The Welsh musical community felt a deep sense of shock today at the news of the sudden death of composer Peter Reynolds. He was one of those figures that seemed to be at every event, on every committee, a constant and affable fixture in Welsh musical life. It is hard to accept that he has gone.
I cannot, sadly, claim to have known him well. I met him at a number of events related to Composers of Wales, or saw him knocking around Cardiff after some or other new music concert. I was, however, lucky enough to sit down and chat at length with him on several occasions. He was always so knowledgeable, so modest and always ready with a sound bit of advice. Especially I remember him telling me about the dangers of wasting energy on large-scale composing, a pearl of wisdom I have since tried to follow.
There have been many tributes today from people who were lucky enough to know Peter better than me. Many were also keen to share their thoughts here.
In publishing these tributes, I am indebted to Christopher Painter, who helped to put me in touch with many people at short notice.
BBC National Orchestra of Wales:
We are incredibly sad to hear that our friend and colleague Peter Reynolds has passed away. Peter was a gifted composer and true champion of Welsh music and musicians; he was our biographer and programme writer for many years, a constant source of musical knowledge and insight. We will miss him very much; our thoughts are with his friends and family.
Christopher Painter, composer:
Totally bereft to hear that my good friend Peter Reynolds has suddenly passed away. A man of superb intellect with an innate kindness who has been a tremendous source of support to me. A great yet unassuming composer who had so much more to give—he will be missed as a composer but even more so as a gentle, generous and constant friend whose opinion was always valued and whose complete integrity was always in evidence.
Rest in peace Peter, I will miss you more than I can say and will always treasure the knowledge that you were my friend.
Ben Lunn, composer, now working in Lithuania, who studied with Peter:
Peter was a modest but thought-provoking tutor. Whatever direction I was keen to explore he was always 30 steps ahead of me. He was ultimately caring, loving, never imposing, and most significantly always supportive.
George Vass, Chair of the British Arts Festival Association:
Completely numbed by the news of Welsh composer Peter Reynold's sudden death yesterday—a true gentleman, a huge supporter and enthusiast for everything musical and, above all, one of the greatest exponents of Welsh music and musicians. RIP Peter, it was an honour to have known you.
Franziska Jones, friend and colleague:
Peter has been an inspiration and wonderful friend, mentor and colleague. I've known him for 10 years, and admire his work and life. His sense of humour and creativity were outstanding. He was a real renaissance man; he will be remembered for many things. I worked with him at Wales Millennium Centre, programming the foyer performances. He was always supportive and encouraging. Our daughter had piano lessons on the grand piano in his house, which was wonderful. He put on a 7am concert in a remote little church near Abergavenny, which will be a special memory. He cooked delicious tagines and soups, and his hospitality was brilliant. He also loved the local farmers markets and small bakeries. He shared some nice cycle routes around Cardiff and was a keen cyclist. So talented and intelligent yet humble and down to earth. He will be missed by so many…
Piano Circus are so incredibly saddened to hear of the passing of Peter Reynolds. We are happy to have had the pleasure of working alongside him on a number of musical projects in Wales over the past few years. He was a supporter, a gentleman and a friend. His loss will be felt deeply by many, and he will certainly be missed by us.
Dawn, James, Paul, Neil, Leo, Nathan.
Mark Boden, composer, friend, colleague and former pupil:
I first met Peter at RWCMD where he tutored me in composition between 2004–2008. He was incredibly knowledgable across a vast spectrum of musical genres and would always be able to suggest appropriate repertoire to enhance and enrich his pupils’ knowledge without forcing ideas upon them. Due to having so many musical engagements and commitments, Peter was often unable to give lessons at college and would instead tutor me in his study at his home. The place really was a treasure trove of scores, manuscripts and books—I loved studying with him there! As a student, it seemed there was never a musical event in Cardiff that Peter didn’t attend—he was an ever-present supporter of musical life in Wales.
I returned to RWCMD in 2011 as a tutor in composition and Peter became a highly-valued and much-loved colleague. He remained an incredibly reliable source of knowledge and expertise in both composing and teaching. We would often share ideas with one another and discuss teaching methods, especially during the earlier stages of my lecturing career—something I remain incredibly grateful for.
Peter had an huge capacity for fun, especially when he was hosting people at his home. He was an excellent cook and I fondly remember introducing him to Badger ales, which seemed like a revelation to him at the time!
Peter was incredibly kind, humble, generous and loyal as a friend and colleague. He will be missed enormously by RWCMD staff and pupils, both past and present.
As one gets older the list of people that one would not miss gets longer and longer while the list of those that one would miss terribly gets ever shorter, dear Peter was definitely on the latter.
Suzanne Hay, Head of Partnerships and Learning, BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales and Management Board, Ty Cerdd—Music Centre Wales:
I was very saddened to hear last night of the sudden passing of Peter Reynolds. Peter has played a central role in music-making in Wales—whether that be through ensuring that our rich cultural music heritage is celebrated, publicised and carefully archived or through nurturing, encouraging and developing our future composers and musicians. On a national and international level we owe much to Peter for helping to raise the profile of music in our country. He was a true gentleman, whose wit and good humour could diffuse any situation. Peter has made a lasting impact and his legacy will live on.
Benjamin Teague, organist, friend and former pupil:
I wake this morning in the dim light, and the harsh realisation that the death of Peter Reynolds was not a dream. There is too much anguish and sadness to describe the loss of this man. He was a true bastion of musical knowledge, and will remain in my heart forever as one of my formative teachers and friends.
Ruth Garnault, former Director of Public Programmes, Wales Millennium Centre; friend and colleague:
I first met Peter in a pub during the 1980s. I know this because one of Peter's boundless talents was an ability to recall exactly where and when he first met you. I was delighted to be able to employ him to run the Glanfa performance programme at WMC and the success of that programme was down to Peter's knowledge and dedication. He became a valued friend and I cherish the epithalamion he wrote as my wedding gift. Words can not express how much I'll miss him.
