• Julian Philips
  • Looking West (2022)
    (A theatrical concert work)

  • Peters Edition Limited (World)
  • 2actor,S,Mz + 1(afl,pic).0.0(bcl)+bb-cl.0/perc/hp/str(
  • Actor, Actor, Soprano, Mezzo-soprano
  • 1 hr 15 min

Programme Note

Looking West (2022)
A cantata for soprano, mezzo-soprano, actors & ensemble
Libretto: Rebecca Hurst

Looking West is one of five specially commissioned works to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose music has long been a source of inspiration for composer Julian Philips and writer Rebecca Hurst.  

A dramatic cantata, it interweaves three voices. The overarching story is of the Celtic Saint Bega, who escaped her father’s house with the help of a magic bracelet, travelled across the Irish Sea, and found sanctuary in Cumbria – an act of personal pilgrimage, a young woman forging life on her own terms. A second strand shifts to the 20th century, through the work of the Cumbrian artist Winifred Nicholson, who painted unforgettable pictures on St Bees Head. The final voice is that of a contemporary Pilgrim, making his way cross country, guiding the audience on a shared journey, and struggling with familiar issues of everyday life in contemporary Britain. 

Bega, Win and Pilgrim are developed musically through three distinct strands of material. Bega's music is the most overtly dramatic, often shadowed by the harp, in a trajectory from urgent struggle to contemplative serenity. Each of Win's songs takes one of Nicholson's colours as its starting-point, each colour mapped onto a different instrumental combination. Pilgrim is contextualised either with percussion - the sound of gravel, wood chimes, temple blocks - or by a sequence of field recordings made in the Lake District itself, that mark out each day of his walk. 

Looking West seeks to take key themes from the life and work of Ralph Vaughan Williams – especially the spiritual enrichment we can find in the natural world and the transformative power of music and art – and to ask what they mean today.

Julian Philips, 2023