On July 21, as part of this year’s BBC Proms program, the London Sinfonietta, conducted by George Benjamin, will be presenting a concert dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, which also coincides with the 50th anniversary of the founding of the celebrated British orchestra. For the occasion, the 14-18 NOW program and the London Sinfonietta have co-commissioned four pieces by leading European different composers. The works include We Wept
by Luca Francesconi and the last minutes of inhumanity
by Georg Friedrich Haas. Both pieces are for one voice (mezzosoprano Susan Bickley) and ensemble.
Listen to the full concert online
Luca Francesconi: We Wept (2018)
For the lyrics of We Wept
, Luca Francesconi chose a quote by Dolly Shepherd* (“[…] the silence was so awful…”), which was provided by the work’s co-commissioners. Here Francesconi explains the reasoning behind his choice:
[…] It is a special honor for me to recall the suffering caused by a war that is sometimes almost forgotten, but one that marked the start of a new and terrifying affront to human dignity and life. The Great War, as my parents used to call it, was a monstrous example of ferocity that we should always tell our children about, as a warning against the darkest forces that inhabit the minds of human beings. The 14-18 NOW program is firmly committed to just that. When I decided I wanted to use a voice, they provided a number of texts for the lyrics […] and I chose the less rhetorical or celebrative among them. […] Miraculously, the forces of life continue every day, despite the catastrophe around us. It drives me to tears to consider the frailty of the small individual measuring things with a finite yardstick, someone who actually becomes accustomed to the horror of it all in order to survive. I was moved by the words of one young woman of the period, Dolly Shepherd, who was unexpectedly struck by a sense of cosmic void when at last confronted with silence, a long- awaited and serene silence, which took the place of roaring bombs and guns.
*Served as driver and mechanic with Women's Auxiliary Army Corps at Queen Mary's Camp (Calais, France 1917-1918).
After its American debut last year at the Spoleto Festival USA, Luca Francesconi’s Quartett
makes its return to the United States. This time on the West Coast and featuring an all-new production.
Georg Friedrich Haas: the last minutes of inhumanity (2018)
Haas has based his new work on two scenes from the monumental satirical drama The Last Days of Mankind
in which Karl Kraus, writing during World War I, exposes the ruthlessness and hypocrisy of his contemporaries who have been complicit in this tragedy. After a conversation between two brutalized regimental physicians who, with absurd nonchalance, exchange tales of the atrocities they have perpetrated on the front lines, the “Utopic Charon Cantata” culminates in Kraus’s apocalyptic finale and God’s last words: “I did not want this.” The composer has deliberately decided against a translation of the sung text in order to preserve the work’s uniquely Viennese sardonic wit – that notorious manner of expressing even vile and gruesome things with macabre geniality, humour and irony. In fact, says Haas, it is precisely “the counterpoint between sound and content – this produces the artistic challenge of piece”.
Photos: Stefan Fuhrer (Haas), Roberto Masotti (Francesconi)