Emmy award-winning composer Michael Price has released Tender Symmetry, an ambitious musical project that takes in a series of National Trust locations across England as its inspiration, turning them into unlikely recording spaces.
Michael and a host of musicians and collaborators travelled across the country in pursuit of places far removed from the traditional recording studio to create seven unique and moving pieces, straddling the past and the future.
His location choices range from the ruins of Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire to the Fan Bay World War II shelter, in the chalk cliffs of Dover. All owned by the National Trust except for one, each venue became both the inspiration and the recording studio for Michael Price and his accompaniment of renowned musical ensembles, choirs and soloists.
‘For Tender Symmetry, I stopped admiring and started participating in these buildings. This began as an exploration of writing and recording out in the world beyond the studio. I am interested in where we build our homes in an increasingly virtual world and the spirit of place we feel as we walk our local streets, our schools, temples and public spaces.
‘Taking inspiration from a place, and the stories it told, then going back to that place to record, sometimes in less than ideal conditions, made the two-year adventure much more like shooting a film than making a record.’
Acoustics varied wildly as the artists moved from places designed with sound in mind to locations which demanded the use of miners’ helmets for light and battery-powered sound gear.
Released through Erased Tapes, and produced by Michael Price and Erased Tapes’ founder Robert Raths, the final recordings carry the genuinely unique sonic blueprints and spirit of each place – from the birdsong in the courtyard at Speke Hall to the steam-driven cotton mill accompaniment at Quarry Bank.
Michael explains, ‘When we recorded the piece at Fan Bay in the World War II shelter deep inside the chalk cliffs of Dover, Peter Gregson’s cello wasn’t at all happy with the clammy, dank conditions, but to be in the tunnels where young soldiers spent months on end, constantly on alert for incoming bombers, gave the recording an extraordinarily intimate, moving quality.’
‘At each site, the human mixed with the historical, and the natural environment of each space comes through with each piece. I tried to leave an imprint of each location on the record’, Michael continues.
While each piece of music is named after the location in which it was created, William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience courses through them as well.
Soprano Grace Davidson sings Blake’s poignant words about Nature, religion and the industrial revolution on several of the pieces including the astoundingly beautiful album closer ‘Shade Of Dreams’, written after the birth of Michael’s daughter.
Alongside soprano Grace Davidson and Shards choir, other performers include virtuoso cellist Peter Gregson, new music experimentalists Immix Ensemble and Manchester Collective.
Grace Davies, National Trust contemporary arts programme manager said, ‘The sheer variety of sites that Michael has chosen has resulted in a collection of new music that is sometimes surprising, sometimes poignant, and – above all – inspirational. I am sure that audiences will be enchanted both by Michael’s music and our places that have inspired him.’
The locations for Tender Symmetry are:
Speke Hall, Liverpool, Merseyside
A Tudor manor house on the banks of the Mersey, restored in the 19th century, so combining both Tudor and Arts and Crafts features.
Quarry Bank, Cheshire
A great industrial heritage site, containing an 18th century working mill and the homes of a complete working community.
Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire
The largest monastic ruins in the country, founded in 1132 by 13 Benedictine monks from St Mary’s in York.
2 Willow Road, London
An innovative and influential Modernist home, designed in 1939 by architect Ernö Goldfinger for himself and his family.
Sandham Memorial Chapel, Hampshire
World-famous chapel which houses an epic series of large-scale paintings, by acclaimed war artist Sir Stanley Spencer.
Fan Bay Deep Shelter, Kent
A tunnel complex constructed inside the White Cliffs of Dover in 1940/41 as accommodation for the gun battery above.
All Hallows, Gospel Oak
The only location not owned by the National Trust, where Shade Of Dreams was recorded.
Tender Symmetry is out on LP/CD/DL and available worldwide. A National Trust podcast to accompany the release of Tender Symmetry can be downloaded on Apple and Google podcasts or on Spotify.
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