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World Premiere of Farr at Edinburgh International Festival

Jul 31st, 2014

Gareth Farr’s new work Relict Furies for mezzo soprano and double string orchestra will have its world premiere performance at the Edinburgh International Festival, Scotland with star British singer Sarah Connolly, the Scottish Ensemble and the Commonwealth Strings. Farr’s new work was commissioned by the Edinburgh International Festival and the New Zealand Festival, with funding made available by Creative New Zealand. The new work features a libretto by New Zealand writer Paul Horan, who has worked as a writer and producer in television and live performance for over 20 years. Relict Furies will feature in a programme with English classics, including works by Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Tippett, and a work by Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe. The performance will take place at The Queen‘s Hall, Edinburgh, on 26 August 2014.

In writing this new work, Farr was intrigued by the “inherent drama in having two identical string orchestras on one stage, and the possibilities for contrast and interaction.” He wanted it to contrast from the other works on the programme, and as the commission called for a ‘strong World War I theme‘, Farr felt the perfect touch would be to add a singer, “to convey the theme more directly than an instrumental piece could.” While contrast is a central feature of this work, exploring contrasts between the split orchestras and the instrumental groupings (high vs. low strings), Farr describes the work as essentially “three folk songs that never existed.” Farr writes: “I wrote the songs first, making them uncomplicated and honest as if they were old traditional songs; and then approached the string orchestra parts as if I was a completely different composer, doing a much more experimental arrangement of them. I like this dichotomy – it just furthers the split nature of the whole piece for me.”

In reflection of the WW1 commemorations, Farr and librettist Horan observed how few references there are to women. As such, the three songs and libretto take the perspectives of three original ‘characters’ and explore their perspectives of the war. Horan notes: “The women that survived the war have had a huge influence on the way we see conflict. The subtle lessons that they passed on to their children have had far more impact on the way we see war than any soldier?s diary or biography of a statesman. Also, amongst available writing by women from this time, it amazed me how little of their writing was angry. I wanted to hear what it was like; to not fight at war but still have your whole world destroyed. And how would it feel? [In this work], we have tried to make the characters real New Zealand, Edwardian women ? and how they would have expressed their anger has been a big concern of mine... All the songs are from different women. They are neither posh nor working class. They are all aware of what is happening but not so wise and resourceful that they can escape history.”

Farr has collaborated with librettist Horan since 2000. In April 2009 they premiered an oratorio about Antarctica, Terra Incognita for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. This was commissioned for bass, Paul Whelan, to commemorate half a century of New Zealand?s peranent base in Antarctica. Their other major work has been the symphonic song cycle Ex Stasis which was commissioned by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra in 2008. Ex Stasis is a 40-minute work for four voices and orchestra based on Pacific themes and language rhythms.

For more information about the performance visit the Edinburgh International website.

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