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“O’Sullivan’s words interweave with and comment on the Latin Mass extending the traditional context to reflect the horror and futility of war. The choral writing is mostly gentle and reflective while the string quartet and taonga pūoro comment on the words and expand the context of the work to a broad meditation against all wars.”
Requiem for the Fallen is a new work by composer Ross Harris with text and poetry by New Zealand’s Poet Laureate Vincent O’Sullivan and traditional taonga pūoro composition by Horomona Horo. It is designed to be presented in a Cathedral type space, with reverberant sound, sense of spiritual community and rich textural surfaces.
The work was originally conceived by the music director of Choirs Aotearoa New Zealand and international choral expert Karen Grylls, the music director of the project and who will be conducting this first performance.
Stage direction is by Auckland–based theatre and music director Jonathan Alver who has designed the production to take place in the centre of the nave of Wellington Cathedral of St Paul ‘with movement, moving light and video projection used to enhance themes of separation, distance, camaraderie and release’.
Requiem for the Fallen is scored for sixteen voices, string quartet, taonga pūoro and tenor soloist and features the Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir. It combines movements from the Requiem Mass in Latin with words by Vincent O’Sullivan. Ross Harris describes the structure in this way:
O’Sullivan’s words interweave with and comment on the Latin Mass extending the traditional context to reflect the horror and futility of war. The choral writing is mostly gentle and reflective while the string quartet and taonga pūoro comment on the words and expand the context of the work to a broad meditation against all wars.
The concert event starting at dusk opens with performances of specially selected choral works and a movement for string quartet to set the atmosphere and lead into Requiem for the Fallen as the light gradually fades in the Cathedral. Opening works include Purcell’s Hear my prayer, Messiaen’s O Sacrum Convivium, Beethoven’s Molto Adagio from String Quartet in A minor Opus 132 and Schnittke’s Drei Geistliche Gesänge.
Vincent O’Sullivan, who has collaborated with Ross Harris on a number of previous projects, offers the following perspectives on this work:
To write a new Requiem is to join a long and venerable tradition. In taking on Requiem for the Fallen to mark the centenary of World War I, Ross and I naturally came to it as New Zealanders, and with our shared certainty that we see nothing celebratory, nothing for easy sentimentality, in the event. We both find deeply unattractive the flag waving of conventional patriotism, and the easy rhetoric of ‘For King and Country’. What men die for is the love of those they defend, and the values they share. No commemoration is just, that does not bear as well the dreadful physical reality that deprives men finally of all that ‘Home’ entails. The form of the Requiem allows for that emphasis, as it does of course for traditional resonances of hope, the refusal to accept that the evil of war must always be the final dominant note.
Reflecting on the original conception of the work and its relevance at this time in our history, Ross Harris makes the following comments:
More than 18,000 New Zealanders died in the First World War. Requiem to the Fallen is written to honour the memory of those soldiers who gave their lives in a war that changed the direction of human history. Many went with a sense of adventure to ’see the world’ but the horror and futility of modern warfare was soon terribly apparent. Even though little of benefit came from the devastating conflict it is thought that (to quote New Zealand soldier and lifelong peace activist Ormond Burton) ’somewhere between the landing at Anzac and the end of the battle of the Somme New Zealand very definitely became a nation’.
The work has been possible with funding from Creative New Zealand and is jointly commissioned by the New Zealand String Quartet Trust and Choirs Aotearoa New Zealand Trust.
You can experience the dramatic beauty of Requiem for the Fallen in the New Zealand Festival at Wellington’s Anglican Cathedral of St Paul at 8pm on 28 February 2014.
Find out more details about the concert performance at the New Zealand Festival website