INTERVIEW / PREVIEW: Robert Mitchell / Invocation (Bournemouth Sep 26 / London Nov 23)

Robert Mitchell. Photo Credit: Steinway/Alvise Guadagnino

We interviewed Robert Mitchell about his new work "Invocation", which will have its world premiere in Bournemouth on 26th September, and will also be performed on the last day of the EFG London Jazz Festival, November 23rd:

LondonJazz News: What are the origins of the project?

Robert Mitchell: I wanted to create the best Thank You that I could for some very inspirational teachers of mine, who are no longer around. It began with an extended piece for my band Panacea (vocalist Deborah Jordan, bassist Tom Mason, and drummer Laurie Lowe). I love the challenge of performing music with a longer arc of narrative than usual for this 14 year-old band!

This had expanded over time to become six parts, with each honouring a different aspect of what an inspirational teacher can bring, who they could be, and a wish for the future of education to become more like these magical teachers in general. Thus it is also a thank you to all teachers - as we are still not as appreciative of them as a society as we should be.

LJN: Why did you choose to write for a choir?

RM: It chose me! I had done a project last year with Panacea at Southampton University. After initial conversations - I had been alerted to the fact that they had a big influx of singing students. I thought this would be a good area to explore, challenge myself, create new music, and expand and build upon the foundations of Invocation. Those 16 students did a fantastic job after just a few rehearsals. Deborah Jordan (our vocalist) - had rejoined the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus (after being a member in her teens). She had passed our last CD (The Cusp) on to them and got a great response from their brilliant Chorus Master - Gavin Carr. She also managed to get their amazing secretary - Carolyn Date MBE - to come to our culminating gig of the project in Southampton at Turner Sims Hall. She really enjoyed it - and saw the potential of working with Panacea and this music. An agreement to plan for the BSC performing this music together with Panacea came into being a while later. I am still pinching myself now!

LJN: And you've enjoyed doing it?

RM: I have enjoyed composing this project immensely. It was easy to be inspired given the original impetus, let alone the fantastic combined potential of all the personnel once it had reached the scale of involving a chorus of 100+ voices. I always enjoy songwriting, and the majority had been sung only by Deborah. So this (ongoing) rehearsal process has been superb to be a part of. I would like to create more on this scale, and the BSC are a brilliant Grammy award-winning ensemble, who also have a hunger for a wide ranging repertoire. They have been in existence for over a century, and I am forever grateful to be able to do this with them.

LJN: This is a complete contrast from your last project/release The Glimpse which consists of piano music for left hand only....

I love contrasts - but Invocation was not originally dreamt of on this scale. Yes, it is an extreme contrast to my last solo album (!), but i love that fact. The difference in composing approach was through firstly looking to think in a choral way. To hear as much as I could, and become minutely concerned with forces larger than anything I had written for beforehand. Although I have had dreams of doing something on this scale - to suddenly be presented with the possibility took a while to adjust to! The music then took many weeks before I was pleased and then excited. It has been revised ever since.

LJN: Has the work any religious elements as the premiere is in a church? Will the same people be involved in the premiere in London?

RM: The music has spiritual components, as we are dealing with the guided transformation of people who come into contact with powerfully positive information, encouragement and support. But it is not religious in any one particular way, and we did not specifically chase the possibility of premiering in a church. This was one of several beautiful possible options in Bournemouth, and it is a fantastic honour to be able to present Invocation at St Peter's ('s_Church,_Bournemouth) . The same people will be involved in London - with additions! So in total we have - the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus, my band Panacea, some brilliant students from Avonbourne and Harewood Colleges, and in London we add the unique Goldsmith's (Big) String ensemble, and a legendary lynchpin of South African/UK culture percussionist/narrator Eugene Skeef.

LJN: Please talk about the music itself. Is it jazz, classical? Will there be improvisation?

RM: There are elements of all the above. I wanted to present something with a more orchestral ambition even before it got to the choral stages. The first movement is a multi faceted five section piece - moving from slowly presented choral theme to meditative introduction of lyrics (a feature for some wonderful students from Avonbourne and Harewood Colleges). Then seamlessly to free improvisation, a more driving melody and basis for an improvisation for piano, an energetic choral summation based on the harmonies of the earlier lyrical part (in reverse), a drum solo/cadenza and a restatement of the original theme. You will have to come to the shows to hear the rest ! So yes we have a good amount of notated, and improvised material.

LJN: What’s next after the premieres? More choral work? Touring?

RM: We hope (and are keen) to do more with the fantastic Bournemouth Symphony Chorus. A very exciting tour is being planned for Invocation and Panacea. This will involve working with different choral groups who will each work towards a performance of this music in each location. I would love to hear from any choral groups who would like to be involved. It is a challenge - but from the moment the BSC sight read the second part of Invocation - our minds have stayed blown!

I really look forward to performing Invocation at the great young Arts By The Sea Festival in Bournemouth, and at the London Jazz Festival. We hope you can be there!

Invocation dates: 

26th September - St Peter's Church 7.30pm, Arts By the Sea Festival, Bournemouth 
23rd November - Queen Elizabeth Hall 2pm, EFG London Jazz Festival

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