No one likes to think about death. In Western society we bury our dead as soon as we can. There they remain, out of sight, but not out of mind. In Turkey and Tibet however, where the ground is too hard to break up, Zoroastrian burial rites survive. The dead are left out on stone slabs in nature, to be picked at and consumed by carrion birds. We in the west may find the practice monstrous, sacrilegious even, but there’s no denying the efficacy of the operation in which the corpse re-enters nature’s life cycle, simply and ecologically.
This week, Laurence Equilbey, conductor and Music Director of the Insula Orchestra, which holds a residency at the Seine Musical, a state-of-the-art music hall in the west of Paris, launched and presented what may seem an extraordinary, risqué project – to perform Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem alongside a film inspired by the sky burial practice. The film is the work of British artist, Mat Collishaw.
In her role as Musical Director of the Seine Musicale, Equilbey has embedded film and scenic effects into her classical music programme since 2017. Equilbey actively seeks out contemporary artists – and welcomes collaboration. But even she admits that not all artists have a musical ear.
Not so with artist Mat Collishaw – in fact – they are both lucky to have found each other.
I attended the second evening performance of Requiem de Fauré Insula Orchestra. The concert opened with Charles Gounod’s Saint Francis of Assisi. Before Assisi’s demise, the saint offers a feverishly, fervent prayer to the heavens. Gounod’s mystic qualities and tender vocals are a warm balm to the world-weary soul. The music was rediscovered in the 1990s and recorded by accentus choir in 2018. Alongside the Gounod oratorio, Equilbey had commissioned a minimalist film of cloud and light from Collishaw to mimic Gounod’s very streamlined score.
Fauré’s Requiem followed seamlessly. With the Introit, the choir swelled, brought forth a vulture on the screen circling high up in the blue heavens. The carrion birds multiply. Thereafter my aural senses were awash with Fauré’s glorious harmonies, burnished textures and sounds which Equilbey drew from her orchestra and choir. The heavenly melodies drifted up to Collishaw’s screen and infused the artist’s world of grey and muted colours with transcendental warmth. A building of brutalist architecture spun around on its axis, clouds reflecting in all its windows. It was Collishaw’s artistic nod to Fauré’s fluffy heavens. In Collishaw’s world we entered the rooms of the sick where families kept a vigil around the soon-to-depart. The film is a work of baroque sensibility, both shockingly beautiful and liberating, injecting Fauré’s masterpiece with a contemporary grittiness.
Mention should be made of the soloists – Amitai Pati’s tender tenor, Samuel Hasselhorn’s gorgeous Libera me and the choir boy’s sensitive rendering of Pie Jesu, whose soaring soprano is running through my head as I write.
This artful Equilbey-Collishaw artistic collaboration is set to come to the Barbican in November. Dates to be confirmed. Highly recommended.
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Karine – what a vivid and interesting review of this concert. I will try to get to the performance in London. The photographer , Sally Mann, has a series of photographs of bodies left in the open to decay. Anne
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