"Knight Crew and the engagement of young people"
Submitting InstitutionGuildhall School of Music & Drama
Unit of AssessmentMusic, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Psychology and Cognitive Sciences: Psychology
Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Performing Arts and Creative Writing
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
Summary of the impact
The opera Knight Crew by Julian Philips provides a model for how
contemporary large-scale opera can excite young people for whom the medium
is often perceived as excluding and exclusive.
Knight Crew's impacts were both direct and indirect: direct through the
involvement of young people with little or no experience of opera in the
development and performance of the work; indirect through the
international influence the various studies and evaluations of the opera
have had on subsequent initiatives within opera and education.
One of the main aims of the research was to work towards creating a new
model of Opera, one that could reanimate a tradition arguably engaging
only a small and unrepresentative section of society.
The key researcher working on this project was Julian Philips, who, at
the time of the start of research was a research student at Sussex
University 2006-09 and since 2004 Head of Composition at the Guildhall
School of Music & Drama.
The research grew through the researcher/composer's residency at
Glyndebourne Festival Opera (2006-09) that enabled Philips to investigate
the potential of new operatic forms, their optimal methods of development,
their selection of performers and the ways in which resulting works could
be realised for audiences. The principal staging posts that mark the
evolution of this research prior to Knight Crew are Followers
(2008), a site-specific, promenade opera, and The Yellow Sofa
(2009), a chamber opera for 10 singers and small ensemble. Both were
composed for, and presented by, Glyndebourne. The latter is also offered
as an REF output (output 17a).
Through these smaller operas the composer's understanding of the
potential of the research project expanded: what had been an endeavour
aimed principally at breathing oxygen into the grand operatic tradition
became one that increasingly appreciated that some of the methods through
which this could be achieved had the hugely significant advantage of
bringing a new audience to the art form. The conclusion emerged that the
engagement of young people into the creation of opera, would not only
revivify the form but also excite and engage a new generation.
Knight Crew encapsulates these research outcomes and was the
vehicle through which the impact described in this statement was achieved.
It is worth underlining that the research aim was not primarily
sociological, educational or polemical, but rather operatic. Its impact on
the quality of the opera is presented in a separate REF output (output
17b), here, the focus is Knight Crew's impact on the way opera is
made, how it is shared with audiences and how these advances are
influencing others eager that opera should continue to provoke and engage.
Knight Crew is published by Peters Edition, London.
References to the research
`Working closely with local schools and community groups Glyndebourne has
used workshops and auditions to recruit a team from the Sussex region for
a modern retelling of the King Arthur myth. Although professional soloists
play the protagonists - Art, Lance and Quin - 50 teenagers will perform as
the Knight Crew chorus, very much a lead role in its own right, and there
are also choruses of young boys and mothers.
Composer Julian Philips and librettist Nicky Singer have developed a
challenging narrative dealing with social issues including knife crime and
bullying, and few concessions have been made musically. "I have had to
worry about how to write material for young voices but I haven't
compromised its language and I haven't stinted on trying to build real
operatic textures of some complexity" says Philips.
Glyndebourne, however, is unique in being able to offer world-class
facilities because it does not present operas throughout the year. Knight
Crew is benefiting not only from the involvement of a widely
respected production team, including director John Fulljames and designer
Es Devlin, but also from the staff that work on the festival productions.'
Author: Guy Dammann
Title: Knight Crew
Year of Publication: March 8th 2010
Type of output Review, the Guardian
To note: Guy Dammann is a regular contributor to the Guardian and Times
Literary Supplement. He is an employee of the Guildhall School of Music
& Drama and a colleague of Julian Philips
Philips has never shied away from co-opting contrasting musical styles
for dramatic purposes, and his score is a riot of references, taking in
popular and operatic lyric idioms in a way that allows seamless
interaction between professional soloists and chorus. Indeed, part of the
magic of the music and of John Fulljames's direction is that it allows
influence to flow from innocence to experience as well as vice versa,
adding a quality to the solo performances, notably of Yvonne Howard
(Myrtle) and Pascal Charbonneau (Art), that would have been lacking with a
more experienced supporting cast.
