Elder, Hallé Orchestra and Halle Children’s Choir, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
’Tis the season for big children’s choirs to show off their end-of-season projects, and the Hallé Children’s Choir and Hallé Orchestra had something exceptional to present under Sir Mark Elder’s baton on Sunday afternoon: the world premiere of Jonathan Dove’s A Brief History of Creation.
Commissioned by the Hallé for the children’s choir, it formed the second part of a concert that began with Bizet’s L’Arlesienne Suite no. 1 and Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, at the Bridgewater Hall.
There’s little doubt that this will be a piece other accomplished children’s choirs allied with big orchestras will want to sing: its greatest virtue being its immediate accessibility in performance to listeners of all ages, especially younger ones.
It’s a substantial piece, taking most of an hour, and requiring an orchestra with triple woodwind and at least three percussionists, playing a battery of different instruments, including a waterphone. The Hallé employed an extra waterphonist and instrument (both examples were played with a bow), in the event.
The piece describes, as the title suggests, the creation of the universe and then the world, taking the story through millions of years of evolution to the birth of mankind. The words are by Dove’s long-time collaborator, Alasdair Middleton, and tell of the origins of life, the universe and everything on the basis of a thorough rummage through the latest science.
So not so much a Representation of Chaos at the start as a Big Bang – though there was a bit of pretty clear quantum disorder immediately following it – and then we’re into fanfares and eddying motifs as matter comes into being and the poem begins with ‘Starlight …’
The story proceeds with neo-Wagnerian sound effects to represent the depths of the earth and the mighty beasts that ultimately inhabit it, and it’s a score alight with glittering ideas … and not a few jokes. The Earth cools, for instance, under ‘Rain and rain: For the next few centuries; More of the same’, which is a very Mancunian concept.
The 13 individual sections are too many to describe in detail, but one that stood out – and might even prove a detachable excerpt – is about the dinosaurs: ‘We’re dinosaurs and we are dead; we on one another fed; not much went on in our head; a comet killed us, so it’s said …’ It has a jazzy, stride-sort-of accompaniment, and the choir had a lot of fun with it.
Then begins an extensive bestiary from past and present, and it’s not long before we hear about whales, which is where the waterphones come in. They make whalesong, of course.
A Brief History of Creation is an enchanting piece, and from the appearance of microphones around the stage it seems a published recording may be in prospect.
The entertainment value of the Hallé’s version of The Young Person’s Guide, with up-to-date new narration by ex- Hallé horn player Tom Redmond and already well known to their younger audiences, was equally high.