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22 Oct  

Conductor Martyn Brabbins has just been appointed Music Director at ENO, the latest attempt to stabilise the troubled opera company (for more thoughts on this from me, see here).


From the ENO website:


English National Opera (ENO) has today, 21 October 2016, announced that British conductor Martyn Brabbins will become Music Director of the Company with immediate effect.


An inspirational force in British music, Martyn Brabbins has had a busy opera career since his early days at the Kirov and more recently at La Scala, the BayerischeStaatsoper, Lyon, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Antwerp. He is a popular figure at the BBC Proms and with many of the leading British orchestras, and regularly conducts top international orchestras, returning to the Royal Concertgebouw, Tokyo Metropolitan and Deutsche Sinfonieorchester Berlin this season.


Known for his advocacy of British composers, he has conducted hundreds of world premieres across the globe. He has recorded over 120 CDs to date, including prize-winning discs of operas by Korngold, Birtwistle and Harvey. He was Associate Principal Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra 1994-2005, Principal Guest Conductor of the Royal Flemish Philharmonic 2009-2015, Chief Conductor of the Nagoya Philharmonic 2012-2016, and Artistic Director of the Cheltenham International Festival of Music 2005-2007. He has this season taken up a new position as Visiting Professor at the Royal College of Music.


The appointment runs until August 2020, and Brabbins will plan the 18/19 and 19/20 seasons together with ENO’s Artistic Director, Daniel Kramer. We are delighted that he will already be able to conduct one opera production (title to be announced) in 2017/8.


Martyn Brabbins joins English National Opera’s Artistic Director Daniel Kramer and CEO Cressida Pollock to complete the Company’s Executive Team. The appointment was made following a review of all available talent by a panel led by ENO Artistic Director Daniel Kramer, supported by ENO’s Orchestra, Chorus and Senior Management Team.

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22 Oct  

The programme for the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, summarised by Artistic Director Graham McKenzie:


This year’s Festival is undoubtedly characterised by the bringing together of often quite disparate forces, to create new sounds, new experiences, and new approaches to music making. Perhaps this is best evidenced in the pairing of roaring saxophonist, and the founding father of European free improvisation, Peter Brötzmann, with German new music supergroup Ensemble Musikfabrik. Elsewhere, avant-garde composer and  lmmaker Jennifer Walshe leads the dance with the renowned Arditti Quartet, while Claudia Molitor continues to offer new insights into the creative process, and non-conventional approaches to composition – creating large-scale works, rich in layers and depth – often constructed from fragments of sound. Equally inventive yet surprising is American saxophonist Colin Stetson’s re-imagining of Gorecki’s classic Symphony No 3 – drawing on noise, drone and even dark metal to transform, and provide fresh insights to a heralded masterpiece.

The true purpose behind these musical experiments of course is to continue to push boundaries, to break down barriers, and (mis)conceptions about music. American critic Ben Ratliff in his recent book Every Song Ever writes ‘What does it mean to listen in the digital era? Today, new technologies make it possible to roam instantly and experimentally across musical languages and generations, from Detroit techno to jam bands to baroque opera. As familiar subdivisions like “rock” and “jazz” matter less and less and music’s accessible past becomes longer and broader, listeners can put aside the intentions of composers and musicians and engage music afresh, on their own terms’.


I am also pleased to welcome Georg Friedrich Haas to Huddersfield as this year’s Composer in Residence. Anyone who was present at the UK premiere of in vain (hcmf// 2013) could not fail to be profoundly and deeply affected by the sheer power and force of this music. Now based in New York to take up a position at Columbia, Haas is artistically at the height of his powers. Yet, unlike many of his contemporaries, his academic position has not turned his artistic practice to look inwards – but rather the opposite – to reach out and engage with the very real issues facing the world today. This is certainly true of the works he brings to Hudders eld. Hyena deals with the trauma of addiction, with a powerful text and performance by Mollena Lee Williams-Haas, while I can’t breathe is the composer’s response to a Black Lives Matter march going past his  at, in memory of Eric Garner, and in solidarity with the protesters.

