Andrew Cusworth - Esgyn Soar (solo organ)

Andrew Cusworth - Esgyn Soar (solo organ)

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On the 18th September 1890, Capel Soar’s new Conacher organ was opened by the Zoar Harmonic Society in a performance of Handel’s Messiah. At the time, and for many years afterwards, the fortunes of the town and its inhabitants were made and unmade by the iron industry, and, if it was sung that night, the aria ‘Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron’ must have carried extra resonance for the performers and their audience. Yet, Merthyr’s industrial star, at least in the sense of iron, was already wavering, pointing towards a less certainly-rooted future for the town and its communities; towards an as yet unseen need for a future reinvention; towards, amongst many things, the rebirth of Zoar Chapel as Theatr Soar, and the rejuvenation of the Conacher organ.

Esgyn Soar takes its inspiration from the process of learning about and exploring the musical and cultural histories of Theatr Soar and Merthyr Tydfil: the rises, falls, and reinventions of one of Wales’ most recognisably post-industrial towns. The name ‘Esgyn Soar’ is a play on the word ‘soar’ (‘Soar’the name of the theatre derived from the chapel, the English word ‘soar’, and its Welsh equivalent, ‘esgyn’). It is formed out of a playful, poignant, semi-melodic line and two fragments from the aria ‘Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron’ from Messiah, a quiet reference to both the organ’s opening concert and the industrial heritage of the town. These ideas are extended into a piece that is part meditation and part toccata; part prayer, part humour; part quiet anger at the ravaging exploitation of the town by industry and its decline, and part hope for its cultural future, as embodied by Theatr Soar and the project to restore and celebrate its organ.

Esgyn Soar by Andrew Cusworth was first performed on 21st May 2023 by James McVinnie.

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