"It begins and ends with Shakespeare.
When first working on this piece, I spent some months trying to set some of the primary sources connected to his life. It was only when, by chance, I read Stephen Greenblatt’s words, which now make up the opening song, that the true focus of the piece became clear. I would find a series of texts, all concerned with how the past speaks to us, and how we speak with the voices of the past. This desire to speak across the centuries, and the simultaneous clear-eyed knowledge of its impossibility, creates the emotional charge of the piece.
So following Greenblatt, we have Petrarch, writing in 1338, on how his books speak to him across time and space. And, importantly for us today: how fragile books are; how knowledge and culture can so easily be lost. The third song is a short sentence from Joyce’s Ulysses on the irreversibility of time. Then some fragments from Leopardi, who was writing in the nineteenth century about the first unearthing of ancient classical texts in centuries. And in the fifth and final song, a text created from Shakespeare’s words. These fragments were assembled from a search for the phrase "after the” in his works. There is a sense of aftermath here, but without an easy resolution.
From early on, I knew that I wanted this to be an intimate piece. The finished work is for tenor and six instruments, made up of three pairs: violin and cello; flute and clarinet; piano and harp. The only additional instrument is the bass flute, whose low, haunting tone appears in the odd-numbered movements.
I finished the work in May 2019, and had no idea that its premiere would be delayed by an event that meant almost all live culture was abruptly stopped for over a year. I feel humble that my work will be one of the first compositions premiered in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. And hope its theme of the voices from the past, and the fragility of culture in the present, will speak to you, the audience." Luke Bedford
In the Voices of the Living was commissioned by London Sinfonietta with support from Britten Pears Arts and a generous group of individuals. The film was recorded at Kings Place on 6 June 2021 and features the London Sinfonietta alongside tenor Mark Padmore and conductor Geoffrey Paterson.
You can read the full programme for the concert, along with Luke's programme notes, here: https://londonsinfonietta.org.uk/lessons-from-past-online-programme
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Published: 20 Nov 2023