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14 Oct  

The fortieth Huddersfield Contemporary Music festival (17th November—26th), features 31 world premieres and 103 UK premieres across 33 events.

 

One of the first works featured will be rock guitarist Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, a work that, once regarded as a joke, has now been hailed as a ‘visionary classic.’ It is the starting point for a a guitar thread that runs throughout the festival, including debuts from Belgian group Zwerm, guitarist Clara de Asis and in a new work by James Dillon that prominently features the instrument. 

 

Other highlights include UK premieres of works by Brian Ferneyhough and a world premiere from Rolf Hind as well as new works from British composers Laura Bowler, Laura Cannell, Kit Downes, Lauren Sarah Hayes and Laurence Osborn. There will also be a concentration on two American figures, Pauline Oliveros and Linda Catlin Smith.

 

Mentioned in my last round-up, but worth reiterating since the bulk of the events take place in November is Wien Modern (30th October—1st December). It comprises some 48 productions, 90 events and over 50 premieres.

 

Also beginning in October with performances at Glyndebourne is a new run of Brett Dean’s well-received (back in June, see here) Hamlet (21st–27th Oct). November, however, sees the opera touring, with performances at Canterbury (3rd Nov), Norwich (17th) and Milton Keynes (24th) and one final date in December (1st) in Plymouth. 

 

ENO perform Marnie, a major new commission by Nico Muhly (see video, below) and the second by the American composer following Two Boys back in 2011. The libretto, by Nicholas Wright, is based upon the novel by Winston Graham. The synopsis is as follows (from the ENO website): ‘Marnie is a compelling psychological thriller set in England during the late 1950s. A young woman makes her way through life by embezzling from her employers, before she moves on and changes her identity. When her current boss Mark Rutland catches her red-handed, he blackmails her into a loveless marriage. Marnie is left with no choice but to confront the hidden trauma from her past.’ Performances run from 18th November to 3rd December.

 

Other premieres worth seeking out include a new work by Ben Smith at the opening of Series 3 of Borough New Music on 7th in St. George the Martyr, central London; John Croft’s Lost Work, performed by BBC SSO in Symphony Hall, Birmingham on 17th; new works from Nik Bärtsch and the OPUS 2017 competition winner (as yet unannounced) played by the Britten Sinfonia at Wigmore Hall also on 17th; and Arlene Sierra’s Nature Symphony, with the BBC Philharmonic at Bridgewater Hall on 25th. 

 

Don’t hang around, finally, if you are interested in booking tickets for performances of Stockhausen’s Stimmung and Cosmic Pulses at the Barbican on 20th November. The concert marks 10 years since the composer’s death and is likely to sell out quickly.




11 Oct  

 

Sound and Music has announced its 2017/18 ‘Adopt a Composer’ pairings. These are:

 

Anna Appleby with Merchant Sinfonia

 

Max Charles Davies with Côr Crymych a'r Cylch

 

Esmeralda Conde Ruiz with The Fretful Federation Mandolin Orchestra

 

Edmund Hunt with The Singers

 

Ben See with Stoneleigh Youth Orchestra 

 

Peter Yarde Martin with Bellfolk Handbell Ringers

 

Gaynor Barradell with Edinburgh Concert Band

 

Congratulations to all the composers selected. We look forward to the fruits of these partnerships!

 

More information at the Sound and Music website.




11 Oct  

The European Youth Orchestra has been driven from London as a result of the UK's decision to leave the EU. It will now be based in Rome and in the northern Italian city of Ferrara. Most sadly the future of British musicians in the orchestra are also in doubt, the orchestra website saying that 'British musicians are still eligible to apply this autumn to join the orchestra in 2018, when Britain will still be a member' and that 'The arrangement for future years will depend on the details of the agreement negotiated between the EU and the UK.'

More information available here.




5 Oct  

Swiss composer Klaus Huber died in Perugia, Italy on October 2nd. He was 92.

