That Obscure Hurt, by Guy Barker & Robert Ryan, featuring Kurt Elling, Janie Dee, BBC Concert Orchestra, & the Guy Barker Jazz Orchestra
On 12 June at the Aldeburgh Festival in Suffolk, England, Kurt Elling is featured in the world premiere of That Obscure Hurt, composed by arranger and jazz trumpeter Guy Barker in his new role as associate composer for the BBC Concert Orchestra, with lyrics and narrative by author Robert Ryan, narrated by British actress Janie Dee.
The work was co-commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and Aldeburgh Music for this year's Aldeburgh Festival which celebrates the centenary of British composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), who lived in Aldeburgh and founded the Aldeburgh Music Festival in 1948.
That Obscure Hurt tells the story of an expat businessman who voyages back to London to sell his Soho jazz club, but while spending a final night there, he's stopped in his tracks by meeting the ghost of his younger self.
Benjamin Britten wrote two operas based on ghost stories by Henry James, The Turn of the Screw and Owen Wingrave. Guy Barker, working with Robert Ryan, took the completion of a James ghost story trilogy as the starting point for this new work, inspired by Britten. From Ryan's adaptation of James' short story The Jolly Corner, which weaves both jazz and echoes of Britten operas into its colorful fabric, Barker created a new, 70-minute suite for the massive combined forces of jazz and symphony orchestras, the vocalist, and the narrator, taking the audience on a taut and dramatic journey. All told there will be 77 artists on stage!
That Obscure Hurt reimagines James' ghost story, relocating it from an apartment block in New York to a jazz club in Soho. There is a prologue about the dance bands who worked on the transatlantic liners. The Cunard dance bands (“Geraldo's Navy”) are legendary in the jazz world – musicians such as Ronnie Scott, John Dankworth and Stan Tracey would sign on with the sole intention of rushing ashore in NYC to hear the new music being played in the clubs of 52nd Street and the Village by modern jazz giants such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bud Powell.
Originally there were no songs or spoken narration planned for That Obscure Hurt. But as things developed, Barker began hearing songs, and while experimenting with an idea for the prologue set in NYC, all he could hear in his head was Kurt Elling's voice. And so Kurt was asked to play Harry Prince, singer at The Pagoda nightclub. Then it became apparent that a different form of narration was required in addition to Kurt's vocals, so British actress and mezzo soprano Janie Dee was invited to narrate.
Says Kurt, “I am very happy to be working on this new project with Guy and Robert. They are both excellent craftsmen, and I am honored that they have been creating this piece with my voice in mind.”
That Obscure Hurt has numerous allusions to Britten and James. Britten wrote a ballet called The Prince of the Pagodas from which Harry Prince's name and home club are taken. Curlew Rivers, a dissolute jazzman, also appears as a character; Curlew River is one of Britten's church parables.
According to Robert Ryan, “that obscure hurt” refers to the unrequited love Alice feels, and it could also refer to the missing two fingers of the ghostly apparition in The Jolly Corner. Henry James also called the mysterious injury he suffered as a young man his “obscure hurt,” which may have led to his lifelong disinterest in marriage.
With all the layers of meaning and mystery, concert goers are in for a superb evening of original music and song!
FREE Pre-performance Talk by Guy Barker, Robert Ryan and Andrew Kurowski at 6:30 pm.
Robert Ryan's programme notes for the ten parts of That Obscure Hurt is available here.
That Obscure Hurt was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3. The full concert is now available on their Music Showcase for your listening pleasure. The concert is 1:34:41 long.
12 June 2013
That Obscure Hurt
Featuring Kurt Elling & Janie Dee
Composed by Guy Barker
Lyrics and narration by Robert Ryan
Inspired by Benjamin Britten
Aldeburgh Music Festival
Snape Maltings Concert Hall
Snape, Suffolk IP17 1SP