Add to the mix Es Devlin's ingenious stage design and Nicholas Collon's
excellent, transparent conducting and the overall effect was exhilarating,
and not a little humbling.
Glyndebourne's first composer-in-residence Julian Philips is a master of
pastiche. And when Knight Crew make their appearance - dimly lit and
drably costumed like creatures from the underworld - one senses director
John Fulljames's characteristically sure touch...
For a `community' opera this is an extraordinarily accomplished piece of
work, with the Mothers' Chorus - some of whom are the real-life mothers of
the fictional gangsters - being outstandingly good (full marks to
chorus-master Gareth Malone, otherwise known as presenter of the BBC's
`The Choir'). Soprano Claire Wild and tenor Pascal Charbonneau are
wonderfully convincing as the chief protagonists, with mezzo Yvonne Howard
doubling brilliantly as the bag- lady and Arthur's despairing mother. The
endlessly mutating set with its skilfully projected climactic scenes
recalls the glory days of English National Opera, the libretto trades
intelligently on the monosyllabic terseness of street slang, and the music
draws boldly on Bernstein and Stravinsky. Whether this new work `has legs'
is a moot point - it demands major skills and resources - but it's
certainly a major achievement.
It all adds up to a gripping two hour, two act opera - a reworking of the
Arthur story set on a 21st century UK estate where knife crime is a way of
I love the lyricism of it. Think of Puccini punctuated by occasional
Lloyd Webber moments suffused with Bernstein-ian rhythms and Britten-esque
harmonies. I also love Es Devlin's massive, flexible metallic geometric
set with all those shadowy balconies and Bruno Poet's sinister lighting
and evocative, story-telling projection. No compromise on Glyndebourne's
usual production values tonight.
But most of all I love seeing over 100 young people learning and
achieving so much together and clearly - it was very obvious at the
curtain call - enjoying every minute of the experience...I wouldn't have
missed it for anything: profoundly uplifting and encouraging. But I'll
wear my thermals next time.
The National Lottery through Arts Council England, East Sussex County
Council, Brighton & Hove Music, Arts and Study Support, 3ev, The
Donald Albert Anderson Charitable Trust, Allen and Overy, The Andor Trust,
The Peter Beckwith Trust, J Paul Getty Jnr Charitable Trust, Paul Hamlyn
Foundation, The Idlewild Trust, MariaMarina Foundation, Charles Peel
Charitable Trust, He Philanthropic Collaborative, PRS Foundation for New
Music, RVW Trust, The Reed Foundation, Martin Smith, The Bernard Sunley
Trust, The Michael Tippett Musical Foundation,Tufton Charitable Trust, Mr
WJ Weston, George and Patti White.
Quality of research
The research that underpins this claim for impact is the same research
presented in the Knight Crew research output in REF (output 17b).
Details of the impact
Three main areas of impact are presented below: Knight Crew's
impact on its young performers; the impact of its performances; and the
on-going impact of Knight Crew after its initial season of
performances. Together these form the multi-stranded "significant
enhancement of cultural life" described in the Impact Template (REF 3a,
section d) and which are placed in a more general context in the Impact
Template (REF 3a, context).
Knight Crew's impact on its young performers
One impact of the practice-based research process that led to Knight
Crew was felt by those who contributed to its development. These
included fifty-two young people recruited to the chorus and another
thirty-eight who augmented the professional orchestral musicians.
Additionally, twenty adult amateur singers formed a mothers' chorus. The
impact on these performers is evidenced by the three-part BBC Television
documentary, screened in 2010, that charts the development of the opera
and the experience of the participants from first workshop to first night.
In summary it shows the initial surprise of the young participants that
their contribution to the genesis of Knight Crew was not only
requested but vital, through to nervousness and excitement as the
performances became closer. A second, less mediated, set of participant
reactions was seen on the Knight Crew pages of social media.
