Last year Belfast composer Philip Hammond was in a coffee shop in Belfast with me. He told me about this amazing piece he was writing. The title would be “Requiem for the Lost Souls of the Titanic” written in memory of those fallen to the dark depths of the ice cold ocean. His passion was infectious, so I jumped in and offered Anúna for whatever he wanted simply because the idea was so inspiring and so appropriate to the centennial of the loss of that great ship.
I am a composer, and Philip is one of the very few that I have any contact with on this island, and is the only one I ever talk about music and composing with. Indeed it was Philip who recommended me to the Ulster Orchestra as a composer way back in the mid 1990s. The recommendation eventually led to a commission and an album “Behind the Closed Eye”. He is a very modest man, a deep thinker with a wicked sense of humour and many genuine friends. So many of them were involved in this project.
I’ll let Philip introduce the piece himself :
Anúna’s contribution amounted to the Sanctus/Benedictus and a fantastical section at the end of the Lux Aeterna in Hebrew invoking the four Archangels. You can find a very good article about the performance here.
There were two performances – the first on the night of the 14th of April. Both concert was a spectacular success. St Anne’s Cathedral was beautiful, and the event became almost ritualistic. There was a bit of a media scrum to photograph Anúna entering with candles mid-way through the work, and I have to say that despite the unintentional humour generated by a camera being fired off six inches from my face while I was singing, we helped add to the overall drama and atmosphere of the night very fittingly.
The Titanic sank at 2am so after the performance we processed through the streets of a deserted city to Belfast City Hall where we we bowed our heads in silence for a moment to remember those who passed away in such terror. The atmospheric readings by Glenn Patterson, all related to the Titanic event, in combination with excellent playing by the Fidelio Piano Trio were very appropriate even inserted into the huge choral sections of the Requiem. However, the true stars of the night were the voices of the combined choirs - The Belfast Philharmonic Society, the Schola Cantorum of St Peter’s Cathedral and Cappella Caeciliana – and the brass ensemble The Downshire Brass Band.
The next day we were involved in the insertion of the Requiem into a Roman Catholic service at St Peter’s Cathedral off the Falls Road. Some of the highlights for me, besides the magnificent score, were the amazing combined choral and brass effects of the three other choirs. The boys of St. Peter’s Cathedral provided beautiful singing – spine-tingling is the appropriate description and we shared a very crowded balcony. I only regret that the size of the forces needed prohibits many repeated performances, but to actually perform the music as part of a Mass was both powerful and moving for all the performers involved.
The Belfast-born, now New York-based, mezzo soprano Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek was nothing short of spectacularly good in both perforamnces. Many of you may be familiar with her work with Anonymous 4, but nothing prepared me for the level of virtuosity that she exhibited for her very difficult solos. Jacqueline is a very elegant lady, and I very much hope the our paths cross again professionally in the near future!
I speak for all of Anúna when I say that we had a memorable weekend. It was particularly poignant for the seven members of our choir who come from Northern Ireland. Thank you Philip for giving us the opportunity to be part of this monumental and wonderful event. Your music was truly inspired.
For a very limited time you can hear the opening section of the Requiem streamed on the BBC website – you have 5 days left to listen HERE!