Thursday, 27 September 2012

Benjamin Till - London Requiem CD cover
If you were listening to In Tune on BBC Radio 3 last night as you were cooking you tea, you might have heard an extract from a new requiem which featured the Rebel Chorus plus vocals from Maddy Prior and Barbara Windsor. Yes, you did read that right! Benjamin Till's new London Requiem is written for choir and musicians plus vocals from various well known people.. The text is based on the Latin mass, but with the addition of texts taken from graves in London graveyards. Till has written the requiem in memory of Londoners who have died. You can get a chance to hear the full work on Saturday 29 September.

As broadcast on Radio 3, the requiem sounded rather interesting with some nicely textured choral writing in the Kyrie. The singers, instrumentalists, Maddy Prior and Barbara Windsor were all rather closely miked, so that the sound picture was quite convincing, though it did mean that there was the inevitable lack of air round the choral singers. But I only heard a snippet on the radio.

You can hear a bit more on Benjamin Till's website and listening to the excerpts there, it is apparent that the work uses many of the styles and production values of popular music. The result is expertly mixed and the different guest vocalists slip into the mix quite seamlessly. There are one or two stunning big tunes, including the Gradual, which may do well on their own. Of the other guest vocalists, Tanita Tikarm is very much herself, Matt Lucas might frankly have been better off speaking the words of his number. Ian Knauer (an actor with a lot of musical theatre experience) in the Pie Jesu certainly helps Till channel Andrew Lloyd Webber (of the Jesus Christ Superstar years). All in all, some rather tempting little snippets, which makes one curious to hear the whole work.

On Saturday 29 September, the Rebel Chorus and musicians, will gather in an East London graveyard and perform the work, at 7pm. It will also be streamed live on http://www.thespace.org/, the Arts Council's new multi-media website.

The web-site (http://www.thespace.org/) already features a sequence of short films exploring the different movements of the work and the Londoners whose graves inspired them. The graveyard thing might seem something of a goth gimmick, except that Till's thoughts on the subject seem rather apposite: 

‘I was struck by the simplicity of so many gravestones and how they are dominated by clichés. Then I thought about the difficulty of expressing all the love and emotion those inscriptions try to summarise. The epitaphs are the ultimate tweet – just a few words to sum up the feeling of an entire life’.

A disc of the Requiem has been produced and is available to pre-order from Benjamin Till's website. Recording features the Rebel Chorus, Balanescu String Quartet and guest vocals from Barbara Windsor, Matt Lucas,Tanita Tikaram, Maddy Prior (Steeleye Span), Katina Kangaris, Ian Knauer, and playwright, Sir Arnold Wesker, who sings the words written on his mother’s grave.

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