I am still reeling a bit from the British Composer Awards, held last Monday in case you didn't know. I was up for an award in the Choral category for Shakespeare Requiem, written for the Leeds Festival Chorus and the BBC Phil last year. It wrote it under the cloud of my brother's death so it held a special meaning for me. Having been at previous awards I knew better than to prepare a speech! Yes, superstitious. But I had a vague idea of what I might say if I won. The category before mine was Wind Band, and Adam Gorb, who won, said some kind words about Tim Reynish. If you haven't come across Tim, he is the superhero of wind bands and has personally commissiioned - well it might be hundreds of pieces for all I know, but he is a bit of an unsung hero in the wider music world. I thought that I would add some more words about him if I won. This was fatal as I was still thinking about this as I lost! Gabriel Jackson's piece The Spacious Firmament, which I've heard a few times now at JAM concerts, won, which was brilliant for him and very good news for JAM.
Don't let me go on about losing, I know I am neurotic. It is horrible though! Bad reviews are one thing, they may be public, but you can read them in the kitchen and then push them to the back of your mind. But losing in front of the music industry is another thing altogether. It has made me think a lot about the value of arts awards. All composers are acquainted with grief, to quote a seasonal piece, and spend their lives struggling to be recognised but also struggling with the work itself. I don't know about you but I think writing gets harder and harder. Any piece of art is unique, and it is surely folly to try and compare a piece of funky minimalism with some New Complexity utterance?
BASCA of course knows who has won each award. They say they don't tell the composers but it is not a well kept secret that some better known composers will not come unless they know, and who can blame them? Birtwistle lost 3 awards on Monday, he could hardly be expected to stand there with a smile on his face pour encourager les autres! There is definitely a temptation to say to Sarah Rodgers at the beginning 'we who are about to die salute thee, Caesar!' Obviously it is a lot more exciting to make the event competitive and a surprise, but it makes a very difficult experience for the composers, whether you win or lose. This isn't X Factor, nor is it the Oscars. Composers are not film stars, they don't earn vast amounts of money and public appearances on these occasions do not necessarily benefit them. Keep the surprise for the audience but just have the one winning award in each category - this would also give more time to talk about the piece and the commissioner. I would have liked JAM to have got a bit more publicity than it did, given its stellar work for new music. This evening should be celebrating new music and not BASCA.
And the standing! It was the topic of the evening and the next day, that standing for an hour and a half (in new shoes in my case!) is not good for you. A composer friend of mine said he had to take pain killers when he got home and was thinking of sueing! All the people at the back of the packed hall can't see and just chat and drink, while the rest of us hop from foot to foot. An already long evening this year had the addition of two new jazz pieces. For goodness sake BASCA, get real and book a theatre!
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