Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation

Instrumentation SMTB soloists; SATB choir; SSAA children’s choir; 2(2nd db. picc)/2(2 dbl. E hn)/2(2 dbl. bass cl)/2; 4/2/3/1; timp + 2 perc; harp; orchestral strings
Percussion requirements (1) vib, chimes, 4 tomtoms, snare dr, sm. tamtam, cake pans, whip, woodblocks; (2) mba, glock, bass dr, snare dr, tambourine, lg. tamtam, sizzle cymbal, anvil, 2 brake dr, bell tree, jingle bells

Timing 60′ in nine movements

Composed 2012

Texts by Suzanne Steele, based on her writings and experiences

Commissioned by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra in partnership with One Yellow Rabbit, with the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts, and residency assistance from the Banff Centre for the Arts

World Premiere November 10, 2012, Jack Singer Concert Hall, Calgary, Alberta. Zorana Sadiq, soprano; Rebecca Hass, mezzo-soprano; Benjamin Butterfield, tenor; Tyler Duncan, baritone; Calgary Philhamonic Chorus; Cantaré Children’s Choir; Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra; Roberto Minczuk, conductor

Related Works
Two Days for SSATB choir and piano (from the Offertorium movement)
…sempiternam for double SATB choir a cappella (from the Agnus Dei movement)
He’s Come Home Again for high voice and piano (from the Sanctus movement)
Lux for SSA youth choir, woodblock and piano (from the Lux Aeterna movement)

Programme Notes

Most of us, certainly those of us in North America, experience war from a safe distance, through what we see on television and read in the media, while the reality of war happens far away. Poet Suzanne Steele, however, gained a unique firsthand perspective on war. As Canada’s first War Poet, Steele joined the 1st Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in 2009 during the war in Afghanistan, documenting her experiences in her poetry and at warpoet.ca. She saw the fear, the belief, and the sacrifice. She met people who did not come home alive. She met people who did come home, but broken, to a life shattered by post-traumatic stress disorder. She met their families, mourning, powerless. Her writings and experiences–stories we do not see on television or read in the media–provide the foundation for this hour-long concert work by Canadian composer Jeffrey Ryan.

Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation is scored for four soloists, adult and children’s choruses, and orchestra. There is a centuries-long tradition of setting the Catholic Mass and Requiem texts to music, which over time expanded from a purely liturgical context to the concert hall. Though a listener familiar with the Requiems of Mozart, Verdi, and Fauré will recognise the titles and overall shape of its nine movements, Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation uses very little of the traditional Latin text, in excerpts chosen to highlight Steele’s powerful and vivid contemporary poetry in English, French, and the Afghan language Pashto.

Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation opens with an evocation of the space and calm of the North, and a prayer for healing lifted up to the starry night sky of the winter solstice. It quickly comes back to earth, and to Afghanistan, with the fractured memories of a soldier suffering from PTSD, living in the present but tortured by the past, the sound of helicopters ringing in his ears. As the work unfolds, a young soldier writes home during a cold Afghan night, the voices of parents and children echoing in his mind. In the Day of Wrath, apprehension turns to catastrophe seen first in slow motion, gradually speeding up to real time as a soldier, critically injured by an Improvised Explosive Device, is airlifted to emergency care. A lover mourns. A soldier is killed two days before the tour of duty ends. A body returns home. Two soldiers tell their story of a lamb. Children play, voices of light evoking a flock of birds flying freely overhead. A medic is overwhelmed by mounting casualties. A soldier seeks to be made whole again. In the final movement, the choir looks to an unknown future as the soloists remember past sacrifices, all coming together in a closing appeal for rest and peace.

Almost every generation has its war (or wars) that it carries as a scar forever. For Steele, this work is “a love letter. Not just to one person…but to each of us, to our country, and to a generation that will be paying for this war emotionally or financially (looking after the injured and next of kin) for another generation.” Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation marks one particular war for one particular generation, but its message is universal and timeless.

Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation was commissioned by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra in partnership with One Yellow Rabbit, with the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts, and residency assistance from the Banff Centre for the Arts.

Reviews

…emotionally powerful…

The mood of the work swings broadly from the meditative to the dramatic, and even to the operatic. Steele’s words were often beautiful to hear, ranging from the sublime to the disturbing…In turn, Ryan breathed a natural flexibility and elasticity into the poetic phrases, successfully aggregating them into a well-paced but coherent, large-scale structure. The result was a compositely clear sense of these soldiers’ lives, the hallmark of a collaboratively successful musical-poetic narrative arc.…

The chorus [of the Offertorium] “if we could give you two days, just those two days,” written for the soldier who died 48 hours before his tour of duty was to have ended, formed a moving artistic centrepiece for this remarkable movement that should ensure its place as a cornerstone of the Canadian music repertoire. It ought to be played every Remembrance Day. (Stephan Bonfield/Calgary Herald)

(read the full Calgary Herald review)

PDF score excerpts

Requiem Aeternam excerpt   Kyrie excerpt   Dies Irae excerpt   Offertorium excerpt   Sanctus excerpt   Agnus Dei excerpt   Lux Aeterna excerpt   Libera Me excerpt   In Paradisum excerpt
Synopsis of text at Suzanne Steele’s warpoet.ca

Audio

Video

A short promotional video of the world premiere performance of, courtesy of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and Black Diamond Films:

Get music

Store coming soon. In the meantime, contact me.