A festival committed to new works and new talent
I have heard from one of our partner festivals in Alaska that the world premiere of Benjamin Wallfisch’s Chopin’s Waterloo ‘was a magnificent event and very well received by our audience’. As the instigator of this co-commission between four major international festivals I am both relieved and mightily pleased.
Commissioning new work is central to the ethos of International Wimbledon Music Festival. Part of the excitement, that you don’t have with other pieces, is that you never know how it will turn out, and what the audience will make of it. Success is not only sweet but means we can plan ahead with more confidence. Joint plans include a new work, we hope for 2014, by the Australian composer Brett Dean.
Wimbledon is blessed with a world ‘brand’ name. When I started the Festival in 2009 I was determined that Wimbledon would be on the world map not only for sport but also for music.
I was very lucky in forming international partnerships with long established festivals. Pianist Piers Lane, who performed in our opening Festival, was first on the bandwagon. He had taken over as artistic director of the Australian Festival of Chamber Music. Piers introduced us to cellist, Zuill Bailey, artistic director of both the El Paso Pro Musica in Texas, (established in 1978) and the Sitka Summer Music Festival in Alaska - now in its 41st year.
So how did we come to choose Ben Wallfisch, and Chopin’s Waterloo? I was introduced to Ben after one of his father (Raphael Wallfisch)’s concerts five years ago. At the time I was looking for a composer for a theatre and film piece I was mounting in Venice and he seemed a perfect choice. He composed 35 minutes of music to film sequences in just 12 days, and conducted a handpicked ensemble of London’s best. The music was so good that the show is still running!
For 30 years I have been obsessed by the life and music of Niccolò Paganini, with stories of mere mortals burning their violins in despair. So when I first saw Colère de Paganini, a charred, smashed violin encased in polyester, by the French artist Arman, it had an immediate resonance for me.
Then I encountered a smashed horn, body parts of a violin and double bass, on an 8ft canvas painted in a rich harmony of yellows, purples and blues… A sliced violin arranged like a butterfly… A smashed violin, covered in blue paint smeared onto paper… A shattered French upright piano, on a huge red baize-covered board, parts lined up in battle formations, broken hammers scattered across a bloodied field: Arman’s Chopin’s Waterloo.
This became the inspiration for Ben’s new work, a series of transformations directly inspired by Arman’s art. Beware though – Movement Three – ‘Anger: Combustion of Violin and Cello’ has some unusual stage directions!
This is not Wimbledon’s first commission. Last year Robert Fokkens wrote a piece based on a tennis poem, Thwok, by Wimbledon Championship poet-in-residence Matt Harvey. ‘Bounce bounce bounce bounce, thwackety wackety zingety ping’ was served by the vocal group Juice, with lively string playing by trio Kosmos.
The Festival is committed not only to the creation of new work, but the nurturing of new talent, too. Each year we have major community and school events in partnership with Merton Music Foundation. In 2010, 16,000 school children participated in events promoted by the Festival to celebrate St Cecilia’s Day. Last year we gave musicians from Merton schools the opportunity to sing and play alongside David Wilson-Johnson and Catherine Wyn-Rogers, the Brodsky Quartet and recorder virtuoso Piers Adams in a spectacular performance of Britten’s Noye’s Fludde with costumes designed by students of Wimbledon College of Art.
This year’s partnership events include an original production of Stravinsky’s Petrushka that will accompany the live performance of the complete ballet music for solo piano played by the Russian virtuoso Mikhail Rudy. The production, in partnership with the Little Angel Theatre, features wonderful puppets and ballet sequences with dancers from the Rambert School, Covent Garden and Matthew Bourne. Costumes were in partnership again with Wimbledon College of Art, with the bear from last year’s Noye’s Fludde being recycled!
Our aim is not only to be able to build audiences for the future by inviting students to experience music of the highest quality for free, but to have young people actively immersed in projects. This year children participating in our community ‘Petrushka Project’ will not only be invited to a dress rehearsal of the performance, but will have been actively involved in dance, painting, puppet-making, character analysis, and story-telling projects based on the Petrushka theme. Through music our jazz and choral project, ‘The Journey’ will give participants and audiences an idea of how, throughout history, waves of immigration have added to our cultural landscape.
We believe, as an international music festival, that working with the community and commissioning new works is not just important but essential to being a relevant and useful cultural institution.
Both the Noye’s Fludde and Petrushka productions have been made possible through Arts Council England, Lottery Funding.