The Boston-based Walden Chamber Players have just released a tribute to Austrian composer Gerhard Schedl. It’s title, A Voice Gone Too Soon, is a reference to his tragic death aged 43: he shot himself in woods near his house in Eppstein after suffering a long period of depression.
The knowledge of Schedl’s end makes experiencing his haunting music all the more poignant. It often moves at slow tempi, with passages of expressive gentleness being juxtaposed with sudden outbursts that feel bitter or sardonic. His music also sings; there is a strong emphasis on achingly melancholic melody. These traits may or may not be related to Schedl’s difficulties in life, it is impossible to say. What is much more certain is that each of the four chamber works on offer here—a duet, two trios and a piano quintet—show exquisite craftsmanship. Schedl’s expert instrumental writing, his judgement of balance and effect, do not falter throughout the programme.
Happily, the searching qualities of the music are married to structural discipline, perhaps reflecting the composer’s Austro-German lineage; he admitted, for example, to be strongly influenced by Bach. Whilst tonality is not, per se, an organising force, there is the use of pivot notes to ground the texture and even to reference, at a level of remove, tonality. This is most apparent at the end of the String Trio where a pitch centre set up at the opening of the work and a surface motive unite in what feels like an echo of a traditional cadence. A Due makes use of similar devices as well as cyclic recurrence of musical material (the opening of the last movement, for example, references the beginning of the work). A Tre is based on a single motive, used throughout. In five movements the shape is less traditional than those used in the other works, though, in some respects, the two Adagio movements, separated by one marked Moderato, feel as if they might have been conceived as one and later separated. In any case the resulting structure is satisfyingly balanced.
Most poignant of all is the final work of the programme A Cinque. It ends with an Adagio of harrowing beauty, a simple descending idea on the piano set alongside ethereal interjections from the clarinet, violin, viola and cello. Eventually the piano figure seems to win over the other instruments and the music draws to an agonising but serene close. It is draining to listen to this and at once to think of the tragedy of Schedl’s end.
The Walden Chamber Players have done us a great service in recording this marvellous music, more so because they are both alive to its every nuance and completely in command of its exacting technical requirements. The recording is clean, immediate and well-balanced. Recommended.
The rest of this month’s releases
Naxos have released a new recording of early Benjamin Britten Chamber music with Matthew Jones on Viola and Violin and Annabel Thwaite on Piano. With the exception of his Lachrymae: Reflections on a Song of Dowland, all were written in the period between 1925 and 1937, three—Two Pieces for Violin and Piano; Etude, for Solo Viola; and Valse in B major (written at the age of just twelve)—being world première recordings. The Maxwell Davies series continues with the composer conducting the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in performances of his Strathclyde Concertos Nos. 7 (for double bass) and 8 (for bassoon) and A Spell for Green Corn, written to celebrate both the composer’s 60th and the SCO’s 21st birthdays. There is a recording of Philip Glass’s Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists in a transcription for wind ensemble, paired with the world première recording of Mohammed Fairouz’s Symphony No. 4 In the Shadow of No Towers. The University of Kansas Wind Ensemble under Paul W. Popiel perform both works. Finally on Naxos, and in time for Christmas, is a disc of carols by the ever-popular Bob Chilcott, performed by Commotio under Matthew Berry.
Around the turn of the month, NMC will launch 8 volumes of music garnered from the 2004-2008 Contemporary Voices scheme. You can read about this forthcoming project on their website. More details in a future post. They will also soon release both an audio CD and DVD of Elliott Carter’s 103rd Birthday Concert held in December 2011 in New York City. Preview extracts can be heard here.
John Tavener, who died yesterday aged 69, was one of contemporary music’s most remarkable figures: his ability, especially, to write works that connected with ordinary people was unsurpassed in the contemporary music world. Whilst to many this was a source of suspicion – the term ‘holy minimalist’, often applied to him by critics, was not one of endearment – there is little doubting that his was a distinct musical voice.
Born in 1944, Tavener began composing at Highgate School. Even at this time religion was a vital inspiration–one of his earliest compositions, written at the age of 15, was a setting of John Donne’s Holy Sonnets Spit in my face you Jewes. After studying with Lennox Berkeley at the Royal Academy, he rose to prominence with his cantata The Whale, premiered in 1969 by the London Sinfonietta in their inaugural concert. On attending the first performance, the Guardian critic Meirion Bowen remarked of the 24-year old composer: ‘to my mind, John Tavener is the discovery of the year. An extraordinarily gifted and imaginative composer.’ The work, especially because of its association with the Beatles (who were persuaded to release it on their Apple record label), led to Tavener becoming something of a cult figure in swinging sixties London.
Bowen had also wryly observed that Tavener was ‘one of the most colourful sights on the concert platform.’ Tavener’s distinctive looks – the tall wiry frame that lent him an aspect of ethereal delicacy – proved to be an outward sign of internal problems; he was a lifelong sufferer of a cardio-vascular condition known as Marfan Syndrome. His awareness of this in the 70s perhaps gave greater urgency to his spiritual searching. This was initially manifested in an interest in Catholic mysticism. His Ultimos Ritos (1972), for example, sets quotations from the Crucifixus of Bach’s B Minor Mass against poetry of St. John of the Cross, even the disposition of the forces – the choir is arranged in the form of a cross – reinforcing the religious message. There was also a large-scale opera, Thérèse, which examined the life of the French Saint, who died at the age of 24 in excruciating pain following a loss of faith. By the time of the work’s first performance in 1979, however, Tavener had already converted to the Russian Orthodox Church.
The mid to late 70s had proved to be a difficult period for the composer. The early success of The Whale had initially led to an ongoing relationship with Apple with the release of his Celtic Requiem and Nomine Jesu. However, during much of the latter period his music had lain unrecorded. His personal life too had been unhappy; he was badly affected by the failure of his brief marriage in 1974 to the Greek dancer Victoria Maragopoulou. Neither did the 1980s start auspiciously. In 1980, at the age of 36, he suffered a stroke that was to mark an intensification of his health problems. Creatively, however, this period saw the emergence of his mature compositional voice, resulting in a number of works remarkable for both their intense spirituality and their penetration into popular culture.
His 1982 setting of the Blake poem The Lamb, which contrasted mirrored intervals and simple harmonisations, won wide popularity and is probably his most frequently performed work. Subsequent compositions – Ikon of Light (1983), Orthodox Vigil Service (1984) and Panikhida (1986) – continued this trend, but it was The Protecting Veil (1988) that marked his re-emergence in mainstream popular culture. The recording of the work, a large-scale Maryan devotion for cello and string orchestra, quickly became a best-seller. Around this time the media increasingly portrayed him as a kind of spiritual guru, often photographed in quasi-religious dress and with Orthodox religious paraphernalia. It was an image that did little to win over his critics, and was something he later regretted, remarking: ‘They used to come with props and dress me up and I let it go. But I find it a bit offensive now, because those pictures suggest a cheap easy spirituality when it was actually hard. I feel I should have shut up about Orthodoxy and just got on with it.’
