Recent Feeney Commissions
Live soundtrack for F W Murnau's 1926 silent film Faust
In April 2016 Flatpack Productions presented F W Murnau's Faust as part of the 2016 Flatpack Film Festival. A new soundtrack for the film was composed for Flatpack by Gareth Jones and Matthew Eaton, and was performed by players from Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. The work was fully funded by the Feeney Trust.
Faust comment cards:
"The music was amazing! Especially the dark, eerie parts."
"I absolutely loved everything I saw and heard! If I had to pick one it would be Faust with live music score - a perfect end to the festival. Wonderful to see a 90 year old film given a new lease of life with an amazing music score composed for it."
(At least 15% of Flatpack's survey respondents mentioned Faust as a highlight of the festival.)
In Praise of Flatpack II
Flatpack Film Festival 2016 - Part Two
Good passage from the young person who wrote that last report:
"After our final meet up, and sharing of Festival vlogs, we headed off to the final event to round off the entirety of Flatpack 2016; Faust. Yet another Murnau classic. My only experience of Murnau before had been his incredible work on Nosferatu, as well as The Last Laugh some few hours prior. Both had me excited to witness what would turn out to be yet another cinematic masterpiece, and in my opinion, his most impressive film. The film employed effects that, ninety years later, still had me scratching my head as to how they were accomplished. My personal favourite was the winged Mephisto casting shadow over the city, funneling in the black fog of the plague unto the residents. The narrative also successfully juggled harrowing gothic horror with genres of humour and romance to form quite the unique but charming plot, with a heartwarming message. Murnau’s legacy as one of the all-time greats, if not already earlier, was secured with this film. What really made this screening, however, was the accompanying music. Much more traditional than the pair from The Last Laugh, the team of six performed diligently and exceptionally for the entire run time, the scores perfectly succeeding in emphasising all that Murnau intended and more. It truly was a fitting conclusion to Flatpack’s 10th year."
– Flatpack survey and blogs
Music for A New Shakespeare Masque
In April 2016 Ex Cathedra gave the world premiere of A New Shakespeare Masque with music by Sally Beamish and words by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford upon Avon to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, with subsequent performances in Birmingham Town Hall, London and other British cities. The music from Ms Beamish was fully funded by the Feeney Trust.
"... [Beamish’s] Shakespeare Masque is based on seven typically touching and witty poems by Duffy, which focus on Shakespeare the man rather than on his achievement. They move more or less chronologically through what we know of his life, but there’s no narrative as such. It was commissioned as a community work to involve Ex Cathedra’s Academy of Vocal Music as well as the main choir, with local schoolchildren recruited for each performance. The masque was accompanied by an Elizabethan “broken consort” of viols, lutes, flutes and percussion, and came complete with colourful costumes, and much parading around the church. The model, apparently, was Britten’sNoye’s Fludde. That piece ends with a hymn, and the masque ends with a refrain that’s sung by the audience. But in this context, it just seemed contrived; there’s none of the sense of affirmation that you get in the Britten, nor does there need to be. Throughout the piece, there’s the sense that, for all its expert choral writing and some naggingly catchy melodic tags, Beamish has composed something that worked for this special occasion more in spite of the constraints imposed by the commission than because of them."
– The Guardian
"Duffy’s poems tried to evoke the way Shakespeare has entered the language and become part of our collective consciousness. That was a promising idea; the problem was that Beamish’s score shoved Duffy’s poems firmly back into a picturesque past. Her score, for children’s chorus, soloists, choir, and a bunch of Shakespearian-era instrumentalists was performed by Ex Cathedra and a local children’s chorus with forthright energy and charm. Beamish strove hard to make her evocations of Jacobean music oblique, rather than literal. But this couldn’t get round the fact that a recorder player in a ruff piping vaguely ‘olde-worlde’ sounds can’t be anything other than excruciatingly twee."
– The Telegraph
Studies for Big Band
In April 2016 the Mike Fletcher Jazz Orchestra, directed by Mike Fletcher, gave the world premiere of Anna Meredith's Studies for Big Band in the Adrian Boult Hall. The work was fully funded by the Feeney Trust.
