Mining history as Miners' Hymns announces Durham performances and Barbican premiere

By Culture24 Reporter | 07 January 2014

Miners' Hymns, the cinematic, orchestral take on coalfields, returns for three live shows in March 2014

A photo of an orchestra performing against a screen inside a darkened cathedral
Miners' Hymns premiered as part of the Durham International Festival in 2010© Colin Davison (2010), courtesy Forma
Premiering at the Barbican and appearing at the Sage Gateshead as part of this year’s AV Festival in the north-east, The Miners’ Hymns – a lyrical portrait of the industrial past, combining brass music traditions, rarely-seen archive footage and aerial views of the contrasting look of the sites decades later – will return for three performances in its spiritual homelands and London this March.

“It was initially a concert with a film,” says David Metcalfe, the Artistic Director of Forma, the group who initially commissioned the work in 2010.

“Part of the brief was to think about using archival film footage. Bill Morrison is a really amazing artist who’s worked a lot with archive film.

“I’d also been a fan of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s music for a long time, so I had the idea to bring the two of them together.

“It premiered at Durham Cathedral as part of the brass festival itself, which is built out of the Durham Miners’ Gala, which still exists.”

Having most recently embarked on a seven-month tour of cinemas, museums and community spaces, this live tour will also visit Easington, the former mining town whose colliery was the last to close when work halted in 1993, for a performance in a social welfare centre backed by the Beamish Museum.

Although Metcalfe feels Jóhannsson (from Iceland) and Morrison (an American) offer an important level of artistic distance within two different international perspectives, he is also aware of the deep local resonance on the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the Miners’ Strike.

“I think if you grew up in that part of the world, that history is never far from the surface, actually,” he says.

“The audience was amazing for the premiere.

“There’s this beautiful end sequence of the banners coming into Durham Cathedral.

“There was this beautiful moment where the banners came into where we were watching the film.

“It was incredibly moving. Somehow the work transcended all the different audience segments and became something that spoke to all of them with a lot of integrity, I think.”

Jóhannsson’s score unites the Iskra String Quartet with an 18-piece brass ensemble including members of the Durham-based Riverside Band. In Gateshead, the Hymns will be followed by a discussion between Morrison and Simon Popple, an expert in film and visual arts at the University of Leeds.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A black and white photo of groups of people walking under banners in an industrial town
The Big Meeting (1963)© BFI
A black and white photo of people and a dog sliding down the hill of a colliery
Durham, The Changing Face (1978)© BFI
A black and white photo of a congregation standing under banners inside a cathedral
Gala Day (1963)© BFI
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