Tavener’s international popularity intensified in 1997 with the performance of his Song for Athene (1993) at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. There were also, however, more substantial projects in preparation. The Veil of the Temple (2002), for example, is a work of both cosmic length and sustained simplicity, the performance lasting seven hours. His Requiem (2007), at a more terse 30 minutes, is a moving multi-faith exploration of the theme of death. The work also, sadly, marked a sudden decline in the composer’s health. He suffered two heart attacks in 2007-8 and was unable to compose for several years.
One senses that the road to recovery was more than physical for the composer – that it had also led to a reappraisal in other areas. Partly this was expressed in regrets as to how his religiosity had been marketed to the detriment of his music. It is also significant that his illness had led him back to classical works that he had long eschewed. Of this potential new direction he said: ‘what I am writing is scaling down. It’s more intimate, more personal, much of it addressed to my family. Religion has become a more interior process.’ In one of his last interviews, cruelly billed as a 70th birthday tribute, he was full of plans for the future. Sadly, these will never be fulfilled. We are left, however, with a remarkable creative life to ponder and, not least, a canon of works that prove that contemporary music can connect with ordinary people in the most vital way.
Time to enjoy 2013’s last gasp of contemporary concerting before the festive season kicks in…
November sees the climax of the Britten centenary celebrations, with his birthday falling on 22nd of the month. There is much to enjoy.
Glyndebourne is touring his most ascetic of operas, The Rape of Lucretia, with performances in Woking (31st October) Norwich (8th November), Canterbury (15th), Milton Keynes (22nd) and Plymouth (6th). There will also be a semi-staged performance of Albert Herring on 23rd at the Barbican. Other substantial works include his Sinfonia da Requiem in Cardiff on 1st and in Nottingham on 20th; two performance of his War Requiem, one in the Albert Hall, London to mark Remembrance Day on 10th, the other in Usher Hall, Edinburgh on 15th; and his charming children’s opera Noye’s Fludde in Glasgow on 17th. As well as the aforementioned Albert Herring, his birthday weekend will be marked with several events: a Britten centenary concert of vocal works at Symphony Hall, Birmingham (22nd); a come-and-sing performance of Friday Afternoons at Jerwood Hall, London; and a centenary family concert at Snape Maltings on 23rd.
Amidst the Britten celebrations, there are also a number of concerts featuring the works of living composers. There is a day devoted to the music of Julian Anderson at Wigmore Hall, London and a concert of music for organ and electronics in Colchester on 2nd; the world première of Peter Maxwell Davies’ Ebb in Edinburgh with the the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in Edinburgh on 9th; two concerts of premières or recently-written music music in London on14th, one at The Forge, the other at BBC Maida Vale; Georg Freidrich Haas’s in vain at Huddersfield Town Hall on 16th; a concert devoted to American music at Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff on 19th; and Andrew Smith’s Norwegian Requiem at LSO St. Luke’s, London on 26th.
Outside the Europe there is the opportunity to hear Louis Andriessen’s Mysteriën on 3rd in Amsterdam; music by Johannes Maria Staud, Bernd Richard Deutsch and Peter Eötvös on 15th in Vienna; and a Wolfgand Rihm world première also in the city. Both of these last two feature as part of the Wien Modern festival which began last month but runs until 15th of November. Further details of the remaining concerts can be found here.
EDIT: Fool that I am, I missed one of the most important contemporary music events in this roundup. Happily, there's still time to organise your visit to the Huddersfiled Contemporary Music Festival, which runs from Friday 15th to Sunday 24th November. Full details are available here.
NMC’s new disk dedicated to the music of Philip Cashian spans some ten years of his output. It includes his Tableaux for small orchestra, Cello Concerto, Dark Flight for six cellos, The House of the Night for oboe and twelve solo strings and his Piano Concerto. I’ve only spent the morning dipping into it, so will limit myself to saying that this is exciting and brilliantly inventive music, well worth checking out. Extracts are available on the NMC website together with an interview with the composer. The complete disc is available on Spotify.
EMI have just released a new recording of Britten’s War Requiem, with Antonio Pappano conducting the Orchestra, Coro e Voci Bianche dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia with soloists Anna Netrebko, Ian Bostridge and Thomas Hampson. It’s a worthy and powerful addition to the catalogue, though I found the unfamiliar timbre of the Italian choir jarring in this most English of repertoire. It also faces stiff opposition, not least from Britten’s own recording and – my personal favourite – Richard Hickox with the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.
On Naxos there is a programme of flute music by Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks. It contains his Flute Concerto, Sonata for Flute and Alto Flute, Aria e Danza and Ainava ar putniem (Landscape with Birds) performed by Michael Faust, Patrick Gallois (flutes), Sheila Arnold (piano) and Sinfonia Finlandia. Also on Naxos, Jeremy Filsell’s Tomorrow Shall be my Dancing Day, Epitaph, If God Build Not the House and Windsor Service; and David Briggs’s Pange Lingua and Messe pour Saint-Sulpice receive world première recordings by the Vasari Singers conducted by Jeremy Backhouse. The composers accompany on the organ. Finally on Naxos, there is a new album containing John Cage’s A Book of Music for two prepared pianos, Suite for Toy Piano and Music for Amplified Toy Pianos performed by Xenia Pestova and Pascal Meyer.
Chandos, meanwhile, have released a new album of music by John Adams with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Peter Oundjian. It contains his Doctor Atomic Symphony, Short Ride in a Fast Machine and Harmonielehre. It’s also worth checking out Chandos's end of stock, better than half price, page; there are a number recordings of music by living composers to be found there, including by Michael Berkely, Jonathan Dove, James MacMillan and David Matthews. Also of interest to many will be a new release on DG of Boulez conducting the complete Mahler Symphonies. I am intimately familiar with his recording of Number 6 (‘the only sixth, despite the Pastoral’ as Berg said), included in this set. Boulez often divides opinion, of course, but I found it extremely exciting – not remotely ‘cold’ as he is so often characterised. The rest of the set should, therefore, be worthy of exploration.
‘The trumpet does no more stun you by its loudness, than a whisper teases you by its provoking inaudibility.’
So it proved this weekend at Arcomis’s extraordinary International Brass Event in Cardiff. This is, by no means, a complete review – I wasn’t able to attend the whole event – but I did manage to spend most of Saturday and the first half of Sunday at the festival, gobbling and binging on its many world-class concerts.
As a brass player I suppose I was inevitably going to be delighted at the prospect of hearing players of the likes of Tine Thing Helseth, Allen Vizzutti and David Childs all in one place. Nor did any of them disappoint. For me, however, it was Vizzutti who stood out. Not only does his playing exhibit astonishing mastery, he is also, it turns out, no mean composer either. Of the many pieces of his we heard, I was particularly struck by his Andante and Capriccio, a work that was refreshing in its lack of pretension: well-made music with beautiful melodies and luxurious textures and harmonies.
