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Tribute to Mallard Steams onto the Stage

Published by: Cameron Lowe on 9th Jul 2014 | View all blogs by Cameron Lowe
A composer and writer, whose work has been performed across the world in everything from festivals to fields, has turned his attention to the stage - and the story of one of the world's most famous trains.

Newcastle-based, award-winning John Kefala Kerr has created numerous works for orchestras, ensembles and choirs and has collaborated with artists in dance, theatre, fine art and animated film worldwide.
And this month, his latest work, Steamsong; an hour-long multi-media opera inspired by the 1938 Class A4 Pacific train, Mallard, is due to have its world première in the North East.
Seventy five-years-ago, the Doncaster-built train broke the world speed record for a steam locomotive - and broke its way into the hearts of schoolboys and train lovers across the world.
Now a star exhibit at the National Railway Museum, York, Mallard hit the record breaking speed of 126mph on the East Coast Line with driver Joseph Duddington at the wheel - and it was a remark made by Joseph at the time that inspired Steamsong.
"He said `I gave Mallard her head and she jumped to it like a live thing,'" said John. "That made me think, not about what separates living beings from objects - but what connects us to them and, in this case, it was steam. 
"Steam, like human breath, is wispy and ephemeral, yet it can provide enough force and pressure to power a huge, heavy train like Mallard to phenomenal speed and our fragile breath powers our lungs in the same way."
As well as providing a poetic tribute to Mallard, Steamsong uses the concept of steam and breath to link a number of figures and events from 1938, from Albert Einstein to the victims of the pre-war Nazi pogroms.
Not only has John provided the score for the show - which uses a combination of music, theatre, song, digital sound and projected video - but he also wrote the libretto, drawing inspiration from time spent at The National Railway Museum at Shildon, County Durham.  
"I was composer in residence there," he said, "and they were incredibly generous in letting me talk to volunteers and visitors, so I got a very real sense of the emotions Mallard, in particular and steam trains, in general, generated in people." 
Steamsong will be performed by a cast of 10 singers and a seven-strong instrumental ensemble at the Gala Theatre, Durham on 12 and 13 July at 7.30pm.
Featuring, among other instruments, a violin, accordion, harp and tuba, it is expected to be a highlight of the Brass: Durham International Festival which takes place at venues throughout the city between 11 and 20 July.
For further information about Steamsong contact



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