I talk to composer Bushra El-Turk, whose work ‘Mosaic’ will be performed by the Pro Youth Philharmonia as part of a series of New Year Concerts exploring themes of ‘hope’ in an uncertain world.
Tell us a little about the Pro Youth Philharmonia.
International flautist Wissam Boustany founded the Pro Youth Philharmonia training orchestra on the principle of music having the ability to transform lives. His aim was to create a non-competitive environment for advanced music students and emerging professionals to explore and develop their individual talents, with an emphasis on nurture and encouragement.
Before the concerts during the rehearsals, everyone involved is encouraged to engage in workshops and debates on various musical, humanitarian and philosophical topics. This approach is an important part of the orchestra’s ethos, ensuring that an “adventurous, inspired and functional atmosphere” is engendered between participants.
How did you come to be involved with the group?
Ten years have passed since Wissam commissioned me to write him and his duo partner Aleks Szram, a piece for flute and piano, ‘Marionette’. It’s exciting to collaborate together again. He is such a tremendous force in music, a great musician and a wonderful mind.
This will be the third performance of your work ‘Mosaic’. Remind us about it. How does it fit into the concerts’ themes?
‘Mosaic’ was first commissioned by Manchester Camerata (cond. Douglas Boyd), premiered at Bridgewater Hall on 30th January 2010. It is written for the same orchestral forces as Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, and was part of the Mahler Centenary celebrations and their Exchanges Festival. It then received its second performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra (cond. Pascal Rophe) then Wissam approached me asking to play it. Since he and I share the idea of being activists through art, and being of Middle-Eastern heritage and our concerns with the divisions that were created of the lands and peoples in the region, and the conflicts that have arisen from it, it made sense to include the piece in his concert tour that explores themes of hope. Taking inspiration from Mahler’s Das Lied von Der Erde, Mosaic expresses the same sense of ‘otherness’ and ‘rootless-ness’ which Mahler found in ancient Chinese poetry. My piece explores fragmented identities through bursts of quasi-Byzantine chant which gradually become more prominent. In Mosaic I reflect on how borders can be blurred, yet still differences can be immense.
And what else can we expect to hear in the programme?
PYP sought a new composition titled ‘Beacon of Hope’ for the tour, partnering with Blackheath Halls and Trinity Laban. The winner of the competition was Northern Irish student composer Amelia Clarkson, who will be working with myself and the orchestral members ahead of the concerts. We’re lucky to be also joined by cellist and improviser Matthew Barley to perform Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor.
Where are these concerts taking place?
The opening concert in the ‘Beacon of Hope’ tour will be at the newly-reopened Blackheath Halls in Greenwich, London on Thursday 24th January. Then the orchestra travels to Colyer-Fergusson Hall in Canterbury, and on to the Elgar Concert Hall in Birmingham on the 25th and 26th January 2019 respectively. https://www.proyouthphil.org.uk/january-2019-tour/
What other projects are you involved in at the moment?
I’m very excited to be commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra to write a mixed-ability piece for a project with young people. Another orchestral piece that was recorded by the LSO as part of LSO Panufnik Legacies II CD, ‘Tmesis’, is going to receive its world premiere by the BBC Symphony Orchestra as part of the BBC Proms 2019 at the Dubai Opera House. As part of Snape Malting’s Open Space residency, I’m also working on a movement based chamber opera, ‘Woman at Point Zero’, inspired by the seminal novel by Egyptian author, feminist and doctor Nawal El Saadawi about her encounter in a Cairo prison with Firdaus, a prostitute condemned to death for murdering her pimp. The work is for soprano, played by Merit Ariane Stephanos, and six ancient wind instruments from different cultural traditions, played by Ensemble Zar. We are working with the playwright Sabrina Mahfouz and director choreographer Maria Koripas to form a language drawn out from the different idiomatic gestures that are exaggerated into movement. We performed excerpts of the opera as part of the Shubbak Festival and presented by the Royal Opera House in July 2017.
And what plans do you have for the future?
I’m very much into the blurring of the art forms and musical genres so my plans for the future will entail projects that explore this further and more deeply. I also plan to create a portrait CD featuring my ensemble, Ensemble Zar. Ensemble Zar is a cross-genre ensemble featuring ancient traditional instrumentalists from different cultural traditions.
Where can people find out more about these concerts and about your work?
People can check out my website www.bushraelturk.com or buy scores through my publisher at Composers Edition. You can find out more about the PYP tour here: https://www.proyouthphil.org.uk/january-2019-tour/