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22 Feb  

Kaija Saariaho

Kaija Saariaho has been announced as the winner of the 10th edition of the BBVA Foundation Contemporary Music Award. The prize is $500,000. 

 

From the BBVA website:

 

The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Contemporary Music category goes, in this tenth edition, to Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho on the basis of “a contribution to contemporary music that is extraordinary in its individuality, breadth and scope.” From her earliest works, the jury continues, Saariaho has exhibited “a seamless interweaving of the worlds of acoustic music and technology,” a quality which the new laureate remarked, after hearing of the award, had come to her quite naturally. When she started studying music at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, she was frustrated at the acoustics of the venues she would attend to hear live performances. Wondering if it was possible to alter characteristics like the volume of the instruments, she began recording them and processing the sound for subsequent playback.

 

Meanwhile Ernst Von Siemens prizes of $40,000 each have been awarded to Clara Iannotta (Italy), Timothy McCormack (USA) and Oriol Saladrigues (Spain). 

 

Source: Slipped Disc





15 Feb  

Hungarian composer László Melis died on 12th February. He was 65. 

 

Melis studied the violin at the Liszt Academy, Budapest, before performing extensively as a founding member of the contemporary music ensemble Group 180. 

 

As a composer Melis was best known for his music for film, winning awards for the animated film A szél ("The Wind") and Gyurmatek ("Clay Play”) and composing the music for László Nemes’s directorial debut Son of Saul, a widely acclaimed film that follows a Hungarian Jew tasked with managing the disposal of bodies at the gas chambers in Auschwitz-Birkenau. 

 

Minimalist in style, Melis’s compositions can be found on BMC and Hungaroton record labels. Many are also available on YouTube.

 





15 Feb  

Icelandic composer Jóhann Gunnar Jóhannsson died suddenly at his apartment on 9th February. He was just 48. He is best known for his film scores, including Prisoners (2013), The Theory of Everything (2014) Sicario (2015), Arrival (2016) and The Mercy (2017). At his death he was working on the score for an animated film, Christopher Robin, based upon the Winnie the Pooh stories

 

Jóhannsson also wrote music for theatre, dance and television and released a series of ten solo albums beginning in 2002. The last of these, Orphée (inspired by the Orpheus myth) was released by Deutsche Grammophon in 2016. 

 

Born in Reykjavik, Iceland Jóhannsson learned piano and trombone before going on to study languages and literature. His composing life began as a guitarist in Indie bands using ‘feedback-drenched guitar figures to create multi-layered soundscapes.’ Later encounters with Brian Eno’s Obscure Records albums led to a change of direction: ‘I set the guitar aside and started writing music for strings, woodwinds and chamber ensemble, combining acoustic and electronic sounds.’ His distinctive style, a fusion of traditional and electronic elements, was born.

 

It was a style that won many plaudits, including a Golden Globe for Best Original Film Score (The Theory of Everything) and Oscar nominations for Sicario and Arrival.

 

At the end of his life, Jóhannsson was living and working in Berlin. He is survived by his daughter Karolina Johannsdottir.





8 Feb  

After updating C:T’s opportunity page today, I came across this article by Norman Lebrecht over at Slipped Disk. It describes how this week’s Singapore Violin Competition has effectively been rigged, since the grand finalists are all students of members of the jury. He goes as far as to suggest that the other violinists who entered ‘should hire a lawyer and sue for the return of their expenses. They would be setting an important precedent.’

 

Whilst such extremes examples of nepotism are to be decried, we might as well admit to ourselves that blander, but no less pernicious, forms of favouritism have long existed in the musical world, including in composing. I certainly know of composers who have been awarded prizes or opportunities by teachers and, I might as well say it, I have probably benefited from this type of patronage myself. The phrase ‘it’s who you know’ could not be more relevant in a career with so many practitioners chasing so few opportunities.

 

There are of course things that competitions can do to increase the chance that the competition will be fair, especially by asking that scores are submitted anonymously. Probably about half of all competitions I post month in, month out here at C:T do this. Whilst this is not a panacea—it’s not difficult, after all, for a judge on a panel to recognise a score written by a student, even if it has no name on it—it does limit the chances of a Singapore-style stitch-up.

