Saffron Hall premieres its first opera commission, ‘The Glass Knight’

January 18, 2016


Saffron Hall premieres its first opera commission, The Glass Knight, by composer Philip Sunderland produced in partnership with Saffron Walden County High School and showcasing 300 schoolchildren (9–12 March 2016)

Exemplifying Saffron Hall’s pioneering learning and participation programme, The Glass Knight is an operatic commission based on a local legend. This world premiere involves schoolchildren and teachers drawn from Saffron Walden County High School (SWCHS) and seven local primary schools alongside a cast of professionals including Essex-based composer and conductor Philip Sunderland, librettist Gareth Prior, directors Anna Moorhouse and Benjamin Occhipinti and designer Neil Irish. In addition to performing roles, young people are involved in a number of backstage and production roles including technical, stage management, marketing, prop and costume-making and front-of-house, thus further developing Saffron Hall’s education initiative.

Produced in partnership with SWCHS, home of Saffron Hall, The Glass Knight involves 104 SWCHS students aged 11 to 18 in performing roles and 80 students in backstage roles, along with 190 under-11s from local primary schools (Radwinter C of E Primary School, RA Butler Academy, St Thomas More Catholic Primary School, Katherine Semar Junior School, St Mary’s C of E Primary School, Newport Primary School and Great Chesterford C of E Primary Academy), in addition to two professional singers and a twenty-piece orchestra blending professionals with the school’s finest instrumentalists.

Based on the local legend about a mysterious knight who saves Saffron Walden from a basilisk, The Glass Knight is also about the importance of old legends – to inspire, to warn and to keep the past alive. In St Mary’s church four ghosts come together to recount the legend of the Saffron Walden basilisk – famous for centuries but now almost forgotten. As each ghost tells a different version of the story, the audience gradually piece together what really happened: a tale of fear and bravery; of the terrible basilisk that threatened medieval Saffron Walden, the unlikely heroes who stood up to it, and the mysterious glass stranger who saved the town.

Conceived with education and community work at its heart, Saffron Hall continues to push boundaries and develop its trail-blazing model of state school and community music provision across the region and beyond, producing outstanding events with world-class artists, whilst maintaining education and regional development firmly at its core.

Angela Dixon, Saffron Hall Chief Executive, comments:

“With the world premiere of The Glass Knight, Saffron Hall makes a clear statement of intent regarding the learning and participation programme, and its commitment to the community. More than any previous commission, this production, made possible by the strong partnership between Saffron Hall and Saffron Walden County High School, places students, teachers and local stories centre stage. The process of making and rehearsing this opera alongside professionals is as important as the four performances themselves and we hope that the experience will reverberate through the participating schools long afterwards.”

Philip Sunderland, Composer and Music Director, The Glass Knight, comments:

“It has been a privilege to write music for so many young people and then to be able to rehearse and direct the performances too. I am amazed by the creativity of all the young people I am working with. I fervently believe that being a part of this huge machine will be an experience that all the young people will remember for ever, because music is the most powerful and universal language, and through it, hundreds of young people can see how it enriches, enables and enlivens all our endeavours.”

Caroline Derbyshire, Headteacher of Saffron Walden County High School, comments:

The Glass Knight is an ambitious and imaginative project. It goes far beyond the scope of a standard school production, involving as it does a vast cast of children working alongside professional musicians, an original score, and fabulous set design. It is a modern piece in concept, but builds on a traditional local myth. It will inspire and amaze in equal measure. I can’t wait to see and hear it.”

The Glass Knight has been made possible through the generous support of Arts Council England and PRS for Music Foundation.

The Glass Knight, Saffron Hall

9–12 March 2016, 7pm (Saturday matinee 3pm)

On sale now

Information about performers and crew:

104 performing students aged 11–18 from Saffron Walden County High School

194 performing pupils from seven local primary schools (Radwinter C of E Primary School,

RA Butler Academy, St Thomas More Catholic Primary School, Katherine Semar Junior School,

St Mary’s C of E Primary School, Newport Primary School and Great Chesterford C of E Primary Academy)

80 SWCHS students involved in backstage roles

20 key members of teaching staff from participating schools

About Philip Sunderland

Philip Sunderland is Music Director to W11 Opera and has conducted numerous productions for English Touring Opera and won the 2014 Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Opera. He has worked with Oxford poet/librettist Gareth Prior, who has been published in Poem Magazine and the Templar Anthology and shortlisted for the Keats-Shelley Prize.