The world premiere of We Turned on the Light, a choral work on the threat of climate change, with libretto by Caryl Churchill and music by Orlando Gough, was presented at The Proms on 29 July 2006.
Gough was commissioned by The Proms to write a choral piece using amateur and professional singers and his choir, The Shout. In Gough’s words, it is about ‘the catastrophic consequences from apparently innocent actions’.
Churchill uses a device from her play The Skriker in which the grand-daughter of the grand-daughter of the protagonist/narrator speaks to the protagonist. In We Turned on the Light, the grand-daughter of the grand-daughter is suffering the effects of climate change and asks the present-day protagonist, ‘Didn’t you love me?’ The protagonist answers ‘I’m sorry…It’s hard to love people far away in time’.
The piece has a three-part structure.
Part 1, 'All The Good News', is about what the contemporary world sees as its benefits and achievements.
‘We turned on the light and flooded in the city’.
In Part 2, 'The Good News Plus The Bad News', the grand-daughter of the grand-daughter shouts to the protagonist, ‘I hate you..’ and asks her question, 'Didn't you love me?'.
‘We drove the car faster’.
‘We bought a new T-shirt’.
‘We flew to the sunshine’.
‘We ate cherries in winter’.
In Part 3, 'All The Bad News, Ending With A Kind Of Typhoon Of Bad News', there is a final coda with the words ‘The flowers are growing higher up the mountain’.
Over 500 people participated in the two performances. The Shout, the ‘Rabble Choirs’ of singers recruited from Glasgow, London and Proms audiences, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra performed in both. In the afternoon, they were joined by the National Youth Choirs of Scotland and Great Britain and the Rodolfus Choir. In the evening performance, they were joined by the BBC Symphony Chorus and Huddersfield Choral Society.
The webpage for We Turned on the Light, BBC Proms, 2006, is www.bbc.co.uk/proms