PRS for Music Foundation: What impact will being part of New Music 20x12 have on your work?
Emily Howard: I am delighted to be a contributor to and part of this nationwide celebration of new contemporary music. This initiative provides a unique opportunity to share a platform with a diverse collective of artists and through it I am hoping my work will reach new audiences who are drawn to the programme as a whole through its wide appeal. On a personal professional level Zátopek! presents a new creative challenge. I have composed a number of works for the voice, but this commission, my first opera, is an opportunity to create a dramatic piece on a larger scale. The work will involve a sizeable chorus, including a youth choir in addition to two solo lead roles and I am really excited to be working on it!
PRSF: Tell us the story of how and why you joined forces with the performers you are working with on this project.
EH: I have known Oliver Mears and Nicholas Chalmers, artistic directors of Second Movement, for many years (we were at university together) and had hoped to collaborate with them for some time. Second Movement’s producer, Abigail Toland, approached me with an idea for Zátopek! and the project has grown from there. In terms of subject matter, Zátopek! is inspired by the life and times of legendary Czech Olympian, Emil Zátopek. Second Movement has a current focus on Czech music, exploring the repertoire of composer Bohuslav Martinů, and in October 2010 performed their UK premiere production of his opera The Knife’s Tears in Brno and Prague. When approaching this commission it seemed appropriate to celebrate a Czech hero, an athlete of incredible power and international reputation.
Second Movement will be working in partnership with Liverpool Philharmonic to deliver the premiere of Zátopek! in Liverpool and I am thrilled that the piece will be performed there and involve a number of local participants. I was born in Liverpool and grew up listening to the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. I retain strong links with the city: I work regularly with the RLP and Ensemble 10/10, the new music group of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, and recently I became Honorary Research Fellow in Composition at Liverpool Hope University.
PRSF: How are you going to approach creating your new work? What kinds of creative input will the performers and community you are working with have on your work?
EH: Working on an opera is a much more collaborative experience than, for example, writing an orchestral piece. It is great to have the involvement during the compositional process of those who will be performing and staging the opera for the first time. I am also exploring Zátopek’s life and impact and gathering material from a variety of sources, including those who knew Zátopek personally or were inspired by his successes and approach to his sport. This is proving to be a fascinating process. For example I have spoken with Hannah Vlček (NMC Recordings) and her father Paul, about Hannah’s grandfather who shared a room with Zátopek when he was employed at the Bata Shoe Factory in Zlín. This first hand testimonial is essential in contributing to what I hope will be a rich and authentic portrayal of a unique athlete.
PRSF: Who do you hope to reach through the creation and performance of this work and what do you hope they’ll take away with them?
EH: During my research I have found that Zátopek was a childhood hero of so many members of the older generation – I want to tell his story to the younger generation. He was an inspiration to so many and his impact on athletics still resounds. I hope that through his remarkable story this new work will encourage new audiences for contemporary opera. The planned performances of Zátopek! will involve local youth choruses, who will play a major role in evoking the spirit of Zátopek’s sporting success, his extraordinary achievements and the excitement of his record breaking races. I hope that audiences will be inspired by both the story of Zátopek and my creative response to it through Second Movement’s staging.
PRSF: Where do you draw your inspiration and influences? Which creator – musical or otherwise – do you most admire?
EH: I studied Mathematics and Computation at university and this experience has shaped so much of my creative work. My interest lies in fusing structures based on scientific principles, for example magnetism, with more emotive catalysts such as human history and myths. Orchestral works such as Magnetite and Solar use the idea of magnetic forces to shape musical objects within the score so that they behave as if ‘attracted to’ and ‘repelled from’ each other. When writing for the voice I take cues not only from the texts I set, but from sheer human physicality: I like to imagine that I am transposing the power of the human body into song. Zátopek was a remarkable athlete with incredible natural physicality and I will be drawing on this as a primary source of inspiration in the composition of the opera.
As for creators, there are so many that I admire – musical and otherwise. In the field of opera, I especially love Mozart and Wagner, and more recently, Birtwistle.
PRSF: Which Olympic and/or Paralympic Games will you be seeing in 2012? What was your best/favourite sport when you were growing up?
EH: The 10,000m final if possible! Zátopek won this at the 1948 London Olympics and it was his entry onto the world stage. He won it again in 1952, along with the 5000m and the marathon, an extraordinary feat. He was also world record holder at 5000m, running it in 13.57 in 1954 in Paris (just longer than I have for this opera). Growing up I was not as keen on sport as I am now, but I love the discipline of sport and its collaborative aspects. I am an enthusiastic kickboxer these days, rather different to my youth when I concentrated on chess, an occupation which shares with sport tactical and competitive elements, but is a little sedentary!
We are all absolutely delighted to be working with Emily and Second Movement on such a prestigious project. So much of our recent work has focused on developing the finest creative talent in the region and Emily's success on the highest possible platform will give even more encouragement to young composers of the North-west. To be able to help bring Emily's creative talent into the community is particularly exciting for us and we're certain that everyone from the community who joins the project will get a real thrill when working with the outstanding musicians of the RLPO.
Zatopek! is a 12 minute chamber opera by Emily Howard and Second Movement for baritone, mezzo, adult and youth chorus and mixed ensemble, inspired by legendary Czech Olympian, long distance runner, statesman, communist and dissenter Emil Zatopek (1922-2000). In 1954 Zatopek set a new world record for the 5000m running the distance in 13mins 57secs. Emily Howard and Second Movement will have just a little less time to celebrate his life and times from the starting pistol of his international breakthrough at the London 1948 Olympics to the final finish line.