Tag Archives: David Lang

The singing will never be done: Cecilian Choir perform Memorial Ground

Thank you to all the members of the University Cecilian Choir and other performers, who took part in Memorial Ground by David Lang earlier today.

Combining music with poetry by Siegfried Sassoon, and a new poem by Nancy Gaffield, ‘The Turtle Dove,’ a member of the School of English, with archive image projection from the Special Collections and Archives, curated by Joanna Baines, David Lang’s haunting commemoration of the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme filled the resonant acoustic of Studio 3 Gallery, with percussion played by postgraduate Cory Adams. The sombre mood of the event was set by third-year trumpeter, Alex Reid, who prefaced the performance with ‘The Last Post.’ The readings were by James Cavalier, Masters student in Creative Writing.

Vintage photographThe arriving audience was greeted by the evocative sound of an original period portable phonograph playing records from the time, generously loaned for the occasion by Andrew Briggs, member of staff and also a member of the Choir.

In rehearsal: Memorial Ground

The University Cecilian Choir spent this afternoon rehearsing Memorial Ground over in Studio 3 Gallery, ahead of performance next Thursday.

The event brings together a new choral piece by the American composer David Lang, together with poetry by Siegfried Sassoon, and also period images drawn from the University’s Special Collections and Archives. Here, the ‘hymn’ of the piece is interspersed with a new poem, The Turtle Dove, by Nancy Gaffield, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing in the School of English.

img_0886img_0883The performance on Thursday 10 November at 1.10pm in Studio 3 Gallery, which will be prefaced by a performance of The Last Post, is free, and is one of three events taking place across two days as we commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme; more details here.

Summoned by bells: rehearsing ‘Memorial Ground’

So far this term, the University Cecilian Choir has been at work rehearsing Memorial Ground, a commission by the 14-18NOW project from composer David Lang to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. This fragmentary, hesitant choral piece is full of energy-charged moments of stillness, and the Choir’s performance next month will combine the work with poems by Siegfried Sassoon as well as a new poem by poet Nancy Gaffield, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing in the School of English and the author of Tokaido Road and Continental Drift.


The University Cecilian Choir

In rehearsal this afternoon, words and music came together in dialogue, with phrases from various poems answered by musical responses from the Choir creating moments of real tension. Underlining both words and music, the intoned notes of the tubular bells hung in the air (reminiscent on occasion of the opening of Britten’s War Requiem), evoking a sombre tone that enhances the commemorative atmosphere that Memorial Ground conjures forth so effectively. Even though we were rehearsing in the wood-panelled concert-hall rather than the intimate, resonant surroundings of Studio 3 Gallery (where the performance on Thurs 10 November will take place), there was still a theatricality to the session as we ran through the whole piece, complete with poetry readings. Particular phrases took on a highly charged dimension – the Choir’s truncated ‘Those who…’ creating an air of expectancy; the sudden tension as Sassoon’s line ‘Soldiers are sworn to action: they must win’ is answered by the Choir’s haunting ‘Those who have fallen…’


Rehearsing ‘Memorial Ground’

The event on Thursday 10 November will also include a series of image projections drawn from the University’s Special Collections archive, curated by Joanna Baines, relating to materials of the time. The combination of words, music, bells, images and silence promises to create a profound, moving and evocative moment of remembrance.

Admission to the performance on 10 November is free: more details here. The event will also be live-streamed: details to follow.

Planning for the autumn: Memorial Ground

With the University year now over, it’s back into the planning period, developing ideas for repertoire and programming for next year.

David_Lang_imageOne of the projects I’m currently devising for the University Cecilian Choir is a performance – well, perhaps ‘realisation’ is a more appropriate term – of David Lang’s Memorial Ground, co-commissioned by East Neuk Festival and the 14-18 NOW: WW1 Centenary Art Commissions, to commemorate the Battle of the Somme.

What’s fascinating to me about the piece is the multitudinous ways in which it can be realised. The piece’s great strength is its adaptability, its flexibility which allows ensembles to craft it in a way which will make it unique to their performance. The possibilities of including poetry, spoken word, wordless solos, even instruments, offers plentiful creative opportunities to put together a performance that can reflect, resonate with, or speak to different spaces, different venues, different times. Usually, as a conductor, you’re endeavouring to be as fidelious to the score as possible, paying close attention to realise the piece in a way faithful to the composer’s intentions. With this piece, however, you are given freedom to realise the piece in any manner you wish, using content supplied by the composer but also with the ability to involve additional material beyond that supplied by Lang. Of course, there’s a responsibility to make sure that new material is appropriate to the nature of the piece’s artistic intent, that it fits thematically, emotionally, such that the piece can accommodate it, without the new ideas feeling deliberately grafted or imposed onto the pre-composed material.

Once the new academic year begins in September, the Cecilian Choir will form at the beginning of October, which will give us approximately four rehearsals to put the piece together, and I’m hoping to be able to perform the piece several times during November, the month of Remembrance, in contrasting venues – one of which might be the bomb-crater on the hillside north of the city, on the University campus. The crater dates from the Baedeker Raids between 31 May – 7 June during World War Two, rather than from the First World War, but it remains as tangible evidence of the countryside scarred by armed conflict. A performance of the piece, with the Choir at the bottom of the crater and audience arranged around the slopes, might be particularly effective, as the piece speaks across the years to a site directly connected with the country at war.

Bomb crater Canterbury - Copy

It’s particularly exciting to be preparing the piece to start rehearsals in October, searching for suitable materials to use as text, including poems, and songs from the period, to imagine different ways in which to bring the piece off the page, and to consider suitable venues in which to bring it to life. It would be a fitting way of commemorating the events of the Battle of the Somme, and all those who gave their lives – both then and ever since – in war.

We’ll keep you posted as to how the project unfolds.