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3 Feb  

If you want to hear the best of emerging composer talent in the UK, take a look at Making Music’s Adopt a Composer programme.

 

The scheme has run since 2000 and pairs the best of the UK’s emerging composing talent with amateur choirs, orchestras and ensembles for a year. Together they produce a new composition of about ten minutes in length, which is then broadcast on Radio 3. 

 

The pieces by the class of 2016/17 were premiered between 22nd and 26th January and will be available on BBC iPlayer for 30 days. More simply, you can hear all of the pieces, and those from previous years, here:

The 2017/18 scheme is well under way, the chosen composers and their groups being:

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

 

You can learn more about how they are getting on in blogs they are posting on the Making Music Website, the two most recent being by Anna Appelby and Max Charles Davies. It’s also worth reading about the project from the perspective of the amateur groups—it’s clear that they are finding the collaborations just as rewarding as the composers.

 

If you are interested in getting involved, the next round of applications for the scheme will open in March, for both composers and amateur groups.



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30 Jan  

Christian Morris talks to composer Nigel Osborne, who was recently been awarded the British Composer Award for Inspiration in recognition of his human rights work.
 

Nigel Osborne

Your early composing followed a well-established trajectory - study at Oxford and abroad, several prestigious prizes, and academic posts in Nottingham then Edinburgh. Then, in 1992, you travelled to Bosnia-Herzegovina following the outbreak of hostilities there. What motivated this decision?

In some ways I was simply getting on with what I had done before. At the point I began to work in Bosnia, I had been involved in human rights activities for over 20 years. I had of course been a member of the "'68 generation", and although I thought many of the student protest movements of the time lacked serious political purpose, I had taken part in demonstrations, particularly about the Vietnam war, and had become closely involved, for various reasons and in various ways, in the unfolding of events in both Northern Ireland and Czechoslovakia. 

I had been influenced as a very young man by a lecture Sartre had given in the Club Maintenant in Paris in October 1945 - Existentialism and Humanism. Two things in the lecture had shaped the way I thought at the time. The first was the idea that we build what we become from what we are - in other words that we invent ourselves from the most raw of human materials and are responsible for the person we become and what we do; and that by understanding the nature of our own consciousness, we understand everyone else. This was the basis of a very young man's intellectual leftism.

 

>> Click here to read the full interview



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25 Jan  

This year Radio France’s Festival Présences (6th–11th February) celebrates the music of composer, organist and improvisor Thierry Escaich. As well as performances of existing works, l’Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France will give the world premiere of a newly commissioned piece. Many other composer-performers will be also be represented, including Wolfgang Mitterer, Michaël Levinas, Lionel Bord, Laurent Cuniot, Benoît Mernier, Thierry Pécou, Burkhard Stangl, Karol Beffa, Eva Reiter and John Zorn.

 

The concerts take place at Radio France, Paris, principally in Studio 104. The full programme is available, here.

 

In the UK, Thea Musgrave, now in her 90th year, will visit the Royal Northern College of Music on 1st and 2nd February. There will be the opportunity to hear her in conversation with Clark Rundell, as well as three concerts. These will include seven of her own works, including the world premiere of From Darkness into Light played by the BBC Philharmonic, as well as premieres from Edgar Divver and Robin Wallington. 

 

Other premieres this month include the first UK outing for George Walker’s Icarus in Orbit played by the BBCSO at the Barbican on 9th; the world premiere of Mark Bowden’s Three Interludes with BBCNOW at Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff on 21st; and new works by Helen Grime on 15th and Joseph Phibbs on 23rd at Wigmore Hall. Also at Hoddinott Hall are three concerts that will explore new orchestral works by up-and-coming emerging Welsh composers. These take place on 1st, 22nd and 23rd

 

Lovers of music theatre will want to make time for Satyagraha, Philip Glass’s opera based on Gandhi’s early years in South Africa, tracing the progress of his concept of non-violent protest as a positive force for change. Performances run from 1st–7th Feb at ENO. At the Royal Opera House, meanwhile, Joby Talbot’s ballet The Winter’s Tale will be performed from 13th Feb–21st March.



