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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.




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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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3 May  

Tickets for the BBC Proms go on sale at 9am on Saturday 13th May. The full programme is available, here. If you wish to view the living composers represented, click on this link and look for those with birth dates only. Alternatively, see below for a complete list of concerts that include new music, arranged in chronological order. As last year, once the Proms gets going you can click through on the link I’ve given to hear listen again options on concerts you've missed.

 

As for the programme itself, it’s good to see the reintroduction of the the first night premiere, with St John’s Dance by Tom Coult on 14th. We’ve not got a bad crop of other world premieres either, with major new commissions for Pascal Dusapin, Julian Anderson, Brian Elias and Judith Weir. Am I the only one, however, to notice that with 12 in total, there are significantly fewer world premieres than last year (where there were 16) or in 2015 (where there were 18)? A sign, perhaps, that in cash straightened times, new art is considered dispensable.

 

July 

 

14th Tom Coult, St John’s Dance (world premiere); John Adams Harmonium.

16th Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Deep Time (UK premiere).

19th Pascal Dusapin, Outscape (UK premiere).

24th Laurent Durupt, Grids for Greed (world premiere). 

26th Julian Anderson, Piano Concerto (world premiere)

28th Anders Hillborg, Sirens (UK premiere).

29th David Sawer, The Greatest Happiness Principle.

30th Sir James MacMillan, A European Requiem (European premiere).

 

August

 

3rd Erkki-Sven Tüür, Flamma (UK premiere).

5th Francisco Coll, Mural (London premiere); Thomas Adès, Polaris.

9th Brian Elias, Cello Concerto (world premiere).

12th Judith Weir, In the Land of Uz (world premiere).

14th Mark-Anthony Turnage, Hibiki (European premiere).

15th Thomas Larcher, Nocturne – Insomnia (UK premiere).

15th Philip Glass/Ravi Shanker, Passages (first complete live performance).

17th Michael Gordon, Big Space (world premiere); David Lang, Sunray (London premiere); Julia Wolfe, Big Beautiful Dark and Scary (London premiere): Philip Glass, Glassworks – Closing ; Louis Andriessen, Workers Union.

20th Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Chorale Prelude ‘Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott’ (world premiere); Jonathan Dove, Chorale Prelude ‘Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam’ (world premiere); Daniel Saleeb, Chorale Prelude 'Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort’ (world premiere), Toccata on 'Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort’.

21st Gerald Barry, Canada (world premiere).

30th Andrea Tarrodi, Liguria (UK premiere).

30th Hannah Kendall, The Spark Catchers (world premiere); George Walker, Lyric for Strings.

 

September

 

1st Wolfgang Rihm, In-Schrift.

4th John Adams, Lollapalooza.

5th Missy Mazzoli, Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres) (European premiere of orchestral version).

9th Lotta Wennäkoski, Flounce (world premiere); John Adams, Lola Montez Does the Spider Dance (London premiere).



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1 May  

Not much of a welcome at JFK, where American composer Mohammed Fairouz was detained for hours when trying to reenter the US, apparently for having a Muslim name. The full story over at the Washington Post.
 



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29 Apr  

PRS has just announced that it has secured funding of €200,000 from the Creative Europe programme of the European Union. The money will be used to run its European Keychange programme to empower female musicians.

 

From the PRS website:

 

This new and ambitious European collaboration will promote the role of women in music and the potential creative and economic contribution women could be making to Europe’s music industry. Building on PRS Foundation’s experience of running the pioneering Women Make Music Fund in the UK, Keychange aims to stimulate talent development and innovation in music by creating new international opportunities for performance, collaboration and learning amongst female artists and innovators who are ready to break into new markets. The long term goal is to transform Europe’s music industry for current and future generations by accelerating recognition of women’s artistic and economic value and empowering them to work together across European and international borders.

 

The initiative is led by PRS Foundation who have joined forces with like-minded European partners who believe that the future of music will benefit from a more balanced representation of women and men across all aspects of the industry. These partners are: Iceland Airwaves, BIME (Spain), Reeperbahn Festival (Germany), The Great Escape (UK), Tallinn Music Week (Estonia), MusickCentrum/Way out West (Sweden) and Mutek (Canada). Additional sponsorship has also been secured from Spotify and STEF (The Performing Rights Society of Iceland) and we will be announcing more associate partners over the next few months.

 

Activities will include two mass gatherings of the Keychange network at Tallinn Music Week and BIME in 2018, smaller groups showcasing and networking at other partners’ music festivals, a programme of creative labs and online content which stimulate ideas for new projects and ways of working, a high profile social media campaign and a final event in Brussels at the European Parliament in 2019 at which partners will jointly present a manifesto for change. 

 

All supported artists and innovators will be selected through a nomination process coordinated by local partners and their industry colleagues. A joint selection panel will take place at Reeperbahn Festival in September 2017.



