Friday 22 February 2019

From folk custom to psychological drama: Mark Bowden's The Mare's Tale

Clive Hicks Jenkins: Stumbles and Cannot Rise from Mari Lwyd series (National Museum Wales)
Clive Hicks Jenkins: Stumbles and Cannot Rise from Mari Lwyd series (National Museum Wales)
The Mari Lwyd (the grey mare) is an old wassailing folk custom found in South Wales, involving a hobby-horse, so it seems appropriate that the Welsh composer Mark Bowden's new work The Mare's Tale inspired by the tradition of the Mari Lwyd will be receiving its premiere in a tour by the Berkeley Ensemble which centres on St David's Day on 1 March 2019.

Bowden's The Mare's Tale is a work for actor and chamber orchestra using similar forces to Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale. Bowden was inspired by a series of drawings by Clive Hicks-Jenkins on the theme of the Mari Lwyd and the work uses a specially commissioned text from Damian Walford Davies. The Mare's Tale was originally commissioned by the Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra and received a workshop performance to a private audience, but the Berkeley Ensemble's performances represent the work's first public performances.

The Mare’s Tale is a psychological drama focussing on the central character Morgan Seyes. Devastated by the death of his wife Jane, Morgan returns to the village of his childhood; an old pub sign reignites memories of a terrible experience from his past. The score underpins the psychological and poetic tension in the text and is cast as a set of dark variations on a traditional Welsh Mari Lwyd ballad, traditionally sung by bawdy revellers in South Wales demanding entrance to homes on New Year’s Eve.

Chloe van Soeterstede will conduct the Berkeley Ensemble with actor Eric Roberts with performances at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff (28 February 2019), St. Saviour's Church, Warwick Avenue, London (1 March 2019) and Glasgow Cathedral (in September). Full details from the Berkeley Ensemble website.

[Incidentally, Clive Hicks Jenkins' drawings were also central to the Goldfield Ensemble's recent performances of Hansel & Gretel: a nightmare in eight scenes, see my interview with the Goldfield Ensemble's artistic director Kate Romano.]

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