Making Concerto

Welcome to my new blog.

This is a space for reflection on whatever show I am making at the time. In the past I have kept separate blogs for separate projects but this time I want to bring it all together under my own website. I want to reflect on my practice instead of projects, and find dramaturgical links between the works, to weave a narrative out of my back catalogue over the last 20 years.

For 2016, I am making a new devised performance – Concerto – inspired by the composition of Concerto for the Left Hand by Maurice Ravel and its commission by pianist, Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm fighting in World War One. The piece explores how Ravel was lost in a forest for 10 days outside Verdun in 1914, inspiring him to write his most celebrated works. These narratives about war and disability are played out through poetic, powerful imagery and a soundtrack of piano music, orchestras and gunfire. A sequel to Bolero (2014), Concerto weaves together the composition of the music with the conflict that cost the pianist his arm.

We see Ravel lost in the woods covered in leaves. Gavrilo Princip ties his withered arm up with piano wire in prison. Musical manuscript falls from the sky like snow on a battlefield as doctors persuade shell-shocked soldiers to play again. An apple crate becomes a piano keyboard. Two conductors become assassins. An audience becomes an orchestra. And a pianist will play… 

Concerto is a deconstructed, orchestrated exploration of unravelling narratives that explores the legacy of war and the power of music to heal and overcome tragedy. This is a bold and ambitious project because it will have an audience of 80 who take their seats in the layout of an orchestra. The original score was composed for an orchestra of 80. The performers occupy the position of the pianist and the conductor. There is potential to project footage from my journey to Ravel’s house in Paris, which I made for Bolero. There is potential to present the piece in a musical context such as a recital room. There is potential to work with an orchestra.

The creative team includes regular collaborators including Julian Hughes (photography), Rich Swainson (video), Victor Simao (design), Anneke van de Stege (stage manager) and Chris Cousin (soundtrack). I have invited Ollie Smith (LaPelle’s Factory) and Rachael Walton (Third Angel) to be dramaturgs on the project. It includes a guest appearance by world-renowned concert pianist, Nicholas McCarthy, and two devisers/performers, Katt Perry and Ryan O’Shea, with whom I made an early work-in-progress at Manchester Met University in October 2015.

After our first week of Research and Development at the Y Theatre in Leicester, we have learned a few things about the piece and about each other. We learned that Ravel was not very organised. But his music was. We learned that the audience like to be involved but want to do more to help us tell our story. We learned that Nicholas needs to ‘make friends with the piano’. We learned that it takes time to be a conductor, you have to practise every day, and ‘breathe with your arms’. Katt and Ryan are now practising with their own batons ready for the next phase in Lincoln. We learned that the Lead Violin, or First Violin, is called the Concert Master, and represents the audience throughout the performance. And we learned about apples…

Image: Julian Hughes