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29 Jun  

This video speaks for itself, I think. If we cannot protect music education, what hope for the future of our industry?



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28 Jun  

Arts Council England has just announced its portfolio organisations that will receive funding over the next four years.

 

A greater percentage of money than in previous years will be used to fund organisations outside London (60.4% in 2018–22 as compared to 55.8% in 2015–18 and 53.8% in 2012–15). 

 

Musical organisations receiving funding for the first time include two for disabled musicians,  OpenUp Music and the British Paraorchestra; Plymouth Music Zone, which is involved with outreach work with vulnerable children and adults; and Sound City Music Festival.

 

The full list of portfolio organisation may be viewed here (Excel file).

 

From the Arts Council Website:

 

Our Chief Executive, Darren Henley, welcomes 831 organisations to the 2018-22 portfolio. Stay tuned to the blog this week and next for a series of posts on the new portfolio, including discussion of the organisations in your area, diversity, National Lottery investment, art forms and the new Sector Support Organisations.

 

Today, we announced our new National Portfolio for 2018-22 - a fresh, ambitious and wide-ranging group of organisations that we believe will bring new energy to the arts and cultural sector, while reaching more people in more places than ever before.

 

In all, 831 organisations will receive a total of £1.6 billion over four years for 844 projects. Importantly, we’ll be investing £170 million more outside London and there will be significantly increased investment in places like Reading, Bradford, Plymouth, Northumberland and Stoke.

 

The National Portfolio includes organisations across England of all sizes and scales, with museums and libraries coming into the portfolio for the first time.  Some organisations are well-established nationally or internationally, like the Royal Shakespeare Company, the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, the Royal Philharmonic and theatre company Punchdrunk.

Other portfolio organisations are just starting out, like the Factory – a major new international arts venue in Manchester. It will be exciting to see how the 183 organisations joining the portfolio grow and develop.

 

The new members include small organisations like Corali, a dance company of performers with learning disabilities, and The NewBridge Project, a vibrant community that supports talent development for individual artists. Larger organisations include Without Walls, a consortium that creates extraordinary outdoor work.

 

There will be 72 museums and seven libraries in the portfolio, including The National Holocaust Centre and Museum, the Bowes Museum in Teesdale, the Tank Museum in Dorset and library services in Barking and Dagenham, Suffolk and Leicester.

 

We’ve focused on ensuring that this is a diverse portfolio that will produce work relevant to the world we live in, as well as supporting fresh talent and artists from many different backgrounds and representing different perspectives. The arts, and society generally, urgently need to draw on the huge resources of our national diversity.

 

In 2016 we established the Elevate fund to prepare organisations keen to become part of the 2018-22 portfolio. We’re very pleased that of the 40 successful applicants to Elevate, 20 will now become portfolio members – including Ballet Black and Venture Arts, which champions the work of learning disabled visual artists.

 

This portfolio has emerged from an exhaustive and rigorous process, from initial consultations with the sector, through to the final balancing decisions. Financially, we’ve committed all we can to this new portfolio because we believe that this is the right time. Up and down England there are organisations, villages, towns and cities that will benefit hugely from this investment.

 

We have supported more organisations than ever before, but of course there have been hard decisions to make – often between applicants of great merit. We are fortunate to have such a variety and quantity of talent in our country.

 

I hope that those who have not made the portfolio on this occasion will be encouraged to come back next time. In the meantime they may find that we have other funding streams that are suitable for them, such as Grants for the Arts.

 

To those who have entered the portfolio: welcome. You are collectively embarking on a creative journey, which will bring some profound and positive changes to our arts and cultural sector and its relationship with the public.



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26 Jun  

French composer and organist Jacques Charpentier died on 15th June, aged 83. Partly self-taught, he was also decisively influenced by Indian music and by Olivier Messiaen. The fullest evidence of this was in his immense piano cycle 72 études karnatiques, based on Indian musical scales.

 

Charpentier also worked in a wide variety of other genres, including symphony and opera. He was also known as an administrator of French music and as a teacher, having spent seven years as professor of composition in Nice. 

 

72 études karnatiques



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21 Jun  

Trying to summarise concerts at this, the busiest time of year, is a fool’s errand. What follows, then, is the merest scratch of the surface of the many event on offer in July.

 

I've already summarised the main concerts at this year’s BBC Proms. I won't go over them again, except to say that things kick off on 14th July with the premiere of Tom Coult’s St. John’s Dance.

 

Apart from the Proms there are two other outstanding UK festivals to look forward to, both making reappearances after taking a break in 2016. The biennial Manchester International Festival (29th June–16th July) features more than 20 world premieres. Highlights include Available Light, a collaboration between choreographer Lucinda Childs, composer John Adams and architect Frank Gehry; Thomas Ostermeier’s Returning to Reims, a response to the wave of populist politics sweeping Europe; and Cotton Panic!, a story based in the 19th century, where the scarcity of imported raw cotton brought the textile industries of Northern England to a standstill.

