De Profundis – East Neuk Festival

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

De Profundis at East Neuk Festival, 29/06/2017:
De Profundis at Bowhouse, St Monans, East Neuk of Fife at the East Neuk Festival 2017.
Photography for East Neuk Festival from: Colin Hattersley Photography - - - 07974 957 388.

De Profundis is an ENF Big Project which means that it is one of our large annual  commissions which bring together professional and community musicians; take inspiration from the history and landscape of the East Neuk of Fife; require all participants to engage creatively in making the performance.

Our starting point was mining and miners, and two aspects of their lives in particular: darkness and brass bands. John Wallace and Svend McEwan-Brown dreamed up an outline which led to a 6 month process with Tony George and members of the Tullis Russell Mills Band and The Wallace Collection. Over many hours a dramatic performance emerged, somewhere between a piece of music and an installation. The musicians explored many kinds of playing new to them – improv, aleatoric music, extended instrumental techniques like multi-phonics; and evolving a kind of free ensemble playing inspired by Hebridean psalm singing. Much of the performance happened in near darkness so they had to depend on aural cues and feel comfortable playing independently. The result was powerful, overwhelming. The audience entered the dark space to the sound of 60 players already surrounding them; they moved freely throughout the performance treating the music like a sculpture then could explore. The critics and audience agreed it was an unforgettable experience


How did the project come about?

ENF commissions a Big Project every year. The original idea was Svend McEwan-Brown’s; John Wallace and Tony George made it real, and worked with the musicians of the Tullis Russell Mills Band and The Wallace Collection to evolve the final performance.


What made this project special?

The performance itself was remarkable, but the true specialness was how powerfully the musicians responded to the challenges, the pride they shared in the achievement, the thrill they experienced in creating it, and the enthusiasm with which they want to ‘do it again’. We invited everyone to describe the project in 4 words. The commonest were: UNIQUE, EXCITING, CHALLENGING, DIFFERENT, EMOTIONAL, INSPIRING, ATMOSPHERIC. My favourite comment was: ‘The beginning of more different and exciting performances’


What other projects do you have on the go at the moment?

ENF2018 has just been launched featuring plenty of new music, including the UK premiere of a piece by Caroline Shaw, music by Arvo Part, Penderecki, Amelkins-Vera, Steve Reich and others. We will announce the 2018 Big Project in May


Who are the up and coming Scottish composers to keep an eye on?

There are many interesting voices; wouldn’t want to single any out.


What would your ideal project be?  The dream project (with a  dream budget!)…

For me the thing most commonly missing is the time and resource to allow composer, performers and community (audience and participants) really to understand each other and genuinely meet/share the kind of intense power of music. Any project which truly does that is valuable indeed. Its opposite – random commissions performed once or twice to audiences who know or understand little about them – is a shocking waste.



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