A unique, adventurous collaboration between the Bournemouth Sinfonietta Choir, award-winning composer Cecilia McDowall, poet and novelist Christie Dickason, and five organic farms from across Britain. The brief - to celebrate the organic landscape in the modern world. The result - a fresh take on the pastoral tradition, of vigour, drama and haunting beauty.
The commission is part of an innovative wider project which arose when Respect Organics, the choir's main sponsors, approached the choir with the idea of celebrating the organic landscape through music. It began with recording Landscapes, a CD of music inspired by the landscape and our organic heritage. The choir was successful in gaining an Arts & Business New Partners Award to help fund the CD and commission and Cecilia McDowall was selected from a large list of interested composers.
The Soil Association put the choir in touch with five farms, spread across the UK, from West Dorset to the Lincolnshire fens, to the Isle of Mull - all with very contrasting locations and contexts.
In approaching the commission, Cecilia McDowall wanted to give the five participating farms their own voices, rather than using existing poetry. She did this by taking with her the poet and novelist, Christie Dickason, on her farm visits, to respond directly to each different experience and its details. This joining together of composer, poet and organic farming is a unique element of the new commission.
Cecilia McDowall explains, "We set off with completely open minds and no clear idea of how one writes a piece about 'organic landscape'. Then we found that, after the generous gifts of time, information and personal thoughts from all the farmers, we had an overflowing wealth of material and ideas. In spite of the wide geographical diversity, and differences in size and products, we found that they all shared certain unifying themes, on which we have drawn in the 'Five Seasons'." The piece is structured in five movements:
- I The Shimmer
- II Grading Eggs
- III Grace Before Meat (Introit) The Darkening (Dies Irae)
- IV Sheep in the Mist
- V The Dance for the Feast of Everything That Grows
The conductor, David Gostick, says, "The choir has benefited from sponsorship before, but this is a very different king. As well as support, our sponsors, Respect Organics, gave us a challenge: to reconsider music of the English pastoral school and to create something new. Along with the very close collaboration with Cecilia McDowall and Christie Dickason, this has resulted in enormous creative energy. It's a very exciting project, both for me and the choir."
Five farms were involved in the residency:
- 1. Ardalanish Organic Farm, Isle of Mull
- 2. Becklands Dorset
- 3. Blaen y Nant, Bethesda, Gwynedd
- 4. Woodlands Farm, Lincolnshire
- 5. Low Luckens Farm, Cumbria