"It was striking to hear how effortlessly the musicians straightened their imaginary ties, tightened their belts a notch, neatened any creases, smoothed their hair. There were useful links for the listener unfamiliar with Meredith’s work – my untutored ears recalled Steve Martland’s rave-inspired compositions from the 1980s, except in Meredith’s twenty-teens the rhythms are now more sinuous, the beats not as drug-hard. The tightly controlled melodic and harmonic content had me thinking of Philip Glass, but again the mood was more flexible and more inviting. The internal rhythms created had a deep “groove” and a marvellously controlled swell and fade, all with the visceral familarity of a blood pulse.
"A very clear sound picture emerged of Anna Meredith’s delight in the sound of the jazz big band expressed through the technique and sensibility of contemporary classical composition."
– The Jazz Breakfast
Hark! Mark the Music! a celebration of music in Shakespeare
In February 2016 the newly-formed National Teachers' Choir conducted by Ula Weber gave the world premiere of this work for mixed voices by Alexander L'Estrange as part of Music Mark West Midlands at Symphony Hall. The work was fully funded by the Feeney Trust.
In September 2015 Big Brum Theatre in Education gave the public premiere of this TIE programme for Year 9 upwards, written by playwright Chris Cooper, at mac birmingham. The work was fully funded by the Feeney Trust.
Lakes Awake at Dawn
In June 2015 the CBSO, conducted by Andris Nelsons, gave the UK premiere of Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds' Lakes Awake at Dawn for mixed chorus and orchestra (a CBSO co-commission with the Boston Symphony Orchestra to mark the holding of the position of Music Director in both Boston and Birmingham by Andris Nelsons for the 2014/15 season). The Feeney Trust funded the CBSO
share of this commission.
"Modest in length and direct in its address, this work ... sets texts by poet Inga Abele and by the composer himself. The opening music is restless and turbulent, conveying the primal anxiety expressed in the text's description of a sleepless night in a forest, presumably alone. This section climaxes with a great mass of choral sound, out of which bursts a gaggle of wild glissandos, fanning out across the strings. The work concludes with an earnestly voiced 'prayer for light.'"
- Boston Globe
"... A lush and poetic work ... Ešenvalds' pre-dawn meditation offered beautiful sound and psychological insight ..."
- Boston Classical Review
"Setting an English translation of part of a poem by Inga Abele and Ešenvalds’s own compilation of watery images, and juxtaposing largely diatonic choral writing with more adventurous orchestral commentary, it’s a thoroughly effective if unremarkable piece of scene painting."
- The Guardian
"... a setting of two poems for chorus and orchestra by Latvian composer Eriks Ešenvalds about cold Siberian lakes, and hope arising even in the dead of night. The music began in a mood of anxiety and settled into radiant calm, but the orchestral palette was so relentlessly sumptuous and the harmonies so conventionally ‘filmic’ that my feelings stayed stubbornly unmoved."
- The Telegraph
"This atmospheric choral setting ... describes the dawning of light over water, and has a warmth of tone which allies it with similar works from the English tradition; it is no detriment that we hear evocations of Holst's Saturn as the end nears. Simon Halsey's CBSO Chorus found every opportunity to project their articulation, and the orchestra responded well to Ešenvalds' mildly adventurous scoring, though effects which looked intriguing on the page didn't always make their aural mark. Nelsons made sure the work's fluency of texture and pacing of dynamics were successfully conveyed."
- Birmingham Post
In January 2015 Ex Cathedra, directed by Jeffrey Skidmore, gave the world premiere of James MacMillan's Seven Angels for choir, soloists and small instrumental ensemble in Birmingham Town Hall. The work was fully funded by the Feeney Trust.
"As [MacMillan's] Seven Angels progressed, naturally structured upon each of the seven angel’s fanfaring, towards its visionary conclusion, we arrived at a final F minor chord, and the sound was genuinely ecstatic. I doubt this performance could ever be bettered. The stunned audience silence at the end could have gone on forever."
