Coventry Cathedral and Coventry City of Culture Trust has announced ‘Ghosts in the Ruins’, a new site-specific commission created by Ivor Novello Lifetime Achievement recipient Nitin Sawhney CBE with the people of Coventry. The commission marks the 60th anniversary of the consecration of Coventry Cathedral, for which Benjamin Britten’s masterpiece ‘War Requiem’ was created.  It receives its world premiere on 27 January 2022, with two additional performances on 28 and 29 January.

Created with Coventry’s professional musicians, poets and communities ‘Ghosts in the Ruins’ will explore contemporary ideas of peace and reconciliation and reflect Coventry as a city of sanctuary, with a strong history of helping refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants, and acknowledging a sense of connection to the rest of the world. The work will explore themes of acceptance, healing, transcendence, hope, resilience, regeneration and reconciliation in relation to contemporary conflicts, is an acknowledgement of the destruction of the past as well as hope for the future of the world.

The performance will be in two linked parts - the first part is seated inside the modern Cathedral, with a focus on intimate and reflective choral moments, featuring performances by singer YVA, violinist Eos Counsell and the Coventry Cathedral choristers and local poets. The audience will then be invited to move into the Ruins of the Cathedral to experience a dramatic conclusion, during which the professional musicians and choirs will be joined by community singers from in and around Coventry. The community singers and choristers will be led and directed by Coventry Cathedral’s Director of Music Rachel Mahon, who is also a Creative Associate on the project. 

Alongside the choral and musical elements will be a series of specially-commissioned poems by Coventry poets and visual images by the artist Mark Murphy, projected onto the walls of the interior of the Cathedral. These will create a sense of journey for the audience, from the past to the present, using a combination of archival image, collage and text.

The unique setting of Coventry’s two Cathedrals provides a poignant and moving setting for the performance. Following the destruction of the old Cathedral in the Coventry Blitz of November 1940, the Provost Howard made a commitment not to seek revenge, but to strive for forgiveness and reconciliation with those responsible. This commitment has guided Coventry Cathedral’s mission and is key to the City’s international standing as a city of Peace and Reconciliation. Sir Basil Spence, the new Cathedral’s architect, conceived building the new cathedral alongside the old, the two buildings serving as a physical symbol of destruction and resurrection.

Britten’s War Requiem is Coventry Cathedral’s signature work. The piece received its world première at the Cathedral in May 1962 conducted by the composer and Meredith Davies as part of the 1962 Coventry Festival.

It immediately stood out amongst twentieth century compositions, entering the international repertoire as a huge and challenging work for performers and audiences alike. Since then, this iconic work has been performed all over the world but is still uniquely linked with Coventry Cathedral, its stand against war and violence, and its plea for humanity to come to its senses and find another way to resolve conflict.

Nitin Sawhney says: “When I was first approached for this commission, I was very excited at the prospect of creating an immersive experience based around the human voice, evoking the relationship between the people of Coventry and the historically significant cathedral in the heart of its city. It seemed the best way to approach this was to work with voices within the new cathedral building as well as the ruins of the original cathedral bombed in WWII.   I was also impressed by how Coventry has risen as a city from that painful past and how it has embraced its inspiring role as a place of sanctuary for those in need from other cities affected by war and violence.  This creative project is a tribute to how the people of Coventry have transcended the ghost of their past to become a guiding light for the world.”

The Very Reverend John Witcombe, Dean of Coventry Cathedral, says:  “We know that this contemporary take on our iconic work will bring a new audience in to experience the power of our story to change hearts and lives, and to inspire young and old to find their own grounds for hope for the future. As we begin our Diamond Jubilee year, we are delighted to be working with Nitin, who has a deep appreciation of the significance of Britten’s legacy and will help lift it into the next generation.” 

Chenine Bhathena, Creative Director of Coventry City of Culture Trust, says: “Ghosts in the Ruins will be a celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the new Cathedral and allows us another opportunity to remember and reflect on the catastrophic events of WW2 that led to the destruction of the old Cathedral and the synergy with our world today. Nitin Sawney creates thought provoking joyful music, and is an exceptional international artist.  He also brings a strong social and political edge to his work as a storyteller, film maker, composer and musician. We are so delighted that he will be working across the city with community choirs, schools choirs, singers and musicians to co-create an extraordinary event for our City of Culture Year.”




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