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7 Dec  

I was lucky enough to attend the British Composer Awards last night, held at the British Museum, London.

 

The ceremony was presented by Andrew McGregor and Sara Mohr-Pietsch of Radio Three and there were performances of selected pieces from Jeremy Dale Roberts’ Croquis by members of the Kreutzer Quartet. You can see the complete list of nominees in a previous post, here.

 

The winners were as follows:

 

Amateur or Young Performers

Who We Are by Kerry Andrew

 

Chamber Ensemble

Skin by Rebecca Saunders

 

Choral

Proclamation of the Republic by Andrew Hamilton

 

Community or Educational Project

Anything but Bland by Brian Irvine

 

Contemporary Jazz Composition

Muted Lines by Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian

 

Orchestral

Torus (Concerto for Orchestra) by Emily Howard

 

Small Chamber 

In Feyre Foreste by Robin Haigh

 

Solo or Duo

Inside Colour by Deborah Pritchard

 

Sonic Art

Luminous Birds by Kathy Hinde

 

Stage Works

4.48 Psychosis by Philip Venables

 

Wind Band or Brass Band

In Ictu Oculi by Kenneth Hesketh

 

There were also two special awards (without shortlists):

 

British Composer Award for Innovation

Shiva Feshareki

 

British Composer Award for Inspiration

Nigel Osborne

 

The ceremony was followed by some rather tasty bowl food, copious amounts of wine and very entertaining chatter from a room that was stuffed full of the UK’s finest composing talent. Here are a few pictures from the evening.

 

The composers gather:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andrew McGregor and Sara Mohr-Pietsch begin the presentations:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kerry Andrew (left), winner of the children’s choir category:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shiva Feshareki (centre), British Composer Award for Innovation:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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3 Dec  

A few thoughts from the first night of a Stockhausen weekend held at De Bijloke in Ghent, which I had the pleasure of attending on Friday.

 

We were presented with one of Stockhausen’s most celebrated early electronic works, Kontakte (1958–60), in the version that includes piano and percussion and his last electronic work, Cosmic Pulses (2006–7). In between the Ictus Ensemble performed an improvisatory electronic work, Electronic Concert Piece, which drew heavily on Stockhausen as a source of inspiration. 

 

I sat near the centrally placed mixing desk in both Stockhausen works, feeling that that would probably yield the best balanced sound. It was mostly a good decision, even if the full quadraphonic effect—there were speakers behind us— seemed only to make itself felt well into the first piece, Kontakte. Once it did, it was spellbinding. Pianist Jean-Luc Plouvier and percussionist Miguel Bernat were both superb, playing with a super-abundance of energy and, as far as one could tell in such a layered and complex work, precision. 

 

Electronic Concert Piece, which used scraps of material from both Kontakte and Microphonie I as well as a selection of electronic equipment with which Stockhausen would have been familiar, was a rather playful homage that seemed to pose more questions than it answered. One was never quite sure what was prepared and what was improvised and at times I wasn’t even sure whether I was hearing live electronic manipulation or prerecorded samples, a fact that was made concrete when the players stopped and let Stockhausen have the last word in a recorded extract from Kontakte.

 

The final work, Cosmic Pulses, is an 8 speaker electronic work. It was played in complete darkness, apart from the eerie glow of the mixing desk. I was completely unprepared for its arresting cauldron of counterpoint, which over its half-hour stretch barely lets up. Whilst the barrage of sound became, perhaps, a little exhausting, the texture was so bristling with life and subtle change that I was easily held spellbound. To me it also spoke of the sheer compositional energy of Stockahusen—although written in his late 70s it bristles with youthful exuberance.

 

The mixing desk for Cosmic Pulses, before the lights went out:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The two-day homage to the Stockhausen also had an exhibition of the types equipment used by the composer. Here are a few pics: 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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26 Nov  

On Nimbus Kol Nidrei: Elegy for Pamela contains string quartets commissioned to celebrate the life of chamber music educator Pamela Majaro. It opens with the Cavatina from Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 13 and is followed by works from Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Mika Haasler, Cecilia McDowall, Roxanna Panufnik, Freya Waley-Cohen, David Knotts and William Zinn. The composers were chosen by the Majaro’s husband, a fact one can sense from the similarity of musical language within the commissioned pieces. This is not at all to criticise; the works are exquisitely well made, their tonal language entirely appropriate for the elegiac nature of the brief. 