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26 Apr  

May begins with a BBC Total Immersion Day dedicated to the music of Edgard Varèse at Barbican on 6th. There will be a talk at 12pm, a concert of ensemble musical 2pm, a film exploring the life of the composer at 4.40pm and an evening concert featuring Varèse’s orchestral music at 7pm. 

 

On the same day the Tectonics Festival kicks off in Glasgow. It only lasts a couple of days, but both are packed: there’s an installation, 2 chamber concerts, 2 ‘Meet the Artists’ events, and concerts with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.  There’s also plenty of new music, including premieres of music by Lawrence Dunn, Linda Catlin Smith, James Saunders, Roscoe Mitchell and Lori Goldston.

 

The Norwich Festival (12th–28th) includes a wide variety of events, including circus, literature, music and dance. Amongst the music events is the chance to hear the first performance in the UK of Philip Glass and Laurie Anderson’s collaborative project American Style on 19th; the Calidore Quartet performing Ligeti’s String Quartet no.1, ‘Metamorphoses nocturnes’ on 20th; and Gerald Barry’s Beethoven on 26th.

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Festival (19th–26th, multiple venues across SE Wales) only performs music by living composers (indeed it claims to be the only festival so to do). It also offers a particular focus on the music of Welsh composers. Premieres this year include works by Hilary Tann, Steph Power, Ben Wallace and John Adams. Perhaps most significantly, Welsh composer Guto Puw will see the first performance of his new Welsh-language opera Y Tŵr at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff on 19th.

 

The English Music Festival (26th–29th), as the name suggests, focuses entirely English repertoire. Though it’s not heavy on contemporary music, the festival is doing good work reviving forgotten pieces— there are premieres of music by Vaughan Williams, Stanford and Montague Phillips. Also worth a visit is the St. Davids Cathedral Festival (26th–4th June) in West Wales. A dig around will reveal new music by Joby Talbot, Chris Marshall and Judith Bingham. 




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19 Apr  

Samuel Barber would have been 107 on 9th March, an event I marked by mentioning Paul Moon’s soon-to-be-released documentary on the composer, Samuel Barber: Absolute Beauty. I am lucky to have been able to view an advance copy of this remarkable film, which rather rewrites the rules of documentary film-making.

 

Moon essentially mounts his film projects alone, his most recent being a documentary exploring the remarkable circumstances of the composition of Olivier Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps

This new film—a two-hour documentary of Samuel Barber’s life and work—is, however, several orders of magnitude more ambitious. It is the kind of project that used only to be made by documentary departments of major television studios. For its more than two-hour running time, you wouldn’t be aware that it hadn’t been.

 

Moon has assembled an impressive range of experts in the field. These are headed by two of Barber’s biographers, Pierre Brevignon and Barbara Heyman (both of whom receive producer credits). They provide the authoritative narrative backbone to the film. Heyman, especially, does much of the heavy lifting, introducing many of the key works and peppering her contributions with some delightful biographical vignettes. In addition to this, a number of well-known musicians (Leonard Slatkin and Marin Alsop, to name but two) contribute interviews, performances and rehearsals of the works. A third layer is provided by the use of archive material, which appears both as footage and as voice-overs. In most cases individual contributions are excellent (there is occasional hyperbole, the very early Dover Beach, for example, being described as ‘One of the greatest pieces of vocal music of the twentieth century’, a tall order given the competition), but it is the structural coherence that Moon brings to the whole that makes it such a remarkable success.

 

The tone and theme of the film is set at the opening in archive contributions from William Schuman, who identifies Barber as a composer who, like Bach, was content to operate within a given style, and by Leonard Bernstein, who describes Barber’s music as having the quality of ‘absolute beauty.’ After this Moon takes a sensibly, though not slavishly, chronological approach. The first section begins with the aforementioned Dover Beach (op. 3, 1931) for baritone and string quartet, certainly a remarkable work for a 19 year-old, before leading us through the Cello Sonata (op. 6, 1932), First Symphony (op. 9, 1935-6), the Adagio (op. 11a, 1936), Violin Concerto (op. 14, 1939/40), Cello Concerto (op. 22, 1945), Piano Sonata (op. 26, 1948), Hermit Songs (op. 29, 1953) and Ballet Medea (op. 23 1946/7). Each section allows Moon’s experts to expand on the individual works and, extrapolating from this, the themes identified at the opening.

 

Knoxville (op. 24,1947), a setting for soprano and orchestra of a text by James Agee, comes in the middle of the film, its theme of childhood leading naturally to an examination of Barber’s earliest life. This forms a happy interlude before the deeper explorations in the second half of the documentary, beginning with one of Barber’s most challenging works, his Piano Sonata (op. 26, 1948), where he consciously tested the limits of his style. Of the several works that follow only Summer Music for wind quintet (op. 31, 1956), where Moon shows us a curious piece of rehearsal footage with no further comment, feels a little perfunctory. More revealing is the section following Toccata Festiva for organ and orchestra (op. 36, 1960), which explores Barber’s lifelong relationship with composer Gian Carlo Menotti and Barber’s own attitudes to homosexuality. 

