Sound Histories – An Evening of Live Music at the British Museum

Our Director of Performance and Programming, Toby Smith, talks to us about Sound Histories, an exciting project set to culminate in a unique evening of live music for the British Museum collection, taking place on the 5 July: 

Sound Histories is the latest and largest yet in the RNCM’s series of site-specific installations created to animate iconic public spaces with music. 

Having previously collaborated with IWM North, Manchester Piccadilly Station and Victoria Baths, Sound Histories sees us working in London for the first time, our stimulus and partner being the British Museum, our national museum and home to the most visited collection in the UK.

For me, the image for Sound Histories, unveiled here for the first time, encapsulates what the project is all about – using music to tell some of the stories of the objects and the galleries of the British Museum, bringing to life in sound the interweaving histories of cultures across the world and drawing upon almost two million years of human history.

The show will take place between 6 and 9pm on Friday 5 July, as part of the British Museum’s Lates series. We’ve been working for over a year now with the British Museum’s Adult Programmes team to create an ambitious evening of music to be performed across most of the ground floor, embracing the collections focusing on Greece, Assyria and Egypt, Asia, Africa, North America, Mexico and much of the Pacific Rim. 

200 musicians will be involved, together performing over 120 pieces, with music for strings, winds, chorus, guitars, harps and saxophones, including solos, duos, chamber music and ensemble pieces that span the last six centuries.

Over the next weeks I’ll be looking in more detail on the RNCM Blog at just a few of the elements that will make up Sound Histories.  I’ll look at just some of the fifty pieces that RNCM composers have written in response to a particular object in the collection, from an Ice Age spear holder carved in the form of a mammoth to El Anatsui's cloth sculpture for the African Gallery. 

I’ll also pick out just a few of the highlights from the rest of the programme – music ancient and modern, and most things in between as well. And we’ll take a look at how we will draw everything together with a specially-commissioned finale for the Great Court, a space that sits at the heart of the BM site, and at the heart of the world cultures that surround it.

We’ll start next week by looking at the Enlightenment Gallery, a space we will be programming with music from the year 1828 to reference the creative world of the men who drew together the BM collection at this time.

In the meantime, do spread the word – as with all the BM’s Lates, the event is free, and as it will only be happening once it’s certainly worth saving the date – Friday 5 July, 6 to 9pm.

31 May 2013