Remembering Peter Reynolds, a most gifted, versatile and delightful colleague, whose premature passing is a grievous loss to music in Wales. (via Twitter)
Wales Arts Review:
Very sad to hear of the passing of Peter Reynolds, a major figure in Welsh music, a WAR contributor, but more importantly, also a friend. (via Twitter)
Do you have a composition website? Ah, the tedious art of self-promotion. If you’re anything like me, you try to put in every positive thing that you’ve done, that one decent newspaper quote you have, the few nice recordings. You know, generally give the impression that the world is beating a path to your door, begging you to write just one more symphony.
I spend a fair bit of time flicking round this type of website whilst writing these blogposts. One that brought me up short recently belongs to British composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad (see picture). If you know anything about her, you know that she is very talented and very successful. If you hunt round her website, however, you will find a wonderful little thing called a ‘Failure C.V.’ (I won’t give the direct link—doesn’t feel fair somehow). In it she lists all of her failures during 2016. The list is quite long.
I like this idea a lot. It’s easy to forget, especially when you are struggling to make any impact at all as a composer, how often it is necessary to fail. The world won’t beat a path to your door unless you put yourself about a bit and run the risk of being knocked back. And it provides a great example to composers starting out to realise that people higher up the artistic food-chain are also, to some extent, failures.
More than anything, however, I just liked the failure CV for its freshness, it’s honesty, it’s two-fingered, raspberry-blowing confidence. In this spirit, therefore, here is my 2016 failure CV:
—A chamber opera I entered for the The Bluegrass Opera competition didn’t win, though I did get some useful feedback.
—I was recently asked to contribute a piece at short notice to a concert, but didn't think I had anything appropriate. Afterwards I discovered several pieces I could have submitted.
—I entered the Hendrix College Candlelight Carol Competition 2016 competition. My carol got to the last 10, but was eventually rejected.
—I entered a competition (I forget what) for chamber ensemble. Again not successful.
—I recently sent pdfs of two Christmas pieces, together with Soundcloud links to around 20 British cathedrals. I have had three polite responses and radio silence from everyone else. My Soundcloud page does not seem to have had any additional hits.
As you can see, my failures are less elevated than those of Frances-Hoad, which rather shows our relative position in the composerly pecking-order. My list is also rather short, which makes me realise that I need to fail a bit more. Therein lies success.
A happy birthday to Steve Reich, who turned 80 yesterday. For those wishing to get to know or revisit some of his key works, take a look at this article, which describes 10 pieces beginning with It’s Gonna Rain (1965) and finishing with Radio Rewrite (2012).
Here also are some videos in which he talks about his life and work:
Steve Reich in Conversation with Mohsen Mostafi
Reich speaks about his work and plays sample recording from his oeuvre.
The Rest Is Noise | Steve Reich in conversation with Gillian Moore (2013)
Part of The Rest Is Noise - Southbank Centre's year long celebration of 20th Century classical music - composer Steve Reich speaks to Head of Classical Music Gillian Moore.
Steve Reich: Playing Music/Talking Music
Steve Reich discusses his career and the current state of contemporary classical music with Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic Justin Davidson, of New York magazine.
Steve Reich in Conversation with Bang on a Can Co-founder David Lang (2014)
Reich and Lang spoke in MASS MoCA’s Sol LeWitt retrospective after Bang on a Can staged a performance of his compositions. Hear them speak about his friendship with LeWitt, his compositions and his work Radio Rewrite.
Reich and Sondheim: In Conversation and Performance (2015)
For the first time, on January 31, 2015, the two luminaries and mutual admirers appeared together on stage for a conversation moderated by WNYC’s John Schaefer and a performance of several of their milestone works.
Steve Reich and Michael Snow, Appel Salon (2016)
Steve Reich in conversation with Canadian artist Michael Snow. Hosted by CBC Radio's Sook-Yin Lee.
I was away doing other things when the death of Sir Neville Marriner came through on Sunday, so it feels a little belated to be mentioning it now.
Even if I had had my computer with me, however, I would probably not have written at length. Whilst Sir Neville was undoubtedly and deservedly one of the UK’s best-loved conductors, a blog dedicated to contemporary composition is probably not the place for an obituary—he specialised largely in baroque and classical works, only occasionally straying into early twentieth century repertoire.
For me he will always be the conductor of the soundtrack to Amadeus, a film that knocked me sideways as a young teenager. In other respects Sir Neville’s work, for me at least, fell between two stools. In his preferred baroque and classical repertoire, I favoured period instrument conductors of the likes of Hogwood and, even when he did stray a bit later, one felt he was not so much in his element.
Despite this, it would be a mistake not to acknowledge his role in transforming standards of instrumental playing in the UK. He moulded the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields into one of the most virtuosic ensembles in the world at a time when UK orchestral playing was not considered to be exactly world class. The good effects of this continue to ripple around the UK’s musical scene.
For complete obituaries from both sides of the Atlantic:
It turns out that Alan Turing, Bletchley Park’s most famous codebreaker, was also a musical pioneer—in 1951 he created a device that produced the first computer-generated music. A recording of this is now available to hear (see Soundcloud link), having recently been restored by researchers in New Zealand.
Ravi Shankar was working on an opera at the time of his his death in 2012. This is now slated to received its world premiere in May at Leicester’s Curve Theatre.
Collaborator Davis Murphy explained: “He’d written the whole piece in outline – the entire raga structure and almost all the melodies so [after Shankar’s death] it was just a matter of filling in the gaps, which were small,”
A date for the diary. On October 1st Sonostream will free livestream Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Donnerstag, the first opera from his monumental Licht cycle.
From the Sonostream website:
The first of the seven operas, „Donnerstag“ (Thursday), embarks on a spiritual journey through space and time: a musical big bang which is light, playful and touchingly poetic and which exerts a hypnotic power. First staged in 1981 at La Scala, Milan, it is an ambitious, visionary work that combines opera, ballet, trumpet concerto and oratorio.
