LEEDS REMEMBERS: CITYWIDE COMMEMORATION EVENTS FOR WWI CENTENARY
Marking the Armistice 100 centenary this Autumn, an extensive collaborative programme of events has been announced in Leeds. Arts organisations, museums, local councils, historians and volunteers will come together to remember the sacrifice made by so many men and women during the First World War. With collaboration, community involvement and the development of young artists at its centre, the citywide programme takes in symphonic concerts, opera, music theatre, new media and exhibitions.
During the First World War, Leeds Town Hall served as the centre for local recruitment, administration and charity appeals, and received returning soldiers for a thanksgiving service in 1918. A century later, it is at the heart of the commemorations.
From 30 November, the Town Hall hosts the UK premiere of Silent Night,the Pulitzer Prize-winning opera by Kevin Puts. A lyrical, cinematic telling of the true story of the 1914 Christmas truce, when peace spontaneously broke out between French, German and Scottish troops in the trenches, Opera North’s concert staging features an international cast, the full Orchestra of Opera North and an expanded men’s Chorus, joined by a specially-recruited male community chorus, young singers from the Opera North Youth Chorus, and students from the Royal Northern College of Music.
On 17 November, Leeds International Concert Season welcomes the BBC Philharmonic, Leeds Festival Chorus, the City of Glasgow Chorus, Cantabile Choir and soloists Evelina Dobračeva, Andrew Staples and Benjamin Appl, whocome together for a spectacular performance of Benjamin Britten’s choral masterpiece War Requiem. Combining the words of Wilfred Owen with the ritual of the Latin Requiem Mass, this timeless and profoundly moving work brings together heart-wrenching harmonies, melody and orchestration in a passionate outcry against man’s inhumanity to man. From 16 October, an exhibition of archive photographs of the ancestors of all three choirs can be seen in the Town Hall’s Brodrick Exhibition Space. Nurses and doctors appear beside men who fought, survivors and casualties in an intimate and compelling portrait of life during wartime.
The massed forces of the Orchestra of Opera North, the company’s Youth Chorus, Young Voices and Children’s Chorus perform a new micro-opera, The Songs of War on 22 November. Specially commissioned for Opera North’s youth ensembles from composer Will Todd (The Blackened Man; Mass in Blue), the piece depicts the conflicting emotions of war through the poetry of Maggie Gottlieb. Completing the programme, Górecki’s breathtaking third symphony, the ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ picks up the themes of loss and separation caused by conflict.
The Orchestra of Opera North returns to the Town Hall for another large-scale collaboration on 25 November, joined by St Peter’s Singers and Sir Michael Morpurgo for War Horse: The Story in Concert. The former Children’s Laureate narrates his emotionally-charged story of a young farm horse who is taken from the calm of the English countryside and thrust into the horrors of the Western Front. Adrian Sutton’s acclaimed score, composed originally for the National Theatre’s Olivier and Tony Award-winning stage adaptation, is performed alongside hand-drawn visuals to illustrate the story.
Marking the centenary of both the cessation of hostilities and the formation of the Royal Air Force, the Orchestra of Opera North performs Carl Davis CBE’s live soundtrack for Wings, the barnstorming 1927 silent film, on October 20, conducted by the composer himself.
Having performed to a capacity audience in Leeds Town Hall for the ninetieth anniversary of Armistice, two of the region’s great musical institutions, Airedale Symphony Orchestra and Leeds Philharmonic Chorus, reunite to mark the centenary with aremembrance concert featuring works by Elgar, Walton, Verdi and Tchaikovsky on 21 October. Approaching old age at the outbreak of war, Elgar’s characteristic patriotism was tempered by a deeply felt horror at the carnage. At their lunchtime chamber concert in the Town Hall on 24 September, Leader of the Orchestra of Opera North David Greed and City Organist Emeritus Simon Lindley will perform ‘For the Fallen’ from the composer’s Spirit of England suite, written in 1914 following the first of many great losses for the British.
The Town Hall’s Sullivan Room will be transformed into a frontline field hospital for Charlie Ward, a powerfully immersive installation running from 30 October to 11 November as part of Leeds International Film Festival. To boost morale, staff at these makeshift facilities sometimes arranged for Charlie Chaplin films to be shown for the bedridden, with the ward’s ceiling as the silver screen. For one soldier on Charlie Ward, the flickering images, whirring projector and Chaplin’s comic timing trigger complex emotions and memories, and the film show sets him on a journey into a personal no man’s land. The installation lasts around 15 minutes and is presented to audiences of just 10 people at a time.
Not Such Quiet Girls, an Opera North and Leeds Playhouse co-production telling the extraordinary untold stories of women who volunteered on the front line, premières at the Howard Assembly Room on 29 November. Inspired by the lives and works of Radclyffe Hall and others, writer Jessica Walker and director Jacqui Honess-Martin weave a moving narrative through staged scenes, film projections, music hall songs and forgotten rarities by early-20th century female composers.
Also in the Howard Assembly Room, two chamber concerts weave together the songs of the period to bring the personal and historical narratives of the War to life. On 22 November Leeds Lieder Director Joseph Middleton joins internationally-acclaimed British baritone Christopher Maltman to chart the soldier’s odyssey from home into battle, and his death and epitaph, through songs by Butterworth, Gurney and Finzi, and works by composers from the other major nations involved in the War including Mahler, Mussorgsky and Schumann. This year’s visit from the young artists of the National Opera Studio (8 December)takes the form of a beautifully staged passage from the gaiety of pre-war Europe to the apocalyptic impact of the war’s outbreak and beyond, devised and directed by Tim Albery.
Goodbye to all that?, a free exhibition at the University of Leeds’Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery running until 31 January 2019, focuses on the experiences of the families in Yorkshire and beyond during the First World War. The lasting impact on their lives is explored through themes of grief, memory, disability, women’s rights and politics.
At Leeds Central Library, an extensive series of talks exploresthe War from unexpected and fascinating angles. On 14 November, author Andrea Hetherington speaks about her latest book, British Widows of the First World War – the Forgotten Legion; and on 24 November Professor Graeme Gooday outlines some exciting secrets and innovations in First World War telecommunications. On 29 November Dr Jessica Meyer traces the journeys of wounded British soldiers from front line to the convalescent hospital in The World of the Royal Army Medical Corps during the First World War. Professor Alison Fell of the University of Leeds looks the impact of the First World War on women’s lives through the 1920s and 1930s on 3 December; and the civilian and military prisoners of Lofthouse Park Camp near Wakefield are the subjects of the final talk at the Library on 12 December.
Elsewhere, the story of Leeds Rifleman Myer Tompofski’s service on the Western Front is told through his letters home from February to September 1918, when he was killed during the Hundred Days Offensive, in a moving spoken word event at the Grammar School at Leeds on 11 November, part of MiliM 2018, the Leeds Festival of Words for All.
The War is again brought close to home through traditional mourning objects and some more unusual artefacts contributed by Leeds residents in Abbey House Museum’sRemembrance Exhibition, running until 30 December, with a talk from Curator Lucy Moore on 15 November. The Lives of Others: Sites of Memory in the West Gallery at Leeds Art Gallery continues the theme with a collection display looking at how the cessation of hostilities caused a shift in the ways in which we memorialise others (from 10 November). Following the recent rediscovery of a flag from theoriginal Armistice celebrations at a house in HanoverSquare, Leeds Museums and Galleries have worked with Leeds University, community and faith groups and schools across the city to create a set of contemporary textile banners, which will go on display in the AfterArmistice exhibition at Leeds City Museum from 12–17 November.
A new series of portraits of World War I soldiers of different faiths by Leeds-based artist and winner of the BBC Big Painting Challenge 2017 Suman Kaur is a centrepiece of the Light for Leeds Interfaith Week Event at Kirkstall Abbey on 18 November.At Leeds Minster, a haunting display of silhouettes representing the 76 men associated with the church and recorded on the war memorial can be seen until 17 November. Between10 and 12 November, exhibitions at Kippax Methodist Church and St Mary’s Church and Hall commemorate Kippax’s own service personnel.
Cllr Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “This year Leeds will join cities around the country in commemorating a day which should never be forgotten.The Armistice was a pivotal point in history, bringing to an end a conflict which had an immeasurable impact on the people of Leeds and which changed the landscape of our city and our country forever. We should always remember the sacrifices which were made both on the battlefields of Europe and here on the home front and we are honoured to come together with partners and communities around the city in marking this historic anniversary.”
The programme of activity in Leeds is taking place as part of this Autumn’s national programme of Armistice centenary events,co-ordinated by the Imperial War Museum.
Visit whatson.leeds.gov.uk/armistice100for full online listings of events and exhibitions taking place.