On Saturday evening a very unusual musical event took place in Stoke Newington. Next to the ruined chapel at the centre of Abney Park Cemetery, composer Benjamin Till’s new work, ‘The London Requiem’, was given it’s premiere.
After visiting his local cemetery and reading the epitaphs on the graves Till was struck by how ”levelling” the experience of death is and how “diverse” London is. Although the format of ’The London Requiem’ follows convention this powerful piece of music has inspiring epitaphs scattered throughout – Till went on to visit twenty cemeteries as part of his preparation for the work, and between the usual latin phrases listeners heard “And we laughed, and laughed and laughed” discovered in Brookwood Cemetery, and ”Be kind, for everyone we meet is fighting a hard battle” found on a Highgate gravestone.
Sung on the night by the very capable Rebel Chorus alongside a string section and a percussionist, ‘The London Requiem” is a remarkable piece of modern sacred music and Saturday night’s setting was inspired – while I’m sure a concert hall would have been perfectly adequate, listening to the singers while looking at the graves receding into the darkness all around made it all the more moving and gave it a rather eerie quality.
In addition to the music, visitors to Abney Park were greeted by an avenue of white balloons as they approached the chapel – people were invited to give a donation and write the name of a departed loved one each balloon. This raised £200 for the Staircase To Heaven Memorial Trust, who are hoping to create a permanent memorial at Bethnal Green tube station to mark the wartime disaster that left 173 dead.
Celebrated local artist Gina Southgate was also on hand – as the performance proceeded she created a new artwork inspired by the music she was hearing.
The premiere of ‘The London Requiem’, supported by Rich Mix, was streamed live on The Space and is now available for viewing online here. There’s also a CD recording which includes passages sung by Barbara Windsor, Matt Lucas and other luminaries.