“When we announced Concerto Magnificent as our 2011 commission, people doubted that a town like Bedford could make it happen,” says Dawn Giles, Chief Executive of Bedford Creative Arts
The commission was to be an ambitious and new, large-scale work for voice and orchestra, written, composed and performed by volunteers living in Bedford.
However, within a year, a choir and orchestra had been formed, a libretto and score created and the premiere performed by the people of Bedford in a sell-out concert of Concerto Magnificent, An Anthology of All Things, at Bedford Corn Exchange.
The commission came about when Bedford Creative Art’s CEO met Bedford-based composer and instrumentalist Johnny Parry at a performance of one of his works at Tate Britain in 2010. Inspired by his work, Bedford Creative Arts invited him to develop a new commission.
Parry’s idea was to create a new song cycle about themes that affect us all, such as love, death and childhood. However, he wanted to write and perform these songs with the people of Bedford.
Through a series of workshops with a wide range of people including children at Bedford’s Priory Lower School, pensioners at Bedford Retirement Centre and at lunch clubs and the MIND centre in Ampthill, Parry invited Bedfordshire residents to donate their own words and phrases on eight universal themes. These ideas provided him with the foundation for the work’s libretto.
In all, over six hundred people contributed a short lyric, from memories of love and death, to things we love about ourselves, our childhood heroes and special memories. “I was then entrusted with their words. It was an important responsibility and I wanted to do them justice” says Johnny Parry.
With the libretto complete, Johnny Parry set about composing the score and forming a choir and orchestra. Using an open recruitment process with no auditions, fifty Bedfordshire residents joined the new choir, many with little or no singing experience but all with a big desire to take part. “Our aim was to reach those who didn’t generally participate in artistic or musical activities and provide an opportunity for them to discover their own voice,” says Dawn Giles.
As the commission developed, the work grew in scale and ambition. The Bedford Corn Exchange was booked for the premiere and the four hundred seats sold out fast. The commission The Concerto Magnificent – An Anthology of All Things was first performed on 27 September 2012 one year on from its inception. Over seven hundred people from Bedford and the surrounding areas were involved in creating the commission.
The premiere was so successful the work was performed again at Bedford’s Almanac Festival later in 2012. Then Bedford Creative Arts launched a campaign to create a CD of the work and through three hundred donations from participants and audience members via crowd funding site www.pledgemusic.com, the work was released by independent label Lost Toy Records in November 2013. The choir has gone from strength to strength and continues to attract new members and new projects. It is now an exciting addition to Bedford’s contemporary music scene.
Commissioned by Bedford Creative Arts and funded by Arts Council England.