Orlando Gough was born in 1953 and has been writing music ever since he gave up being a maths teacher. Starting with the bands The Lost Jockey and Man Jumping, he moved on to compose operas for TV (including The Empress, 1992) and music for theatre and dance productions (Rambert, Royal Ballet, Siobhan Davies Dance Company, Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company, Dutch National Ballet, Second Stride), and more recently to choral music.
Unusually, he also writes music with other composers; in fact all of his work is collaborative in nature. The Shout – the vocal ‘big band’ that he and Richard Chew founded in 1999 – is unique, consisting of singers from a very wide spectrum of musical styles. Each singer explores his or her own individual timbre, which leaps out from the ‘band’ in featured solo moments. The usual forms of choral homogeneity are not for them, though their ensemble is perfection.
Orlando is a paid-up patron of the un-bland: constantly delighting his listeners with angular tunes, unexpected harmonies and funky rhythms. Tall Stories has a long improvised section using as text nothing but the ingredients for different pizza recipes. The Arabic in The Shouting Fence was shouted from loudhailers from the rooftops of the South Bank; in Pierrot: A Biography (written as a companion piece for Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire) he rose to the challenge of writing for a group of 19 women and two men; while the Himalaya song for Rufus Norris’s inspired production of Tintin should become a regular accompaniment to the putting to bed of small children.
It was after the Artangel-commissioned Because I Sing, which took place in the Roundhouse in 2001, using large numbers of non-professional singers – that Gough became interested in the participatory crowd in his pieces. When ENO Baylis (English National Opera’s education and outreach team) commissioned a piece – For the Public Good – for the reopening of the London Coliseum in 2004, Orlando and his librettist Tamsin Collison unearthed wonderful tales from the theatre’s glittering past. A choir of 500, sitting in the stalls, sang (a cappella and from memory!) about the Coliseum’s former glories: about the vaudeville shows which ranged from recreating Derby Day, (complete with horses!), the first demonstration of television and Winston Churchill’s speeches, right up to ENO’s occupation of the building in 1968.
Conducting a crowd – a real crowd – has terror and thrill to it. Unpredictable, committed, powerful and intensely moving – as all of them sang ‘it is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, it is perhaps the end of the beginning’, one felt the sense of the power of human beings united in singing: music as a breathtaking, all-enveloping force for good.
Profile © Mary King