 

Also on Nimbus, pianist Andrew Matthews-Owen releases Halo, his first disk of contemporary music written for his instrument. Three composers are represented: Joseph Phibbs, Dobrinka Tabakova and Hannah Kendall.  There is a bit more range of style on offer here, from the nocturnally muscular writing in Kendall’s On the Chequer’d Field Array to Dobrika Tabakova’s colourful  Modétudes, which effectively explore the harmonic/melodic possibilities of the old church modes.

 

Wergo seems to have had an unusually fruitful month of releases, with 7 new albums on offer. These are Mimetics, a collection of piano works by Mauricio Kagel; organ music by Toshio Hosokawa and John Cage; a collection of songs by Wilhelm Killmayer; three works for various large instrumental/vocal groups by Hans Zender; another album including music by Cage, this time his Chess Pieces and Four Dances paired with Tom Johnson’s Rational Melodies; a collection of works by Georg Friedrich Haas, Evan Johnson and Jani Christou that ‘deal with emotional or audible silence’; and a new portrait CD of American-Norwegian composer Evan Gardner.

 

Naxos have released recordings of Terry Riley’s The Palmian Chord Ryddle for electric violin and orchestra and At the Royal Majestic for organ and orchestra; songs by Daron Hagen; and Timothy Hamilton’s Requiem, which was commissioned in 2012 to mark the centenary of the First World War. Not contemporary, but also worth checking out is their world premiere recording of Shostakovich’s original score from the 1955 film The Gadfly, as reconstructed by conductor Mark Fitz-Gerald. 

 

A few other random choices that might interest: back on Nimbus is a generous programme of eight works by Augusta Read Thomas, ranging from small scale chamber music to Ritual Incantations, a work for cello and orchestra; NMC have released a collection works by three young composers—Lisa Illean, Gareth Moorcraft and Donghoon Shin—that participated in the Philharmonia Composers' Academy (see video below); and, perhaps most sonorously, is Divine Art Records’ new recording of Andreas Willscher’s Organ Symphonies 19 & 20

 



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23 Nov  

 

   Photo: Pavel Antonov

Sad news, with the death yesterday of the great Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. 

 

Whilst not a great exponent of contemporary music, he was known for his collaboration with Russian composer Georgy Sviridov (1916—1998). Sviridov was very much a composer of the Soviet era, a student of Shostakovich and well used to writing music that fulfilled the requirements of Socialist Realism. He wrote two song-cycles for the Hvorostovsky, St. Petersburg and Russia Cast Adrift, both recorded (follow the links). Hvorostovsky himself described the music as ‘quite simple and, unlike most contemporary vocal music, it has beautiful melodies, written to the most wonderful poetry.’ 

 

In another interview the singer described performing a great deal of contemporary music when a member of the Krasnoyarsk Theatre as a very young man: ‘I wouldn’t give you examples, but I do love contemporary music.  When I was much younger, I used to do it a lot when I was a member of Krasnoyarsk Theater, when I lived in Krasnoyarsk, my home town.  I was doing a lot of contemporary music written by our young composers.  It was almost all twelve-tone music, which was very difficult.’ It would be good to know more about this part of his career. He also said in the interview that he would consider returning to contemporary repertoire. Who knows what we might have had had he been granted a little longer.



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20 Nov  

A selection of reviews from the opening of Nico Muhly’s Marnie, premiered at ENO last Saturday. Muhly’s second opera for the company, it is based upon either or both the 1964 Alfred Hitchcock film and/or the 1961 Winston Graham novel on which the film is based.

 

The Stage calls it ‘an outstanding achievement’:

 

Much of this is down to a score that shows a significant development in Muhly’s art, both in terms of technical skill and expressive power; he handles his forces with increased command as well as discretion, revealing the interiors of his complex characters. The result is an outstanding achievement.

 

The Guardian says ‘The central relationship is compelling and there is some tremendous writing for the ENO chorus, but Muhly’s stylised opera lacks Hitchcockian suspense’: 

 

A lyrical warmth characterises Muhly’s vocal lines, and the choral writing, geared to the ENO chorus for whom Muhly has expressed great admiration, is tremendous, arguably constituting the finest music in the entire work. Yet there is a major flaw, which is primarily one of tone. Muhly’s approach is essentially reflective and there’s too little menace and tension throughout.

