Opera North, Light Night and Swan Song on 10 and 11 October

Opera North will be bringing us another magical experience with their installation for Light Night at St John’s Church, when the Church and its grounds will resonate with bird song, filled with light and the music of Rautavaara, Messiaen.  Swan Song by Erland Cooper has been specially commissioned.

The Church on New Briggate, the oldest in the City, is just across the road from the currently closed Howard Assembly Room, which is undergoing Opera North’s Music Works redevelopment.  It is in itself worthy of a visit, with Jacobean fittings, lavish carvings, ceiling reliefs and angels with musical instruments supporting the roof beams.

In the grounds, Urban Projections (in association with the Churches Conservation Trust) will produce flocks of tiny lights, rippling and flowing to a recording of the Orchestra of Opera North’s Swans Migrating.  Composer Einojuhani Rautavarra mixes melody with the calls of whooper swans.  This installation was commissioned for Night Light 2019 from Rebecca Smith (visuals) and Joff Spittlehouse (sound). 

Inside the church, the collaboration with Manchester Collective, and again in association with the Churches Conservation Trust, Erland Cooper ‘s new music will be live-mixed amongst the thirteen movements of Olivier Messiaen’s epic Catalogue of Birds, which Pianist Kerry Yong will perform live.  

Erland Cooper said:

“I understand a live performance of Catalogue of Birds is something of a rare bird itself. To me, Messiaen’s work here sounds complex, not only for the performer but for the listener too. I’m working on responding to these thirteen movements by trying to give the audience a little further transportation or connection to the natural world. 

With 12 additional moments – one between each part of the Messiaen – and a different palette of sounds for reflection, I aim to gently mirror his work with extrapolated ambient layers, taken from the source material itself and cut into endless tape loops. There will be a combination of electronic sounds and field recordings but predominantly grown from the source material, like a recycled or up-cycled work. 

Erland Cooper. Photograph by Alex Kozobolis.

I write music inspired by nature, people and place and while responding to this music six decades apart, with our bird species diminishing by almost 30% in that time, it seems entirely fitting to try to think about how we improve our relationship with the natural world and through music, bring back the joy, hopefulness and wonder that the keen ornithologist and composer had at the time he wrote his original work”.

Adam Szabo, Chief Executive, Manchester Collective, said:

“We’re really excited to be involved in this fabulous commission for Light Night Leeds. Erland Cooper is one of the UK’s most exciting artists, and working with him to shape these original vignettes inspired by Messiaen’s titanic Catalogue of Birds for solo piano is a dream. The whole project is a massive undertaking – original music, Messiaen, live sound, and a lighting installation – and I think our audiences in Leeds are going to love the chance to participate in this complete, immersive musical experience.”

Jo Nockels, Head of Projects, Opera North, added: 

“Creating spaces of wonder, strangeness and beauty, these two very different installations by northern organisations Urban Projections and Manchester Collective each explore the fascination of composers with the songs and sounds of birds. Together they bring the importance of humanity’s relationship to nature to life in the centre of the city, in this time where it is under ever-increasing threat.”  

Swan Song will open in St John’s Churchyard from 6.00pm – 10.00pm, and inside the Church from 7.00pm – 10.00pm, on Thursday 10 and Friday 11 October.   All Light Night Leeds events are free and there’s no need to book.

The UK’s largest annual arts and light festival this year features over 60 free arts events across 11 zones in the City Centre.  For more information visit here.

Photographs provided by Opera North.

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