Home Classical Music The fun and challenges of composing a neighborhood oratorio

The fun and challenges of composing a neighborhood oratorio

The fun and challenges of composing a neighborhood oratorio


The Sky Engine is a brand new neighborhood oratorio, commissioned by JAM, written for Brookland and St Nicholas Major Colleges on Kent’s Romney Marsh, the choristers of Canterbury Cathedral, an orchestra made up of the London Mozart Gamers and neighborhood gamers taking part in side-by-side, opera singers Rebecca Afonwy-Jones and Julian Shut, and narrator Kudzanayi Chiwawa. The libretto, by kids’s creator Timothy Knapman, tells the story of an bold inventor who makes an attempt to unravel the local weather disaster by making a machine that may draw power from the sky. Sadly, issues go horribly mistaken and it’s left to the scientist’s daughter, Flora, to place issues proper.

We estimate 160 performers will participate within the work’s first efficiency on the JAM on the Marsh Competition on 14 July. As a composer, it’s at all times a particular privilege to be requested to put in writing a bit, however to create one thing on this scale that brings collectively native {and professional} musicians, alongside opera singers and a narrator, has been an thrilling problem. The overarching philosophy behind the rating of The Sky Engine is that each one the musicians concerned play a significant and integral half in bringing Timothy Knapman’s fantastic story to life.

Nonetheless a lot one would possibly attempt, the ghost of Benjamin Britten (and significantly Noye’s Fludde) isn’t that far-off when embarking on a neighborhood challenge of this scale however there are, actually, all kinds of aware and unconscious influences on the piece. Orff’s Carmina Burana – with its readability of vocal traces and repetitive instrumental accompaniments – was typically in my thoughts, as was the democratic pattern-based music of a bit like Terry Riley’s In C. The Sky Engine’s apocalyptic material dropped at thoughts John Tavener’s The Apocalypse, a bit whose daring gestures had such a profound impression on me once I was a teen. Few composers can deny the impression of Bach. The affect of the aria ‘Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben’ (Out of affection my Saviour needs to die) from the St Matthew Ardour, with its haunting flute obbligato, solid its spell on the music for The Sky Engine’s heroine, Flora. Coming again all the way down to earth, even my affection for the music of the Ska-infused band Insanity made its means into the rating!

The Sky Engine options an array of vibrant characters, with the singers and musicians referred to as upon to convey the various completely different components to life. In addition to Flora (sung by a mezzo soprano) and her father (sung by a bass), the first college choirs turn out to be the refrain of animals whereas the Canterbury Cathedral choristers painting the Bluebird of Happiness in a single scene. Through the interludes, our bass soloist steps out of character to be the voice of the earth, underpinning the ethereal chorale-like music sung by the choir.

On the coronary heart of the story is the Sky Engine itself and far of the music has a machine-like high quality primarily based on propulsive percussion rhythms and motoring ostinatos. As talked about above, there are nods to a wide range of completely different musical kinds however the music is unified by key themes embedded within the piece. The hymn tune Picardy (historically sung to the phrases ‘Let all mortal flesh preserve silent’) is given new lyrics by Timothy Knapman and carried out at essential moments within the story – it is a melody with an nearly apocalyptic high quality completely suited to this story. The sky has its personal leitmotif, a lyrical descending melody, which is usually heard when sung by Flora however can be heard in a extra strident model as screamed by the saxophone within the Prologue. A Morse code rhythm sounds out a persistent warning, underpinning a few of the choruses and arias.

All through the piece, our area people musicians play side-by-side with members of the London Mozart Gamers. The strings are sometimes referred to as upon to supply lengthy sustained chords that touch upon the drama however at different instances turn out to be a part of the machine music with fast pizzicato motifs. The woodwind and brass additionally contribute to the machine music with their very own impartial repeated patterns and assume a wide range of completely different roles, at one level asserting the animals. The harp, piano, electrical bass and two percussionists assist propel the music ahead and all of the instrumentalists come collectively in the course of the piece to evoke a mighty storm.

I’ve so loved penning this piece and hope the music attracts the viewers into the world of this contemporary fairy story. We’d like it if this primary efficiency at JAM on the Marsh conjures up different teams and festivals to tackle this work and convey numerous communities of musicians collectively.

The world première of The Sky Engine takes place at 7pm on 14 July 2023 at St Nicholas Church, New Romney, Kent. Tickets can be found through www.jamconcert.org.

Richard Peat studied with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Nico Muhly, Rhian Samuel and Paul Max Edlin, finishing his composition doctorate in 2007. His music has been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and carried out by main artists together with the London Sinfonietta, the Kreutzer Quartet, Onyx Brass, Icebreaker, Martyn Brabbins, Nicholas Cleobury, Michael Bawtree and Stephen Layton. The Choir of Selwyn Faculty Cambridge and Ely Cathedral Ladies’ Choir, carried out by Sarah MacDonald, have recorded a full-length CD of Peat’s choral music for launch in 2022. His music is printed by Encore Publications.



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