, April recently premiered Her War, an opera written for her and trumpeter Simon Desbruslais by Edwin Roxburgh and BBC Radio 4 Tommies creator Jonathan Ruffle, about nurses’ experience of PTSD in WWI. Other recent premieres include David Matthew’s Le Lac with the Orchestra of the Swan and Eric McElroy’s cycle The Fetch to poems by Gregory Leadbetter with the composer at the piano. 

April appears regularly with the ESO, the Orchestra of the Swan, the Nottingham Harmonic Choir and the Leicester Bach Choir, and she is a founding member of Dei Gratia Baroque Ensemble. She is also a founding member of collective D’Accord, with a passion for re-imagining the role of song and the soirée for the modern context.


Thomas Humphreys - baritone

Thomas Humphreys began singing as a chorister at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford and studied at the Royal Academy of Music and with Tim Evans Jones.

In opera, he has sung the title role in Don Giovanni for the Opera Holland Park Young Artist Programme, as well as returning for their 2018 season to sing the roles of L’araldo Maggiore (Isabeau) and The Wigmaker (Ariadne auf Naxos). He made his debut with Glyndebourne Touring Opera as Servo di Flora (La Traviata), as well as the role of The Captain (Eugene Onegin) for Glyndebourne Festival Opera. He has been critically acclaimed for his performance of Jake Wallace (La Fanciulla del West) for Grange Park Opera. He has also sung and understudied roles for Opera Holland Park, Buxton Festival Opera and English Touring Opera.

Thomas is in high demand on the concert platform, regularly performing with the premiere choirs and orchestras in the UK, notably the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, English Symphony Orchestra, the London Mozart Players and the City of London Choir. He recently made his Royal Festival Hall debut singing Requiem (Verdi) with the London Mozart Players. His repertoire includes Messiah (Handel), Elijah (Mendelssohn), St. John Passion (Bach), Christmas Oratorio (Bach), Ein deutches Requiem (Brahms), Requiem (Mozart), Requiem (Faure), The Creation (Haydn), Nelson Mass (Haydn), Five Mystical Songs (Vaughan Williams). He has also often performed further afield in France, Italy, Russia and Bulgaria.

Future plans include the role of Conte Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro for Dorset Opera Festival, Don Fabrizio in La Frascatana with New Chamber Opera in Oxford, a live concert recording of Philip Sawyers’ newly commissioned work ‘Mayflower on the Sea of Time’ with Kenneth Woods and the English Symphony Orchestra,  Requiem (Verdi) at the Sheldonian Theatre with the Oxford Bach Choir and St. John Passion (Bach) with the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and Orchestra.

Thomas lives in West Dorset with his partner and two daughters. During the pandemic, he served as a response police officer for two years before returning to singing full time.


Libretto - Mayflower on the Sea of Time

Production Information

Recorded at Worcester Cathedral, 17th June 2023

Producer: Tim Burton
Videographer: Joe Blomfield
Associate Conductor: Michael Karcher-Young
Orchestra Manager: Sarah Woolhouse
Choral Fixer: Jessica Gillingwater
Orchestra Contractor: Andy Farquharson for The Music Agency