Saturday 13 July 2019

The Black Dragon returns

In 1999 I was asked by a friend, with whom I sang in London Concord Singers, to write a piece to celebrate the fact that 2000 was not only the Millennium, but also a Chinese Year of the Dragon and three members of London Concord Singers, including the choir's founder and music director Malcolm Cottle, were all Dragons (albeit born 12 years apart). Inevitably the piece had to use a text which referred to a dragon.

I hit upon Smaug from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, and I set a passage of Bilbo's first dialogue with Smaug, and had great fun creating choral textures full of glissandi for the dragon's utterances. Rather stupidly I had failed to get permission to use the text (this was well before the films) and had some long drawn out details with a solicitor's office. This entailed a group of singers getting together in my living room to record trial passages from the work. The process ultimately failed to get permission, partly because there seemed to be a lack of understanding of what I was trying to achieve.

Having a premiere date, and a finished work but no text, I decided to write my own. Still a dialogue between dragon and human, but this time I took details from another Science Fantasy work I had been reading, Barbara Hambly's Dragonsbane. (Eric Whitacre had similar problems with one of this pieces, having set a poem by Robert Frost whose work he erroneously thought was out of copyright and Whitacre had a similar solution, he commissioned a friend, Charles Anthony Silvestri to write alternative words and the result is Sleep).

You can hear my piece again on Thursday (18 July 2019) at the Grosvenor Chapel when London Concord Singers (including myself and two of the original dedicatees), conducted by Jessica Norton will be performing The Black Dragon alongside works by Bob Chilcott, Elizabeth Maconchy, Jessica Norton, Benjamin Britten and Richard Strauss, in a programme called Telling Stories. Tickets are available on-line from EventBrite. Rather excitingly we are also singing the programme at Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford, Ireland on 3 August 2019.

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