Monday 26 September 2022
Our House is on Fire
(From the words of Greta Thunberg)
Vale of Glamorgan Festival commission, by Helen Woods
“In conversation with Helen Woods” hosted by Steph Power
Our House is on Fire (From the words of Greta Thunberg)
World Premiere / Festival Commission
Soprano: Jennifer Walker
Piano: Stephen Wood
There will be no interval at this performance.
Helen Woods is a composer, music animateur, musical director and performer. She has composed four full-length musicals, several song cycles and over a hundred children’s songs and composes the music for the Tiddly Prom, which she has performed with storyteller Richard Berry since its creation in 2004.
In 2013 Helen received an Arts Council Award to develop her compositional practice and explore themes around heritage and identity. This culminated in a suite of pieces called Through Time.
For WNO, Helen was commissioned to compose A Real Princess – an opera for 4 – 5- year-olds – and premiered Rumpelstiltskin – an online Opera for schools – with Opera Boots and Arts Active in summer 2021. For Operasonic, Helen has been involved in many projects including The Lullaby Project, receiving her training at Carnegie Hall, New York.
Helen is a specialist in music for under-fives but is experienced in working on a huge variety of music projects and productions with all ages including working as an associate musician with English National Ballet and National Dance Company Wales on their Dance for Parkinson’s programme and commissions and schools work for the Vale of Glamorgan Music festival.
Our House is on Fire
Our House is on Fire by Helen Woods with words by Greta Thunberg was intended to be created for and performed by the Hermes Experiment at a school’s lunchtime concert at St David’s Hall in May 2020.
For the festival in 2022 the instrumentation has altered, now Soprano and piano, but many of the original sketches have been retained focusing on the soprano voice to both represent the important message that Greta’s words speak but also with a small nod to her opera singer mother.
This solo voice is accompanied by piano, serving as a mood setter but also to represent different forms of communication such as a bugle call as in the opening piano theme that feature in the first, third and final fifth movement, as an alarm in the second movement and as a bell in the third.
Through the five movements of the piece, focusing on different extracts from Greta Thunberg’s book “No one is too small to make a difference”, each movement decreases in length. From 7 mins, to 4 mins, 3 mins 20s to 2 mins 30 and the final at just over a minute. A musical countdown to portray the urgency to act now, stop emissions and take the climate crisis seriously. The overall time signature of each Movement also decreases, the first mainly in 5, the second and third in 4, the fourth in 3 time and the final a march in 2 serving as a protest song with a call and response relationship between soprano and piano.
Helen Woods has had a long term interest in the power of protest through songs, researching the songs of the suffragettes, peace songs and had intended at the original concert for the final protest song of the fifth movement be taught to and sung by the children of the audience. The piano and soprano enjoy a call and response section in the final movement to represent this idea but during the autumn 2022 tour of the piece, to schools in the Vale of Glamorgan area, the children will be taught this song for a more inclusive finale to the piece.
Jennifer has made her solo debut at many of the UK’s leading concert venues and has recorded several solos for BBC Radio 3, including First Lady in Die Zauberflöte, Britten’s Hymn to St Cecilia and most recently his A.M.D.G.
Operatic credits include the title role in the world premiere of Brian Irvine’s The Tailor’s Daughter for WNO Youth Opera, the title role in Cendrillon at RWCMD, Denise in Messager’s Véronique for Buxton Festival Opera and Cousin in Madama Butterfly for Grange Park Opera.
Stephen Wood is Assistant Head of Music for Welsh National Opera and has been a full-time member of the Music Staff there since 2008. Prior to this, he gained a Postgraduate Diploma in repetiteur studies at the Royal Academy of Music, studying with Anthony Legge and Audrey Hyland. As an undergraduate, Stephen read Music at Oxford University and was Organ Scholar of Exeter College. Alongside his work as a pianist and organist, Stephen has conducted Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro for Welsh National Opera.
We are extremely grateful to our partner, Arts Active, for their financial support and collaboration on this project, enabling us to take workshops of this work to 13 Schools around Cardiff and The Vale of Glamorgan.
For more information about this, and them many other brilliant projects run by Arts Active, visit their website.