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Reviews for Miriama Young and Alan Spence's 'Zen Story'

‘Miriama Young’s score for Alan Spence’s Zen Story has a strong Japanese feel. It is an excellently conceived piece which sees Miranda Sinani’s Girl blame Dean Robinson’s Zen master, Hakuin, for getting her pregnant. There are flashes of wild emotion in the score, while Spence’s libretto has a truly enigmatic twist. Great stuff.’

- Thom Dibdin, Annals of the Edinburgh Stage

'Only Miriama Young and Alan Spence’s Zen Story tries to pack a full-length opera into 15 minutes. The rest are cast largely as single episodes with a tendency towards melodrama.’

- Rowena Smith, The Guardian

‘The unhurried unfolding of Miriama Young’s Zen Story conjured appropriate atmosphere. Writer Alan Spence and composer Miriama Young were complementary in their expression of the relationship between words and music. The Copland-esque, minimalist opera was an entity.'

- Michael Tumelty, The Herald

‘Miriama Young’s Zen Story, to words by Alan Spence, is spacious and pungent, with a gaunt simplicity that echoes Stravinsky.’

- Kenneth Walton, Scotsman

‘Of all the operas presented, the first, Zen Story by Miriama Young and Alan Spence, was my favourite. It tells the story of a monk who is said to be the father of a young girl’s child. Simple and elegant, the music and the text paced the story perfectly. Interestingly, this was the only performance that didn’t seem too long.’

- Jake Danson-Faraday, Fresh Air

‘The piece which worked best for me was the opener, Zen Story, mainly because of its atmospheric orchestration. Concerning a holy man in modern Japan, the mystical, almost gamelan-influenced score fitted the material like a glove. It also successfully fitted a whole scenario into the 15-minute format. In an evening of distinguished vocal performances, there was a welcome return from Dean Robinson whose rich bass was perfect for the holy man in Zen Story.’

- Simon Thompson, Musicweb International

'Miriama Young’s Zen Story, a tale of humanity and forgiveness devised by Alan Spence, has easily the best score, with suggestive chord-clusters and an elegiac mood. The production, directed by Michael McCarthy and Matthew Richardson, makes the most of simple means, and the Scottish Opera orchestra proves its versatility under Derek Clark.'

- Andrew Clark, Financial Times

'Although Western attempts to understand Buddhism are frequently problematic – the translation of the key ideas into Christian philosophy has led to a generation of mistaking a vibrant tradition with a vague self-satisfied quietism – Zen Story is fifteen minutes that reflects on a famous parable. Shoving a pithy slogan and allusions to other Zen stories into the mix, and a score that suggests Japan rather than orientalise the orchestra, librettist Alan Spence and composer Miriama Young match the simplicity of the myth with a gentle opera.

Naturally, the passions that drive opera are submerged beneath the Buddhist insistence on acceptance: in this subtle tension, the words are allowed to resonate and the monk-hero Hakuin's message of compassion for suffering is illuminated. Simple phrases become resonant. When Hakuin concludes "is that so?", the depth of his teaching is radiantly apparent.

The 5:15 format here becomes the ideal medium for expression of an idea, as the drama of opera recedes into the simple set and reflective commentary. Hakuin's antagonist, a young, pregnant girl, is given character – something lacking in most versions of the myth, thanks to Zen's frequently macho spirituality. Short and concise, this is elegant, contemporary performance that manipulates its traditons to moving effect.'

- Gareth K Vile, The Skinny

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