 

The New York Times leads with ‘Nico Muhly’s ‘Marnie’ Brings Hitchcock Into the 21st Century’, though the review itself is less positive: 

 

But the fundamental problem of “Two Boys” is that of “Marnie,” too: a sense that atmosphere reigns over drama. Mr. Muhly’s style is inherently restive — it’s all unsettled motion, shot through with tender exhalations — but the sound world is so hyper-polished and unvarying that the restlessness feels paradoxically static.

 

The Arts Desk says that ‘Nico Muhly’s world premiere offered musical pleasures but too many flaws to be great’:

 

In style the music is closest to John Adams, with post-minimalist pulsing textures and a largely diatonic, if not tonal, harmonic vocabulary. But there weren’t the moments either of orchestral or melodic magic that light up, for example, Nixon in China, and that remain in mind after the show has ended.

 

Bachtrack was perhaps the least positive: 

 

…the piece is let down by fundamentally vapid orchestral writing and a near total lack of dramatic tension, making some scenes, particularly the last, almost interminably dull. Where one longs for dynamism and orchestral flair, one finds only insipidity; Muhly’s Glass-inspired writing, beautiful in the right setting, is not at ease with his subject.




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16 Nov  

The Spitalfields Winter Festival runs from 2nd to 9th December. Artistic Curator André de Ridder explains that this year the focus is on ‘making each event, each evening a festival in its own right. No programme will be presented by just one ensemble or soloist, but by a gathering of different artists and line-ups, exploring musical worlds and ideas in a myriad of ways.’ Highlights include Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi, The Four Seasons on 4th; various takes on counterpoint, from Bach’s Art of Fugue to Veli Kujala’s Hyperchromatic Counterpoint on 5th; a concert that mixes classical, techno, experimental and electroacoustic music and culminates in a new work by Qasim Naqvi on 6th; and text scores by Pauline Oliveros’ followed by the UK premiere of Anna Thorvaldsottir’s In The Light Of Air on 8th.

 

The BBC in collaboration with the Barbican and Guildhall School of Music will host another Total Immersion Day on 10th December, this time examining the music of Esa-Pekka Salonen. The first concert at 1pm focuses on his chamber music, including Dichotomie for solo piano. At 5pm the BBC Singers perform three choral works, alongside pieces by his teacher Einojuhani Rautavaara. In the evening the BBC Symphony Orchestra play Gambit, Wing on Wing, Timo II and Karawane (UK premiere), with Salonen himself introducing each work from the stage. 

 

As December progresses things get lighter and more Christmassy. Alongside the many Messiahs and Christmas Oratorios, however, music by living composers is still front and centre. On 15th December at Temple Church, London the BBC Singers perform contemporary music for the Christmas period, including the world premiere of Evergreen by Joanna Marsh. The BBC Symphony Chorus’s programme at Maida Vale Studios on 17th is a bit more wide ranging, but also includes contemporary works from the likes of Howard Skempton, Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Malcom Archer and Will Todd. The very newest Christmas music will be on offer on 18th, with the final of the BBC Singers Carol Competition, which this year challenged composers to set the 15th-century text Sir Christemas. Don’t forget, finally, that the Christmas Eve service from King’s College Cambridge this year features a new work by Huw Watkins

 

Christmas is also a popular time for film music concerts. In Paris on 10th there is a Homage to Steven Spielberg, including music by John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Thomas Newman, Alan Silvestri, Michael Giacchino and Don Davis. John Williams’ also features in two concerts at the end of the month, one dedicated entirely to his works on 27th, the second, on 30th, sharing the stage with music by Hans Zimmer. Also worth checking out is the BBC Concert Orchestra’s exploration of music from the film noir greats on 8th December at the Royal Festival Hall. It will be hosted by film critic Mark Kermode. Hello to Jason Isaacs.



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12 Nov  

This was posted a few days ago by Norman Lebrecht at Slipped Disc, but bears repeating, since it is such a dreadful thing to have happened. One can only hope that the work is found:

The French composer Philippe Manoury had his suitcase was stolen on November 6 on a train between Strasbourg and Mannheim. Inside were 40 pages of drafts for a new work for string quartet as well as copies of the fourth movement of Pierre Boulez’s String Quartet “Livre pour Quatuor”.

He’d like the thief to know that he can do what he likes with whatever else was in the suitcase, but the scores, which have no value to anyone else, are invaluable to the composer. The loss is a great blow for Manoury.