 

Beyond this I’m not sure how much more can be done. Music-making is a social activity, so it’s perfectly natural that you are more likely to get musicians with whom you have a relationship to help you. Is that really nepotism? I don’t think so. Unless you are a composer that doesn’t mind being discovered after you’re dead, you have to get out, meet people. There is nothing heroic about sitting in a lonely composing studio expecting the world to come genuflecting to your door.

 

A final thought on competitions, which arose from an email we received here at C:T a couple of weeks ago. It was from a composer who was worried that one of the composer opportunities posted on our opportunities page was a scam—it required money up front and in a currency different from where the website was based, the website itself was amateurish and the name of the competition organiser did not seem to appear elsewhere on the web. There was no definitive answer we could give since the competition did not differ greatly from many others posted here; many competitions ask for money up-front, some are from newcomers who may not be great at website design and even the currency problem may have had a simple explanation. 

 

This doesn’t stop me worrying about the veracity of the compositions we list here in good faith. In one competition last year, for example, entrants were not asked to pay a fee, but when the winner was selected he was asked for $19,000 towards the cost of performing the piece. You could argue that that does not matter, since he could simply refuse, but imagine his frustration if he’d written the piece specifically for the competition. 

 

It is, then, incumbent upon us all to exercise caution and a healthy scepticism when entering composition competitions. Like the entrants in the Singapore Violin Competition, we can’t protect ourselves from the nepotism of jury members, but we don’t have to believe every promise we read or pay every exorbitant entry fee. The same approach, essentially, as when buying a used car. Buyer beware.





3 Feb  

If you want to hear the best of emerging composer talent in the UK, take a look at Making Music’s Adopt a Composer programme.

 

The scheme has run since 2000 and pairs the best of the UK’s emerging composing talent with amateur choirs, orchestras and ensembles for a year. Together they produce a new composition of about ten minutes in length, which is then broadcast on Radio 3. 

 

The pieces by the class of 2016/17 were premiered between 22nd and 26th January and will be available on BBC iPlayer for 30 days. More simply, you can hear all of the pieces, and those from previous years, here:

The 2017/18 scheme is well under way, the chosen composers and their groups being:

Anna Appleby with Merchant Sinfonia

 

Max Charles Davies with Côr Crymych a'r Cylch

 

Esmeralda Conde Ruiz with The Fretful Federation Mandolin Orchestra

 

Edmund Hunt with The Singers

 

Ben See with Stoneleigh Youth Orchestra 

 

Peter Yarde Martin with Bellfolk Handbell Ringers

 

Gaynor Barradell with Edinburgh Concert Band

 

You can learn more about how they are getting on in blogs they are posting on the Making Music Website, the two most recent being by Anna Appelby and Max Charles Davies. It’s also worth reading about the project from the perspective of the amateur groups—it’s clear that they are finding the collaborations just as rewarding as the composers.

 

If you are interested in getting involved, the next round of applications for the scheme will open in March, for both composers and amateur groups.





30 Jan  

Christian Morris talks to composer Nigel Osborne, who was recently been awarded the British Composer Award for Inspiration in recognition of his human rights work.
 

Nigel Osborne

Your early composing followed a well-established trajectory - study at Oxford and abroad, several prestigious prizes, and academic posts in Nottingham then Edinburgh. Then, in 1992, you travelled to Bosnia-Herzegovina following the outbreak of hostilities there. What motivated this decision?

In some ways I was simply getting on with what I had done before. At the point I began to work in Bosnia, I had been involved in human rights activities for over 20 years. I had of course been a member of the "'68 generation", and although I thought many of the student protest movements of the time lacked serious political purpose, I had taken part in demonstrations, particularly about the Vietnam war, and had become closely involved, for various reasons and in various ways, in the unfolding of events in both Northern Ireland and Czechoslovakia. 

