To mark Human Rights Day on Thursday 10th December, composer Max Richter’s groundbreaking recording project Voices, inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, will be broadcast for the first time on BBC Radio 3 and 35 international radio stations in Europe, the US, Australia and beyond, in collaboration with the European Broadcasting Union.
Max Richter and his creative partner Yulia Mahr will also participate in a global Q&A with the United Nations to mark the day. Also on 10th December, Decca Records will release a brand new EP featuring four international language narrations of ‘All Human Beings’ (the opening part of Voices) in French, German, Spanish, Dutch, and English.
At the heart of Voices is a profound sense of global community, born out of Richter and Mahr’s career-long stance that creativity can play an activist role in our world. The album provides a place to think about the questions facing us through the prism of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In a time of dramatic global change, Voices offers a musical message of hope.
Richter and Mahr invited people around the world to be part of the piece, crowd-sourcing readings of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be interwoven into the work, which features an ‘upside-down’ orchestra. They received hundreds of submissions in over 70 languages. These readings form the aural landscape that the music flows through: they are the Voices of the title.
Max Richter and Yulia Mahr say: ‘We are thrilled to have this opportunity to present Voices once more. In these strange and challenging times, it is more important than ever to keep the music playing and the message of the Universal Declaration alive. Thinking back now to the premiere of Voices in February feels like visiting another world. In these strange and anxious times, it is a great privilege to be able to mark Human Rights day by presenting the work again, in spite of the pandemic.’
Human Rights Day
Human Rights Day is an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of human rights in rebuilding the world we want, with global solidarity, interconnectedness and shared humanity.
As part of Human Rights Day 2020, Max Richter and Yulia Mahr will collaborate with the UN to amplify the message of the Declaration of Human Rights. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) will host a Q&A with Richter and Mahr to discuss Voices, as part of their digital Human Rights Day events and Mahr’s breathtaking video of ‘All Human Beings’ will also be shown on the OHCHR website.
The powerful themes of humanitarianism running through Voices were informed by Yulia’s own upbringing. She explains: ‘I was born in Hungary at a time when it was a Communist country. I have such vivid memories of our street, where the buildings were still peppered with bullet holes from the revolution in 56, and where some were still in ruins from World War Two.
‘In those days each person was allocated a certain predetermined amount of living space, so every flat would contain multiple generations or sometimes even different families. I lived with my great grandfather, my grandmother, aunts, father and mother in three rooms.
‘My grandmother had fled persecution by the Nazis to the safety of Chile for 20 years – and so in the confines of our flat, I was raised on stories of escape, persecution, community and hope. My grandmother remained a humanitarian throughout her life – helping refugees and being part of an international movement towards peace.
‘In the end, my own convoluted story saw my mother and I replicating the large scale migrations of the 20th century and I arrived in the UK aged eight –lonely, confused and desperate for security.
While I could barely see my grandmother after that, her spirit has never left me and it is this spirit that informed the conception and writing of Voices.’
International narrations of ‘All Human Beings’
The voice of Eleanor Roosevelt, who served as the first chairperson of the UN Commission on Human Rights and played an instrumental role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be heard at the start of ‘All Human Beings’, the opening track of Voice. Richter incorporates Roosevelt’s 1949 preamble reading of the Declaration into the piece alongside a narrator to convey a sense of youth and the future. On the album, the narrator is acclaimed actor Kiki Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk, The Old Guard).
To mark Human Rights Day, Decca Records will release an exclusive EP of five new versions of ‘All Human Beings’ featuring multiple language narrations performed by acclaimed global artists. Actor Nina Hoss (Yella, Homeland) reads in German, Iranian-born actor Golshifteh Farahani (Extraction, Paterson, About Elly) in French, author Marieke Lucas Rijneveld (winner of the 2020 International Booker prize or The Discomfort of Evening) in Dutch and María Valverde (Cracks, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Broken Horses) in Spanish. Olivier Award-winning actor Sheila Atim MBE, who will also perform in the BBC Radio 3 broadcast, narrates the new English version.
Richter says: ‘When I started thinking about how to present the Declaration, I came across a recording of Eleanor Roosevelt from 1949 reading the preamble. She’s so fundamental to the writing of the Declaration, it was really important to start with her. The narrators bring a sense of youth and potential in that performance because the Declaration is really about the future; it’s about the world we haven’t made yet. While the past is fixed, the future is yet unwritten, and the Declaration sets out an uplifting vision of a better and fairer world that is within our reach if we choose it. Voices is a musical space to reconnect with these inspiring principles.’
BBC Radio 3 and global EBU broadcast
The momentous global broadcast of Voices will be recorded at BBC’s Maida Vale studios, presented by Elizabeth Alker. It will be presented in a new version for a 24-piece ensemble including strings, 4-member choir, electronics, solo soprano and narrator. The BBC Radio 3 broadcast of Voices features violinist Viktoria Mullova as soloist, soprano Grace Davidson, members of London-based vocal ensemble Tenebrae, the Max Richter ensemble – with Richter himself on keyboards and electronics – and Sheila Atim as the narrator.
36 European Broadcasting Union-associated radio stations in 34 countries will join the unique broadcast of Voices, providing listeners across the globe with a renewed moment of hope and a moment of reflection in unprecedented times.
Max Richter and Yulia Mahr conclude: ‘We are thrilled about the partnership with the UN Human Rights Office, and the collaboration with BBC Radio 3 and the EBU which have made it possible to perform Voices once more. In this challenging time in human history, the text of the Declaration is more important than ever.’