Preview: Britten War Requiem, St Paul's Cathedral, London

An anguished expression of war's futility
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The Independent Culture

The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, made up of the UK's most gifted teenage classical musicians, are joining with the London Symphony Chorus and Tiffin Boys' Choir for Britten's War Requiem. Richard Hickox will conduct the two performances, at St Paul's Cathedral and Symphony Hall, Birmingham.

The War Requiem, which was first performed in 1962, expresses the composer's anguish at the wastefulness of war, and combines the text of the Latin mass for the dead and the poems of Wilfred Owen.

Mark Simpson, the orchestra's 18-year-old principal clarinet, says: "It's a huge statement about the composer's pacifist beliefs. I think what is so inspiring is the way Britten stayed true to his beliefs throughout the war and then voiced them in this masterpiece in a wholly artistic manner."

Simpson, who last year won both the BBC Young Musician and Composer of the Year awards, was first given a clarinet aged nine. Now his most prized instrument is his Peter Eaton Special Edition B flat clarinet. "It has gold bits on it, and sounds very nice. My dad's got a thing about buying me clarinets. He knows nothing about music, but he can't half pick a clarinet."

Britten's music has a special resonance for Simpson. "There is a sense of immediacy with all of Britten's works. His compositional voice comes across so easily that I can instantly connect with the music and simply let it do what it needs to do."

Does the War Requiem hold any meaning for a young musician today? "In a time when the news is filled with conflicts in the Middle East, Israel, Palestine and Africa," says Simpson, "Britten's pacifist masterpiece should be viewed as beacon of hope for those innocent involved and serve as a sure warning of the horrors of what may come to those in charge."

5 January, St Paul's Cathedral ( www.barbican.org.uk); 7 January, Symphony Hall, Birmingham ( www.symphonyhall.co.uk/boxoffice)

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