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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





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.

 

 





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. 





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: 

 





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.





20 May  

A surprising and pleasurable piece of news. In a listing ranking UK university music departments, Surrey University came second, being placed above such august institutions as the Royal Academy, Royal College and Guildhall School of Music and Drama. 

 

The surprise came from such a relative unknown being placed second, the pleasure from the fact that this was where I studied for my first degree…





17 May  

Several big festivals to look forward to next month. In Amsterdam the Holland Festival (3–25 June) contains a mixture of theatre, dance, music, visual arts and film. There is plenty of new music, highlights including premieres from Mouse on Mars on 10th, new works from Indonesia on 16th, the world premiere of Kate Moore’s Sacred Environment on 24th. There are also several chances to hear works by American composer George Crumb and concerts that revive undeservedly forgotten works by Dutch composers.

 

The Aldeburgh Festival (9th–25th) contains, as always, a number of works by Benjamin Britten, with performances and explorations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the first Snape Maltings outing for Billy Budd. New works include Bill Fontana’s installation Acoustic Visions–Snape Maltings, available throughout the festival, Knussen’s setting of haiku texts Hototogisu, and Deborah Pritchard’s Wall of Water; Edge. That last piece is another response (see my CD review, below) to Maggi Hambling’s Walls of Water series of paintings, which will be on display during the festival. There are also a number of premieres from featured composers Olga Neuwirth and Jörg Widmann.

 

The St. Magnus International Festival (16th–24th) marks its connections with Norway with visits from the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and Berken Domkor, not to mention the Norwegian Crown Prince and Princess. A second thread will be a celebration of the 900th anniversary of the martyrdom of St, Magnus, which provides the inspiration for Alasdair Nicolson’s new work I, Pilgrim, to be performed on the opening night. Other composers receiving premieres include Paul Crabtree, Geoff Palmer, Gemma McGregor, Philip Cashian, Stuart MacRae, Marco Ramelli and the eight composers taking part in the St Magnus Composers’ Course.

 

The Munich Opera Festival begins on 18th and runs until the last day of July. There are major productions of older repertoire, including La Traviata, Figaro, The House of the Dead and a complete production of The Ring. Contemporary works include Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Greek, Franz Schreker’s The Stigmatized, Joby Talbot’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (ballet) and Gordon Kampe’s Can you whistle, Johanna (children’s opera). 

 

Outside the festivals there are a few other bits and pieces to look out for. At the Barbican on 2nd Thomas Adès begins his survey of Beethoven Symphonies with the Britten Sinfonia. Each of the concerts will be paired with works by Gerald Barry beginning, appropriately enough, with Beethoven. Also at the Barbican on 11th is a celebration marking 350 years since the writing of Paradise Lost, with new works from Joel Rust and Edward Nesbit. From 9th–17th ENO will be playing Daniel Schnyder’s Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD, the first European run for the jazz-infused chamber opera. Glyndebourne, meanwhile, will give the world premiere of Brett Dean’s new opera Hamlet on 11th, with performances until 6th July (on which day it will also be available to view in cinemas)





13 May  

Harriet Mackenzie (violin), Retorica, English Symphony Orchestra, English String Orchestra, Kenneth Woods (conductor). Nimbus NI 6295.

 

Violinist Harriet Mackenzie and conductor Kenneth Woods have both made appearances on this blog before. Mackenzie is a great champion of contemporary music, both as a solo artist and with duo partner Philippa Mo (who also appears in one work on this disk). They chatted to C:T back in 2014 about their disk of violin duos, featuring music by living English composers. The enthusiasm and deep knowledge of both was palpable, not just in their interview, but also in extensive and lively email correspondence.

 

The English Symphony Orchestra, now under the baton of Kenneth Woods, have likewise done much to promote contemporary composers, their work going back almost four decades. One of their recent premieres was of Philip Sawyers’ Symphony No. 3. Sawyers explained how the performance became part of a wider project examining the symphony in the 21st century, the ESO commissioning nine new works, including his own. That project is ongoing, so this new disk, An Eventful Morning in East London: 21st Century Violin Concertos is, then, an excellent way of whetting our appetites for pleasures to come.

 

In a sense the title is a misnomer; only two of the pieces here go by the name of violin concerto, though a third, Paul Patterson’s Allusions for 2 solo violins and strings, might just as well be—its traditional fast-slow-fast shape being the only work that makes use of the traditional concerto shape. The ‘Allusion’ of the title refers, nevertheless, not to the form but to the fact that each movement uses a section of a well-known opera as a starting point: the final fugue of Verdi’s Falstaff in the first movement, the Commendatore Scene from Don Giovanni in the second movement (even if the Bartokian starkness made me think more of Duke Bluebeard’s Castle), and a witty reworking of the overture to Figaro in the third. Typically of Patterson, the music is wide in range—vigorous and entertaining but not eschewing darker territory where necessary.

