Mannequin, the new orchestral work by Unsuk Chin, receives first performances in the UK by the National Youth Orchestra, before travelling to the USA, Denmark and Australia.
Unsuk Chin's newest work is an orchestral score inspired by E. T. A. Hoffmann's The Sandman which she describes as an 'imaginary choreography'. The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain gives first performances conducted by Ilan Volkov at the Sage in Gateshead (9 April), Victoria Hall in Stoke-on-Trent (10 April) and at the Royal Festival Hall in London (11 April). The world premiere in Gateshead will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3. The London premiere forms part of the Southbank Centre's Strive Festival, showcasing young talented entrepreneurs, artists, makers and creators aged 15-25.
Mannequin was commissioned by the Southbank Centre with support from The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. First performances in the USA, Denmark and Australia follow in future seasons.
Unsuk Chin gives Mannequin the subtitle of 'Tableaux vivants for orchestra' and as Maris Gothoni describes in his programme note the work is an orchestral demonstration of "the movement potential of the human body and its expressive capabilities, with a special stress on high-energy physicality. The work has no relation whatsoever to the codified structures of classical ballet; instead, it explores extreme contrasts of colour, speed and gesture with a constant tension between forces."
Mannequin is cast in four movements, running to 20 minutes, and the scenario is freely based on a short story by E. T. A. Hoffmann, The Sandman, which is typical of the writer for its uncanny and ambiguous atmosphere. Though writing in the early 19th century, Hoffmann is viewed by Chin as astonishingly forward-looking, influencing figures as varied as Edgar Allan Poe, Fyodor Dostoevesky, Sigmund Freud, Franz Kafka, Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch.
"Nathanael, the young protagonist in The Sandman, seems torn between delusions and reality and is not conforming to society. But whether it is him who is 'mad', or the society around him, is left open". A subplot in The Sandman explores Nathanael falling in love with a robot, mirroring E. T. A. Hoffmann's obsession with artificial life, and this is pictured in Chin's third movement, Dance of the Clockwork Girl. The final movement The Stolen Eyes refers to the macabre 'eye leitmotif', which haunts Hoffmann's tale and is recollected at Nathanael's death – The Sandman steals the eyes of children who won't go to bed, feeding them to his own children who live in the moon. This is also echoed throughout the story as The Sandman's doppelgangers create artificial eyes or sell optical aids, so the grotesque theme takes on allegorical significance.
Chin's opera Alice in Wonderland was recently staged in a new multimedia presentation by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican in London. Simon Rattle conducts the German premiere of Le Silence des Sirènes in June, with the Berliner Philharmoniker and soprano Barbara Hannigan. The 2015/16 season brings the UK premiere of Chin's Clarinet Concerto by Kari Kriikku and the Philharmonia Orchestra in London, and a three-concerto focus by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in Glasgow.
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