He appeals to the thief to leave the scores in a public place where they can be found.

If anyone sees or hears anything, please contact info@karstenwitt.com



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12 Nov  

On 9th November the Paul Hamlyn Foundation announced their Awards for Artists list for 2017. The Award, which provides ‘individuals with financial assistance at a timely moment in their careers’, has been running for 23 years, providing 150 artists with over £6m.

 

The composers who this year receive awards are: Laurence Crane, Mary Hampton, Leafcutter John, Serafina Steer and Byron Wallen.

 

From the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Website:

 

Over 200 guests from across the arts sector and beyond joined us alongside guest speaker Jarvis Cocker for the announcement of this year’s recipients. Chief Executive, Moira Sinclair, welcomed attendees and revealed that the number of awards for composers has risen from three to five, bringing them in line with those for visual artists. The amount awarded to each artist in both art forms has also increased from £50,000 to £60,000 to recognise cost of living increases.

 

PHF Chair, Jane Hamlyn explained, “Artists and composers are incredibly resourceful individuals – and they have to be. It’s not easy making ends meet whilst finding time to reflect and experiment. The Paul Hamlyn Foundation awards gives ten exceptional individuals the time and space they need.”

 

The awards provide visual artists and composers with significant support with no strings attached at a timely moment in their careers. As the largest awards made to individual visual artists and composers in the UK, they are designed to give recipients the time and freedom to develop their creative ideas.

 

In his personal and witty keynote speech, musician and writer Jarvis Cocker reflected on Paul Hamlyn’s work to bring high quality books, music and art into people’s homes. He told a story of how this resonated with his view of the importance of creativity in people’s lives, and how poverty cannot be reduced to economics alone. To thrive, inspiration and imagination are key.

 

The Foundation would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all the recipients and to thank everyone who made the awards possible, including the judges and nominators. We would also like to extend our thanks to Jarvis Cocker for his warmly received contribution.

 

Full biographies and examples of each artist’s work can be found here.




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4 Nov  

Czech-American composer Ladislav Kubík died on 27th October. He was 71.

 

Born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, Ladislav Kubík studied at the Prague Academy of Music. He established a significant career in Europe—with commissions from Radio France, the Salzburg Festival, Centro para la Difúsion de la Música Contemporánea and the Centre International de la Musique pour Voix d’Enfants as well as receiving the Guggenheim Fellowship and other prizes—before joining Floria State University to teach composition in 1991. He eventually became a US citizen.

 

His works were especially widely performed in his adopted country and his native Czech Republic (as it became in 1993), recent premieres including his Concerto No. 3 for Piano, Orchestra in Tallahassee, Florida (2010); his Sonata-Portrait for solo piano at Ceský Krumlov, Czech Republic (2009); and Sinfonietta No.3 Gong in Prague (2009). Subsequent prizes included 1st Prize in the International Franz Kafka Composition Competition for Der Weg (1993); 1st Prize in the U.S. NACWPI Composition Contest for Two Episodes for Bass Clarinet, Piano, and Percussion (1995) and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship (2010). He is name is also attached to a composition prize awarded by Florida State University, The Ladislav Kubik International Prize in Composition.

 

Sources: 

Ladislav Kubík website

Obituary at Florida State University

 

Florida State University Symphony Orchestra - Kubik's Piano Concerto No. 3, first movement



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2 Nov  

French composer and conductor Jean-Jacques Werner died on 22nd October aged 82.

 

A native of Strasbourg, in his youth he studied the harp, horn and conducting before completing his higher eduction at the Schola Cantorum de Paris.

 

He pursued his twin interests of composing and conducting throughout his life. In 1960 he was appointed to Radiodiffusion-télévision française, where he conducted several regional orchestras as well as l'Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and l’Orchestre National de France. He also founded or helped to found a number of groups and institutions including: in 1970 l’Ensemble Instrumental du Val de Marne, for which a number of eminent composers wrote works; in 1972 the Union Européenne des Écoles de Musique (l’EMU), later directing its first orchestra; in 1974 l’Orchestre de l’Union des Conservatoires du Val de Marne; and in 1981 l’Orchestre Jeune Philharmonie du Val de Marne. 

