In 2016 Battle Festival marked the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings by commissioning a new opera from the internationally acclaimed composer Howard Moody.
Rather than take a heritage approach to this significant date, we wanted to draw inspiration from the events of 1066 and create our own unique response. To us, a community opera seemed the perfect way for the people of our town and its environs to examine the history, culture and environment that has shaped us – and how the colliding cultures and mass migration that defined the Norman Conquest also shaped the course of the 20th century and still resonate strongly today. It was important to us that a new anthem should be created, one that projects a positive vision for the future – of optimism, hope, peace and friendship. To achieve this, we wanted a strong narrative that would be accessible and recognisable to a modern audience. Simon Gronowski’s extraordinary story did just that.
PUSH is inspired by the true story of Simon Gronowski, who was pushed off a train to Auschwitz by his mother in 1943.
It was always our intention to make the opera resonant and relevant to the local community. We wanted to deliver an inspirational and inclusive project that would encourage participation and, hopefully, instill a lifelong love of singing. Anyone was welcome to join in – not just from Battle but from across 1066 country – irrespective of ability or experience. The creative team also worked with more than 400 children from thirteen schools across the region. A further 400 were invited to a special dress rehearsal so that they too could share in the story and, perhaps, be inspired to take part in a future production.
Significantly, PUSH has provided a stimulus for new and exciting exchanges between people of different ages, backgrounds and outlooks, chiming in with some of the themes of the work. For some, this will have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Perhaps it will have changed a few lives. For all, It has provided the opportunity to come together to create, share, participate and celebrate. And a chance to sing their hearts out.
PUSH is a Battle Festival production in partnership with Glyndebourne and the De La Warr Pavilion, and was premiered as part of the ROOT 1066 International Festival and Battle Festival on 1 October 2016 at the De La Warr Pavilion. A semi-staged version was performed at St Mary’s Church, Battle on 8 October 2016.