Monday 24 October 2022

Six musicians & four jugglers: introducing United Strings of Europe's Apollo Resurrected

Apollo Resurrected - United Strings of Europe at Kings Place (Photo Dimitri Djuric)
Apollo Resurrected - United Strings of Europe at Kings Place (Photo Dimitri Djuric)

The United Strings of Europe will bring together juggling and string playing in a new show exploring themes of social and artistic recovery. The world premiere performance of Apollo Resurrected takes place at Kings Place on 28 October 
with a second performance as part of the Leeds International Concert Season on 3 November. Artistic Director Julian Azkoul sets the scene.

Classical music and circus arts do not appear at first glance to be obvious bedfellows. There are no ballets for clowns or operas about jugglers. Nevertheless, circus arts and juggling share many elements with music: rhythm, timing, gestures, phrases, patterns, even shapes. As a string player I came to appreciate this when I took part in a show with the pioneering juggling troupe Gandini Juggling that explored commonalities between juggling and classical dance. In the production, music was the glue that bound these disciplines together.

At the United Strings of Europe, we are continually seeking ways to re-imagine string playing and the concert experience. A big part of that involves presenting bespoke arrangements and commissioning new music. But more than anything else, it is our inter-disciplinary projects that inspire us to move beyond our training, to stretch our thinking, and to find new ways to engage and enthral our audiences. I am fascinated with how narrative can shape a concert performance, and how different art forms can inform and illuminate one another.

Apollo Resurrected - United Strings of Europe at Kings Place (Photo Dimitri Djuric)
Apollo Resurrected - United Strings of Europe at Kings Place (Photo Dimitri Djuric)

All these strands come together in our new show Apollo Resurrected. The concept emerged during successive COVID lockdowns. A lifelong fan of Stravinsky’s music from the inter-war period, I have been fascinated with his ballet Apollo and His Muses and its richly orchestrated score for string orchestra. I wanted to find a way to re-contextualise the work, to move away from the abstract Neo-Classical ballet blanc choreography originally devised by American choreographer George Balanchine (1904-1983) and to make it somehow more relevant to our times. 

The original work ends with Apollo’s apotheosis, suggesting a transformation has taken place thanks to the intervention of the Three Muses: Polymnia the muse of mime, Terpsichore the muse of music and dance, and Calliope, the muse of poetry. In the depths of lockdown when we were pining for normal life to resume, the relevant questions were how as a society, and more specifically as an artistic community, we might recover. 

The inherently expressive, musical and interactive nature of juggling seemed a fitting metaphor with which to explore these questions. I reached out to my musician and thespian friend Bill Barclay of Concert Theatre Works (Bill was the Music Director at the Globe Theatre from 2012-19) and invited him to devise a new libretto for Stravinsky’s Apollo that would examine these notions.

 In our show, either side of Stravinsky’s score sit two contemporary works: Osvaldo Golijov’s Tenebrae which sets the scene, and a new work Another Eden we commissioned from British composer Joanna Marsh which closes the show. Joanna’s brief was to write a work that would place Apollo in his element and in harmony with the muses, having overcome the challenges he faces at the start of our story.

 Although there is a very intimate quality to our show, with only six musicians and four jugglers on stage, it is also one of the United Strings of Europe’s most ambitious projects to date. Integrating and coordinating several creative voices, from that of Bill our dramatic director and librettist, our designer Ruth Paton, our juggling adviser Sean Gandini, and the priorities and interests of the cast and musicians, has been both challenging and very rewarding. For the ensemble this is a blueprint for developing new and exciting projects that hopefully refresh the concert format and help expand classical music audiences.

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