Sunday, 12 January 2014

Adam Saunders: Overture Pirates Ahoy!

I first came across ‘pirates’ in Morecambe when I was about 5 years old.  Amongst many happy days spent playing cricket on the wide expanse of sand, exploration of Happy Mount Park, excursions on the miniature railway and splashing in the lido was Moby Dick. This was an old cargo schooner that had been built just down the coast at Glasson Dock in 1887 as the ‘Ryelands’.  In the late nineteen–forties she had been purchased by Disney/RKO and appeared as the Hispaniola in the 1950 film version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island starring Robert Newton.  Four years later she was again used as the Pequod in the movie Moby Dick featuring Gregory Peck. The music for that film was by the British ‘classical’ composer Philip Sainton.  In 1960 she was moored in Morecambe opposite to Brucciani’s (a well-known café and ice cream parlour) and became a popular tourist attraction. 
My father took me on board the ‘Moby Dick’ on numerous occasions. I seem to recall that there was a model-railway ‘down below’. However, my imagination was exercised exploring the decks, holding the ships wheel, and hoping that somehow the vessel would quite suddenly put out to sea, head across Morecambe Bay, past Barrow-in-Furness, bound for the Spanish Main. For me this was indeed a pirate ship and not a schooner.

Adam Saunders has told me that his Overture: Pirates Ahoy was written in 2006 especially for the Dutton Epoch CD British Light Music Premieres: Volume 4. This disc was recorded by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Gavin Sutherland.  The Overture was intended to be an ‘entertaining and fun-filled concert overture, depicting different aspects of life on board the pirate ship - from swashbuckling adventures with sword fights and canon-fire to humorous adventures on-board ship, with the stowaway 'little hero' having his own mini-adventures, with an element of mischief!’
The Overture is about five minutes long. It opens with swirling ‘sea-music’ that suggests the pirates approaching, the skull and crossbones flying, from over the horizon on a stormy day. The brass section delivers a strong nautical tune. The pace settles down a bit. I assume that even pirates have some down time or R&R. Traces of the hornpipe suggest merry-making, and I detect the bassoon pointing out that some AB has been at the rum ration... Naturally, pirates in real-life were not quite as romantic as Hollywood (and Saunders) portray. However, this really does not matter- this is an overture for the imagination. What impressed me most about this short piece was the orchestral colouring which, in my opinion, is masterly.
This is an impressive piece that surely deserves its place in concerts, especially where younger listeners are being targeted. I wonder if there is a brass-band version of this piece in the composer’s mind. Then it could indeed be played on the ‘prom’ by the local town band.
Adam Saunders was born in Derby in 1968 and subsequently studied at the Royal Academy of Music, where he won a number of prizes for musical composition.  His focus as a composer is divided between the concert hall and media including television and film.  He writes a deal of library music, which can be used by producers to give a suitable background to their screen-plays.  Saunders has had works performed by leading British and European orchestras including the BBC Concert Orchestra, the Hallé Orchestra, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Other works that have been recorded include the 'Comedy Overture' on British Light Overtures Volume 3 (ASV White Line WHL 2140), the 'Fairy-tale Sleigh-ride' on Another Night before Christmas (Naxos 8.572744) and 'The Magical Kingdom' on Dutton Epoch CDLX 7147 (incorrectly titled 'The Magic Kingdom').
Finally, the Moby Dick (Ryelands) was destroyed by fire in (c.)1972.  I am sure that it was the end of swash-buckling, sea-faring dreams for many ‘children’ young and old. At least Adam Saunders’s Overture captures much of the magic and the memories.
Adam Saunders’ Overture: Pirates Ahoy can be heard on Dutton Epoch British Light Music Overtures Volume 4 CDLX 7190. It is available now as a download only, although second hand copies can be secured.  

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