We rarely put on live events at NMC so it's always a welcome novelty to be involved in them, especially ones as exciting as Objects at an Exhibition, in the stunning and inspiring surroundings of London's Science Museum. Events are a great opportunity to meet our record-buying audience, Friends and supporters, and we were delighted to see so many of you and hear your enthusiastic response to the evening’s spectacle.
For this project, created to celebrate NMC's 25th Anniversary, and developed over (literally) years of planning, the ambition was to create a re-imagining of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition for the twenty-first century. We approached the Science Museum and Aurora Orchestra, neither of whom we’d worked with before, and concocted our elaborate and unique plan to commission six composers to write six new works inspired by different objects in the Science Museum’s collection or gallery spaces.
First we had to select the composers, a thoroughly enjoyable exercise in which we sought to present a variety of voices and musical styles and then we let them loose in the galleries of the museum, guided expertly by Science Museum’s Head of Research & Public History, Dr Tim Boon. To get a better grasp of this process listen to Tim and two of the composers (Claudia Molitor and David Sawer) chat about the project in our podcast below. This was recorded at our NMC Friends event at Somerset House in London on 22 September. Discussion chaired by NMC trustee Stephen Johns.
At this point the fundraising drive went into full gear – we secured enormous support from individuals and grant-making trusts (particularly in relation to commissioning and education costs) and used some of NMC's 25th anniversary funds to underwrite the recording and performing costs.
The works, all performed by Aurora Orchestra under Nicholas Collon, were recorded by us in May 2015 in All Saints Church, Tooting. It was a privilege to be one of the first to hear all these new pieces – such varied compositional approaches from the composers yet each one successfully bringing their chosen object or space to life, whether it be the York Mail Coach racing through the streets of 18th-century England in David Sawer’s Coachman Chronos or the roar or the Spitfire’s engines in Christopher Mayo’s Supermarine.
The live event was devised in collaboration with creative director Tim Hopkins. The six pieces were performed to a sold out crowd in the grand spaces of the museum on 3 October. As you can see in the photographs below, this was an unconventional, often intimate, performance. The audience was able to sit amongst the ensemble, moving to a new part of the museum for each piece’s debut, ably directed by the Science Museum’s ‘robot’ ushers with kazoos, mirrors, and flashlights. It was evident from the audience’s faces and conversations that this was something really special, and that the site-specific performance had added another dimension to the music.
Alas, this one-night wonder is over and we are back at our desks planning the next big project but the recorded version is available now on the Objects at an Exhibition album, and we are sure that this foray into live events will not be our last. And the project lives on and continues to inspire with education projects for Key Stage 3 school students still running, encouraging school children to explore curriculum science topics through composition.
Available in CD, mp3, Flac16 & Flac24 formats
Gerald Barry - The One-Armed Pianist
Barry Guy - "Mr Babbage is Coming to Dinner!"
Christopher Mayo - Supermarine
Claudia Molitor - 2TwoLO
Thea Musgrave - Power Play
David Sawer - Coachman Chronos