And the stones sing is a 14-minute choral-orchestral work by Alexander L’Estrange, a commission from the Presteigne Festival, where it premiered on 28 August.
Festival Director George Vass conducted The Joyful Company of Singers, Festival Orchestra and mezzo soloist Clare McCaldin. The commission celebrates the 500th anniversary of the celebrated Presteigne Tapestry in St Andrew’s Church and depicts Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. The text, by Adey Grummett, takes the tapestry as its inspiration.
"I was overjoyed to be invited to write about the glorious Presteigne Tapestry and wish everyone joyful celebrations for its 500th birthday.
The first thing Alexander did was to send me an image of both sides of the piece and it struck me that, though the style and positions of the figures were rather formal, the exuberance of the decoration depicted around the occasion of The Entry Into Jerusalem and also that of the colours used was most infectious! This timelessness is a lovely thought when approaching the Passion story.
The first ideas that sprang to mind were to do with the craftsmanship that made the tapestry. How humans have always created textiles to protect them from the elements and to beautify. How this lovely work was created to cover the stones of a wall. How stone walls may ring with our human voices. How the citizens of Jerusalem also covered the stones of the road with their woven cloaks.
Then came a memory of this scene in the 1970s musical Jesus Christ Superstar. When rebuked in song by the High Priests for creating a racket in the streets, Jesus replies in a fairly accurate strophic rendering (by Sir Tim Rice) of Luke 19:39-40:
"And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples. And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out."
This idea of this shout of praise coming not only from the throats of the crowd but from all elements of Creation, struck me as a powerful one. Different biblical allusions then started floating in – Adam made of clay, stones turned to bread, Jesus healing with spit and dust, Jesus drawing in the dust, hearts of stone being converted, even the Ash Wednesday sentence said to everyone who receives the mark of ash, ‘Remember Man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return’.
On pilgrimage in the Holy Land in 2009, I walked the way down from the Mount of Olives to the Golden Gate. Tradition has it that this was the gate by which Jesus entered Jerusalem on that triumphant day. It is now and has been for many hundreds of years, bricked up and the legend says that when Jesus returns it will open to him once more. One cannot spend any time in the countryside around Jerusalem without being struck by the vastness of the desert and the prevalence of dust and stones. Dust is as much a part of daily life now as it was then. It seems no leap of imagination to feel it possible to disappear into the dust of the landscape.
It is the human dichotomy of being as low a form of Creation as the dust yet also being the zenith of this Creation, made ‘little lower than the angels’ that is a meditation that never seems to wear out. How can we be both things at once? How can we get it so wrong, act as selfishly and thoughtlessly as humankind has done for millennia, and yet be loved as much as we are?
It is this great, ‘And yet…’ that is at the heart of And the stones sing. We must live with ourselves as we are made, flawed yet beautiful, as common as dust yet called to inspiration."