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24 May  

St. Magnus International Music Festival

 

The St. Magnus International Festival runs from 22–28th June, with its usual mix of classical music, theatre, dance, poetry, bands, visual art, community participation and new work. 

 

There is plenty to enjoy, including Rachmaninov’s Vespers, Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle, a concert that explores ’Songs of Freedom’ and Zoé Martlew’s Review Z.  One wonders, however, if the festival has been feeling the pinch just recently. I could only locate one world premiere from an established ‘name’, Kenneth Hesketh’s Inscrizione (derivata) (A Lie to the Dying) on 27th. There is also an entirely worthy education composition project with Kirkwall Grammar School and Glaitness Primary School on 23rd. Little else, or so it seems. What, for example, happened to the composition course this year?

 

The Holland Festival

 

Amsterdam’s Holland Festival runs from 7th June–1st July. There are several regional premieres on offer plus the world premiere of Daníel Bjarnason’s We Came in Peace for All Mankind for 12 horns and 12 pianos (as resonance chambers) on 23rd. There is also a special focus on the music of George Benjamin, including performances of his Dance Figures, Sometime Voices and operas Lessons in Love and Violence and Written on Skin. 

 

There is much else besides, much of it very imaginative. The opening day, for example, contains a collaboration between Gerhard Richer the painter and Marcus Schmickler, the composer as well as a performance of Morton Feldman’s Rothko Chapel. On 13th the Heath Quartet perform Beethoven’s string quartet no.11 and Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 2, but under the title The String Quartet’s Guide to Sex and Anxiety and with four actors who ‘reconstruct the melody of melancholy in a staging full of insanity.’ Throughout the festival there is also the chance to spend half an hour listening to Longplayer, a composition for singing bowls that started playing on 31st December 1999 and will not end until the year 2999.

 

Here’s a video preview of the festival:





16 May  

US composer and guitarist Glenn Branca died on May 13th. He was 69.

 

Branca studied theatre at Emerson College, Boston. After spending time in the UK in 1973, he returned to the city to found the experiential theatre group Bastard Theatre in 1975, for which he or his collaborator John Rehberger provided music. Further work in theatre followed, as did the forming of the bands Theoretical Girls and Static. His works for electric guitar ensemble and drums at the turn of the decade ‘introduced a visceral, high-volume, ecstatic music unknown to rock or the avant garde.’ 

 

The 80s was marked by further experiments in tuning and the construction of custom instruments, which featured in several of his numbered symphonies. From 1989, with the commission of his Symphony No. 7, he began to write for more traditional ensembles. He continued to write for the guitar, however, including for his wife and fellow experimental guitarist Reg Bloor. Paying tribute to him on social media, she said:

 

I feel grateful to have been able to live and work with such an amazing source of ideas and creativity for the past 18 1/2 years. His musical output was a fraction of the ideas he had in a given day. His influence on the music world is incalculable.

 

Despite his gruff exterior, he was a deeply caring and fiercely loyal man. We lived in our own little world together. I love him so much. I’m absolutely devastated.





16 May  

New York-based composer Matt Marks died on May 11th. He was just 38. 

 

Not just a composer but also a mean arranger, singer and horn player, Marks was a founding member of contemporary music chamber orchestra, Alarm Will Sound, which has been described as "one of the most vital and original ensembles on the American music scene.”

 

The announcement of the news by Marks' fiancé, composer Mary Kouyoumdjian was greeted with many tributes, including from Alarm Will Sound, who stated on Twitter: ‘Matt was a unique mix of playfulness & gravity who was integral in shaping our identity as a band. He will be deeply missed.’

 

Steve Smith in a full obituary in the New York Times, summed up Marks' style: ’he demonstrated a knack for crafting works of substantial appeal and subversive cheek, generously endowed with sharp wit and relatable pathos.’ 

 





16 May  

Whether a recent story about proclivities of Admiral Lord Nelson is true or false, it rather proves that the sexual lives of the renowned dead provides good copy.

 

This has always been the case with composers. A theory put forward in Paul Kildea’s widely praised 2013 biography of Benjamin Britten speculated that, rather than dying of a congenital heart problem, the condition was actually a result of tertiary syphilis. It is a disease that has been linked to countless other composers, including Scott Joplin, Delius, Hugo Wolf, Smetana, Glinka, Donizetti, Schubert, Beethoven and Mozart. 

 

A new book by fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons Jonathan Noble seeks to put the record straight. Interviewed about it in the Guardian he observed that “The list of composers who had syphilis is short. The list of composers said to have had syphilis is enormous.” And of Benjamin Britten’s syphilis he believes that ‘The evidence for that is scant,’ deriving as it did from ‘hearsay and an elderly doctor who “had nothing to do with Britten’s care”’. 

 

In total Noble’s book That Jealous Demon, My Wretched Health: Disease, Death and Composers examines the deaths of 70 composers, in a number of cases debunking tales of “venereal disease, alcoholism or sexual impropriety.”

 

Read the full story at the Guardian.





9 May  

American composer, pianist and academic Donald H. Keats died on 27th April. He was 88. 