 

Born in 1924, Huber attended the Zürich Conservatory, studying the violin with Stefi Geyer and composition with Willy Burkhard. He worked as a teacher, including at the Basel Music Academy (1964–73) and the Freiburg Musikhochschule (1973–90). Many of his students—including Toshio Hosokawa, Brian Ferneyhough, Kaija Saariaho and Wolfgang Rihm—have become significant figures in their own right.

 

Huber was of the same generation as Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen, with whom he was often compared. Whilst he closely followed the developments of the Darmstadt school, his adoption of serialism was, however, less dogmatic—his breakthrough work, chamber cantata Des Engels Anredung an die Seele (1957, performed 1959), for example, adopts a rigorous form of serial structuring that nevertheless permits the emphasising of consonant intervals. 

 

Hubert’s other influences have included medieval and renaissance music (Cantiones de Circulo Gyrante, Agnus Dei cum recordatione); the system of modes of Arabic music  (Die Erde bewegt sich auf den Hörnern eines Ochsen, Lamentationes de fine vicesimi saeculi); and Latin American liberation theology (Senfkorn, 1975). Other than serialism, specific technical preoccupations include the use of spatial acoustics (Die umgepflügte Zeit and Spes contra spem) and the creation of a new system of tonality based on third tones (first appearing in works at the end of the 80s, discussed further in video, below). 

 

These diverse influences led Brian Ferneyhough to describe Hubert as a a composer that ‘avoided being pinned down to a marketable set of stylistic fingerprints, each work being both a highly individual response to a clearly focused and technically well-honed set of issues and precise reconsideration of the relationship of contemporary music languages to the real imperfect world in which they are embedded.’

 

Huber was awarded many prizes during his lifetime, including the Beethovenpreis of the city of Bonn (for Tenebrae) in 1970, the Art Prize of the city of Basel in 1978, the European Church Music Prize by the city of Schwäbisch Gmünd in 2007, the Music Prize Salzburg in 2009 and the Ernst von Siemens-Musikpreis in 2009.

 

The manuscripts of his works are held at the Paul Sacher Stiftung, Basel.

 

Sources:

 

www.klaushuber.com

Grove Music Online 

Wikipedia Entry on Klaus Huber

 

Klaus Huber at Work (also discussing the use of third tones)

Klaus Huber: Tenebrae for large orchestra (1966/67)

 




28 Sep  

I can imagine that the story of Richard White has warmed the heart of many a middle-aged (and older) composer. White has just had his 900-page opera selected for a workshop performance at the National Opera Center Recital Hall in Manhattan. The work, entitled Hester and based upon The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne was written in spare moments at home and whilst working as a security guard at Columbia University from 1991. It marks his composing debut. Richard White is 82.

 

Music-lovers have long been obsessed with precocious talent, constantly on the lookout for the next Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn or Prokofiev. I agree that young composers should be supported, encouraged and even celebrated. But could we not do a bit more to support older composers too?

 

I spend hours each month compiling composer opportunities here at Composition:Today. I would say that perhaps a third of these are limited by age. The point at which you are considered too old varies but, basically, by the time you are 40 all of these competitions are off-limits. And the problems don’t end there.

 

Often a competition rubric will require that a piece must have been written recently, usually within the last five to ten years. My guess is that there are many middle-aged composers who have been through the system, maybe churned out some major works, but have now, essentially, stopped composing because they have lost contact with decent performers and aren’t sure what to do next. It takes a certain type of heroism to continue to write when no-one wants your music any more. Some, like Richard White, manage it. Others just give up.

 

My worry here is two-fold. Firstly, our competitions are not helping us to unearth these forgotten older works, some of which might even be masterpieces. Secondly, and more obviously, we are not unearthing the talent that went into making them. Like Janáček (pictured), whose premiere of Jenůfa at the age of 62 established his reputation, there must surely be a few older composers worth reanimating before it is too late?

 




24 Sep  

The latest request from a commercial organisation that musicians work for free has been given a withering response on social media. 

