Judith Weir | Premiere of 'In the Land of Uz' at the BBC Proms
11th August 2017
The BBC Singers and their Chief Conductor David Hill will be joined by the Nash Ensemble, tenor Adrian Thompson as Job, Charles Gibbs in the role of Narrator, and organist Stephen Farr. The new thirty-five minute work, which takes inspiration from the story of Job, will be preceded in concert by Offertorium Confitebor tibi, Domine and Missa Confitebor tibi by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. In the Land of Uz is a BBC Radio 3 commission as part of Weir's role as Associate Composer with the BBC Singers.
Listen again to Weir on BBC Radio 3's In Tune in discussion with Clemency Burton-Hill about the new work.
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About In the Land of Uz
In the Land of Uz is a dramatised reading of the biblical Book of Job, from which all the text is taken, in the musical form of a cantata, or short oratorio. The majority of the music is sung by the chorus, but there are also ‘obbligato’ roles for a small group of instruments which appear singly or in pairs; viola, double bass, soprano saxophone, trumpet, tuba and organ. Job appears from time to time as a solo tenor; his thoughts are also represented by the viola. Although the bulk of the storytelling is undertaken by the chorus, a speaking narrator also makes occasional appearances.
In a contest of strength, God and Satan conspire to test the faith of Job, a God-fearing and comfortably settled inhabitant of the Land of Uz. First Satan destroys Job’s family, animals and possessions. When Job retains his dignity and refuses to curse God, Satan smites him with a plague of boils. The solo viola joins in his song at this point, and becomes his ‘alter ego’. In extreme physical discomfort, Job insists that whatever happens to us, we must take the rough with the smooth.
Job, together with the viola, expresses his sadness, curses the day of his birth, and longs for death. Here his words are sung by the whole chorus.
3. Job’s Comforters
Job’s friends (sung here by different groupings of the chorus) arrive at the scene, and are at first compassionate, urging an optimistic outlook. They are joined by a saxophone and double bass. Later, their argument hardens; God is always right, so Job must have done something wrong. Job continues to express his dark view of the inevitability of decay and death.
4. Where is Wisdom?
This famous and beautiful biblical chapter takes the form of an interlude, inviting a discussion about the elusive nature and scarcity of wisdom. But at the conclusion (to a huge organ entry) God’s superiority is once again declared.
5. The Whirlwind
A vigorous duet for trumpet and organ.
6. God Speaks
Out of the whirlwind, God (represented by the male voices of the chorus and the tuba) speaks and re-asserts his authority. Who was it, after all, who created the universe in the first place, he argues, citing the many wonders of the natural world? Job withdraws from the argument with continued dignity and diplomacy.
Impressed by Job’s composure, God engineers a sudden revival of his fortunes. His possessions are amply restored, making him twice as prosperous as he was before. He has a new family of sons and daughters, and sees several generations prosper, having himself lived to the age of 140. The voices quietly withdraw from the scene, concluding: ‘So Job died, being old, and full of days’.
© Judith Weir, 2017
About Judith Weir
Judith Weir was born into a Scottish family in 1954, but grew up near London. She was an oboe player, performing with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, and studied composition with John Tavener during her schooldays. She went on to Cambridge University, where her composition teacher was Robin Holloway; and in 1975 attended summer school at Tanglewood, where she worked with Gunther Schuller. After this she spent several years working in schools and adult education in rural southern England; followed by a period based in Scotland, teaching at Glasgow University and RSAMD.
During this time she began to write a series of operas (including King Harald’s Saga, The Black Spider, A Night at the Chinese Opera, The Vanishing Bridegroom and Blond Eckbert) which have subsequently received many performances in the UK, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium and the USA. The most recent opera is Miss Fortune, premiered at Bregenz in 2011, and then staged at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in 2012.
As resident composer with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in the 1990s, she wrote several works for orchestra and chorus (including Forest, Storm and We are Shadows) which were premiered by the orchestra’s then Music Director, Simon Rattle. She has been commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra (Music Untangled and Natural History) the Minnesota Orchestra (The Welcome Arrival of Rain) and the London Sinfonietta (Tiger under the Table); and has written concert works for some notable singers, including Jane Manning, Dawn Upshaw, Jessye Norman, Alice Coote and Sarah Connolly. Her latest vocal work, Nuits d’Afrique, was premiered by Ailish Tynan at Wigmore Hall in July 2017.
She now lives in London, where she has had a long association with Spitalfields Music Festival; and in recent years has taught as a visiting professor at Princeton, Harvard and Cardiff universities. Honours for her work include the Critics’ Circle, South Bank Show, Elise L Stoeger and Ivor Novello awards, a CBE (1995) and the Queen’s Medal for Music (2007). In 2014 she was appointed Master of The Queen’s Music in succession to Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. In January 2015 she became Associate Composer to the BBC Singers.
Much of her music has been recorded, and is available on the NMC, Delphian and Signum labels. In 2014-15 there were releases of The Vanishing Bridegroom (NMC) and Storm (BBC Singers/Signum). Judith Weir’s music is published by Chester Music and Novello & Co. She blogs about her experiences of cultural life in the UK at judithweir.com.
Photo credit: Benjamin Ealovega