My most recent project with Orchestras Live, co-produced with Durham Music Service, came together in Consett, County Durham, in the final week of January. The Moon Hares was a vast community opera featuring music from Purcell’s opera Dioclesian, new music by James Redwood (who also led the project) and libretto and direction from Hazel Gould. Three local primary schools and a secondary school, combined with the Northern Spirit Singers and students from Durham University joined the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) and a cast of professional singers, playing a key role in the narrative of the story. Although I was with the project for its final week, The Moon Hares started to come together as far back as November last year, with students taking part in workshops led by James Redwood and Cherry Forbes (OAE Education Director), devising sections of the opera themselves, and in some cases playing an instrument for the very first time!
The scale of this project was truly staggering, with over a hundred participants of all ages, representing a real cross-section of the local community. I felt very fortunate to spend such concentrated time with James, Hazel, Cherry and the OAE players Adrian and Hetty who supported in the final workshops. The team were very encouraging and supportive, taking care to ensure I got as much as I could from the project by inviting me to extra rehearsals and concerts taking place that week, and introducing me to other workshop leaders from the OAE.
In the days leading up to the two performances at the Consett Empire, I supported James in the secondary school workshops, as they refined the instrumental music they had written for several scenes in the opera. Watching James lead a session is to bear witness to an extraordinary energetic force. It was great to see the rapport he developed with the students and staff, and my notebook was soon filled with new ideas for songs, warm ups and refocusing activities. Again, very little of the devised music was notated, and the sung choruses were learnt by ear, which had a transformative effect on the young people’s performances. Having the OAE members supporting the sessions added a lovely dimension to the workshops, as they had an opportunity to demonstrate their baroque violin and trumpet and discuss how the instruments have changed over the centuries.
The Moon Hares project was a unique experience to me, in that the community music groups were wholly integrated into the show, sharing the stage with the OAE and the singers for the entire performance. There was an electric energy that ran through the two performances, and even with minimal staging and props the magic of Hazel Gould’s story shone through. It’s an experience I will remember for a long time.
"There was an electric energy that ran through the two performances."