Astonishing ships' opera created by Richard Wilson and Zatorski + Zatorski for 2013 Mayor's Thames Festival

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Astonishing ships' opera created by Richard Wilson and Zatorski + Zatorski for 2013 Mayor's Thames Festival
Dutch sailing Klipper, De Walvisch.

LONDON.- The lost voices of the Thames will call out across the river once again when an extraordinary water-borne ships’ opera is staged by twice Turner Prize-nominated Richard Wilson (UK) and Cultureship Directors and artists, Zatorski + Zatorski (UK) this Autumn.

The centrepiece of this year’s Mayor’s Thames Festival, 1513: A Ships' Opera begins on the morning of the 14 September 2013 at the mouth of the Thames Estuary, when a lone ship – the BARKING – sets sail to join an armada of historic vessels in central London.

The day-long, three-act performance will reach its climax in a spectacular sound, steam and light display in the Pool of London at Tower Bridge later that night.

Against the backdrop of the one of the world’s most recognisable landmarks, the final act of the opera gets underway when Tower Bridge raises its bascules to welcome, from downriver, the armada of historic vessels from the age of sail, steam and diesel that have joined the journey along the way.

The fleet will join the HMS Belfast, which will fire its cannons as part of the performance; it will also move its guns for the first time since 1971 when it was permanently moored at the Pool of London.

Resurrecting the historic sounds of the Thames, the ships will perform a live, moving, operatic concerto of ships’ steam whistles, bells, horns, hooters, sirens and cannon. Modified to become marvellous musical instruments and sculptural artworks in themselves, the ships are not carrying the instruments, they are the instruments.

Illuminating their balletic dance will be the spectacular Trinity Lightship – a lighthouse on a ship – swinging her beam of light across the historic and modern architecture of the river skyline from the Shard to the Tower of London. Plumes of steam and coal smoke will paint the stage while a chattering plumage of signal flags and signal lights will flash from ship to ship.

This one-off, 40-mile performance from the sea to the heart of London celebrates the importance of London’s shared maritime past and present. It also recognises the 500th anniversary of the mariners’ protest to King Henry VIII about the lack of safe pilotage on the Thames. This led to the Royal Charter of Trinity House, which today exists to uphold the safety and well-being of seafarers.

For 1513, Richard Wilson and Zatorski + Zatorski have gathered 3 historic steam ships, an historic diesel tug, 2 trading Thames tugs, a battleship, a 19th century sailing ship, the Trinity Lightship, an iconic bridge, 8 Trinity House bells, as well as a large number of rare ships’ whistles, foghorns and hooters from the private collection of Rowland Humble –owner of the world’s largest collection of steam whistles and air hooters – to form a maritime orchestra.

Each ship has a cargo of lost voices, appropriate to its era and type: the steam ships have steam whistles, the diesel ships have air hooters, the sail ship has bells.

The sounds to be heard in 1513: A Ships' Opera are not random: the work features an original score by Richard Wilson and Ansuman Biswas, a renowned artist and experimental musician whose projects have ranged from collaborating with Bjork and Oasis to staging a musical in a maximum security prison. Ansuman will conduct the final act of the opera by semaphore from the top of the Trinity Lightship that will tower over the Pool of London performance.

1513: A Ships' Opera is the latest in a number of one-off, large-scale, experimental music performances by Richard Wilson, using the maritime voices of foghorns, ships’ whistles, sirens, bells, explosions and flares. Previous concerts on the Thames include Bow Gamelan’sThe Navigators, The Rainham Barges Concert and Lot’s Ait.

Describing 1513: A Ships’ Opera, Richard Wilson RA says: “These are not meaningless sounds out of place, these are exactly the sounds you should hear on water – meaningful sounds that were designed to call out, to warn and to save lives. All of our sound sources and the musical structures generated are unusual because of the physical relationship between the way the instruments work and how they have to be played.”

Zatorski + Zatorski say: “One amazing aspect of the performance is that art has united people of the river: artists with watermen and lightermen from generations of river families, historic ship trusts, master mariners, steam and diesel engineers, sailors, lighthouse scientists, commanders of Trinity House, PLA pilots, harbour and bridge masters. It is a joint celebration of our maritime and cultural excellence.”

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