A musical commemoration

Composer Anthony Ritchie, whose work Gallipoli to the Somme will be performed on Saturday, May 20 .

A POWERFUL musical event which commemorates World War 1 will close the Southland Festival of the Arts on Saturday.

Presented by Rebecca Ryan Concerts, Gallipoli to the Sommeis the fourth and final Kate’s Mates’ Rates event and will be performed at the Civic Theatre by international opera singer and Southlander Rebecca Ryan and rising New Zealand bass baritone Joel Amosa, along with the A Capella choir, secondary school choirs, and the Invercargill Symphonia led by Wayne Perniskie.

The work was written by Dunedin-based composer Anthony Ritchie and premiered at last year’s Dunedin Arts Festival. It was commissioned with funding from Creative New Zealand’s World War 1 Centenary (WW100) Co-commissioning Fund.

Ritchie said his starting point for the work was a 1964 book of the same name by Otago soldier Alexander Aitken, who served at Gallipoli and the Somme.

Ritchie said Aitken was a brilliant man, who was well-known during the war for his photographic memory and his music, which was played to lift the soldiers’ spirits.

“He was a very good violinist, so he took his violin with him and played it in the trenches.”

Ritchie said he had used some of the text from the book, along with texts from England, Germany and other parts of the world which related to the war.

“Most of them are people who are living at the time and telling their experiences of the war.”

Ritchie said it was not just soldiers, but nurses, children and other people who were involved.

“It’s not just about the fighting, it’s about the whole experience.”

While the majority of the music was Ritchie’s own work, he said he had woven in a couple of references to other works including the traditional song Vive La Compagnie and a march by Invercargill composer Alex Lithgow.

Ritchie said the response to the premiere last year was “overwhelming” and it received a standing ovation.

He said there were many comments about the emotional impact the work had on people.

“That was really satisfying. It’s quite a difficult subject to talk about, the war. It has to be dealt with respect.”

Ritchie said after the war Aitken became a professor of mathematics in Edinburgh and lived most of his adult life in Scotland.

The violin also survived, and is on display at Otago Boys’ High School, where Aitken was educated.

Gallipoli to the Somme, Civic Theatre, Saturday, 7.30pm. Entry a “Kate Sheppard” ($10) donation.

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