 

The Tête à Tête Opera Festival (25th July–13th August) is not normally biennial, so it is something of a relief to see it back this year. The break seems to have recharged its batteries, with a bewildering array of works on offer. Many of these are also on the cutting edge of contemporary events. On 25th July, for example, ID Please, explores ‘themes of immigration, identity and xenophobia.’ Its British-Iranian composer, Soosan Lolavar, was almost prevented from attending rehearsals in the US because of Trump’s first ‘Muslim ban’.  The following day is a performance of Dominic Robertson’s The United Kingdom of Earth: A Brexit Opera, featuring Boris Johnson in Downing Street in a tie dye suit… 

 

Other UK festivals to consider include the Cheltenham Music Festival (1st–16th), the Buxton International Festival (7th–23rd) and the Three Choirs Festival (22nd–29th). A dig around in their programmes will reveal at least handful of world premieres and concerts otherwise featuring contemporary music.

 

Looking further afield, the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival (1st July–27th August) has the epic length one associates with the Proms, if not quite so many new music events. Despite this, there is a concert to celebrate the 80th birthday of Philip Glass; the premiere of Anna Clyne’s Three Sisters for mandolin and string orchestra; and a concert featuring the music of Hindemith prize-winner Samy Moussa. 

 

The Festival ‘Aix en Provence’s major new opera world premiere, Pinocchio by Philippe Boesmans, takes place on 3rd, with further performances on 7th, 11th and 14th July. The Bregenzer Festspiele begins on 19th July, but you’ll have to wait till 16th August for its own big opera premiere, with the first performance of Zesses Seglias’s To the Lighthouse, after the novel by Virginia Woolf. 

 

Some other festivals to consider include in Finland, the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival (9th–22nd), in South France the La Roque d’Anthéron International Piano Festival (21st–19th August) and, even further afield (at least for me) in South Africa, the Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival (30th June-9th July), which will feature the music of British-based South African composer Robert Fokkens.



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14 Jun  

Musicians looking for rays of soft Brexit hope following Theresa May’s disastrous election last week might reflect on the fact that far from softening Brexit, it may have produced something worse: gridlock.

 

The effects of Brexit on the music industry have included higher prices for digital downloads, for musical instruments, computer equipment and possibly vinyl records. The potential loss of free movement coupled with generally negative attitudes towards immigration have resulted in whole orchestras leaving the UK, difficulties filling vacancies in those that have stayed and falling EU student numbers. Neither can the wider implications be ignored. A healthy arts sector does not exist in isolation—it depends on a healthy economy. With the UK registering the smallest growth of all 28 EU members in the first quarter of this year, it seems that some of the warnings made before the referendum are beginning to come true. When the Treasury coffers are empty, the arts will be among the first to suffer.

 

Suspending disbelief for a moment, it is possible, of course, that the hard Brexiters are correct. If we cut ourselves off from the EU completely, this dismal period will lead to a land of milk, honey and Schrödinger’s cake (had and eaten). In this context, whilst Theresa May’s Brexit approach did not look particularly attractive before her ill-judged election, at least it was a strategy, of sorts. There was chance of ridding ourselves of some of the uncertainly. Now May will have to negotiate a Brexit that satisfies her hard Brexit right wing; the DUP, who are quite keen on Brexit but don't want a hard border with Ireland; those who want to stay in the customs union, led by Philip Hammond; and those who appear to be suggesting we stay in the Single Market, most notably the newly powerful Ruth Davidson. All the while, the possibility of building a cross-party consensus is scuppered by the fact that Corbyn will probably be content to watch the whole farce play out until he gets what he really wants: a new election.

 

All the while Article 50 ticks away. Not a clock, but an explosive device. If the politicians continue to be unable to defuse the bomb they have so happily built, primed and activated, we are all going to be faced by the worst kind of Brexit possible: a no deal Brexit. It will wreak havoc not just with our own industry, but with the country as a whole.



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12 Jun  

English composer Malcolm Lipkin died on 2nd June aged 85. Under the influence of his teacher Mátyás Seiber he music exhibited elements of serialism, but he always remained his own man, never fully adopting the system. His later fully found his voice in a distinctive tonal style.

 

Lipkin wrote thee symphonies; concertos for violin, piano, flute and oboe; and a number of chamber and vocal works.

 

Malcom Lipkin Symphony No.3 The Sun



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7 Jun  

This iOS app from independent developer Alexei Baboulevitch won a Children’s Technology Review award, which suggests that it might not be much use for creative professionals. That would be wrong.

