The National Portrait Gallery Presents The World Premiere of Four Choral Pieces Inspired By the Gallery's Wartime Diaries, 6/13-14
The world premiere of four pieces of choral music inspired by the National Portrait Gallery's wartime diaries, letters and internal memos will be performed by the Gallery's choir in residence, The Portrait Choir, on Friday 13 June, with two further performances on Saturday 14 June 2014.
As part of the National Portrait Gallery's programme commemorating the centenary of the First World War, four young composers - James Burton, Richard Wilberforce, Beni Giles and Will Dutta - have explored the Archive to find out how the Gallery dealt with the conflict, as well as look at work on display in The Great War in Portraitsexhibition, to inspire the new compositions. A police inspector's report about the Gallery's safety; a personal letter from D. H. Lawrence to Lady Ottoline Morrell written in 1915 which elaborately describes the sighting of a Zeppelin above London; and a National Portrait Gallery memoranda detailing what to do in the event of an air raid, are just some of the rare historic texts that have been used by the composers to capture themes from the period.
The four new pieces of music will be skilfully interspersed with Tomas Luis de Victoria's poignant Requiem Mass, one of the oldest pieces of choral music performed today. Following the first performance of the newly commissioned compositions on Friday 13 June, Gregory Batsleer, Artistic Director of The Portrait Choir, and the four composers will discuss the process of communicating themes through choral music and the broad influence of music written during the First World War.
In his composition, Richard Wilberforce has contrasted D. H. Lawrence's 1915 letter to Lady Ottoline Morrell with a National Portrait Gallery memorandum from 1914-15. He explains the inspiration behind his piece: 'The tension between the regimented discipline of the Gallery's Special Constables, and Lawrence's emotional vision of a Zeppelin, serves to illustrate the combination of lure and terror with which Londoners regarded these gliding, fire-breathing moons of destruction.'
Wilberforce is an experienced conductor and composer. He is currently the Musical Director and Conductor of the Hallé Youth Choir and The Exon Singers, and has composed a number of pieces of music, including Telling God's Story (2005), which was broadcast on BBC Radio Three, and He Hath Shewed Thee (2007), a piece commissioned to commemorate the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade
Composer and conductor, James Burton, has undertaken commissions for both orchestras and choirs, and his pieces have been performed in the USA as well as the UK. His composition for The Portrait Choir has been inspired by a police inspector's report describing the Gallery's safety and its blackout arrangements. It also incorporates the ancient hymn melody Te Lucis Ante Terminum - a prayer for a restful night.
James Burton says: 'I wanted to use the spaces of the Gallery as well as focus on the subject of fading light and the end of day. This seemed the perfect jumping off point for a new piece combining the ancient and beautiful melody with the more pressing demands for protecting a beloved building and its contents from very real dangers in the midst of war.'