Bath Festival has commissioned artist Edwina Bridgeman and me to create a new work for soprano Elizabeth Karani, pianist Ella O'Neill and 100 children from local Bath schools to mark 70 years of the Festival.
//Listen to last year's commission//
The huge festival archive at Bath Records Office was our inspiration. Edwina and I spent hours rifling through photographs, newspaper articles, letters, posters and programmes. With so much material we decided to focus on unexpected, forgotten moments of the festival, and to use the children's responses to the archive. Key moments included the 'Suffragette Supper' of 1968 (including songs, riotous reenactments and a resurrected Emmeline Pankhurst); Princess Margaret's message for the inaugural 1948 Assembly; letters of complaint from disgruntled Bath residents; an elephant in a nearby circus interrupting the Pavilion concert; and anecdotes from Festival director Sir Michael Tippett.
I wanted the piece to use ideas of surprise and intervention, and for the untamed energy and imagination of the children to be a catalyst for humour and subversion. As in a lot of my work, I have attempted to harness unique qualities that children or community groups offer to create invigorating new experiences for an audience - something that challenges ideas of repertoire, ownership and tradition.
Performed in Bath Abbey, the piece will start by recreating a recital from 1983 (exactly halfway between the first and current festivals) originally performed by Felicity Lott and Graham Johnson. Our soprano and pianist find themselves constantly interrupted and their recital is hijacked by 'Spirits' of past festivals... i.e. 100 rampant 10-year-olds.
Songs by Haydn, Poulenc and Schubert are mingled with new words and tunes written by the children themselves, and my own original music. Together, we explore the past; we imagine the future. The piece ends with the Festival Spirits melting back behind their butterfly veil. A final Schubert song Du bist die Ruh is intercut with a line written by a pupil imagining being Jane Austen signing books at Bath Festival: "The past is only the beginning".