Scenes from a Wedding (2011)

Duration 27’
for live piano and pre-recorded track with Katy Barnes (violins) and Ben Chappell (cello)
Choreographed by Christopher Marney
Lighting Design: Ed Railton
Costume Design: Verity Cleary
First performed at the Kenneth More Theatre, Ilford, as part of the 2011 Ballet Central national tour.

Christopher Marney’s brilliant witty piece, Scenes from a Wedding, was designed as the closing ballet of the 2011 Ballet Central programme, and gave Philip Feeney an opportunity to compose his first one act ballet for Ballet Central for thirteen years. Taking inspiration from Marney’s sharply observed and spot on social comment, the composer fashioned a score that is both poignant and simple good-natured fun, and above all intensely human.

The first section, with its almost improvisatory feel, establishes the main musical motif of the piece, a short questioning piano phrase, which is followed by a tentative answer. The inherent question and answer nature of the music, as seen in these unassuming little phrases, serves as a clear reference to popping THE question, and are at the root of almost all the musical material in the score. The theme associated with the partner who will ultimately become the bride, which itself contains the motif, was originally an early draft for a gentle duet in Milwaukee Ballet’s Peter Pan, that Feeney had been working on the previous year. Something of its fresh innocence survives into the music for Scenes from a Wedding.

The piece is in seven sections, and is scored for live piano and pre-recorded strings, with additional percussion and a palette of electronic accessories. The multi-tracked violin and cello parts were provided by Katy Barnes and Ben Chappell respectively, creating a wonderful sense of ensemble, despite the fact that they were recorded separately in the basement at Central School of Ballet. Given the wedding theme, it is no surprise that there are bells (there are even references to both the Mendelssohn and Wagner wedding marches). Other sampled elements include extreme recycled and sampled klesmer cello gestures, in particular the long laconic descending glissando, that had originally been prepared by the cellist, Kate Ellis, for the wedding scene in Michael Keegan-Dolan’s James, Son of James. But there are also other external sounds – for some reason, bird noises were in the mix quite early on, giving a sense of atmosphere and location for sure, but perhaps also providing an ironic commentary on the human folly that weddings throw up!

At the beginning of the bedroom argument scene, Marney asked for the isolated sound of a clock ticking creating a neutral space where the argument can broil. For the composer, unbelievably, this was very familiar territory; indeed it was the third case in less than a year where he had used the sound of clocks ticking not only for a legitimate dramatic effect but as part of the musical texture. In Michael Pinks’s Peter Pan, central to the well-loved story is the ticking of the crocodile, which is in fact pre-figured by the grandfather clock in the Bloomsbury scene. Later in the same year, Feeney created two substantial ticking collages for Didy Veldman’s Momo for Bern Ballet to accompany the journey into the magical kingdom of the watchmaker, Master Hora.