- Birmingham Post
"I confess that for the first few minutes I wasn’t sure what I would make of [MacMillan's] Seven Angels but this is a work that draws the listener in and which compels attention. The music is astonishingly inventive and imaginative… The performance by Ex Cathedra and the small instrumental ensemble was beyond praise. The music is clearly complex and extremely demanding yet not only was it put across with great assurance but also with the conviction that only thorough preparation and highly skilled execution can produce. The composer, who was enthusiastically applauded, looked delighted by the performance and I’m not surprised."
- Seen and Heard
"theatricality lies at the heart of this blistering music, not least the sight and sound of the two trumpeters, doubling on fearsomely primitive shofars, high in the organ gallery. But the real drama lies in MacMillan’s pungent, visceral response to the euphoric spirituality of the text: the ominous, restive pallor of the low-strung harp/cello opening; the harrowing juxtaposition of luscious choral writing against the shock-and-awe artillery of vocalised wailing, whistling and “clicking” of locusts; the spine-chilling rude awakenings of the angel trumpet blasts; but mostly the composer’s uncanny ability to mould literal and figurative complexity in genuinely simple terms.
"The performance, within a broader programme, by the beautifully homogenous Ex Cathedra under Jeffrey Skidmore, was nothing less than exhilarating."
- The Scotsman
In September 2014 the Birmingham Bach Choir and the Orchestra of the Swan gave the world premiere of a choral symphony, Unfinished Remembering, by composer Paul Spicer and poet Euan Tait, in Symphony Hall under the baton of the composer. Written to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, the music was commissioned by the Birmingham Bach Choir and fully funded by the Feeney Trust.
"Spicer's writing is indeed remarkable, strong, virile, its courageous orchestration well-delivered by a top-form Orchestra of the Swan ... its logical, natural word-setting passionately projected by a Birmingham Bach Choir on top form ...
"It's a pity that his Bach chorale interpolations didn't make more of an impact, as on paper they certainly add an element of universality to Tait's vision. But Spicer's solo writing was well conveyed by soprano Johane Ansell and baritone William Dazeley, both always clear and impassioned.
- Birmingham Post
The Dancing Pipes
In June 2014 Thomas Trotter gave the world premiere of Jonathan Dove’s The Dancing Pipes at St Laurence’s Church Ludlow, to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Snetzler organ there; the piece was commissioned by Arts at St Laurence and fully funded by the Feeney Trust. Mr Trotter, City of Birmingham Organist, will give the Birmingham premiere at Birmingham Town Hall in September 2014.
"... most exciting of all was the world premiere of Jonathan Dove’s Feeney Trust commission The Dancing Pipes. After an annunciatory prelude it launched into a minimalistically-textured toccata upon two tiny motifs built on fifths, sometimes coinciding, more often colliding, and demanding huge energy, stamina and concentration – which Trotter delivered in spades."
– Birmingham Post
In May 2014 Andris Nelsons conducted the CBSO in the UK premiere of Brett Dean’s Dramatis Personae for trumpet and orchestra with Håkan Hardenberger as soloist. This was a co-commission by the CBSO and the Grafenegg Festival; the Feeney Trust funded the CBSO share of this commission.
"Cast ostensibly in conventional form, Dean's concerto offers fresh perspectives on the soloist's role, with three tableaux each exploring a trumpet persona. Perhaps the most potent quality of Hardenberger's artistry was the way in which he used his instrument with all the subtlety and range of the human voice, capturing the reflective expressivity of the second-movement Soliloquy. That movement may be consciously dramatic, but Dean avoids seeming overly reverential by invoking comic-strip characters in the Concerto's opening Fall of a Superhero. Here he subverts traditional notions of concerto form in which the soloist is pitted against, and overcomes, the might of the orchestra: the soloist's failure to triumph was glorious.
"The last movement, The Accidental Revolutionary, is inspired by Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times and exploits a jokey element already present in Dean's witty percussion writing. Now it was the turn of the virtuoso trumpet to lead, with Nelsons jacking up a filmic tension and emphasising its Ives-like marching-band episodes. Solidarity is all: two trumpets first gently echoed the soloist on either side, but, by way of climax, Hardenberger joined the orchestra to blast from within the trumpet rank. It was positively operatic and fun."