At the centre of the work is Michael, a modern Orpheus, whose task is to bring “the music of the heavens to man and the music of man to the heavens”. On his path through life, which ‘Donnerstag’ presents at different stages, Michael visits many exotic locations both on earth and in space where he is repeatedly confronted with the dark power of Lucifer. However, Michael succeeds in passing the many tests he must set himself – not least with the help of his trumpet and the magical healing powers of music.
The staging in June 2016 by Theater Basel was not only its Swiss premiere, but its first production of "Donnerstag" anywhere in more than 30 years. The director is the young American Lydia Steier, who took a fresh, highly theatrical approach to the piece and the conductor is Titus Engel, especially renowned in modern music.
The Neue Zürcher Zeitung praised the production a "milestone of the Stockhausen reception", proclaiming: “Now that this production in Basel has broken the ice and bravely saved Donnerstag for the sake of contemporary music theatre, we can only hope that other houses will soon venture to stage at least this part of the Licht cycle."
From 7—16th October Venice Biennale’s International Festival of Contemporary Music marks its sixtieth anniversary with a programme of 26 events that feature 45 world premieres, 27 Italian premieres and 24 commissions. Highlights include a new work for string quartet and piano by Kaija Saariaho on 7th; Pascal Dusapin’s Beckett’s Bones for soprano, clarinet and piano on 12th; and Toshio Hosokawa’s Aya for flute and amplified string trio also on 12th. On the 8th there will also be a presentation of the Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement award to Salvatore Sciarrino. It will be followed by a concert given by the London Sinfonietta, who will perform three works by the composer, including the world premiere of Immagina il deserto, for ensemble and soprano.
As well as these premieres, there will be both an Italian and American focus during the festival, the former including composers such as Azio Corghi, Sylvano Bussotti, Claudio Ambrosini, Luca Mosca, Michele dall'Ongaro, Stefano Gervasoni, Mauro Lanza, Vittorio Montalti, Gabriele Cosmi; and the latter David Lang, Julia Wolfe, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Tyondai Braxton, Nico Muhly and Judd Greenstein. Other strands to follow include explorations of connections between images and sounds, especially through music written for film; and relationships with tradition, both within the Western canon and in World Music.
And outside Venice…
Nicolas Horvath has been committing the complete piano music of Philip Glass to CD in his Glassworlds survey. He is now bringing this immense experience to bear in an epic performance of the complete piano output of the composer at a concert at Philharmonie de Paris on 1st October. The performance is scheduled to start at 7pm and to continue for around 12 hours.
In marking the start of her period as composer in residence at Wigmore Hall, London, Helen Grime will have a day dedicated her music there on 15th October. There will be a concert of chamber music written for combinations of violin, viola, cello, oboe and piano at 1pm; a chance to hear the composer in conversation at 6pm; and a concert given by BCMG at 7.30 that will include her Clarinet Concerto, Luna, Embrace and Seven Pierrot Miniatures as well as works by Knussen, Carter and Janáček.
In a frustrating bit of programming, on the same day as the Grime the Barbican is hosting a James MacMillan Choral Music Day. At 3pm at St. Giles’ Cripplegate, Ex Cathedra will give the first London performance of Seven Angels, which tells the story of the Biblical apocalypse from Revelation. At 7.30 Harry Christophers conducts The Sixteen and Britten Sinfonia in the world premiere of Macmillan’s Stabat Mater. This concert also includes his Miserere and works by Tallis and Vaughan Williams. There is pre-concert talk with James MacMillan, Jeffrey Skidmore, Harry Christophers and John Studzinski at 6.15.
An exciting operatic premiere takes place in Birmingham on 25th, with the first performance of Jane Eyre by John Joubert. The work dates back as far as 1969, but was substantially revised following an amateur performance some years ago. This, therefore, marks the official premiere of the work, happily coinciding with both the composer’s 90th birthday and the 200th anniversary of Charlotte Bronte.
In the States, at Jordan Hall, Boston, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project present works by four prominent US composers: Michael Colgrass, Gail Kubik, Harold Shapero and Steven Stucky. In NYC, meanwhile, Contemporary Insights presents a programme of recent instrumental and vocal chamber music by composer and oboist Sky Macklay. Pieces include Macklay’s chamber opera Why We Bleed, Doppelgänger III for two oboes and keyboard, FastLowHighSlow for two violins and piano four-hands and Lessina, Levlen, Levlite, Levora for speaking violinist and electronics.
As a teenager I would spend many a happy hour with my head buried in the latest Deutsche Grammophon, Decca or Chandos catalogue, lusting after shiny CDs and the pleasures digitised into their perfectly polished surfaces. These days, if you are looking for something a edgy and interesting, the most well-known labels are not the places to look—they tend to concentrate on core classical repertoire, only venturing into the field of contemporary music where they can promote, and make money from, the latest fad. Happily, for the more adventurous there are plenty of newer labels who have stepped in to fill this gap. The range of music they offer can be bewildering.
A particularly happy recent discovery was the Norwegian label Lawo. I gave a full review to one of their CDs, a splendid disk of contemporary music for trumpet, not long ago. I didn’t, however, mention the plethora of other recent releases from them. These include The New Song, a collection of recent works for voice and piano performed by Marianne Beate Kielland (mezzo-soprano) and Nils Anders Mortensen (piano); works for oboe by Mozart and Norwegian composers Ketil Hvoslef and Harald Sæverud; a programme of saxophone music played by Lars Lien; music for wind octet by Gideon Klein, Johan Kvandal, Isang Yun and Magnar Åm; a selection of chamber music by British composer Laurence Crane; live music from the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, including works by Liza Lim and Jon Øivind Ness; and a second album in a series that explores the chamber music of Ketil Hvoslef. I am still exploring these albums and might do another full review soon. In the meantime, I will just say that I own physical copies of all of the above, which in itself is rather a joy given the high production values and beautiful artwork.
