BIRMINGHAM England (Reuters) - It started with whispering but soon 1,000 people were shouting and pumping their fists in the air on Sunday as they performed the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer David Lang’s “Crowd Out” in Birmingham.
“I feel anxiety, I feel awful and I wish to be alone,” some people shouted. At other times people sang or clapped, while the piece opened with performers walking about the central atrium area of the Millennium Point conference venue whispering phrases like “I lost it all”, “I start to panic”, “I push, I shove, I glare, I mutter”.
Lang’s 40-minute piece was inspired by the chanting and singing he heard at an Arsenal soccer game years ago and he took the text from a Google search of how people feel when they are in a crowd.
Written to be performed even by people who cannot read music, it went a long way to capture the excitement, but also the fear, loneliness and confusion of being in a crowd.
“I had some ideas of what it was going to sound like, but not all, but I think that’s one of the thrills of this,” Lang told Reuters after the performance in the central English city. “It’s very easy to do the things we already know how to do and sometimes you want to actually do something else.”
“This piece is one of those,” said Lang, who won a Pulitzer for his haunting and intimate “Little Matchgirl Passion” based on the Hans Christian Andersen story about a girl who cannot sell her matches and freezes to death.
“Crowd Out” will next be performed in Berlin under the auspices of the Berlin Philharmonic, and after that at the Spitalfields Summer Festival in London.
For the Birmingham premiere, the 1,000 performers included nurses, teachers, manual labourers, lawyers, school children and a smattering of music students, plus many members of amateur choirs.
They filled the stairways, the main floor and the balconies of the conference venue, blurring the distinction between performers and the audience, who stood anywhere they could find a space.
Choir director Simon Halsey conducted from a vantage point about midway up a tall escalator connecting the ground floor to one of the balconies. He used an enormous amount of body and arm language to get the performers to sing, yell or speak louder or softer.
He and an assistant also used coloured flags - blue, green, yellow and red - to clue in colour-coded subgroups of about 250 people each to indicate what they were supposed to do next.
Halsey said Lang’s piece set an excellent example of showing a way to involve the broader public in musical performances.
“I do believe very strongly that professional musicians of the next generation are going to have to be every one of them involved in community work and education and this is such a creative expression for them to see how to do it,” he said.
With its 40 minutes of eddying currents of whispering, shouting, clapping, singing and talking, the piece struck a powerful chord with some of spectators.
“It made me feel uncomfortable at times, because of all the shouting,” said Georgina Jones, 20, a university student in Birmingham, who added that she really does not like being in crowds.
Her companion Daniel Prosser, 23, who works for The Royal Mail, said: “I liked the fact that there was an overlaying of shouting and singing so you never knew quite what was happening.”
Reporting by Michael Roddy; Editing by Mohammad Zargham