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Commentary

Ignite [Photo courtesy of Wigmore Hall]
09 Jun 2013

Ignite at Wigmore Hall

What do you get if you cross Benjamin Britten, ‘one-page scores’, an innovative performing ensemble and ‘Wigmore Learning’ — the Wigmore Hall’s imaginative outreach programme which aims to provide access to chamber music and song through innovative creative programmes, online resources and events?

Ignite at Wigmore Hall

Commentary by Claire Seymour

Above: Ignite [Photo courtesy of Wigmore Hall]

 

The answer is Woodwose, a pioneering new community chamber opera by composer Kerry Andrew, inspired by Britten’s folk songs and using tales collected from the diverse local community of the London borough of Westminster. Directed by Hazel Gould, designed by Ruth Paton, with musical direction by Isabelle Adams, the opera will be performed at the Wigmore Hall on 19th July, featuring tenor Andrew Kennedy alongside a community cast of over 150 drawn from across Westminster.

The work was created with the participants. Taking the idea of a folk-song collection, Kerry Andrew has worked with the children involved to collect lullabies, play songs and explore characters — particularly those who might create fear or consternation. The folk material has been woven into the opera in the way that Britten himself quoted and integrated folk song, nursery rhyme and children’s song in his works — for example, in the opera The Turn of the Screw or the children’s opera The Little Sweep.

Leading the musical performance of the opera will be the musicians of Ignite, Wigmore Learning’s resident ensemble, who will also be creating some of the accompanying music. The ensemble will have to work with flexibility and be able to respond quickly to different musical situations; the accompaniments will be devised in just one workshop with the children!

Ignite were formed by Wigmore Learning, when leader and vibraphone player, Jackie Walduck, approached them with the idea creating a Learning Ensemble to work with a broader range of community groups, including children in Westminster hospitals, young people who may be in vulnerably housing or have refugee status, or who suffer from austistic spectrum disorders. Clearly Ignite rise to considerable challenges and are prepared to take risks in their workshops; the projects culminate in a performance by the participants alongside musicians from Ignite. In the summer of 2012 all of these groups, many of whom may be excluded from regular arts provision, came together to perform a new piece commissioned from composer Param Vir, World-Filling Light, as part of a large-scale community project calledBeautiful Sounds.

Two movements from World-Filling Light were included in a short concert entitled, ‘Aperitif’, given by Ignite on Tuesday 4 th June at the Wigmore Hall. ‘Jewels in the Sky’ was notable for its Stravinskian rhythmic structures and overall form, while ‘World Filling Light’ drew attention to the striking range of colours and timbres the ensemble explore; here double bass player, Lucy Shaw, creating a wonderfully sonorous line. In the opening work, ‘Kalavati’ — which was created after Amjad Ali Khan met with Ignite in 2011 and sang them a raga which the ensemble developed through improvisation — James Barralet’s haunting cello glissandi were followed by a sequence of technically assured soloistic sections which confirmed the group’s combination of artistry, imagination and virtuosity.

Clarinettist Vicky Wright, took the lead in Martin Butler’s How Long, here receiving its world premiere in the presence of the composer. Completing the ensemble was flautist Daniel Parkin, whose timbre was by turns pure and gleaming, then shaded and dark. ‘Forest Overture’ and ‘Winter to Spring — the opening and closing movements of Woodrose — were also heard, the buoyant conclusion of the latter suggesting that the opera reaches a joyful, uplifting conclusion.

Ignite musicians combine high calibre performance with strong communication skills. Walduck described their ambitions: “Our aim has always been to explore the boundaries of musical interaction and interpretation that are inherent in chamber music performance practice. As an improviser, I was keen to make improvisation central to our work. Doing so allows musical interaction to encompass real-time creation of material, and extends ‘interpretation’ to choices of pitch, rhythm, ornamentation, musical role. Interaction is at the heart of the performance, but also shape, the musical structure. Working from one-page scores, in which some material is given, and musical development is suggested, enables us to work with musical frameworks beyond pure improvisation, so that we can create sudden shifts in material, plan detailed textures, and work with interpretation at the ‘architectural’ level (in the way in which a string quartet might approach a Beethoven movement, for example). It also ensures that we work with a range of materials, harmonic disciplines, and importantly, dovetail artistically with Wigmore Hall.”

Woodrose is performed at the Wigmore Hall on Friday 19th July at 6.30pm. Find out more at: http://www.wigmore-hall.org.uk/woodwose-a-community-chamber-opera

Claire Seymour

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