Re-wilding the Wasteland, I Fagiolini, Three Choirs Festival, Holy Trinity Church, Hereford, 24/07/22, 5***** David Gray & Paul Gray

Tomas Luis de Victoria – O vos omnes
William Byrd – Deus venerunt gentes
Ben Rowarth – Deus venerunt gentes
Kenneth Leighton – God’s Grandeur
Tomas Luis de Victoria – Caligaverunt oculi mei
Joanna Marsh – Geocentric
Ralph Vaughan Williams – Silence and Music
Tomas Luis de Victoria – Ecce quomodo moritur
Shruthi Rajasekar – Ganga’s Peace
Joanna Marsh – The world is changed
T.S. Elliot – The Wasteland

I was one of those ‘A’ level students who was forced to study T.S Elliot’s The Wasteland and was mightily relieved to find on exam day that I could answer a question about something entirely different.  It’s a work that does not yield its meaning easily, so I approached with some trepidation the idea of a work fusing a selection of vocal music with this difficult and demanding text.

I expected many things of this concert: to be challenged, provoked and, yes, bewildered.  What I did not expect, was to be entertained, and entertained I was.  Reader, Jessica Walker, truly succeeded in bringing this dense and perplexing piece of poetry to vivid, technicolour life.  This was an interpretation which explored the full range of dramatic possibilities suggested in the poem with wit, charm, and profundity of feeling.  It was a truly captivating and engaging piece of acting; a tour de force

The concept behind this high-concept performance was to ‘explore cycles of renewal in both creation and creativity’, specifically in light of our ongoing experience of pandemic and looming climate catastrophe, by interspersing Elliot’s poem with an eclectic and disparate selection of music by composers as diverse as Tomas Luis de Victoria Byrd, Vaughan-Williams Leighton, and Shruthi Rajasekar & Joanna Marsh.

One of the ways in which The Wasteland works is to present the reader/listener with a series of seemingly unrelated situations and scenarios and to invite them to exercise their imaginations to create their own connections.  The interspersal of music worked well in that it extended this invitation to find connections beyond the text and into the interactions between music and text.

Sometimes the connections between text and music seemed more obvious, for example, that of Joanna Marsh’s Geocentric, a depiction of physical repulsiveness, and the sordid, transactional sex scene in the poem.  Other connections were harder to make and required more imaginative work to find.  This resulted in a sense of fluidity in meaning and a lack of fixed resolution, and this sat well with the work’s exploration of the uncertain times through which we live.

The often technically demanding music was, throughout, astonishingly well performed.  The fascinating journey it took us on through its relationship with the text, although shifting and ambiguous in its trajectory, ultimately found in Joanna Marsh’s exquisite setting of John F Deane’s The World is Changed some kind of resting place, albeit a fragile one.

I Fagiolini with Jessica Walker

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