 

The organisation in question was East Midlands Airport, who recently advertised this ‘opportunity’: “We are always looking for new ways to enhance our passenger experience whilst they are with us at the airport and, what better way than by showcasing some of our region’s best musical talent? Unfortunately we can’t offer performers a fee, but they will be well looked after by our staff while enjoying the opportunity to perform in front of a captive audience.” 

 

One response, from flautist Nicola Loten, typified the criticism:

 

Dear East Midlands Airport,

I am a musician based in the U.K. and I run a small, professional, baroque ensemble. We are looking for an airline to fly us to Amsterdam as I've always wanted to perform there. We would like to offer you the opportunity to fly us there, free of charge. Unfortunately we can't offer you a fee but we will be well behaved during check in and it would be great exposure for the airport amongst a group of frequent travellers.

Please let me know if this would be agreeable to you,

Nicola Loten

 

The airport, belatedly, realised the error of its ways, saying that the advert was ‘in no way designed to undermine the skill, hard work and professionalism that is required to perform in public. We apologise for any upset caused.’

 

I guess we’ve seen variations of this story a hundred times over recent years, but it made me wonder about the equivalent situation with regard to composers. If players are sometimes treated with contempt by moneyed organisations (such as airports) that ought to know better, perhaps composers are in a position even more desperate still—they barely exist at all.

 

There have been many noble attempts to connect composers with private individuals and companies who might wish to commission music. I know of some such initiatives that have borne fruit. But they remain more the exception than the rule—commissions for pieces and ‘composer in residence’ opportunities tend to come much more from (or at least in corporation with) publicly funded bodies. And where there are real commercial opportunities, these tend to limit the scope of the composer’s creativity, since they necessarily must fulfil certain commercial expectations. (This is categorically not to belittle composers who work in genres such as film music. I personally find the ‘if it’s commercial then it’s not art’ argument beyond tiresome and, in many cases, demonstrably erroneous—think, actually, of the many very great film scores.) 

 

It would have been be nice if this airport in question, instead of saying to itself ‘We need to show off the musical talent of our region, let’s invite performers to come and entertain our passengers’ had maybe thought ‘Let’s invite some composers here to make some pieces, or even do some creative workshops and events with passengers.’ If they had advertised this and offered no fee, my guess would be there would have been no outcry whatsoever. Many composers would have seen it as progress.




19 Sep  

Borough New Music was founded in January of this year with the aim of celebrating the music of today and of living composers. Following its first series of concerts in February, next month it makes its return with series two (3rd October–31st). This consists of five concerts given each Tuesday at 1pm at St George the Martyr Church, SE1 1JA (just opposite Borough tube, central London). Admission is free, the concerts last some 50 minutes and light refreshments are served. In other words, perfect lunchtime entertainment.

 

The second series alone consists of three world premieres and a host of other established contemporary music, including of Stace Constantinou, who will be the featured composer on 17th October. Not content with this, however, the indefatigable organisers have arranged a further seven series bringing the total to nine, the last finishing on 26th June 2018. These include concerts featuring particular instruments, themed ‘pot-luck’ events and composer profiles: of Eva-Maria Houben on 28th November, various ‘Songwriters of 2018’ on 20th February 2018, Gregory Rose on 27th March, Edward Henderson on 10th April, Matthew Taylor & Sally Beamish on 29th May, and Janet Oates on 19th June. In total, these events will include 37 premieres, 23 of which are world premieres. 

 

Artistic Director Clare Simmonds says: "Each Series in Borough New Music is a very exciting prospect for performers, composers and audiences alike. It is neither a festival, nor a 'one-off'. Rather, it's as an ongoing opportunity to celebrate the wonderfully diverse music written today.”

 

To find out more, visit the Borough Music Festival website, here.




16 Sep  

Perhaps there’s life in the old beast yet. Sibelius yesterday announced ‘Cloud Sharing’, which will allow the program ‘to send Sibelius scores to the cloud for rendering that can be displayed in any web browser, posted on social media, and embedded in webpages and blogs, to be viewed by anyone, on any device.’ In essence it seems like an updated version of the old Scorch technology.

