A band of brothers – and sisters – will use music and song to commemorate Durham soldiers and their families, as part of BRASS Festival 2016.
Durham Cathedral will provide the spectacular backdrop for the premiere of the Durham Hymns on July 16.
And with just two months to go a community choir and 60-piece brass band are busy preparing to perform the specially written suite, which features new lyrics from poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy.
Cllr Neil Foster, Durham County Council’s cabinet member for economic regeneration, arts and culture, said: “Durham has a fantastic military, choral and brass band heritage and the Durham Hymns will bring all of that together in a way that will really connect with people on an emotional level.
“Drawing on Durham County Record Office’s personal letters, memoirs, diary entries and news reports of soldiers and their families during the First World War, this new suite of music will in a new and inspiring way capture what life was like for those who in many cases made the ultimate sacrifice for king and country, and the people they left behind.
“Through both its premiere at Durham Cathedral as part of the BRASS Festival, and its tour of the wider county in the months to come I hope that this will not only bring people to our magnificent World Heritage Site but offer a new way of telling the DLI story, and give it the far greater audience it rightly deserves.”
Durham Hymns is a First World War commemorative project delivered by The Northern Regional Brass Band Trust in partnership with Durham County Council. Additional funding has been provided by Arts Council England, the Heritage Lottery Fund, and the PRS Foundation.
The music for the Durham Hymns has been written by composers Orlando Gough and Jessica Curry, with a prelude piece – based on DLI soldier George Butterworth’s The Banks of Green Willow – by Jonathan Bates.
It will be performed by a 60-piece band that brings together some of the county’s top brass musicians, under the direction of conductor Alan Fernie, and a community choir and semi-professional ensemble Voices of Hope, directed by Simon Fidler.
One of the hymns, entitled Oranges, is based on a letter by Major John English to his wife. A piece called Soldier’s Hymn is based on the memoir of DLI Sergeant George Thompson, whose diaries tell of his relationship with his own “War Horse”in the trenches. Meanwhile the hymn Lovely Manhood draws on the memories of Adeline Hodges, of Seaham, written towards the end of her life in 1979.
Producer Alison Lister, of the Northern Regional Brass Band Trust, said: “We were delighted that poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy agreed to write us new lyrics for our suite of hymns commemorating the people of County Durham and their war effort.
“The Hymns are not just about life on the battlefront but the people left behind, the complex lives they led, the sacrifices made and the moral decisions they faced.
“The music has been written by two outstanding contemporary composers and I hope that the Hymns will have a long life and be embraced by the people of the county, not just as it is now, but stretching right across its old ceremonial boundaries, to South Tyneside, Gateshead, Wearside and Hartlepool.”
Tickets for the Durham Hymns premiere at Durham Cathedral cost £20 in the nave (£15 concessions), or £18 by the font (£13 concessions).
To book visit www.galadurham.co.uk, call the Gala box office on 03000 266 600 or visit the theatre, on Millennium Place, in person.
Following their premiere as part of the BRASS festival the hymns will go on to tour venues across the historic boundaries of County Durham from November through until April 2017.
For more information about BRASS Festival 2016, which runs from 14 to 17 July, visit www.brassfestival.co.uk.