So I'm especially happy to have been invited back next year, and this time in the extraordinary position of Guest Director of the Cheltenham Music Festival's children's events. What an honour! The complete list of my tasks has not been finalised yet, but I can confirm two of them:
The festival will celebrate the centenary of Benjamin Britten's birth, and in his honour, will be presenting Noye's Fludde, his operatic setting of the Chester Mystery Play about Noah. It will take place in Tewkesbury Abbey, a magnificent setting, one which is itself no stranger to floodwaters. Indeed the Abbey became famous in 2007 when terrible floods swept over the town, while the Abbey, standing aloft like a great ark, was miraculously saved.
The opera is written specifically for performances in churches, and is a children's opera, in the sense that the orchestra and chorus and most principles, are cast from school children. The orchestration includes tuned teacups, and story features a tipsy Mrs Noah who refuses, at first, to board the ark. It also demands audience participation with hymns written into the fabric of the score. It's a wonderful piece and so you can imagine how delighted I was when festival director Meurig Bowen asked me to design the opera. And so this is my first task!
I am determined to come up with something striking and appropriate. The ship-like abbey is my first "port of call", I want to echo the structure on the ceiling for the ark. For the animals, the ceiling mottes and decorations are a fabulous source of inspiration. I did some sketching there and was already drawing and developing ideas on my train home... I am now looking through books of heraldry, medieval bestiaries and the like. The analogy of the story to modern times, and environmental issues, is something the director Edward Derbyshire, is keen to investigate too. So a LOT to think about. I'll post my progress here on the blog.
Keeping the Britten anniversary on the agenda, will be a new script - by me - for The Young Person's PAINTED Guide to the Orchestra; my second task. I'll be teaming up with the famous Chetham's Symphony Orchestra to present this new version of a children's classic, one which allows me to paint as well as narrate, in a concert in the Town Hall; it will be a wonderful introduction to the orchestra for children.
Funnily enough, I grew up very close to Britten's birthplace - Lowestoft. Indeed, my Grandmother was at school with him; I myself went to the Benjamin Britten High School in Lowestoft. So many resonances, many memories. And a lot of work.
2013 is going to be an amazing year!