My colleagues in the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra have been ‘wowing’ audiences with their Dvorak programme this week. Unusually, I have not been participating in the concerts as I have been involved in a fascinating project elsewhere.
The RLPO was also able to proudly announce today, that charismatic Chief Conductor, Vasily Petrenko, has won the Best Male Artist award at the prestigious Classic Brit Awards Ceremony last night. This is the second time in three years that Vasily has won the top award. This year, the field was particularly strong and Vasily fended off challenges from Andrea Bocelli and Lang Lang.
Meanwhile, I have been busying myself in Liverpool’s glorious Anglican Cathedral for eight ninety-minute solo shows of TREASURED.
TREASURED is advertised as ‘a unique theatrical event of Titanic proportions. I have to say ‘it is everything it says on the can’ and more. The production is a site specific theatrical spectacular about the events leading up to the disastrous maiden voyage of the Titanic and the consequences resulting in the aftermath.
The event was conceived by Jen Heyes and makes full use of one of the biggest cathedrals in the world to detail the events of the world’s largest moving object back in 1912. A titanic arena for a titanic tale. The story uses the awesome space to tell the story, inspired by the dramatic events of 100 years ago.
The spectacle uses a combination of theatre, large-scale film projection, brand new bespoke contemporary music, stunning stage sets, fantastic lighting and aerial performance to tell the tale of ordinary folk caught up in the events leading up to the maiden voyage of the Titanic, it’s aftermath and resulting consequences leading up to the present day.
The musical score for the production has been composed by the brilliant Ailis Ni Riain. Ailis has also written the script. There is prerecorded brass music by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Brass Ensemble. They do not play, I am also in this ensemble, as they represent the souls of the dead and are therefore spectres. I am the only live instrumentalist as I represent an entity which is live. I convey the narrative musically and act as a live ‘mouthpiece’ for the dead souls of the brass as they tell their musical tale whilst I react live to their music and the action on stage.
This is a unique score an a fabulous opportunity for a trumpet soloist. Ailis has not scored the music particularly for the trumpet, either, but for Brendan’s personality etc. She has been coming round to the house during the summer to get to know me personally and to learn how I like to play things etc. The music has therefore been a big achievement; it is completely bespoke for me, is brand new, very exciting and damned hard!
The ‘Journey’ commences with a series of atmospheric installations, starting as the audience enters the Lady Chapel, processing to the side chapel where a child’s pair of shoes from the Titanic are on display to a pre-recorded haunting melody sung by Laura Campbell, of MULU fame.
My personal contribution, as, already mentioned, the only live instrumentalist, is to act as a musical storyteller. I commence by playing a muted trumpet solo for one hour in the Lady Chapel as the audience initially enters the space and examines the first installation. I then move around to the back of the audience as they take their seats for the main performance in the nave.
The main play begins with a bespoke fanfare written for me by Ailis, called the ‘Awakening.’ I walk through the audience, rather startling them as a play. Once I reach the stage I stand in the centre and play a ‘schizophrenic trumpet solo’ which batters the acoustic (six second echo!) with thematic material from the forthcoming events, all crushed together as a spectacular solo performance piece. I then process to the back of the stage and the actors enter the space. Have I said that, as part of the Cast, I am in full costume?
I then perform throughout the action as a performer in stunning set pieces which introduce the events, the characters, intercuts during the speech, and scoring the ensemble pieces. I also end the whole performance with solo flugel horn as the actors leave the stage and the lights are dimmed.
One of the many highlights of the show are the large scale, son e lumiere style, giant projections of film on the cathedral walls by ILLUMINOS. The most awesome of these is a film of the launching of the Titanic which appears to smash through the Cathedral walls and physically enters the building, taking it’s place above the startled spectators. The ship enters to the same opening fanfare which commenced the play.
Perhaps the biggest ‘talking point for many of the audience has been the contribution of the world famous Wendy Hesketh, of WIRED AERIAL THEATRE. I want all readers to study these photos closely!As the audience are busy listening to a roll call of names representing the international nature of the dead, chanted by the actors and projected around the walls, Wendy is hoisted up to the roof of the Cathedral, by a team of two on the ground, on a rope where she awaits the end of the previous scene. All that stands in the way of certain oblivion for Wendy are these two men and the rope!!!
A spotlight picks her out as the audience gape open mouthed and draw breath audibly. Wendy then ‘drops’ sheer, two thirds of the way down to perform a stunning routine representing a drowning girl. She is yanked all the way up and ‘dropped two further times, as in the drag of the ocean current, before beginning to struggle for life to keep the chilling waters out of her lungs. Finally she relents and gives her self up to the ocean and slowly descends to the ocean floor… dead!
My job, during this incredible scene, is to duet with Wendy as she endures her terrible ordeal. Ailis has written some fragments of thematic material here, which she has affectionately entitled ‘Brendan’s Tool Box!’ It is entirely up to me to react to and perfectly match Wendy’s actions, via improvisation. Anything can happen. I have to represent every nuance and movement. I have to play the sheer drops, plunges, struggles and gurgles, chokes etc until Wendy eventually dies and is lowered… now to the accompaniment of a quiet, slow, fragile, beautifully haunting trumpet death theme.
A stunning scene which Director, Aerialist, Composer, and yes, Trumpeter can rightly feel ‘show stoppingly’ proud! The trouble for me during this scene, is that due to popular demand Wendy is gradually extending her routine and I am going dizzy myself as she drowns. The scene is making me hypo-ventilate, as I play to her from below and I am almost reaching the point of falling unconscious myself on a nightly basis. This is known in the trade as ‘a black swimmer’ as my vision goes and stars appear!
Whilst I am packing everything up by the stage, the audience have to file past me as they exit. I am enjoying posing for photographs for them etc. The favourable comments they pass on about Ailis’ music and my playing of the same has been really appreciated by me. This most challenging of trumpet ‘roles’ is perhaps the hardest score I have ever been asked to play. It is a Titanic trumpet part and to have my efforts appreciated is really heart warming… I have even been given a present of a bottle of ‘Iron Man’ beer!
TREASURED has already played six shows at the time of writing and continues this evening, Friday October 5th, and finally concludes tomorrow, Saturday 6th October. If you get a chance to read this in time, get down there. You are unlikely to get many chances in a lifetime to see such a spectacular event!
For photos and biographies, visit the CAST page on the TREASURED website
INTERVIEWS WITH BRENDAN ABOUT TREASURED
Don’t just take my word for it, here’s what the critics have to say…
Other Articles about TREASURED by Brendan…