A packed Westminster Abbey saw the premiere performance on Remembrance Sunday (13 November) of Howard Goodall's new oratorio, Every Purpose Under the Heaven.
The 45-minute, 10-movement work sets some of the Bible's best-loved passages and was performed as part of an celebratory evening service to mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. It had been commissioned by Sir Ewan and Lady Harper as his retirement gift to the United Church Schools Trust and United Learning Trust (of which he was Chief Executive from 1991 to 2011).
The performance was given by soloists Kirsty Hopkins (soprano) and Noah Stewart (tenor), with some 60 pupils from the 11 UCST schools, together with other professional musicians, all conducted by the composer.
Goodall has said of the work:
“The King James Bible of 1611 is one of the cultural milestones of Western civilisation and its poetic phraseology, its narrative imagery, its ethical dilemmas and its uninhibited spirituality permeate the English language like no other document in history, with the exception of the first folio of William Shakespeare, published at more or less the same time.
“Knowing that my 2011 King James Bible Oratorio was intended to reflect the themes of both Old and New Testaments, I set about selecting what I felt were the ten most memorable and powerful passages, then created ten movements from these, working chronologically through from Genesis to Revelation. The commission was requested and sponsored by Sir Ewan Harper with the express aim that it should be anchored in the language of the King James Bible and be accessible and suitable for young singers, so that a new generation, who might not perhaps have as easy a familiarity with the ringing phrases of the text as their parents and grandparents, might be introduced to it through the expressive power and unabashed sincerity of their own voices."
Sir Ewan Harper, who commissioned the piece, said:
“My wife, Jenny, and I had the idea of commissioning the Oratorio based on the King James Bible as we thought it was particularly suitable for young voices and would therefore be a perfect score for the ULT and UCST students to sing. We were eager that the piece reflected the themes of love and loyalty and so we are delighted that the Oratorio begins with God’s love in creating Earth and the human race as reflected in Genesis and in the opening verses of St John’s Gospel, and includes passages of wonderful loyalty like that of Ruth and Naomi.
“In commissioning this piece of work, we hoped to make a modern contribution to classical church music in an idiom that was accessible to children and that brings enjoyment to young people for generations to come.”
The Rt. Rev and Rt. Hon. The Lord Carey of Clifton, Chairman of UCST, said:
“To sing at the premiere of such a piece of music and in the magnificent setting of Westminster Abbey is a tremendous opportunity for our students. They have been rehearsing for months and are extremely excited about performing in front of such a large audience. There are some incredibly talented students within our schools and academies and it is wonderful to be able to showcase their talents at such a momentous occasion.”
Discussions are now taking place about a possible commercial recording of the work, to take place in 2012.
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