Cornish composer Russell Pascoe's world first at Truro Cathedral
A WORLD first by a Cornish composer will be premiered at Truro Cathedral later next week.
Russell Pascoe has composed the first secular Requiem, with a libretto assembled by Anthony Pinching, devoid of any religious content.
The ground-breaking choral work is to be given its premiere performance by Three Spires Singers and Orchestra, together with world-renowned mezzo-soprano Catherine Wyn-Rogers, baritone Stephen Roberts and soprano Sarah Fox on Saturday, March 23, at 7.30pm.
Russell told me: "This is something I have wanted to do for 20 years. Some people derided the idea of a secular requiem, but the word 'requiem' only means rest.
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"In an increasingly secular world people who don't have a faith need music as a comfort and a release."
Russell is known to hundreds of pupils past and present as the inspirational and uniquely maverick head of music at Truro's Richard Lander School, a position he has held for 31 years.
Throughout that time he has been a prolific composer of everything from choral music to orchestral and opera.
His Pader an Arleth, a setting of the Lord's Prayer sung in Cornish, is regularly heard and much loved.
The Church has a traditional form of Latin words for a Requiem Mass, dating back 500 years, which forms the basis of some of the greatest choral works ever written, including the famous requiems of Mozart, Fauré and Verdi.
Russell Pascoe's Requiem, while not using any biblical texts, is an honest and searching attempt to deal with contemporary responses to loss, through a mix of poems.
The libretto has been assembled by Anthony Pinching, former professor of clinical immunology at the Peninsula College of Medicine, and includes texts by several poets including John Donne, Wilfred Owen, Thomas Hardy and Walt Whitman. Russell added: "There were certain poems I wanted to use but had no idea how to set them within the music. Fortunately I was introduced to Anthony, who suggested other poems and a strong masterwork of the five stages of grief was created. It all ends triumphantly with a poem written by Anthony about the cycle of the seasons.
"It won't alienate anybody, be they Christian, Muslim or Buddhist."
Russell hopes that the piece – which took six months to compose and longer to select the right poems – will be performed in London.
"It's a very accessible piece compared to my earlier work, which was quite avant garde. As I've grown older I've become more mainstream. I started off very Britten-esque but no one says that about me anymore. Anthony says the Requiem is 'classic Pascoe'."
Helston "boy" Russell, who praises the cathedral's director of music Christopher Gray for championing his works over the years, added: "People who have been learning the work have said how refreshing it is to sing about how they feel rather than the usual religious text.
"It's great to sing the classics of our civilisation like Bach and Mendelssohn, but it's good there's now a piece that speaks to those that don't have a faith. It's actually quite brave of the cathedral to stage this."
For tickets (£21, £18 and £16) to the premiere, which also includes performances of Strauss's Four Last Songs and Verdi's Te Deum, see www.hallforcornwall.org or contact 01872 262466.