Nearly a year and a half later than originally scheduled, the young musicians of Great Yarmouth alongside the London Mozart Players gave the premiere of their collaborative composition Journey; Home at the Minster in Great Yarmouth. Composer and Music Leader Sarah Freestone reflects...
The title, as well as a reflection on the themes running throughout the project that were the inspiration for all the new music that was created - journeys, migration, hopes, home - also rings true to the journey this project has taken; we were finally home!
The programme also featured music from composers whose roots and influences reflect the heritage of many of the people who have chosen to make Great Yarmouth their home; music from Lithuania and Poland, Rumania, Hungary, Portugal and England featured alongside the new work from the young people of Great Yarmouth and, like all communities, shared many links and similarities.
The Portuguese pianist and composer João Domingos Bomtempo (1771–1842) was a contemporary of Beethoven. He also worked in Paris and, when Napoleon’s armies invaded Portugal, he came to London to continue performing and composing. On returning to his home country his liberal ideas were frowned upon and as a result he lived for a time as a refugee in the Russian consulate in Lisbon. As well as his compositions he leaves a legacy of teaching material and the musical institutions he helped to found in Portugal after his European travels.
Like Bomptempo, Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969) was also drawn to Paris from her native Poland to study with the legendary composition teacher Nadia Boulanger who herself fled Paris to New York via Lisbon when France was invaded in 1940. Born to Lithuanian and Polish parents, Bacewicz was a violinist, pianist, teacher and composer, was leader of the Polish Radio Orchestra and a prizewinner in the 1935 Wieniawski International Violin Competition but focussed more on composition after a serious car accident curtailed her playing career. She won many composition prizes including the Polish State Prize and wrote over two hundred works, mainly for strings. She took part in (unauthorised) underground concerts of Polish music during the occupation of Poland in the early 1940s and had to leave Warsaw for a time after the failure of the Warsaw Uprising.
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) was born in Lowestoft, just 10 miles down the coast from Great Yarmouth and became a central figure of 20th century British music, founding the Aldeburgh Festival in 1948 and Snape Maltings concert hall in 1967, 40 miles from Great Yarmouth. Throughout his career he took a great interest in writing for children and amateur performers and his Cantata Saint Nicholas (Great Yarmouth Minster is also the parish church of St Nicholas and is the largest parish church in the country!) was the piece of music we listened to in our workshops as a musical inspiration. Like Boulanger he moved to New York in the early 1940s but as a pacifist and it was there that he encountered the music of the Balinese Gamelan for the first time, later travelling to Bali and incorporating the musical tradition into his ballet The Prince of the Pagodas.We were fortunate to be able to use the gamelan from Lynn Grove School in our performance, mirrored by the glockenspiels of Woodlands Primary School to emulate the sounds of the Carillon, an instrument associated with the early Hugenot refugees to Norfolk at the end of the 16th century.
Both Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) and Bela Bartok (1881-1945) also used the influences of folk music in their work, although each a little closer to home. Like Britten, Vaughan Williams studied at the Royal College of Music and, like Baciewicz, in Paris and was also active in civilian life during World War Two, chairing the Home Office Committee for the Release of Interned Alien Musicians and helping Myra Hess organise the now famous daily National Gallery Concerts. Authorised, unlike Bacewicz’s underground gatherings…
Born in a part of Hungary that is now in Romania, Bartok reluctantly moved to New York via Lisbon in 1940 after the rise of the Nazis in Hungary. His Roumanian Dances a suite of folk tunes from Transylvania and the London Mozart Players were joined in the performance by twenty young string players from Lynn Grove and Caister schools. Due to the rescheduling of the project, these young musicians had only picked up their instruments for the first time in September, a matter of weeks before the performance! That they were able to perform their specially-written parts with such energy and panache alongside a professional orchestra in such a short time is a huge testament to them, their dedicated teachers and what can be achieved by young people given both opportunity and support.
Journey; Home was the final piece in the programme and incorporated all of the musical material generated by the young people in our creative composition workshops over nearly two years. They created new scales, melodies, harmonic colours, rhythms and lyrics that were very much their own and heard the London Mozart Players perform their music live to an audience. Additionally, the young people devised and performed their own creative responses within the piece both as stand-alone ensembles and playing with the orchestra.
Although, even at the performance stage, we were still being thwarted by Covid-19 (several of the young musicians and singers were unable to attend due to positive tests - resulting in a few last-minute re-writes! - and the audience numbers were greatly restricted by the Covid-19 protocols of the Minster) this was a very special day for all involved, even those who were absent. The sharing of live orchestral music old and new, from far and near, all linked by today’s community of Great Yarmouth was a joy. It felt like a shared journey home.