Music gets macabre at Death: Southbank Centre's Festival for the Living


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The Independent Culture

Most people are familiar with Desert Island Discs, the Radio 4 show that invites a guest to choose the eight records they would take with them to a desert island. Death: Southbank Centre's Festival for the Living, which begins today in London, puts a whole new spin on the concept. Desert Island Death Discs with Paul Gambaccini will reveal the nation's top funeral music choices, while the BBC Concert Orchestra will explore Music to Die For, a collection of works by composers obsessed by death.

"It's hard to think of a classical musician who wasn't obsessed by death in one way or another," says Keith Lockhart, conductor for the BBC Concert Orchestra, who has included Mozart, Mahler and Verdi on the bill. "I wanted to give a variety of different takes on the theme, so not all the music is funereal or elegiac; it's meant to be thought provoking, but I don't want people to feel too morbid."

Lockhart's sentiments are echoed by Jude Kelly, Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre, who says her aim of the festival is to help take away the sense of taboo that surrounds the subject. "There are very few opportunities to talk about death or work out how we feel about it. I think it will be emotional but also interesting. We've got all sorts happening, from Ghanaian coffins which have been carved into extraordinary things like Michael Jordan's shoe, and Sandi Toksvig giving us her own memorial lecture."

There's also Goodbye Mr Muffin, a puppetry and animated children's show that tells the story of the last days of a much-loved guinea pig; made-to-order poems on death from The Poetry Takeway; a selection of death-related games from social gaming artists Hide & Seek, and talks on everything from the ritual of getting a tattoo in someone's memory to how to plan a funeral.

There's no escaping death.

Death: Southbank Centre's Festival for the Living, Southbank Centre, London, SE1 (, today to Sunday