A symphony for skateboard and choir, performed live at the concrete skate park under the South Bank which is facing the threat of closure, will be one of the highlights of the first ever UK-wide New Music Biennial.
Twenty new compositions, reflecting the richness and diversity of musical life across Britain, will be premiered at the 2014 event, which has been developed in partnership with Arts Council England, Creative Scotland and the British Council.
The inaugural Biennial, organised by PRS for Music Foundation, hopes to repeat the success of last year’s Cultural Olympiad, which an official report published this week said achieved a “huge” level of public engagement and boosted the UK’s artistic standing internationally.
The commissions include a new piece by composer Matthew Herbert, which will tell the stories of 20 pianos from across the world using cut-up samples, a vocal work for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth games featuring Shingai Shoniwa, lead singer of the Noisettes and a piece of electronica created on ferry crossings in the Scottish Highlands.
One of the most ambitious commissions, selected by a panel including Dame Evelyn Glennie and Roger Wright, Director of the BBC Proms, is a work which will blend skateboarding, choral singing and the unique acoustic of skate parks.
The Tête à Tête opera company is collaborating with composer Samuel Bordoli, 25, who creates works incorporating natural acoustics and previously produced a “live music sculpture” for 30 musicians inside Tower Bridge.
“I’ve always been very interested in activities which have musical elements as by-products and skateboarders make very percussive musical sounds,” said Bordoli, who will stage the piece in Glasgow, Aberdeen and at the graffiti-covered South Bank underpass skate park, which resounds to the thud of hardcore skaters.
Bill Bankes-Jones, artistic director of Tête à Tête, will create a poem for community choirs to sing, inspired by discussions with the skaters.
Bordoli will orchestrate a soundtrack using “the cavernous concrete slopes of the skate park, the sound the skateboard makes and the acoustic resonance of the venue.”
There will be an element of improvisation. “The piece will be designed so the singers respond to the percussive elements of the skateboarders. They will be asked to perform certain manoeuvres and gestures in response to musical cues from the choir.”
The composition will have added piquancy at its South Bank premiere since the urban skate park, which has become a tourist attraction in its own right, is under threat of closure. The undercroft would shut from autumn 2014 so the space can be turned into retail units as part of a £120 million transformation of the South Bank.
The skateboarders oppose a plan to relocate them to a new purpose-built space beneath Hungerford Bridge, which they say lacks the undercroft’s authentic scuzzy grandeur. A petition to retain their current home has attracted 15,000 signatures.
“I think it would be a shame if the park had to be moved,” said Bordoli. “This piece will celebrate what it brings to the South Bank. We’ll have to see what happens.”
Bordoli, who says he hasn’t stepped on a skateboard since he was 10, will “audition” skaters with a musical ear who want to participate.
His proposal, one of the 20 chosen from 130 submissions, met the Biennial’s call for works which cross artistic boundaries and can be staged across a number of locations. Each of the 20 works will be available for download after their premiere.
“It’s taking us into unchartered territory,” Bordoli said. “We want to find a new musical language that combines the cultural background of skateboarders with choral singers.”
The Biennial commissions will be premiered at the South Bank Centre, Glasgow’s UNESCO City of Music and on BBC Radio 3 between July and August 2014.
Cerys Matthews, the 6 Music presenter and member of the Biennial judging panel, said: “Can’t wait to hear the new ferryboat songs from the Scottish highlands and a choir singing on a skateboard ramp.”
Best of the Biennial:
Mary Ann Kennedy commissioned by Watercolour Music
‘Aiseag’ (The Ferryboat): A lifelong fascination creates a journey between the Highlands and Canada’s Gaelic diaspora. Mary Ann Kennedy and Scott Macmillan will work with audio designer Nick Turner and poet Aonghas MacNeacail to create a new work combining electronica, found sound and musicians from both Cape Breton and Scotland.
Matthew Herbert commissioned by Third Ear Music
Matthew Herbert will be telling the stories of twenty unique pianos from around the world; from Steinways at famous locations, to forgotten out-of-tune family pianos. The composer will sample each piano, document it in photographs and record short oral histories. The composition, for solo pianist, will be played on a simple table, turned into a virtual piano through bespoke soft/hardware created by the Radiophonic Workshop.
Shingai Shoniwa commissioned by Serious
The Noisettes’ Shingai Shoniwa and acclaimed singer-songwriter/producer David Okumu are coming together to create a new vocal work inspired by the values of the 2014 Commonwealth Games. It will be performed by different vocal forces, including community choirs.
Gwilym Simcock commissioned by City of London Sinfonia
This commission fuses the worlds of classical music and jazz, and celebrates the virtuosity of City of London Sinfonia Principal Conductor and Clarinettist Michael Collins with a distinctive new work for Clarinet, Strings, Jazz Trio and Speaker. The project brings together some of the UK's most exceptional musical talents.
Yann Seznec commissioned by Edinburgh Art Festival
Artist and musician Yann Seznec will create a new installation and performance for Edinburgh Art Festival’s common-wealth, a major international exhibition of contemporary art selected from five continents to coincide with the 2014 Commonwealth Games. The work will explore the relevance of ‘commons’: those things we value and hold in common.
Matheu Watson & Luke Daniels commissioned by Gael Music
This commission will feature an outstanding international quartet representing four countries from the Commonwealth; Scotland, England, Canada and Australia. The project explores the many drove roads or tracks set deeply into the Scottish countryside and the long-vanished trade of Scottish cattle-droving through its hardy highland cattle drovers and their wider connections to the New World.