In 1954, my father, Andrzej Panufnik, had a dramatic escape from KGB agents and defected to the UK, with nothing but an overnight bag. I will always be hugely grateful to those who helped him get here, and to the UK for granting him political asylum. This life-changing event has made me extra-sensitive to the current refugee crisis and was the subject of my critically acclaimed 2022 Garsington Opera commission, Dalia, about a Syrian refugee girl who triumphs over adversity and becomes a national youth cricket champion.
In Autumn 2022, I sent my arrangement of the beautiful traditional Ukrainian carol, ‘Sleep, Jesus, Sleep’ (Spy, Isuse, Spy), to every choral director I knew (and some that I didn’t!) with an honesty box policy – they were asked to pay £3 to the online fundraising platform Go Fund Me for every copy of the arrangement they printed. All proceeds went to the Refugee Council. This resulted in 51 live performances all over the UK and Philadelphia, USA. My arrangement of the same carol for Gospel choir, Ukrainian soprano and Afghan tabla player (because thousands of Afghan refugees airlifted by the UK out of Kabul in August ’21 remain homeless) was released as a single on the Signum Classics label (listen here) with all proceeds going to the Refugee Council. The original target was £3,000 and, to date, £8,334 has been raised.
I am Patron of Three Peas charity, which will be the recipient of my next fundraising drive.
Building Musical Interfaith Bridges
The hideous atrocities of 9/11 happened whilst I was pregnant with my first child. I was deeply fearful of what kind of world I’d be bringing her into and felt so helpless. A friend remarked: “You do realise, that Christians, Muslims and Jews believe in the same one God?” Actually, I didn’t and thus began my mission to find a way of conveying this monotheistic message through my music.
I’m a devout Catholic but also Ashkenazi Jewish through my maternal line. About 70% of my output over the last 30 years has been Christian liturgical but now I have just premiered Adonai, Mah-Adam, commissioned by the Liberal Jewish Synagogue for their Yom Kippur service.
My work specifically with the three monotheistic faiths: Abraham Violin Concerto for Daniel Hope (story of Abraham being asked by God to sacrifice his son as a test of his faith appearing in all three faiths), Three Paths to Peace Orchestral Overture, commissioned and premiered by The World Orchestra for Peace in Jerusalem (2008) and at the Proms (2014), and Songs of Darkness, dreams of Light, commissioned by and for the Last Night of the Proms (2018), combining Ashkenazi Jewish and Christian Maronite Syriac texts and incorporating Sufi structure and rhythm as well as Jewish and Maronite Syriac modes.
In 2013, Warner Classics released Love Abide, an album of multi-faith choral music on the theme of love through inter-faith connectivity of Christian, Sufi, Zen and Hebrew musical elements, with fragments of Spanish Sephardic chant, Christian plainsong and Sufi modes.
At least 70% of my compositional output is religious choral. Seeing how being a chorister completely transformed my son from a shy 6 year-old to a confident professional 13 year-old singer, inspired me to help raise funds for other children, who love to sing, to have that fantastic and life-changing opportunity.
I am Patron of the Diamond Fund for Choristers and have raised over £16,000 for this Charity with two sponsored cycle rides.
My anthem, Let All the World, was commissioned for a unique digital Evensong, sung by choral scholars throughout the UK during the first lockdown in 2020, in aid of the Cathedral Choirs’ Emergency Fund. All my royalties from this work are now donated to the Cathedral Music Trust.