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Interview with Bloomsbury Ensemble of London

The Bloomsbury Ensemble of London will be capturing the spirit of the 1920s when the cultural life of London was dominated by the colourful Bloomsbury Group. Their performance will be taking the audience of the Festival back to the summer of 1923, when the first performance of Façade, William Walton’s setting of Edith Sitwell’s poem sequence, took place, causing a succès de scandale.

We spoke to Mark Lacey, one of the musicians playing as part of the Ensemble at the Festival, about their performance of ‘Façade’, taking place in the lovely setting of the Dulwich Picture Gallery.

You are performing ‘Façade’, William Walton’s setting of Edith Sitwell’s poem sequence at the Festival, which was first performed in 1923 and at the time caused a scandal. Can you explain why it was so controversial?

The first public performance in June 1923 caused a scandal in that its unconventional form and absurdist, unclassifiable structure angered many of the audience and some critics. Noel Coward apparently walked out of the premiere. Façade challenged existing preconceptions of how a piece of music theatre should be created and performed, with ‘narrators’ rather than singers and the use of parody of existing musical forms.

What can the audience of the Dulwich Festival expect from this performance?

We are performing the work in its ‘classic’ form with two narrators and the original band of six players. So I think authenticity is what we hope to provide. The narrators will be amplified, whereas in the original performance a megaphone was used.

How does the music work with the narration?

The narration is spoken in rhythm and is integral to the music. Many of the words in Sitwell’s poems are used for their sounds rather than their sense and complement the wide range of musical styles which Walton employs. The narrators are important instruments in the unique sound world that is Façade.

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