Nicholas Lens - "Shell Shock" (Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France & Silesia Opera Choir)

Duration : 1 heure 39 minutes

The Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, the Silesia Choir Opera, the Trinity Boys Choir Soloists & the Compagnie Eastman perform "Shell Shock, A Requiem of War" by Nicholas Lens & Nick Cave, conducted by Bassem Akiki. Concert performed live on 11 November 2018 at the Philharmonie de Paris.

Commissioned by the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, the choreographic cantata Shell Shock, A Requiem of War by the Belgian composer Nicholas Lens, with a libretto by Nick Cave and choreographed by Sidi Larbi Chekaoui, gives voice to the countless and often anonymous victims of the First World War. 

Born near the battlefields of Ypres, Nicholas Lens grew up confronted on a daily basis with the memory of the Great War and the cemeteries of fallen soldiers. Entitled Shell Shock, the work references the post-traumatic stress disorder known as "shell shock", with numerous physical and psychological symptoms from which suffered countless soldiers during and even after the war.

Not only to soldiers, the work also gives voice to the silent victims of the Great War, such as nurses and orphans: "Shell Shock evokes the lives of those who were not allowed to express themselves, forced to obey and endure, be it a mother watching her son leave for the front knowing she will never see him again, children who lost their parents, a colonial soldier in an unfamiliar country, fighting an unfamiliar war etc.", explains the composer.

Contained within a stage decoration spread over three levels, the work explores the madness of war and the ever-present notion of death across twelve "cantos", an operatic form perfect for the story according to the composer: "it's the ultimate form of theatre. We can enlarge things that are very small, and vice versa. But above all, I believe that the voice cannot lie, and that corresponds perfectly with the subject of Shell Shock. If we try to conceal something, the spectator will immediately notice."

Though the collaboration between Lens and the Australian poet and musician Nick Cave may seem unlikely, the latter proves the contrary: "I just have a natural ability to write a sad song [...]. I've always had, in a way, a predisposition towards darkness." Cave brings to the music by Lens a text without dialogue but rather a sequence of narratives and lamentations in the form of couplets and refrains: "This is what characterises Nick Cave's work in general, everything he does is sincere. When he cries, when he mocks, we believe him. He writes as if he had blood on his hands. I absolutely wanted this sincerity for the subject of Shell Shock."

Nicholas Lens - "Shell Shock" (Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France & Silesia Opera Choir)
Full concert
Nicholas Lens - "Shell Shock" (Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France & Silesia Opera Choir)
Grande salle Pierre Boulez - Philharmonie. Paris
All artists
  • Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio FranceOrchestra
  • Sara FULGONIPerformer
  • Nick CAVEAuthor