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25 Jan  

Geraldine Mucha in the 1980s. Image: geraldinemucha.org 

Whilst last year marked the centenary of the birth of Scottish composer Geraldine Mucha, 2018 will see further celebrations of her life and work.

 

Mucha was born in London and studied at the Royal Academy of Music. In 1945 she moved to Prague with her husband Jiři Mucha, son of the world-renowned Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha. Although her music was performed in Czechoslovakia by leading ensembles, it remains largely unknown in the UK, a consequence of the many years she spent behind the Iron Curtain.

 

In 2017 a new recording of Macbeth and Other Orchestral Works was released via ArcoDiva and featured her ballet Macbeth (1965), Overture to The Tempest (1963) and Piano Concerto (1961); and, in November, a special centenary concert included her two String Quartets and pieces for Chamber Orchestra, performed by the Stamic Quartet and others.

 

To learn more about Geraldine Mucha:

 

Official Geraldine Mucha Website

 

Wikipedia

 

Other Links:



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25 Jan  

The 2018 Oscar nominations for best original score are:

 

Dunkirk, by Hans Zimmer

Phantom Thread, by Jonny Greenwood

The Shape of Water, by Alexandre Desplat

Start Wars: The Last Jedi, by John Williams

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, by Carter Burwell

 

 

I know who my money is on.



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21 Jan  

Many years ago I visited the astonishing ruins at Delphi on the Greek Peloponnese. At the end of the visit I went tiredly round the museum, looking at the many interesting if rather worthy exhibits. At the end, having left the building, I suddenly realised that I had missed one of the most important items, the First Delphic Hymn. It is the oldest surviving example of musical notation by a named composer, inscribed on a stone slab found at the site. Of course, I went back to find it. When I did the experience was unexpectedly moving. Genesis.

 

It comes, therefore, as no surprise to me that musicians might be moved to use ancient works as a basis for a musical project. The album Ancient Greece, Musical Inspirations, featuring guitarist Rody Van Gemert and harpsichordist Assi Karttunen is just such a project. 

 

It is an exceptionally well thought-out programme of music, using not just the First Delphic Hymn but also two versions of the oldest surviving complete musical composition, the Seikilos Epitaph, as a frame. Around this are inserted works by Graham Lynch, Harry Partch, Maurice Ravel and Matthew Whittall. The modern works (which, in this context, includes Ravel) are all inspired in some way by the ancient world. Whether because of the redolence of the Greek theme, the felicitousness of the instrumentation or the exotic quality of the music (often rendered strange by the use of unusual tunings), the result is intoxicating. To listen is to gaze once more at that ancient stone. 

 

Navona Records, a subsidiary of PARMA Recordings, has a very healthy back-catalogue that includes many recordings of contemporary music. They have five upcoming releases, all of which can be previewed on their website or on streaming services: Music in the Listening Place, choral works sung by the Vanderbilt University Chorale; Prisma, contemporary works by Lionel Sainsbury, Clive Muncaster, Patricia Julien, and J. A. Kawarsky; Young Prometheus, featuring works by Mark Volker; Small Stones, Modern Piano Music played by Nancy Zipay Desalvo; and Formika, a collection of chamber by Mexican composer Felipe Pérez Santiago.

 

NMC are currently running a 20% reduction on their annual subscription, which means if you pay now you’ll get all of their 2018 releases at a bargain price. They also continue two of their recent projects this month with releases of Ray Lee’s sound artwork Ring Out in their New Music Biennial series and a new collection of Next Waves works by young composers Emma Wilde, Peter Wilson, Alex J Hall, Jack Sheen, Joanna Ward and Robin Haigh. 

