Ashley Wood Festival 2013

Patron: Ralph Fiennes Artistic director: Jim Driscoll

"This is what all festivals should be like" (Fyfe Dangerfield)

A Candle: Songs of Freedom, programme notes

Helen Chadwick

Travel Tickets (by Samil al-Qasim from Victims of the Map published by Saqi Books). Samil al-Qasim (born 1939) is a Palestinean druze poet living in Haifa. I chose this poem because of the strength of the voice, the fact of someone replying to oppression and violence with the idea of peace, the fact of having the strength to hope in such dark times.

Listen (by Alicia Partnoy, translated from the Spanish by Richard Schaaf, Regina Kreger and Alicia Partnoy,
from the poem To my Daughter. Letter from Prison,  from the book  Revenge of the Apple/ Venganza de la manzana/ San Francisco, Cleis Press 1992). Alicia is a survivor of the concentration camps where 30,000 people were killed in Argentina.  From 1977 to 1979 she was a political prisoner of the military dictatorship. Alicia now lives in L.A. and is a Professor of Literature and a writer.  I composed another part of this poem of this poem a few years ago. After I chose this poem I discovered that Amnesty had commissioned Alicia to write something for their birthday and she chose this same poem, and extended it for their celebrations. 

To My Daughter
(Letters from Prison)
My throat befriends the winds
to reach you
dear gentle heart, new eyes.
place your ear to a sea shell,
or to this infamous prison phone,
and listen.

The reason is so simple,
so pure,
like a drop of water
or a seed
that fits in the palm of your hand.
The reason is so very simple:
I could not
keep from fighting for the happiness
of those who are our brothers our sisters.

Sianed Jones

Words (music by Sianed Jones, words by Venus Khoury-Ghata.) This is a small section from a long poem entitled Words by Venus Khoury-Ghata. She moved to France from Beirut as a young adult,writes in French, and
translates Arabic poetry.

My first instinct on this song was to go for a heavy bluesy style. The first line, 'Where do words come from?' lends itself perfectly to a strong melody with a heavy lilting bass line.

As The Heart Beats (music Sianed Jones, words Shakih Abdurraheem Muslin Dost from Poems from Guantanamo, University of Iowa Press).

The main feeling I wanted to convey in this song was the constant beating of a heart, the pulsing of the rhythm that is relentless and never goes away. The extraordinary power of a person's will to live even in extreme circumstances. Permissions have been granted to use the poem , the publishers are happy for me to do so and excited that it is for Amnesty International.

Just as the heart beats
in the darkness of the body
So I despite this cage
I continue to beat with life
Those who have no courage or honour
consider themselves free
but they are slaves

I am flying on the wings of thought
and so even in this cage
I know a greater freedom
I am flying on the wings of thought

Just as the heart beats
in the darkness of the body
So I despite this cage
I continue to beat with life
on the wings of thought.

As a composer and performer it’s possible to feel powerless in the face of the injustices of the world. Music, and particularly massed singing voices has the ability to draw people together, to communicate and move people regardless of language, cultural and religious backgrounds. Through this project my music can in some small way help to raise awareness of the work amnesty does in protecting people wherever justice, fairness, freedom and truth are denied.

Karen Wimhurst

John Harris

John Harris, aged 27, was hanged in the Pretoria Central Prison in 1965 for his political actions. He died with the song 'We Shall Overcome' on his lips, his last message of hope for his fellow South Africans in the anti-apartheid struggle. This sound poem depicts his walk to the gallows, as recounted by many fellow prisoners. It is also a tribute to the great work Amnesty has done in campaning to get rid of the death penalty worldwide.

Boris Vilde

This poem by the Estonian poet Aleksis Rannit (b.1914), takes its inspiration from the following entry in Vilde's prison diary - 'What I love in music is its prelude to extinction'. Boris Vilde was active in the French Resistance, leading the scientists and lawyers of the Groupe du musée de l'Homme in producing an anti-Nazi and Vichy newspaper, called Résistance. He was executed by firing squad in Feb. 1942.

Katherine Zeserson

The experience of setting both texts was very fluid - in each case the text immediately suggested a mode and a melodic motif that seemed to arise from the words without my intervention. My task then was to tease out the richer musical context - harmony, rhythm, shape - from those insistent motifs. I also wanted the experience of learning and singing both songs to be pleasurable, and so chose ranges and juxtapositions of sound that I thought would be accessible for singers with wide ranging experience.

Star, Bird and Autumn by Kamaran Mukri

Kamaran Mukri was born in Sulaymani, Iraq in 1927 and died in 1986. He was a romantic revolutionary poet who took poetry to the streets. He spent years in Iraqi state prisons for his nationalist activities. He taught Kurdish language and literature at Sulayamani University and published five collections of poetry.

THE POETS VOICE by Riza Uluturk (translation by Aynnur H. Imecer. Published in Azerbaijan International,Vol 7:1 (Sprng 1999),p.52).

'Thank you for composing music for this occasion for the benefit of Amnesty International. Their work is very important in Azerbaijan, too, where they are active in trying to bring freedom - especially to journalists.'
Betty Blair,

I don’t want freedom gram by gram, grain by grain
I have to break this steel chain with my teeth!
I don’t want freedom as a drug, as a medicine,
I want it as the sun, as the earth, as the heavens!
Step, step aside, you invader!
I am the loud voice of this land!
I don’t need a puny spring,
I am thirsting for oceans!

Khalil RIza Uluturk was born in the Salyan region of Azerbaijan in 1932 and died in 1994 in Baku. He worked at the Institute of Literature and published over 35 books of poetry.

 Every effort has been made to contact the copyright holders of the poems.

Why not buy a combined ticket for the afternoon and evening (featuring the world premiere of the major new song cycle The Sharecropper's Son) and spend the whole day with us? Buy tickets here.