The music for The Far Shore follows the plot of the original folk-tale, Swan Lake, treating it almost as though it were a short movie. This approach came quite naturally as both [choreographer] Van Le Ngoc and I were seeking to create a celebratory new work appropriate for the Shanghai Expo that had a clear relationship to Swan Lake while retaining its own character.
What interested me was getting back to the heart of the tale, I didn’t want to come up with a trendy modern allegory or take liberties with Tchaikovsky¹s famous score, I simply wanted to answer the question: ‘how does one tell this story through music in the 21st century?’
The solution I liked best was to score the emotional journey without seeking to be too literal. I felt that this was more likely to generate music that was better to move to and would free up Van from being bound to a narrative ballet.
The score I ended up writing divides into four movements; the first is concerned with youthful energy and optimism, expressed in dance, the second with uncertainty, venturing onto untried paths and with finding love, the third contains a return to buoyant youthful energy including a wild scherzo titled ‘This Is NOT My Girlfriend’ after the scene in the folk tale where Prince Siegfried dances with Odile, who has cunningly replaced his true love, Odette. There is a final celebratory fourth movement in which, as we all hoped, love triumphs over the dastardly plans of devious malefactors and a happy ending ensues.
Inspiration for The Far Shore
I have long been interested in Buddhism, and both Tibetan and Chinese religious culture. In the ballet; its title, The Far Shore, is a reference to a concept of the Buddhist teachings as the wisdom that propels us upon the raft of our human existence, across the ocean of suffering to the ‘far shore’ of spiritual enlightenment.
I began to be inspired to write The Far Shore while on a visit to Beijing in November 2009 for the premiere of a work for string orchestra: Somehow The Miracle – dedicated to the memory of my friend Jill Nightingale – at the APAC Orchestra Festival, which brought together student musicians from across Asia.
Premiere of The Far Shore at Shanghai Expo cancelled
“I was deeply disappointed that the premiere of the ballet The Far Shore, with my original score, choreographed by Van Le Ngoc and to be performed on UK National Day at the Shanghai Expo on September 8, 2010 was suddenly cancelled. The cancellation by the British Council and English National Ballet was made public by The Times on August 28, following a press preview of the work in London, where I heard the ballet described by journalists present as “beautiful” and “moving”. I was dismayed about the impact on the choreographer, dancers and others involved in the production, who put their hearts and souls into the work over a period of many months.
The cancellation arose because of a personal dedication to the Tibetan people written only on the unpublished score and seen only by a few people at English National Ballet and London Symphony Orchestra; the performance in Shanghai was to have been to pre-recorded music. I had not planned to attend.”
The dedication text was as follows:
‘This music is loosely based on the original folk tale ‘Swan Lake’ which famously inspired Tchaikovsky. It is a story of truth triumphing over deception and darker forces. It is dedicated to the people of Tibet, for speaking the truth, protecting their cultural identity despite the dangers they face’