And amidst all the brass fireworks there was plenty of other new music to enjoy. A crack brass quintet from the London Sinfonietta tackled a technically exhausting programme of Berio, Birtwistle, Lutoslawski, Macmillan and Jackson. Byron Flucher stood out with a whimsical and well thought-out performance of Berio’s Sequenza V for solo trombone. I also enjoyed the three works for quintet: Lutoslawski’s Mini Overture, MacMillan’s Adam’s Rib and Jackson’s Two Haiku. Despite admiring the incredible control of the two trumpeters in Birtwistle’s The Silk House Tattoo, however, I remain puzzled by the work. Perhaps this is because it is Birtwistle at his most pared down, even the theatrical element reduced to a ritualistic marching of the trumpets round an imaginary circle. It all left me feeling a bit cold, wishing I could listen to one of his more luscious orchestral scores. The Sinfonietta concert was followed by a workshop given by players Alistair Mackie and Byron Flucher, entiled A Way into Berio. Aimed primarily at players it also provided penetrating analysis of Sequenzas V and X. Flucher’s demonstration was particularly revealing. Uninformed players come to this repertoire at their peril.
David Childs’ brilliant advocacy of the euphonium on Sunday morning was only let down by a programme that was, perhaps, a reminder to composers that this is an instrument that needs and deserves more repertoire. The world première of Mervyn Burtch’s Nocturne and Dance stood out, a tautly written work in his characteristically astringent style. Also on offer was Karl Jenkins’ Euphonium Concerto, written specifically for Childs. Often infectious and attractive it was, however, sometimes spoilt by taking itself too seriously, most notably in a badly misjudged section of multiphonics – an unnecessary nod to modernist extended techniques from a composer who prides himself in being above such things.
Throughout the concerts were interpolated a series of newly commissioned fanfares. I declare my interest here and say that one of these was written by me. Written in homage to anniversary composers Britten, Lutoslawski, Hindemith, Poulenc and Berio, they also provided musical clarion calls before and after concerts at St. David’s Hall (and, in one case, at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama). In addition to this there was a concert of new works for brass that resulted from an Arcomis call. For me this was the beating heart of the Brass Event. As we sat listening in a nightclub-like atmosphere, glass of wine in hand, to the varied and interesting newly written works, the whole purpose of the weekend became clear. In a sense all the high-profile concerts and workshops were a foil, a brilliantly subversive feint that enabled Arcomis to get across its core message: that new music matters and that, whatever your stylistic preference, there is a living composer who can provide you with music you can love. One can only hope that Arcomis is successful in its mission to connect people to the arts. And that we can have another festival soon. Please.
For more information about Arcomis see CT’s interview with its director Adrian Hull.
Following their success with the 2011 International Flute Event, Arcomis (Arts Commissioning) have followed-up with a festival dedicated to brass music. The Arcomis International Brass Event takes place from 10th–13th October in Cardiff. It offers an extraordinary range of big name performers including: David Pyatt (french horn); Tine Thing Helseth, Allen Vizzutti and Håkan Hardenberger (trumpet); Oren Marshal (tuba); David Childs (euphonium); the London Sinfonietta; BBC National Orchestra of Wales; and Mnozil Brass. Composers represented include Oliver Knussen, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Edvard Hagerup Bull, James Macmillan, Luciano Berio, Mervyn Burtch and Tobias Broström. There will also be a series of newly commissioned fanfares interpolated throughout the concert series as well as a large number of behind-the-scenes workshops.
Sound, Scotland’s festival of new music, takes place from 23rd October–23rd November in and around Aberdeen. It opens with a new work Framed Against the Sky by Brian Irvine. From 24th–27th October there will be an exploration of the world of microtonal music in collaboration with University of Aberdeen, including new works by Christopher Fox and Geoff Palme. The festival will also take a look at how sound and images interact in performances of Stephen Deazley’s ManHigh, Joby Burgess’s Powerplant and a sound tapestry by Leafcutter John.
In Italy the Venice Biennale 57th International Festival of Contemporary Music runs from 4th–13th October. There are premières of works by Sofia Gubaidulina, Evis Sammoutis, Rebecca Saunders, Andrea Portera, Claudio Ambrosini, Claudio Ambrosini, Kaija Saariaho, Giampaolo Coral, Raffaele Grimaldi, Raphaèle Biston, Ryo Dainobu, Pasquale Corrado, Eric Maestri, Zad Moultaka and many others. There is also a very wide range of more established contemporary music on offer. The full programme is available here.
In Madrid, finally, the 13th Festival Internacional de Música Contemporánea is already underway, but there remains much to hear before its conclusion on 27th October. There are world premières from David del Puerto, Leonardo Balada, Pascal Gaigne, Jesús Torres, Mario Carro, Juan Manuel Ritz, Eduardo Soutullo and Cruz López de Rego as well as music from composers such as Cage, Stockhausen, Ligeti, Gorecki, Bryars and Britten. For the first time, each concert will also be prefaced or finished with seminar discussions with composers and/or musicians.
Do you have a piece of music languishing in a bottom drawer? You are rightly convinced of its merits, but do not have the financial means to get it performed?
When Harry Whalley, an Edinburgh based composer, found himself in this all too familiar predicament, instead of succumbing to bottom drawer desperation he launched his piece Entangled Music on Kickstarter, the website that aims to crowd-fund worthy projects. Digging around on the website I have discovered a whole host of other similar projects being funded in this manner: there is Meditation on ‘Haec Dies’ by Joseph Fear, a CD recording project of new music for solo piano on the theme ‘American Vernacular’, a series of vocal pieces by Daniel Knaggs, and many others. In fact, of all the creative categories on Kickstarter in 2012, music was the most successful, with a total of 5,067 receiving full funding.
The successful projects all seem to have something in common. They make reasonable financial demands and pledges can be as small as £1 (or $1 in the States). Harry, for example is asking for just £2,048. At the time of writing, with 13 days to go, he is already at £1,722. It is much the same with the other projects I have listed.
I find all this incredibly heartening. Who said that new music can’t survive in the marketplace? As such, perhaps it is time for all of us to pay Kickstarter a visit and start pledging towards whatever catches our eye. And also time for us all to show some self-belief, extract those masterpieces from their dusty dwelling-places and make appeals on behalf of our own music.
I often write about Naxos and, more obviously (it’s dedicated to contemporary music, after all), NMC in these roundups. Métier, now absorbed by Divine Art Recordings Group, is another label that is a treasure trove for new music lovers. Their most recent contemporary music releases are: Michael Finnissy’s Unknown Ground, James Weeks’ TIDE and Carson Cooman’s Rising at Dawn. I have listened to the first two of these.
I met Michael Finnissy at an event dedicated to his music at Cardiff University several years ago. He gave a talk to us that was quite unlike those that other visitors had given: it was often personal, sometimes bitter, but above all fascinating, revealing and inspiring. The concert that evening was unforgettable, especially for the chance to hear live his innocuous sounding English Country Tunes for solo piano, at the end of which the pianist is almost crucified on the keyboard with each hand playing virtuosically at extreme ranges. What was interesting from the other works in the concert, however, was that Finnissy’s music moves within a range: not everything is hard and angry. That is very much true of Metier’s new disc in their series dedicated to the composer.
