Over the past decade, Royal & Derngate’s Artistic Director James Dacre has commissioned 12 of the most influential composers working today to write original music for his stage productions – including Number 1 selling musicians White Lies, Guy Chambers and These New Puritans.
INCIDENTAL: Music For The Stage features their compositions for the stage accompanied by narration and monologues from the plays and novels which inspired them, directed by Dacre and read by some of the world’s most celebrated stage actors, with accompanying sound design to give a sense of the original staged work.
Royal & Derngate is releasing Incidental: Music For The Stage, what can you tell us about it?
While our theatres were closed to the public during the pandemic, we were exploring ways to keep our audiences engaged, and ways to fundraise. We have commissioned a remarkable range of composers over the past decade to collaborate on our productions. These collaborations have become a very important part of our work and hugely valued by our audiences. In discussion with several of these composers the idea to release a compilation of their music from these stage productions was born. I felt that in releasing their music it was essential to capture a sense of the theatrical collaborations that inspired these compositions. So, we set their instrumental music against monologues and sound design from the productions that their music was created for.
Programming a regional theatre is always about balancing bold artistic objectives against commercial considerations and creating brave art for a broad audience; staging vibrant, popular productions celebrated for their storytelling and humanity. So, it’s no coincidence that many of the stories featured on “INCIDENTAL: Music for the Stage” are very famous novels and plays. I hope that these compositions and monologue recordings will cast new light upon each of these classic works.
Artistically, the aim of this initiative was to help raise awareness of the crucial role that original music plays in the theatrical process and to share the work of the composers, writers, and actors that we’ve worked with over the past decade with a wider audience. Each composer’s contribution is themed according to the production that they wrote music for and features spoken word performances from members of the original cast alongside a range of stage luminaries who have been supporting Royal & Derngate theatre’s fundraising campaign. We’ve also collaborated with five remarkable theatre sound designers who have created rich soundscapes alongside these compositions to help capture the atmosphere of the original productions and to evoke the stories behind each track.
Creating music for theatre is all about helping to take audiences on a narrative journey.
When asked what music has in common with storytelling, the musician Keith Jarrett responded, “Well, I don’t play music, I play changes.” What I think that he meant is that music never stands still and that the canvas on which composers paint is time itself. Live theatre is like live music in that every moment is ephemeral and never to be repeated. Music, like narrative, is about change over time. Music can often play a central role in helping to drive a theatrical narrative forward. That’s why so many major composers have learnt their craft by writing for theatre and why some of history’s most enduring composers hold storytelling at the heart of their work.
Just think of Henry Purcell, Edvard Greig, Kurt Weill, Benjamin Britten, Beethoven, Schubert, Handel, Leonard Berstein and Philip Glass to name a few who have taken huge inspiration for collaborating with theatre-makers, going all the way back to Elizabethan England.
Don’t get me wrong – unlike other art forms, it is theatre’s wordiness – the fact that theatre is predominantly about conversations and debates – that makes it the most powerful of art forms. Theatre can express language so powerfully, poetically, and politically that it improves our listening, opens our ears, accesses our emotions, and deepens our understanding of the world around us. But music specifically can do so much to serve the language of a play and to unlock the emotion of a story. I hope that our compilation album captures its unique ability to conjure up imaginative worlds onstage, to convey the richest of emotions and to tell vividly theatrical stories.