Composition and arranging techniques from Grand Union Orchestra composer/director Tony Haynes
A glorious weekend in the Midi, warmth and sunshine, a pastis or two – and the culminating performances in the French strand of Grand Union’s ambitious international project supported by the European Union Culture Fund!
Soie et Charbon, presented in a lovely little theatre just outside Alès (near Nîmes), brought together about 50 local musicians and singers, with members of the Grand Union Orchestra. The result of over a year of planning, development and intensive workshops, it evoked something of the history of the region – particularly the staple industries of silk-weaving and coal mining – and the culture of immigrants who come there in search of work. The title itself captures contrasts which Annie Corbier, actor/director/writer from our associate company Ellipse, skilfully explored both literally and metaphorically.
The musical direction was in the hands of Andrew Peggie, a Scottish expatriate who is a formidable musical force in the region, conductor of several choirs and ‘harmonies’, the wind bands that abound there. Andrew wrote or arranged much of the music for the show, including some stunning choral pieces, while I contributed versions of some of the pieces that will be heard in Grand Union’s show Undream’d Shores at the Hackney Empire in November (which of course deals with the same themes, but from an East London perspective). These included By the Waters of Babylon, which I wrote about in Post 36.
The Grand Union musicians, our style of operating and our experience in mounting projects of this kind made a tremendous impact on local people, and left an inspiration that will surely live on. For us, in turn, it was great to have the opportunity to work with like-minded people, but in a completely different cultural milieu. The consensus was that the collaboration worked very well – with remarkably few tensions or disagreements! – and the outcome was one of the most exhilarating and moving events we have been involved in.
The performances were filmed and recorded, and we hope to post some video and audio extracts, and photographs, very soon. When they are available, I shall expand this Post.
In the meantime, back in London, we are preparing madly for Undream’d Shores at the Empire!