A radical rebalance of Australia’s First World War commemoration is the message of A Chorus of Women’s new Canberra-grown choral drama A Passion for Peace, which will have world premiere performances in the Albert Hall at the end of next month as the centrepiece of Canberra’s inaugural Festival for Peace.
In A Passion for Peace Canberra composer–librettist Glenda Cloughley and Musical Director Johanna McBride bring choruses of 100 women and children to centre-stage to ask vital questions about how to generate peace, inspired by the actions of 1200 women from warring countries who united to seek peace in 1915.
Glenda and Johanna said that their young New Zealand and Hungarian grandfathers had been broken by their experiences of war in opposing armies, one at Gallipoli and the battlefields of France, and the other as a lieutenant at 18 in the Austro-Hungarian army on the Russian front. Their great-grandmothers and grandmothers nurtured and sustained their families’ lives and their communities in spite of the trauma the men brought back from war.
‘The Passion gives political relevance to the unsung stories of millions of women like our foremothers,’ Glenda said. ‘It carries our hopes for our children and grandchildren as it tells the marvellous 100-year-old story of a worldwide web of women committed to peace and freedom who organised the only international peace conference of the First World War.’
Held during the same week as the Anzacs’ Gallipoli landings, the 1915 International Congress of Women was attended by some 1200 women from 12 warring and neutral nations. Their visionary resolutions, aimed at ending the war and establishing permanent peace, subsequently informed the establishment of the League of Nations and the International Court of Justice, as well as heralding other advances in international human rights law.
Leading Canberra musicians who have joined the project include singers Louise Page, Margaret Sim, Christina Wilson and Angela Giblin, cellist-composer David Pereira, violinist Rowan Harvey-Martin and Lynne Kowalik, the conductor of Arawang Primary School Choir.
Chris Latham, Anzac Fellow and former Artistic Director of Canberra International Music Festival, said A Passion for Peace would bring important attention to the efforts of courageous women who joined together across the schism of the battlefields to call for an end to the bloodshed. ‘This work, written and performed by women, will inform our understanding of the crucial 1915 Women’s Congress and re-sound the voices of women, which are silent in the national commemoration of the centenary of World War One,’ he said.
The Festival for Peace will also include other concerts, poetry readings, informal conversations about women peacemakers, forums with leading academics and senior foreign diplomats, a day-long workshop on the theme ‘Women’s Power to Stop War’, and events for children. There will also be broadcasts between Canberra and the Centenary Conference of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom to be held in The Hague, where this organisation was founded at the 1915 Congress.
The Festival is supported by the governments of several countries who were represented at the 1915 International Congress of Women, including The Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, and Sweden. Performances of A Passion for Peace are supported by the ACT Government through an artsACT grant.