Memorial Ground, a piece of choral work from renowned composer David Lang, will recieve its world premiere on Saturday 2 July at East Neuk Festival, before a series of nationwide community choir performances of the piece during the weekend of 11 – 13 November.
A century ago, on 1 July 1916, the Battle of the Somme began with the bloodiest day in British military history. Over four months later, after more than a million combatants had died or suffered injuries, the Allied offensive was called off. It was a battle that marked the turning point in people’s attitude to the War – few communities across the UK were untouched by it.
Records of the Somme regularly mention singing – whether it is the stories of individual singers whose beautiful voices cheered their companions in the trenches, or whole companies of soldiers who went over the top singing to keep their spirits up. To mark this centenary, East Neuk Festival has therefore chosen to put the spotlight on singing for a significant new commission and a major UK-wide choirs project with a keen human interest aspect.
Together with 14-18 NOW and with the support of Creative Scotland, the Festival has co-commissioned Memorial Ground from Pulitzer Prize winning American composer David Lang. This is in keeping with ENF’s commitment to premiere a specially created new work each year that brings together amateur musicians from the community to perform alongside internationally renowned professionals.
Memorial Ground will be directed by Paul Hillier and performed by his acclaimed vocal ensemble Theatre of Voices and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra Chorus (under Gregory Batsleer), plus Fife choirs comprising 150 singers. The concert will take place on 2 July at 5pm in Cambo Barn, East Neuk Festival’s favoured venue for large-scale events with its dramatic acoustics.
With community spirit in mind, David Lang is also inviting the public to suggest text for solos that he will incorporate into the piece. His work is in two parts: a simple hymn-like tune, or ‘ground’, and a series of solos which will be sung over the ground. These solos will be based on melodic fragments that Lang will post online at www.memorialground2016.com for anyone to add words to.
From these submissions he will shape the premiere version of Memorial Ground. Lang says his aim is not to make people sad but inspire them to think about themes of sacrifice and remembrance, of remembering those who gave their all so that we can live the lives we do today. So texts may include any kind of germane material including poems, diaries and letters from The Front, roll calls of the Fallen etc. Interested parties can explore the project and register for updates online at www.memorialground2016.com
Lang has also written Memorial Ground to encourage choirs across the UK to make it their own. Following the premiere (2 July 2016), Lang’s score, instructions and additional audio and video material will be launched online for free download to enable choirs to create their own versions. ENF will also be working with five regional choirs to create sample versions of Memorial Ground, ranging from the most simple to more complex versions, to offer exemplars to choirs of every level. The logistics of registering, provision of music, guidance and assistance will be provided with the help of the highly successful Big Big Sing organisation (also led by East Neuk Festival Artistic Director, Svend Brown).
The culmination of the project will fall during the weekend of 11-13 November 2016 (the weekend before the last day of the Battle on 18 November) with unlimited choirs throughout the UK performing their own versions of Memorial Ground. The period from premiere performance to this weekend of Remembrance is the same as the duration of the Battle of the Somme.