Even You Song
If these ideas seem about as different and discursive as they could be then it’s good to report that they were all happily integrated in the world premiere of ‘Even You Song’ at Peterborough Cathedral.
But not only did the performance include many different underlying themes, it also used varied but complementary media to make its impact. A beautiful new music score by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, a striking text by Lucy Sheerman, and colourful on-screen images by Bettina Furnee. As the cathedral’s Acting Dean Jonathan Baker pointed out in his introduction to the proceedings, you could experience the work either as an act of worship or as a secular concert. To me it was primarily a piece of theatre or maybe even cinema.
The multi-media nature of ‘Even You Song’ was proclaimed before things got underway by a huge screen suspended above the cathedral choir. The flickering image of the moon was succeeded throughout the hour-long performance by a sequence of projected pictures of familiar household objects. Often of spherical, luminous, and therefore moon-like appearance, they included lamp shades and bulbs, a pendant necklace, and even a shining copper colander!
Overlaying the images were words which were sometimes in sync with the musical performance and sometimes not. A minor criticism is that at times the colour of the words and backgrounds was so similar that the text couldn’t be read. Another is that the lighting in the cathedral was so dim that I couldn’t follow the text in the elegantly produced accompanying booklet, and so wasn’t able to join in the responses. But maybe I just need to get a new pair of specs!
There are no criticisms to apply to the deeply moving and always accessible score. Its composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad told me afterwards that her two favourite 20th century composers were Olivier Messiaen and Benjamin Britten. The Messiaen influence was clear from the outset in the darkly mysterious organ voluntary and later in the rich and imaginative setting of ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord.’ Here high chord clusters showed off the brilliant tone of the cathedral choristers conducted by Steven Grahl, Peterborough Cathedral’s Director of Music. Later in ‘Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,’ the basses were given a rare opportunity to shine.
Benjamin Britten would have surely applauded two more popular numbers inserted into the sequence. In ‘Miaow! Miaow! All the way to the moon!’ not just the choristers but children from several local primary schools joined in with glee and gusto. While the four-square hymn ‘Take a journey far from here’ provided an opportunity for the large audience, including many parents of the children singing, to take part and get involved.
For me though the ultimate highlight was a fantastic organ postlude, brilliantly played by David Humphreys, Assistant Director of Music, its rushing upward-rising scales arrested towards the end by a magnificent chorale. Simultaneously Canon Bruce Ruddock, who’d contributed effective vocal solos throughout the performance, appeared with a huge cathedral censer. Swinging it vigorously above his head, robes and incense billowing about him, he provided the closing image in a admirably adventurous, highly successful evening.
Even You Song featured Children from Bishop Creighton Academy, St Augustine’s CE Junior School, West Town Primary Academy, and William Law CE Primary School. James Bowstead, conductor.
Peterborough Cathedral Choir. Steven Grahl, conductor. David Humphreys, organist.
By JOE CONWAY