- 23 March 2023 sees the premier of composer Jacques Cohen’s Creation at St. Giles’ Church Cripplegate, Barbican London at 7 pm.
- A setting for orchestra, alto soloist, mixed choir and children’s voices of biblical texts interspersed with modern verse that concern Mankind’s threat to himself and the planet.
- Participants include Mae Heydorn (alto solo), Lloyd’s Choir, The Finchley Children’s Music Group and an enlarged Cohen Ensemble.
- The work was commissioned posthumously by the choral singer Christine Didelot, who founded the International Sangerstevne festival of choral music.
- Poets represented include Franta Bass, a Czech Jew who was murdered at Auschwitz at the age of 14 and the Northern Irish poet Louis MacNeice.
- Tickets cost £20 (£10 for students) and are available at the door and from eventbrite.co.uk.
While the narrative of the Creation might be familiar to concert audiences from the works of Haydn and, in more recent years, Aaron Copland, Jacques Cohen’s approach to his own version is a unique blend that intersperses biblical text with the more sobering verse of such twentieth-century poets as Louis MacNeice and Franta Bass, a Czech Jew, who was murdered at Auschwitz at the age of 14.
The concert commemorates the life of Christine Didelot, a passionate and dedicated member of several choral societies and founder and director of the International Sangerstevne, an annual festival for choirs from around the world. On discovering she was terminally ill, it became Didelot’s dying wish to commission a substantial piece for chorus and orchestra. The composer was to be Jacques Cohen and it was to be performed as the main work at the Lloyd’s Choir’s Spring Concert.
“I was asked to visit her at the hospice,” says Cohen, “and, on what turned out to be the last day of her life, we enjoyed an intense discussion about the commission. She cherished the great tradition of religious music and while she described herself as humanist and spiritual – as opposed to religious – the choice of subject was very much a reflection of her. As was the choice of alto soloist which, naturally, was Christine’s own voice.”
Central to Creation is the unusual juxtaposition of the biblical story with the darker, more sobering realities of the present day. MacNeice’s Prayer, an anguished plea for protection from an unborn child before being brought into a ruthless world stands in stark contrast to the poignant and simplistic hope of Bass’s verse. “As you can imagine, the piece is very dramatic and dark in places and the texts are a reminder of the ways in which we are destroying the planet and ourselves. It was important, though, for the work to offer a note of hope,” remarks Cohen.
Because of this, children’s voices feature strongly in Creation and the role is taken by a choir familiar to Cohen from his youth, the Finchley Children’s Music Group. “The inclusion of such a chorus not only reflects Christine’s commitment to all forms of vocal music and the possibilities that flourish when choirs collaborate, but it also emphasises the message I hope to deliver. I first contemplated ending the piece on a mood of utter devastation before deciding that something more hopeful––even if it remains uncertain––would be appropriate. While struggling to find an appropriate means of conveying this, I happened to hear Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg on BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day. His message was simple: we must ‘preserve our beautiful planet for our children to enjoy’. Realising that these words were just what was needed, I wrote to him to ask his permission to use them, which he was happy to grant.
“I am keen to generate interest in the piece among choir conductors and members from as wide an area as possible. This is because the premier of my last major piece of this kind, Exodus Fragment: The Parting of the Waves was, to my pleasure, met with a degree of enthusiasm that acted as a catalyst for Creation, which might be seen as its sister piece.”
Cohen plans to record both Creation and Exodus in the next year or so, although there are no prospects of further performances in the near future. “Its premier will be under the auspices of Lloyd’s Choir, with the superb Mae Heydorn as the alto soloist and an enlarged Cohen Ensemble. I hope it is quite an event.”
The premier of Creation takes place on 23 March at St Giles’ Church, Cripplegate, under the direction of the composer. Other music includes Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Wasps Overture and Serenade to Music. Tickets cost £20 (£10 for students) and are available at the door and from eventbrite.co.uk. Jacques Cohen’s website is jacquescohen.co.uk.