The Risen Christ, for choir, semichorus and percussion, is inspired by the work of the internationally renowned sculptor, Fenwick Lawson. It lasts around 30 minutes and is based on five of Fenwick's most powerful and challenging sculptures: The Condemned, The Weeping Women, The Hostage, The Scream and The Burning Bush. The great space of Saint Cuthbert’s chapel becomes an extension of the sculptures themselves as the choir moves through the chapel creating a series of tableaux. To me, this combination of dynamic and static elements mirrors those characteristics in Fenwick’s work. The composition is very much in keeping with Fenwick's own approach, in that I have used scripture, in this case texts associated with Holy Week, to illustrate the human condition. The Risen Christ displays my own preoccupation with music, liturgy, theatre, words and the arts in general. The role of the semichorus and percussion is similar to that of the chorus in a Greek tragedy: it comments on the action.
The music is rooted in great works of the past. It is based on the noble plainsong hymn for Good Friday, Crux Fidelis, by Venantius Fortunatus (530-609), which was first sung in 570 to accompany a procession bearing part of the true Cross. A number of factors drew me to Crux Fidelis: the position held by this hymn in the Good Friday liturgy of the Roman Catholic church, the exquisitely refined lines of the melody and, not least, the words “Sweetest wood and sweetest iron”. The wood of the Cross and the nails which pierced our Saviour present Christians with an image both of suffering and of hope, of pain and ecstasy. This resonates in Fenwick’s work as he uses wood and metal to create images of agony and of hope. In The Risen Christ I have tried to reflect this. The sound of the sculptor working the wood and iron is heard in particular in the virtuosic percussion part. Indeed, I was inspired by the whole business of Fenwick’s method of creating sculpture; the releasing of images that he, as artist, can see already existing within the wood he works. In the same way I have tried to release the images I saw living in Crux Fidelis. So there is not a phrase within the work that is not directly related to the plainsong. Every idea springs from the raw material; and from two phrases in particular: “Faithful Cross” and “Sweetest wood and sweetest iron,” the music of which is gradually transformed from grandeur, through darkness to light as the work proceeds.
I very much hope you will be affected by The Risen Christ. For me it has been a great privilege to work with these outstanding musicians and, most particularly with an artist whose sculptures have spoken to me so profoundly since encountering them in my youth. I have dedicated the piece to Fenwick Lawson, Philip Watson, Keith Wright and Palatinate Voices, for their inspiration and for joining me on this journey to The Risen Christ.
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