 

The app takes an entirely graphic approach to composition. You are presented with a canvas with pitch on the vertical axis, time on the horizontal. Once you’ve chosen an instrument you press record and draw (with finger or Apple Pencil) in realtime or, if you prefer, you can enter a line note by note. You can zoom in and out, edit and assign a variety of instruments to different layers within a score. And that’s about it. 

 

The most obvious use case for such an app would be within a classroom or by someone not versed in staff notation. I would argue, however, that trying to use it to write traditional (especially tonal) music would not be the best use case since, actually, one still has to have a knowledge of musical grammar. The application doesn’t much help with this, giving you the whole gamut of 12 notes to choose from— finding the right notes would be pretty tricky for a beginner. But as a tool for creating imaginative sound collages and the like it has immense potential. And this doesn't just apply to educational users, but to much more experienced composers too.

 

The greatest achievement of this app is that it frees you from the tyranny of both barline and chromatic scale. Any kind of microtonal nuance is easy to achieve. The best way to think of it would be like directly composing a graphic score, such as those produced in the 50s and 60s by the likes of Ligeti, Stockhausen and Xenakis. Unlike, say, in Ligeti’s Artikulation, however, where the score is merely a graphic representation of hours of painstaking work to produce an electronic composition, here sound and symbol are directly linked, but have (or have the potential to have) the same flexibility offered by electronic manipulation.

 

If the app is to become really useful for professional composers it could do with expanding its feature set. There are several export option (AAC, MIDI, JSON and ZIP archive) though no import options. It is the latter that would make this a really powerful tool. It would be brilliant, for example, to be able to import and write with user generated sounds or to be able to import a conventional audio track, and then paint round it with this application. The editing tools too could do with enlarging. There is no copy and paste and it would be good to be able to edit the shape and position of individual notes. 

 

Despite this it’s still possible to do real creative work with Composer’s Sketchpad. It’s power lies in the simplicity of its conception and perfect use of finger or stylus input. If you want to give it a try you can download the lite version for free, the full version costs just £3.99.

 

 



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28 May  

The latest contemporary music phenomenon is Dutch pianist Joep Beving. For fun, Beving uploaded some of his music to Spotify. Since doing so his compositions have been streamed an astonishing 85 million times. The music probably only just qualifies for the classical contemporary label, Beving himself describing it as being more for a pop audience: “It’s chill-out, easy listening … mood-type music for people to calm down and feel comforted, like being in a bubble, protected.” You can make up your own mind here:

His latest album, Prehension, can also be found at YouTube, Spotify and Apple Music.

 

Wergo seem to have been subsumed into Schott and deprived of what used to be a rather excellent website. The best way to find their new releases now seems to be taking a look at their Facebook page. Happily, these still seem to be coming thick and fast, with four albums worth considering this month: a disk of unusual duet pairings by Keiko Harada; music for voice and instruments by Tom Sora; works for soprano by Wolfgang Rihm, Aribert Reimann and Hans Werner Henze; and chamber music by Ying Wang. 

 

As Leonard Bernstein’s centenary (1918-2018) approaches, Bridge records has begun its celebrations early with a new recording of the composer’s complete piano music played by Andre Cooperstock. They have also released a programme of works for large chamber ensemble and wind ensemble by Gregory Mertl; and Rites of Passage, a disk of chamber music by Martin Boykan.

 

Bracing Change, a new album featuring of string quartets by Simon Holt, Donnacha Dennehy and Anthony Gilbert marks the beginning of a new project from NMC featuring new string commissions. Also on NMC is a programme of music by Gavin Higgins, Mark Bowden, Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Kate Whitley and Quinta (stage name of composer Katherine Mann). All are past Rambert Fellows, the works here being played by the Rambert Orchestra.

 

Nimbus has released a mixed programme of works by George Benjamin, including Flight, a work written in his late teens for solo flute. A DVD of a 2014 performance of Carlisle Floyd’s opera Susannah has just been made available over at Naxos. Also, if you are unimpressed by Joep Beving’s piano music, check out From My Beloved Country, a programme of South African piano music played by Renée Reznek. It’s proper, stimulating contemporary music, just as capable of being enjoyed by a wide range of listeners. 



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24 May  

Maria Wanda Milliore, originator of the fantastical lake opera sets at the Bregenz Festival, died on May 12th aged 96.

 

It was for a performance of Mozart’s Bastien et Bastienne in 1946 that she conceived the novel design, variations of which continue to this day.

 

A history of these designs, together with fascinating pictures, is available here.

 

And here is a short documentary on the construction of the lakeside set for the 2014 production of The Magic Flute: 

 



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24 May  

Simon Rattle has spoken about Brexit, remarking how some musicians a the LSO broke down in tears the day after the decision. He also said that there are already fewer applications from European musicians to play in the orchestra. 

 

As for himself, he said 'I feel more European than ever.’

 

The full interview is in German, here.

 

Here is a translated version.



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