for choreographed orchestra
BRETHREN is a devised work for choreographed orchestra, in three continuous parts, on themes of community and conflict. The work takes as its starting point the metaphor of an orchestra as a collective of instrumental families occupying the same space. Here is a brief thematic synopsis:
Part I – VIOLINS
A family. Similarity and difference. Close(d) spaces. Collecting.
Part II – VIOLENCE
Instruments as objects. Divided space, disrupted space. Orchestrating.
Part III – SILENCE
A defence mechanism. Shared space. What we carry with us.
The title comes from words sung in the Finale of Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms: ‘behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity’. Inspired by Bernstein’s work, BRETHREN is a response to the current mass upheaval of people and the differing reactions to the crisis worldwide.
The titles of the three parts are derived from VIOLINS VIOLENCE SILENCE (1981-2), a neon artwork by American artist Bruce Nauman. In the early 1980s, Nauman created a number of neon artworks in response to human rights abuses in Central and South America and South Africa. The indoor version of this work features the three words arranged to form a triangle, superimposed with another triangle of the same words spelt backwards. The six words fade in and out independently, and slowly, in naive primary pinks, yellows, greens and reds. Curator Joseph D. Ketner II writes:
[t]he confluence of these words creates an ekphrastic sound poem in visual form that speaks of the extremes of music and silence, creativity and violence… The formal simplicity and linguistic eloquence of this neon veil Nauman’s cry of disgust over the violence that humans inflict on one another.
(Ketner II et al., Elusive Signs: Bruce Nauman Works with Light, 2006)
The three-word title informed the narrative structure of BRETHREN. Nauman invites the re-reading of these familiar words through setting up homophonic connections between them. The words break down into syllables as we wonder how we moved so easily from the pleasant (if you like) sound of violins to the destructive force of violence. (We joked in rehearsal about the vile viols.)
My approach to physical medium was similar and BRETHREN is as much about the orchestra – deconstructing it, questioning it, reinterpreting it. We call a group of instrumentalists an orchestra, but the word comes from the Ancient Greek orkheisthai, ‘to dance’, as well as referring to the site where the Greek choruses would perform – or nowadays the musicians.
These ideas fed into creating BRETHREN, a piece of movement and music situated specifically on a concert stage. The work was devised with the performers, who learnt music and movement together, by rote.
During my residency at The Banff Centre in December 2015, I set fellow residents a series of games and exercises in order to test core ideas, sketch movement phrases and receive feedback on rehearsal directing. Through similar tasks focusing on how an instrument is carried, the BRETHREN players invented their own movement phrases. I then shaped these movements in the context of the piece, at times referencing Nauman’s triangles. Rehearsal discussion on reach, boundary, territory, home, being against, being together, occupying, and sharing, also played a part.
BRETHREN was commissioned through the 2016 Lyons Celebration Award, which provided generous support for me to work on the piece at The Banff Centre. In creating this piece, the last of my PhD, I am hugely indebted to the beacons of support and creativity that are the University of York Music Department, The Banff Centre, and especially tonight’s performers. My warmest thanks to them all.