 

Deborah Prichard is known for her synaesthetic approach to composition, Wall of Water being no exception. It is a response to Maggi Hambling’s magnificent Walls of Water series of paintings, which she and violinist Mackenzie viewed being made at the artist’s studio in Suffolk. The result is not strictly programmatic, but the work has undoubtedly absorbed something of the elemental character of the visual pieces. It reverses some of the concerto conventions, unfolding impressively from a majestic cadenza that leads to a fast and fluid passage before returning to the stasis of the opening. 

 

David Mathews’ single movement Romanza for solo violin and string orchestra plays elegantly with waltz form. After an expressive opening section we suddenly find ourself tripping along in a world that has the all the urbanity of Strauss without any of the platitudes—the transition back to the opening material near the end, for example, is spine-chilling.

 

The title of Fokkens’ exhilarating and colourful An Eventful Morning Near East London refers not to the UK, but a ‘cattle-infested stretch of the N2 motorway between East London and Umtata’ in the composer’s native South Africa. It is possible that this was an intentional play on words—Fokkens' music often reflects the tension of being a South African abroad. It opens in the stratospheric upper regions of the violin, played with extraordinary control by Mackenzie, before outlining a lugubrious procession that leads to a peroration of Sacre–esque energy. 

 

The final piece, Emily Doolittle’s falling still for violin and strings, is informed by her interest in sounds from the natural world— she divides the ensemble so that the strings represent a non-sentient natural process, such as the movement of water or geological phenomena, the soloist a living creature in the form of birdsong. The effectiveness relies on the starkness of the juxtaposition—simple repeating chords vs. the melodic weaving of the soloist. Mackenzie describes it as a kind of ‘modern Lark Ascending’. It can’t quite reach those expressive heights, but it is a beautiful nevertheless.

 

Apart from what is a deeply satisfying and varied programme of music, it is not possible to conclude without again mentioning the performers. Two of the works here presented would not exist without the collaboration between Mackenzie and the composers. For that and also her flawless musicianship, everywhere in evidence here, we have much to be grateful for. The same extends to this magnificent orchestra under their conductor Kenneth Woods. Many conductors pay lip service to promoting new music, what Woods has memorably described as the programming ‘shit sandwich’—an unpalatable modern work between two stalwarts. His mission is to demonstrate that modern repertoire needs no such support, a fact that this disk proves in spades.





10 May  

The Royal Philharmonic Society announced their music awards yesterday evening at The Brewery in the City of London. The awards celebrate live music-making and recognise outstanding musical achievement in the UK during 2016. Award winners are chosen by independent juries of leading music practitioners from hundreds of nominations nationwide. RPS Chairman John Gilhooly said the ceremony:

 

"This year’s RPS Music Award winners take no prisoners, united in their excellence and their commitment to removing barriers to listening or participation in classical music.  The awards celebrate live music of extraordinary quality and ambition, taking place across the width and breadth of the country (closer to home than many might think).  I’d urge those who have yet to experience its multifarious pleasures to get out there and listen and make music, in the moment, of the moment.  Live Music Is… more vibrant than ever.”

 

The full list of winners is as follows:

 

Audiences and Engagement: East Neuk Festival, in collaboration with 14-18 NOW: Memorial Ground (David Lang)

Chamber Music and Song: Fretwork

Chamber-Scale Composition: Rebecca Saunders: Skin

Concert Series and Festivals: Lammermuir Festival 

Conductor: Richard Farnes 

Creative Communication: Beethoven for a Later Age: The Journey of a String Quartet by Edward Dusinberre (Faber)

Ensemble: Manchester Camerata

Instrumentalist: James Ehnes

Large-Scale Composition: Philip Venables: 4.48 Psychosis 

Learning and Participation: South-West Open Youth Orchestra

Opera and Music Theatre: Opera North: Ring Cycle

Singer: Karita Mattila

Young Artists: Joseph Middleton

 

 

More information at the RPS website.






6 May  

In Philadelphia, a project to reanimate over 1,000 broken instruments owned by the school district is reaching its latter stages. 

 

The project is the brainchild of Robert Blackson, Director of Exhibitions and Public Programs at Temple University who, on learning of the instruments, decided to mount a creative project in partnership with a number of local organisations. The first part of the programme was an exhibition of the instruments at Temple University back in 2016. After this an attempt was made to play each instrument, the sound—no matter how basic—being recorded. These samples were sent to composer  David Lang, who used them as a reference when composing a new work, which will premiere in October. This performance will involve a mixture of volunteer and professional musicians playing the broken instruments. 

 

Best of all, the programme has raised enough money to make repairs. This will happen after the premiere, most of the instruments finding their way back into the hands of young players.

 

You can read more about the project, here







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