I have already posted summaries of two major festivals in November: the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and Wien Modern. Another worth checking is the Cambridge Music Festival in the UK (8th–24th). It includes a Steve Reich at 80 concert on 8th, with the composer in attendance; music for cello by John Metcalfe, Nitin Sawhey and Joby Talbot on 11th; and the keyboard sextet Piano Circus play works by Steve Reich, Julia Wolfe and Graham Fitkin on 18th.
Talking of Reich at 80, there is also a major event dedicated to his birthday celebrations at the Barbican on 5th and 6th. There will be a video installation responding to his work Tehillim (1981), a lecture by Alex Ross, several concerts and an open rehearsal and talks with the LSO. Some of these events are already sold out, so don’t hang about.
Also at the Barbican, London on 27th is a BBC Total Immersion Day dedicated to the music of Richard Rodney Bennett, who died in 2012. The day begins with a film, Murder on the Orient Express, for which Rodney Bennett provided the music, at 10.30; chamber music performed by student from Guildhall School at 1.15; a talk at 3pm; a concert of orchestral music at at 4.30 that will include a world premiere; Jazz in the Foyer at 6pm; and an evening concert featuring vocal music and a performance of his Third Symphony.
Premieres to look forward to this coming month include, at the CBSO Centre on 11th, Kevin Volans’ String Quartet No. 12 and Piano Concerto No. 4 played by the Signum Quartet and Barry Douglas (piano); Philip Moore’s Requiem on 18th at St. Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge with the BBC Singers; Alexander Goehr’s Manere 1, 2, 3 played by Ensemble Modern at Wigmore Hall on 25th; and, also at Wigmore Hall, the following day the Arditti Quartet give the first performance of Hanna Kelunty’s String Quartet No.6. There is also one major European premiere at the Barbican on 28th: a concert performance of Gerald Barry’s opera Alice’s Adventures Under Ground. Barry views this as the ‘next logical step’ following his brilliant The Importance of Being Earnest. It will be performed by the Britten Sinfonia, with Barbara Hannigan as Alice and Thomas Adès conducting.
Congratutations to all the composers shortlisted in this year's British Composer Awards, the full list being available here. And, I hope he doesn't mind me saying, a special mention for CT's very own David Bruce, who is shortlisted in the stage category for his opera Nothing alongside Harrison Birtwistle and Tansy Davies. Bravo!
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Something a bit different for half term. If you are in the area, why not pop along to the Manchester Science Festival (ends 30th October), where a robot orchestra will be performing alongside human musicians. And on Wednesday is the chance to hear a Concerto for Flute and Robots by Camden Reeves. It will be played three times throughout the day, with the composer introducing it in the afternoon performances. The event is designed for children and is free to attend.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.