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22 Oct  

This year’s Wien Modern programme summarised by its new Artistic Director Bernhard Günther:


Where do we come from? Where are we going? And where the heck are we, anyway? These are the final questions that form the focus of the first edition of Wien Modern under its new artistic direction.


Music has always dealt with big questions such as the quest for the meaning of life, farewell, death and darkness. There is something comforting in that, given the daily headlines of war, conflict and catastrophe. Life is not always fun – such a simple truth formed the basis of «serious» music even in Schubert’s and Mozart’s time. As Nestroy said: «The world won’t last long.» And Karl Kraus – or was it Gustav Mahler? – was reported to have said: «If the world ends, then I’ll go to Vienna. Everything always happens 10 years later there.»


It is no coincidence, then, that some of the forebears of contemporary music in Vienna explored the final questions – from Mahler’s Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen to Schoenberg’s Second String Quartet – «O du lieber Augustin, alles ist hin». And it’s even less of a coincidence that many of our contemporaries, from Vienna to Sydney, examine identity crises, and contemporary events of shock and mourning – using the mysterious possibilities of new music.


With 88 concerts in all at Wien Modern 2016, we invite you to take the pulse of the state of contemporary music today and its Viennese forefathers. From the serious to the ironic, from the melancholic to the angry, from the pitch black to the brilliant gold, from the puristic to the eclectic, the experimental to the simply beautiful, from music for young audienes, for hard-core fans or simply the curious, from the works of Mahler, Schoenberg, Ravel and Satie to 55 world premieres or first Austrian performances – the programme is full of contrasts, has something to offer for all generations and is inclusive. This year’s Festival also uses the striking number of significant birthdays of famous composers - Friedrich Cerha, Karl Schiske, György Kurtág, Hans Zender, Steve Reich and Sofia Gubaidulina –, to take a look at the existential side of new music.


In three spectacular projects, the complete string quartets of Birtwistle, Schoenberg and Shostakovich will all be performed (in the case of the latter, in a simultaneous walk-in concert). In addition, there will be large orchestral concerts, chamber music concerts, media art, music theatre, a sound installation, various excursions into the fascinating world of improvised and electronic music in Vienna and elsewhere, as well as a panoply of accompanying events. This year’s festival will be held at 21 different venues – from St. Stephan’s Cathedral, the main cemetery and the Main Hall of the Musikverein, to coffee house cellars, the Semperdepot, the Gemäldegalerie, and from brut to the festival headquarters of the Wiener Konzerthaus itself – over a period of 31 days.


And a video summary (German required):


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20 Oct  

It is hard to believe that it is nearly a year since the horrendous Paris attacks led to the cancellation of half of Nice’s Manca Festival programme in November 2015. Since then the capital of the French Riviera has had to endure a terrorist incident of its own and, in the aftermath, an unpleasant level of community tension, most obviously expressed in the bizarre banning and unbanning of an apparently innocuous item of beachwear known as the ‘burkini.’ 


Seeing the recently published programme for the 2016 Manca Festival somehow stuck me, then, as a ray of hope. No matter the political tension we are experiencing in Europe, be it the result of mass migration, Islamic terrorism or Brexit, the artistic community continues to express itself, if anything emboldened by difficult times. 


Or so I thought. It turns out that when a country experiences difficult times it has a direct impact on the art it produces. And in France budget cuts have led, once again, to the emasculation of the Manca Festival programme. It’s not a complete disaster—we still have nine decent events to look forward to—but the organising committee has had, apparently at the last minute, to drop their planned theme and rein in the number of concerts. 


If I talk about impoverishment, those who are in the UK (I am not), or hold the UK dear (I do), will understand what I mean. It is all very well to talk about counter-cultural opportunities presented by Brexit, but these will be few and far between if the pot of money available to us shrinks. The existence of art has always depended on surplus. And, generally, the more surplus the better, since it means more free time, free energy and money for art. We cannot, therefore, pretend that the situation doesn't matter.


