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Peter Maxwell Davies

Publisher: Chester Music

Kommilitonen! (Young Blood!) (2010)
Work Notes
Available in English and German
Text Writer
David Pountney
Chester Music Ltd
Opera and Music Theatre
Sub Category
Year Composed
1 Hour 30 Minutes
SATB; [children's chorus]
English, German
Principal Roles: 2 Soprano, 3 Mezzo-Soprano, Soprano [=Mezzo Soprano],Tenor,2 Baritone, Bass, Ensemble: 4 Mezzo-Soprano, 4 Baritone, 3 Bass
Solo Instrument(s)
Instrumental: Erhu, Harp

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Programme Note
Peter Maxwell Davies Kommilitonen! (Young Blood!) (2010)


The piece consists of three interlocking stories of students involved in political action in three different situations.
“Die Weisse Rose” was the name taken by a group of students at the University of Munich, led by Sophie and Hans Scholl. They produced leaflets protesting against the National Socialist government of Germany in 1942-3 until they were arrested and guillotined.
“Soar to Heaven” follows two characters, Wu and Zhou, involved on opposite sides of the Cultural Revolution in China.
“The Oxford Revolution” tells the story of James Meredith, who fought a lonely battle against segregation and racial prejudice to become the first black student to enrol at “Ole Miss”, the University of Mississippi, in the USA.

David Pountney


I had no plans to write any more operas or music-theatre works, but the invitation to compose a new work for the Royal Academy of Music in London and the Juilliard School in New York, to a libretto by David Pountney, with him as director, was too much to resist.

David and I have collaborated before, so I knew that the stage direction would not be a travesty of text and music, and the idea of writing for and working with extremely talented young musicians was the final persuader.

There are three interwoven stories, demanding three different sorts of music, so I had to invent an American style of the late 1950’s / early ‘60’s, a German style for the 1940’s, and a Chinese music of the period of the Cultural Revolution. As the opera progresses, the contours of the musical phrases gradually transform, with all three styles coalescing in the final scene whose melodies were conceived first, and which are the source and origin of the whole work.

Much thought went into judging the scale of difficulty of performance for the students – there could be no compositional compromise, but I had no intention of putting them off new music for ever by making unreasonable demands: it had to be challenging enough to remain interesting over a long period of rehearsal, but not awkward to the extent of being un-stimulating. One great feature of the libretto is its intensity, with touches of sly humour: for me this was a great stimulus which I just hope the music reflects.

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, 2011


Kommilitonen! is made up of three stories whose scenes are interlinked, and occasionally,
especially towards the end of the opera, run simultaneously. All three stories are about
real events that happened to real people, though they are of course related by an
unrealistic medium. The unifying theme is that all the stories concern students involved
in political action.

The first story concerns James Meredith, a black man from Mississippi who in 1962
became the first of his race to be allowed to register for the University of Mississippi – “Ole Miss” – then a bastion of Southern segregationist white supremacy. Meredith was a stubborn, obdurate and determined man whose dogged persistence eventually obliged
the US government to defend his registration with many thousands of Government troops,
sparking a riot that caused death and massive injuries. Having registered, he went through
with the University course, guarded every day of his student life by US Marshalls.

The second story concerns student resistance to Hitler’s government during World War 2. A
brother and sister, Hans and Sophie Scholl, students at the University of Munich, gathered
a small group called Die Weisse Rose (the white rose) who distributed many thousands
of leaflets throughout Germany protesting against the crimes being committed by the
National Socialists, and accurately prophesying the shame Germany would come to feel when these crimes were exposed. Their actions, as young students, for which they paid with their lives, (they were guillotined on 22nd February 1943) effectively exposed the lie that ordinary Germans “did not know” what was being done in their name. They give the opera its title: Kommilitonen means “fellow students”, and their final leaflet, addressed to their fellows, starts with the words “Kommilitonen und Kommilitoninnen!”

The third story is taken from an account of life during the Cultural Revolution in China, and is an example of student activism lurching lethally out of control. The children of a local education minister are forced to denounce their father, and eventually both their parents are dragged out of their house by Red Guards, beaten up, interrogated and murdered. Their son begins a long journey of coming to terms with these events, joins the Red Army and, eventually, the Communist Party, though he understands that this involves continuing to deny the truth about the fate of his parents. Finally he will become a University Professor, like his father, and write a history of the Cultural Revolution, though he refuses to mention the people who he knows were responsible for his parents’ deaths. This represents the particular and rather partial accommodation that China continues to make with its turbulent, Maoist past.

David Pountney

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  • 27 JUL 2016
    Barry Memo Arts Cardif, Wales
    Welsh National Opera

    Other Dates:
    28-31 July - Barry Memo Arts Cardif, Wales
  • 28 MAY 2016
    Leipzig, Germany
    Hochschulorchester Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdi Leipzig
    Matthias Foremny, conductor

    Other Dates:
    29-31 May; 1,2 June - Leipzig, Germany
  • 29 MAR 2014
    Bremerhaven, Germany
    Orchester des Stadttheaters Bremen

    Other Dates:
    4,17,27 April; 3,14,19 May - Bremerhaven, Germany
  • 05 MAY 2013
    Giessen, Germany

    Other Dates:
    2,20 June; 25,11 May - Giessen, Germany
  • 02 MAY 2013
    Frankfurt, Germany
    Hessischer Rundfunk Frankfurt
  • 12 JUN 2012
    Bristol Ensemble
  • 18 NOV 2011
    Julliard School. New York, USA
    Julliard School of Music
    Anne Manson, conductor

