|Composer/bandleader Mike Westbrook and vocalist/librettist Kate Westbrook first joined forces in the mid-70s. Touring and performing world-wide with a succession of ensembles, they have generated a unique body of work. Working with classical as well as jazz vocalists and instrumentalists, they have expanded their concept of jazz to embracemusic-theatre, cabaret and opera.
Large-scale compositions on European themes have figured strongly in the Westbrooks' creative output. THE CORTEGE (1979) for voices and jazz orchestra incorporated settings of poetry by Lorca, Rimbaud, Hesse, Blake and other European poets; LONDON BRIDGE IS BROKEN DOWN (1987) for voice, jazz group and chamber orchestra, featured French, German and English poetry.
TURNER IN URI, commissioned by Alpentoene Festival and premiered in Altdorf and Zurich in 2003, is the latest and perhaps the most ambitious of these works. Written for a cast of some 60 performers, Mike Westbrook's score brings together two vocal soloists, jazz and classical, with choir, jazz-rock group and brass band. Kate Westbrook's libretto and the 75- minute film of her paintings that accompanies the performance, celebrates the travels of the painter J.M.W.Turner in Canton Uri, in the Swiss Alps.
When wars in Europe permitted, in the early 19th century, Turner travelled to Switzerland. There he drew and painted ceaselessly producing a huge quantity of work. TURNER IN URI conjures up the ainter's journey from the Urnersee to the St. Gotthard Pass and over into Italy. He encounters Alps, the River Reuss, a doomed prostitute, violent storms, demons, ghosts of the Grand Tour and the ubiquitous 'Swiss Figures'. The libretto has songs in German, Swiss German, Italian, French, Rumantsch, and in English,- the 6 main languages of Switzerland.
TURNER IN URI was first performed with an ensemble comprising the 30-piece Brass Band Uri, a 25-voice Choir (Schola Uriensis) , soloists Kate Westbrook and bass-baritone Claudio Danuser, and jazz-rock group with Chris Biscoe and Barbara Thompson (saxophones), Tim Harries (bass guitar), Mike Westbrook (piano), and Jon Hiseman (drums). The premiere was filmed by Swiss TV and screened in conjunction with a documentary "Devil's Bridge" about the preparation of the work, made by Charles Mapleston for Malachite films.