Can this be the best British opera in years? (Anne Ozorio, Opera Today, 09.04.2014)
Three years ago, in June 2013 we conducted a video interview with Bedford about his then upcoming opera. Intrigued by the composer’s words, we documented the work’s process of creation, providing readers with regular updates regarding the development of Trough His Teeth, ranging from the composing of the score and the writing of David Harrower’s libretto to the actual printing of the score and its production.
As taut as a thriller and with a sparse, creepy score that fitted the story like a glove, Through His Teeth was acclaimed as one of the 21st century’s most gripping new chamber operas. Bedford isn’t yet “the next Benjamin Britten”, but if he produces a few more works of that quality, he could be. (Richard Morrison)
Congratulations to Luke Bedford for having been nominated for The Times Breakthrough Award.
Find out more on The Times.
Over the course of the production of Through His Teeth, we ran an accompanying blog:
Find out more about Luke Bedford.
Luke Bedford on stages of composing:
Luke Bedford: Falling Falling
for clarinet, horn, violin and violoncello | 4'
world prem. 14.12.2014, Kings Arms, Berkhamsted; CHROMA
Bedford’s shortlisted single-movement work Renewal was premièred on 22 May at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Sian Edwards conducted the London Sinfonietta.
The composer on Renewal:
“Renewal is about creating something new from the rubble of each previous section. The piece is a celebration of renewal and regrowth, written in the full knowledge of its impermanence.”
Fennessy’s Hauptstimme for amplified solo viola and ensemble was first performed in Huddersfield by violist Garth Knox and the Red Note Ensemble (cond. Garry Walker).
“Composed by Luke Bedford, it will surely be produced by other opera companies in the future as it contributes both to what opera is and to the enduring moral tangle of Faust.”
Read the first review of Luke Bedford’s chamber opera Through His Teeth, which premièred yesterday at the Linbury Studio Theatre / Royal Opera House, on The Upcoming.
John Fulljames, Associate Director of Opera for the Royal Opera House, introduces the ROH’s A Faustian Pack programme. Watch John Fulljames and sound artist Matthew Herbert talk about the project and view rehearsal photos from Luke Bedford’s upcoming opera Through His Teeth:
Ruth Padel recently joined the rehearsals for Bedford’s Through His Teeth, which she describes as a “Faust without the supernatural. The evil is all human. But there’s lots of it: demonic sex, demonic fraud, demonic psychological abuse.”
Read the full text on Ruth Padel’s blog.
Find out more about Through His Teeth on our dedicated blog.
Here is a collection of our interviews with composer Luke Bedford. Bedford talks about Through His Teeth, his stages of composing, the use of quartertones in his music, working with playwright David Harrower and gives insight into two scenes of his upcoming opera:
In February and August of 2013, theatre director Bijan Sheibani, playwright David Harrower and composer Luke Bedford had two workshops at the ROH, in which they were working on the libretto with actors.
Luke Bedford on the workshops:
It might seem strange to have an opera workshop where there are no singers or musicians present, but from the beginning of this project I was clear that getting the text right was crucial before I started writing any notes. Therefore the workshops we had on the piece involved a few days working with actors and trying out various ways of telling the story.
The first idea was to set it all in one flat, where R had two women installed/imprisoned. David had written a few scenes exploring this idea, hints of which you can see in the final version of the text. And while this scenario certainly had intensity, it soon became clear that clamping the story into just one location was too restrictive. Especially when R had forbidden the women to speak to each other. This kind of idea has been touched upon in opera before, but we felt it wasn’t right for the piece that we wanted to make. Also, seeing the actors on the stage told us the mood was simply too dark: too monochrome. So David and I went away and thought about how to take the elements we liked from the workshop but find a better structure for them. After some work, we ended up the framework of the final piece: to focus on just one woman’s story and have a series of snapshots of A and R’s (and her sister’s) relationship, intercut with A being interviewed after the events.
