The Soldier at Segura

 

 

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On Wednesday May 16th, my animation of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale will be screened at the Música en Segura festival in Andalusia, in a spanking new version I’ve edited in association with festival director Daniel Broncano.

Telling Tales: the narrative imperative

Above: detail from Flight

Mixed media on board. 2013

Originally I’d intended to title my forthcoming exhibition at Oriel Tegfryn, Two Tales, because I was planning to concentrate on producing works on the themes of The Mare’s Tale and The Soldier’s Tale, the two music projects that preoccupied me for most of last year. However, other ‘narrative’ subjects that have long inspired me, including Kevin and the Blackbird and Hervé and the Wolf, will also be evident among the new works for the exhibition, and so I’ve changed the title to Telling Tales. It seems an apt choice, given that even when producing genre work, such as still-life or landscape, story-telling is the imperative that drives me.

Going Home

Mixed Media on Paper. 2014

Going Home is just one of a whole series of works on paper I’ve made based on Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale. For the presentation of TST by Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra at the 2013 Hay Festival, I produced an animated film that was screened above the musicians and narrator. For Telling Tales I’m further exploring the story. The underlying themes that Stravinsky and his librettist Ramuz spun with such artistry into their work… love, yearning, an unwitting Faustian pact and a terrible betrayal… are so universal as to be wonderfully suited to the visual expression of them.

the tale told twice

Looking back it seems extraordinary that I made two versions of The Soldier’s Tale in eighteen months. The first for the Prince William Symphony Players and their performance in Washington DC, and the second for the Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra at the 2013 Hay Festival.

The two versions had certain cross-over elements, but as the second one developed, it became significantly more elaborate in ambition and different in tone to the first. Here are pairs of images. In each case the first image is from the Washington presentation, and the second from the one made for the Hay Festival.

Joseph and the Princess

 …

Joseph and his violin

The Devil as a Pedlar Woman

The Devil as a Butterfly-catcher

Joseph plays the violin

The Devil’s coach and horses

For the Washington performance I sent the images electronically to be edited into a presentation by the producer. I wasn’t present for the event, though my friend Anita Mills very kindly travelled to Washington to see it for me.

Below: There were no backgrounds for the Washington version, a deficit I made good for the Hay presentation.

For the Hay performance I worked with the film-maker and cameraman Pete Telfer, and the conductor of Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra, James Slater, to create a much more elaborate presentation of sequential images and animations. I was present at the performance to cue it from the score.

Click HERE to read a review of the Hay Festival performance.

Right now I’m making paintings based on the second version, for my exhibition at Oriel Tegfryn, Menai Bridge, later this year.

genesis of a performance

So… the work is all done. The maquettes and artworks have been made and photographed, and the results assembled by Pete Telfer into a 28 minute film to accompany the Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra performance of The Soldier’s Tale at the Hay Festival on the 28th of this month.

It was last year that conductor David Montgomery in the United States contacted me asking permission to use three monoprint images I’d made, inspired by The Soldier’s Tale, to accompany a concert of the piece he was due to present in Washington DC.

Above: the Princess in a monograph print of 2003

Above: the Princess and Joseph in a monograph print of 2003

I agreed, and in his e-mailed reply David wondered whether I might have time to make a few coloured images to go with the prints. I thought briefly about the idea, and suggested to him I make a couple of maquettes of the characters and photograph them in different positions. Of course I got carried away, and I sent far more images than any of us had imagined would be possible in the time. The presentation wasn’t animated, but an illusion of movement was created by simple montages of sequential images. The palette too was kept simple, because of time constraints, with each character allocated a single colour. The colours were carefully chosen to work when the maquettes appeared together in images, as with the Princess and Joseph.

Above: the Princess in the 2012 Washington DC presentation of The Soldier’s Tale.

Above: Joseph in the 2012 Washington presentation of The Soldier’s Tale.

Below: the Princess and Joseph.

