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People sometimes call my works ‘operas’ as the operatic voice - especially the female operatic voice - is one of the elements that can be traced throughout my practice. My work, however, deviates from the traditional operatic form and my compositions and their live presentation largely take the form of an oratorio. Some of my works also include multimedia elements such as video-art taking inspiration from Steve Reich’s video-operas.
HHUMANN X (2018)
Humans face growing social isolation paradoxically during an era of technological hyper-connectedness. In the UK alone, more than 9 million people report feeling often or always lonely according to a 2017 report by the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness. Simultaneously, modernisation and progress have raised our living standards to the highest in human history, yet recent studies show that rates of anxiety and depression are reaching epidemic levels, especially in the Western world.
The shocking findings of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness were the inspiration behind the piece and Steve Bird from the Telegraph covered this story in September 2018. ‘Hhumann X’ is therefore an exploration of these paradoxes of our modern times, an exploration of isolation and mental illness in our world and in our time. The high soprano - using invented language and singing at the top of her register where she feels most uncomfortable - embodies this isolation from her immediate context of the ensemble. The Eastern sounds of the Persian soprano establish not only a bridge to a different culture but also a bridge through which the high soprano can reach the choir. The direct experience of the power of that community show her a way out of her isolation.
The piece is therefore a call to build bridges, bridges between us as a way to overcome social isolation but also bridges within ourselves, connecting with our true nature and purpose. ‘Do you know what you are?’ is the key question the composer asks throughout this piece. The Eastern influences of the piece appear twice more examining this question. First in the form of the Hindu mantra ‘Soham’, which is sung by all voices at the climax of the piece. ‘Soham’ translates from Sanskrit to ‘I am That’, identifying oneself with the universe or ultimate reality. And second with the words of the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi that, despite coming from a distant time and place, remain timely.
The premiere of Hhumann X took place at LSO St Luke’s on the 20th of October 2018 to a sold out audience in collaboration with More Than Just a Choir, a community choir based in North London that works with people suffering from mental illness and social isolation. The choir helps its members build their confidence, whilst also connecting with the wider community. This collaboration is key to strengthen the meaning of the piece, bringing into the core of the performance these individuals who are overcoming social isolation through music and community.
They were be supported by a 10-strong ensemble including Grammy-Award nominated pianist José Menor, Gramophone Magazine Editor’s Choice violinist Harriet MacKenzie, sopranos Honey Rouhani and Vanessa Bowers, cellists James Barralet and Joe Zeitlin, technologists Laura Beck, Elliott Liu and Adam Peters and ‘Ball de Bastons’ members Jesus Baltà i Maria Pachón.
‘Ball de Bastons’ is a ritual weapon dance spread through Europe and the Mediterranean that dates back to the 12th century. Various different traditions are encompassed in the phrase, but normally the dancers will all carry one or two sticks (bastons) traditionally of holm oak elaborating some patterns of stick-clashing.
The piece was received with a standing ovation, receiving rave reviews from audience members. The piece and its premiere gained lots of media attention from media outlets such as the BBC, London Live and the Telegraph amongst others. Hhumann X's main theme featured on BBC Radio 4's new series The Anatomy of Loneliness that started broadcasting on the 2nd October 2018.
2045: The year man becomes immortal (2016)
‘2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal?’ was selected as one of the 'Five of the Best Classical Concerts' by The Guardian.
‘2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal’ takes its name from the eponymous Time Magazine article by Lev Grossman (Grossman 2011). The article explores Google’s chief engineer Ray Kurzweil’s view on Technological Singularity, a new era that the techno-scientific community have predicted to be possible by 2045 in which technology will finally allow for man and machine to merge, converting us in basically machines, allowing us to stop ageing and live indefinitely. Through this paradigm of the future I explore the efforts of our technocratic society to overcome death, wondering essentially whether there's a purpose to being mortal, whether there's a purpose to dying. When our days are numbered, life becomes more precious and we cherish more the things we love. The piece wonders whether we should be tampering with nature's cycle of life, where from death there's always new life.
The piece is structured in 5 sections mirroring the five stages of a fruit tree, a metaphor for the cyclic nature of life. The first three sections constitute a first block representing the process from life to death. The last two sections constitute a second block where, after what we understand as death, I wonder about the immortal nature of the human soul. In the timeline of the piece, these two blocks are separated exactly at the Golden Ratio and all the individual pieces that constitute the piece follow the timings of the Fibonacci Sequence.
The piece was premiered at St. James's Church in Piccadilly, London, on the 6th of July 2016 in collaboration with Tete-a-Tete Opera Festival. It was further performed at Buck Hall in Cowdray House on the 9th of July 2016. It was received with standing ovations and unanimous praise. Read all the audience reactions here.
Life from Light (2012)
"Life from Light" (2012) is a video-opera that was premiered at Union Chapel in London on the 15th of November of 2012. The piece was inspired by an eponymous chapter of the 2012 BBC nature documentary series ‘How To Grow A Planet’, in which Professor Iain Stewart describes the mechanisms and evolutionary forces that allowed life to appear on planet Earth and finally paving the way for human civilisation. These, in fact, are nothing short of miraculous and are testament of how special, unique and also fragile our Planet and the Life it sustents are. These evolutionary forces are analysed under the prism of one of their most notable fathers, Charles Darwin, and his famous quote on "the impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity for looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity." This quote became the kernel of the composition, the question about our ultimate origin and purpose, a question that has always baffled me and that I wanted to extend to the audience. Through this question I explore what it means to be human and I use this exploration as a vehicle to reflect on our relationship with our Planet, the natural world, and most importantly on how our actions are creating irreversible damage to both.
There is a strong need and desire by many to define pathways to a more sustainable, more equitable, cleaner, safer greener and more prosperous world for all. Whereas many people are working on this direction through direct action, policy making and lobbying, "Life from Light" aims to modestly support these efforts though the power of music.
For this occasion Toni joined forces with old-time collaborators Roberta Howett and Oliver Gerrish who were joined on stage by soprano Susan Jiwey. A backdrop of video-art - created by visual artist Thomas Yeomans - engulfed the stage and the performers.
By invitation of the Tete-a-Tete Opera Festival and funded by the Arts Council England, "Life from Light" was further performed on the 7th and 8th of August 2014 at London’s Kings Place Hall One. Roberta Howett and Oliver Gerrish were joined this time by soprano Meeta Raval, Classical Brit nominee Camilla Kerslake and Cuban jazz trumpeter Yelfris Valdes. They were accompanied by a 8-strong ensemble featuring award-winning disruptive technologist and hacker Adam John Williams, harpist Cristina de Bernardo (HNK Opera and Ballet Theatre), violinist and Erhu player Amy Yuan, cellist David Kadumukasa, guitarist Igor Fejzula, drummer Elias Gargallo, bass guitarist Martin J Stephens and arranger and pianist Geoff Lawson.