Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

CYM at Spitalfields Festival

Christ Church,
15 June 2005

Pupils from CYM main centre, CYM Hackney, CYM Tower Hamlets & Sir John Cass's Foundation School

Simon Bainbridge & Francesca Hanley project co-ordinators
Simon Foxley director

This was an inspiring evening of our still new century's children's music-making, created under the forward-looking supervision of the London Centres for Young Musicians . It also brought out a salutary lesson!

A substantial 25-minutes work by Philip Cashian had enticed me to the gleaming white, newly refurbished interior of Hawksmoor's great Christ Church. That proved too ambitious and was a resounding failure in a nearly great concert; dour and overlong, little helped by a promising scenario about Apollo Space Missions. The lengthy text of Moon Tales did not inspire music to match and the words, whether spoken or sung, carried little audibility or conviction. The large orchestra (enlivened by adult percussionists) had little to offer or to grab the young players' interest.

The younger groups from CYM Main Centre at Morley College had a different story to tell. Simon Bainbridge 's student composers from Royal Academy of Music had fashioned short pieces that were ideally matched to the performers' levels, and each in its way was a triumphant little experience for players and listeners alike.

Very young recorder players helped Joseph Atkins to concoct Dowland Diffused, variants on the Lachrimae melody which they will recognise when they come across the original, or Britten's reworking of it. Their control and intonation were remarkable. A clarinet ensemble was engaged by Bob Broadley's Extended play on his currently favourite pop album and developed real chamber music skills learning the three little pieces.

Sebastian Jatz Rawicz knew that his young string players weren't yet ready to tackle pitches and precise rhythms, so he worked with more basic sounds and created BUFAR; after premiering it they would be ready to understand pieces by Lachenmann which baffle mainstream music lovers! And CYM's concert band was ready to maintain 'grand, loud music' against a quiet melody, each group maintaining John Douglas Templeton's independent paths; so contrapuntal music will have no terrors for them.

A full church, with a real buzz of excitement; parents and friends enjoyed it all as much as the proud musicians.

See also the CYM website

Jonathan Dove On Spital Fields
Christ Church Spitalfields, London 23 June 2005

Mark Wilde tenor Mary Plazas soprano
Choirs and instrumental ensembles/ Gerry Cornelius conductor
Clare Whistler director

Hard on the heels of the revival of Jonathan Dove's Little Green Swallow comes an ambitious creation for Spitalfields Festival, which shows this prolific and socially conscious opera composer at the height of his dramatic powers.

More compact and concentrated (75 minutes, no interval) than the memorable Palace in the Sky , it covers a wide range of emotion and reaches white hot intensity. All components of the cast of some 200 were brought together smoothly under skilled direction and after thorough preparation in collaboration with the participating groups, who contributed ideas and even tunes to fit some of the words.

Underpinning this achievement is Alasdair Middleton's brilliant libretto, replete with graphic reminders of the hardships of life and work in the area of London through the centuries. The music grow from the words, which come across with admirable clarity. The hardships of the weaving trade, and a violent riot in 1763, were depicted, with a loom set up in the nave for visitors to try. A lively section on Petticoat Lane depicts mid-19 C marketing there, not so very different now. The Jewish history of the area begins in King John's time with horrifying punishments including removal of eyes and teeth " ev'ry one had one of their eyes at the least plucked out ", and there was a graphic aural picture of arson at Christ Church in 1836, culminating with an exhilaratingly accelerating traditional Yiddish children's song This is the kid , culminating prestissimo This is the angel of death who slew the butcher who killed the ox - - the kid my father bought for two farthings.

Reflecting today's local population, there were extracts from The Koran and a Hafiz Ghazal sung by the soloists and community choir, one of the percussionists coming front stage to accompany on the tabla . To lighten the prevailing darkness of Spitalfield's history, the ending contrives to be positive and hopeful, listing the multitude of plants grown in Culpepper's Garden from the 16th century, and a choir of all the Songbirds to be heard in Spitalfields creating an inspiring grand finale of impressive complexity; would they might all still be seen and heard there.....

Mark Wilde is a sort of everyman taking us into the scenes of Spitalfields life through from Roman times and Mary Plazas personalises the experiences, poignant in explaining why she had thanked God for taking her children, to free them from the prospect of the hard life that lay ahead. Both soloists sang their roles magnificently and provide a central focus for the surrounding choirs of schoolchildren and older residents, their movements choreographed effectively and movingly, supported by adult choirs including the quasi-professional (though they're not) The Joyful Company of Singers. Listeners hard of hearing were helped by Donna Ruane's signing, which added to the spectacle for all of us. The action was brought right into the audience, and the newly painted interior of Christ Church made a wonderful setting for this imaginative production.

Jonathan Dove's music is clever but never too clever nor alienating for the involvement of local people as participants and listeners. Few of us could reasonably have regretted that it was not more 'modern'. The orchestration was skilful and telling, Chroma's ensemble of strings with clarinet, accordion, piano and percussion augmented by a formidable group from Royal Academy of Music fielding four piccolos, five brass and two percussionists to powerful effect.

The final performance which we attended was being recorded and filmed. On Spital Fields is published by Peters Edition, and the programme book edited by Nick Kimberley names everyone involved, with extended source texts, map and historic photos; it is a collectors' piece.

On Spital Fields must not be allowed to die a local death; although site-specific in its origins it is as viable, and as good, as Britten's pioneering works which have achieved stable places in the repertoire.

T his report should be read in conjunction with my reviews of Jonathan Dove's operas for Hackney, Palace in the Sky and The Hackney Chronicles ; do please follow those links!
See also Geoffrey Norris in The Telegraph.

© Peter Grahame Woolf