Another label that is new to me is Navona Records, the classical wing of Parma Recordings, which, in their own words, ‘offers listeners a fresh taste of today's leading innovators in orchestral, chamber, instrumental, and experimental music as well as prime pieces of classic repertoire.’ This seems hardly an exaggeration when browsing their latest releases: a selection of piano music by Robert Casadesus and Henri Dutilleux played by Cicilia Yudha; The Crossroads Project, a multidisciplinary project featuring the music of Libby Larsen and Laura Kaminsky; Between the Echoes, a showcase of recent chamber music by Daniel Burwasser, David DeVasto, Georges Raillard, Michael Lee and Allan Crossman; a programme of concert music by Lawrence Ball; chamber music by André M. Santos; and an album exploring the music of Michael Laurello.
And on other labels…
Naxos this month releases a new recording of Michael Nyman’s one-act chamber opera The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, featuring Ryan McPherson, Rebecca Sjöwall, Matthew Treviño and the Nashville Opera Orchestra; and a disk of organ music from that often neglected Australian Master of the Queen’s Music, Malcolm Williamson. On Bridge Records James Levine conducts performances of Charles Wuorinen’s Eighth Symphony and Fourth Piano Concerto; and a disk of music for tuba played by Aaron Tindall. On Signum Records, finally, Wells Cathedral Choir conducted by Matthew Owens perform music by John Tavener. As well as established favourites such as Song of Athene it also contains several world premiere recordings, including Preces and Responses and They are all gone into the world of light.
Recently giving evidence to the UK Government’s Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, George Vass, Chair of the British Arts Festival Association, and Mark Pemberton, Director of the Association of British Orchestras, both observed that new entries into the music profession tend to have the same white middle-class background. Pemberton said ‘It is looking like it is becoming more and more a middle class and advantaged profession’ with Vass adding that ‘There’s a whole raft of people that we’re just missing completely and it’s a great shame.’
Chaya Czernowin was born and raised in Israel but has subsequently lived in Germany, Austria, Japan and now the US. Given such a peripatetic lifestyle it is, perhaps, unsurprising that the question of identity plays a large role in her music. She remarks:
“…my music almost obsessively tried to stretch the idea of identity: from the inside, exploring separate and contrasting voices (or identities) within one larger identity, investigating how much dissent and difference can exist before the seams start to tear apart and all of a sudden, we have more than one identity. Dialectically, I stretched identity by combining different instruments into a unified meta instrument.”
This last comment seems particularly prescient when listening to this disk, since in these works Czernowin strips instruments of their familiar identities, recombining them in new and novel ways. At the opening of The Quiet, for example, the brass and strings are asked to play in ways that fall short of actually producing a pitch, the brass blowing through their instruments and the strings lightly drawing their strings to produce scratchy overtones. The one effect seems to complement and grow from the other, so that normal instrumental identities become blurred. And even where instruments are individually delineated Czernowin prefers to use extended techniques, though in a way that feels less a straining for effect and more a search for the very essence of each instrument’s character. The net result is never less than compelling.
These works are not, however, a mere morass of interesting sounds. Both form part of what Czernowin calls the ‘Crescendo Trilogy’, which provides a clue to underlying structural processes. Whilst in The Quiet we are told this is because ‘an exponential increase in volume ends the piece’, the gradual introduction of pitch into the texture suggests a more metaphorical crescendo, one that shapes the entire span. The second work Zohar Iver takes a similar approach, the emergence of single pitches also playing a role in initiating a final crescendo, though a long pedal also serves to delay the peroration. In terms of instrumental writing there are also some neat additional touches, including the emergence of an electric guitar, the use of distortion pedal fitting rather well into the grungy texture.
€18.50 might seem a pretty hefty price for two works totalling not much over 25 minutes, but on a cost/benefit ratio they are definitely worth the investment. If in doubt, try before you buy—the EP is available on both Spotify and Apple Music.
It seems that a contingent of Remainers plans to use the Last Night of the Proms to wave a large number of EU flags. This has provoked angry interventions from Leave politicians. Bill Cash, remarked “The climax of the last night is the singing of Rule Britannia – which is the great hymn to Britain and certainly not to the European Union”; Peter Bone MP said: “The Last Night of the Proms is an inspiring, uplifting British event, not an EU event – so for it to be hijacked is cheap politics.” Pots and kettles black, perhaps?
Nicholas Kenyon wrote perceptively recently about a sense of foreboding that the occasion might be used ‘to celebrate the triumph of Little England, to reinforce the message of a land of hope and glory in which Britons never shall be slaves – to the EU or anyone else.’ It seems ironic that the opposite might be about to happen. Either way, it’s about time that the harmless bit of froth that is the Last Night were taken a lot less seriously. Singing rousing patriotic songs is one thing, but expecting to receive political enlightenment, of whatever ilk, whilst doing so is absurd.
Brian Eno has just refused permission for Tel Aviv dance company Batsheva to use his composition Neroli because they are sponsored by the Israeli embassy. Eno is a signatory to the Artist’s Pledge to Palestine, which promises to ‘accept neither professional invitations to Israel, nor funding, from any institutions linked to its government until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.’ More information available, here.
Two leading arts figures have this week quit the UK in the wake of the decision to leave the European Union. On 4th September Nicholas Mansfield, the British director of Netherlands Touring Opera, became a Dutch citizen, saying ‘I’m a man of principle. If my homeland takes a different path, I must cease to belong to it’. The following day, the German director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, whose leadership has seen record visitor numbers and the award of Art Fund museum of the year, said that Brexit had hastened his decision to leave his post. He considered the referendum ‘a personal defeat’ and expressed his worry that a ‘“me first” mentality’ was spreading throughout Europe.
Je crois personnellement que la musique atonale est une impasse, elle ne correspond pas à la nature même de l’audition, elle a constitué une tentative de « terrorisme musical » qui ne correspond pas à la nature profonde de ce qu’est la musique.
(I personally believe that atonal music is an impasse, it does not correspond to the natural way of hearing, it constitutes a ‘musical terrorism’ that has nothing to do with the profound nature of music.)
