The BSO is collaborating with leading young British composer James Olsen to commemorate this anniversary through an intergenerational project, D-Day 75: A Musical Documentary, which will bring together World War II veterans, school children and amateur and professional musicians. Through this project, different generations will collaborate on a new piece of music, which will have its first performance at Southsea Common on Friday 7 June 2019.

The project will bring together composer and filmmaker James Olsen, D-Day veterans from the Royal Alfred Seafarers’ Society in Banstead (a care home for retired seafarers, their widows and dependants), and approximately 100 young people from Portsmouth. James and selected schoolchildren will interview the veterans, capturing their memories and stories as a unique ‘living history’ resource for future generations.

Based on the veterans’ stories, the responses will then be recorded and shaped by James into the composition. The children’s ideas will be combined with James’ own compositional material and other primary sources from D-Day to form a ‘musical documentary’ for a large concert band style orchestra (made up of winds, brass, percussion and double basses), massed school choir and narrator. The new piece, entitled The Key Note of Everything to be SIMPLICITY (a phrase from General Montgomery’s one-page sketch for D-Day) will have its premiere at Southsea Common on Friday 7 June 2019 as part of a weekend of commemorative events.

The choir will be composed of young people from local schools, and before the performance James will provide coaching sessions for the teachers, equipping them to teach the new piece to their students. The music will be performed by an orchestra of amateur musicians, playing side-by-side with professional BSO players. The group of approximately 70 talented amateur players will be invited from those who attended the BSO’s ‘Rusty and Not so Rusty Musicians’ woodwind and brass events in Bournemouth in 2017 and 2018, along with amateur musicians from the Portsmouth area.

D-Day 75 will be an extremely beneficial project for all involved. The schoolchildren will have the opportunity to learn more about this important event in 20th century history, meet fascinating people who will provide them with first-hand accounts, and acquire new musical skills. The ‘Rusty Musicians’ will have the incredible opportunity of rehearsing and performing in the premiere of a newly commissioned work, learning from BSO musicians throughout the project. The D-Day veterans will play an important role in educating the younger generations about the Normandy landings, as well as ensuring that their memories and stories have been recorded for posterity. This project will also benefit the wider Portsmouth community, as it will bring together diverse local communities to commemorate, celebrate and feel pride in the city’s rich cultural history through music.

Uniquely for such a project, James and the BSO are documenting the whole process online through a series of YouTube videos, which will be available as a learning resource for participating schools and more broadly to inspire young composers and engage the general public. James will record the conversations that he and the schoolchildren will have with veterans, produce a regular vlog on his YouTube channel, and provide regular updates on social media.

“I’m thrilled to be working with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra on this innovative project. We are fortunate that the Normandy landings are still in living memory, and their 75th anniversary provides an ideal subject for one of my ‘musical documentaries’ combining live performance, oral history and video. Documenting the stories of veterans is a huge privilege, and this project is particularly close to my heart given that one of the participating D-Day veterans is my own grandfather. I very much hope that we will raise awareness of a pivotal moment in European history not only amongst the young people who participate, but more widely amongst those who attend the performance and follow the project through our online documentaries.” James Olsen, Composer and Filmmaker for D-Day 75: A Musical Documentary

The BSO is delighted to work in partnership with Portsmouth City Council to deliver this project, as well as the D-Day museum in Portsmouth. As the Orchestra of the South and South West, the BSO works across the coast lines from which D-Day was launched.

In order to cover the costs of workshops, rehearsal, concert, cost of the commission, and all associated resources, the BSO successfully took part in the Big Give Christmas Challenge, the UK’s biggest online match-funding campaign.