 

There are three new contemporary music albums on Naxos: a collection of choral works by Norwegian composer Kim André Arnesen; String Quartets 5–7 by Richard Danielpour; and The Core-Set Project, in which Dame Evelyn Glennie’s ensemble offers a programme of fourteen improvised pieces that ‘push the boundaries of spontaneous music-making.’ Hyperion has released the first two of Tippett’s four symphonies, recorded by Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Number two, especially, is a marvellous work, a must-listen if you don’t know it. They have also released a disk of three concertos by Aaron Jay Kernis, performed by Royal Northern Sinfonia under Rebecca Miller. Bridge, finally, have released Rube Goldberg Variations, an album of chamber music by Dmitri Tymoczko; and Morton Feldman’s For John Cage, for violin and piano, one of a series of works he write dedicated to other artists. 



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18 Jan  

Photo: Psappha Ensemble

The Psappha Ensemble is supporting a record number of up-and-coming composers this season, making the group’s Ancoats base in Manchester a prime destination for talented young composers from across the UK.

 

Psappha is currently working with 24 composers through its “Composing For…” talent development schemes plus a further 12 composers from the RNCM and The University of Manchester, making an exceptional 36 in all.

 

Each of Psappha’s Composing For… schemes focus on a different instrument or instruments, with guzheng (Chinese harp), French horn, violin & cello, and flute & clarinet featured this year. The composers work with a Psappha musicians over a period of six months, leading to the creation of 24 new works. The schemes culminate in a series of filming days where Psappha makes multi-camera HD films of each new piece. Psappha’s workshops at The University of Manchester and at the RNCM support advanced students of composition to write for small ensemble in various instrument combinations.

 

Psappha’s Artistic Director selects works from the various schemes to be performed as part of Psappha’s Manchester season, meaning that places are much in demand. On 15 February 2018 Psappha will give performances of six works from the ensemble’s 2016-17 talent development schemes and Radio 3 will also record the concert. 

 

Tim Williams, Psappha’s Artistic Director, says: “Last year our Composing For… schemes focused on writing for flute, piano, trombone and percussion and the composers found the support we provided really beneficial….It’s really exciting to be able to discover new voices and to continue the relationship for the longer-term by recommending the composers to other organizations and by performing their work.”

 

A participant in Psappha’s 2016-17 Composing For Flute scheme said: “This was an excellent composition scheme to have taken part in. Having the time to develop a piece over several months, attend workshops, and develop a working relationship with the performer is the ideal composition scenario. Receiving a professional film and recording is hugely valuable to have as evidence of my work.”

 

Four composers from last year’s Composing For… schemes have gone on to be selected to write works based on pieces of art from the Whitworth collection, supported by a Grants for the Arts Award from Arts Council England as part of the Here and Now wellbeing project. The pieces will be premièred on 17 May 2018 as Psappha invites audiences on a musical adventure through the Whitworth Art Gallery.

 

Psappha is also currently supporting jazz musicians Mike Walker (guitar) and Iain Dixon (reeds) to write a new work for the ensemble through a series of development workshops which began in July 2017. The premiere of this work will take place on 20 April 2018 at the Stoller Hall in Manchester.




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11 Jan  

    Photo: Google Maps

It has been reported that Bingley Grammar School charges children £5 per week to take GCSE music lessons after school. The decision was described by the Incoporated Society of Musicians as ‘shocking and deeply troubling’, whilst Andrew Lloyd Webber told The Stage that ‘the arts have never been as vital as they are today and they should be free.’ 

 

Head Teacher Luke Weston defended the school’s decision, saying that this has ‘nothing to do with funding, it's really allowing our kids to have an extra GCSE at a time that suits them.’ He also said that the new system has led to increased interest in the subject, with 25 studying this year, and that the school is still paying ’99.9% of the bill. The GCSE cost is not £5 a week, it’s significantly more than that.’

 

Whilst I have every sympathy for a school trying to do the best by its pupils—and I’m sure that that is what is happening here—this is, nevertheless, a cause for concern. First of all, whilst this particular development might be, in the (intentionally oxymoronic?) words of Norman Lebrecht, a ‘rogue precedent’, there has been other evidence of music being belittled as an academic subject during the last twelve months, including, last March, Charlotte C. Gill’s attack on music notation and, in June, the news that the Joyce Franklin Academy in Essex had removed music from year 7 and 8 (ages 11–13) timetables in an effort to balance their budget. I wonder how many examples we are not hearing about? I think, therefore, where this sort of story appears it is important to call it out. How else are we to stop the rot?

