For its centenary concert – given on 11th September 2011, in Cheltenham, and at Poole Lighthouse on Tuesday 13th September – Bournemouth Symphony Chorus paid tribute to those who fell victim to the catastrophic act of terrorism that shook the world ten years before. Whilst the first half of the programme paid homage to the liberal and humanist values of the American constitution, the second half featured Not in Our Time – a commission by composer Richard Blackford that narrated the history of the conflict by balancing Christian and Muslim texts with equal weight, and set alight a beacon of hope for peace in the 21st century.

The American celebration commenced with Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man, which established the serious tone of the evening – violent drum beats jolting the audience to attention, and brass melodies regally unfolding themselves under the jutting stretches of Carr's baton. Following the theme, the second work, Copland's Lincoln Portrait, presented the new vision and humanist ethos of the founding fathers, with narration by Charles Dance. Musically, the piece was more chordal than melodic, although when melodies were heard, they rang with the clear voice of American folk song, weaving cultural associations into the tapestry of the musical fabric. The BSO kept a tense energy under the surface of the narration, excitable snare rhythms edging towards a chordal climax. Dance's phrases were in balance with the music, which seemed to comment on and empathise with the moralising message of the text.

Dance also delivered other quotes and resonances throughout the concert, presenting the audience images of love and war through which to contextualise and relate to the music. Before the performance of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings he gave an image penned by the American journalist Tom Junod: a man, falling to earth after leaping to escape from the fire that raged through the World Trade Centre after the plane's impact, departing this earth 'like an arrow. If he were not falling he might well be flying.’ Barber's Adagio is a work which often loses its potency since it is overused in films and advertising. Yet in this instance, it was renewed by the image of the falling man – a tragic yet strangely liberating image of life's fragility. Carr took the piece slowly, even for an adagio. Although the melodic lines were wonderfully smooth and the timbres of the BSO's string section echoed with a rich, heartfelt vibrato, at certain points the slow speed meant the work lacked the tension needed to hold it together and keep its intensity.

The final message of the concert came from Richard Blackford, who returned to work with the BSC on its centenary on account of the success of his last commission Voices in Exile. The work is a brave attempt to give voice to both sides of the conflict; the Christian and the Islamic. Its message is bold, but poignant. Part 1, Inferno, Starts with an almighty crashing 'doom chord' – an obvious yet effective portrayal of the cataclysmic act itself. The tenor sings the W. George W. Bush's reactionary speech, his declaration of the 'War on Terror', the new crusade. Against this Blackford places the Islamic reaction and Hilda Doolittle’s poem, of which the first line provides the work's title: 'Not in our time, O Lord.' The second and the third movements of the work recount the history of the brutal crusades Christians carried out against the Muslim people; the sixth and final part of the work that the two sides are dissolved by a larger overarching wisdom and petition to end violence, the text taken from a speech by Barack Obama.

Musically, the work was extremely well constructed. Melodies were singable, although still interesting and original; the main theme of the first movement was spectacularly bombastic. The introduction of new material into the composition was rapid, but did not alienate the audience or become confused. The Bournemouth Symphony Chorus’s performance was outstandingly tight, as was the BSYC, who had a surprisingly mature and full tone considering their age. The chorus excelled in the ‘war march’ sections, spitting out words with a crisp, clear, diction.
At times, the accessibility of the work, and the potent and heavy text was almost uncomfortably direct. But then, how else should it be? Blackford’s work is brave comment on a tragic, sensationalist act. A work that calls for us to transcend history, and, again, make the journey towards a new, more peaceful frontier.