It contains three première recordings: Kritik der Urteilskraft, Unknown Ground and A propos de Nice. Kritik de Urteilskraft is all restraint and fabulously beautiful long textures before opening out into more Webernesque pointillism. This never, however, entirely gives way to Finsissy’s preference for expressive melody. Unknown Ground is a moving setting of the words of various Aids sufferers. It is simply set, the emphasis always on the text, an approach that reinforces its emotionally charged content. A propos de Nice provides an often-jaunty contrast to the other two pieces, though it is interspersed with more contemplative passages that recall Kritik de Urteilskraft. The language everywhere is uncompromising, in spite of the occasional glimpses of English pastoralism. It is not easy music to get to know, but it is worth the effort. For those unfamiliar with his language, the disc is a good place to start.
James Weeks’s TIDE, is actually a melding together of three works, a ‘composite’ composition. These are Burnham Air for solo oboe d’amore, Tide (lower case) for solo cello and Sky for solo clarinet. These are presented apart on the second disc in the collection, together – not exactly at the same time since they are all different lengths – on the first.
Heard alone, Sky is a work of transcendental calm, the clarinet playing in lugubrious long counterpoints with a six-track recording of itself. The slightest event takes on enormous significance, the sound of the player’s breath, the beating sounds created by detuning. Burnham Air, by contrast, is a plaintive work of curling scales and arpeggios, key-rattles and wailing detuning. It works its way into a strangely passive but extremely unsettling frenzy. Tide sits in between the feverish machinations of Burnham Air and the cosmic breadth of Sky. It is, perhaps, the least interesting of the three when played alone; the ceaseless glissandi and droning feel a little unvaried.
The gradual unfolding of these three planes in the composite work TIDE feels almost mystical in its inevitability, the whole becoming greater than the already substantial sum of its parts. Especially striking, when the planes start to interact, are the spectral effects created by the shifts in tuning. It feels like Weeks is playing with the waveform essence of music, manipulating things at their very root. The result is music that feels original but in some way also primeval. There is a lot going on, and I can’t pretend to understand it all, let alone describe it in words. I recommend taking half an hour to make up your own mind, especially if you have Spotify, where Métier release all their recordings.
Naxos has four new albums of contemporary music on offer. The first contains John Rutter’s Suite Antique, Philip Glass’s Concerto for Harpsichord and Chamber Orchestra and Jean Françaix’s Concerto pour Clavecin et Ensemble Instrumental. In the American Classics series there is a recording of John Knowles Paine’s As You Like It Overture, The Tempest and Symphony No. 1. The Maxwell Davies series also continues with Strathclyde Concertos Nos 5 (for violin and viola) and 6 (for flute). The last consists of world première recordings of John Corigliano’s Conjurer, a concerto for percussion and strings, and Vocalise for soprano and electronics.
Whilst chatting to a friend recently he confessed to ‘centenary fatigue’. It wasn’t, he said, that he was bored with hearing music by Benjamin Britten. He did feel, however, that spending an entire year playing music by a composer whose work is often played anyway was a wasted opportunity. He extended that argument, though less pointedly, to Lutosławski (who, in the UK at least, has received less attention). Why don’t we, he suggested, explore music by centenarians whose music is less often played?
Inevitably this set me wondering whom these other centenarians might be, so I decided to have a bit of a dig around. Whilst I found many, only a handful had a discography big enough for me to construct what I was after: an alternative centenary celebration that didn’t feature the big two. So here’s my top seven, in no particular order. If you click on the name of the composer you can learn a bit more about them, the links on pieces will take you to relevant recordings on Spotify. If you have an account you can participate in this alternative celebration right away. If not, you will see some album information, which will help you track down recordings. Enjoy!
Jerome Moross (1913–1983)
Born in New York, Moross who was a lifelong friend of Bernard Herrmann, with whom he shared an interest in writing for film and television. His best known film scores include The Big Country (1958), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1960) and The Cardinal (1963). He also wrote concert works – including a symphony, a sonata for piano and a string quartet – and orchestrated for other composers, including Aaron Copland and Hugo Friedhofer.
Henry Brant (1913–2008)
A Canadian-born American composer who developed the idea of spatial music, in which the location of instruments and singers is a compositional element. Whilst his larger works, such as Meteor Farm (1982), often include unusual instrumental combinations, he also experimented with homogenous instrumental timbres, as in Orbits for 80 trombones, organ and voice; Ghosts and Gargoyles for 9 flutes; and Angels and Devils for 11 flutes.
Alvin Etler (1913–1973)
Another American composer. His compositional style was inspired by Bartók and Copland as well as by some aspects of jazz. His best-known works are for wind (Etler, himself, was an oboe player), including his Quintet for Brass Instruments and Fragments for woodwind quartet.
George Lloyd (1913–1998)
A British composer relatively well-known on these shores, but less so elsewhere. His style was staunchly conservative, which tended to divide opinion, even if few doubted his orchestral mastery. He is best known for his twelve symphonies and a number of concertos. His final work was his Requiem, completed three weeks before he died at the age of 85.
Maurice Ohana (1913 –1992)
An Anglo-French composer with a penchant for microtonality. This trait may have been influenced by his interest in Mediterranean folk music, especially Andalusican cante jondo. It is evident in such works as Si le jour paraît for ten-string guitar and Tombeau de Claude Debussy. A good starting place for getting to know his dense style is on Erato’s Ohana: The Collected Works.
Constantin Silvestri (1913–1969)
A Romanian musician whose work as a conductor tends to obscure his significant output as a composer: he wote over forty orchestral, chamber and vocal pieces. One of his best known is his early Three Pieces for Strings. To learn more about him, it is worth reading the interview with Anda Anastasescu on CT, a Romanian pianist who has done much to champion his work.
Norman Dello Joio (1913–2008)
An American composer with a conservative outlook. He studied with Bernard Wagenaar at the Julliard School and later with Paul Hindemith. Within the wind band world he is quite well known, especially for his frequently performed Fantasies on a Theme by Haydn. Other important works include Meditations on Ecclesiastes, for which he won a Pullitzer Prize for Music, and his Variations, Chaconne and Finale.
I start with a reminder that, as well as reading this monthly summary of upcoming contemporary music events, readers should also check CT’s concert diary, to which all members are free to contribute. As usual, I’ve added a number of concerts that I have found hither and thither to this list.
A few especially caught my eye. The first, Total Immersion: The Rite of Spring 1913 is a day-long event to mark 100 years since the first performance of Le Sacre. It includes a showing of the films Ballet Russes and Riot at the Rite, a talk about the work and a family introduction to the evening concert that, of course, includes a performance of Stravinsky’s masterpiece. In Paris on 27th September IRCAM are marking the untimely death of Jonathan Harvey with a tribute concert that contains his Two Interludes and a scene from Wagner Dream as well as music by Webern, Bernd Zimmerman and Matthias Pintscher. The Barbican, finally are hosting the UK première of Kimmo Pohjonen and Samuli Kosminen’s Uniko. With its ‘lighting effects, surround sound and projections’ this is likely to be an unforgettable experience.
There are several important festivals in September. Ultima, the Oslo Contemporary Music Festival runs from 5th–14th. Scandanavia’s largest contemporary music festival, the theme this year is ‘Off-Road’, highlighting those who find alternative ways to create musical expression. Composers represented include Harry Partch, Conlon Nancarrow, Alvin Lucier and Frank Zappa. Alongside the festival runs Ultima Academy, an international symposium that includes lectures, workshops and debates about contemporary music.
The Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music runs from 20th–28th September. This year the focus is very much on new works, with the majority being either very recently or newly composed. Having said this, it also will focus on three important Polish anniversary composers: Witold Lutosławski (100th) and Henryk Górecki and Krzysztof Penderecki (80th). Performances will include Lutosławski’s Piano Concerto and Symphony No. 3, all three of Gorecki’s String Quartets and Penderecki’s St. Luke Passion.
In the UK, finally, the North Wales International Music Festival (20th – 28th September) will include performances of Britten’s Noye’s Fludde, vocal music by Paul Mealor and a rare chance, on the final day, to hear William Mathias’s Violin Concerto.
August sees another round of centenary releases, many of which revisit older recordings, either in the form of new collections or remasters.
Decca’s seminal 1963 recording of Britten’s War Requiem has been rereleased in a new version that uses the original tapes and early LP pressings. They have somehow managed to squeeze the entire War Requiem onto one CD or, if you have the equipment, a 24bit Blue-Ray disc. The second disc contains recordings of the composer in rehearsal, a historical document that will interest many. EMI have released a six CD collection of vocal works by Britten that includes performances, some of which date back to the 70s, of all of his orchestral song cycles: Les Illuminations, Our Hunting Fathers, Serenade, Nocturne, Phaedra and the astonishingly precocious Quatre Chansons Français, written when the composer was just fourteen. It also includes a number of folksongs, sonnets and canticles. On Signum Classics, meanwhile, there is a live recording of the Aldeburgh centenary production of Peter Grimes, featuring Alan Oke as Grimes, Giselle Allen as Ellen Orford, the Chorus of Opera North and Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Britten-Pears Orchestra conducted by Steuart Bedford.
Lutosławski has, somewhat unjustly, received rather less attention than Britten this year. Naxos, however, have been steadily putting this right with a series of recordings, some of which I have commented upon in earlier roundups. They have now bundled these into a 10 CD box set. It includes many of his major works: the four symphonies, Jeux Venitiens, Chain I, II and III and the Piano and Cello Concertos. Whilst the majority of these are performed by the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra under Antoni Witt, the tenth ‘bonus’ disc reveals an important historical document worth the purchase price of the collection by itself: the final recording of Lutosławski in concert, here directing his Partita, Interlude, Chains I and II I and Chantefleurs et Chantefables.
Not a centenary composer, but one whose death last year makes him worthy of tribute, Hans Werne Henze is the subject of a new 16 CD boxed set featuring the complete recordings made by Deutsche Grammophon. As such, it is not a definitive collection; out of the ten symphonies by the composer, for example, it contains only numbers 1–6. There are, however, a number of other important works, notably his opera The Young Lord and his requiem for Che Guevara The Raft of Medusa.
If you would like a sanitised view of 20th century music, look no further than Decca’s new 3CD The Essential 20th Century. It contains some curious choices. Whilst I wouldn’t quibble with such works as Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, Stravinsky’s Sacre or Ives’ 3 Places in New England I do wonder why they would include Eric Coates Dam Busters or John Williams’ Theme from Schindler’s List. I like both works but would call neither ‘20th Century Classics’. There is the occasional nod towards the more challenging, but even this can feel like tokenism. Schoenberg, for example, is represented by his 1897 String Quartet in D major, not even written in the twentieth century and not remotely characteristic of his oeuvre. Having said this, however, there’s enough meat amongst the lollipops to perhaps make this a useful introduction to those whose listening habits struggle to pass 1900. A present for sceptical friends and relatives, perhaps?
NMC this month will release a new disc of chamber music by Alexander Goehr. It features his Since Brass, Nor Stone for percussion and string quartet, …around Stravinsky (based upon the early Pastorale), Quintet for clarinet and strings, manere (based upon a medieval plainchant) and Large Siciliano. As sometimes happens on NMC, the disc has appeared on the website but the audio clips are not yet playable. This will change shortly. Hyperion, finally, has a new disc featuring the choral music of Judith Bingham, performed by Wells Cathedral Choir, Jonathan Vaughn on the organ and conducted by Matthew Owens. Highlights from the disc are available on the website and you are can download one track, Ave verum corpus, for free.
Concert centres hosting summer festivals are alive with activity this month. Others, such as Wigmore Hall (here’s their August itinerary, which you can compare with a normal month, here), are taking a holiday break.
I mentioned ten festivals at the beginning of July, five of which – the BBC Proms, Schlesswig Holstein, Bregenz, Salzburg and La Roque D’Anthéron – continue into August and in some cases beyond. They are all, therefore, worth looking into again. There are also several other festivals that begin in August:
Tête à Tête, the only opera festival in the world that consists entirely of new works, gets going tomorrow. Each evening at the Festival typically features three longer pieces and a couple of shorter works. There is also the chance to go to free ‘Lite Bite’ unticketed concerts where works of up-and-coming composers are featured. This year these are: Matt Rogers’ Recurrent, Will Handysides’ Of My Daughter’s Prayer, John Webb’s Cat-Astrophe and – a much-respected Cardiff colleague of mine – Fleur de Bray’s Long Lankin.
The Edinburgh Festival (9th August–1st August) offers a wide range of cultural events, as well as some concerts that feature new music. On 10th August, for example, there is the chance to hear the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra perform Varèse’s Intégrales Amériques and Berio’s Sinfonia. Philip Glass will also be present at the Festival, performing in a tribute to the work of the great Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg on 13th. A summary of all the concerts in the festival is available here.
Taking inspiration from the 100th anniversary of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Primptemps, the Lucerne Summer Festival's (16th August–15th September) theme is ‘Revolution’. The focus will be on composers, new and old, who initiated radical innovation and whose music responded to political, social and cultural revolutions. Composers include Schoenberg, Shotakovich, Nono, Lachermann, Stravinsky and Israeli composer-in-residence Chaya Czernowin.
Whilst the beautiful venue at Grafenegg, Austria, offers concerts throughout the summer, it also has its own festival, which this year runs from 16th August–8th September. Of chief interest to readers here is a number of performances of music by Australian composer Brett Dean, who will also be in-residence. Works of his on offer include: Testament, Amphitheatre and Komorav’s Fall for orchestra and his Concerto for Viola and Orchestra. On 18th August there will also be the chance to see Dean interact with young composers in the final part of a workshop project. The festival programme can be found here.
The Presteigne Festival runs from 21st – 27th August on the Powys/Herefordshire border. There will be the chance to hear Britten’s Curlew River played in a double-bill with a new three-act chamber opera by Sally Beamish based upon the biblical story of Hagar and Abraham. Gabriel Jackson is composer-in-residence and will be represented by a number of chamber and choral works, a new piece for string quartet and another chance to hear his Piano Concerto, commissioned by the Festival a few years ago. There will also be premières from Thomas Hyde, David Matthews and Robert Peate.