Jacques Attali is more politician than musician (‘would-be orchestra conductor’ as Lebrecht neatly sums him up) and his comment is neither original nor particularly provocative. Criticisms of atonality are as old as atonality itself. In 1914 Strauss allegedly described Schoenberg as being in need of a psychiatrist and that ‘he'd do better to shovel snow instead of scribbling on music-paper…’, in 1961 Ernest Ansermet attempted to debunk serialism in his book Les fondements de la musique dans la conscience humaine. More recent criticisms include, in 2009, Roger Scruton’s collection of essays Understanding Music, Philosophy and Interpretation (especially in the eleventh, True authority: Janáček, Schoenberg and us) and, perhaps more provocatively, Jérôme Ducros’s 2012 lecture L'atonalisme. Et après?
I was led to this last source after reading the often perceptive, sometimes hilarious comments to Lebrecht’s original post. It would have taxed my French, except that, just a couple of weeks ago, an English language version of the lecture was made available on YouTube (embedded, below). It is fascinating to watch, really one of the most compelling and elegant arguments in favour of a return to the old ways of composing. It will enrage many.
Ducros L’atonalisme. Et après? Lecture given at Seminar Amphithéâtre Marguerite de Navarre, College de France
Ducros’s argument basically boils down to the fact that atonality results in a kind of blandness, since music lacks a dialectic, a set of rules understood by the listener against which the composer can satisfy, surprise or, indeed, frustrate their expectations. In essence, the listener, in expecting everything, is surprised by nothing.
I have some sympathy for this point of view, having often found it difficult to discern the shape or narrative thrust of atonal music. On such occasions, however, I have never felt this had anything to do with the lack of tonality itself. There are many ways of providing coherence to music and one of the joys of grappling with modernist repertoire is trying to work out what these might be. To take an obvious, and popular, example: Ligeti’s Atmospheres is best understood as a series of shapes, shifting colours and subtle manipulations of tessitura. Heard in this way the work is both coherent and compelling.
Ducros's analysis does, nevertheless, lead us to an important truth: too often the other forms of musical coherence that a composer must rely upon in the absence of tonality are not nearly sufficiently stressed. Of course, often there will be all sorts of clever musical filiation going on in the background, but none of this is of any use whatsoever if it cannot be discerned by the listener.
A secondary issue raised by Ducros is that too often music students are encouraged, or rather forced, to write in an atonal style in musical institutions. He presents it rather dramatically as a battle in which composers, after years of stultifying musical education, have to emancipate themselves from the modernism they have been forced to adopt. If this is true, it seems to be more a reflection of the ossified state of musical education in France than a criticism of higher education more generally. Certainly, in the UK and US, most universities are perfectly happy to produce students that write tonal music. What they will not accept is students who do this from a position of ignorance. One cannot pretend that the twentieth century did not happen. It is vital for universities to challenge young composers by making them aware of the historical context in which they write.
Ducros’s attempts to characterise the twentieth century as the century of atonality are, anyway, erroneous. The best composers have always followed their own stylistic inclinations. How else could Britten be writing Noye’s Fludde a year after Boulez finished Le marteau sans maître? And if composers are individuals, so too are listeners. Ducros might be rather surprised to find, even if he does not like it himself, that there are plenty of people who adore the music of Schoenberg, Webern, Boulez, Stockhausen et al. Composers will choose to write whatever they wish and audiences will choose to listen to whatever they wish. There is no battle, just a myriad of bewildering and enticing possibilities from which the contemporary composer must choose.
The Proms continue until 10th September, though with just one more world premiere to look forward to: Tom Harrold’s Raze on the Last Night. I am a little behind on my listening, but of the August new works I was particularly struck by Helen Grimes’s characteristically colourful Eardley Pictures. Splendid also to hear the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland do such a good job of the second of these. All the premieres, including links to completed performances, are still viewable, here.
If the prospect of the Proms ending is a depressing thought, it may be worth heading to the Continent, where there are several major festivals to look forward to, including:
Features 29 events and 70 works by 35 composers including Shostakovich, Galina Ustvolskaya, Luigi Nono, Philippe Manoury, Olga Neuwirth, Matthias Pintscher, Enno Poppe and Rebecca Saunders. There is also a particular focus on works by Edgard Varèse, Wolfgang Rihm, John Adams and György Ligeti.
Focusing on contemporary music, there is much to enjoy over the festival’s 45 events. Of particular interest to British audiences is a staging of Britten’s War Requiem, to be performed on seven nights during the festival. Its importance in the context of contemporary events and British music will also be discussed. Living composers represented include Bent Sørensen, Jacob Kirkegaard, Manos Tsangaris, La Monte Young, Maja S.K. Ratkje, Trond Reinholdtsen and Terry Riley (who will also perform).
More a season of arts events than a festival, so perhaps of more interest if you live in Paris. Two concerts stand out in September: a ‘posthumous’ opera by Robert Ashley on 21st and 24th, and an opportunity to hear George Benjamin’s Dream of the Song… on 28th and 29th.
Despite the focus on Beethoven there is some more recent music to enjoy, including works by Ligeti, Bartok, Rihm, Nono and Malipiero. There is also a recreation of Dance, Philip Glass’s 1979 collaboration withchoreographer Lucinda Childs and conceptual artist Sol LeWitt.
Another festival that focuses entirely on contemporary music. This year the focus is on the stage, both literally, in terms of form, and metaphorically, as a compositional paradigm. Opera events include The Magic Fountain by Paweł Mykietyn; the multimedia opera Aaron S by Sławomir Wojciechowski; Olga Neuwirth’s Lost Highway; and two works by Salvatore Sciarrino: Infinito Nero and Luci mie traditrici.
Also a contemporary music festival with a huge amount on offer: an exploration of electronic music that pays homage to one of its founding fathers, Pierre Henry; several screenings of cinematic works accompanied by live performances of their original scores (in the case of Kubrick’s 2001) or by new or improvised works (for Métropolis by Fritz Lang and Les Misérables, by Henri Fescourt); four concerts for choir and orchestra; Mririda, a new opera by Ahmed Essyad; a dance spectacle My Rock by Jean-Claude Gallotta; a focus on music by Spanish composer Alberto Posadas; and the promotion of works by emerging composers.
