Dressed and ready to go

Much excitement in Tokaido Road Towers as we reach the final milestone; a week to go until we premiere at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.

Yesterday, a few of us gathered to watch the dress rehearsal, the final event before we pack up and prepare to head to Cheltenham a week today. Both composer and librettist were present, looking excited, and as the lights dimmed, the figure of an elderly Hiroshige gazed out at us, whilst on-stage the members of Okeanos Ensemble were already seated, ready to play.

Dress rehearsal

Dress rehearsal

I’m not going to give much away about what unfolded next – you’ll just have to find out for yourself at next week’s premiere! – but the next fifty minutes offered a truly enchanting realisation of Nancy’s poems; it’s as if the libretto stretches the original poems out, affording the opportunity to delve deeper beneath the surface and explore a greater narrative nuance.

There are some memorable moments as you follow the young Hiro along the Tokaido Road, some wonderfully exotic soundscapes that Nicola LeFanu has distilled from the multi-instrument-juggling chamber ensemble, enhanced by several unusual instruments (keep an eye out for a particularly macabre percussion instrument that appears later in the piece!).

As the piece ended and the lights faded, there was a sense that we’d been taken to an emotional space that was quite something, in a meeting of Eastern and Western cultures that afforded a small glimpse into various points along Hiroshige’s journey along the Tokaido Road; each of us being led on our own, personal odyssey, writ large across the stage. The combination of Nicola’s shimmering soundworld and Nancy’s hypnotic words opens up an extraordinary landscape for the listener, mapping Hiro’s own travels but opening them out into something much more universal, a potent humanity that speaks to each of us across the years since the original prints captured these fragile instances in the Japanese countryside.

tr_flightcasesNow the production goes into especially-marked flight-cases, ready to embark on its own road to Cheltenham on Sunday 6 July, and various venues thereafter. Join us along The Road, and prepare for a mesmerising experience…

RPS Award for Tokaido Road composer

With just over a week until we premiere at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, we’re delighted that Tokaido Road composer, Nicola LeFanu, has been awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society Elgar Bursary 2014.

Nicola_Lefanu_composes05The RPS Elgar Bursary provides financial support for mature composers, to allow for the creation of a new work which “may push back musical boundaries, but not at the expense of accessibility and integrity: in short, a work of which Edward Elgar himself might have approved.”

Previous winners include Dominic Muldowney and Edwin Roxburgh. The award will support Nicola’s writing of a new orchestral work which will be premiered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 2016/17.

rps_logoCongratulations to Nicola! Find out more on the RPS website here: Tokaido Road premieres at the Cheltenham Festival on Sunday 6 July, about which more can be found here.

In rehearsal: Tokaido Road

With the premiere of Tokaido Road at this year’s Cheltenham Festival now only thirteen days away – we hope you’re all as excited as we are in following the daily countdown on the right-hand side! – rehearsals are in full swing.

As well as rehearsing on their own instruments, the multi-instrument-juggling members of Okeanos Ensemble are getting to grips with various new instruments which the score is asking them to play – in the first picture below, Bridget gets to grips with the wonderfully eerie waterphone, whilst composer Nicola Lefanu (left) ponders the sonic possibilities…

Sometimes, you just have to go that extra mile – oboist with Okeanos, Jinny, has constructed her own bamboo-chimes for the performance, after a visit to a well-known home-and-garden retail outlet…

It’s all happening along The Road…

Let’s make an opera: just under three weeks to go

Rehearsals started in earnest yesterday for Tokaido Road, and with the premiere performance at this year’s Cheltenham Festival two weeks this Sunday, excitement is running high amongst the team.

After all the preparations, the funding applications, bureaucratic endeavour and lengthy incubation process, now the real fun begins.  The stage set has been delivered; fabulous costumes have arrived from Japan; the musical and technical teams are assembled, and we’re now in the rehearsal period in earnest.

Literary siblings

Literary siblings

Side by side, too, are the original book of poems on which the opera is based, and the recently-published opera libretto.

Find out more about the Cheltenham Festival premiere on the festival website here.

Not long to go now…