Celebrated composer Michael Nyman starts On Languard Point weekender

Celebrated composer and film-maker Michael Nyman premieres his latest work in Felixstowe tomorrow. Entertainment writer WAYNE SAVAGE talks to him about the unusual way it came about.

IT seems celebrated British composer Michael Nyman is as much in the dark about the end result of the On Landguard Point project as others are; or more specifically how his new work will fit into it.

A series of live large-scale, public outdoor events and activities, it will culminate in a feature film to be premiered across the UK in 2012.

It’s been created by the Pacitti Company as part of Artists Taking The Lead, a major project at the heart of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad funded by Arts Council England.

Tomorrow’s On Landguard Festival Weekender opens with the world premiere of the film’s soundtrack, written for the project by the performer, conductor, bandleader, pianist, author, musicologist, photographer and film-maker.

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Featuring original texts by Robert Pacitti and Sheila Ghelani, it will be performed by Nyman, his band and guest soprano Marie Angel at Felixstowe’s Spa Pavilion at 7.30pm.

The evening of film and music will start with him revisiting some of his acclaimed scores for Peter Greenaway’s films including The Draughtsman’s Contract, Drowning by Numbers and Prospero’s Books.

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“The most exciting aspect of this larger work is the fact that I sort of don’t have a clue how my music fits in,” says the BAFTA, Golden Globe and Ivor Novello award winner, who’s just got off a plane from Istanbul with two days of rehearsals looming.

“Whereas you sit down and write a piece you know exactly what’s it going to do and why, where, how and when. I know all those things but the larger context of On Landguard Point is a mystery to me.”

A fan of each other’s work for years, Nyman and Pacitti had spoke about collaborating on something before but never had. Nyman jumped at the chance to get involved with On Landguard Point, attracted by the concept, the freedom and the research opportunities involved.

“The interesting thing about Robert’s project is that it’s so large and takes in so much history, so much of the life of that part of the world; this is what makes it actually rather thrilling.

“If I’d known precisely the context I still would have done it, and enjoy writing the music, the fact the reverberations of my piece - as a piece itself and the fact it will act as a soundtrack to various films being made as part of his project - makes it even more intriguing.

“In six months I’ll look at my piece and say ‘okay, we performed it that night and that has that identity as a concert piece’, but in a larger context of a huge collaboration and Robert’s kind of imaginative powers it just takes on a totally different role.”

Recorded at Nyman’s local studio in London, the piece was born of research materials ranging from lists of such things as flora and fauna specific to the area, references to other elements of the project, original poems and self-shot photographs and film.

Made up of about six or eight sections, while it’s being performed as a concert piece tomorrow the idea is Pacitti and his team of film-makers can deconstruct it; using individual parts for different parts of the overall movie.

“That’s why it’s all rather exciting; it has this kind of ongoing life beyond the concert performance on Friday. The piece exists in its own right as a complete and kind of comprehensible piece of music that we will perform again in that particular shape. But then the materials that go to make up the piece become research materials for Robert that he can deconstruct and use in any way he chooses.”

Nyman’s not sure whether people will be surprised by the end product. He hopes they will find something unfamiliar when they do; he did while writing it.

“I was kind of responding in some amorphous way to this feeling of East Anglia that I have which is something very close physically because I was brought up in metropolitan Essex, but also a sense of strangeness.

“This is a part of the world that may be close geographically but also quite distant in its kind of folk history and actual history. I didn’t know Landguard Point existed, I didn’t know it rebuffed the last potential invasion of England. So there’s a lot of history,” he says.

“One travels all over the world and you think ‘well, there’s a huge amount of history of Turkey and Mexico that I don’t know’ but actually there’s a huge amount of history I don’t know about my own country just a couple of hours on a train going east.

“This is one of the other very valuable things Robert achieved for me, he’s opened my eyes, brain and ear to what’s been going on in that part of the world for the last 300-400 years. That’s why his project is so impressive and so kind of profound and very important for East Anglia.”

Tomorrowy morning people will be able to join the three-minute expert talk trail visiting shops, public buildings and Felixstowe landmarks. You can listen to 20 talks by experts from a diverse range of backgrounds, each of whom will speak on their chosen area for no more than three minutes.

That afternoon there will be an old-fashioned tea dance in the grounds of Landguard Fort, with sandwiches and cake as well as old time dancing lessons along with free transport to and from the Fort for those who need it. Visit www.onlandguardpoint.com/teadance

The Felixstowe Weekender runs until Sunday, bringing together different live events across Felixstowe and concluding with 12-hour flag flying on the beach next to Landguard Fort.

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