The Orchestra Stripped & Re-formed For Peace (Proms 2005 – Week 7)

Written by: Colin Anderson

Morgan Hayes has composed Strip for the Proms, premiered on 25 August, a work that looks at the essentials of the orchestra. Two nights later, musicians from around the globe unite as the World Orchestra for Peace…

Morgan Hayes “started writing music when I was 9 or 10. I was interested in lots of things: Greek legends, the Roald Dahl novels, and composing was an extension of this. I like William Burroughs, too, and I see a musical link between that sort of extreme, surreal atmosphere.” Morgan now has the “thrill and trepidation” of a BBC commission for the Proms, his first piece for full orchestra, provocatively called Strip. Born in 1973, Morgan took early inspiration from “my mum’s record collection: Mozart, Greek folk music and The Beatles Abbey Road album. I started writing music before I knew what notation was about. I was also learning the piano and got a good grounding in music theory from my teacher.”

The piano has become one of Morgan’s “main incomes. I play for dance classes, and I do a lot of improvising work.” He has been Composer in Residence at the Purcell School and admits to being attracted by “teeming textures; I enjoyed drawing medieval battle scenes and was obsessive with soldiers piled one on another!” As for Morgan’s designs on music, he believes that “music needs a sensuality about it, a sense of thrill and excitement.” Cue Strip. The scoring includes a cimbalom, piano and harmonium. A real harmonium, too, not a sample of one. “I like the fragility of the instrument, the imperfection of it. At one point it is playing chords and frozen within it are these tremolos on the cimbalom and harp. The strings are kept in reserve; then you get their full juicy sound. It’s a concerto for orchestra in the sense that the soloist is the massive orchestral sound; a lot happens in 12 minutes; there’s no lack of incident!”

Morgan explains that the piece is called Strip because the orchestra is sometimes stripped-down to essentials, a way of putting the full orchestra “on a pedestal” in the middle of the work. The premiere is August 25. For two nights later, Charles Kaye, the Director of the World Orchestra for Peace, has put together an orchestra from just about everywhere. “Intensive searching and recommendation is how every single player gets an invitation.” Charles was Sir Georg Solti’s “general and personal manager for the last 20 years of his life.” The World Orchestra was Solti’s inspiration and his death in 1997 left Charles running the show. “I had been in the business 30 years and could use my connections.” For an already planned concert in Baden-Baden in 1998, Charles needed a conductor. “Gergiev was the logical person. Solti had taken him aside in a father-like way; Gergiev was intrigued and agreed. After the concert he wanted to do it again. This year we have 86 players from 77 orchestras in 33 countries. Everyone is chosen for quality, there isn’t a single slouch. Each player gives their services because they feel, as Solti did, that music is the best ambassador for peace. We have to get it right and come together for the right reasons. This is 10 years since our founding and it’s 60 since the end of the Second World War.”

This tour programme – London, Berlin, Moscow and Beijing – has been chosen to show-off the orchestra, and includes what Charles calls “Solti Pops” (the overtures to William Tell and Mastersingers) as well as Esa-Pekka Salonen’s new piece, Helix – “brilliantly constructed and a latter-day Boléro. Esa-Pekka and Valery are good friends and the new work was agreed over a few vodkas in Finland. Valery has chosen Scheherazade because of the many solo spots.” Philips has just released a CD/DVD combo featuring the World Orchestra with both Gergiev and Solti (475 6937).

Charles, already planning ahead, has no pretences. “We wouldn’t presume that the World Orchestra for Peace can change thinking, but we hope that we can bind people together, persuade them to think about beautiful music, particularly with so much war and terrorism around, and get across the message: music and peace.”

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