All-night Jesus’ Blood April 2019
The Academy of St Martin in the Fields proposed a project for a 12 hour performance of Jesus’ Blood from 8pm April 12 to 8am April 13 2019 to be performed in the Tanks at Tate Modern. For this we had members of the orchestra, the Southbank Sinfonia, the Gavin Bryars Ensemble, and three groups of homeless musicians: Streetwise Opera, The Connections at St Martins and West London Mission. The orchestral musicians were available from 8-11pm and from 7-8am, though some stayed through the night. I conducted this full ensemble. And then from 11pm to 7am it was my own ensemble, with some of the homeless, a few orchestral players plus Claron McFadden and Bertrand Belin (who had come straight from his performance at Paris Olympia the night before). It was an extraordinary event and many things happened that night that I won’t go into here.
I had been concerned that a performance such as this might kill the piece for me even though I have heard that 26 second fragment of song many thousands of times since I first came across it in 1971. In the event it didn’t and I enjoyed performing it again in a chamber version with my ensemble three weeks later in Italy (see Journal entry Jesus’ Blood 5). Rather than give my own account of what was an exhausting experience, I copy here an email that I received from radio producer Alan Hall a day or so later, which captures the feeling of that long night…
From Alan Hall, April 14 2019
Truly one of the greatest artistic experiences of my life. Really, just immense.
Yes, I’ve been invested in the issue of homelessness for much of the last year – in the dilettantish way radio producers are ever invested in anything – and that gave traction to the performance. And clearly, the choir was heart-wrenching in its singing and also it’s choreography. But there is beyond those aspects something inherently musical in your setting of the tramp’s vocal that has had me hooked since I first spun it on vinyl as a student, through the Tom Waits realisation (a tad too showy for me!) and on to the present and my own son’s ‘discovery’ of your music as a student (for example, seeking out of the cafe Oto event): that 26 second phrase, in each of your settings through the years and through those hours that I heard at Tate (8-midnight, 6.30 -8am), retains its intensity, it’s humility and it’s essential humanity. The modesty of your settings defines a space that each listener can inhabit in meditation, in prayer, in communion. I found it almost overwhelming. Even thinking about it now, I well up. It’s phenomenal. And unique.
Of the occasion, a couple of things struck me: Claron sitting with the choir (I love that woman) summed up the ego-lessness of the endeavour. And Frances Morris being so present made me respect her even more. And a middle-aged woman in the audience who my son talked to on Friday evening and I met again in the morning: she’d never heard of you or the piece until she caught the item on Front Row. She came expecting to sample the experience and go home but stayed throughout the night, mesmerised.
Sorry, I’m going on – just one final thought: I wanted to join in. I wanted to sing. My congregational roots showing!
Falling Tree Productions Ltd