Magnus Lindberg's Graffiti performed by RSNO

Finnish composer's orchestral study of Pompeii graffiti

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Magnus Lindberg's Graffiti performed by RSNO

With funding for culture in Italy facing the same challenges as ministerial budgets across Europe, the future of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, which needs constant support for excavation and preservation, is uncertain. Numerous stray dogs reputedly roam around the ruins, some of which are now closed to the public on safety grounds. Yet, while this UNESCO World Heritage Site, which attracts around two million visitors each year, struggles with its physical conservation, its infamous graffiti has taken on a new musical life all of its own.

In Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg’s first major work for choir and orchestra, Graffiti, text-setting breaks new ground. Seven years in the making as he searched for just the right texts, Lindberg’s piece receives its Scottish premiere from the RSNO and RSNO Chorus. ‘These Latin texts are wonderful,’ he says, ‘They are taken from inscriptions from the ruined walls in Pompeii, which were buried by ash for over 1500 years. They give a glimpse into society as it was when Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, whether political, social, about business, love affairs or even insults.’

The layers of Pompeii life revealed by the graffiti are key to Lindberg’s score, although it is not programmatic in the sounds of the music reflecting the meaning of the words. ‘My style these days is very much about working with big clashes and contrasts,’ says Lindberg (pictured). ‘The choir is a huge part of it, and sing all through the piece.’

In looking at modern graffiti and comparing it to that of Pompeii, Lindberg sees many similarities. ‘In both times there is gossip, jealousy, rude letters – and I’ve not excluded explicit material – so it seems to me that the whole idea of passing on messages one to another this way is simply part of being a human being.’

RSNO, Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Fri 19 Nov; Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, Sat 20 Nov

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