Commissioned by Bristol Music Trust in partnership with the City of Bristol Choir and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.

  • S,T + childrch; 2[II:pic].2[II:ca].2[II:bcl].2[II:cbn]/4.3.2+btbn.1/timp.3perc/hp/str
  • Children’s Chorus, Adult Community Chorus, Mixed Chorus
  • Soprano, Tenor
  • 50 min
  • Alasdair Middleton
  • English

Programme Note

Drawing on first-hand accounts of refugees, Odyssey follows one person’s harrowing flight from his homeland, leaving loved ones to travel alone, braving dangers and hardships on land, and make the desperate voyage across the Mediterranean in an overcrowded boat – the voyage that has cost so many lives.  A journey through strange landscapes in unfamiliar countries, fearfully crossing borders and navigating the unknown.

The work celebrates the courage of those who make the perilous journey, and the complex fortunes of those who manage to make a life in a new country, yet always long for home.

The storytelling is shared between adult chorus, children’s chorus, community chorus and soprano and tenor soloists, with symphony orchestra. 

Odyssey has been written in such a way that it may be fully or partially staged.  There are eight scenes.  In the first, the Refugee tells us something of his home.  In the second, we learn of the circumstances that force the Refugee to say goodbye to his Mother and leave home.  He prepares for the journey.  The next scene describes journeys in a lorry.  The following scene involves journeys on foot, with various encounters. Finally, in the sixth scene, the Refugee reaches the sea.  He has never seen the sea.  The next scene is the longest, describing the journey by sea.  In the last scene, the Refugee reaches his destination.

Odyssey took shape over several years.  In 2016, Donald Reeves, Director of the Soul of Europe, asked if I would be interested in telling the story of refugees’ experiences in their journey to Europe from home.  He gave me copies of The Lightless Sky, Gulwali Passarlay’s first-hand account of his journey from Afghanistan to England;  and The New Odyssey, Patrick Kingsley’s study of many migrants’ journeys, including much first-hand detail.  It was a privilege eventually to meet Gulwali and Patrick. 

Conductor David Ogden had already expressed an interest in commissioning a new work for City of Bristol Choir, and was taken with the idea of a dramatic oratorio telling a refugee’s story.  Bristol Music Trust and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra co-commissioned the work together with the choir.

Bristol Music Trust helped to develop the piece, by organising workshops in which librettist Alasdair Middleton and I met refugees currently living in Bristol.  Through John Barber, we met others who bravely told us of their traumatic experiences.  Odyssey reflects many first-hand accounts of refugees’ journeys to the United Kingdom. 

Jonathan Dove, January 2024



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