Conductor Jessica Cottis has recorded a symphony commemorating the centenary of a campaign that brought together three nations.
Europe marked 2014 as the centenary of the outbreak of the first world war. For Australia, New Zealand and Turkey it was last year’s anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign that had deeper resonance.
In the culmination of ten years’ planning, the Gallipoli Symphony – bringing together works by 11 composers and performers from all three countries – was premiered at Istanbul’s Hagia Irene last August and performed in Queensland in November. A DVD of the first performance is now released on ABC Classics.
Working with film producer Des Power, whose brainchild the audiovisual performance was, has been 36-year-old Australian/Scottish conductor Jessica Cottis.
Despite her youth, Cottis is deeply aware of the conflict’s seminal significance for three nations. Her father was a senior Royal Australian Air Force officer and later a diplomat. ‘I have grown up with this story,’ she says. ‘The history of how the nations formed themselves was always prominent at our dinner table and Gallipoli was something from a very young age I was aware of. It’s funny that from a conflict came nation-building.’
The project was overseen by violinist Christopher Latham and each year one composer was assigned a work premiered on the Gallipoli peninsula on the anniversary of the initial landings. The symphony brings together movements by Kamran İnce, Elena Kats-Chernin, Demir Demirkan, Peter Sculthorpe, Ross Harris and others, with texts in English and Turkish. It opens with Omar Faruk Tekbilek’s depiction of the horror of war and ends with Graeme Koehne’s choral hymn to peace and friendship. ‘It is incredibly simple but because of that it is even more powerful.’
The orchestra includes Turkish instruments, an Aboriginal didgeridoo and Maori instruments. ‘There is something incredibly powerful in bringing together the musical styles of these three countries and their performers,’ Cottis says.
The video fuses archive footage of the first world war with scenes from the premiere in Istanbul. Cottis says both performances have received standing ovations and, in response to demand, ABC Classics is also preparing an audio-only recording.
The project marks the end of a hectic period of globe-trotting for Cottis with two years as assistant conductor at the Sydney Symphony Orchestra where she remains a guest conductor, work with other Australian orchestras alongside BBC orchestras and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
Her initial career as an organist was ended by a wrist injury and she began studying law ‘but realised I couldn’t live without music’.
Now she is getting off the ground the Glasgow New Music Expedition. ‘Both I and the other artistic director, Richard Greer, are interested in things interplanetary and outer space, so we liked the idea of exploring new worlds, new frontiers.’
The aim is to promote young Scottish composers and performers, with plans for recording an album of works by Jay Capperauld. ‘The Royal Conservatoire in Glasgow does a great job but then what happens? Young composers need a lot of support.’
She also hopes to see performances of the Gallipoli Symphony in Europe. ‘We need to be performing it. It is relevant, the atrocity of war, particularly with the dark shadows hanging over us at the moment.’
Original story appeared in the February 2016 issue of Classical Music Magazine. Article written by Phillip Sommerich.