It would be possible, of course, to point to the economic situation here in France (and, indeed, elsewhere on the Continent) and say that, well, being part of the EU is not helping so much. I think many would agree that the EU is, on many levels, a flawed organisation. As such I can, indeed, appreciate how fair-minded people might want to leave it. Given we have made this decision, however, it seems to be blindingly obvious that we should do this in a way that is least financially ruinous to our country and has the chance of healing some of the wounds opened up in our society. The approach being pursued by the UK government will not, I fear, achieve this—it appears to be opting for the most deleterious and extreme form of Brexit. 


Theresa May tells us that ‘We are all Brexiters now.’ If this is, indeed, the case it means that the extremes no longer own the debate. As such, it is up to us all to make our views heard before it is too late.

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19 Oct  

It was splendid to see the BBC National Orchestra of Wales dedicate the first of their Welsh Foundations Concerts to the memory of Peter Reynolds, composer and biographer to this world class band of musicians. He would have been delighted to have been associated with such an event, which featured key works by Daniel Jones, Alun Hoddinott and William Mathias as well as a newer piece, Blue Letters from Tanganika by John Hardy. 


I was particularly pleased to have the chance to hear an alternative performance of the Mathias First Symphony. The recording under the baton of the composer with the same orchestra (albeit in its BBC Welsh days) is essential listening, of course, but the acoustic is rather too vast and the rhythmic control not always very exact. 


The performance, yesterday, began a little unpromisingly. The symphony frequently relies on rhythmic energy to drive it forwards—too slow and the thick orchestration and static harmonies weigh rather heavily. This was exactly the problem in the opening movement, where the tempo left the music feeling ponderous. Elsewhere, however, the performance was excellent, not always superseding the Mathias recording, but always adding new layers of insight. The slow movement, especially, was a thing of beauty; expertly paced as the counterpoints accumulated, superbly expressive and with an overwhelming climax. 


Of the other pieces, Daniel Jones’s Ieuenctid was certainly a revelation. I had always marked his style down as being austere, but perhaps the nature of the commission—an overture to mark the tenth birthday of the National Youth Orchestra of Wales—made him unbutton a little. The Hoddinott Horn Concerto was brilliantly played by Alec Frank-Gemmill, the work itself a typical Hoddinottian mixture of brooding stasis and sardonic kineticism. The brief for the more recently written Blue Letters from Tanganyika by John Hardy was for a work that was accessible to young children, the result a delightful suite of movements that really seemed to capture the essence of Africa.


You can hear the full programme for thirty days on BBC iPlayer.


The next concert in the Welsh Foundations concert, also featuring music by Hoddinott, Mathias and Jones is on 25th November.

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14 Oct  

Ok, so it has very little to do with contemporary music, but if you haven't seen this musical parody of the second presidential debate you must watch it immediately—it is hilarious.

And in other news...

The composer Gerhard Wimberger, who promoted contemporary music at the Salzburg Festival from 1971 to 1991 has died at the age of 93. Norman Lebrecht at Slipped Disc, wryly observes that ‘Safe to say, nothing that he commissioned frightened the horses in the Reitschule… Wimberger believed that Carl Orff and Arvo Pärt were proof that music need never stray outside the tonal frame. He was awarded the Austrian Composition Prize in 1967 and was professor of composition at the Mozarteum, 1969-91. He was also head of the rights collection organisation, AKM.’

And Andre Previn has just accepted a commission to write a new piece for the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra:

The Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra is thrilled to announce that Maestro Andre Previn will write a 'Concerto for Orchestra' to be premiered as part of the Orchestra's finale concert of its 100th Anniversary season in 2020—2021.

KALAMAZOO, MI, October 13, 2016 /24-7PressRelease/ -- The Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra is thrilled to announce that Maestro Andre Previn will write a 'Concerto for Orchestra' to be premiered as part of the Orchestra's finale concert of its 100th Anniversary season in 2020-2021.

