Commissioned by the the Academy of Ancient Music as a response to Handel’s Messiah for the Barbican, London.
Short documentary about the piece and project:
A full recording of the piece can be heard here:
In September 2017 I was delighted to be asked by the Academy of Ancient Music to create a new work with young people in London in response to Handel’s Messiah. I was fascinated to discover how this cornerstone of choral music would resonate with an eclectic group of teenagers aged between 11-15 years? How would young people from different parts of London and diverse backgrounds, of multiple faiths and heritages relate to the classical work? Most importantly, was it relevant? Could they relate to the themes, the music and the narrative, to Handel’s artistry? How can we ensure that such works remain contemporary for young audiences today?
The project, Messiah Who? launched in late October 2017 with 50 students from La Retraite RC School (Clapham Park) in Lambeth; St Paul’s Way Trust School in Tower Hamlets; Tri-borough Music Hub Chamber Choir drawn from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and City of Westminster; and Westminster City School.
I directed six days of creative workshops, working together with Academy of Ancient Music orchestral players and singers, enabling pupils to create their own original texts, songs and music in response to Handel’s score. Together we tore apart the libretto and reordered the most engaging lyrical ideas. The young people were most motivated by the themes of persecution and hope. We debated gender inequality, gender discrimination, racial discrimination, social exclusion and communities rejected by society. We explored why and how generations have used various metaphors, images and stories to galvanise ‘coming together’ with strength and direction. We attempted to untangle why ‘nations rage furiously together’. We discussed examples of people who had turned about their lives as a result of negative or traumatic personal experiences. We wrestled with the vanity of current international leadership, the shotgun digital news media and asked why so little trust seems to be placed in the instinctive, younger generation? When you have had the courage to speak out and why is there such pressure and expectations placed on each of us? What are the fears of our society?
Rich musical material grew from these engaging and articulate discussions. This was a group that was determined to relate to Handel’s Messiah! The result was incredible. I took their songs and text back to my studio and began to weave them with Handel’s score, merging his libretto with their work. A Young Known Voice was born, scored for the young people, the chorus and orchestra of the Academy of Ancient Music.
Intense, personal stories were revealed and I embedded them alongside the original libretto. One of the most powerful examples of this was hearing one pupil’s story of homophobic family rejection;
‘…I yearn to be accepted but was shunned by the fearful ignorant…everyone needs to feel safe. I was kicked out with a shout. You’re not my child anymore…’
I juxtaposed this with Handel’s ‘thou shalt break him with a rod of iron/he gave his back to the smiters and his cheeks to them that plucked off the hair.’ Suddenly Handel’s work speaks with new meaning.
Simultaneously the audience will hear text written by the young people, spoken on microphone;
‘You are eight times more likely to be stopped and searched if you are black. You’re quite pretty for a dark-skinned girl. I’m not a product in a shop, don’t label me.’
Trump, as always in creative projects with young people, makes an appearance. They wrote, ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure…It’s gone viral.’
This sits beautifully with the text from the Messiah;
‘Behold I tell you a mystery. In a twinkling of an eye…Their words will be spread across the world. It shall not be unheard.’
I hope A Young Known Voice will offer a new and true reflection upon Handel’s work and will empower these young people to perform music about real issues that matter, offering them the opportunity to expressive their views and music on a stage with world class musicians. I tried to impress upon them how important it is to write with passion and intent and why the arts are so powerful; they enable us to communicate something that is visceral and important, words and music that need to be heard; that matter. I hope this piece will transform old audience ears on December 20th at the Barbican. It should offer them fresh insight into Handel’s masterpiece and perhaps will enable them to hear Handel’s music as never before.
A Young Known Voice premieres at the Barbican as a prelude to the Academy of Ancient Music’s performance of the Messiah on December 20th 2017.
Five star Guardian review:
Review in Opera Today:
Five star review in BackTrack:
Transforming old ears with a new work: A Young Known Voice. Is it possible to change an audience’s perception of Handel’s Messiah? A reflection upon writing collaboratively with 50 teenagers from London.
With a freedom of speech, a young known voice.
A baby takes a breath…
[libretto extract from new commission, A Young Known Voice]