 

I also think it is disingenuous for the Head Teacher to claim that charging money for pupils has ‘nothing to do with funding.’ In which case, why charge them? Curiously my own experience in school was rather similar to that of Bingley Grammar School. No place could be found in a crowded curriculum for GCSE music, but the school, and its music teacher, moved heaven and earth to lay on extra lessons. Whilst we didn’t take it after school but in our games lesson, there was certainly no extra charge.

 

The Head Teacher also claims that the school covers 99.9% of the cost of GCSE music lessons. A little maths reveals the truth. If each pupil in a class of 25 pays £5 each, that is £125 per week. Let’s extrapolate that out to the whole year, which would consist of roughly 39 weeks. That is £4875. My guess is that that covers a very significant percentage of the course costs. Certainly not 0.1%, unless the Head Teacher was previously paying £4,875,000 to lay on GCSE music, in which case he probably needs to shop around.



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11 Jan  

Presumably when Matt Hancock, the new UK Culture Secretary, compared the creative industries to a woolly mammoth on Tuesday, he meant ‘big’ and and not muddle-minded. We can only hope he is listening to the concerns of Global Future, who have published evidence that Britain’s creative industries want to retain freedom of movement after Brexit. 

 

It would be easy to accuse the government of woolly thinking on Brexit, but on this subject at least they have been fairly consistent—free movement will end when the UK leaves the EU. It will require, therefore, either a rethink on the part of the government, or for Jeremy Corbyn to whip his MPs to support any Single Market Commons’ rebellion. Neither scenario seems likely.

 

From the Global Future Website:

 

A GLOBAL FUTURE REPORT DECEMBER 2017

Leading figures in Britain’s Creative Industries fear a hard Brexit will damage a sector of the economy that the Government itself estimates is worth more than £87 billion a year.

 

A survey for the Global Future think tank with 50 of the most influential figures in creative Industries is published today.

 

IT REVEALS:

• The single highest priority for government action now is preserving the right for Freedom of Movement between the UK and the European Union. This is seen as more important for securing growth and vibrancy in the future even than government funding for the arts or securing trade and investment.

• The creative leaders were almost unanimous (46 out of 50) in saying a hard Brexit that ended free movement would have either a negative or devastating impact on their industries.

• A similar number of respondents said cultural diversity was one of the chief reasons behind Britain’s creative success on the world stage (42), that there was now a big risk for the UK’s soft power and creative reputation (46) and that morale in their sector had fallen since the European referendum last year (41).

 

GURNEK BAINS, CEO OF GLOBAL FUTURE, SAID:

“Britain’s Creative Industries employ more people than our financial sector and make a hugely important contribution to our economy, as well as driving our soft power in the world. Until now their voice has not be heard properly in the debate about our future.”

“But this survey shows that leaders in this industry regard a hard Brexit, which would severely restrict their ability to hire the talent needed to thrive, now threatens one of the things that makes Britain great.”

 

Respondents included: Sarah Alexander, CEO, National Youth Orchestra; Nick Capaldi, CEO, Arts Council Wales; Mike Pickering, A&R, Sony BMG; Nitin Sawhney, Musician, Producer and Composer; and Alex Beard, CEO, Royal Opera House.



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4 Jan  

The Government has released its Creative Industries Report prepared by the Department for Exiting the EU. You can read it here.

 

The opening paragraph makes it clear that this is not a sectoral impact study, so don’t expect ‘excruciating detail.’ It also covers a number of sub-sectors, so music is rather infrequently mentioned. A few interesting statements from it, however:

 

1. Apparently, amongst the creative industries, ‘Music, performing and visual arts have the lowest proportion of EU nationals working in the sector, with 4.1%.'

 

2. ’The Creative Industries exported £14.7bn worth of goods in 2015, 38.6% more than in 2010, and this represented 5.2% of total UK goods exports.’ Of these  ‘“Music, performing and visual arts”, “Crafts”; and, “Publishing”’ were the highest export sub-sectors.

 

3. Whilst total exports to the EU are 39.4 (i.e. 60.6% to the rest of the world), in the realm of all Creative industries the ratio is 45% to the EU, 55% to the rest of the world. This rises to a whopping 56% to the EU in the case of ‘Music, performing and visual arts.’ 

 

The first statistic misses the point, I think—most musicians are coming and going and not settling in the UK i.e. they are still making use of freedom of movement. So this wrongly suggests that Brexit will not have a big impact on the sector. The second points to the relative strength of music, amongst others, as a sub-sector. We should be mindful of this when making our voices heard. That last statistic is perhaps the most troubling; because more than half of the sector’s exports go to the EU, it suggests that musicans may have greater exposure to the consequences of Brexit. 




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1 Jan  

After writing the C:T review of 2017, I found myself reflecting on the things that were predicted to happen in 2017 but didn’t. Chief among these was that a wave of populism would engulf Europe, with the possibility that other countries would follow the UK out of the EU. 

 

Though this did not happen, we must be wary of complacency in 2018. In Europe problems persist: Angela Merkel still struggles to form a government and there are challenges in the east. And the UK still has big decisions to make about its future with the EU. If musicians want to preserve a spirit of cooperation with our friends on the continent it is vital we make our voices heard. The UK may be leaving the EU, but the manner of doing so is still up for grabs. 

 

The world is an unstable and difficult place, but despite this the arts scene is as vibrant as ever. My little preview of 2018, below, is ample evidence of this. There are celebrations to mark the hundredth birthday of Leonard Bernstein; major premieres from Philip Sawyers, John Adams, James Macmillan, Philippe Manoury, Nico Muhly, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Mark Simpson, David Matthews and many others; and the usual round of festivals, of which I present a small portion here.

 

I will expand upon this preview in the months to come—do check in for my regular roundups. In the meantime I wish you and all C:T member and visitors a peaceful, happy and musical New Year!

 

January

18th Stephen Pratt, Symphonies of Time and Tide (World Premiere), Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, UK.

20th Huw Watkins, New Work (World Premiere), Brangwyn Hall, BBCNOW, Swansea, UK.

25th Sebastian Currier, New Work for String Quartet (World Premiere), Lincoln Center, Rose Building, NYC, US.

27th BBCSO Total Immersion, Leonard Bernstein. Barbican, London

 

February

6th–11th Festival Présences with a portrait of composer Thierry Escaich. Paris, France.

8th Symphony Without a Hero (World Premiere), Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Benaroya Hall, Seattle, US.

15th Helen Grime, New Work (World Premiere), Ruby Hughes (Soprano) and Joseph Middleton (Piano), Wigmore Hall, London, UK.

23rd Nico Muhly, Organ Concerto, (World Premiere). Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, US.

23rd Composition Wales Culmination concert. Hear the latest in composition in Wales, as composers worthy of wider exposure have the opportunity to hear their works performed by the BBCNOW.

25th Philip Sawyers, Violin Concerto (World Premiere). English Symphony Orchestra, St. Peter’s Square, Hereford, UK.

 

March

2nd–4th Peninsular Arts Contemporary Music Festival 2018. The theme is Decoding Life.

4th André Previn The Fifth Season, for violin and piano (World Premiere). Anne-Sophie Mutter, Lambert Orkis, Carnegie Hall, NYC, US.

10th Gary Kulesha, Double Concerto (World Premiere). Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto, Canada. 

21st Judith Weir Piano Quintet (World Premiere). Schubert Ensemble, Wigmore Hall, London.

21st–25th LONDON EAR festival of contemporary music.

29th John Luther Adams, Become Desert (World Premiere). Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Benaroya Hall, US. 

 

April

6th Michael Daugherty Concerto for Orchestra (World Premiere). Virginia Symphony Orchestra, Ferguson Centre, Virginia, US.

11th James MacMillan Saxophone Concerto (World Premiere). Perth Concert Hall, Perth, UK.

13th Esa-Pekka Salonen New Work (World Premiere). Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, US.

17th–25h Lucerne Festival at Easter.

19th Helen Grime New Work (World Premiere). 

18th Panufnik Composers Scheme Workshop. LSO St Luke's, London.

21st Mark Simpson Cello Concerto (World Premiere). Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, UK.

 

May

3rd Elvind Buene New Work (World Premiere). Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Oslo Concert Hall, Oslo, Norway.

9th David Matthews Symphony No. 9 (World Premiere). English Symphony Orchestra, St. George’s, Bristol, UK.

9th–16th Vale of Glamorgan Festival 

11th–27th Bath International Music Festival.

11th–27th Norfolk and Norwich Festival.

15th–3rd June Prague Spring International Music Festival.

17th–20th Northern Chords Festival.

20th Adam Vidiksis Concerto Grosso (World Premiere). The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, Kimmel Centre, Philadelphia, US.

25th–3rd June St. Davids Cathedral Festival.

 

Also in May (details tbc)

 

The English Music Festival.

 

June

1st Josef Bardanashvili, Ex Animo (World Premiere). Orchestre National de Lyon, L’Auditorium de Lyon, Lyon, France.

5th Charles Wuorinen Eros and Nemesis (World Premiere). The MET Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, NYC, US.

6th–31st Munich Opera Festival Nationaltheater and other venues in Munich.

8th–24th Aldeburgh Festival

12th David Bedford at 80. David Bedford, Symphony No. 1; Robin Rimbaud New Work (World Premiere). BBC Concert Orchestra, Southbank Centre, London, UK.

16th Pascal Dusapin New Work (World Premiere). Château de Versailles: Royal Opera House, Paris, France.

30th–26th August Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival

 

Other June festivals (dates tbc):

 

St Magnus International Festival.

 

July

1st Samuel Carl Adams Concerto Grosso (World Premiere). Australian Chamber Orchestra, Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia. 

8th Philippe Manoury Concerto for Flute and Orchestra (World Premiere). Gürzenich Orchestra, Philharmonie, Cologne, Germany. 

8th–21st Soundscape. Maccagno, Italian Alps.

6th–22rd Buxton Festival. A marriage of opera, books and music, including some by contemporary composers. Buxton, Derbyshire.

 

HERE:

 

13th-8th September BBC Proms. Programme not currently available, but there will be premières aplenty. Royal Albert Hall, London.

20th–30st August Salzburg Festival. Salzburg, Austria.

 

Other July festivals (dates tbc):

 

Schlern International Music Festival

Tête à Tête Opera Festival. Described as ‘our most imaginative opera laboratory’, the festival focuses entirely on new music. 

‘Aix en Provence Festival. ‘Aix en Provence, France. 

 

August

3rd–27th Edinburgh International Festival. Programme not yet available, but there is usually a good selection of new music.

6th–18th High Score Festival. Contemporary music festival and classes. Pavia, Italy.

23rd–28th Presteigne Festival. Artistic innovation, musical discovery and, of course, new works in the Welsh Marches. Presteigne, Powys. 

30th Carl Vine Symphony No.8 (World Premiere). Arts Centre Melbourne: Hamer Hall, Melbourne, Australia.

 

September

13th–22nd Oslo Contemporary Music Festival.

21st Richard Mills Island Signal Island Song (World Premiere). Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Melbourne Town Hall, Melbourne, Australia. 

23rd Ruta Vitkauskaite New Work (World Premiere). COMA London Ensemble, Kings Place: Hall One, London, UK.

30th Lisa Illean New Work (World Premiere). ExplorEnsemble, Kings Place: Hall One, London, UK.

 

Also in September (date tbc):

 

Beethovenfest, Bonn.

 

October

10th  Stephen Goss, Time (World Premiere). Christoph Denoth (guitar), Kings Place: Hall One London, UK.

11th Iain Grandage (World Premiere). Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Melbourne Recital Centre: Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, Melbourne, Australia.

28th–30th November Wien Modern. Festival that focuses on contemporary music. Vienna, Austria.

 

Dates not yet available:

 

Sound. North East Scotland’s Festival of New Music. Various venues.

 

November

17th–25th Lucerne Festival at the Piano.

 

Dates not yet available:

 

Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival

 

December

Date not yet available:

 

Spitalfields Winter Festival.



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24 Dec  

I’m at last tucked up with my family in a remote part of West Wales, all ready to enjoy Christmas. December’s arranging work finished ahead of time, the fire roaring, a farrago of seasonal fodder.

 

Christmas Eve in the UK comes, of course, with one contemporary music set-piece: the commissioned work for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge. This year it is composed by fellow Welshman Huw Watkins, who has set part of the Plygain carol Carol Eliseus. The service is broadcast live on Radio 4, beginning at 3pm.

 

In the meantime, here’s one of the best-known of the many previously commissioned Christmas carols, Judith Weir’s Illuminare Jerusalem, composed in 1985 for the service that year. To all C:T members and visitors, I wish you a very happy and peaceful Christmas.

 



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21 Dec  

2016 was viewed by many in the music world as one to forget. There were the deaths of Boulez, David Bowie, Peter Maxwell Davies and Prince and the twin political earthquakes of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. In fact, the prevailing attitude by the end of 2016 was rather summed up by this cartoon:

 

© Nick Seluk theawkwardyeti.com. Used with permission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, as we approach the end of 2017, how did we get on? It’s time to take stock…

 

January started happily enough, with a BBC Total Immersion Day celebrating the birthday of Philip Glass, who turned 80 on 31st. Celebrations to mark this milestone continued throughout 2017. In Hamburg, the opening of the stunning Elbphilharmonie concert hall (below) made London’s foot-drafting over its own new venue all the more bewildering. On 20th Donald Trump was inaugurated President of the United States.

 

The Elbphilharmonie Hall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February started with the good news that George Benjamin had been commissioned to write an opera following the enormous success of his Written on Skin, whilst on 8th February C:T marked the birthday of the film music legend, John Williams.

 

On International Women’s Day in March I reflected on the position of women composers in my country—much progress made but still a way to go. Tristan Murail turned 70 on 11th March, whilst I found myself in Japan attending the International Musicological Society conference, where I was lucky to hear a number of interesting speakers, including composer Toshio Hosokawa. At the end of the month Charlotte C. Gill’s article Music education in now only for the white and wealthy caused a huge controversy that rumbled well into April.

 

Jim Aitchison and I penned our own contribution to the debate over the Gill article as a response by pianist Ian Pace had gathered over 500 high-profile supporters, including Sir Simon Rattle. David Bernard over at the Brooklyn Symphony, meanwhile, was giving a much better example of how children might be taught to appreciate music. In everyday life I found myself glued to the Brexit news. One story felt grimly ironic: it was announced that the PRS had won funding from the EU to run its European Keychange programme to empower female musicians. 

 

At the beginning of May Donald Trump’s Muslim ban led to the detention of American composer Mohammed Fairouz at a US airport. Back in the UK the schedule for the BBC Proms had been announced, seemingly with fewer new works than ever.  Simon Rattle’s few eloquent words on Brexit, meanwhile, were widely reported in the British press. In France Emmanuel Macron won a healthy victory against Marine Le Pen—the populist tide seemed to be turning.

 

June saw the momentous events of the UK general election. When the dust settled in the morning, however, not so much seemed to have changed. Theresa May walked back into Downing Street with a speech that indicated that it was ‘business as usual.’ It left me wondering whether we were heading for political gridlock.

 

On 9th July French pioneer of noise music, Pierre Henry, died. He was one of those few composers able to exert an influence outside the field of contemporary art music. C:T talked to the founder of Idagio, Till Janczukowicz, about his new music-streaming app dedicated to classical music. A few days later there was controversy at the Last Night of the Proms, when Daniel Barenboim gave an address that appeared to be inspired by his opposition to Brexit. The reaction of the British press was febrile. By now Brexit seemed to be everywhere, including at the Tête à Tête Opera Festival.

At the beginning of August  Anne Midgette at the Washington Post wrote a piece that seemed to suggest that opera was doomed. I wondered what all the fuss was about. On 18th came the news that Donald Trump’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities had resigned en masse. In a typically Trumpian twist the White House claimed that they were going to disband it anyway.

The beginning of September brought the sad news that two renowned British composers, Derek Bourgeois and John Maxwell Geddes had died. Then East Midlands airport was given a roasting for suggesting that performers work for free. I wondered if it would have been quite so ferocious had they asked the same of composers. At the end of the month I was heartened to hear that an 82-year-old composer had made a sudden career break-though. It’s never too late…

 

On 2nd October we lost Swiss composer, Klaus Huber and then there was more Brexit gloom in October, with the announcement that the European Union Youth Orchestra was moving out of London. The shortlist for the British Composer Awards was announced at the end of the month. I was delighted when one of the judges invited me to the award ceremony in December. It felt like I was off to the Oscars.

 

We lost several fine musicians in November: the composers Jean-Jacques Werner and Ladislav Kubík and then the baritone Dmitry Hvorostovsky. Ghastly news also for the composer Philippe Manoury, who had 40 pages of drafts for a new string quartet stolen on a train between Strasbourg and Mannheim. Nico Muhly’s new opera opened in London on 18th, to mixed reviews.

 

After enjoying part of a Stockhausen weekend in Ghent I headed to London for the British Composer Awards on 6th. It was quite something to witness such an array of composing talent in one room. December also saw Theresa May finally able to move the Brexit negotiations onto phase two. Given the difficulty she has encountered so far, I think we can expect 2018 to be a rocky ride.



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14 Dec  

'The Silver Stars at Play' from Primae Facie Records features 23 world premiere carol recordings. At over 70 minutes it is a generous programme, with a cross-section of both significant and lesser-known mostly British composers. These include the likes of John McCabe, Peter Maxwell Davies, Sadie Harrison and Cheryl Frances-Hoad. Each work is about two to six minutes long. Most are performed without accompaniment. 

 

Writing Christmas music can, of course, be a tricky proposition for a contemporary composer—it’s not exactly a season that encourages innovation or self-expression. Happily the majority of the pieces retain a sense of individuality, regardless of the Christmas brief.

 

Several stand out, not all of them the big names. Paul Ayres’ Hodie Christus natus est provides an arresting and contrapuntally vigorous opening to the programme. It builds to a very satisfying climax. Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s This Time is Born a Child is an essay in how to do quiet simplicity, with enough harmonic individuality to avoid being a medieval pastiche. Andrew Cusworth’s Of a rose synge we has a ravishing Tavener-like simplicity that nevertheless takes some unexpected harmonic turns. Phillip Cooke’s Susanni has a ritualistic feel that builds convincingly on its dialogue between solo voices and choir. Perhaps my favourite was Sadie Harrison’s As-salāmu ‘alaykum Bethlehem, a riot of sound that bows least to the saccharine tendencies of the season. Even whilst pushing the harmonic envelope the result feels like a great shout of joy.

 

The recorded sound on the recording is excellent, the choral textures easy to separate even whilst the acoustic of St. Ann’s Church, Manchester gives a satisfying bloom to the whole. Those expecting polite and colourless performances of the sort one might expect to hear on Christmas Eve from King’s will be disappointed; the singing is full-blooded and pretty fruity at times. There are some problems here and there with blend and intonation. These are not deal-breakers, however, especially as the choir also comes with real strengths, not least its thrilling power at climaxes. Props too to director Elspeth Slorach for guiding the choir through so many diverse works with such evident stylistic understanding.

 

Good collections of contemporary Christmas music are surprisingly hard to come by, so 'The Silver Stars at Play' is a welcome addition to the discography. If you’re looking for the perfect contemporary music stocking-filler, here it is.



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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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