Composition and arranging techniques from Grand Union Orchestra composer/director Tony Haynes
2015 was certainly a switchback ride for the Grand Union Orchestra – some sublime moments, touches of deep sadness, some proud achievements, occasional set-backs and hard graft – but a great year nonetheless.
The year began with the completion of our two-year project supported by the European Union Culture Fund with partner companies in France (see Post 37) and Portugal (see Post 41). Following performances of Mil e Uma Mares, which concluded the Portuguese strand in February, we wrapped the whole project up with The Isle is Full of Noises, an unusual and fascinating two-week ‘festival’ in venues across East London in April, which launched a new initiative aiming to demonstrate how artists can – and should – reflect and respond to Britain’s rapidly changing demographic.
Making its own regular contribution to this initiative is our very popular project Bengal to Bethnal Green – bringing together local Bangladeshi-born artists with Grand Union musicians – which continued monthly on Sundays at Rich Mix in Shoreditch. Similarly the GU World Choir, with singers representing more or less every cultural community of East London, established originally for Undream’d Shores (see below), but now a permanent, ongoing project in its own right; and likewise our unique Youth Orchestra, which celebrated its 10th anniversary with a stunning event at Rich Mix at the beginning of December.
This event was also remarkable in that our London-based players were joined by over a dozen young musicians from Essex and Cambridgeshire. This was a further extension of over three years work commissioned by music hubs in those counties to develop expertise in world music techniques, and complemented local performances – this year in Cambridge (an eccentric take on the BBC’s Ten Pieces project described in Post 46!) and in Clacton. Central to all this work with young musicians – both developing its ambitions and consolidating its achievements – was the annual GUO Summer School (see also Post 36) in August.
As ever, all Grand Union’s work in 2015 has had a strong artistic unity about it, and clearly my own composition has always taken inspiration from our country’s wonderfully rich and diverse culture. It was therefore pleasing to conclude the year with a return to Undream’d Shores…
The autumn was mostly taken up preparing a new version of Undream’d Shores in Leeds in November – which could not have been more different from the original, though no less epic in scale! A collaboration with the University’s School of Music and South Asian Arts UK’s Academy of Indian Music, it featured a full 60-strong European classical orchestra, 40-voice choir and 25 or so young Indian musicians, together with 12 core Grand Union Orchestra performers in key solo and singing roles. The performances in the University’s Great Hall were superb, attracting great media coverage and enthusiastic reviews.
The saddest thing is that this was the first GUO large-scale show in over 20 years not to have been directed by Cengiz Saner. Cengiz – a true, trusted and much-loved friend and colleague – died in June from a fast-growing brain tumour, undetected at the time of the Empire show six months earlier. This was a cruel shock to all of us, and utterly devastating for Cengiz’s family, to whom our hearts go out. I paid tribute to him in Post 44, and I hope it’s a fitting memorial and commemoration of Cengiz’s work with the Grand Union Orchestra that towards the end of the year we published a DVD of the complete Undream’d Shores – the last show he directed, and one of the best.
The DVD, edited down to just under 85 minutes from the live performances at the Empire, is available from the Grand Union shop or direct from Grand Union, and I think is one of the Grand Union Orchestra’s finest achievements. A ‘digest’ of the whole show can be seen here:
Here is the original Hackney Empire programme. Recordings of the narrative links (verses and choruses of Strange Migration) appear with a synopsis of the show in Post 39 , and eight individual numbers can be accessed separately on Youtube (the links are to Posts describing them in more detail):
Yet another number – Shanghai Crabs – will be the subject of my first Post for 2016…
In the meantime, very best wishes to all for a a happy, successful and creative New Year!
And what better way to start the year than to call on the Yoruba spirit Eleggua for his blessing…