The second workshop was on something close to the final draft of the text. Hearing how the actors read the lines was really useful to me – partly as they confirmed many of my own ideas where the key dramatic moments are, as well as the pacing of the work. And sometimes they would read a line or two very differently to how I’d imagined it – and this was also useful, even if I rejected ‘their’ way in the end. In fact, this has haphazardly evolved into a technique that I now use when working with text. I try and imagine the opposite of how I’ve set some lines, to see whether it works better than my first draft. Often it doesn’t, but just now and then it throws up something wonderfully unexpected – and it ends up in the final piece. One example of this is in scene 12, when R appears at A’s flat and pressures her to leave with him. My first idea was to have very dramatic, crashy, wild music. But then I stepped back and tried to imagine the scene with almost nothing happening and I knew straight away that this was stronger. In the ensemble, there are just six pitched, extremely high notes from the violin, and underneath the whole scene is the distant, otherworldly sound of a thunder tube.
Find out more about Through His Teeth.
In the 13th installment of our blog about Luke Bedford's new opera, Through His Teeth, he tells us about the latest scene.
“The scene I’m currently working on, scene 13, is kind of a bit like a showdown, although I don’t really want to use that word. But it is the sort of point where the various plots come together.
The scene is about five or six minutes long. It actually has a bass drum, which starts very slowly, but is almost imperceptibly getting faster over the course of about five minutes.
So at the beginning it’s only playing every couple of seconds, it’s just this very distant sort of thud. And as the scene builds up, you might become gradually aware of this kind of undercurrent, there’s something pulling you, as you move towards the key moment at the end of the scene. And I like this idea. A lot of the scene is very quiet, there are long pauses between what is said.
The text is actually quite short, it’s barely a side of A4. And this is something that is quite interesting about the pacing of things: sometimes you need gaps there, so that the music can spell out the tension in a scene.”
Luke Bedford talks about scenes one and two of his new opera Through His Teeth.
Part 9 of our continuing blog about the composition of Luke Bedford's opera Through His Teeth.
Did you start with scene 1 and work your way towards the last scene? How did you start writing?
I haven’t written the piece in chronological order at all, I didn’t start with scene 1 and finish with scene 10. I started at scene 9 I think, then I went to scene 2, then scene 1, and, having set those almost sort of boundaries of the piece, I then started kind of connecting the ones in the middle.
Also I kind of focused on what seemed to me the more important scenes. Obviously every scene is important in its own way, but some scenes are bigger sort of structural moments, or simply just longer. And I wanted to get some of those bigger ones out of the way earlier in the piece, so that if things became tight, at the end of the writing process, I wouldn’t be working on the very key moments, they’d already be done – so that was almost like my insurance policy.
Could you give us examples of such scenes?
One of the crucial scenes is obviously the first time A and R meet, as that scene establishes their relationship. Then there’s a scene in a restaurant where it looks like A is going to leave him, and you have to see his ingenuity, he has to come up with some reason why she can’t, and he has to do it very quickly. And he tells a huge lie basically, an almost unbelievable lie. But he does it in such a way, that if she doubted him, she would think “Well, this guy must be mad, why would he say this to me?” So she is in a way forced to believe him.
For the last few years, I’ve been working quite often with quartertones, and the most effective way I find of just practically hearing these notes is by having a second keyboard, so that one keyboard is tuned a quartertone below the other one. With a single keyboard you could obviously imagine what the quartertone would sound like, but I prefer to actually hear the physical sounds.
I got my second keyboard about a year ago. Up until that point I’d actually used a guitar and a banjo, tuning those down a quartertone – it was ok, but it wasn’t very effective.
You can of course use computers as well, but I don’t like doing this sort of creative composing on the computer. I feel that especially with most notation software it’s limiting, you end up writing more what works on the computer than actually what works on the instruments or on the voices.
So I thought it was important to get this second keyboard if I wanted to explore different tunings and different quartertones – I suppose if I worked on eighth tones or third tones I’d just have to keep getting more and more of them. But I think that at the moment quartertones are enough.
Find out more about Through His Teeth.