 

Also active as a composer, his most recent works include the opera Luther ou le mendiant de la grâce, commissioned to mark the 500th anniversary of the reformation and premiered just before the composer’s death; a trio for piano violin and cello, premiered by the trio Lersy in Paris in 2016; and the song cycle for mezzo soprano and piano L’obstacle et la clé, which was recorded on Forgotten Records in July 2016.

 

Werner was also active as a teacher, both at the Reims Consevatoire (where he taught conducting) and at the Paris Conservatoire as a guest professor. He was awarded several notable prizes, including Le Prix Jacques Durand by l’Académie des Beaux-Arts (1987), the Prix Musical Charles Oulmont by the Fondation de France (1993), the Prix Pierre et Germaine Labole: Prix de printemps de la SACEM (2008) and was made Officier des arts & lettres in 2009. 

 

For more information:

 

Jean-Jacques Werner website.

Wikipedia (French)

 

Madigan Square, composed by Jean-Jacques Werner

Interview with Jean-Jacques Werner, composer of the opera Luther ou le Mendiant de la Grâce (in French)



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31 Oct  

I feel pretty neutral about Halloween, neither regarding it as a dangerous pagan festival or a splendid excuse for dressing-up. I can certainly appreciate, however, this spooky rendition of Night on a Bald Mountain from the Melodica Men. Happy Halloween!



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26 Oct  

The British Academy of Songwriter, Composers and Authors (BASCA) has announced its nominees for its 2017 composer awards, which will be presented in London on 6th December.

 

2017 British Composer Awards Nominations:

 

Amateur or Young Performers

The Feast That Went Off With A Bang by Ed Hughes

The Hogboon by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies

Who We Are by Kerry Andrew

 

Chamber Ensemble

Khadambi’s House by Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian

Skin by Rebecca Saunders

The wreck of former boundaries by Aaron Cassidy

 

Choral

Affix Stamp Here by Leo Chadburn

Proclamation of the Republic by Andrew Hamilton

The Temptations of Christ by Barnaby Martin

 

Community or Educational Project

Anything but Bland by Brian Irvine

BIRDS and other Stories by Emily Peasgood

Crossing Over by Emily Peasgood

 

Contemporary Jazz Composition

Loop Concerto for jazz trio & large ensemble by Benjamin Oliver

Muted Lines by Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian

You Are My World by Robert Mitchell

 

Orchestral

Forest by Tansy Davies

Torus (Concerto for Orchestra) by Emily Howard

Two Eardley Pictures by Helen Grime

 

Small Chamber

In Feyre Foreste by Robin Haigh

Omloop Het Ives by Laurence Crane

Tuvan Songbook by Christian Mason

 

Solo or Duo

Inside Colour by Deborah Pritchard

Merula Perpetua by Sally Beamish

Piano Sonata No. 2 by Stuart MacRae

 

Sonic Art

cloud-cuckoo-island by Hanna Tuulikki

Luminous Birds by Kathy Hinde

Untitled Valley of Fear by Sam Salem

 

Stage Works

4.48 Psychosis by Philip Venables

Empty Hand, Peaceful Mind by Ben Gaunt

The Tempest by Sally Beamish

 

Wind Band or Brass Band

Anemoi by Joseph Davies

Four Études by Edward Gregson

In Ictu Oculi by Kenneth Hesketh

 

More details available at the BASCA website.



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19 Oct  

Hyperion have just released a recording of James McCarthy’s cantata Codebreaker, which tell the story of Alan Turing’s life through three key moments: when he fell in love as a boy, during the war and in his final hours. It’s apparently optimistic opening quickly gives way to a work of great emotional depth, a fitting exploration of a man both lauded and unfairly persecuted. It is paired with Will Todd’s visionary Choral Symphony No. 4 Ode to a Nightingale.

 

If you like your symphonies sans chœur take a look at Philips Sawyers’ magnificent Symphony No. 3, just released on Nimbus with the English Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kenneth Woods. The work forms part of the ESO’s 21st-century symphonies programme, as described by the composer in an interview here on C:T back in February. Tradition seeps through it in the best possible way, not just in term of structure but in the intensity of the argument. Album extras are Sawyers’ Songs of Loss and Regret and his wistfully exuberant Fanfare. 

