In July of this year, I travelled to Australia to attend a ‘world premier’ (as it said in the programme). And what a beautiful part of the world! At the Australian Festival of Chamber Music, held in Townsville, Queensland, a short story of mine was performed in four parts, interspersed between four pieces of classical music.
To rewind, it was a year ago that concert pianist and Artistic Director of the AFCM, Kathryn Stott, contacted me with – quote – a mad idea! She’d had a persistent thought to have a late-night concert consisting of a story set to music. She was thinking that with my background in music, I could do the job. What kind of a story? Up to you, was the response! Kathryn only knew that she liked my sense of drama and thought that it could be brought to bear using the music she’d selected as inspiration. She had more faith in me than I felt in myself.
So I listened very carefully, searching the character of the music, hoping to uncover its secrets and carve out a succinct plot. What experience did I have in short story writing? None. I’m used to writing novels 130K words plus and of having the freedom to explore any themes of my choosing. Now I had a strict 30 minute limit (in narration time) to come up with a convincing story, give it a beginning, middle and end, a sense of time and place, match it to the mood and flavours in the music and coax my audience into investing emotionally in the characters so that they would care what happened to them at the end. The story would need to be a fitting union with the compositions of Schubert, Grieg, Sibelius and Charles Koechlin. No pressure then.
I was utterly blank for a week. I returned to the music again and again until the fog cleared and an idea began to germinate. That idea became a story called The Final Hour, which was also the name of the concert that night. The four pieces were performed in exactly the order Kathryn listed them on my original email. 6 musicians performed 4 trios with various instrumentation. I’m not sure if the music swam around the story or the other way around, but it worked. I attended the timed rehearsal the night before and wept like a baby during the final piece of music. It was overwhelming to witness the music and story draw together; to listen to a wonderful narrator who breathed life and depth into the words and 6 world-class musicians who performed flawlessly.
What an honour to be there in person on concert night, 28th July 9.30 – 10.30 p.m. and to take my bow alongside actress/narrator, Judy Higgins-Olsen, and the six incredible musicians who performed that night. The concert was held in St James Cathedral, Townsville and recorded by ABC Classic Radio. The broadcast wasn’t aired live, but was aired on Friday 16th August, 11 a.m. UK time, 8 p.m. Australian time. By then, I was back home and was able to tune in online and listen to my name being read out. Tori de who? they must have been thinking! And then the entire story was performed without interruption. Nice work if you can get it!
Caption: I’m pictured above with actress/narrator Judy Higgins-Olsen (in red) and pianist Kathryn Stott (in white).