Thursday, July 5, 2018

Gallipoli to the Somme in the UK

Gallipoli to the Somme, London, 13 June 2018  Photo: Ian Thomson
By all accounts the two performances of Anthony Ritchie’s Gallipoli to the Somme at the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford on 2 June and at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London on 13 June 2018 we brilliant, to say the least. 

Simon Over conductor 
Anna Leese soprano 
Jon Stainsby baritone 
City Choir Dunedin (New Zealand) 
The Parliament Choir 
Southbank Sinfonia 
Concertmaster and solo violin: Tessa Petersen (Dunedin Symphony Orchestra)

It was an honour and a privilege for 30 members of City Choir Dunedin to travel to the opposite end of the world to participate in these performances and enjoy the generous and warm hospitality of the Parliament Choir singers and the Southbank Sinfonia players.


‘The concert was absolutely magnificent and Gallipoli to the Somme a most moving and inventive combination of words and music. Who knew that extracts from war diaries could be such an effective foil against the very varied patchwork of poetry and lyrics. Absolutely incredible and no wonder it got a standing ovation.’ 

Jenny Lewis, poet and author of ‘Taking Mesopotamia’

‘Congratulations to all who conceived and then realised such an aurally, textually and metaphorically even monumentally perfect event with which to end the Series formally (although there remains the poetry evening on Tuesday). It was a superb programme. The Lark Ascending began with unprecedented saxophone accompaniment which didn’t deter the soloist and orchestra one bit, and then ended with real birdsong as the final violin strains faded away – a moment of pure enchantment, so English, so right for the occasion. To my shame, I had never heard of Augusta Holm├Ęs, but I loved her orchestral piece, rich and sonorous, uplifting and operatic. As for the Ravel, rarely can a performance have had such poignancy and power, despite the light-hearted nature of some of the movements, generating contrasting emotions which seem to have regularly surfaced during the year. All three pieces were hugely enhanced by Kate Kennedy’s illuminating programme notes. 

However, Anthony Ritchie’s personal, colossal, majestic, ironic, heartbreaking piece was what took all our breath away. The programmatic selection of texts – many of which were little-known and may now become deservedly less so – was itself given new depth through that compelling music, somehow conveying a glimpse of the unfathomable. The symbolism of that violin suddenly became clear to all, too. The bitter juxtaposition of jolliness and catastrophe, of dreams and shattering reality: all was encompassed in the infinite range of vocal, choral and orchestral expression. On a personal note, Vive la Compagnie! brought back to mind a performance of the stirring original for male voices that I had conducted early in my career, without, of course, knowing anything of its being sung just before the Battle of the Somme. Last night’s version was overwhelming, the utterly unexpected disintegration of both words and music at the end evocative of the end of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony or Das Lied von der Erde, in both of which words and music, finally, give way to silence, because that’s all we are left with. And to close with that intimate setting of Ataturk’s embracing, almost comforting sentiments was nothing short of 

My apologies for rambling. I will not be the only one to have been profoundly affected by last night, and not least by the UK-NZ cooperation with all its symbolism.’ 

John Dunstan, musician and educator

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