 

Brice Pauset’s Canons (WERGO), a collection of 24 short movements for piano that took him two decades to finish, are works of cerebral, crystalline beauty. Listening to them put me in mind of a fabulous afternoon I once had listening to Morton Feldman’s For Bunita Marcus in an improvised concert hall in the middle of Basel. Which is not to say that the works are at all similar, but rather that both require a kind of altered state of listening; in the case of the Feldman to absorb the cosmic length, with the Pauset to comprehend the extreme compression. The performances by Nicolas Hodges are a tour de force.

 

NMC continues to release works in their New Music Biennial shorts project, with the issuing of Mark Simpson’s After Avedon, a chamber music reaction to four photographs by American photographer Richard Avedon; 13 Vices, a collaboration between composers Brian Irvine and Jennifer Walshe; vocal work Pieces of Art by Laurence Crane; and Errollyn Wallen’s Mighty River, which explores themes of slavery and freedom. There are also two disks of music by John McCabe to look forward to: Silver Nocturnes, includes this title work for baritone and string quartet with the piano quintet The Woman by the Sea and his horn quintet; Desert III, the only work on the second disk, is a piano trio inspired by the Australian desert. Both are released in November. 

 

Apart from the Philip Sawyers, two other albums on Nimbus worth seeking out are a collection of choral works by Peter Leech, Jonathan Lee, Lawrence Whitehead, David Hugill and Robert Hugill performed by Harmonia Sacra; and the first four symphonies of Peter Racine Fricker, a lesser-known British composer who died in 1990. Naxos also completes a major recording milestone with the addition of Havergal Brian’s Symphonies 8, 21 and 26 to their catalogue—they have now recorded all 32. Two disks on Divine Art Recordings, finally: Twists and Turns is a collection of music by Rob Keeley, including Four Anacronistic Dances, Three Inventions, Some Reeds in the Wind and Seven Studies for Wind Quartet; and Transitional Metal by Fumiko Miyachi is the first portrait album of her music and includes works for piano, piano duo, chamber ensemble and brass band.



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14 Oct  

The fortieth Huddersfield Contemporary Music festival (17th November—26th), features 31 world premieres and 103 UK premieres across 33 events.

 

One of the first works featured will be rock guitarist Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, a work that, once regarded as a joke, has now been hailed as a ‘visionary classic.’ It is the starting point for a a guitar thread that runs throughout the festival, including debuts from Belgian group Zwerm, guitarist Clara de Asis and in a new work by James Dillon that prominently features the instrument. 

 

Other highlights include UK premieres of works by Brian Ferneyhough and a world premiere from Rolf Hind as well as new works from British composers Laura Bowler, Laura Cannell, Kit Downes, Lauren Sarah Hayes and Laurence Osborn. There will also be a concentration on two American figures, Pauline Oliveros and Linda Catlin Smith.

 

Mentioned in my last round-up, but worth reiterating since the bulk of the events take place in November is Wien Modern (30th October—1st December). It comprises some 48 productions, 90 events and over 50 premieres.

 

Also beginning in October with performances at Glyndebourne is a new run of Brett Dean’s well-received (back in June, see here) Hamlet (21st–27th Oct). November, however, sees the opera touring, with performances at Canterbury (3rd Nov), Norwich (17th) and Milton Keynes (24th) and one final date in December (1st) in Plymouth. 

 

ENO perform Marnie, a major new commission by Nico Muhly (see video, below) and the second by the American composer following Two Boys back in 2011. The libretto, by Nicholas Wright, is based upon the novel by Winston Graham. The synopsis is as follows (from the ENO website): ‘Marnie is a compelling psychological thriller set in England during the late 1950s. A young woman makes her way through life by embezzling from her employers, before she moves on and changes her identity. When her current boss Mark Rutland catches her red-handed, he blackmails her into a loveless marriage. Marnie is left with no choice but to confront the hidden trauma from her past.’ Performances run from 18th November to 3rd December.

 

Other premieres worth seeking out include a new work by Ben Smith at the opening of Series 3 of Borough New Music on 7th in St. George the Martyr, central London; John Croft’s Lost Work, performed by BBC SSO in Symphony Hall, Birmingham on 17th; new works from Nik Bärtsch and the OPUS 2017 competition winner (as yet unannounced) played by the Britten Sinfonia at Wigmore Hall also on 17th; and Arlene Sierra’s Nature Symphony, with the BBC Philharmonic at Bridgewater Hall on 25th. 