 

The last years are painful to watch. Composer John Corigliano (who is also a significant contributor elsewhere) explains how the critical reaction to the first performance of his third opera Anthony and Cleopatra (op. 40, 1966) led Barber partially to withdraw from composing. He was also forced to sell Capricorn, his much-loved countryside home, and live in New York. There was a trickle of final works, but ultimately we are left with the image of a composer who spent much of his time alone playing the works of Bach. When the end came it was in his lifelong companion’s arms—Menotti providing a poignant description of that moment. 

 

The documentary argues passionately that Barber should be ranked highly amongst twentieth-century composers, a question that it cannot, of course, answer definitively. For many, especially in Europe, he is known mainly as the composer of that work—the ubiquitous Adagio. In its own way, however, writing the Adagio was in itself a rebellious act, one that is plausibly identified in this film as a precursor to minimalism and to the emergence of composers such as Arvo Pärt and Henryk Gorecki. Despite this, Barber was no revolutionary—to quote Liszt via Heyman, he knew that there is a ‘degree of innovation beyond which one does not pass without danger.’ He was content to avoid that danger by staying within certain stylistic parameters. It is within these boundaries, however, that his music must be judged, not by a perceived failure to join in with mainstream modernism (a confrontation that is comically described in this film in a chance meeting between Barber and Boulez). In this sense the quality and importance of his work should not be in doubt. If you are at all unfamiliar with this essential twentieth century composer, this marvellous documentary is the ideal place to begin. 

 

Samuel Barber: Absolute Beauty streams online via watch.samuelbarberfilm.com and amazon.samuelbarberfilm.com. DVDs ship worldwide from dvd.samuelbarberfilm.com.  Subtitles are included on all media in English, French, German, Spanish and Russian.

 

 

Samuel Barber: Absolute Beauty from H. Paul Moon on Vimeo.



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16 Apr  

As well as the Rhona Clarke (see my previous blog post, below) other recent releases include, on Wergo, Tun Tu, a disk of electroacoustic music by Chinese composer Sing Wang; Wechselspiele, vocal and instrumental works from Tom Sora; and Midstream, and Midstream, a disk of chamber music from Japanese composer Keïko Harada. 

 

NMC has released a couple of new albums: a varied selection of music by Rolf Hind, including his Viola Concerto, chamber works and I am I Say, for soprano, bass and children’s chorus; and a disk of orchestral works by Simon Holt. 

 

Naxos, meanwhile, has new recordings Jennifer Higdon’s Viola and Oboe Concertos and her orchestra suite All Things Majestic; as well as new additions to the Dutilleux catalogue in the form of a new recording of his Second Symphony, Mystère de l’instant and Timbres, espace, mouvement.

 

Col Legno, finally, have released a rather interesting disk of classic electroacoustic works. It includes such well-known pieces as Varèse’s Poème électronique, Ligeti’s only two contributions to the genre Glissandi and Artikulation; Jonathan Harvey’s Mortuous Plango, Vivos Voco; as well as works by Berio, Lachenmann Maderna, Boulez and Ferneyhough. These are not new recordings, of course—in many cases this would be difficult to achieve, the original documents being, in a sense, unrepeatable—but remasters. Some of the works, for example, can be heard for the ‘first time in surround sound in order to show the relevance of the spatial presentation of works intended for multichannel speaker configurations or complex setups of speakers distributed in space.’ This makes them a must for anyone interested in this repertoire. 



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12 Apr  

Piano Trios 2, 3 and 4 (‘A Different Game’); Gleann Da Lough (solo piano), Con Coro (violin, cello and tape), In Umbra (solo cello).  The Fidelio Trio, Métier msv 28561.

 

This new disk features three strongly contrasted works from Irish composer Rhona Clarke. Her Second Piano Trio is, by turns, darkly introspective and neurotically obsessive; the Third, in its jazz inflected first movement especially, more lyrical and harmonically relaxed. The Fourth Trio is a recent work (2016), and here one suspects that it has been influenced by Clarke’s encounters with electroacoustic music—extended instrumental sonorities are explored, most notably in the very clustered piano writing. All three works are structurally lucid.

 

Of the three bonus pieces, I was particularly struck by Con Coro which, as the same suggests, explores mixing choir and chamber instruments. The result is exquisite. 

 

This disk is available for streaming on both Apple Music and Spotify. It is likely to appeal to both more and less adventurously-inclined. 



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12 Apr  

The Riot Ensemble in association with Sound and Music have just begun a new podcast series exploring the world of new music. It is playfully titled Chest of Toys after an anonymous attendee at the Huddersfield Festival of Contemporary music was quoted as saying ‘the problem with contemporary music is that much of it sounds like a chest of children’s toys coming down the stairs.’

 

I’ve just listened to, and very much enjoyed, the first episode, which explores the creative path of violinist, composer and improviser Alison Blunt after she experienced health problems that forced her to stop playing for two years. It is embedded, below:

 



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