War and Peace – An Overview and Appreciation

War & Peace

We were delighted to have the opportunity to take part in this project. Each of us come from different backgrounds-a London-born violinist, a Danish writer, and a Kent-raised composer; it seemed that Dover’s role as a ‘cinching-point’, a bottleneck for arrival and departure, for invasion and adventuring, it’s constant re-invention, offered us opportunities and challenges in our own practice. We set out, with no fixed idea what would emerge from our journey. This proved a vital freedom in what transpired.

After time spent ‘on site’ around the town at the beginning of our process, the three of us began to plough various furrows. An exciting aspect of a project like this is that so many ingredients go into the pot, are put down on the page; but something clear and simple must result. We all wanted to resist deciding what this might be too early in the work, and let the discussions flourish, the ideas build.

After leading workshops in two schools in the autumn, ‘elemental’ themes appeared, mirroring our reading and research. ‘Rock, water, wind, and sun’, seemed to balance the very direct and instinctual responses which we encountered in the young people we met. Even though these archetypal elements were not overtly present in the eventual outcome, they offered real material for the eventual pieces and programme. Children offered us moments of insight, humbled our own ideas, and challenged us to seek their directness, their clarity in what was beginning to develop.

One moving example of this, was a 6 year old child in one school, whose teachers had never known them ‘open up’ in a group setting. When confronted by music and storytelling, up close, she quite literally ‘found her voice’, and offered a stream of ideas and enthusiasm. This was a useful, and challenging model for what we were seeking. Put simply, we needed to ‘find our voice’.

Variegated, overlapping, complimentary and contradictory strands reached out around the three of us. We sought a way to meld them into a ‘vernacular’ for the project. This, it transpired was writing, new and ‘found’ music, a concert programme, which might communicate the ideas which swirled around us.

These strands continue to have ramifications and outcomes. Whilst what has been heard/seen publicly, consists of a large piece of poetry, and a linked piece of music, curated as part of a unique evening programme, all of us have also been inspired to produce more work. In addition to the works presented, Nigel has written a second orchestral piece ‘The Steam Horse’, and Malene has produced a book of ‘Fables’. Peter has drawn aspects of the project close to his work in Bergen, Norway. These branching works continue to grow, and we were able to offer a glimpse of some of it at the ‘salon event’ presented at the White Cliffs Visitors Centre on the night before ‘Transit: Pulp and Rags’. The first of Malene’s ‘Fables’, The Lady of the Rocks was also read in the ‘War and Peace Symposium’ at the Dover Museum.

Our rationale for ‘Transit: Pulp and Rags’, was a partial cross-section of how our discussions and research grew across the year. We must point out the an ever-more-important aspect of this was the development and enriching of our creative dialoguing with artists Joanna Jones and Clare Smith. This had outcomes, not only in the choice of materials for the final events and the pivotal role which Jones’s paintings came to play in our thinking, but also in the tenor of our counterpoint with the town itself. We are profoundly grateful for the insight and enlightenment which they offered at every step-the work would simply not have been possible without them.

As a travelling musician, Peter was drawn to the transit of artists and performers through Dover, interrupted and released, in times of conflict and peace. This seemed to offer a poignant paradigm for the millions who have made landfall or embarked at this corner of Britain. He was struck by the idea of reaching, historically, from Southern to Northern Europe when reflecting upon these travellers. It seemed appropriate to choose the music of two mould-breaking virtuosi, from Italy and Norway, Paganini and Ole Bull, as exemplars, and to set a historical frame for the concert.

All three of us have spent time travelling and working in the Balkan Republics. Nigel and Peter have been particularly inspired by their work together in Kosovo, Croatia and Macedonia. Indeed, one of the excitements of being part of ‘War and Peace’ was the opportunity to bring some of the project-building which they have enjoyed with the British Council in the Balkans and round the Black Sea to the UK. This, coupled with the present-day Balkan diaspora (and its manifestation in Dover and the other Kent coastal towns) drew us to present the work of composers from our collaborations in Skopje and Pristina, Defina Zeqiri, and Mihailo Trandafilovski. Trandafilovski has also developed a rich communication with Joanna Jones’s painting, so this wove well into the project’s emerging fabric. His Diptych presented in counterpoint with Dominic de Vere‘s extraordinary film of Joanna Jones’s painting also mirrored the development of Malene and Nigel’s new works for the project.

Nigel and Malene worked for months to find quite how their colloquy, and their dialogues with Dover, would work. Both of them grew up in coastal towns-Nigel in Margate, and Malene in the Danish sea-port of Svenborg, so this was one of their jumping-off points. It became clear that the counterpoint of their ideas was one which would be best served by a diptych-like approach, a juxtaposition of poem and orchestral work, sharing the one title: ‘Dogger, Fisher, German Bight, Humber, Thames, Dover, Wight’. (This ‘diptych’ presentation was also mirrored by the central role of Trandafilovski’s eponymous work in the concert) Nigel then built a ‘sound-sculpture’ underlay, based on recordings made on Dover Beach, which framed and linked these two new works. This sound material was perhaps the most apparent outcome of the initial ‘elemental’ response in our work cited earlier.

The opportunity to work in the ‘Maison Dieu’ in Dover provided inspiration for the project, and a way to reach out to the unacknowledged architectural inspirations which the town has offered us. Time spent exploring and improvising in, for example, the ‘Grand Shaft’, the ‘Drop Redoubt’ and some of the medieval churches of this historical treasure chest offered sonic and spatial inspiration, but also threw down a daunting gauntlet, which it behoved us to pick up, that of history – linear, layered, circular, remembered, forgotten, and on-going; a rich palimpsest on which to write, however temporarily. The quite literal ‘stratification’ of the Maison Dieu, from Medieval hospital, to courthouse, outburst of 19th Century optimism, all the way through to its function today as a place of community celebration and commemoration, offered a ‘sound’ for the concert, even before a programme had been considered. Both Nigel and Malene worked just such a historical layering into their work, through both apparent and ‘buried’ historical musical and literary referencing.

It was important to us that the performers involved in the final event, should be part of the process, and if possible, reflect some of the cultural layering and ‘weave’, which we were seeking. The members of ‘Longbow’ which performed under Peter’s direction, are drawn from the UK, Canada, Japan, India, Kazakhstan, Australia, and Macedonia. Some weeks before the first formal rehearsal, we gathered them in London to workshop the new works, and to offer their ideas, and invaluable sonic apercus.

For all three of us ‘War and Peace’ has been a turning point in our artistic journeys. Plans are developing for further events flowering from the enrichment of working with Dover, and with DAD, and the new works will soon be available as commercial recordings. We are very grateful to the team at Dover Arts Development, and to Arts Council England, for the creative space which this project has given us.


Peter Sheppard Skӕrved – Violin

Nigel Clarke – Composer

Malene Skӕrved – Writer


Photos by Marius Sheppard Skӕrved

Related links on Peter Sheppard Skaerved’s website: