Helen Grime, whose new Piano Concerto will be premiered at Wigmore Hall on 3rd March 2017, has been talking to The Guardian about the music that inspires her, from ‘Bach to Bacharach, and Björk to George Benjamin.'
To learn a little more about Grime, also check out C:T’s interview with the composer, here.
Sounds Like Now, the new magazine dedicated to contemporary music in the UK and Ireland, will, in the first instance at least, be a digital only publication. Dan Goren, the brains behind the new publication, recently emailed all backers of the the magazine:
You may well be wondering, given that we’ve not been in touch for some time, how we’re getting on with Sounds Like Now and when you can expect the launch of this exciting new publication. I’d like to bring you up to date with progress and let you know about some key changes to the enterprise.
Launching a quality printed magazine is a major undertaking and towards the end of last year it became apparent that the uncertain economic climate was making it difficult to secure the business investment required to make our plans a reality. Determined to find a way to deliver we consulted with music and publishing associates and reviewed our plans, concluding that there were two possible routes forward to explore. The first was to go into partnership with an established magazine publisher, one with the facilities and finances to help bring a new magazine to market. We discussed the proposal with several publishers of both high profile and specialist music magazines who looked at it in depth. Sounds Like Now was considered a worthwhile and potentially viable proposition, however, given the highly uncertain current economic climate none of the publishers are able at the present time to commit to a partnership on a brand new publication.
The second route is to launch an online magazine in the first instance, looking to follow up with a print publication once established. Re-examining the business model and taking a closer look at existing online magazines we now have a revised plan which in several ways actually improves on the original, with the following advantages:
•Focussing initially on an online offering we can provide a far more sophisticated and useful promotional and community engagement service
•We can focus resources on much needed key content such as professional high quality journalism and a properly edited and maintained UK-&-Ireland-wide events listings
•We can create a technically more developed online service operating better on phones and tablets and across social media
•We can enhance the offer to other operators in the new music sector such as record labels, publishers and venues.
•We will be able to publish more frequently and more responsively, which is especially useful for delivering on our core objective of promoting contemporary music events
•The flexible marketing opportunities we can offer via the website, social media and email are more attractive than print both in terms of value for money and reach for performers, venues, agents, record labels, publishers and others.
•We will be able to offer much more promotion to the great number of smaller performing groups and venues who operate on very limited financial resources.
•Focussing online plays to our own strengths and experience, not least in the setting up and running of Composers Edition.
The expanded online offering will include the following:
Quality Independent Journalism - sets of articles on performers, composers, trends plus review and critique, issued on a monthly basis and available in full exclusively to subscribers.
Events guide - A fully edited guide to all thats going on in contemporary music across the UK and Ireland.
- Available free to all on the website, through email and social media
- Subscribers will be able to post events for free
- Promotional opportunities through premium listings and event feature articles, with special deals for subscribers
New Releases - We'll feature new recordings, sheet music, books, apps and more
Offers - Subscribers will be able to enter regular free sweepstakes for tickets to events and get special deals on products and services. These will not only be attractive to subscribers but also provide marketing for performers, venues and promotors. Our TicketSweep service will be particularly geared towards smaller operators who whilst cash-strapped may be able to offer tickets in return for publicity.
I would also like to take this opportunity to welcome our new editor Tim Rutherford-Johnson, Tim is author of Music after the Fall: Modern Composition since 1989 (University of California Press) and the acclaimed new music blog The Rambler. He has written widely on new music for publications in the UK, USA and Europe. Between 1999 and 2009 he worked for Grove Music Online, and was subsequently editor of the Oxford Dictionary of Music, sixth edition. Many of you will of course know Tim’s work and share in my excitement at having him on board.
I realise that whilst a significant proportion of crowdfunders opted for a digital subscription, some might share our frustration at not being able to deliver a printed publication at this time. Overall, I believe we can serve our objective to celebrate and promote contemporary classical music very effectively through an online start to the life of Sounds Like Now. We are on course to publish by 1 May 2017 and will be in touch regarding listings in due course. I am very pleased to be able to share these plans with you and will be happy to answer any questions you may have.
The Royal Academy of Music recently announced that John Adams will join their staff as a visiting Professor of Composition:
John Adams, one of the world’s leading composers, has joined the Royal Academy of Music faculty as a Visiting Professor. His commitment cements a relationship that began in 2012, when he conducted concerts at New York’s Lincoln Center and the BBC Proms in London, in which Academy students performed alongside Juilliard School players.
In 2015, the Academy devoted a day to Adams’ music, during which he was given an Honorary Doctorate, and after which he tweeted, ‘Thrilled to be honored by @RoyalAcadMusic of Music with such pizzazz performances by hugely talented players.’ Most recently, he worked young composers of the Junior Academy and conducted the Junior Academy Symphony Orchestra. As part of his new role, he returns to the Academy in April 2017 to work with Opera Course students, and later in the year with instrumentalists and composers.
John Adams wrote of the new connection: ‘I’m proud and delighted to spend time with the very talented students of the Royal Academy of Music. I’ll be able to spend time with the young composers, singers and instrumentalists in a relationship that is as fruitful for me as it hopefully will be for the students.’
Principal Professor Jonathan Freeman-Attwood said: ‘John’s involvement with the Royal Academy of Music has always been generous and delightful. We’ve had some memorable times, most recently a day at the end of 2015 celebrating his music and performing Grand Pianola Music under his direction. I’m thrilled that his association with the Academy is strengthened further through this appointment.’
James Jolly, editor-in-chief of Gramophone magazine wrote on the occasion of Adams’ doctorate: ‘Adams has given his time selflessly to young musicians, as teacher, mentor and collaborator, as students at the Academy well know. The buzzing energy that marked out the Academy–Juilliard collaboration in 2012 was extraordinary and went hand in hand with the open-hearted joy those students felt at having forged such an inspirational new musical friendship with their conductor, and profound gratitude for John Adams’ artistic generosity.’
The new appointment also builds on the Academy’s international roster of Visiting Professors, which includes some of the world’s finest musicians. Recent additions include pianists Bengt Forsberg and Pascal Rogé, cellist Steven Isserlis and conductors Christian Thielemann, Mark Elder and Oliver Knussen. The role allows students a regular connection with such musicians, who are able both to inspire and mentor them during the time they spend at the Academy.
Following the enormous success of George Benjamin’s Written on Skin, which has been performed nearly 100 times around the world, the Royal Opera House has commissioned a new opera from the composer, to be performed in 2018 and titled Lessons in Love and Violence. Playwright Martin Crimp will once again provide the libretto. More details are available, here.
Their original collaboration continues to go from strength to strength, with a revival by Royal Opera this year, performances in Moscow in April, a DVD release and a planned BBC television broadcast.
The PRS has just announced the twelve UK composers who will receive funding ‘to enable them to realise projects and ambitions that may not be possible through traditional commissioning models.’ They (and their associated projects) are:
•Ed Bennett – Researching and composing music around early phonograph field recordings of Irish traditional song, working with the Crash and Decibel ensembles.
•Gary Carpenter – Recording and releasing a CD of four orchestral works with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.
•Jessica Curry – Composing new music for her unaccompanied choral music and creating a specialised keyboard.
•Shiva Feshareki – Composing an orchestral commission for the London Contemporary Orchestra and curations with Eliane Radigue, Lee Gamble, Kit Downes, and Laura Marling.
•Stuart MacRae – Developing a dramaturgy and libretto to be premiered at the Lammermuir Festival, East Lothian in 2019.
•John McLeod – Recording four orchestral works, with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra including one featuring Dame Evelyn Glennie.
•Hilda Paredes – Researching a monodrama on the life of Harriet Tubman.
•Lynne Plowman – International promotion for four operas and other key pieces.
•Gwyn Pritchard – Researching and composing an orchestral work for the German orchestra: Jenaer Philharmonie,
•Philip Venables – Developing techniques to combine spoken word, visual text, song and music for a theatre project.
•James Weeks – Researching and composing a substantial piece for solo violin with the violinist Mira Benjamin
•Elizabeth Winters – Composing a number of chamber works, working with Rarescale chamber ensemble, Estrilda Trio, and violinist Marie Schreer.
Robert Matthew-Walker is a fascinating figure. In the 60s he served in the army, including in North Africa, studied in Paris with Darius Milhaud and founded the Tunnel Club rock venue in Greenwich. In the 70s he worked for CBS records and subsequently founded several record labels of his own. He is also prolific as a broadcaster, author, critic and editor.
He is less well-known, however, as a composer, even though he has achieved considerable success in the field (listen to this fine recording of his Piano Sonata No.3, Op 34, for example). Matthew-Walker’s composing output, with some 150 numbered works to his name, is borne of formidable self-discipline—in a recent interview he described being inspired by Hans Keller, who worked from 1.30am–4.30, before starting a full day at 7.30am.
Matthew-Walker’s approach to composition owes much to his varied biography. His latest work A Bad Night in Los Angeles, for example, was inspired by a club experience in L.A.:
Following his outstanding recording of my fantasy-sonata Hamlet, Mark Bebbington asked me for a short solo concert work lasting about five or six minutes. I wanted to write something completely different and decided on a piece in modern disco-style, taking the essence of present-day dance music and transferring it to the recital room.
The title comes from a time, many years ago, when I was working in Los Angeles. One evening, I wandered into a nightclub to hear a new driving rock band, Azteca. I was astonished when they began their set with a modern-dance version of the opening sequence of the French composer Darius Milhaud’s Concerto for Percussion and Small Orchestra of 1930.
As I had studied in Paris with Milhaud, and knew the concerto well, I was taken aback. At first, it was a bad night for me in Los Angeles, but it turned out well in the end. I hope my piece does, too!
You can hear the premiere of Matthew-Walker’s A Bad Night in Los Angeles, his Fantasy-Sonata: Hamlet together with works by Schubert, Bliss and Beethoven at Bromsgrove’s Atrix on 3rd February.
Hamburg’s stunning new Elbphilharmonie Hall opened earlier this month with a programme designed to show off the possibilities of the building’s near-perfect acoustics. The main auditorium is lined with 10,000 gypsum panels, each of which has a unique acoustic property but which cumulatively give the hall its distinct reverberative properties.
As well as being a tour de force in acoustics and design the hall will act as a focal point for new music. Conductor composer Matthias Pintscher has been appointed composer-in-residence, with the first three seasons focusing on his works and also music by Peter Eötvös and George Benjamin.
The success of the new concert hall has raised comparisons with London’s foot-dragging over Rattle’s proposed venue, a comparison that Norman Lebrecht calls ‘A False Equation’, listing 10 reasons why. They are worth reading, if only because they raise questions about relative attitudes to culture in Germany and the U.K.
It’s not the same as being there, of course, but to get a feel for the look and sound of the new Elbphilharmonie, here are videos from the opening concert:
February night not be the best time of year for festivals, but there are two decent events this month. The first, in Paris, is Festival Présences‘ Kaija Saariaho, Un Portrait, which runs from 10th–19th. Whilst the Finnish-born French composer’s work is the main focus, there is also a lot else to enjoy. One of the strands, indeed, focuses on other composers that have chosen France, and Paris in particular, as their place to live and work, including figures such as Ramon Lazkano, Hèctor Parra and Martin Matalon. There are also performances of music by well-known figures of the previous generation, such as Messiaen, Xenakis, Dutilleux and Grisey. In total there are 18 concerts, 40 composers, 78 works and 31 world premieres.
In UK from Friday 24th–Sunday 26th, Plymouth University will hold its annual Peninsula Arts Contemporary Music Festival. Titled ‘Voice 2.0’ the festival ‘offers a glimpse of how musicians, scientists and linguists are re-inventing voice through an ambitious programme exploring new means, forms and usages of voice in communication and musical creativity.’ Not all of the events are musical, but all are fascinating.
The first, for example, is a lecture by David J. Peterson, the world-famous language creator whose inventions include Dothraki for HBO’s Game of Thrones. He will talk about the experience of creating new languages and specifically that used in Eduardo R. Miranda’s vocal work Vōv. That will be premiered the following day with new works by Linas Baltas, Butterscotch and Nuria Bonet.
Other highlights include Nuria Bonet’s The Voice of the Sea, a collaboration with the Marine Institute and the Plymouth Coastal Observatory that uses information from a marine buoy to determine compositional choices; Alexix Kike’s Come Together: The Sonification of Lennon and McCartney, which analyses the emotions of their lyrics, the results being turned into a classical duet; and Marcelo Gimenes’s Silicon Voices, which draws upon the composer’s research into music and Artificial Intelligence.
Another event that promises to be a real treat is the chance to hear Jonny Greenwood’s magnificent score to Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, played live with a screening of the film at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall on 5th February.
Chilean composer José Vicente Asuar died on 11th January. He was 83. Asuar studied in his native Chile and subsequently in Germany, later taking charge of electronic studios in both countries. He is best known as a composer of electronic music. Works include Guararia repano, for Indian instruments and tape (1968); Formas I (1970) and II (1972), orchestra (computer-generated scores); Imagen de Caracas, voices, instruments, tape (1968); and a number of works for tape alone (Catedral, 1967; Buffalo 71, 1971).
(Source: The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music)
This second part to my Dorico diary has been a long time coming, so perhaps I should start by explaining why. When I took a first look at the software back in November, I was impressed by its potential, especially feeling that the typesetting algorithms were better than those in Sibelius. Unfortunately, whilst this made a firm foundation, it did not alter the fact that the software lacked so many features that I was unable to adopt it into my daily workflow.
The team at Steinberg have always made it clear, however, that their aim is to keep iterating Dorico until it is as powerful as its rivals. Two new releases, Dorico 10.0.10 on November 25th and 10.0.20 on December 20th, start to make good on these promises.
One of the headline features is the introduction of VST Expression Maps support, so that Dorico now recognises expression marks. Back in November I did a comparison of the playback of a simple arrangement for string quartet on Sibelius and on Dorico, the result being a hands-down win for Sibelius. Using the same example, however, Dorico has now closed the gap considerably. Here is the original playback on Dorico 1.0:
With the recording from Sibelius 7.1.3:
And now here is the new recording, on Dorico 1.0.20:
You can hear that the addition of articulation recognition makes a big difference, especially after the introduction, where there is extensive use of staccato.
Despite this, however, in terms of raw sound file quality, Sibelius remains, in my opinion, the more convincing. And there are also more fundamental problems. In the above extract Dorico responds to dynamic changes, though this appears to be because the file was imported via mxl (i.e. it wasn't created in Dorico). Actually the program still appears not to support intensity markings—any changes I make within the program do not affect the playback, the same being true when I experiment with dynamics on a new score.
Selection tools have improved a great deal. In version 1.0, you had to drag a marquee selection box over anything you wanted to edit. Now, however, it is possible to select all of the music in a bar, several individual bars and whole sections. In some ways these basic editing tools are implemented more logically than in Sibelius, for example in that selections also include any music tied over to another bar. Whilst there are editing situations where that could be a nuisance, I like the fact that Dorico tries to implement things in a way that is musically logical.
Also new is transposition. The dialogue (see picture, left) is accessed on the Write menu, but surprisingly doesn't have a keyboard shortcut, an irritation for a feature that I use all of the time. Implementation is fine, though it lacks the intuitive elegance of Sibelius, concentrating on intervallic transposition rather than by key signature. If you select a whole score, however, Dorico will offer you the option to alter key signatures too. Also, I quite like the way that Dorico helps those who might not understand the whole business of major vs. minor/augmented vs. diminished intervals—it provides a little box where you enter the starting pitch and target pitch, translating that into musical intervals without you having to think about it.
Dorico is supposedly faster than before, not just in note input and editing, but ‘all across the application.’ Working on individual scores, I think this is probably correct. I also tend, however, to move between multiple open scores in my work. In doing this I experienced unacceptable levels of interruption from Mac’s spinning rainbow beachball. Sometimes this only lasted a split second as I began work in a different window, but for someone who spends long periods working at their computer, this kind of interruption can make the difference between a good and a bad day. Also I had some eccentric playback moments when flipping between scores, suddenly being presented with a comically wrong instrumental sound instead of the one I was actually working with.
Apart from a new scissors tool, note input is essentially the same as before. Computer keyboard input is in my opinion better than Sibelius. All the tools one needs are arranged around the edge of the screen and the keyboard shortcuts are sensible. I also appreciate the ability to be able to insert notes into a musical texture without having to delete anything first or renotate the surrounding notes myself. Step input with a MIDI keyboard also works fine, but it remains a big disappointment that there is still no real-time input. This means getting notes into the system is a rather laborious process.
Other marquee improvements include support for arpeggio signs, playback for grace notes and improved handling of rests when using multiple voices on one stave. The most disappointing omission at this stage is that there is still no support for repeat markings, something that needs rectifying quickly.
Given the improvements, am I any closer to adopting the program in my everyday workflow? Yes, I am. Will I be? No, I won’t. The fact is, there is still too much missing from this program for me to rely upon it. That may not be the case for you, however, and a glance around Dorico’s forums proves that, even where some are keen to criticise, there are many happy users leaping to its defence. This is because that, once you get beyond the shock of a new interface and different ways of doing things, the fundamentals are strong. As such, I will continue dropping in on Dorico from time to time. It might win me over yet.
EDIT: 12th January
Some responses from Daniel Spreadbury at Steinberg (via Twitter):
@compCTtoday Thanks for sharing. You can assign a shortcut to the Transpose dialog via Key Commands in Preferences.
Belgian composer Tristan Clais died on 4th January aged 87. He studied music and theatre at the Conservatoire Royal de Bruxelles and from 1958 presented musical programmes on Belgium television, at the same time following a parallel career as a baritone. After receiving a grant in 1962 he continued his musical studies at the Academia Belgica de Rome, where he decided to dedicate himself to composition.
He was involved with the surrealist group ‘Phases’, writing texts and participating in ‘happenings.’ His works are written for a diverse range of ensembles, the most well known including the Cygnus series, le Clavecin libéré, le Regard de l’orgue and la Montagne, l’écriture et la soie.
Even after my roundup of a tumultuous year, 2016 had more bad news in store. December saw the deaths of George Michael and actress Carrie Fisher and a tragic Russian plane crash that included the loss of 62 members of the Alexandrov Ensemble.
As in 2016, 2017 promises to be a year of political change. In the US Donald Trump will take up his duties as President on January 20th, the Brexit negotiations will begin and there will be a round of crucial elections in Europe.
However we feel about events in the world, however, one thing is certain: just as in 2016, the arts scene will remain as vibrant as ever. There is much to look forward to, as my little preview, below, shows. There are the birthday celebrations of two of minimalism’s founding fathers, John Adams and Philip Glass; the usual round of festivals; and some notable premieres, including major new commissions from Harrison Birtwistle, Wolfgang Rihm, Simon Holt, Ryan Wigglesworth and Brett Dean.
In a world that seems ever more insecure, we forget that, in many cases, things continue to get better. Certainly I think it is fair to say that opportunities for artists have never been more prevalent.
I wish you and all C:T members a happy, peaceful and musically productive New Year!
5th–7th HK Gruber, Piano Concerto (world premiere). New York Philharmonic, David Geffen Hall, NYC.
I very much enjoy writing posts here at C:T. Inevitably, however, I do not always have the time to cover every news story. Often, I don't have the expertise. There are probably writers capable of turning their hand to anything. I am not one of them. Which leads me to wonder whether anyone who passes this way might be interested in doing some writing?
Contrary to appearances, the C:T blog is open to all and I would be thoroughly delighted if anyone else were to post here. Especially I’d be interested to read some posts with a different geographical perspective to my own, which tends to be European and British. It would be great if we could get a more international feel here.
If you’d rather, you could always get in touch with with any ideas you have before posting. At the same time, if you have something to say, you certainly don't need my permission to say it!
This splendid arrangement of We Wish You a Merry Christmas recently appeared in my Facebook feed, with a greeting from its creator, Jim Aitchison. Jim is a composer who cultivates links with the visual arts, both through interaction with figures such as Gerhard Richter, Antony Gormley and Anish Kapoor, and in his own explorations of the art form, for example in his visual score work.
Jim has very kindly allowed me repost this arrangement here as a means of wishing all C:T members a happy and peaceful Christmas. Enjoy!
With the loss of a number of musicians, cultural icons such as Peter Shaffer, Umberto Eco, Harper Lee, Elie Wiesel and Alan Rickman, not to mention some seismic political events, many are describing 2016 as a year to forget.
Things did not start auspiciously, the first two weeks of January seeing the deaths of two of the most iconic musicians of our time, Pierre Boulez on 5th and David Bowie on 8th. Bowie’s death, as the 2016 turned from bad to worse, would become responsible for one of the year’s best memes:
In January I dismissed my mate's theory that David Bowie was the glue holding the universe together but I don't know man... I don't know...
22nd January would have been the 100th birthday of that other iconic French composer, Henri Dutilleux. The date marked the start of a year of celebrations in his honour.
February saw the inauguration of the new organ at the Philharmonie de Paris with a performance of Ligeti’s majestic Volumina and, at WNO, the premiere of Elena Langer’s opera Figaro Gets a Divorce, which speculated on events after Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. In terms of opera shenanigans, however, nothing could beat the real-life drama at English National Opera, the parlous situation seeming to be an obvious vindication of Micawber's advice regarding fiscal contentedness.
In March I could scarcely contain my delight at the chance to hear a half-remembered work from my youth, Grace Williams’ Missa Cambrensis. I am still hoping that it might be given a commercial release. That delight was tempered by more depressing news with the death of Peter Maxwell Davies on 15th. Given how ill he had been in 2013, however, we should be grateful for those extra works that flowed from his brief recovery, especially his magnificent Symphony No.10.
Maxwell Davies on his Symphony No. 10
April, indeed, saw evidence of the fecundity of Maxwell Davies’s last years, with the first performance of his Piano Sonata No. 2 on 27th (there would be other posthumous premieres, including his children’s opera The Hogboon in June). On 21st came the death of Prince. His prolific talent, like that of David Bowie, raised him above other pop musicians, justifying his inclusion here. Elsewhere the Dutilleux celebrations continued with a BBC Total Immersion Day at the Barbican and there were festivals of new music in Budapest and Witten, Germany. Meanwhile I was rather struck by a beguiling disk of choral music by Martin Smolka.
Few things in May seemed so bizarre as Valery Gergiev’s concert in Palmyra, so obviously was it a propaganda exercise for President Vladimir Putin. Such a celebration now looks obscenely premature, with Daesh recently retaking the ruins (not to mention the unfolding humanitarian tragedy in Aleppo). Putin would become the bogeyman during the rest of the year, with many claiming he interfered with the US election and even the UK’s Brexit vote.
‘Pray for Palmyra’ concert conducted by Valery Gergiev
June started positively enough with a new crowdfunder from Dan Goren to launch Sounds Like Now, a magazine devoted to new music in the UK and Ireland. This ran throughout the month, eventually reaching its funding target in July. The first issue should be on its way in the New Year. There were a number of festivals, including at Aix-en-Provence and Cheltenham, important premieres such as Thomas Adès’s third opera at Salzburg, and a fabulous new Jonathan Harvey CD from St. John’s College, Cambridge. Then came the misery of Brexit on 23rd. I do not mean to be divisive with this description—I think its fair to say that the experience has not been such a lovely one for either Leavers or Remainers, the country feeling so horribly divided in the aftermath.
Given the seismic nature of this political event, in July C:T ran a straw poll of UK composers and also some arts organisations. The reaction to Brexit, not unexpectedly, was overwhelmingly negative, though there was at least one person prepared to give an alternative view. Given the depression of the situation I found solace in music, namely in a disk of trumpet music from Norwegian record label Lawo. Sadly the Norway option didn't seem so popular with politicians…
I made my own arguments in favour of that option in a post that eventually found it’s way to my website rather than on C:T—it felt a little too political to be here. Meanwhile the Proms continued apace, with 11 world premieres in August. It you click on the date links of my original Proms roundup you can go directly to these pieces on the BBC website, where they are still available. At the end of the month the old question of atonality in music reared it’s head, Jacques Attali making the absurd comment that it was akin to musical terrorism.
On 3rd October Steve Reich turned 80, the event being marked in a number of events around the world. Mostly, however, the world seemed transfixed by the US elections and especially the Trump/Clinton televised debates. These were memorably turned into two musical parodies.
In probably the most significant tech news of the year, on 19th Steinberg released Dorico, a scorewriting package designed to compete with industry heavyweights Sibelius and Finale. 25th October saw the announcement of the British Composer Awards Shortlist and, much more seismically, on the same day C:T joined Twitter.
I kicked off November with a first look at Dorico, finding it full of promise but lacking significant features. I hope to share some more thoughts on it soon. Then, on 9th, came another political earthquake with the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. Time will tell whether this and Brexit really do signify the collapse of the liberal consensus, though from here in France, where it is probable that Marine Le Pen will make it to the run off for President next year, things are not looking good. On 21st, pioneering French composer Jean-Claude Risset died. He is credited with being one of the first composers to write an original work only using a computer.
On 2nd December we were treated to the ‘world premiere’ of Stravinky’s Funeral Song, an early work that was lost after its first performance. On 7th the British Composer Award winners were announced. I also rounded up some opportunities to hear new Christmas music. These have mostly passed, but there remains the opportunity to hear the first performance of Michael Berkely’s This Endernight, which will be performed by the Choir of King’s College Cambridge in their A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve.
American composer Elliott Schwartz died on Wednseday aged 80. He taught for over 40 years at Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine and was performed widely in the US. He held a particular interest in pre-digital electronic music, also co-authoring a listener's guide on the subject.
The winners of the 2016 British Composer Awards were announced last night at a ceremony at BFI Southbank, London. Here’s the complete list, with information about each piece and, in some cases, audio links.
AMATEUR OR YOUNG PERFORMERS The Monster in the Maze by Jonathan Dove
Commissioned by London Symphony Orchestra, Berliner Philharmoniker and Festival d’Aix-en-Provence within a series of children’s operas led by Sir Simon Rattle and Simon Halsey, The Monster in the Maze is an opera designed to celebrate an arts organisation’s relationship with its community. The opera is scored for professional musicians with amateur singers (adults, children and young people) and young pre-professional instrumentalists. The three productions in summer 2015 involved over 700 local participants.
It received its UK premiere on 4 July 2015 at the Barbican performed by the LSO conducted by Sir Simon Rattle and Simon Halsey.
Imagine yourself at the centre of a circle, sixty kilometres in diameter. Starting from the most Northerly point, a disembodied voice names places and topographical features including waterways, streets, farms, wooded areas, and a naturist camp.
The voice makes its way around the circle, until it arrives back where it started. Each utterance prompts a chord or phrase from the musicians, gradually augmenting and diminishing. Like an uninterrupted motorway journey, the landscape changes incrementally, but the hum of the engine remains the same.
Freezywater connects to the ideas of psychogeography and Nick Papadimitriou’s ’deep topography’, wherein drifting from place to place might provoke an intellectual, behavioural or emotional response.
Commissioned by Wigmore Hall with the support of André Hoffmann, President of the Fondation Hoffmann. Freezywater is for ensemble and pre-recorded voices and was premiered by Apartment House at Wigmore Hall, London on 27 February 2016.
CHORAL Ave Verum Corpus Re-Imagined by Roderick Williams
William Byrd’s Ave Verum Corpus is a piece that I have known since my days as a treble chorister and I grew up in awe of its carefully measured harmony and effortless counterpoint. Like any choral singer, I have my favourite moments within the piece – the scrunching false relations, the question and answer exclamations, the mournful coda – and so I sought to write a piece that would focus specifically on these highlights and expand upon them. Its composition is an act of homage to a masterful composer.
This work was commissioned by ORA and Suzi Digby OBE as a reflection on the Kyrie Eleison from William Byrd’s Mass for Five voices. It received its UK premiere at the ORA Launch Concert at the Tower of London on 9 February 2016.
COMMUNITY OR EDUCATIONAL PROJECT Into the Light by John Webb
Into the Light was commissioned by Aurora Orchestra and Buckinghamshire Learning Trust Music with funds from PRS for Music Foundation.
It received its UK premiere on 29 April 2015, performed by 1800 children from Buckinghamshire (voices and mixed instruments), members of the Aurora Orchestra and conducted by John Webb. Held at Royal Albert Hall.
Into the Light started with some questions – how do we celebrate the world? How do we create a celebratory piece? How can some of the KS2 performers who will sing it feed their ideas (both words and music) into the piece?
After pondering for some time, we decided that it’s easier to celebrate the world if we first pretended that we couldn’t see it, that the world was in darkness. When, finally, light appeared and we saw everything for the first time we would be completely awestruck at the wonder, beauty and diversity of the planet on which we live. And so the bare bones of the piece was born.
CONTEMPORARY JAZZ COMPOSITION Karembeus Guide to the Complete Defensive Midfielder by Joe Cutler
Karembeu’s Guide to the Complete Defensive Midfielder was a commission from the 2015 Cheltenham International Music Festival for Emulsion Sinfonietta/Food.
Although the piece is predominantly fully scored, I treat the additional duo Food (Thomas Stronen and Iain Bellamy) rather like that of the "floating" role in football, where a midfielder is given a free position with a set formation, moving between defensive, midfield and attack.
ORCHESTRAL Alba by Rebecca Saunders
L. fem. of albus “white,” from PIE root *albho- “white”, albe OE.
In painting the most extreme bright and light achromatic colour to the point of absolute luminosity. Devoid of shade and greyness, white is notably ardent, the colour of fury.
Alba is the final work in a series of three concertos – Still, Void and Alba. Each title defines a condition, or state, of absence in relation to sound, to space and to colour, respectively, and each refers to a text of Samuel Beckett.
Taken from the collection Echo’s Bones, Alba is an intensely lyrical poem. Beckett weighs each and every word and it’s shadow, it’s echo. This poem ends looking forward to the short and intense prose texts written at the end of his life – his profoundly reduced, almost skeletal, prose, both mercilessly direct and yet exquisitely fragile.
Commissioned by Bayerischer Rundfunk, Musica Viva and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Alba received its UK premiere on 26 November 2015, performed by Marco Blaauw (trumpet) and BBCSSO, conducted by Ilan Volkov at City Halls, Glasgow.
SMALL CHAMBER A Day at the Spa by Oliver Leith
The title came before the piece that might be obvious. I thought I might try and write a piece akin to those relaxing piped tapes but apparently I couldn’t. I had not been to a spa when I wrote the piece but have since been to one - Rudas baths in Budapest. My piece, as it turns out, is not at all like a spa other than that, at times, it sounds like water.
Commissioned by City Music Foundation, A Day at the Spa received its premiere performance on 7 July 2015. Performed by Kaleidoscope Saxophone Quartet, at St Martins in the Field.
SOLO OR DUO Five Memos by Mark Bowden
I took Italo Calvino’s series of Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, Six Memos for the Next Millennium, as a starting point to create a five-movement work for violin and piano. My ambition, to create musical responses to the artistic virtues Calvino held up as being of particular importance for writers, and artists, of the future.
In ‘Lightness’ Calvino discusses the concept of balancing an inner rhythm against a frantic spectacle. He contemplates grace, light, veils of particles and the fine balance of the physical forces holding matter together. He contrasts these images with heaviness and savage, brutal horror. In the music, I have sought to find a driving rhythm in the piano, propelling itself ever forward as the violin floats above escaping the tonal force of gravity of the piano’s harmony as though it is a neutrino, wandering free since the beginning of time.
In ‘Quickness’ Calvino describes how seemingly disparate narrative events can be connected through repetition, rhyme and rhythm. He talks of continuity of form, discoursing and the idea of festina lente, or ‘hurrying slowly’. In the music I created contrasting musical gestures for the violin held together by common intervallic materials whilst exploring different perceptions of motion and speed within the piano part.
Calvino contrasts the notion of ‘Exactitude’ against Vago – an Italian adjective meaning ‘attractive’ or ‘wandering’, as well as ‘vague’. He contemplates the idea of night, darkness, obscurity and depth, and talks of the simultaneous evocation of fear and pleasure that true infinity induces in those who contemplate it. In the music, a simple cycle of chords is treated to what could become an infinite process of repetition and change. The violin’s melody, always smooth and simple, undergoes an exact and meticulous unfolding of pitches against a more wandering, or vague, harmonic exploration in the piano music.
In ‘Visibility’ Calvino discusses how a writer can conjure images in the mind of the reader, bringing into focus that which is unfocussed or unseen. He also grapples with the swarming multitudes of possibilities available to the novelist when creating a literary work. In the music, a kaleidoscopic tumult of fantastical material unfolds, each gesture containing the possibility to develop into a work in its own right. But, instead, new material keeps emerging until a cascade of arpeggios in the piano brings us back to somewhere near where we began before finishing with an inconclusive, uncertain coda.
The final chapter of Calvino’s book addresses “Multiplicity’. He considers how even the smallest starting point can spread to encompass ever-vaster horizons. He explores the possibilities implicit in unfinished literary fragments, comparing them to ancient ruins. He points to the networks of relationships in the works of T.S. Eliot and the ‘systems within systems’ buried in the writings of James Joyce. Finally, he reconnects to his first topic – lightness – creating interconnected pathways across his own set of essays. In the music, a tiny generative motif taken from the first movement is the source of all the material of an intricate toccata, interrupted briefly by a slower and more lyrical section, that bustles and ripples along creating networks of relationships between the piano and violin. – Mark Bowden
Commissioned by London Music Masters Five Memos was premiered on 10 May 2015, performed by Hyeyoon Park (violin) and Huw Watkins (piano) at Newbury Spring Festival.
SONIC ART Sonorama by Claudia Molitor
Located on the train journey between London St Pancras and Margate, Sonorama is a major new audio work by composer Claudia Molitor that offers sounds and voices for the otherwise silent view from the train, downloadable as an App for listening with headphones.
Imagining the journey itself as the ’score’ Molitor has composed a cycle of works and collected interviews, readings and original archival material which respond to the social history and present of the route. With each track relating to a different point or area along the train line, the work has been informed through a collaboration with historian David Hendy and the British Library. The tracks imagine topics as diverse as visio-centricity, Roman history and hop-picking with a corresponding variety of contributors such as flautist Jan Hendrickse, poet Lemn Sissay, saxophonist Evan Parker and writer Charlotte Higgins.
The Sketch of the Score for Sonorama, exhibited at Turner Contemporary, is a graphic score of Molitor’s reading of the journey and underpins the thinking behind the compositions and the selection of the other materials that make up Sonorama, acting as a companion piece to experiencing the main work on the train.
In developing the Sonorama I set out to intermingle my perception of the journey with some socio-cultural memories and contemporary concerns, in a way that does not merely present these notions/viewpoints but complicates rather than simplifies the way we might conceive of the journey. Listening to Sonorama whilst looking out of the train window in turn invites the audience to reflect on their own relationship to the journey and their experience of ’being in the world’. – Claudia Molitor
Commissioned by the ENO and the Barbican, London, Between Worlds received its UK premiere on 11 April 2015. Performed by English National Opera conducted by Gerry Cornelius at Barbican Centre, London.
The opera involves five key characters. The JANITOR (baritone) should have left before dawn, his cleaning job done; but today he stays on for the extra pay. So he’s there when four further characters arrive early to view an unoccupied office high in the North Tower, the shining city all before them: an OLDER WOMAN (mezzo), the realtor; an OLDER MAN (bass/baritone) who runs the company; and a YOUNGER WOMAN (soprano) and YOUNGER MAN (tenor) who work for him. Once the plane has hit, these characters quickly realise they’re trapped; their desperate need is to speak to their loved ones, one last time; the OLDER WOMAN wants to speak to her CHILD, the YOUNGER WOMAN to her LOVER, the YOUNGER MAN to his MOTHER, and the OLDER MAN to both his mistress and his wife. In these last words, they try to express their most profound feelings - their fear, their courage, their loss, and above all their profound sense of love.
WIND BAND OR BRASS BAND Just a Vibration by Shri Sriram
This is a project that was about bringing Indian melodies and classical concepts to Brass band. The line-up features brass band, sitar, bass, drums, Indian flute and Indian tabla vocalisation.
This was Sriram’s first time at composing for brass band and they have been lauded for bringing in a very fresh perspective to the UK brass scene, drawing from Indian classical tabla, sitar and drone instruments, jazz, dub-step, club music, ambient and drum’n’bass.
Commissioned by Drum The Bass and developed and recorded with Hammonds Saltaire Brass band with conductor Morgan Griffiths it received its UK premiere on 5 September 2015. Performed by Shri and Skelmanthorpe Brass Band at Freedom Festival in Hull 2015.
To watch part of the work performed at the London Jazz Festival 2015 CLICK HERE
BRITISH COMPOSER AWARD FOR INNOVATION Jennifer Walshe
BRITISH COMPOSER AWARD FOR INSPIRATION Simon Bainbridge
Though it does not cover the composer’s later years, Caroline Potter’s survey of the music of Henry Dutilleux is the standard English language account of his life and works. Though an older book, I mention in now because it was out of print until Routledge recently reissued it for £34.99. I never travel anywhere without my copy.
If you’d rather read about a different French composer, you could buy a more recent book by Caroline Potter: Erik Satie: A Parisian Composer and His World. It has just been awarded Sunday Times Classical Music Book of the Year. And, completing the French theme, is Pierre Boulez Studies, edited by Peter O’Hagan and Edward Campbell. Not for the casual reader, it offers serious academic perspectives on the composer from leading practitioners in the field, including the named editors, Robert Piencikowski, Pascal Decroupet, Werner Strinz and Jonathan Goldmann.
It seems that the whole world is going wireless at the moment. My choice for Apple users was going to be their new Airpods. With a minimalist design, fancy charging power case and deep integration into the Apple ecosystem, they make the perfect present for the Apple gadget lover. The problem is, it is not entirely certain they will be available before Christmas. You could, instead go for Apple’s Beats Solo3 headphones, which use similar technology to integrate with Apple devices, but which classical music lover would want to be seen with a brand of headphones that is associated with a bass heavy sound and a rather flimsy build?
There are, of course, much better audiophile options to chose from. If you want a really good spacious classical sound, go for open-backed. The only disadvantage with them, however, is that they don’t stop sound from your environment intruding on your listening experience. I prefer a compromise, something like Bose’s QuietComfort 35 Wireless Headphones, which are closed back whilst still providing decent sound. They also include class-leading noise cancellation, making them perfect when you are out and about.
Never be caught off-guard when musical inspiration arrives. This handy music pad will fit discreetly in your jacket pocket so you can composer anytime, anywhere…
CD pick:Deo, works for choir and organ by Jonathan Harvey £14.57.
Deo on Signum Classics is an exquisite collection of works by Jonathan Harvey performed by the choir of St. John’s College Cambridge conducted by Andrew Nethsingha. You can find out more in my original review, here. My favourite CD of the year.
Christmas album pick:O Emmanuel J.J. Wright, Notre Dame Children’s Choir, Fifth House Ensemble $14.95; Noël Nouvelet, a selection of new and old Christmas music, Vasari Singers £13.28.
I recommended several collections of contemporary music Christmas settings last year. Those still stand.
In addition to these, however, you may consider the recent O Emmanuel by J.J. Wright, which contains imaginative reworkings of familiar Christmas music. It may be a little on the saccharine side for some, but I enjoyed it a lot.
Alternatively you could try Noël Nouvelet which contains a nice mixture of new and old, including pieces by Bob Chilcott, John Rutter, Judith Weir, Naji Hakim and John Gardner.
The ultimate Christmas present for the technologically-minded composer. I raved last year about the Microsoft Surface running the Staffpad notation program. This year Microsoft has once again stolen a march on Apple with the release of its Surface Studio. It essentially performs the same trick as the smaller Surface, in that it can be operated as a normal computer, where it can run legacy programs such as Sibelius, and as a tablet, where is can use touch and stylus programs like Staffpad. The difference, however, is that the screen provides a gigantic area on which to work. There is also an innovative new input method, the Surface Dial, which can sit on the screen or near it, giving you an additional way of scrolling though menus etc. It really is a compelling device that comes, nevertheless, with two drawbacks: it has a hefty price-tag and, sadly, will not be available till early 2017. If someone wants to put a Studio preorder in my stocking, however, I would be quite happy to wait...
Actually released way back in September, I only came across this today and was attracted by its grungy back-to-basics approach. To see what I mean you can read a very thoughtful review of the disk, here. Or better still, have a listen.
The first recording of the composer’s latest symphony, performed by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra. The music is energetic and pretty accessible, especially in the frentic dance-inspired final movement.
A cantata to mark the centenary of the First World War with choral performances from tenor Nicky Spence, the Oxford Bach Choir and Portsmouth Grammar School Chamber Choir. The work is paired with An Airmail Letter from Mozart, directed from the piano by Melvyn Tan.
Subtleties of harmony from a composer who, dissatisfied with equal temperament, has divided the octave into as many as 72 microintervals. There are four pieces: ¿Adónde? Wohin? for violin, soprano and instruments; Oh Bosques|Oh Wälder for soprano, choir and orchestra; ¿Por qué? Warum? for choir in two groups a cappella; and Oh Cristallina… for three groups of vocalists and instruments.
The Tredegar Town Band play a selection of music by Robin Holloway, Lucy Pankhurst, John McCabe, Simon Dobson, Paul McGhee and Gavin Higgins. Britten’s cumulative Fanfare for St Edmundsbury also provides a framework for responses by four of the composers.