    Other Dates:
    20 November - Julliard School, New York, USA
  • 16 NOV 2011
    Juilliard School, New York, USA
    Juilliard School of Music
    Anne Manson, conductor
  • 16 NOV 2011
    New York, NY
    The Juilliard School
    Anne Manson, conductor
  • 21 MAR 2011
    Sir Jack Lyons Theatre, Royal Academy of Music, London
    Royal Academy Opera at the Royal Academy of Music
    David Poutney, libretto and stage director; Jane Glover, conductor

    Other Dates:
    23,25 March - Sir Jack Lyons Theatre, Royal Academy of Music, London
  • 18 MAR 2011
    Sir Jack Lyons Theatre
    Royal Acadamy of Music
    David Pountney - libretto; Jane Glover, conductor

'The year’s best new opera'
George Loomis , Musical America,31/12/2011
Peter Maxwell Davies’s opera Kommilitonen! proved strangely prescient when it was premiered by the students of the Royal Academy of Music back in the spring. And though student activism may sound an unlikely operatic subject, it was heartening to encounter a new work that really engaged with the world…
John Allison, The Telegraph,22/12/2011
Voted the best opera of 2011
Steve Smith, Time Out New York,11/12/2011
There are many impressive things about Kommilitonen!...Best of all is Mr. Davies's exhilarating score. Here, for once, is a modern opera that exudes musical modernism.
Anthony Tommasini, New York Times,17/11/2011
The opera is an earnest and engaging creation, an agitprop pageant that proves surprisingly entertaining. Davies' lifetime of experience writing large-scale compositions shows in his expert use of the orchestra.
Mike Silverman, Associated Press,17/11/2011
Royal Academy Opera at the Jack Lyons Theatre, March 18 and 25. One of the most exhilarating opera premieres I have attended! If our monthly tailpiece were called not ‘Wish I’d been there’ but ‘Glad I was there’, Kommilitonen! would be high on a list of possible choices…Five years ago Curtis Price, then Principle of the Royal Academy of Music, invited Peter Maxwell Davies, newly secured for his faculty, to write a new opera for performance there. Davies…made three requests: that the piece should be not only for but also about students; that David Pountney…should be the librettist; and that it should be not solely an RAM production. Pountney created a brilliant ‘libretto for an opera in three worlds’, intercutting three real-life, contrasted stories of student exploits to weave a coherent, powerful, poignant, poetic (and never preachy) stretch of music drama… ‘Young Blood!’ [was] the subtitle…chosen. Davies may be 76, Pountney 63, but young blood surges through their work, as it did through the RAM students’ committed execution, very well conducted by Jane Glover, very well directed by Pountney. The two-act opera…is very skillfully planned…with its librettist-director’s and its composer’s eager, inspired, inspiring response to creating a work that ‘means something’ - one that doesn’t…go slumming for easy success. Kommilitonen! makes no compromises but challenges young performers to new vocal and dramatic achievement…The musical forms are manifold, well contrasted, and ever arresting. There are arias, a ballad, several beautifully composed choruses in differing veins, a rousing…finale…in which the characters from all three tales join their voices. Pountney’s staging was strong, direct, exuberant, never showy. Glover’s conducting was masterly.
Andrew Porter, Opera Magazine,01/05/2011
The score has an energy belying the composer's 76 years. Davies not only exploits stylistic pastiche as deftly as ever, he raises it to a new dramatic level. And his writing for chorus - tonal yet obliquely so, lusty yet astringent - provide the most gripping moments.
Paul Driver, Sunday Times,27/03/2011 satisfying to have a full-scale opera written with the fluency of a composer who understands the stage. Pastiche is skilful and immediate, only the showy top strata of a many layered and subtle score.
Fiona Maddocks, The Observer,27/03/2011
Don't be put off by the title or the subject matter - it's a triumph. An extraordinary testament to the fact that, at the age of 76, his creativity is radiantly alive.
Michael White, The Daily Telegraph ,22/03/2011
'Pountney [also] directs the immaculate RAM staging, with designs by Robert Innes Hopkins and puppets by Blind Summit Theatre. It commutes effortlessly between the narratives, Davies's music delineating each strand with remarkable clarity. His score is extraordinarily fluent: the vocal lines are perfectly judged and the instrumental writing full of wonderful touches, with marching band, jazz trio, solo harp and erhu players on stage. It is as good as any theatre score he has ever composed.' *****
Andrew Clements, The Guardian,22/03/2011
'A potent, thrilling night...the score works strikingly well. A stirring blast of an opera' ****
Geoff Brown, The Times,21/03/2011
'..Pountney has pinpointed the crucial element of each [tale] so cleverly that everything is clear and the juxtapositions strike sparks off each other. Equally, the music works with exemplary theatrical skill. Maxwell Davies has coloured his score with snatches of American root music, German art song and brassy Chinese marches without ever losing sight of the opera’s unifying goal. Pountney has delivered a cinematic epic on a modest budget. With its swift, narrative focus, Kommilitonen! flies straight to its target like a bullet from a campaigner's gun...Here is proof that Maxwell Davies, who says he never intended to write another opera, still had a serious success inside him.'
Richard Fairman, Financial Times,21/03/2011
'A glorious, heart-warming pageant of humanity...It's a bold and beautiful assertion of the transformative power of truth.' *****
Kieron Quirke, London Evening Standard,21/03/2011
Musically this is among the most visceral and also hard-hitting of Davies's latter-day scores.
Richard Whitehouse,,21/03/2011
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