Song to St. Andrews (2005)

Duration 6’
For Soprano and Organ (with Amy Freston, soprano)
Choreographed by David Nixon
Lighting Design: Jane Crook
First performed at a private event in St. Andrews, Holborn. First public performance at the Jack Lyons Theatre, Royal Academy of Music, London, as part of the 2005 Ballet Central National tour, and later revived for the 2009 tour.

Philip Feeney’s first collaboration with choreographer and artistic director of Northern Ballet Theatre, David Nixon, was the short duet, Song to St. Andrews. It is in fact one of the few site-specific pieces that the composer has been involved in, in that, commissioned by the then principal of Central School of Ballet, Jane Hackett, it was designed to be performed in the church of St. Andrews, Holborn, Sir Christopher Wren’s largest parish church. To that end, it is scored for organ and soprano, Amy Freston, who was situated in the gallery on the opposite side from the organ, creating an evocative spatial polyphony.

Of course on tour much of the music, including the voice, was on track, with the main body of the organ part played live, using sounds from the Korg X3; so pulling out the stops and changes of register on the pipe organ become patch changes on the keyboard. The music itself has a slightly Scottish feel, a faint scent of heather, St. Andrew being of course the patron saint of Scotland. The opening drone followed by the high single-note melody creates a great sense of space, and is clearly suggesting the sound of bagpipes.

When delivered to choreographer David Nixon, the music was only an organ piece. We had talked that perhaps a vocal line could be added, but he actually choreographed all of this gentle duet just to the organ score. It meant that when the soprano part was added its melodic line could be shaped to match the curves and dynamic of the movement that the choreographer had already created, an interesting example of collaboration, of the long-distance reciprocation, the give and take, between choreography and music.

Amy Freston’s association with Ballet Central is long and fruitful. As a dancer she performed with the 1995 Ballet Central Tour, and has returned several times to sing in a number of Philip Feeney’s creations, most notably in Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Dog Suite. Her triumphant metamorphosis into a successful opera singer is entirely in keeping with the phoenix spirit of rebirth that is at the heart of this piece. The church of St. Andrews was destroyed during the blitz, but has been rebuilt to its former glory, providing us all with a genuine symbol of hope and renewal.

photo courtesy of Ballet Central