Today, I have been trying to think of pieces of music that might be appropriate for the celebration of a royal baby. The Cunning Little Vixen, perhaps, with its story of birth and renewal. The only other opera with a baby that comes to mind – also by Janáček – is Jenůfa, but not even an ardent republican would find a story about infanticide very appropriate. There must be others. Perhaps Wills and Kate should commission a new work from a living composer. That would be a challenging brief.
July CD Roundup
Chandos continues to celebrate the Britten centenary with a new disc featuring Howard Shelly performing his Concerto for Piano and Tasmin Little the Concerto for Violin accompanied by the BBC Philharmonic under Edward Gardner. The Piano Concerto is of particular interest since it also includes a recording of the original third movement of the work before it was revised in 1945. A search for Peter Maxwell Davies at Naxos now reveals three pages of albums that are dedicated to or contain his music, many conducted by the composer himself. This important work continues this month with a new recording of his Strathclyde Concertos Nos. 3 and 4 with Robert Cook (French horn), Peter Franks (trumpet), Lewis Morrison (clarinet) accompanied by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under the baton of the composer. Also on Naxos is a recording of Salvador Brotons Symphony No. 5, Oboe Concerto and 4 Pieces with the Orquesta Simfònica de Balears conducted by the composer. There are, finally, two more complete editions this month. The first, released by DG, features the music of Messiaen and comes in on 32 CDs for the modest price of £82.83 (Amazon). The second, not strictly relevant here but catching my eye nevertheless, is the release of the already extant Teldec Complete Bach Edition in a new format: a 32GB USB stick. You can pick this up for a paltry £136.20 at Amazon. Take my money…
Sound and Music are currently running calls for three Embedded projects. The deadline – 30th July – is fast approaching. The first is from The Opera Group, who are offering the opportunity for two composers to spend 18 months in residence with them. You don’t have to have had any experience of writing opera to apply. The second is from the Somerset House Trust. The successful applicant will be given the chance create works in response to the ‘unique spaces’ in the building. Finally, the University of Huddersfield is offering the opportunity for a composer to create one or more new works that engage with objects in the British Music Collection. More details are available on the Sound and Music website.
The BBC Proms – Looking Ahead
A heads up for interesting concerts at the BBC Proms over the last few days of July. Thursday 25th sees the world première of John McCabe’s Joybox in a concert of works inspired by or written for dance. McCabe’s music can be colourful and very direct when he’s in the mood (as, for example, in his Les martinet noirs), so I’ve feeling we’ll be in for a treat. Monday 29th sees the UK première of Colin Matthews’ mercurial Turning Point, a work actually written some seven years ago – it is curious that it has taken so long to make its way to our shores. For something different on the same day, check out Naturally 7’s late night Prom. I freely admit they are not my cup of tea, but their R&B a capella beatboxing is, nevertheless, highly engaging. The late night Prom on 31st also looks interesting, with performances of Frank Zappa’s drolly counter-cultural The Adventures of Greggery Peccary, a performance of Nancarrow’s Study for Player Piano No. 7 and the UK première of Philip Glass’s Symphony No. 10.
It’s fashionable to knock Karl Jenkins. Some might say that it is even inappropriate for me to blog here about him. The truth is, however, that his music provokes valid questions about the place of contemporary music in our society. He is one of the few living composers who make a living out of writing concert music away from the support structures of arts bodies. For that alone he should demand respect.
In the world of record labels successful music equals commercial music. Measuring the worth of a piece of music is not, however, as simple as this, as we all know. A piece of music may only be readily understood and enjoyed by a few people, but that does not mean it is not good music. But, in my opinion, neither should pleasing a vocal claque by being esoteric be seen as a sign of success either. I’m not going to open up the distinctly tricky subject of ‘high’ versus ‘low’ art here. That’s a subject for university lecture theatres and learned tomes on musical philosophy (try Roger Scruton’s excellent Understanding Music for example). Jenkins himself is rather pleasingly open-minded on the issue of style: ‘"I firmly believe that the future of music lies in a plurality of styles, each composer and each listener true to themselves and to the music that moves them; that expresses our emotions and the world we live in today.” That presupposes a rejection of schools of composition, prescribed and proscribed methods of writing. Whilst such schools have undoubtedly created great art they also have had the unfortunate side effect of side-lining composers who didn’t fit in with their manifestos. Think of Boulez’s rejection of almost anyone who didn’t agree with him. Ultimately we are left with the music, which must be judged in its own right.
I like some of Jenkins’ music. It’s not at all ironic that this most commercial of composers spent much of his early life composing commercials. This gives him an enormous facility for connecting with listeners quickly and directly. I would go so far as to say that if you are unmoved by listening to his extraordinarily catchy Adiemus then probably music is not for you. It gets under your skin. It is music that sets out to provoke an immediate and physical response. It succeeds. In this way it’s not much different from, say, the opening Responsorium from Monteverdi’s Vespers. You won’t find many commentators on high art knock that particular work. The problems, for me, set in when he attempts to write works of greater emotional depth.
The simplicity of the opening of the Monteverdi is, of course, the prelude to a work of extraordinary depth and compositional mastery. When Jenkins tries to tackle something similar, things tend to descend into pastiche and cloying sentimentality. His The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace is a classic example of this. Given his subject matter, his opening treatment of the old tune L’homme armé is embarrassingly anodyne and compositionally not very imaginative. There is a successful pastiche of Palestrina in the Kyrie, but it feels stylistically wrong alongside everything else, not least the inexplicable Muslim call to prayer that precedes it (David Fanshawe was much better at incorporating this sort of thing). It goes on like this. Not strictly part of the work, the album of the Mass ends with a setting of Laurence Binyon’s For the Fallen, a frighteningly saccharine work full of snippets of the Last Post and a voice over of the second stanza of the poem.
Given all this I was quite glad this month to see Jenkins return to his Adiemus project with the disc Adiemus Colores. As Jenkins himself has described it, it is kind of Adiemus meets Latin America. Jenkins’ fascination with the area comes through Afro-Cuban jazz, the music of Antônio Carlos Jobin and Àstor Piazzolla and his involvement with jazz-fusion band Nucleus. As a Welshman he is also drawn to this part of the world by the historical curiosity of there being a Welsh-speaking settlement in Patagonia, Argentina. Each section of the thirteen-movement work is named after a colour, the music abstractly reflecting that colour. The music itself is full of Latin American pastiche: curling and moody trumpet solos, smoochy strings, throaty vocals and, of course, Latin rhythms. This is no bad thing; the style helps to draw the whole thing together. Jenkins also injects it with plenty of toe-tapping energy. There’s nothing that quite approaches the goose bump-inducing original Adiemus track, but what we’re left with is perfectly attractive well-made music. It doesn’t challenge but it certainly entertains.
Jenkins makes much of being true to oneself as a composer. Compared to the mishmash that was The Armed Man he achieves this here. He should, perhaps, remember this next time he embarks on one of his more profound utterances.
Manchester International Festival 4–21st July
The biennial festival consists of dance, theatre, panel discussions and even an urban farm project. There are also some contemporary music events including, on 7th July, an evening of new and rarely performed work by John Tavener. The full brochure is available here and there is also a handy page on the festival website where you can see a list of events for which tickets are still available.
