‘Last Seven Words’ is a one-off concert billed as “Two powerful meditations on the last words of those unlawfully killed”. Tonight’s concert included two performances by the English National Opera’s (ENO) magnificent Orchestra and Chorus.
The first ‘The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross’ (German: Die sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze) is an orchestral work by Joseph Haydn, commissioned in 1786 for the Good Friday service at Oratorio de la Santa Cueva (Holy Cave Oratory) in Cádiz, Spain. This piece was performed before the interval and was the longer of the two pieces, lasting about fifty minutes.
Haydn’s work exists in three formats, including an orchestral work, a string quartet, and an oratorio. Tonight’s piece was an oratorio with a choir, soloists, and instrumental ensemble. The piece is very emotional, moving and causes the listener to be deeply contemplative, so-much-so, that even though the first piece tonight was superb, the applause before the interval seemed to me at first to be subdued somewhat, indicative of that contemplative state we’d been placed under, nonetheless, the performance was beautiful and emotive. The work follows the words spoken by those at Christs’ crucifixion, so is highly spiritual and sombre, but appeals to people of a Christian outlook and those not Christian or religious.
The second piece after a 20-minute interval is ‘Seven Last Words of the Unarmed’, a choral composition by Atlanta-based composer Joel Thompson in 2015. Thompson’s piece contains seven movements, each of which quotes the last words of an unarmed black man before he was killed. These words are displayed on a screen behind the performers. Thompson has said that in composing the piece, he “used the liturgical format in Haydn’s The Seven Last Words of Christ in an effort to humanize these men and to reckon with my identity as a black man in this country in relation to this specific scourge of police brutality.”
Thompson’s work was premiered in November 2015 by the University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club directed by Eugene Rogers. When the piece premiered in 2015, it was met with anger from many. It is reported that people ripped up their programs at one performance and left the theatre. Many classical music aficionados could not in their minds accept that a piece about racial discrimination should be performed at all. Seven years on from the piece’s debut, the moving performance by ENO resulted in a standing ovation.
Both pieces of the concert were a clear success and very much welcomed by the London audience.
‘The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross’ by Joseph Haydn.
‘Seven Last Words of the Unarmed’, a choral composition by Atlanta-based composer Joel Thompson.
Four principal singers:-
The London Coliseum is a theatre in St Martin’s Lane, Westminster, built as one of London’s largest and most luxurious “family” variety theatres. It opened in 1904 as the London Coliseum Theatre of Varieties, and was designed by the theatrical architect Frank Matcham for the impresario Oswald Stoll.
English National Opera
St Martin’s Lane
London WC2N 4ES
A unique and powerful concert, tackling complex themes of racial discrimination.
A unique and powerful concert, tackling complex themes of racial discrimination. The first of the two is sombre and emotive, and the second is a passionate look at the very real consequences of racial discrimination.