Back in the UK, you could check out the Lammermuir Festival in East Lothian (9th–18th). There’s Britten’s perennially popular Noye’s Fludde on 11th, Rolf Riehm’ s He, très doulz roussignol joly on 15th and a programme that includes Berio, Sørensen and Gubaidulina on 16th. In London, there are premieres from Stephen McNeff, Roland Pöntinen, Julian Philips and Anna Meredith at Wigmore Hall on 12th, 19th, 20th and 24th respectively. There is also a collaborative performance between Gwyneth Herbert and the London Sinfonietta, including new arrangements and pieces, on 9th at Kings Place. Wim Henderickx’s new choral work Blossomings, finally,receives its first performance on 23rd at the Barbican. The rest of the programme is chiefly dedicated to the vocal music of Jonathan Harvey.
It was fascinating reading the responses of UK composers to Brexit on 16th July. So much so that I was inspired to write down my own thoughts in a post on my own website. If you’re at all interested I’d be delighted if you were to pay a visit.
A piece of good news came on 26th July. The Sounds Like Now crowdfund, a project to launch a new glossy magazine dedicated to contemporary music in the UK and Ireland achieved, and then surpassed, its £18,000 target. The team, lead by Dan Goren and editor Steph Power are now beavering away to produce the first edition, which should appear in November 2016. I’ll post a reminder when it comes out.
The Proms continue apace. If you have missed any of the premieres, why not take a look at CT’s guide, which I published here on 7th July. As a I speculated at the time, if you follow the link through to the Proms website, audio (and video where appropriate) of each concert is posted after the event. This makes this list a great way of catching up on premieres, as I have been doing today. I’d especially suggest that you pay the Michael Berkeley Violin Concerto a visit. An achingly beautiful work that has a pretty surprising final third—I won’t say why. I’m still not sure that it entirely works, but it's certainly not boring.
There have been a number of interesting recent CD releases. If you are an organ aficionado, as I occasionally am, there are two disks that give very different perspectives of contemporary organ writing. On Signum Classics is a new album in their Hakim plays Hakim series, this time on the Schuke Organ of the Palacio Euskalduna, Bilbao. Naji Hakim is a delightful miniaturist, two of the works here, the Suite Norvégienne and Suite Françasie being collections of movements that are around a minute each. His style is traditional, what we might call quirkily tonal; in a work such as the Ouverture Libanaise, with its oleaginous harmonies, popular tunes and fruity registration he’s not above flirting with what we might call the Wurlitzer school of organ playing. It’s deliciously entertaining.
Also delicious, but in a quite different way is Maurice Kagel’s Improvisation Ajoutée, a new recording of which has just been issued on Wergo. It’s not hard to see why the work caused something of a scandal when it was premiered in 1962. The organ writing in itself is novel enough: dense, dissonant and with a plethora of extended techniques. In addition to this, however, the player and his two assistants are also asked to make all manner of noises: ‘speaking, coughing, laughing, whistling, clapping, and above all loud groans and shouts.’ If you’re in the right frame of mind it’s great fun. If not, start by listening to a different work on the disk, Kagel’s own set of organ miniatures Rrrrr, which rather give the Hakim a masterclass in quirky attractiveness.
I mention en passant a new recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 10. Whilst, obviously, not a new work, the significance of this particular recording, also on Wergo, lies in the fact that it is a new completion by composer and conductor Yoel Gamzou. I’m not in a position to compare its merits with the better-known Deryck Cooke version, but I’m sure that many will want to do just that.
A composer who remains a favourite of mine is William Mathias; his music, as I wrote in 2012, being brilliantly communicative. It’s great to see his discography continuing to expand, this time in a useful collection of his vocal music performed by St. Albans Abbey Girls’ Choir. It contains some of his best known works, including the carol sequence Ave Rex and the mystical As truly as God is our Father, but also lesser known pieces such as An Admonition to Rulers and premiere recordings of All the works shall praise thee and The Lord’s Prayer. The disk is currently available for pre-order on iTunes, with previews of each track to help you decide whether to stump up the quite reasonable £5.99.
Other recent disks to consider include a collection of piano music by Kenneth Hesketh on BIS, the most substantial piece of the programme, Horae (pro clara),lending its name to the album. On Wergo there is a first recording of the original version of Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Symphony in One Movement, an important document given that he substantially rewrote the work after its much criticised first performance. There is a portrait CD and DVD of music by Ondřej Adámek, which contains nine works for a variety of instrumental setups, from an air machine to orchestra and choir; and, by way of contrast, a collection of works for solo flute by Violeta Dinescu. On NMC there is a collection of music by Mark Bowden, the orchestral works being played by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, with whom Bowden is Resident Composer; and also a new album featuring works by Emily Howard. The Singing Bridge, finally, is a sound-work by Claudia Molitor written as a response to Waterloo Bridge.
No, not a follow-up to my Brexit post—though I could easily wax lyrical about its advantages in that context—but, rather, a recent CD from Norwegian record label Lawo.
Perpetuum Trompetuum is a programme of music by Norwegian composers written for trumpeter Erlend Aagaard-Nilsen. With the exception of Bjørn Bolstad Skjelbred, the composers on the disc are from Bergen, close to where Aagaard-Nilsen grew-up, and the music of Aagaard-Nilsen’s own father, Torstein Aagaard-Nilsen, is represented by four pieces in the programme. If this all sounds disappointingly parochial, then think again.
The disk opens in exhilarating fashion with Bolstad Skjelbred’s Resisting Gravity for piano and trumpet. The obvious stylistic influence here is Ligeti, the running lines and staccato interjections having a considerable whiff of Désordre about them. Perpetuum Trompetuum by Ketvil Hvoslef is constructed over a wandering bass line, the piece becoming a characterful dialogue between right hand and trumpet, the perpetuum mobile the glue that holds it all together. It builds to a powerful and satisfyingly diabolic climax.
