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Bloomsbury Theatre Sunday 16 July 2006, 2.30

Composers: Jonathan Dove and Matthew King
Artistic Director and Librettist: Tertia Sefton-Green
Conductor: Peter Selwyn
Director: Clare Whistler
Film-maker: Marta Hrubá


Performances of this dramatic cantata, inititiated by Hackney Music Development Trust and Tertia Sefton-Green, are but the core of a massive international educational project. Its ramifications can best be appreciated through the essays by all the protagonists in the lavishly illustrated programme book, which includes the libretto. Its text has been fashioned from writings of children who died in the ghettos and concentration camps or survived the Holocaust (obtainable from HMDT).

The music was workshopped in Hackney and in Nuremberg and drawn together in a performance score by Jonathan Dove and his collaborator Matthew King (professor of composition at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama) which is published by Peters Edition, as was Dove's earlier On Spital Fields.

The final version, after several years gestation, is an austere work running about 70 minutes, given without a break. Hear our Voice has been HMDT’s first pan-European collaboration and it is moving and finally uplifting, celebrating the resilience of children in unimaginable adversity.

It was premiered on 15 July 2006 in London and it was a privilege to attend the second performance before it goes abroad to Fürth & Prague. All the elements came together in a thoroughly professional way, with excellent choral singing and impressive support from the Fürth Streichhölzer Youth Orchestra and Slavicci Children's Choir. The marshalling of the young people in school uniform on and off stage, and the patterns created with their bodies and hands, were imaginatively choreographed and super-efficient in management, enhanced by lighting and the visual images on screen; nothing gratuitous or overdone. The score is likewise clear and serviceable; not too simple, the choral counterpoints managed beautifully.

Word repetitions, as in Handel, ensured that most of the text got across. Alison Buchanan, representing an adult survivor, was perfectly cast, and her voice soaring above the final chorus, whilst she was invisible, hidden by the mass of children, was a moving moment, though here I was sorry that the composers resorted to trade-mark minimalist chordal chugging to accompany the inspiring singing.

The problem with community opera is that it is often so site-specific as to prove ephemeral. Dove's work in this genre is so distinguished that several of the pieces deserve to be heard elsewhere and again, and this one, so carefully honed over the years, should certainly be revived; I trust that it may be recorded and filmed, as have been some others?

See also my reviews of several other community operas produced in Hackney; On London Fields (Matthew King/Alasdair Middleton) and Jonathan Dove's Palace in the Sky, The Hackney Chronicles and On Spital Fields, which was also directed by Clare Whistler. This is a world-beating team in a musically and socially important genre.


© Peter Grahame Woolf