 

Don’t hang around, finally, if you are interested in booking tickets for performances of Stockhausen’s Stimmung and Cosmic Pulses at the Barbican on 20th November. The concert marks 10 years since the composer’s death and is likely to sell out quickly.



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11 Oct  

 

Sound and Music has announced its 2017/18 ‘Adopt a Composer’ pairings. These are:

 

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

 

Congratulations to all the composers selected. We look forward to the fruits of these partnerships!

 

More information at the Sound and Music website.



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11 Oct  

The European Youth Orchestra has been driven from London as a result of the UK's decision to leave the EU. It will now be based in Rome and in the northern Italian city of Ferrara. Most sadly the future of British musicians in the orchestra are also in doubt, the orchestra website saying that 'British musicians are still eligible to apply this autumn to join the orchestra in 2018, when Britain will still be a member' and that 'The arrangement for future years will depend on the details of the agreement negotiated between the EU and the UK.'

More information available here.



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5 Oct  

Swiss composer Klaus Huber died in Perugia, Italy on October 2nd. He was 92.

 

Born in 1924, Huber attended the Zürich Conservatory, studying the violin with Stefi Geyer and composition with Willy Burkhard. He worked as a teacher, including at the Basel Music Academy (1964–73) and the Freiburg Musikhochschule (1973–90). Many of his students—including Toshio Hosokawa, Brian Ferneyhough, Kaija Saariaho and Wolfgang Rihm—have become significant figures in their own right.

 

Huber was of the same generation as Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen, with whom he was often compared. Whilst he closely followed the developments of the Darmstadt school, his adoption of serialism was, however, less dogmatic—his breakthrough work, chamber cantata Des Engels Anredung an die Seele (1957, performed 1959), for example, adopts a rigorous form of serial structuring that nevertheless permits the emphasising of consonant intervals. 

 

Hubert’s other influences have included medieval and renaissance music (Cantiones de Circulo Gyrante, Agnus Dei cum recordatione); the system of modes of Arabic music  (Die Erde bewegt sich auf den Hörnern eines Ochsen, Lamentationes de fine vicesimi saeculi); and Latin American liberation theology (Senfkorn, 1975). Other than serialism, specific technical preoccupations include the use of spatial acoustics (Die umgepflügte Zeit and Spes contra spem) and the creation of a new system of tonality based on third tones (first appearing in works at the end of the 80s, discussed further in video, below). 

 

These diverse influences led Brian Ferneyhough to describe Hubert as a a composer that ‘avoided being pinned down to a marketable set of stylistic fingerprints, each work being both a highly individual response to a clearly focused and technically well-honed set of issues and precise reconsideration of the relationship of contemporary music languages to the real imperfect world in which they are embedded.’

 

Huber was awarded many prizes during his lifetime, including the Beethovenpreis of the city of Bonn (for Tenebrae) in 1970, the Art Prize of the city of Basel in 1978, the European Church Music Prize by the city of Schwäbisch Gmünd in 2007, the Music Prize Salzburg in 2009 and the Ernst von Siemens-Musikpreis in 2009.

 

The manuscripts of his works are held at the Paul Sacher Stiftung, Basel.

 

Sources:

 

www.klaushuber.com

Grove Music Online 

Wikipedia Entry on Klaus Huber

 

Klaus Huber at Work (also discussing the use of third tones)

Klaus Huber: Tenebrae for large orchestra (1966/67)

 



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28 Sep  

I can imagine that the story of Richard White has warmed the heart of many a middle-aged (and older) composer. White has just had his 900-page opera selected for a workshop performance at the National Opera Center Recital Hall in Manhattan. The work, entitled Hester and based upon The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne was written in spare moments at home and whilst working as a security guard at Columbia University from 1991. It marks his composing debut. Richard White is 82.

 

Music-lovers have long been obsessed with precocious talent, constantly on the lookout for the next Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn or Prokofiev. I agree that young composers should be supported, encouraged and even celebrated. But could we not do a bit more to support older composers too?

 

I spend hours each month compiling composer opportunities here at Composition:Today. I would say that perhaps a third of these are limited by age. The point at which you are considered too old varies but, basically, by the time you are 40 all of these competitions are off-limits. And the problems don’t end there.

 

Often a competition rubric will require that a piece must have been written recently, usually within the last five to ten years. My guess is that there are many middle-aged composers who have been through the system, maybe churned out some major works, but have now, essentially, stopped composing because they have lost contact with decent performers and aren’t sure what to do next. It takes a certain type of heroism to continue to write when no-one wants your music any more. Some, like Richard White, manage it. Others just give up.

