Premieres: June’s new music10:06, 1st June 2019
The climate crisis is more urgent than ever. Environmental opera Upon This Handful of Earth received its Norwegian premiere earlier this year. We caught up with the composer and librettist to find out more
Upon This Handful of Earth tells the stories of people whose lives have been irrevocably altered by environmental catastrophes,’ says Gisle Kverndokk [composer] and Aksel-Otto Bull [librettist]. ‘The stories are inspired by texts from Chernobyl, Shell’s oil catastrophe in Nigeria, and the fracking industry. The work offers a hopeful, empowering meditation on the way forward from the human and environmental toll of these events.’
The opera was commissioned by the New York Opera Society, and received its Norwegian premiere in March. Kverndokk and Bull were asked to use texts by the Jesuit priest and scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin – a theologian and palaeontologist who raised concerns about the environment in the early 20th century. The opera is inspired by and features Teilhard de Chardin’s Mass on the World – a poem that takes the form of a communion, where the altar represents the world.
‘Climate change is maybe the most important issue nowadays,’ say Kverndokk and Bull. ‘To tell stories about how people are affected by this, through music, can make the audience more aware of their own situation. And also our own responsibility to change things.’ The opera received its world premiere in New York, shortly after the inauguration of Donald Trump – a poignant coincidence. ‘Audiences were very affected by having a climate change denier as president,’ they explain.
This fully-staged opera was directed by Aksel-Otto Bull with Vivianne Sydnes conducting the Oslo Cathedral Choir, Oslo Sinfonietta, Oslo Cathedral Boys’ Choir, Trefoldighet Girl’s Choir and six soloists – more than 100 performers in total. ‘The major challenge was to make this work acoustically, with musicians and singers all over the church,’ Kverndokk and Bull explain. ‘In order to make this work, we had to think very practically and take in the time differences that happen in large spaces like these. Our experience after writing several operas is that the balance between the soloists and the orchestra is a major challenge, especially in a huge church.’
JUNE 2019: PREMIERES IN THE UK & IRELAND
World premieres unless otherwise stated.
Benjamin Ashby New work; Lia Chia-Ying New work; Alex Woolf New work (Philharmonia Orchestra, Geoffrey Paterson, conductor, Southbank Centre: Royal Festival Hall, 6pm)
Max Richter Journey Song (CP1919) (Aurora Orchestra, Pekka Kuusisto, violin, Nicholas Collon, conductor, Samuel West, narrator, Southbank Centre: Queen Ellizabeth Hall, 7.30pm)
Mark Simpson Oboe Quartet (Nicholas Daniel; Tom Owen; Kyeong Ham, oboe, Amy Harman, bassoon, Jacqueline Shave, violin, Timothy Ridout, viola, Guy Johnston, cello, Lynda Houghton, double bass, Martin Owen; Alexei Watkins, French horn, Maggie Cole, harpsichord, Wigmore Hall, 7.30pm)
Liam Mattison Violet (London Symphony Orchestra, Elim Chan, conductor, Alice Sara Ott, piano, Barbican, 7pm)
Paul Mealor Paradise; Philip Wilby The Holy Face (Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus, The Black Dyke Band, Halifax Choral Society, Sheffield City Hall: Irwin Mitchell Oval Hall, 3pm)
Matthew Taylor Symphony no. 5 (English Symphony Orchestra, Pavel Šporcl, violin, Kenneth Woods, conductor, Cadogan Hall, London, 3pm)
Mark Simspon Clarinet Concerto (BBC Philharmonic, Ben Gernon, conductor, Elizabeth Watts, soprano, Mark Simpson, clarinet, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 7.30pm)
Donald Hunt Now sleeps the crimson petal (Elgar Chorale of Worcester, Piers Maxim, choirmaster/chorus director, St George’s Church, Worcester, 7.30pm)
Dr. Peter Fribbins Three Soliloquies (St Albans Choral Society, Orchestra Nova, George Vass, conductor, Elenor Bowers-Jolley, soprano, Olivia Warburton, mezzo-soprano, Heidi Bennett, trumpet, St Saviour’s Church, St Albans, 7.30pm)