25 May 2015
I’m looking forward to working on Ensemble Thing‘s production of John De Simone’s Independence as Musical Director this summer. The performances will be part of the prestigious Made in Scotland Showcase at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, a curated programme of 21 productions encompassing theatre, dance and music. This is the second year Ensemble Thing has been part of the line-up having presented Replaceable Things — which featured music from myself and John — in 2014.
As the title of John’s work suggests, it was written amidst the debates leading up to last year’s independence referendum in Scotland and was premiered on the night before the vote. It was a privilege to work on one of the few (the only?) musical works to directly and artistically address issues surrounding the referendum. Despite the wealth of indyref-related discussion across Scotland, including several high-profile contributions from other artforms (including the National Theatre of Scotland’s The Great Don’t Know Show), the world of (broadly-defined) “classical” music generally stayed tight-lipped and unresponsive to the issue. Those composers who did speak out tended to do so through the press rather than through their work. John’s piece tackled the issue head-on.
Now, whilst preparing for these new performances of Independence away from the excitement of the referendum, I am struck by just how unpolitical the work is. The first performances were very much of a moment but the strength of John’s work lies in its questioning of personal and cultural identity rather than in the tub-thumping of a political cause. Yes, the work is political (isn’t everything?), but it’s not polemical. Instead, John uses autobiography to explore how we construct our own identity. In spoken-word interludes between movements, John considers how his upbringing and family history has helped create his identity: he’s a Scottish-Italian who was born and raised in England, his grandfather was instrumental in the founding of the Scottish National Party and John considers himself Scottish despite speaking with a broad English accent. Musically, the piece includes elements of Scottish trad music (some of it composed by John’s forebears) tinged with a post-minimalism picked-up during years spent in the Netherlands. Can one really speak of possessing a true national identity when one’s influences, outlooks and personal history are so… international?
Ensemble Thing perform John De Simone’s Independence at Summerhall on 18th, 20th, 22nd and 23rd August 2015 at 11:20am. Tickets (£10/£8) are available here.