Festival ‘Aix en Provence 4th–27th July
This year’s festival in Aix-en-Provence, Southern France, includes the world première of Vasco Mendonça’s opera The House Taken Over on 6th, 8th, 11th, 13th, 16th and 17th July, a concert of contemporary music on 13th July and other concerts that include music by Schulhoff, Bartók, Ligeti and Janáček.
Buxton Festival 5th–21st July
Billed as ‘A happy marriage of opera, music and books’, the festival includes performances of Sacred and Profane, The Prodigal Son and The Burning Fiery Furnace by Britten and The Killing Flower by Salvatore Sciarrino and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies. The full brochure is available here, with a quick summary, including current ticket availability, here.
Gümüslük International Classical Music Festival 5th July–7th September
Heading further afield, the Gümüslük Festival near Bodrum in Turkey holds intermittent concerts throughout the summer months. A summary is available here with a link to more detailed information at the bottom of the page. Contemporary comopsers represented include Philip Glass, Pekka Pohjola, Pat Metheny and Györgi Ligeti.
Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival 6th July – 25th August
Held in Northern Germany, this festival totals 118 concerts, including three in the countryside and a children’s music festival. The programme is not very easy to search by composer, but some digging around has revealed music by Heino Eller, Erikki-Sven Tüür, Peteris Vasks, Tönu Körvits, Sofia Gubaidulina, Henri Bourtayre, Wilhelm Kaiser-Lindemann and Veljo Tormis. If you are in the area or planning a trip there it is well worth investigating further.
BBC Proms 12th July–7th September
This year’s Proms features commissions for Julian Anderson, Diana Burrell, Anna Clyne, Edward Cowie, Tansy Davies, David Matthews, John McCabe and John Woolwich while the world premiere of Tom Adès’s Totentanz is given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra on 17th July. The first night opener will be the first performance of Julian Anderson’s Harmony. A full list of composers can be found here.
highSCORE Contemporary Music Festival and Master Classes 15th–27th July
The highSCORE Festival in Pavia, Northern Italy offers a venue for emerging composers to develop their craft and to promote it to audiences. There are some major figures attending, including guests of honour Louis Andriessen and Martin Bresnik. Frustratingly, the concerts link seems currently only to lead to a gallery of photos. You can contact the artistic director Giovanni Albini, however, on this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bregenzer Festspiele 17th July–18th August
The most notable contemporary music event this year is the world première of Ben Frost’s music theatre adaptation of the late lamented Iain Banks’ chilling The Wasp Factory. Set for three performers, string quartet and electronics to a text adapted by David Pountney, it takes place on 1st August.
Salzburg Festival 19th July–1st September
The festival’s wide-ranging programme of opera, drama and concert music can be viewed here. As well as finding works of interest embedded in concerts throughout, there are ten events, almost like a festival within a festival, labelled ‘Salzburg Contemporary’. These include works by Tōru Takemitsu, Toshio Hosokawa, George Benjamin, Harrison Birtwistle, Isang Yun, Dai Fujikura, Maki Ishii and Friedrich Cerha.
Festival International de Piano 20th July–20th August
The festival, held in La Roque d’Anthéron near Marseille in Southern France, is dedicated entirely to piano repertoire. Much of the programme concentrates on pre-twentieth century repertoire, but dig a little deeper and you will also find some Ligeti, Stravinsky and a Jazz concert on offer.
From my teens until my twenties I was an avid collector of CDs. A few of my friends in school were the same. Hardly a week would go by without one of us bringing in a new acquisition, usually from the mainstream classical repertoire. We would pore over every detail of the work and be witheringly critical of performances that failed to use ‘authentic’ performance practices. As my interest in contemporary music grew I later added many twentieth and twenty-first century works to my collection. I have some 300 CDs, neatly laid out on shelves in my living room. I hardly ever touch them.
CDs were consumers’ first experience of purely digital music production. Only those marked with the holy trinity of DDD (digitally recorded, digitally mixed, digitally transferred) were good enough for me. I loved the shine of them, the quality of the sound and, of course, the music itself. Then, along came iTunes, Spotify and the rest of it. Downloads did away with my disks. My CDs gathered dust; it always seemed easier to look up a piece on Spotify, even if it was not quite the recording I would have bought. I never bothered ripping my CDs to iTunes because, as an iPhone user with a paltry 32GB, I could not have transferred all of my music onto it. This last few weeks, however, I have been breathing new life into my CD collection with Apple’s iTunes Match.
iTunes Match has been around since the end of 2011. For £21.99 a year you can upload your entire music collection into the cloud. What is rather clever is that, when you rip a CD to iTunes on your computer, iTunes can work out what it is and, rather than uploading the entire CD, it identifies the album in the iTunes catalogue and makes it available across all of your devices. This also means that if you ripped a CD to a low bit rate file, perhaps to save hard drive space, iTunes can identify the album and make it available to you in the full 256 kbps from the cloud.
The service has come in for criticism and, I must admit, the process of ripping CDs, cleaning up the information and finding cover art is tedious (the program TuneUp, makes things rather easier, however). The process of matching is also not as smooth as it should be; I think more than half of my tracks have actually been manually uploaded. But once the music is in the cloud it is great. I can now listen to the hundreds of disks I lovingly collected wherever I am and without it using up valuable disk space. I am now reengaging with my CD library in a big way. Also, in case you think I am being typically Mac-centric, you can get similar services with Amazon Cloud Player and Google Play. If you’re not sure which is for you, arstechnica.com have written a useful comparison of the three.
And so to this month’s CD releases or digital downloads, whatever’s your poison.
Decca doesn’t appear to have made new recordings this month, but, based around its extensive catalogue of works by Britten, conducted by Britten, it has released the first ever complete survey of the composer’s oeuvre to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth. The collection comes in at 65 CDs and also features films of the composer at work. It is available for £149.99 on Amazon which, given the outstanding pedigree of many of the recordings, is a bargain.
Hyperion has released a generous collection of choral works by James MacMillan. Central to the disk is his Tenebrae Responsories, a dramatic a capella work whose wide influences include the music of Renaissance masters such as Gesualdo and the chromatic language of Wagner. It is contrasted with more jubilant works, including Tu es Petrus, Summae Trinitati and Ecce sacerdos magnues, for which the choir is joined by London Brass. Also on Hyperion is a complete survey of Stravinsky’s music for piano and orchestra. Whilst this only amounts to six pieces, it makes an interesting programme, taking in as it does such varied pieces as the Neoclassical Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments (1923-4) and his much later rotationally serial Movements (1959).
Naxos, finally, have issued three new recital programmes. The first is an isoteric-sounding album of twentieth century Italian clarinet solos performed by Sergio Bosi. It contains works by Berio, Bettinelli, Bucchi, Dionisi and Gabucci. The second is of twenty-first century Spanish guitar works. The first of a projected series, it includes music by Brotons, Puerto, Morales-Caso, Cruz de Castro and Balada. Finally, there is a disk of Polish violin music, which includes Gorecki’s Little Fantasia and Lutosławski’s Recitativo et Arioso.
As it celebrates it sixtieth anniversary Christian Morris talks to Artistic Director John Woolrich about the past, present and future of the Dartington International Summer School.
