Michael Nyman's Symphony No. 11: Hillsborough Memorial
Symphony No. 11: Hillsborough Memorial, available in November on MN Records, represents the culmination of Michael Nyman's thoughts on the tragedies connected with Liverpool Football Club. 25 years after the Hillsborough disaster, he says that he hopes it will make a small but significant contribution to the healing process still necessary for the families of the lost fans.
Nyman effectively began composing Symphony No. 11 as long ago as 1985, when he was commissioned to write a work to be performed in a ‘deconsecrated’ electricity generating station in Yainville. The composer visited the venue and discovered that the reverberation time of the vast performance space was around 10 seconds. Accordingly, the music needed to be harmonically slow, so that the acoustic would not confuse fast harmonic changes.
While Nyman was in the middle of writing Centrale Electrique (as it was then called), he sat down to watch the Liverpool vs Juventus Champions League match at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels and in the days after the Heysel disaster, Centrale Electrique became Memorial and was dedicated to the deaths of the Juventus fans. On June 15, 1985,
Memorial was given its first and only performance.
Four years later, on Saturday April 15, 1989, Nyman was re-working some of the material while trying to catch radio reports on the two FA-Cup semi-finals being played that afternoon. He was not able to find out the score of the Liverpool v Nottingham Forest match, and some hours after the end of the recording session it became clear why.
Nyman says, "Although I am not superstitious, for some years I felt partially ‘responsible’ for the Hillsborough disaster: during the first working of this musical material, the Heysel tragedy occurred and on the very afternoon when I had taken the Heysel material ‘out of the box’ for the first time since 1985, 96 Liverpool fans died at Hillsborough."
In 1996, Nyman started composing a piece called Hillsborough Memorial in which the names of all the 96 dead fans were set as a new vocal line above the very same D major sequence from Memorial that he had started to record in 1989. On June 13, 1996, Sarah Leonard and the Michael Nyman Band, as part of a tour to coincide with Euro 96 football championships,
performed Hillsborough Memorial in Liverpool. Again, one performance only.
On July 5, 2014, Michael Nyman’s Symphony No. 11: Hillsborough Memorial was given its world premiere in Liverpool Cathedral by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Josep Vicent, with Liverpool-born mezzo soprano Kathryn Rudge and Liverpool Philharmonic Youth and Training Choirs on the opening weekend of Liverpool Biennial 2014. This symphony, available on disc in November, ‘revisits’ both Memorial and Hillsborough Memorial and adds new material to fill the physical and emotional space suitable for such an occasion.