Commissioned for the Last Night of the Proms, Daniel Kidane’s new orchestral piece draws attention to issues of inclusion and diversity in the arts. Michael Pearce reports
What was your inspiration behind the piece?
I knew the commission was for the Last Night and also knew the nature of the Last Night, in the sense that it can be quite old school and jingoistic. There’s pun on the title, Woke, in that it’s exciting music intended to awaken and arouse the audience, but also the word has political repercussions, meaning to be alert to social and racial injustice. The work isn’t a forced broadening of the mind but I wanted to give people a different flavour of things out there. There’s nothing wrong if you just like Elgar or Pomp and Circumstance, if that’s your thing that’s fine, but I think it’s always good to be open to new ideas. Classical music as a genre needs to develop, you can’t just stick to Bach and Beethoven all the time, things have to move on.
Despite the title, you never conceived of this as a protest piece?
Some people have read into it as that, but it’s not the case. It’s more about openness, open-mindedness towards contemporary classical music and music influenced by different cultures. When I was writing I wanted it to be optimistic. My mother is Russian, my father is Eritrean and I grew up on a council estate in London. My heritage is very mixed and I’m very proud of that in the sense that I was introduced to lots of different music, rhythms and harmonies which have inadvertently influenced my music and composing.
One of the great things about the UK, especially in the arts and the creative industry, is that it is a bit of a melting pot and you do see crossover and collaboration between cultures. How are you going to come up with new ideas if you’re not tapped into what’s going on in other parts of the world? Again, it’s that open mindedness, you have to be open to discussion and new ideas otherwise things become stagnant. But in politics recently, with Brexit and funding cuts, the arts are being squeezed into a particularly narrow place. I worry what the future will hold.
As a vocal campaigner for inclusion and broadening entry routes into the arts, do you think the industry is changing?
I like to think so, but it lies in two strands: what is said and what is done. There are lots of people saying really positive things, but when it comes to the crux of it and you look at the figures it’s not yet translating to the bigger picture. An organisation might bring a number of influential people together for a day of diversity talks, but one week, two weeks later, what has been done? You have to create a plan or policy which is actionable, especially with bigger organisations. Have we commissioned this number of people of this gender or background? Yes or no; simple. Otherwise, how are you measuring it?
There are quite a few people in the industry who still have an old mindset and don’t want to address the elephant in the room, but if you admit there’s an issue you can take action. It’s not going to magically happen overnight, you have to make a concerted effort.
As basic as it seems, I think it’s important to just have people you can relate to and know there are people from a similar background who’ve made it into the industry. I’m lucky enough to have a platform and by default I think if you’re in any sort of position you shouldn’t be afraid to speak your mind, especially if you’re trying to do something that’s positive.
Daniel Kidane, Woke (BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo, conductor, Royal Albert Hall, 7.15pm)
SEPTEMBER 2019: PREMIERES IN THE UK & IRELAND
World premieres unless otherwise stated.
Linda Catlin Smith Nuages (BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Ilan Volkov, conductor, Georgia Jarman, soprano, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, 7.30pm)
John Luther Adams In the Name of the Earth European prem (BBC Symphony Chorus, Crouch End Festival Chorus, Hackney Empire Community Choir, London International Gospel Choir, London Philharmonic Choir, London Symphony Chorus, LSO Community Choir, Victoria Park Singers, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, 11am)
Louis Andriessen The Only One UK prem (BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo, conductor, Nora Fischer, soprano, Royal Albert Hall, 7.30pm)
Freya Waley-Cohen New work (Knussen Chamber Orchestra, Ryan Wigglesworth, conductor, BBC Proms, Cadogan Hall, 1pm)
Jonny Greenwood Horror vacui – for solo violin and 68 strings (BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Proms Youth Ensemble, Hugh Brunt, conductor, Nicolas Magriel, tanpura, Jonny Greenwood, bass guitar/tanpura, Katherine Tinker, piano, Daniel Pioro, violin, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, 10.15pm)
Stuart MacRae, Nico Muhly, Ailie Robertson, Stevie Wishart New works (Dunedin Consort, John Butt, conductor, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, 7.30pm)
Daniel Kidane Woke (BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Singers, Sakari Oramo, conductor, Jamie Barton, mezzo-soprano, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, 7.15pm)
Emily Howard Antisphere (London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle, conductor, Leila Josefowicz, violin, Barbican Hall, 7.30pm)
Alex Woolf New commission (London Mozart Players, Jane Glover; Gérard Korsten; Howard Shelley; Hilary Davan Wetton, conductors, Louise Alder, soprano, Fairfield Halls: Phoenix Concert Hall, London, 7.30pm)
19 & 22 SEPTEMBER
Dani Howard Coalescence (Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Nobuyuki Tsujii, piano, Vasily Petrenko, conductor, Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 19 September 7.30pm, 22 September 2.30pm)
Mark-Anthony Turnage Refugee for tenor and chamber orchestra UK prem (Britten Sinfonia, Andrew Gourlay, conductor, Allan Clayton, tenor, Guildhall School of Music & Drama: Milton Court Hall, 7.30pm)
Philip Glass Madeira River; Perpetulum UK prems; Gavin Bryars The other side of the River UK prem (Third Coast Percussion, Jerwood Hall, LSO St Luke’s, London, 8pm)
Sir Harrison Birtwistle …When Falling Asleep… (Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Geoffrey Patterson, conductor, Julian Warburton, percussion, Alice Rossi, soprano, Melinda Maxwell, oboe, CBSO Centre, Birmingham, 4.30pm)
Olli Mustonen Taivaanvalot UK prem (Olli Mustonen, piano, Steven Isserlis, cello, Ian Bostridge, tenor, Wigmore Hall, 7.30pm)