 

Keats was a graduate of Yale University, where he studied with Quincy Porter and Hindemith, and of Columbia University, where he completed an MA with Otto Luening and Henry Cowell. A period in Europe as a Fulbright Scholar was followed by a return to America and study for a PhD at University of Minnesota, completed in 1961. He held academic positions at University of Washington, Antioch College and University of Denver. He won two Guggenheim Fellowships (1964–65 and 1972–73).

 

Published by Boosey & Hawkes, Keats’ composed in most musical genres except for opera—his catalogue includes symphonies, a piano concerto, two string quartets, a piano sonata, various works for violin and piano and cello and piano, song cycles and other choral music.

 

His early works have been described as being ’often based on clearly articulated tonal centres’ but that he later moved away from tonality, instead using ‘short motivic ideas and sonorities.’





26 Apr  

Colin Riley’s In Place is a song-cycle with a difference; 10 songs, each setting new texts and mixing live performance, field recording and electronics. It explores a sense of place in the British Isles; how it informs cultural identity; shapes language and dialects; provides both solace and stimulation, and contains histories both universal and personal. The new texts have been specially created by a set of writers for whom ‘place’ is a guiding force in their work: Robert Macfarlane, Paul Farley, Nick Papadimitrou, Selina Nwulu, Jackie Morris, Daljit Nagra, Richard Skelton and Autumn Richardson.

 

Colin Riley has been commissioned by Sound Festival as part of the PRS for Music Foundation’s Beyond Borders programme which is a co-commissioning and touring programme run in partnership with Creative Scotland, Arts Council of Wales, Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Arts Council of Ireland / An Chomhairle Ealaíon. In Place is also supported by Brunel University and  Arts Council England.

 

The In Place album is now available on Squeaky Kate Music. The album launch is on 11th May, for their OCM performance, at The North Wall.

 

Here’s a preview:

In Place from Sound Festival on Vimeo.





23 Apr  

German composer Moritz Eggert talks to C:T about his life, motivations and new CD Musica Viva 30, which has just been released on the NEOS record label.
 

Moritz Eggert - photo Katharina Dubno

Tell us something about your background.

I was born in Heidelberg and grew up there, in Mannheim and Frankfurt, the latter being where I spent my formative years. My mother is a photographer and my father (who I didn't grow up with) was a writer. My background was certainly artistic, but music was not my primary focus, even though I remember clearly that I constantly created music in my head and could imagine the timbre and sound of instruments very precisely. I just didn't think it was a special skill. I had a good piano education from an early age nevertheless, but not with the goal of actually becoming a musician. I was interested in all kinds of things - film, literature, art...I knew I wanted to become an artist, but I didn't really know exactly what kind of artist until... 

How did you start composing?

...I was asked by a school friend to be part of his band. It quickly became clear that I enjoyed composing music for that band. Then there were more bands, Jazz, Rock, Prog-Rock, and I suddenly found myself falling for music in general. I must have been 15 at that time, and suddenly I realized that I had gotten behind on piano technique compared to others my age. I wanted to play what I heard in my head, and that meant practice, practice, practice...I regularly skipped school to practice piano, which had not a good effect on my grades, obviously. But with the practice came a renewed interest in classical music, and the discovery of more unusual composers like Erik Satie and Charles Ives, which in turn led to my interest in contemporary music.

>> Click here to read the full interview





19 Apr  

Composer and academic James Wishart has died of a stroke aged 61. Wishart was a lecturer in composition at the University of Liverpool from 1980 to 2013. He was also active as an organiser of conferences, festivals and concerts, including the new music festival Upbeat, The Electric Concerts, and in projects as part of the 2008 Capital of Culture Celebrations. 

 

In 2017 a new archive of his work was opened to coincide with a performance of one of his best-known works 23 Songs for a Madwoman. His music has been described ‘as the continuation and development of modernism in music, as found in composers such as Luciano Berio, Morton Feldman and Peter Maxwell Davies…. Wishart's music aims for clarity of communication rather than being a simple exploration of music theory.’

 

A fuller Guardian obituary can be found, here.





19 Apr  

Classical music streaming service IDAGIO has announced a collaboration that will make the entire Warner Classics and Erato catalogue available to its users.

 

The IDAGIO catalogue, which already comprises over 650,000 tracks, will encompass all new and recent releases from the Warner Classics and Erato labels, as well as the complete catalogue, including recordings originally issued on such iconic labels as EMI Classics and Teldec (now Warner Classics) and Virgin Classics (now Erato).

 

As an additional aspect of the partnership, IDAGIO will feature exclusive playlists curated by Warner Classics and its artists, and will work closely with the label on additional initiatives to provide an engaging classical listening experience for IDAGIO users.

 

To find out more about IDAGIO (and especially how it can be used by composers), read CT’s recent interview with its founder Till Janczukowicz, here.





19 Apr  

 

Jennifer Higdon has been awarded the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition for ‘her highly acclaimed and wide-ranging compositions that have led to her status and one of most prolific and frequently performed living composers.’ The prize includes $100,000, a performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and a residency of two to three non-consecutive weeks at the Bienen School of Music.

 

More information available here.







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