Michael Nyman: Hillsborough Memorial Symphony An Optimistic Triumph Of Determination

On Saturday 5th July, 2014, a co-production between Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Liverpool Biennial with Liverpool Cathedral, commissioned Michael Nyman’s Symphony No.11: Hillsborough Memorial, to mark  the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster.

Michael Nyman’s Symphony No 11: Hillsborough Memorial was a moving  performance. We went to the cathedral with little knowledge of how we would feel on hearing the music. We felt extremely sad, apprehensive and possibly hopeful after the Dean made his introduction speech, as we sat down in the iconic surroundings of the cathedral.  As we, waited and listened to the first movement, begun by mezzon-soprano, Kathryn Rudge and as she sang the names of the 96 who died, we found ourselves visualising these people, the lives that have been unfairly lost and the tragic day at Hillsborough, the immediate and long term suffering of innocent people and their families. The music allowed us to connect to the determined and brave fight of all the families who fought for justice against a government that turned its back and did not stand up for or acknowledge the importance and value of the lives of  those who perished  in the Football Disaster at Hillsborough Stadium Sheffield, England on the 15th April 1989. What actually happened on that fatal day has been a long fought campaign by the families to bring out the truth and ensure justice was to succeed.

The symphony is made up of four movements:

First movement: The Singing of the Names sung by mezzo-soprano, Kathryn Rudge. This is a new presentation of the names of all 96 people who died and an emotional tribute to the victims beautifully sung by Kathryn.

The second movement: Family Reflections is a ‘transformed version of a rejected aria, ‘I now know you are my son’, from my opera Facing Goya (2000)

Third movement , The 96 uses ‘numerical symbolism of ’96’: there are a number of accumulative repetitions of a 4 bar phrase, made up of 3 chords: the number of bars of the entire piece consist of 96 times 3 divided by 4.” The music allows you to visualise the tragedy and the unfolding of events.

Fourth Movement: Memorial. This final movement is a new version of the piece that has come to be known simply as Memorial.” This piece demonstrates the anger and the fight for justice.

We found that this symphony on a musical level became a voice for those who died. The beautiful voices of the Philharmonic Youth choir were particularly moving.

Many people have suffered as a result of the way the government reacted and treated the victims of this disaster and many have significant memories of that terrible day and the years that followed. Nyman points out that…” unspoken, unplayed, unsung, beneath the surface of this Symphony is the history of family pain and my personal anger with the corruption of the Thatcher government and her duplicitous police force.” – Michael Nyman, 2014.

”Nyman said that’… making that music, in the cathedral, played by that orchestra, with all those associations, can, and will, only have an emotional purpose.”

Many people remember and have their memories of that tragic day. Here are some personal testimonies from the authors of this review.

Nigel Harrison

” I was in Southport at the time with a friend called Robert and his father listening to the match on the radio. My friend Rob turned and said there has been an incident at the match. I was shocked at the time and when it all came out, I knew justice had not been carried out by the authorities.” When I heard the music at the cathedral it was so moving and I felt a sense of healing from the passion in the music.” Nigel Harrison.

Phil Calland

It was my first “Kennedy moment”. I will always remember where I was, when we heard the news & switched on the TV to watch the unfolding catastrophe that was somewhat sanitised by the TV coverage. I will never forget the trickle of news that, unbelievably, fans had died, or the obscene pictures of the young fans crushed to death against the fences in the following morning’s papers. I will never forget the front page headline from The Sun that pinned the blame on drunken Liverpool fans who they alleged robbed and urinated on the dead. Liverpool will never forgive them. I will never forget attending the Merseyside FA Cup final where both sets of fans chanting “Merseyside, Merseyside” in a cacophony of noise, passion and brotherhood. I will never forget the pain of my friends continue to suffer, one who survived and one who lost a family member in the tragedy. I will never forget the “Kennedy Moment” when those responsible for the tragedy and those that covered it up are brought to justice.

Susan Taylor

I remember walking through town and seeing the chaos at the match on the tv screens and wondering what had happened. A Liverpool supporter was interviewed whilst at the Sheffield stadium; he was visibly upset and said angrily ‘innocent fans dying’.At that point I became aware of how serious the situation was, that people had actually died.  It seemed unbelievable that such a thing could happen at a football match. The next day I became aware of the extent of the deaths.  I felt Hillsborough had many parallels with the Titanic disaster; both disasters happened on the same date (15th April); both were the result of blunders by people in charge and both involved cover ups.  I live on Anfield Road; I am not a football fan but I have always supported the Hillsborough Justice Campaign throughout their long struggle for justice. I was so proud when they finally achieved this and the fans were exonerated.  The police were seen to be the ones responsible for the disaster and Kelvin Mackenzie who published the lies in The Sun blaming the fans will forever live with the shame.

”Symphony No. 11: represents the culmination of Michael Nyman’s thinking around the tragedies connected with Liverpool Football Club. 25 years after the Hillsborough tragedy, he says that he hopes it will make a small but significant contribution to the healing process…”

After all these years, it is something that we felt, that a person who had undergone this kind of trauma, when does healing begin and is it ever possible? As we wrote this review, we felt strong emotions within us. The performance was attended by invited guests and representatives of the families of the 96.  The impact of the suffering this had on families, friends and many people who had to deal with the devastating and life changing consequences of this disaster. was highlighted in the music but overall, it re-asserted our confusion at how a government and authority at the time, could not  identify with the value of a life of a loved one? How is that possible? Nyman’s Symphony allowed us some time for reflection. Music can help heal but suffering never forgets.

Michael Nyman’s Symphony No.11: Hillsborough Memorial, was performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, with Liverpool-born mezzo soprano Kathryn Rudge and Liverpool Philharmonic Youth and Training Choirs, conducted by Josep Vicent.

Words written and edited by Alice Lenkiewicz with Nigel Harrison, Phil Calland and Sue Taylor

Photo: © Mark McNulty (cropped) L. to R. Kathrtyn Rudge Michael Nyman Josep Vicent


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