Cantata Memoria, the latest of Karl Jenkins's albums released by Deutsche Grammophon, commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan tragedy.
The latest choral work of Karl Jenkins is released on disc by Deutsche Grammophon this month, tied to its premiere in Cardiff on 8 October. Cantata Memoria was commissioned by S4C to commemorate the Aberfan tragedy 50 years ago, when a coal spoil tip enveloped a school and houses in a South Wales mining village, killing 116 children and 28 adults. Beyond memorialising the catastrophe itself, Jenkins’s work adopts a wider focus, mourning the loss of children in more universal terms.
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Cantata Memoria is scored for chorus – both mixed adult and young voices – baritone and soprano vocalists and orchestra with prominent solos for violin, euphonium and harp. The libretto has been written by poet, academic and linguist Mererid Hopwood, who worked closely with the composer on including references to contemporary accounts of the tragedy and the funerals. Jenkins describes how "this work is music and a poem. It is not a documentary, nor even a dramatisation, but it does include a conflation of ideas and facts that were relevant and by now part of the legacy".
The premiere at the Wales Millennium Centre features leading Welsh soloists, as on the DG disc (0289 479 6486 5), including singers Bryn Terfel and Elin Manahan Thomas, euphonist David Childs and harpist Catrin Finch, together with young violinist Joo Yeon Sir, winner of the inaugural The Arts Club/Sir Karl Jenkins Music Award. Choral forces of 250 voices are joined by Sinfonia Cymru as orchestra, under the baton of the composer. The Aberfan memorial event in Cardiff is produced for telecast on S4C by Rondo Media. The US premiere of Cantata Memoria is scheduled for Carnegie Hall on 15 January with Distinguished Concerts International New York conducted by Jonathan Griffith.
Jenkins writes of how he was "mindful of the responsibility the commission carried in writing something with integrity and accessibility that would connect and move everyone – the bereaved who are still with us, those who remember and those who come to this catastrophe anew. Paradoxically, dealing with a subject that lies so deep in the Welsh soul was both a harrowing and uplifting experience. The work is in two distinct sections but is performed continuously. The first 20 minutes deal with the tragedy and the immediate aftermath, and the following 35 minutes move from darkness to light, reliving memories and celebrating childhood, ending with Lux æterna (everlasting light)."
The summer saw Karl Jenkins's The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace reach a landmark 2000th performance, confirming its status as the most frequently programmed new classical work for choir and orchestra of recent decades. Jenkins conducted the performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 3 July with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal Choral Society, and Warner Classics released a special Limited Edition of the recording which has achieved 17 gold and platinum disc awards.
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