Ensemble 10/10 review – uplifting songs from Srebrenica

Nigel Osborne’s arrangements of folk songs by inhabitants of the Bosnian town were dark, complex and moving, without ever overwhelming their material

When Nigel Osborne was requested to write a piece marking 20 years since the conclusion of the war in Bosnia he declined, claiming he would be unable to do it justice. That may seem surprising, given the composer experienced the conflict as a humanitarian volunteer (he was instrumental, with the charity War Child, in establishing the Pavarotti Music Centre in Mostar), and subsequently created a music theatre trilogy, Sarajevo, and an opera, Europa.

What he has done, however, is produce arrangements for Bosnian Voices, a suite of songs written by inhabitants of the town of Srebrenica. It draws from a remarkable cross section of the population, including Romany children, rape victims and rock musicians; and though Osborne’s accompaniments are dark and complex, influenced by the chiming of the Orthodox church bells and the Muslim call to prayer, they never threaten to overwhelm the direct expression of these fragile, contemporary folk songs.

There is a contrast – which must be intentional – between the sophistication of a trained classical voice and the naive simplicity of the melodies. But young mezzo Hanna-Liisa Kirchin gave extraordinary expression to the women confronted with their sexual abusers on Facebook; or young pacifists faced with the choice of conscription into paramilitary gangs or summary execution.

Yet the seven-song sequence, directed with great sensitivity by Clark Rundell, was ultimately less harrowing than uplifting, and culminated in an anthemic love song to Srebrenica, written by children who no longer care “what you wear / If or where you say your prayers”. Osborne has attracted criticism in the past for placing music at the service of reportage. But since the composer hurried back for this premiere from a similar music therapy programme in Syria, one can only admire his willingness to place himself in the line of fire.

Alfred Hickling, The Guardian
5th November 2015
Original article here.