Programme notes for Janya

Chris Hutchings signs off with his final blog on his Adopt a Composer pairing with the Jan Modelski Community Orchestra

It’s been great to get to know the orchestra personally, and have time to try out several drafts and sections of the piece before finalising them; everyone in the orchestra has been really enthusiastic about having a new piece written for them, and I couldn’t have done it without them.

The genesis of the piece came from my first visit to Chester, back in December; after meeting with the orchestra and hearing them play, we went for lunch in Chester Cathedral, and outside the cathedral I encountered the statue of Janya by Annette Yarrow (who sadly died in November 2015). This little elephant made a big impact on me! The celebratory opening fanfare of the piece came to me a few days later, and everything launched from there…

Working with this orchestra has been a great experience too. The makeup of the orchestra is unusual – with 5 or 6 flutes and clarinets, a saxophone section, and rather fewer strings than usual, but that has also driven the development of the piece; you’ll hear the flutes and clarinets playing multi-part chords and imitating flocks of birds, which I couldn’t do with only two of each, and the saxophones add an unusual tone colour.

The piece is essentially programmatic, or a tone poem. Our little elephant Janya is born, finds her feet and learns to walk, finds her own voice and learns to sing with her herd – and then there’s a forest fire and the herd has to flee! Finally, after swimming a river to escape, the family are reunited, and a new life begins – maybe Janya’s own child? (Janya is an Asian elephant – they often live in forests, so fleeing a forest fire is sometimes part of their lives). 

The piece is also more personal than it might appear. I have two young children (born in 2012 and 2015) and the process of raising them has been wonderful but hectic. Janya is partly about a little elephant and her journey – but it’s also about my children, everyone’s children, and the journey of life, whether you’re a human or an elephant.

Janya – the premiere!

Thank you to everyone who was involved in the wonderful premiere of Janya last weekend! The Jan Modelski chamber orchestra and their wonderful conductor, who engaged with the piece at every stage with brilliant enthusiasm and produced a wonderful performance; BBC Radio 3, who recorded the piece and will broadcast it later, and Andy who recorded the piece and the interview; Sally, Richard, and all the teams at Making Music, Sound and Music and the PRS Foundation; Roanne and all the JMCO committee, who signed up for #AdoptAComposer and got the project started; Chester Zoo, for all their help promoting the concert; the audience, who packed out Caldy Valley Church; my family, for letting me get down there for the performance and providing a large chunk of the inspiration for the piece; Annette Yarrow, who sculpted the little elephant Janya who started the whole thing; and many many more.

Here are a few comments:

“It was fantastic and the group seemed to love performing it, it suited them so well and pushed them into new areas (loved the sound effects)”

“The piece by the young composer was absolutely brilliant and the orchestra played it beautifully! It seemed as if he composed it using the orchestra’s constellation eg strong brass section as a strength. I loved it”

We had a packed audience at Caldy Valley, who seemed to really enjoy the piece, and hopefully I’ll have some word about future performances soon…