Cookies on our website

Liverpool Philharmonic has updated its cookie policy. We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. This includes cookies from third party social media websites. Such third party cookies may track your use on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies. However, you can change your cookie settings at any time.

Close
Join Our Mailing List

Be the first to know about concerts at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall and receive exclusive email offers on music you love!

  • Sign Up Successful!
    There's some signup error, please try again!
    You've already signed Up!

Liverpool Philharmonic Blog

In conversation with... Joanna Marsh

Next month, our Youth Choirs will join the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra on stage to perform the world premiere of A Plastic Theatre – a brand-new work commissioned by Liverpool Philharmonic and a group of youth choirs from across the globe. We caught up with Joanna Marsh, the composer of this thought-provoking and powerful piece, to chat about the work, how it came about, and the role music can play in tackling the challenges our world faces today.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m a full-time composer, working out of a small studio in my house. I've been receiving numerous choral commissions lately, and while I love working with voices, I also write for orchestra, solo instruments, chamber music, and more. 

Your new piece, Plastic Theatre, involves voices and musicians from around the world – that’s pretty impressive! Can you tell us about how the commission came about?

I got an exciting email completely out of the blue in 2022 from the Artistic Planning department of Liverpool Philharmonic asking whether I would be interested in writing a 20-minute piece for their youth choirs and symphony orchestra. I replied, definitely yes! The commission has turned into a fascinating project, involving international partners from Norway, Australia, and the United States.

Tell us about the process behind writing the piece – where did you start?

When composing for voices, whether unaccompanied or with any ensemble, the key is to find an inspiring text that offers a strong theme for the commission. And when it is a piece for young people, I feel the text should feel relevant now, but also speak to the future in some way.

I found Katie Schaag’s A Plastic Theatre online.  I googled ‘sustainability, planet crisis, drama’ and it popped up. I found it immediately intriguing as the writing sits somewhere between experimental art poetry, activism and research. I wasn’t sure for a moment whether I was reading a mind-boggling analysis of plastic’s influence on cellular structures or a cartoon play-script where plastic is the central character, nattily strutting its stuff. But either way, I was gripped. I set to work on the vocal score first so the choir could start rehearsals with it last November before making a full orchestration at the end of last year.

We can’t wait to hear the work on stage next month! What can audiences expect?

Audiences can expect to hear a piece that gives the young singers quite a vocal workout! The music is written to stretch them musically and gives them moments that are by turn punchy, highly expressive and even riotous. For example, the work opens with slowly morphing brass chords melding into each other ‘In the end there is not nothing, in the end there is endless everything’ the voices slowly rise to become ‘a deafening roar’. The movement ends with the words ‘abandoned plastic objects longing for a home’ as the music tails off into the distance. But then we plunge straight into Act 2 which starts with ‘Plastic snaps its fingers. Plastic doesn’t have time for your considered reservations, your platitudes. Plastic has business to do’. So we now launch into something much more dynamic and sassy. It is this kind of contrast that typifies the musical style overall.

A side note - I’m personally really delighted that Jennifer Johnston is taking the mezzo role in the piece. I am a huge fan of her voice and it has been great to include a soloist in the work and to pick out the moments where text can be carried by her instead of the choir.

The piece considers environmental issues facing our planet. How do you think music can help in responding to what’s going on around the world today?

All art draws context from the present but as a composer you can turn your attention to a topic and highlight it. It isn’t a job requirement, but if you choose to do it, you do need to take care because preachy ‘worthy’ pieces can feel a bit tedious to perform and often do not have longevity. What I like about Katie Schaag’s libretto is that it doesn’t have a message, it simply presents the facts in a really unusual way. So we address the issues with plastic; but no actual solution is presented. We are left open and wondering, and this state is the perfect response to a piece of art.

As a composer, what’s it like to hear your work being performed?  

Rather nerve-racking! Obviously composers are generally pleased and relieved if things are going well. But if things are going badly there is the worry that perhaps something you wrote hasn’t been feasible or if it is a total disaster, you wonder did the musicians actually rehearse the piece?

I know the rehearsal schedule for Liverpool so I know that things won’t be in that latter category! There is also a thing about the composer life, where after the many, many months of work and preparation with a piece, to have got to the end of the world premiere, you reach a moment of finality. The piece is now out there in the world: you might feel a little bit of loss, and a bit of relief, but it definitely feels like it is time to move on.

Book now to hear the world premiere of Joanna Marsh's A Plastic Theatre ( 24 March).

Recommended

Cookies on our website

Liverpool Philharmonic has updated its cookie policy. We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. This includes cookies from third party social media websites. Such third party cookies may track your use on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies. However, you can change your cookie settings at any time.