"Previn is a man of few words about his own music," says Mattie Kaiser, his representative at music publishing company G. Schirmer, while Previn briefly commented, "It's a big piece, about thirty minutes long, and in four movements. I'm quite excited to be able to use such a sizeable orchestra.... Whatever is good about it, I hope is in the music."

"We are honored and excited about this amazing commissioning opportunity," said Peter H. Gistelinck, President & CEO of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra. "Maestro Previn, honored with four Academy Awards, ten Grammy Awards and The Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award, is one of the most amazing, versatile and talented musicians of our time and the fact that he accepted to write a vast work for our Orchestra that features our wonderful musicians as soloists, is extremely special and exciting."

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12 Oct  

The Welsh musical community felt a deep sense of shock today at the news of the sudden death of composer Peter Reynolds. He was one of those figures that seemed to be at every event, on every committee, a constant and affable fixture in Welsh musical life. It is hard to accept that he has gone.


I cannot, sadly, claim to have known him well. I met him at a number of events related to Composers of Wales, or saw him knocking around Cardiff after some or other new music concert. I was, however, lucky enough to sit down and chat at length with him on several occasions. He was always so knowledgeable, so modest and always ready with a sound bit of advice. Especially I remember him telling me about the dangers of wasting energy on large-scale composing, a pearl of wisdom I have since tried to follow.


There have been many tributes today from people who were lucky enough to know Peter better than me. Many were also keen to share their thoughts here.


In publishing these tributes, I am indebted to Christopher Painter, who helped to put me in touch with many people at short notice.


BBC National Orchestra of Wales:


We are incredibly sad to hear that our friend and colleague Peter Reynolds has passed away. Peter was a gifted composer and true champion of Welsh music and musicians; he was our biographer and programme writer for many years, a constant source of musical knowledge and insight. We will miss him very much; our thoughts are with his friends and family.


Christopher Painter, composer:


Totally bereft to hear that my good friend Peter Reynolds has suddenly passed away. A man of superb intellect with an innate kindness who has been a tremendous source of support to me. A great yet unassuming composer who had so much more to give—he will be missed as a composer but even more so as a gentle, generous and constant friend whose opinion was always valued and whose complete integrity was always in evidence.


Rest in peace Peter, I will miss you more than I can say and will always treasure the knowledge that you were my friend.


Ben Lunn, composer, now working in Lithuania, who studied with Peter:


Peter was a modest but thought-provoking tutor. Whatever direction I was keen to explore he was always 30 steps ahead of me. He was ultimately caring, loving, never imposing, and most significantly always supportive.


George Vass, Chair of the British Arts Festival Association:


Completely numbed by the news of Welsh composer Peter Reynold's sudden death yesterday—a true gentleman, a huge supporter and enthusiast for everything musical and, above all, one of the greatest exponents of Welsh music and musicians. RIP Peter, it was an honour to have known you. 


Franziska Jones, friend and colleague:


Peter has been an inspiration and wonderful friend, mentor and colleague. I've known him for 10 years, and admire his work and life. His sense of humour and creativity were outstanding. He was a real renaissance man; he will be remembered for many things. I worked with him at Wales Millennium Centre, programming the foyer performances. He was always supportive and encouraging. Our daughter had piano lessons on the grand piano in his house, which was wonderful. He put on a 7am concert in a remote little church near Abergavenny, which will be a special memory. He cooked delicious tagines and soups, and his hospitality was brilliant. He also loved the local farmers markets and small bakeries. He shared some nice cycle routes around Cardiff and was a keen cyclist. So talented and intelligent yet humble and down to earth. He will be missed by so many…


Piano Circus:


Piano Circus are so incredibly saddened to hear of the passing of Peter Reynolds. We are happy to have had the pleasure of working alongside him on a number of musical projects in Wales over the past few years. He was a supporter, a gentleman and a friend. His loss will be felt deeply by many, and he will certainly be missed by us. 


Dawn, James, Paul, Neil, Leo, Nathan.

