What does it mean to be a refugee, now and through the ages? It seems appropriate on World Refugee Day, a day to promote awareness of the Refugee crisis around the world, to offer a deeper explanation of a thought-provoking event that begins our London 2019-20 season. Composer Mark-Anthony Turnage’s topical song cycle sets texts by prominent poets of today and of the past, including Benjamin Zephaniah and Emily Dickinson, which will be performed by peerless tenor Allan Clayton and Britten Sinfonia on 20 September 2019.
Turnage’s Song Cycle, Refugee, sets poetry by Emily Dickinson, Benjamin Zephaniah, W. H. Auden and Brian Bilston. By setting a variety of poets from different timelines, Turnage seeks to explore what it is to be a refugee, and how this has changed or remained the same over time in a musical exploration of the circumstances displaced people are facing.
From their outset, these poems have evoked strong emotional reactions and high praise, especially for Bilston’s Refugee in the press and on social media. These poets write with the intent of conveying the true voices of refugees around the world, and to offer an insight into the depth of the crisis at hand, highlighting the suffering of those fleeing persecution in search of refuge.
We invite you to explore the poetry of Turnage’s Refugee for yourself, and to consider joining us in September at the Milton Court Concert Hall for what will be a powerful and emotional evening, exploring the refugee crisis through music and sound.
i. These Strangers – Emily Dickinson – 1864
ii. We Refugees – Benjamin Zephaniah. First published in Benjamin Zephaniah’s Wicked World! in 2000.
iii. Refugee Blues – W. H. Auden – 1939. N.B. The fifth and sixth stanza are omitted in Turnage’s setting of the poem.
iv. Orchestral movement
v. Refugees – Brian Bilston – 2016. This poem is designed to be read normally, and then from bottom to top, and Turnage sets the poem both ways in his song cycle.
Turnage’s Refugee is performed alongside works by composers that Turnage counts among his major musical influences including his teacher and mentor, the late Oliver Knussen. The concert opens with Tippett’s five-movement re-imagining of the traditional English tune, Sellinger’s Round, rich with quotations from music by Gibbons, Purcell, Arne, Field and Sullivan; and Allan Clayton returns for Britten’s final song cycle, the evocative Nocturne for tenor, seven solo instruments and strings. The evening is conducted by Andrew Gourlay.
You can be among the first to hear Mark-Anthony’s new song cycle Refugee in concert on 20 September 2019 at the Milton Court Concert Hall, London.