music for Euripides’ Medea (trans. Kenneth McLeish)
for flute, 2 clarinets, saxophone, cymbal, tam-tam, viola and cello
September 2010; 90′
Premiere: University of York Drama Society, 22nd-24th October 2010
This production was performed in a small black-box theatre where no more than three musicians could be grouped in one corner of the stage.
The production used a modern translation by Kenneth McLeish which conveys harsh emotional realism in stark, reduced dialogue. Directors Freyja Winterson and Emily Thommes drew on physical theatre to choreograph block-like scenes of angular, sudden movements with Classical references. Their theme of dilapidated grandeur saw a decaying set of rotten branches, with white sheets weighed down by stones that could create webs around the actors.
I decided to create a similarly dilapidated and angular score, by embedding improvisations of varying length and indeterminacy into composition. The improvisation rules were: always respond to the actors and to the drama; always draw on notated motifs/harmony found in notated material. This way, the music and musicians could respond directly to each other and to the actors’ presence and emotion. Since the play is unremitting until the final climax, its scenes can blur. Composed sections and silence helped strengthen the identity of key points, around which improvisation could trace the ensuing disruptions and eruptions of emotion.
“brilliantly surrounded by music provided by James Whittle and his three-piece band… providing an eery counterpart to the text, colouring it and increasing the drama and tension in the atmosphere of every scene, assisting some very seamless transitions. The music is so perfectly accompanying to the play, that it is as if Euripides wrote the score into the original text. These all add colour and life to the performance, with the music being particularly impressive.
(Paul Virides, York Vision)
“a score attuned to the piece in a way only musicians working with skill and openness through a rehearsal process can… Their work holds the show as one and lifts its best moments to their maximum… their often unusual performance a distinctively modern leaning.”
(Tom Vickers, Nouse)