Composition and improvisation workshop with Matthew Sharp

Schools and arts award

Matthew Sharp, Artistic Director of Deal Festival for the Arts, led a workshop for students at Dover Boys Grammar on 18 March 2013. The workshop was planned in connection with our War & Peace project.

“There were about 25 Year 7-10s in the workshop with a broad range of musical abilities.We developed a tool box of ensemble improvisation skills through rhythm, voice, physical, group, spatial and imaginative games and exercises.The workshop engaged and explored notions of War & Peace in relation to Dover and its geography and history. The photographs were potent triggers to personal stories and reflections (“One night I saw that white hotel building being completely raided by the police!”; “I know the Western Docks backwards but I’d never noticed that building before – it’s amazing what the perspective reveals.”). In addition, I played some of Benjamin Britten’s 1st Suite for Solo Cello and we talked about BB’s pacifism, his time in the US during the 2nd WW, the kinds of artists we would take out of harm’s way these days (Marilyn Manson, Michael McIntyre, Adele, Franz Liszt, Shakespeare, Van Gogh) and his relationship across the Cold War divide with Shostakovich and Rostropovich.We made an instrumental piece exploring an ‘unstable world’ and ‘finding enlightenment’. 

The group stayed focussed across an intense 3 hr workshop.” (Matthew Sharp)

Britten and Shostakovich: Britten was a fervent pacifist throughout his life, starting with an anti-hunting essay written at school, to his concerts with Yehudi Menuhin in the newly liberated Belsen to a number of works that addressed this belief, most notably War Requiem. Being a pacifist during a world war required a moral courage that Britten frequently showed.

Shostakovich was well enough to attend the Moscow recital of Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten on 25 December 1966 and to greet the new year 1967 with family and friends at Zhukovka, together with Britten and Pears.  Britten was a musician Shostakovich respected deeply.  Having made each other’s acquaintance in 1960 a the London premiere of Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto, the two maintained contact, in part thorugh their mutual friend Rostropovich, paid each other reciprocal visits, and exchanged letters and music. When he received the score and recording in the summer of 1963, Shostakovich was profoundly affected by Britten’s War Requiem, recognizing in it a profound work of conscience.

Images copyright Miles Umney

Workshop film by Miles Umney