For Easter weekend (April 6-7), the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra is premiering the full symphonic work Missa Mirabilis by Stephen Hough, world-renowned-pianist-turned-composer. In the program notes, Stephen writes that his Christian faith runs deep in this work, and that his faith started as a baptized Methodist and later a confirmed Anglican and then, to the disapproval of his "very Orange Liverpool" grandmother, Catholicism. Interestingly enough, Stephen's faith isn't just in the score. It's in the story that leads up to the score.
"Around five years ago I was staying in Cheshire during a week of concerts with the Halle Orchestra and Sir Mark Elder. I took the opportunity of the free days before the evening concerts to gather together a year's-worth of sketches I'd made for a Mass setting, commissioned by Martin Baker, Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral. It was an intense week of creation because I finished three of the movements in three of the days. They were stuffed into my briefcase, which sat on the floor next to me as I drove south after the final concert of the Manchester run. When I reached Milton Keynes a lorry moved into the middle lane where I was cruising along at around 80 MPH and I calmly moved over into the fast lane ... at which point something terrifying happened. My car screeched out of control - swerving, spinning ... then suddenly it was tumbling in somersaults across the three lanes. As it turned over four or five times many thoughts raced through my mind - one of which was that I would never get to hear the music that I had written that week.
Then, strangely, I realized that my car had stopped, on its side, with my door above me in the air, crumpled metal all around, and a strange smokey dust everywhere. I didn't feel any injury, and I knew I wasn't dead or unconscious ... and then a ferocious survival instinct kicked in. I tried desperately to get out, but couldn't reach the door before it opened, and I saw the arm of the lorry driver who had caused the crash reaching inside to help my climb to freedom. I rescued my bags later, wrenching the mangled metal doors open and retrieving my briefcase with the three Mass movements. I eventually made my way home in a taxi - glass and filth in my hair, a drying trickle of blood on my forehead, and tears of a strange joy wet on my cheeks.
Two movements remained to be written: the Agnus Dei was sketched in hospital, waiting for a brain scan, and quite a lot of the Gloria later, in a practice room at the Hilbert Circle Theatre on a visit to play with the Indianapolis Symphony. Never did I think at the time that I would orchestrate the piece and it would receive its premiere in that same building!"
It's a fascinating story and probably begs a few questions. I know I'd like to ask Stephen: "Do you think the accident changed your 'themes' for the Gloria and Agnus Dei movements?" "As a once strict converted Catholic, you say that you are much more flexible now. What changed?" And the mother inside me wants to ask, "Do you normally travel at 80MPH?!"
Do you have questions for Stephen? If so, you can talk to him LIVE on Monday, April 2 from 7-8 p.m. (EST) on Twitter! Stephen is hosting a Tweet-up for his followers and ours. All you have to do is type your question (140 characters or less) and include the hashtag #HoughISO. Join the conversation!