By Heidi Trautmann
There was a ripple of excitement travelling through Bellapais on the evening of October 28, villagers were standing in their doorways to follow with their eyes the quite unbelievable rush of people heading towards Bellapais Abbey where there was to be a performance of Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man by the joint forces of the Kyrenia Chamber Choir, the Gloucester Choir and the State Symphony Orchestra plus the Lefkoşa Chamber Orchestra.
If I am not mistaken, there are about 350 seats in the hall of the Abbey. The courtyard was flooded with people and I wondered how they would all fit in. They were mostly British with a handful of Cypriots and Germans. There were seats outside for fresh air lovers to follow the concert in front of an enormous screen. The tickets were cheaper than TL 30.00, presumably. An alternative for meagre purses and rainless evenings.
Friends of the Kyrenia Chamber Choir were on duty showing the guests to their seats and selling programmes for TL 5.00. The profits of both shows were to be donated to the International Federation of Red Cross and the Cyprus Turkish Red Crescent Society; heartfelt words of thanks were given in a message by President Işılay Arkan.
Part of the house in front of the stage was taken up by the orchestra with 41 members. It was a very impressive build-up of joint forces in the true sense of the word. George Ward, the leader of the Kyrenia Chamber Choir stepped onto the podium and invited the orchestra to open the musical chorale work of Karl Jenkins which had been dedicated to the victims of the Balkan conflict. It is a highly atmospheric work, deriving its impact from the surprise tactics of sudden explosive sounds, shocking those of us who hadn’t been following the arm movements of the percussionist out of our seats.
The back wall was aflame in dark red light, the orchestra started a rhythm of marching feet, with the drums first soft, and becoming louder while the 86 members of the two choirs marched onto the stage in time with the drums. The atmosphere was of forboding, I thought. We sat by the open window and heavy lightening was flashing intermittently over the sea. Perfect timing.
There was also perfect silence when the choir was complete and before they started to sing the leading melody of the work in 13 movements, directed by George Ward: L’homme armé doit on douter; on a fait partout crier, que chacun se viegne armer d’un haubbregon de fer.
The Muslim Call to Prayer was sung by one of the choir members in Arab, followed by the choir with Kyrie Eleison, two old testament psalms sung in Greek by men in the style of Gregorian chant, seeking God’s protection from enemies. From above the house we heard two chorus boys join in, one of them being the treble Thomas Whichelo. Unfortunately very difficult to hear above the accompanying violin, for the audience on the left side. A catholic Mass chant followed, of the Sanctus sung in Latin, praising the Lord. Now, in movement 6, we enter the scene of war with words of courage to the soldiers with a poem by Rudyard Kipling …Lord grant us strength to die. In movement 7 the armies attack with words from a song “Song from St. Cecilia” by John Dryden and “How blest is he who for his country dies” by Jonathan Swift. The idea is: When you start a war you must glorify it!
I thought the war is right here in this abbey, everything tumbled upside down, orchestra and choir have come apart, drums and trumpets making us jump. But George Ward guided them through and at this point the audience is asked – in the programme – to remain totally still in contemplation of the damage and disaster “…after a cacophonous slide into the anguish and horror of war”.
The following movement 8 is sung by four soloists Dilshad Asadova (contralto), Ayşe Akın (soprano) Erkan Dağli and Evren Karagöz. It is a poem by a Hiroshima victim Togi Sankichi,
ending with the words….Rigid in death there smoulders a curse.
With an ancient Indian poem “the Mahabharata” we start to mourn and look at the mess war has left behind and then with two Latin mass chants Agnus Dei and Benedictus we accept the load which the Lord has put on our shoulders to test us. Karl Jenkins has included some more poets, Guy Wilson, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Sir Thomas Mallory, who he thought would best express the course of war, the grief involved and in the end to make the best of the remaining burnt earth: “God shall wipe away all tears and there neither sorrow nor crying. Neither shall there be any more pain. Praise the Lord. I wonder how one can ask the same God to strengthen your arm to kill the man in front of you and then go and expect him to wipe your tears.
Certainly it is a great work which makes one ponder on vanity, nationalism and racism which we find everywhere, and still people run to their God for help to strengthen their battle arm. I promise I will sing with the chorus if it really would help.
It was an amazing feat of organisation thanks to the Kyrenia Chamber Choir whose members have worked hard for 15 months, not only rehearsing but also doing the preparatory work for making the Gloucester Choir come to join them here. What a very ambitious project it was. They aimed high, but it is only through hard work and taking one step after the other that one can climb higher and reach the peak.