John Woolrich - photo by Kate Mount
Tell us a little about the history of the Summer School and especially how it came to be founded.
It started in the late 40s. It was part of the desire to get Britain moving again after the Second World War combined with other cultural factors such as the invention of the Arts Council. What happened was that Artur Schnabel, an Austrian pianist, was at the Edinburgh Festival - it may have been the first - and he said "Great. Britain's got a major international music festival, now what it needs is an international summer school where the audience can be helped to understand about music and you can have masterclasses and all of that kind of thing." He also said he knew the man who could run it, William Glock, who had been a pupil of Schnabel. Glock had been the Observer Music Critic and would go on to be the Controller of the Third Programme, Controller of the Proms and so forth. Glock started it at Bryanston public school, where he ran it for three or four years before moving to Dartington Hall.
At Dartington there was this extraordinary couple, an American called Dorothy Elmhirst, who was fantastically wealthy and her husband Leonard, who was English. They were interested in experimentation in agriculture and education in the arts so it was the perfect home for a summer school. The idea was to get some of the greatest names from Europe and America to Britain because Britain, because of the War, had been isolated. It was to try to open up connections. So very quickly Glock got people like Hindemith, Enescu and Menuhin to teach in this place in remote Devon. Glock ran the Summer School into the late seventies, for 25 or 26 years. He got incredible people to come: in three or four years in the sixties, for example, Barenboim, Brendel and Ashkenazy came to Dartington and Fischer-Dieskau gave his first concert in Britain there. The composition teachers were extraordinary too: he got everyone except Messiaen and Boulez. And Stravinsky came in 1957. So at a time when you wouldn't have got within 15 feet of Stravinsky in New York or Los Angeles you could have a cup of tea with him in Devon. He was there for two weeks. Berio, Maderna and Nono taught for three consecutive years in the early sixties. And so on. The unique thing that Glock invented was the mixture of amateurs and extraordinary students such as, for example, Tom Adès.
>> Click here to read the rest of the interview
The 66th Aldeburgh Festival runs from 7th–23rd June. It celebrates the composer’s 100th birthday year with performances of Peter Grimes in the location that inspired it and The Church Parables in their original venue; an insight into Aldeburgh’s Friday Afternoons singing project highlighting Britten’s work with children and amateurs; and an inspired by Britten series showcasing the influence of the composer through 20 commissions across different musical genres and art-forms. Composers whose works are to receive premières include: Judith Weir, Thea Musgrave, Julian Anderson, Harrison Birtwistle, Charlotte Bray, Magnus Lindberg, Wolfgang Rihm and the much missed Jonathan Harvey and Elliott Carter.
The St. Magnus International Festival (20th – 28th June) sees a celebration of pioneers and explorers as well as themes of fairytales, folk tales, myths and legends. It will also celebrate the life of John Rae, the Orcadian doctor turned explorer who joined the Hudson’s Bay Company in Canada and then went on to survey the Northwest Passage. The Hebrides Ensemble is in residence throughout, working with the Composers’ Course towards a concert of new works on 26th June (concert 34). Other premières include: the collaborative Long Strides, a dramatic work recreating episodes from John Rae’s life; Maxwell Davies’ Oboe Quartet; as yet untitled works by Dan Stern, Alasdair Nicolson, Elisabeth Cowe and Fiona Rutherford; and Christopher Gough’s Durham Scenes.
In Europe the Bayerische Staatsoperoper Festival begins on June 21st. There are many established works on offer. Lovers of new music, however, can look forward to performances of Jorg Widmann’s Babylon on 21st July as well as several performances of George Benjamin’s Written on Skin.
The mini-festival Zeit für Neue Musik has concerts in Bayreuth on 21st, 26th, 29th and 30th June. It will include new works by Helmut Bieler, Wolfram Graf, Michael Strong and others written as part of the city’s ‘200 Years of Richard Wagner’ programme.
I’ve just come back from a trip to southern Spain, visiting such wonderful places as the Mezquita at Córdoba, the Alhambra at Granada, Seville Cathedral, Ronda and even hopped over briefly to Tangier in Morocco. The surprise was Málaga, a beautiful city that is not obviously so when viewed from the outskirts. It was there I met briefly with a composer colleague based in the city.
I have long hankered after the idea of moving to Spain. Anyone who talks to locals for any length of time will eventually hear the words ‘La Crisis', a phrase used to describe current economic circumstances. If here in the UK we sometimes bemoan the opportunities on offer, then visiting another country can remind us just how lucky we are. Contemporary music in Spain seems to be suffering badly in the straightened economic times, with very little funding available for the promotion of the art and with a great deal of indifference shown by audiences. I was advised to stay where I am.
The conundrum of place – where to live whilst plying one’s art – weighs heavily with me. A composer needs the support system typically offered by a big city; the presence of other musicians and the opportunities that this affords. I find no pleasure in big cities. Some composers, of course, manage to strike a balance or even, like Maxwell Davies, heroically turn apparently barren musical ground into an oasis to which others come in pilgrimage. We are not all, perhaps, so well equipped to do this. Is it better therefore to live in a place that makes us unhappy but gives us opportunities, or to be happy in one’s surroundings but feel musically isolated? I suppose there is a certain heroism in being a lonely Nancarrowesque figure, writing for oneself. Music, however, is essentially collaborative and the danger in isolating oneself is that one stops feeling that creating is even worthwhile.
Whilst I’ve been away there have been a few new CD releases that I am only just catching up on. There are two new discs on Signum Records. The first, Sometimes I Sing by composer Alec Roth, is a haunting disc of music for tenor (Marc Padmore) and guitar (Morgan Szymanski) to texts by Thomas Wyatt, Vikram Seth, John Donne and Edward Thomas. The music has a jewel-like simplicity that owes much to folk idioms. Padmore’s singing is mesmerizingly beautiful. The second is another new recording of Le Sacre du Printemps, this time programmed with Ravel’s La Valse and Mother Goose. It is performed by St. Petersburg Philharmonic under Yuri Termirkanov. Both discs are available on Spotify.
Musical Opinion has called Portuguese composer Luís Tinico works ‘as engrossing as they are entertaining’. Naxos has released a disk of his orchestral and vocal-orchestral pieces: Round Time, From the Depth of Distance, Search Songs and Canções do Sonhador Solitário. They are performed by Orquestra Gulbenkian under David Alan Miller. Bob Chilcott, that most loved and performed of contemporary choral composers, also has a new album on Naxos performed by the Wellensian Consort under Christopher Finch. It includes This Isle is Full of Noises, The Lily and the Rose, A Little Jazz Mass, I Share Creation and Aesop’s Fables.
NMC’s debut disc series continues this month with a new album that showcases Joseph Phibb’s writing for voice and chamber groups. It’s centrepiece, The Canticle and the Rose, sets a series of poems by Edith Sitwell for soprano and string quartet. From Shore to Shore is for countertenor and guitar and sets a series of old and new poems on the subject of the sea. There are also two instrumental works: Flex, for piano, flute, viola and cello and the short string quartet AGEA.
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Concert Listings Today & Tomorrow: