A major new work by the composer Kevin Malone paying tribute to the workers of West Yorkshire’s textile communities, A Day in the Life will be premiered by the Orchestra of Opera North and Associate Leader Andy Long at Morley Town Hall on Friday 3 May, before touring to venues in Leeds and the surrounding area with links to textile mills and the Industrial Revolution.
The three-part suite culminates in a violin concerto commissioned by Andy, inspired by a first-person account of the life of a young nineteenth century mill worker that captured his imagination as a child.
When he was seven, Andy was given a book for Christmas that collected diaries, journals and newspaper cuttings from a single day in 1805. “I was fascinated to read about the bustle of Billingsgate Market, a duel on Hampstead Heath, Beethoven rehearsing Fidelio and of course the dramatic and historic battle of Trafalgar with sails furling and cannons crashing”, he says. “Above all though, I remember the story of Robert Blincoe, who has come to be known as ‘the Real Oliver Twist’.
“He was roughly the same age as me, and I couldn’t believe the cruelty that he suffered after being sent up to work in a Lancashire cotton mill. The older boys found him scavenging a rotting pile of potato and turnip peelings to supplement his meagre bowl of soup, and they filed his teeth to a point, ‘the better to be able to eat with’.
“That image has stuck with me for over forty years and it was at the forefront of my mind when I asked Kevin to write me a violin concerto.”
Andy first collaborated with Kevin, who teaches composition at the University of Manchester, when his chamber group The New World Ensemble recorded two works by the New York-born composer. “His music has a very honest, human quality about it”, says Andy, “and he writes particularly well for the violin.”
“Kevin was also struck by the tragic story of Blincoe and immediately sensed the musical possibilities there. It was a given that we both wanted Opera North to be the orchestra. They have such incredible skill, invention and sensitivity when it comes to accompanying and I can’t wait to play with them again as soloist. The orchestra will become the mill and the violin will provide the narrative of a day in Robert Blincoe’s life.”
“Working again with Andy is an honour, and his idea of a biographical concerto resonates with my social-awareness music”, says Kevin. “His genuine passion and intensely beautiful sound have been the secret ingredients I’ve been looking for throughout composing this new work.”
Opening the programme, A Peterloo Parade is a witty, playful overture composed from current and historical rally cries in the UK and USA mixed with the songs sung just before the 1819 massacre at St Peter’s Field, Manchester, known as “Peterloo”.
The second piece, My Mill Life is a work for solo violin and pre-recorded monologues from current and former mill workers in Leeds and Bradford. The violin and the voices mimic each other and the sounds of the mill to evoke the atmosphere of the workplace.
Led by the young Welsh conductor Robert Guy, the premiere of the suite in Morley will be followed by a performance at the Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall, School of Music, University of Leeds, as part of the University of Leeds International Concert Series on 4 May. On 5 May it visits Victoria Hall, Saltaire, built by the industrialist Sir Titus Salt as part of his mill complex and workers’ village. 11 May takes A Day in the Life to the Civic Hall in Pudsey, another town famous for wool manufacture in the 18th and 19th centuries. The final concert on Saturday 25 May will take place in Bradford Cathedral, in the heart of the 19th-century "wool capital of the world".
Additional performances of My Mill Life are planned in museums and galleries, and schools’ workshops will be devised to help young people to understand and participate in their communities’ heritage through music.