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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. 





5 Sep  

A little fun for a Tuesday afternoon. The melodica men take on Holst's Jupiter:

And here's Evgeny Kissin showing off his composing chops:




30 Aug  

Christian Morris talks to Madeleine Mitchell, who will be giving the world premiere of a newly discovered work by Grace Williams on 7th September and whose new album, Violin Muse, will be be released on the Divine Art record label in October.
 

Madeleine Mitchell. Photo by Rama Knight

Tell us about your new album, Violin Muse.

This is a collection of seven world premiere recordings of violin works by established living UK composers. Five of the pieces were written for me (three as gifts), which I've premiered between 2007–15, and I've worked with all the composers on the album. It's good to have a concerto—Guto Puw's Soft Stillness(based on lines from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice)—and violin duos—Judith Weir's collection Atlantic Drift (celebrating the flow of traditional music between the British Isles and North America)—as well as five pieces with piano—by Michael Nyman, David Matthews, Michael Berkeley, Sadie Harrison and Geoffrey Poole. It creates an interesting mix of textures. There's a lyrical thread linking many of the works, which I think suits the violin. I'm pleased to be joined by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Edwin Outwater, pianist Nigel Clayton and violinist Cerys Jones; and that it's my second album for Divine Art.

I've been fascinated by the violin as a muse for composers, painters and writers and it's interesting that significant composers for the violin didn't play the instrument but collaborated with and were inspired by violinists. I've been privileged to have had around 30 works written for me over some years. 

Your association with living composers goes back to the beginning of your career. Apart from those represented on this new disk, are there any highlights from these working relationships, not just in terms of the finished piece but also in the collaborative process?

I started out as the violinist/violist in Peter Maxwell Davies' seminal group The Fires of London, whilst beginning a solo career in more standard repertoire and some teaching. It was through Max that I met several composers who then wrote works for me. The first I commissioned was *Brian Elias's Fantasia for a London recital prize I'd been awarded by the Kirkman Concert Society, where I wanted to include a new piece along with Brahms and Bartok. Piers Hellawell then wrote me a violin concerto, Elegy in the Time of Freedom (1992); James MacMillan two pieces—*Kiss on Wood and *A Different World; and Robert Saxton, whose sextet I played with the Fires, wants to write me a violin sonata next year. 

Click here to read the rest of the interview




30 Aug  

Dorico development continues apace with the launch yesterday of version 1.1.10.

 

From the Dorico website:

 

We have today released Dorico 1.1.10, the latest update to our professional music notation software, following hot on the heels of the Dorico 1.1 update that was released at the end of June.

 

The main focus of this update is to add graphical editing of individual chord symbols in Engrave mode, which was something that was planned for Dorico 1.1 but which needed a bit more time to get into shape. In addition to that significant bit of functionality, there are a few other minor functional improvements, and the usual crop of bug fixes. 

 

Click here for further details. And check this video for the new functionality:

 




23 Aug  

Anyone tempted to write for Ben Neill's new Mutantrumpet?




23 Aug  

The title work Jonathan Dove’s new Signum disk, In Damascus, is the composer’s response to contemporary events in Syria. Written for tenor and string quartet it is a haunting collection of eleven short movements, each economically constructed in his post-minimalist idiom. It is presented with, Out of Time, for string quartet, written in memory of a dead husband, which is by turns lively and elegiac; and his expansive Piano Quintet. 

 

NMC have started releasing works in their New Music Biennial project, these being: Winestead by Gavin Bryars, Ceumannan – Footsteps 2 by Anne Martin and Jason Singh, A Journey with the Giants of Jazz by Peter Edwards and Bethia by Daniel Elms. Not so contemporary, but certainly worthy of a look, is their collection of string chamber music works by Imogen Holst, a deleted album originally released on the Court Lane Music label. As they point out, one of NMC’s missions is to rescue these types of recordings, and there could hardly be a more appropriate composer, since Holst was not only a significant figure in her own right, but her Holst foundation helped to created the NMC label. 

 

If this kind of neglected British repertoire is your thing, also check out two releases this month on Lyrita. There is a disk of Rubbra instrumental music that comprises his Sinfonia Concertante op.38, Prelude and Fugue on a theme of Cyril Scott and his Violin Concerto Op. 103. He also appears as a pianist, performing Cyril Scott’s Consolation. I also dipped into Daniel Jones’s Symphonies Nos. 2 and 11. Jones is a familiar figure to Welsh musicians. Growing up I remember we had a few scratchy records of his music at home, including his Sonata for Unaccompanied Kettledrums. I think this last piece especially had left me with the idea that his style was austere and forbidding. Far from it—whilst certainly serious utterances, these symphonies are bursting with engaging ideas. 

 

A double trio of disks to finish. On Naxos there is instrumental music by American George Tsontakis; Lori Laitman’s opera The Scarlet Letter, David Mason’s libretto an adaptation of the original Hawthorne novel; and a collection of choral music from Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds. On Wergo, meanwhile, are two albums of string quartets, one from Wolfgang Rihm, the other by Helmut Zapf; and a collection of seven chamber works by Milica Djordjević, headed by the string quartet The Death of the Star-Knower






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