On 21 July, Ēriks’ new, First World War-themed work A Shadow was premiered at the BBC Proms, the UK’s major eight-week classical music summer season festival. Commissioned for and performed by the BBC Proms Youth Choir under the direction of Simon Halsey, A Shadow was the opening performance of Prom 9: War & Peace in the Royal Albert Hall, which celebrated the centenary year of the end of the First World War. It also featured Beethoven’s Symphony No 9 and Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, performed by the World Orchestra for Peace and conducted by Donald Runnicles.
A Shadow is an eight minute setting of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s (1807–82) poem of the same name, which expresses the feelings of a father who knows he is unlikely to see what will come to pass in the lives of his children. Listen to the premiere performance on the BBC iPlayer.
‘Longfellow’s sonnet muses on how humanity survives, although the generations pass like shadows. Ešenvalds beautifully evokes that in numerous ways: chords shadow the harmonies that follow; chime bars, struck by the singers, shadow the vocal lines at a distance, and finally, magically, the singers whistle rather than give voice to their lines in a choral fade-out perhaps knowingly “shadowing” Holst’s The Planets. Brilliantly sung under Halsey’s direction, the work made an immediate and powerful impact.’
— The Times (Richard Morrison)
‘Saturday evening’s Prom contained many good things, beginning with a touchingly radiant new piece from Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds on a poem by Longfellow, meditating on the endless passing of the generations. Its message that we should always have faith in the latest generation was given an apt fervency by the BBC Proms Youth Choir.’
— The Daily Telegraph (Ivan Hewett)
‘The text, sung with astounding clarity of diction, addresses the anguished curiosity a parent feels for their children’s future after their own death, and in translating this feeling into musical form, Ešenvalds has clearly been enormously successful with his new work. … the triumph was Ešenvalds’ idea of giving handheld bells to four groups of six players, dotted throughout the choir, and instructing them to echo the sopranos a beat or two behind them. Clearly this isn't an easy piece to pull off, but it's one I'd love to hear again.’
— Bachtrack (Rohan Shotton)
Photo: BBC / Mark Allan