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The Last Dance?
a baroque tango

World Première

11 SEPTEMBER 2019, 7.30pm

directed by JOHN BUTT
BBC Radio 3 and the Dunedin Consort have co-commissioned the composer Stevie Wishart to create a new orchestral piece to conclude Bach's Orchestral Suite No.1 in C major, BWV 1066, for the 2019 BBC Proms.

The work will be given its première at the Royal Albert Hall on Wednesday 11 September at 7.30pm, played by leading Scottish baroque ensemble the Dunedin Consort under its director John Butt, and will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3. 

After listening to the orchestration and dance rhythms of Bach's original, Stevie has composed a baroque tango inspired by the call of the endangered Argentinian hooded grebe: 
The Last Dance?
a baroque tango
Argentinian Hooded Grebe (Podiceps gallardoi)
Why bring together this Bach Suite and a Tango?
"The idea that sprang to mind was to add a modern dance onto Bach’s sequence of baroque dances. I’m particularly drawn to the sound of the Suite No. 1 because baroque string style (gut strings, and détaché bowing), and the brittleness of the harpsichord continuo, are appropriate to the style of a tango.  The bassoon and lower strings are ideal for the tango’s stark marcato bass lines, and the baroque oboes have something of the reed-like quality of the bandoneon. This last dance also recalls  the song of the hooded grebe Podiceps gallardoi, the Argentinian water bird whose song will be my theme.  Bach’s dances vary in their metre.  The the tango’s so-called sincopa (3+3+2), and would be characteristically danceable."

Why “The Last Dance?”
"I have become fascinated with birdsong as a way to learn music and train my ears. Though very complex and nuanced, birdsong remains accessible and inclusive, whereas complex contemporary music is much less so.  Birdsong can only be heard when artificial background sound - from cars, piped and amplified music in public spaces, and speakers outside shops - is removed. We all know how different a street feels when there are places for birds, and no cars or piped music.  Generating a desire among people to hear birdsong might induce them to consider things such as amplified music in public spaces and parks, or the noise from cars, to be the pollution that they are. My music reaches out to raise awareness of the right to silence, so that we can talk to each other, have the space to think, and to hear nature, the trees, the birds; this feels a very natural extension of my creativity."

The wider picture 
"This commission coincided with Jeffrey Skidmore asking me to compose a piece using birdsong at dawn for the magical voices of his choir, Ex Cathedra, composed for performance in Hereford and Birmingham Cathedrals and adaptable to other complex spaces.  My current fascination with birdsong arises from my involvement in our fledgling BirdMusic ensemble with musicologist, Professor Amanda Bayley, and neuroscientist, Dr Ian Winter.  This group combines musical creativity, education, and research within the context of birds and trees in both city and countryside. So for this piece for the BBC Proms I wanted to keep flying with the birds by combining the sounds of Bach’s orchestration and the dance form of tango with the call of the Argentinian hooded grebe, because its movement is tangoesque and its song is so musical.  After deciding to use the call of the hooded grebe for themes for the Tango, I became aware that this bird is "critically endangered" (International Union for Conservation of Nature and BirdLife International).  The work's title draws on its plight.”

Stevie Wishart

a brief profile


A brief profile of Stevie Wishart, composer

With her roots in early music, traditional music, and improvisation, Stevie Wishart’s “old-and-new” sound defines her unique contemporary voice as a composer.  She studied at the universities of York and Oxford, and at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama; and then with John Cage and a Rajasthani sarangi master; and she was a member of the Australian contemporary music group Machine for Making Sense.  Wishart explores the liminal spaces – between early and contemporary music, between natural, played and synthesised sounds, and between composition and improvisation. Sometimes her work is very much experimental. It ranges from small chamber pieces for performance in art galleries or museums, to large scale choral pieces.  Wishart enjoys teaching composition and is as a performer-improviser who has appeared at the Proms both as singer and as hurdy-gurdy player.  Recent works include solo piano pieces for Joanna McGregor; Voicing the Dawn, a vocal piece for Ex Cathedra and some songbirds; and The Seasons, a large-scale choral work for Ipswich Choral Society.  Future plans include collaboration with Alice Oswald; a reworking for acoustic instruments of The Sound of Gesture, originally a hybrid electroacoustic composition for solo violin and electronic sound; and a piano concerto for Joanna MacGregor.

Images of the hooded grebe  © Michael Webster
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