fri 17/09/2021

Our Future in Your Hands, Peckham School Choirs, Multi-Story Orchestra, Stark, Bold Tendencies review - blazing community epic | reviews, news & interviews

Our Future in Your Hands, Peckham School Choirs, Multi-Story Orchestra, Stark, Bold Tendencies review - blazing community epic

Our Future in Your Hands, Peckham School Choirs, Multi-Story Orchestra, Stark, Bold Tendencies review - blazing community epic

Kate Whitley's latest work involving local schoolchildren is a big symphonic eco-plea

Note-perfect from memory, Peckham schoolchildren waiting for their entryAll images by Ambra Vernuccio

What a way for the Multi-Story Orchestra, conductor Christopher Stark and composer Kate Whitley to celebrate 10 years of pioneering activity in Peckham and beyond.

This should surely have been a Proms special in the Royal Albert Hall; the scale and sound of Our Future in Your Hands, Whitley’s hour-long eco-cantata, environmental oratorio, call it what you will, setting crystallised texts by poet and director Laura Attridge, demand nothing less.

Yet having the orchestra and a lusty chorus of 97 Peckham schoolchildren right in your face, the length of one car-park level, immersed listeners of all ages and backgrounds in the spirit of the thing: what a joy to see some of the kids, all singing from memory, moving so vigorously with the music, commitment writ large on shining faces. No wonder they applauded each other at the end. Peckham oratorio sceneThe honest consistency of the piece, building on the example of Greta Thunberg and the youth movement she inspired, is impressive. To help the children learn the music, Whitley builds on repeated phrases and scalic patterns, but she doesn’t change styles to suit the professional orchestra or the three excellent soloists. Much as they stand equally, at the beginning, for Sky, Water and Earth, the dominant effect is oceanic, rhythmic liveliness riding a sea of instrumental sound, occasional flaming flurries from the woodwind, inevitably earnest in its move from lament to optimism as represented by the two halves of the choir - one half "Yoiung children of today", the other "Children of the future".

That also has the practical advantage of the various school groups not having to learn the whole thing, but it also gets them to listen when they’re not singing, to adjust to the scope of a long symphonic work not so far removed from the world, if not the sophistication, of a masterpiece like John Adams’ Harmonielehre, which I heard the MSO perform in my first visit to the car park for a 2017 Prom which also included another well-crafted Whitley eco-piece. They also hear the impressive sound that comes out of the operatic voices – soprano Sarah-Jane Lewis, who like Birmingham Opera Company star Chrystal F, Williams will be a role model for so many young people, true contralto Kate Howden (pictured below with Lewis)  and bass-baritone Darren Jeffery. Singers in 'Our Future in Your Hands'Perhaps a bit of presentation and texts made available - Attridge's words are beautiful in their simplicity, and deserve to be read separately - would have enhanced the experience, but then audience heads always need to be up and looking at what’s going on. This is a work with a future; it will finally receive its intended premiere at the Buxton Festival next year, should work in resonant ecclesiastical spaces around the country and – yes, when logistics are easier, on to the Proms, please. Meanwhile, Bold Tendencies' magnificent season in the Peckham Multi-Storey Car Park ends on Saturday with four of the world's best instrumentalists in Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time. There's range for you.

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