I had been influenced as a very young man by a lecture Sartre had given in the Club Maintenant in Paris in October 1945 - Existentialism and Humanism. Two things in the lecture had shaped the way I thought at the time. The first was the idea that we build what we become from what we are - in other words that we invent ourselves from the most raw of human materials and are responsible for the person we become and what we do; and that by understanding the nature of our own consciousness, we understand everyone else. This was the basis of a very young man's intellectual leftism.

 

>> Click here to read the full interview





25 Jan  

This year Radio France’s Festival Présences (6th–11th February) celebrates the music of composer, organist and improvisor Thierry Escaich. As well as performances of existing works, l’Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France will give the world premiere of a newly commissioned piece. Many other composer-performers will be also be represented, including Wolfgang Mitterer, Michaël Levinas, Lionel Bord, Laurent Cuniot, Benoît Mernier, Thierry Pécou, Burkhard Stangl, Karol Beffa, Eva Reiter and John Zorn.

 

The concerts take place at Radio France, Paris, principally in Studio 104. The full programme is available, here.

 

In the UK, Thea Musgrave, now in her 90th year, will visit the Royal Northern College of Music on 1st and 2nd February. There will be the opportunity to hear her in conversation with Clark Rundell, as well as three concerts. These will include seven of her own works, including the world premiere of From Darkness into Light played by the BBC Philharmonic, as well as premieres from Edgar Divver and Robin Wallington. 

 

Other premieres this month include the first UK outing for George Walker’s Icarus in Orbit played by the BBCSO at the Barbican on 9th; the world premiere of Mark Bowden’s Three Interludes with BBCNOW at Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff on 21st; and new works by Helen Grime on 15th and Joseph Phibbs on 23rd at Wigmore Hall. Also at Hoddinott Hall are three concerts that will explore new orchestral works by up-and-coming emerging Welsh composers. These take place on 1st, 22nd and 23rd

 

Lovers of music theatre will want to make time for Satyagraha, Philip Glass’s opera based on Gandhi’s early years in South Africa, tracing the progress of his concept of non-violent protest as a positive force for change. Performances run from 1st–7th Feb at ENO. At the Royal Opera House, meanwhile, Joby Talbot’s ballet The Winter’s Tale will be performed from 13th Feb–21st March.





25 Jan  

Geraldine Mucha in the 1980s. Image: geraldinemucha.org 

Whilst last year marked the centenary of the birth of Scottish composer Geraldine Mucha, 2018 will see further celebrations of her life and work.

 

Mucha was born in London and studied at the Royal Academy of Music. In 1945 she moved to Prague with her husband Jiři Mucha, son of the world-renowned Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha. Although her music was performed in Czechoslovakia by leading ensembles, it remains largely unknown in the UK, a consequence of the many years she spent behind the Iron Curtain.

 

In 2017 a new recording of Macbeth and Other Orchestral Works was released via ArcoDiva and featured her ballet Macbeth (1965), Overture to The Tempest (1963) and Piano Concerto (1961); and, in November, a special centenary concert included her two String Quartets and pieces for Chamber Orchestra, performed by the Stamic Quartet and others.

 

To learn more about Geraldine Mucha:

 

Official Geraldine Mucha Website

 

Wikipedia

 

Other Links:





25 Jan  

The 2018 Oscar nominations for best original score are:

 

Dunkirk, by Hans Zimmer

Phantom Thread, by Jonny Greenwood

The Shape of Water, by Alexandre Desplat

Start Wars: The Last Jedi, by John Williams

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, by Carter Burwell

 

 

I know who my money is on.





23 Jan  

 

I recently started a YouTube channel to talk about music from a composer's perspective. One of the things I'm hoping to do is offer constructive advice to younger/less experienced composers about their compositions. If you are one, or you know any composers who'd be interested, please do get in touch. All you need to do is send through a score and preferably also a recording or midi file. If I feel I have something useful to say (always constructively!) I will post a video about it (perhaps alongside a few others) at a later date. Please specify if you'd prefer your submission to be talked about anonymously. My channel is David Bruce Composer and you can send any materials through to my channel name (with no spaces) @gmail.com 







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