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Secular Requiem

At a time when society has become increasingly secular, a leading professor of clinical immunology and a choral composer have joined forces to create a new large scale work that will be performed in London's Cadogan Hall for the first time at 7.30pm on Saturday 2 November 2013. Christopher Grey will conduct, and the performers are Sarah Fox, soprano, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, contralto, Stephen Roberts, baritone, the Three Spires Singers and the London Musicians Orchestra. Also on the programme are the Richard Strauss Four Last Songs.

Entitled the Secular Requiem, this work represents the first large-scale work to be created for a ceremony of death by non-believers for non-believers.

Composer Russell Pascoe and Professor Anthony Pinching's new work (which received its first performance in Truro Cathedral in March 2013) details the five stages of grief - proposition, recognition, reaction, transition and accommodation - each represented by a different movement, as an alternative to the traditional setting of the Requiem Mass. It is proposed as part of a larger ceremony of the same length as the existing religious service, and aims to provide comfort, dignity and meaning without referring to religious doctrine.

In place of the traditional Latin text, there are settings of revered poets and philosophers - John Donne ('No man is an island'), Wilfrid Owen ('I saw his round mouth's crimson'), Robert Louis Stevenson ('Requiem'), Thomas Hardy ('The Going'), Dylan Thomas ('Do not go gentle'), Hitomaro, an eighth century Japanese poet in translation by Kenneth Rexroth ('When she was still alive'), Thomas Moore ('The last rose of summer'), Stephen Anderton ('Cats and Cakes'), Rabindranath Tagore ('Peace my heart') and Walt Whitman ('Come lovely and soothing death'), as well as a setting of Pinching's own words ('Seasons'). These are set to Pascoe's music - a prolific composer of choral music whose works have been featured on national broadcasts and CD recordings.

The clinical background of Pinching (born 1947) has been an important influence in the work's creation and development. He pioneered work in care for patients with AIDS from the outset in the early 1980s, as well as caring for people with CFS/ME. He describes himself as a 'practicing agnostic'. But, as a witness to many deaths (and other losses) and their impact, he has strongly sensed the need for a vehicle for the human response to mortality that can be an inclusive and universal medium for our innate spirituality.

The starting point for the work was the desire to help people on their journey to come to terms with bereavement, and to feel more positive about celebrating life in the face of the inevitability of death. If the Requiem does not provide answers, then it certainly acts as a vehicle for focusing the important questions and reflecting on how we all ultimately fit into a bigger picture. The search for meaning ends with an affirming embrace of life that resonates with those with, and those without, religions faith.

Pascoe (born 1960) saw a gap in what was currently available for death ceremony music. 'For many years, I have had a growing sense that society needs a new way of reflecting on death, one that chimes with people's world views and religious beliefs, or lack of them, in the here and now. More and more in my experience, people find the sentiments of the traditional requiem settings musically rewarding but of little help when seeking comfort or answers in the face of actual bereavement.' He studied composition with Derek Bourgeois at Bristol University and has composed in most genres from orchestral to chamber and vocal music. Works such as Parc an meyn los and The Martyrdom of An Gof for orchestra draw on the atmosphere and history of his Cornish roots. In 1999 Russell's opera The Murder of Charlotte Dymond was given in the newly opened Hall for Cornwall. Recent works include Salmow Kernewek, for St Mary's Singers, and the orchestral works Yseult of the White Hands and Keskan. He is director of music at Richard Lander School and also teaches composition for the South West Music School.


Posted: 1 October 2013 by Jim Follett

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