Eilert Tøsse’s Signals derives its name from seven repetitions of signal-like material in the upper register of the instrument. These act as structural markers that lead into more vigorous interludes. The clarity of the structure is married to a satisfying sense of development and variety. Though the interludes share thematic material they each have a distinct character; the signals, likewise, are never merely repeated—those in the middle ending towards the lower range of the instrument, those at the end heading ever upwards.
If the evidence provided by this disk is anything to go by, Torstein Aagaard-Nilsen is a hard composer to pin down. Kverhusfanfare for solo trumpet is over in a flash, a satisfyingly well-written fanfare that is, nevertheless, not particularly original. Festoso, is very much, as the sleeve note says, in the ‘recital tradition’—a bracing three-and-a-half-minute listen that manages to be both fun and serious. Elegy for Broken Hearts, for muted trumpet and piano is, by contrast, unrelentingly stern—where the harmonic idiom in Fesotso is rich and varied, here it is uncompromisingly bleak. All of these work show an engagingly eclectic composer, though they hardly prepare one for the shift of gear that is Orpheus Lament for trumpet and electronics. Here the solo part is set against an icy electronic background pre-distilled from the trumpet line, whilst the live instrument is passed through sound modules. The effect, which expands the expressive possibilities of the instrument in a way that recalls the electroacoustic music of Jonathan Harvey, is mesmerising.
All the works up to this point take a fairly orthodox approach to trumpet playing; advanced techniques only extending to the occasional use of flutter tonguing, lip slurs or the use of microtonal inflections in the melody line.Sigurd Fischer Olsen’s Three Lamento Movements for trumpet and piano, by contrast, almost entirely strips away traditional trumpet technique. We are treated instead to three vivid sound pictures in which the player’s breath, the clicking of keys, playing with the mouthpiece only and extended passages of microtonal tuning take a central role. Knut Vaage’s MultiMORF IV takes the non-traditional approach to its logical extreme with the replacement of the piano accompaniment by live electronics. This allows the expansion of the expressive possibilities of techniques that are already ‘extended’. The work was originally intended to be played alongside video art by H C Gilje, but it stands perfectly well by itself. More than well in fact—it is an extravagantly rich and ambitious piece of sound art, the near twenty-minute span containing a plethora of aural delights. If you would like to get a taste of what it is like, have a listen to Vaage’s MultiMORF III, for trombone, here.
Perpetuum Trompetuumprovides, then, a compelling snapshot of the compositional scene in Norway and a vivid insight into the expressive possibilities of the trumpet. Performances are impossible to fault: Erlend Aagaard-Nilsen makes light of the terrifying technical demands of this repertoire whilst Jarle Rotevatn provides, by turns, both sensitive and exhilarating accompaniment. If you can’t find it available for streaming (it’s on Apple Music but not Spotify) and if you have even a passing interest in contemporary brass music then consider buying this excellent disk. You won’t be disappointed.
The Sounds Like New crowdfund, a project to launch a glossy magazine dedicated to contemporary music in the UK and Ireland, was given an extended deadline a couple of weeks ago. It is now frustratingly close to its target with just a few days left to run. If you're interested in supporting this great project why not head over to the crowdfunder page, here, and pledge your support?
It would be an exaggeration to say that the dust has settled following the UK’s historic referendum on 23rd June. But now that we are several weeks from that extraordinary singularity and things have calmed at least a little, I asked some of the country’s leading composers to give their thoughts on Brexit.
My aim was to canvass opinion from a wide demographic and from those living and working both in the UK and Europe. I was also interested in contributions from the wider musical community. Hence, I include contributions from two festival artistic directors who also chair major arts umbrella organisations. The second of these also kindly supplied comments from affiliated organisations.
1. If Brexit negotiations do happen, the musical profession must be pro-active and say what is needed. Top of the list should be continued free movement between the EU and UK for music students (in both directions) because that is the foundation of our internationally successful musical scene.
2. The referendum result makes the exit of Scotland from the UK more likely. If that were to take place, what would happen to the BBC, and its generous classical music provision? This is a question that would need asking on both sides of the border.
The freedom to live and work in Europe has allowed me to live happily in France for the last eight years, free from red tape. And I haven’t been alone in that: off the top of my head I could mention many other British composers who have made their homes in Europe: Richard Baker, Naomi Pinnock, Luke Bedford and Rebecca Saunders in Berlin and Stuart MacRae in Paris, for instance. Richard Barrett has lived in both Amsterdam and Berlin. It hasn’t been one-way traffic: Paul Ruders and Matthias Pintscher and other European composers have lived in London.
And we’ve been able to travel freely within Europe without bothering about visas or border controls (except, of course, at the UK border).
If Theresa May makes the position of EU residents in the UK a bargaining chip in her Brexit negotations, the British living in Europe could find their lives becoming difficult.
If I have to move, which country will take me after the United Kingdom has disintegrated? I’m half-Scottish, quarter Welsh and quarter English.
I received an email this morning saying that the main commercial sponsor of a series of concerts (for which I’d written an orchestral piece) ‘has pulled out because of the uncertainly and insecurity with which the vote has left the business world.’ That’s a six figure chunk of sponsorship which has gone up in smoke: sad for me, disastrous for the orchestra.
The success of this country is based on its openness, so the referendum result came as a shock. The future is one which we all will have to share, and leaving the EU feels like a step backwards. I can’t help thinking that the UK has been diminished.
I’m not an expert, but my fear is that when Europe-wide musical collaborations and co-commissions are discussed, we will be sidelined. l am sad that the UK might become less attractive for international students and that future UK students might be deprived of access to 27 EU countries for study and work.
My hope is that some of the extreme inequalities exposed by the referendum outcome will now be addressed.
It’s been a strange sensation, feeling as mortified, embarrassed, and depressed about my adopted country as I often have for my native U.S. The closest parallel is how I and countless other progressive Americans felt when George W Bush was handed the election victory in 2000. Back then I was just starting life in the UK and every conversation I had seemed to be about the election - "how sad for you Americans, how embarrassing!" And now, among my many friends and colleagues who ardently supported the case to Remain, the sense that a massive miscarriage of democracy and justice has just taken place is strikingly similar.