 

My worry here is two-fold. Firstly, our competitions are not helping us to unearth these forgotten older works, some of which might even be masterpieces. Secondly, and more obviously, we are not unearthing the talent that went into making them. Like Janáček (pictured), whose premiere of Jenůfa at the age of 62 established his reputation, there must surely be a few older composers worth reanimating before it is too late?

 



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24 Sep  

The latest request from a commercial organisation that musicians work for free has been given a withering response on social media. 

 

The organisation in question was East Midlands Airport, who recently advertised this ‘opportunity’: “We are always looking for new ways to enhance our passenger experience whilst they are with us at the airport and, what better way than by showcasing some of our region’s best musical talent? Unfortunately we can’t offer performers a fee, but they will be well looked after by our staff while enjoying the opportunity to perform in front of a captive audience.” 

 

One response, from flautist Nicola Loten, typified the criticism:

 

Dear East Midlands Airport,

I am a musician based in the U.K. and I run a small, professional, baroque ensemble. We are looking for an airline to fly us to Amsterdam as I've always wanted to perform there. We would like to offer you the opportunity to fly us there, free of charge. Unfortunately we can't offer you a fee but we will be well behaved during check in and it would be great exposure for the airport amongst a group of frequent travellers.

Please let me know if this would be agreeable to you,

Nicola Loten

 

The airport, belatedly, realised the error of its ways, saying that the advert was ‘in no way designed to undermine the skill, hard work and professionalism that is required to perform in public. We apologise for any upset caused.’

 

I guess we’ve seen variations of this story a hundred times over recent years, but it made me wonder about the equivalent situation with regard to composers. If players are sometimes treated with contempt by moneyed organisations (such as airports) that ought to know better, perhaps composers are in a position even more desperate still—they barely exist at all.

 

There have been many noble attempts to connect composers with private individuals and companies who might wish to commission music. I know of some such initiatives that have borne fruit. But they remain more the exception than the rule—commissions for pieces and ‘composer in residence’ opportunities tend to come much more from (or at least in corporation with) publicly funded bodies. And where there are real commercial opportunities, these tend to limit the scope of the composer’s creativity, since they necessarily must fulfil certain commercial expectations. (This is categorically not to belittle composers who work in genres such as film music. I personally find the ‘if it’s commercial then it’s not art’ argument beyond tiresome and, in many cases, demonstrably erroneous—think, actually, of the many very great film scores.) 

 

It would have been be nice if this airport in question, instead of saying to itself ‘We need to show off the musical talent of our region, let’s invite performers to come and entertain our passengers’ had maybe thought ‘Let’s invite some composers here to make some pieces, or even do some creative workshops and events with passengers.’ If they had advertised this and offered no fee, my guess would be there would have been no outcry whatsoever. Many composers would have seen it as progress.



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19 Sep  

Borough New Music was founded in January of this year with the aim of celebrating the music of today and of living composers. Following its first series of concerts in February, next month it makes its return with series two (3rd October–31st). This consists of five concerts given each Tuesday at 1pm at St George the Martyr Church, SE1 1JA (just opposite Borough tube, central London). Admission is free, the concerts last some 50 minutes and light refreshments are served. In other words, perfect lunchtime entertainment.

 

The second series alone consists of three world premieres and a host of other established contemporary music, including of Stace Constantinou, who will be the featured composer on 17th October. Not content with this, however, the indefatigable organisers have arranged a further seven series bringing the total to nine, the last finishing on 26th June 2018. These include concerts featuring particular instruments, themed ‘pot-luck’ events and composer profiles: of Eva-Maria Houben on 28th November, various ‘Songwriters of 2018’ on 20th February 2018, Gregory Rose on 27th March, Edward Henderson on 10th April, Matthew Taylor & Sally Beamish on 29th May, and Janet Oates on 19th June. In total, these events will include 37 premieres, 23 of which are world premieres. 

 

Artistic Director Clare Simmonds says: "Each Series in Borough New Music is a very exciting prospect for performers, composers and audiences alike. It is neither a festival, nor a 'one-off'. Rather, it's as an ongoing opportunity to celebrate the wonderfully diverse music written today.”

 

To find out more, visit the Borough Music Festival website, here.



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