Durham Cathedral was a fitting place for the première of The Durham Hymns on Saturday 16th July. The piece has lyrics by the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, set to music by composers Jessica Curry and Orlando Gough. It was performed by the Centenary Choir and Brass Band with Voices of Hope.
The evening began with A Prelude on George Butterworth, a promising composer killed in 1916 while serving with the Durham Light Infantry, composed by Jonathan Bates, followed by an arrangement by Gough of ‘Steady Durhams Steady’. Throughout the performance, readings by Charlie Hardwick and Phil Corbitt from poignant original letters, memoirs and official records from and about Durham men and women interspersed and led seamlessly into the singing.
Duffy has written seven new poems and also gave permission for two other of her poems to be used, one in response to a Wilfred Owen poem (also used). You could feel how words and phrases in the original records had inspired the new poems which then found different ways of expressing ‘songs of love within the setting of war’, as the programme says.
The programme includes all the words of the poems and information about the readings, beautifully illustrated by Stephen Raw. A copy of the programme is now in the Reference Library at The Bowes Museum.
This work is a First World War commemoration project from the Northern Regional Brass Band Trust in partnership with Durham County Council. Further performances are planned in Gateshead, Hartlepool, Sunderland and Ushaw College, supported by a community programme.
It was an inspiring evening, and the large appreciative audience clearly found it very moving. I hope some of you will be able to experience it in the months to come.
By Judith Phillips