Gavin Bryars: Nothing Like the Sun

Gavin Friday (recitace), John Potter (tenor), Sarah Dacey (soprán), Gavin Bryars Ensemble

27. 10., 20:00
Divadlo Archa

The Czech premiere of one of the most original musical adaptations of poetry in recent decades, with Shakespeare’s elegant and poetic sonnets serving as the impulse and inspiration for this exquisite work of art.

British composer and double bassist Gavin Bryars (*1943) has been a leading figure of minimalist and experimental music for several decades. His early forays into composition are rooted in the New York School – a group of artists gathered around John Cage, who also taught Bryars for some time. The avant-garde movement drew its inspiration from liberated unconsciousness and the energy of bustling city streets, and this manifested itself in one of Bryars’ first compositions, Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet (1971), now a cult work of art. Its central motive is the recording of the voice of an anonymous London homeless man, singing an unknown religious song of incredible emotional power, on which Bryars built an escalating arrangement of strings and winds (the 1993 recording includes Tom Waits). Over the years, Bryars wrote and rewrote the second of his most famous pieces – The Sinking of the Titanic (1969), which stems from the image of a band playing on the sinking ship. The author returned to the composition, which he himself terms “open”, most recently in 2012, when the version was performed on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and presented to a Prague audience at the Strings of Autumn.

Nothing Like the Sun, the project that Bryars is bringing to the Strings of Autumn this year, was written ten years ago as a commission for Opera North in Leeds and the Royal Shakespeare Company. The composition is an impressive hour-long contemplative suite of eight Shakespearean sonnets performed by a reciter and two singers (soprano, tenor) to the accompaniment of an eight-instrument ensemble. The author preferred to choose sonnets of a more philosophical and abstract nature, which emphasise the antithesis of the eternality of art and the temporality of human existence and work with the motives of memory and the passing of time. He deliberately avoided purely love-themed sonnets and those sonnets whose familiarity might “lull him into a false sense of security”.

After its premiere in England, the project only returned to the stage on a few, isolated occasions. A performance at the music festival in Adelaide in March 2015 was recorded live and released on CD. The 2017 performance of the work was initiated by the Strings of Autumn; the Prague rendition, which will be the twelfth in total, will be preceded by a repeat home performance at Opera North in Leeds two days earlier.

Bryars will participate in the concert in person as double bassist and bandmaster of the eight-person Gavin Bryars Ensemble; the tenor part will be performed by John Potter (a one-time member of the Hilliard Ensemble), Sarah Dacey will provide the soprano, and the recitation will be taken on by avant-garde Irish singer and artist Gavin Friday (known for, among other things, his music to several of the films of his compatriot Jim Sheridan and for his collaborations with Bono from U2).

The premiere performance of Bryars’ Nothing Like the Sun was accompanied by the premieres of other works by contemporary composers based on the texts of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Of these, the Prague concert will only include Gavin Friday’s exhilarating Sonnet No. 40, performed by the author himself. The programme will be complimented with some of Bryars’ other shorter compositions – It Never Rains (2010), The North Shore (1993), and The Flower of Friendship (2009).