Piano Circus 


Mark Boden, composer, friend, colleague and former pupil:


I first met Peter at RWCMD where he tutored me in composition between 2004–2008. He was  incredibly knowledgable across a vast spectrum of musical genres and would always be able to suggest appropriate repertoire to enhance and enrich his pupils’ knowledge without forcing ideas upon them. Due to having so many musical engagements and commitments, Peter was often unable to give lessons at college and would instead tutor me in his study at his home. The place really was a treasure trove of scores, manuscripts and books—I loved studying with him there! As a student, it seemed there was never a musical event in Cardiff that Peter didn’t attend—he was an ever-present supporter of musical life in Wales. 


I returned to RWCMD in 2011 as a tutor in composition and Peter became a highly-valued and much-loved colleague. He remained an incredibly reliable source of knowledge and expertise in both composing and teaching. We would often share ideas with one another and discuss teaching methods, especially during the earlier stages of my lecturing career—something I remain incredibly grateful for. 


Peter had an huge capacity for fun, especially when he was hosting people at his home. He was an excellent cook and I fondly remember introducing him to Badger ales, which seemed like a revelation to him at the time! 


Peter was incredibly kind, humble, generous and loyal as a friend and colleague. He will be missed enormously by RWCMD staff and pupils, both past and present.


Rhiannon Hoddinott:


As one gets older the list of people that one would not miss gets longer and longer while the list of those that one would miss terribly gets ever shorter, dear Peter was definitely on the latter.


Suzanne Hay, Head of Partnerships and Learning, BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales and Management Board, Ty Cerdd—Music Centre Wales:


I was very saddened to hear last night of the sudden passing of Peter Reynolds. Peter has played a central role in music-making in Wales—whether that be through ensuring that our rich cultural music heritage is celebrated, publicised and carefully archived or through nurturing, encouraging and developing our future composers and musicians. On a national and international level we owe much to Peter for helping to raise the profile of music in our country. He was a true gentleman, whose wit and good humour could diffuse any situation. Peter has made a lasting impact and his legacy will live on.


Benjamin Teague, organist, friend and former pupil:


I wake this morning in the dim light, and the harsh realisation that the death of Peter Reynolds was not a dream. There is too much anguish and sadness to describe the loss of this man. He was a true bastion of musical knowledge, and will remain in my heart forever as one of my formative teachers and friends.


Ruth Garnault, former Director of Public Programmes, Wales Millennium Centre; friend and colleague:


I first met Peter in a pub during the 1980s. I know this because one of Peter's boundless talents was an ability to recall exactly where and when he first met you. I was delighted to be able to employ him to run the Glanfa performance programme at WMC and the success of that programme was down to Peter's knowledge and dedication.  He became a valued friend and I cherish the epithalamion he wrote as my wedding gift. Words can not express how much I'll miss him.


Gregynog Festival:


Remembering Peter Reynolds, a most gifted, versatile and delightful colleague, whose premature passing is a grievous loss to music in Wales. (via Twitter)


Wales Arts Review:


Very sad to hear of the passing of Peter Reynolds, a major figure in Welsh music, a WAR contributor, but more importantly, also a friend. (via Twitter)


To learn more about Peter Reynolds:


Personal website:


Full obituary:


Some Soundcloud links:



Canons for the Longest Day

Bye Baby Bunting

The Sand of Time: an opera in four minutes

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8 Oct  

Do you have a composition website? Ah, the tedious art of self-promotion. If you’re anything like me, you try to put in every positive thing that you’ve done, that one decent newspaper quote you have, the few nice recordings. You know, generally give the impression that the world is beating a path to your door, begging you to write just one more symphony.


I spend a fair bit of time flicking round this type of website whilst writing these blogposts. One that brought me up short recently belongs to British composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad (see picture). If you know anything about her, you know that she is very talented and very successful. If you hunt round her website, however, you will find a wonderful little thing called a ‘Failure C.V.’ (I won’t give the direct link—doesn’t feel fair somehow). In it she lists all of her failures during 2016. The list is quite long. 