Running parallel to these formal and personal processes of documenting
the impact on the young people was a study carried out with relevant local
authorities on the barriers to participation in opera experienced
particularly by 14-19 year olds. An additional report (2010) was
commissioned by Glyndebourne from Dr Richard Ings. This was preceded by an
Arts Council assessment from David Richardson.
From these formal reports, evaluations and personal commentaries it is
possible to draw three major strands of conclusions about the second order
impacts Knight Crew had on its younger participants: a sense of
enhanced self-worth at the realisation that they had a creative ability
that was valuable and valued; an understanding of the operatic process
stripped of its private languages; and the realisation that opera can
speak directly to them about subjects important to them.
References to reports cited here appear in Section 5.
The impact of Knight Crew's performances
The four performances of Knight Crew were attended by 4,536
people, 44% of whom were new to Glyndebourne Opera. Ticket sales exceeded
company expectations by £11,000.
In addition to the live performances, a web-based micro-site, maintained
for three years after Knight Crew's first production, allowed
downloads of the complete opera; 600 were made.
The impact of Knight Crew after Knight
The innovative involvement of young people in the creation and
performance of Knight Crew was immediately understood as a
significant development. This was recognised by the BBC in its decision to
make the documentary already described, but also by the
composer/researcher and his team. An event was therefore held after the Knight
Crew matinée at Glyndebourne that encouraged experts from various
institutions to reflect on the development of new opera and its
relationship to opera education work.
This event was followed in February 2011 by an international conference
on new opera development. The event, led by the composer/researcher, used
lessons learnt through Knight Crew as its starting point. The
conference welcomed key figures from the British education sector and
representatives of leading UK and European opera companies.
The impact of Knight Crew was further enhanced by an agreement
between the BBC and Glyndebourne that the company could use additional BBC
footage to chart its own process of commissioning and developing Knight
Crew. This extends the impact of the opera, and its innovative
developmental process, to the wider international operatic community.
Another impact of Knight Crew has been the influence its creative
process has had on other projects by other teams. The composer/researcher
has been invited to advise various groups intent on staging new work using
variants of the approaches pioneered in Knight Crew. These include
W11 Opera, Welsh National Opera, and The Opera Group. Additionally, plans
are now (2013) nearing completion for new performances of Knight Crew
in New Zealand.
Further impacts prompted by Knight Crew have included numerous
invitations the composer/researcher has received to join bodies
responsible for commissioning new work (Sound and Music, Royal Opera
House, The Opera Group, Royal Philharmonic Society, British Association of
Songwriters, Composers and Authors) and to speak at conferences on future
directions of opera (European Network for Opera and Dance Education (March
2010), Opera for Young People (2011), Royal Musicological Association
(July 2012) New Operatic Forms for Participatory and community opera (July
The success of Knight Crew has led to the composer/researcher
receiving further commissions for his work that builds on the practices
developed in the opera. These include Good Intentions (W11 Opera,
December 2012), How the Whale Became (Royal Opera House, December
2013), and Fern Hill (Welsh National Opera, 2014).
Sources to corroborate the impact
1) Evaluation Report - Commissioned by Glyndebourne Festival
Opera from Dr Richard Ings, (June 2010). Available from the Guildhall
2) Independent Assessment - Commissioned by The Arts Council,
England from David Richardson, (April 2010). Available from the Guildhall
3) Local Authorities' study on barriers to participation -
Available from the Guildhall School
4) BBC documentary Gareth Goes to Glyndebourne http://www.bbcshop.com/music/gareth-malone-goes-to-glyndebourne-dvd/invt/av9826
5) Arts Council For information on Knight Crew from the
Arts Council see:
6) Glyndebourne For a Glyndebourne Opera website with a page on Knight
Crew, a range of links, photographs and video go to http://glyndebourne.com/discover/knight-crew
7) Facebook For a Facebook site for Knight Crew see: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Knight-Crew-
8) Blogs For Knight Crew blog material see http://operaobsession.blogspot.co.uk/2010/03/knight-crew.html;