I have had an interest in transport from an early age – boats, trains, cars or planes – so the opportunity to compose a piece of music reflecting 100 years of the aerospace industry in Bristol and especially the iconic Concorde, was immediately appealing and inspiring.
Commissioned by Bristol800 and part of St George’s Bristol Art of Flight series, I set out with Innovation 216 to depict the beauty and spaciousness of flight – the first performance at beautiful St George’s with 100 brass players on stage and 200 choir members in the gallery will certainly create an aerial effect!
I have worked regularly with Lydbrook Band over the last few years, including our successful first performance with Robert Hardy CBE of my Bristol2014 commission, Silver Rose to commemorate the centenary of World War 1, which has since received two further performances and another planned for next year. This time, however, I wanted an extravaganza of musicians to depict flight in all its glory and was delighted when Sam Burns agreed to come on board with the Gurt Lush Choir, also three training bands – City of Bristol, Lydbrook and Lydney – and the University of the West of England Singers. 300 musicians will be deftly and expertly brought together on the day by conductor Ian Holmes.
Innovation 216 is something of a historical timeline from the earliest Boxkite Biplane, through to the Blenheim Bomber, Brabazon, Britannia, Concorde – and reflects on the future too. I am indebted to members of the aerospace industry and academic colleagues who gave up their time to talk to me, not least of all answer technical queries and give their thoughts on the future of the industry – some of these can be heard sung by the choir at the end. I was also delighted to work again with author Jennifer Henderson, who put into words aircraft features and sounds for the choir.
The music is completed and vast A3 scores distributed to the conductors; rehearsals have started and the Lydbrook percussion team are organising special effects such as ‘rute’ – twigs – played on a bass drum shell to depict early wooden-built planes, through to a tubular bell dipped in water as engines start up – the Doppler effect is not forgotten either.
Meanwhile, an ensemble from Lydbrook Band, conducted by Ian Holmes, gathered together at Filton’s Brabazon Hangar in September, giving invited press a taster of some of the music in advance; what a wonderful opportunity it was to play in such an iconic space. Aerospace Bristol Project Director Lloyd Burnell mentioned how he would love a performance under the wings of Concorde when the new museum opens next year – now that would be very special. (note that this came to pass in 2020: see news item from the Lydbrook’s website. Audio recording of the 2016 performance is below.)
Lyrics for Innovation 2016
Blenheim Light Bomber, Beaufort, Beaufighter:
Swept on the airflow
leaving the land below.
Shuddering, juddering to the skies:
murmuring, purring the metal giant flies.
Rise and away on mounting wing,
whispering giant her song to sing.
Bird that sailed above the cloud
and boomed a song aloud.
Words: Jennifer Henderson
‘air to air refuelling’…. ‘automation’….
‘3D printed aerostructures’…. ‘drones….
‘safer, greener, faster, cleaner, quieter, cleverer, lighter, smarter’…. ‘quieter and quieter’…. ‘space’….
‘supersonic in the future – Concorde legacy’….
Words: past and present members of Bristol’s aerospace industry