A vivid account of the life of a young nineteenth-century mill worker that captured the childhood imagination of the Orchestra of Opera North’s Andy Long has inspired a new work by the Anglo-American composer Kevin Malone.
The violin concerto and overture, A Day in the Life, has been commissioned through Arts Council England Grants for the Arts, and will be premiered by the Orchestra of Opera North and Associate Leader Andy at Morley Town Hall on Friday 3 May, before touring to venues in Leeds and the surrounding area with links to textile mills and the Industrial Revolution.
Andy Long explains:
“When I was a young boy I was bought a book called Monday 21 October 1805 which diarised events throughout the course of the day, with accounts taken from journals, newspaper cuttings and that sort of thing. I was fascinated to read about the early morning bustle of Billingsgate Market, a duel on Hampstead Heath, Beethoven rehearsing Fidelio and of course the dramatic and historic battle of Trafalgar with sails furling and cannons crashing.
“Above all though I remember the story of Robert Blincoe who was sent up to work in one of the Lancashire cotton mills. He was roughly the same age as me and I couldn’t believe the brutality that he suffered. The older boys found him scavenging a rotting pile of potato and turnip peelings to supplement his meagre bowl of soup. They filed his teeth to a point ‘the better to be able to eat with.’
“That image has stuck with me for over forty years and it was at the forefront of my mind when I asked Kevin Malone to write me a violin concerto. I’ve known Kevin since my New World Ensemble recorded a quartet of his. Kevin was also struck by the tragic story of Blincoe and immediately sensed the musical possibilities in it, and obviously it was a given that we both wanted Opera North to be the orchestra. They have such incredible skill, invention and sensitivity when it comes to accompanying and I can’t wait to play with them again as soloist.
“On the Company’s tour to the Lowry, Salford, at the end of last year I headed over to Manchester University to meet up with Kevin where we took the first peek at A Day in the Life. It was amazing to see the opening bars actually written down and I went through what will be about the first five minutes of music, discussing how Kevin would like it to be played, and his general concept of how it’s going to develop. What an incredible project this is turning out to be! Kevin has got some fantastic musical ideas and I can’t wait to see it all coming together.”
A Peterloo Parade is a witty, playful overture composed from current and historical rally cries in the UK and USA mixed with the songs sung just before the 1819 massacre at St Peter’s Field, Manchester, known as “Peterloo”.
My Mill Life is a work for solo violin and pre-recorded monologues by current and former mill workers in Leeds and Bradford. The violin and the voices mimic each other and the sounds of the mill to evoke the atmosphere of the workplace.
Inspired by the autobiography of Robert Blincoe, A Day in the Life for violin and orchestra relates the hour-by-hour struggle during a typical day of a 19th century child labourer in a northern textile mill.
Led by the young Welsh conductor Robert Guy, the premiere of the suite in Morley will be followed by a performance at the Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall, School of Music, University of Leeds, as part of the University of Leeds International Concert Series on 4 May. On 5 May it visits Victoria Hall, Saltaire, built by the industrialist Sir Titus Salt as part of his mill complex and workers’ village. 11 May takes A Day in the Life to the Civic Hall in Pudsey, another town famous for wool manufacture in the 18th and 19th centuries. The final concert on Saturday 25 May will take place in Bradford Cathedral, in the heart of the 19th-century “wool capital of the world”.