I wasn’t able to be at the Washington concert, but my friend Anita Mills attended and reported back to me. By her account the projected images were cued manually by David Montgomery from a button rigged at his podium. I can’t quite imagine how one man conducted the ensemble, cued the narrator and simultaneously managed the visuals, but that was the way it was done. Over the following days there was brief discussion of further ways to make use of the images, and even the suggestion by David of another project using the same technique. However nothing came of any of it. Some weeks later I was approached for permission to use one of my images as a poster design for a performance of The Soldier’s Tale at the Sunderman Conservatory of Music, conducted by Avner Dorman.

Making the images for the Washington concert had been a significant undertaking, and so when I showed them to the artistic director of the Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra, James Slater, he suggested we re-use them for a MWCO performance of The Soldier’s Tale. In time that idea developed to the point where I felt it was important to re-think my original images. I began anew, and Pete Telfer was brought on board as cameraman and editor. The idea of articulated maquettes to portray the characters remained, but in addition to sequences in which the puppets were posed and photographed, there would be simple animations.

Above: a new Joseph created for the Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra…

… and a new Princess.

The finished visual presentation is twenty-eight minutes long, about half the length of the performed piece, and contains montage sequences interspersed with animations.

Above: horse maquettes prepared for the animated sequence of Joseph’s ride in the Devil’s coach.

The most significant development during the process of bringing Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale into this new incarnation, has been the MWCO commission of a new chamber-work from composer Mark Bowden and librettist Damian Walford Davies to accompany it in what will one day be a double-bill. The inspiration for The Mare’s Tale draws on my series of large Mari Lwyd drawings made in 1999. Rehearsals for the first performance of it begin in August. James will conduct and I am both designing and directing. While The Soldier’s Tale conjures a world rooted in the colourful traditions of Russian book illustration, The Mare’s Tale is a dark and haunted Welsh tale with a visual style to match. When performed together the two works should make for an interesting contrast.

the princess prepares to dance

Pre-production has started in earnest on the Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra presentation of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale at this years Hay Festival, which is to be narrated by Lisa Dwan. Having decided relatively late in the day not so much to refresh the version I did in Washington DC as re-design it, I’ve put myself under quite a lot of pressure. Added to which artistic director at MWCO, James Slater, has requested an elaborate sequence of images and animation for the moment when the Princess wakes from her long sleep and dances. Today I completed the maquette of the redesigned Princess, including replacement parts so that I can change her facial expressions and the directions of her body and feet, investing the maquette with enough versatility for what will be required of her. So, the adventure begins.

Below: preparatory work for the Princess.

She’s a little whacky. I’ve given her the look of someone who’s unwisely fooled around with substances that have tipped her into an unnaturally extended nap. Her pupils are dilated and her maquillage is stale, and without even getting properly washed and dressed she throws herself manically into Stravinsky’s music of the Jazz Age, a demented flapper high on booze and drugs, burning brightly and no doubt briefly. In pannier cages, basque and bloomers she hasn’t noticed… or doesn’t care about… her state of deshabille. Lesley, who visits these pages and leaves comments, has said in an earlier post that she looks like a girl who’s hit the absinthe big time! Whatever her back-story, the musical clues suggest the Princess is not reliable, and so it proves to be, because it’s she who encourages Joseph to return to his village, thus breaking the stipulation laid down by the Devil that he can’t cross the borders of the kingdom without sacrificing his soul!

You can read more about my thoughts on the development of this character in a long reply to Marly Youmans in the comments boxes below.

back at the drawing board with stravinsky and ramuz

Getting my hand in here re a revamp of images I made originally for a concert of The Soldier’s Tale in Washington DC last Spring. Conductor James Slater and I have new ideas for the Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra performance at this years Hay Festival of Literature, and come April it’ll be all stops out as I race to complete the revisions and additions ready for May 28th. My copy of the Ramuz libretto is full of pencilled notes for new maquettes, together with places where we can place more emphasis on the geographical settings. But right now I’m re-familiarising myself with the characters, filling a little spiral-bound workbook with fast sketches.