– The Guardian
The Prince of the Pagodas
In February 2014 Birmingham Royal Ballet premiered a new joint production with the National Ballet of Japan of Benjamin Britten's ballet The Prince of the Pagodas, with new choreography by David Bintley funded by the Feeney Trust.
"Bintley’s is an entertaining, crisply performed piece of work, and a handsome one too. …. a production packed with serenely Mount Fuji-esque backdrops, lavishly billowing silk costumes, and delightfully outlandish, boggle-eyed monsters. Peter Teigen’s lighting is expertly executed, too. The choreography, meanwhile, demonstrates Bintley’s customary narrative clarity: you invariably know exactly where you are in the … plot."
- Daily Telegraph
"This is one not to miss. David Bintley's Prince of the Pagodas is a feast for the senses. … Bintley’s choreography shimmies beautifully between the creative and the classic in imaginative scenes of earth, water, fire and air. His delightfully fey sea-horses move with aplomb and his Balinese ladies with a deft and nimble humour."
In February 2014 the CBSO Youth Orchestra, conducted by Jac van Steen, gave the world premiere of Charlotte Bray's Black Rainbow, commissioned by the CBSO and fully funded by the Feeney Trust.
"It's short but spectacular, with a battery of brass and percussion and a demanding role for the orchestra’s excellent wind section. The hushed opening with muted growling brass was suitably menacing and if the central trumpet ostinato outstayed its welcome the gradual manoeuvre from manic energy to questioning quiet, and the handling of large orchestral forces, was skillfully done."
– Birmingham Post
In March 2013 Diego Matheuz conducted the CBSO in the European premiere of Enrico Chapela's MAGNETAR for electric cello and orchestra with Johannes Moser as soloist and the composer directing the live electronics. This was a co-commission by the CBSO, Los Angeles Philharmonic and Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestras; the Feeney Trust funded the European premiere.
"… it turns out to be an easily digestible, straightforward three-movement work, a mix of woozy lyrical lines and driving figuration, given a slightly exotic edge by the electronics."
"… Buzz-saw rasps here, a nasal whine there; rarely a sweet-singing line. … Entertaining? Modestly. Memorable? Not really. Nor magnetic … Still, I'll remember Moser's gusto playing his sci-fi instrument, and the piece certainly made a change from classical music's steak and potato pies."
In December 2011 Nikolai Znaider conducted the UK premiere of the Fourth Symphony by the Danish composer Poul Ruders, with Birmingham's City Organist Thomas Trotter as soloist. This was a co-commission by the CBSO and the Dallas and Odense Symphony Orchestras; the Feeney Trust funded the UK premiere.
"… its British premiere amply confirmed the 62-year-old Dane as a force to be reckoned with. … A hazily mysterious “Prelude”, a Gothic-horror “Cortege” and a scurrying “Étude” all end abruptly, as though most of the drama has been withheld. Then a mighty “Chaconne” gathers the threads, culminating in a struggle of elemental ferocity. Here, even more than before, organ and orchestra amplify one another’s resources, and Ruders’ trademark change-ringing sonorities ratchet up the excitement."
– Birmingham Post
In October 2011 the CBSO Youth Orchestra gave the world premiere of Ben Foskett's Leckey; this was fully funded by the Feeney Trust.
"Well-scored for the orchestra’s lavish complement, with well-dovetailed textures and clearly-defined episodes, the work was given with meticulous attention to dynamics and detail, and made a tremendous impression."
– Birmingham Post
In June 2011 Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and The Opera Group gave the world premiere of Seven Angels, an opera with words by Glyn Maxwell and music, funded by the Feeney Trust, by Luke Bedford.
“Conducted by Nicholas Collon, the music was brilliantly delivered both by singers and orchestral ensemble, the many spectacular moments in the score…coming over with immense effect. But what a score this is, often with a defined language of its own, but also a tribute to Bedford’s acute aural memory…”
– Birmingham Post
"this cantata-like piece … full of glistening but slow-moving music beautifully rendered …"
– The Observer
"Bedford is a skillful composer … the music is well organized and knows how to create dramatic effects … But at almost no point does it show any warmth … the overall effect is depressingly utilitarian."
– Financial Times
Complete list of Feeney Commissions