I like this idea a lot. It’s easy to forget, especially when you are struggling to make any impact at all as a composer, how often it is necessary to fail. The world won’t beat a path to your door unless you put yourself about a bit and run the risk of being knocked back. And it provides a great example to composers starting out to realise that people higher up the artistic food-chain are also, to some extent, failures.


More than anything, however, I just liked the failure CV for its freshness, it’s honesty, it’s two-fingered, raspberry-blowing confidence. In this spirit, therefore, here is my 2016 failure CV: 


—A chamber opera I entered for the The Bluegrass Opera competition didn’t win, though I did get some useful feedback.


—I was recently asked to contribute a piece at short notice to a concert, but didn't think I had anything appropriate. Afterwards I discovered several pieces I could have submitted.


—I entered the Hendrix College Candlelight Carol Competition 2016 competition. My carol got to the last 10, but was eventually rejected.


—I entered a competition (I forget what) for chamber ensemble. Again not successful.


—I recently sent pdfs of two Christmas pieces, together with Soundcloud links to around 20 British cathedrals. I have had three polite responses and radio silence from everyone else. My Soundcloud page does not seem to have had any additional hits.


As you can see, my failures are less elevated than those of Frances-Hoad, which rather shows our relative position in the composerly pecking-order. My list is also rather short, which makes me realise that I need to fail a bit more. Therein lies success.

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4 Oct  

A happy birthday to Steve Reich, who turned 80 yesterday. For those wishing to get to know or revisit some of his key works, take a look at this article, which describes 10 pieces beginning with It’s Gonna Rain (1965) and finishing with Radio Rewrite (2012).


Here also are some videos in which he talks about his life and work:


Steve Reich in Conversation with Mohsen Mostafi 



Reich speaks about his work and plays sample recording from his oeuvre.


The Rest Is Noise | Steve Reich in conversation with Gillian Moore (2013)



Part of The Rest Is Noise - Southbank Centre's year long celebration of 20th Century classical music - composer Steve Reich speaks to Head of Classical Music Gillian Moore. 


Steve Reich: Playing Music/Talking Music



Steve Reich discusses his career and the current state of contemporary classical music with Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic Justin Davidson, of New York magazine.


Steve Reich in Conversation with Bang on a Can Co-founder David Lang (2014)



Reich and Lang spoke in MASS MoCA’s Sol LeWitt retrospective after Bang on a Can staged a performance of his compositions. Hear them speak about his friendship with LeWitt, his compositions and his work Radio Rewrite.


Reich and Sondheim: In Conversation and Performance (2015)



For the first time, on January 31, 2015, the two luminaries and mutual admirers appeared together on stage for a conversation moderated by WNYC’s John Schaefer and a performance of several of their milestone works.

Steve Reich and Michael Snow, Appel Salon (2016)


Steve Reich in conversation with Canadian artist Michael Snow. Hosted by CBC Radio's Sook-Yin Lee.

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4 Oct  

I was away doing other things when the death of Sir Neville Marriner came through on Sunday, so it feels a little belated to be mentioning it now. 


Even if I had had my computer with me, however, I would probably not have written at length. Whilst Sir Neville was undoubtedly and deservedly one of the UK’s best-loved conductors, a blog dedicated to contemporary composition is probably not the place for an obituary—he specialised largely in baroque and classical works, only occasionally straying into early twentieth century repertoire. 


For me he will always be the conductor of the soundtrack to Amadeus, a film that knocked me sideways as a young teenager. In other respects Sir Neville’s work, for me at least, fell between two stools. In his preferred baroque and classical repertoire, I favoured period instrument conductors of the likes of Hogwood and, even when he did stray a bit later, one felt he was not so much in his element. 


Despite this, it would be a mistake not to acknowledge his role in transforming standards of instrumental playing in the UK. He moulded the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields into one of the most virtuosic ensembles in the world at a time when UK orchestral playing was not considered to be exactly world class. The good effects of this continue to ripple around the UK’s musical scene. 


For complete obituaries from both sides of the Atlantic:


The Guardian

The Independent

The Telegraph

The Washington Post

The New York Times

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