 

In any case it is a welcome development after several years of stagnation, especially from the perspective of non touch-screen users, where updates since version 7 have been thin indeed. One wonders whether Avid are starting to feel the heat from products such as Dorico and—in terms of web sharing—Musescore. Competition is, at any rate, very good news for customers.

 




11 Sep  

Sad news with the dead of two renowned British composers. 

 

Derek Bourgeois (1941–2017)

 

Derek Bourgeois died on 6th September aged 75. Born in Kingston upon Thames, he was educated at Magdalene College, Cambridge and the Royal College of Music, where his composition tutor was Herbert Howells. 

 

As well as composing he taught at Bristol University (1970–84) and St. Paul’s Girls School. He also became the Musical Director of the National Youth Orchestra, in 1988 also founding the National Youth Chamber Orchestra. His career as a conductor included with the Sun Life Band (1980–83), which also served as his introduction to the brass band world. He was also active in arts administration, as Chairman of the Composers' Guild of Great Britain and as a member of the Music Advisory Panel of the Arts Council.

 

Bourgeois was a highly prolific composer, especially in the field of brass and wind. By 2009 he had already composed some 44 symphonies. Astonishingly, at the time of his death this number had increased to 116.

 

A Cotswold Symphony, Derek Bourgeois

John Maxwell Geddes (1941-2017)

 

John Maxwell Geddes died on 7th September aged 76. He grew up in the Maryhill area of Glasgow later studying at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. Whilst there he won a scholarship that enabled a period of study with Niels Viggo Benton at the Royal Danish Conservatoire in Copenhagen. 

 

He is particularly known for his long association with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, though his composing life was far from parochial, his work taking him to the US, Europe and Russia. He was also composer in residence in Hamburg, Berlin and Bremen. 

 

Major works include three symphonies, a number of commissions from the BBC (including, Symphony 1, Voyager, Alley Cat, An Ayrshire Suite ), works for choir, chamber music and film scores. 

 

Symphony No. 2, John Maxwell Geddes




6 Sep  

Julian Anderson is the subject of A BBC Total Immersion Day on 21st October. It begins at 1pm at Milton Concert Hall with Guildhall musicians performing chamber works Ring Dance, The Colour of Pomegrantes, Van Gogh Blue and Alhambra Fantasy; followed by an exploration of his choral music with the BBC Singers at St Giles’ Cripplegate at 5pm. The day concludes back at Milton Court with performances of his orchestral works Eden, Imagin’d Corners, In lieblicher Blaue and Symphony at 7.30pm. Unlike other Total Immersion Days there does not appear to be any lectures, talks or films.

 

On 14th Wigmore Hall is putting on a day dedicated to Polish music, hosted by Jennifer Pike and friends. There will be music from Chopin, Szymanowski, Karłowicz, Lutosławski, Wieniawski, Knapik, Górecki, Adam Jarzębski and Grazyna Bacewicz, not to mention the UK premiere of Penderecki’s Capriccio for solo violin and the world premiere of a new work by Paulina Załubska.

 

Other noteworthy performances in October include the premiere of a new ballet by Welsh harpist and composer Catrin Finch at the Swansea Festival on 14th; a new concert staging of George Benjamin’s opera Written on Skin at LSO St. Luke’s on 20th; John Williams score for Jaws simultaneously performed with a screening of the film on 21st at the Royal Albert Hall; and an as yet untitled septet world premiere by George Tsontakis at Wigmore Hall on 30th.

 

There is also plenty of new music, including regional and world premieres at three October festivals. The Venice Biennale (29th Sept–8th October) will explore the theme of the Orient, including in the music of Stockhausen; Scotland’s Sound Festival (26th October–11th November) will include premieres by Rebecca Bruton, Jason Doell, Lawrence Dunn, Sarah Lianne Lewis, Gunnar Andreas Kristinsson, Sonia Allori, Pete Stollery, Janet Beat, Stéphane Magnin and John De Simone. The 32 days of Wien Modern (30th October—1st December), finally, will include 48 productions, about 90 events and over 50 premieres. 







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