There are also parallels with the rise of Trumpism in America right now. Thanks to the Brexit campaign, the worst has been exposed in British society and we are seeing swathes of people suddenly comfortable with statements and sentiments that are shocking to say the least. Fanned by tabloid lies and panderings to prejudice, a compassionate, internationalist approach to politics seems more out of reach than ever.
But while we worry and brace ourselves for worse and worse, we keep working, making music, making art. It is our best, and perhaps only, real way to resist and defy these events, to keep creating. Keeping going, keeping ideas open, forming collaborations and encouraging other artists: These are acts of defiance against fear and hopelessness.
In the Bush years I was a recent graduate, struggling to find an artistic and professional path. Now, being more established, I find that teaching and mentoring have become an essential part of the goal to resist despair and keep creating. Providing a support and a model to young artists who are just starting out, it makes our community stronger both locally and internationally. Meeting young composers, hearing about their many and different paths to the same calling, sometimes I am just amazed it happens at all. As long as young people keep caring about art, music, and the world, there is still hope.
Leaving Europe will inevitably lead to problems for musicians working here and abroad, and more and more bureaucracy. But that seems pretty insignificant compared to the wider picture, and what really appals me is that a government put in power by 25% of the electorate should have tried to solve its internal divisions by proposing an ill thought through choice which has been irrevocably endorsed by just over a third of the electorate: all on the basis of lies and distortion. Surely the impotence that so many of us feel has to find a voice, not a musical one but a scream of outrage.
Where I live (in Bedford) all you could see in the run up to the referendum were LEAVE posters, so the result didn't come as a shock to me. It makes it no less depressing though. It seems to me we are leaving the EU because a handful of well-educated men (men taught by experts) wanted the top job. I do understand why a lot of people outside London felt so frustrated though, and I can sympathise why many, faced with the barrage of misleading anti-EU, anti-immigrant propaganda that was coming at us every day, voted the way they did (I think it's been a little too easy for my circle of friends to insulate themselves from opposing views: the peril of social media perhaps).
I can't help thinking that Brexit could almost be viewed as a symptom of our society's lessoning respect and appreciation for the arts, although of course it's vastly more complicated than that! The UK Sciences are already suffering, and I can't see why Brexit wouldn't have a similar effect on the arts, even if the sums of money involved aren't so vast, but in recent years it's hardly as if music in schools has been well-supported by the Government. Brexit will probably have very little effect on my composing career, at all or in the short term at least, but that's hardly the point. I'm lucky to have reached a certain point my career where my CV will probably still allow me access to various funding streams, but if this had happened five years ago I'd not feel anywhere near as confident. I think as composers, however, we can continue to create music that speaks to people across borders, continue to look outwards for inspiration and continue to try to introduce new audience to our artform. I can't imagine the economic implications and unknowns that there must be for some of the big arts institutions in the UK at the moment: it makes me shudder. Perhaps all one can do, until things become clearer, is continue to write music that encourages collaboration, dialogue and inclusiveness.
I have spent many years of my life on the Continent and my cultural formation is truly European, having lived in England, Germany, Italy and Switzerland for so many years, having absorbed all these cultures, having been 'moulded' in such cultures. I do feel British and European at the same time.
Britain fully belongs to Europe: we Europeans belong to the same cultural tradition that springs from Greek and Roman civilisations. To deny this would be foolish and ignorant. But it is equally true that the current European Union is not a transparent and democratic institution. Who of us really wants to be ruled by two governments: a national one that is losing its sovereignty year after year and a super-government made by people in Brussels we don't know, who haven’t been elected by us, and who dictate to us what they decide?
I have often experienced the structural heaviness and the corruption of the state-based culture that prevails on the Continent. I have come to terms with the fact that the majority of Continental people do not see this, simply because they do not know, they have never experienced, a different kind of democracy, one that is more liberal and based on the freedom of the individual. In this sense Britain remains, indeed, different to Continental Europe.
I went to an event for Europe in Munich on Saturday because I wanted to get a deeper understanding of the current feeling about Brexit in Europe. I spoke to several people, but no one could understand why Britain has left. One tries to explain why, yet they don't understand or want to understand that there may be another sensitivity for democracy different to theirs. I spoke to other people in Stuttgart, Halle, Berlin, Rome and Perugia, but with the same results. Only a Swedish friend of mine could understand why the majority of British people have decided to leave. As I hinted earlier, the vast majority of Continental people do not understand that the British tradition is simply different to the Continental one, and this split of perception in the European Continent is, indeed, a real problem. Yet, I believe it is a problem that can be solved in a political environment that is truly democratic.
But politics should go hand in hand with the social and the human aspect of life. We Brits must guard against the tendency to think only of ourselves. I do think we all should be more altruistic and less selfish. In this sense we should learn, for example, from more (European?) human values such as friendship, passion, emotional intensity and more importantly, a stronger sense of “sociality”. Similarly, Continental Europeans could have much to learn from our sense of liberty and respect for the individual. If we all made an effort in both directions I am sure we will always find the right solution to any political problem.
Being a British composer who shares her time between London and Berlin, and Barcelona for the coming Semester, no doubt I will be very affected by Brexit. My management is in Berlin and I have ongoing working relationships with many musicians in Europe, therefore I dearly hope that there will be pathways formed in the aftermath to make these relationships still viable, for British musicians working in Europe and vice versa. Aside from the impact Brexit will have on music and the arts, I find it devastating how divided our country is and how narrow-minded people can be, unable to see beyond the little island they live on.
For every freelancer there is always an element of uncertainty. Most accept this as part of the territory, acknowledging the risk but also the freedom such engagement provides. My fear is that the artistic landscape for post-Brexit composers will be one fraught with uncertainty, to a greater extent than anyone can now imagine.
In recent years the Conservative government has not been a champion of music. It should have come as no surprise that as soon as we began hearing the repeated mantras of 'austerity' and 'living within our means' that councils were going to have to start making some difficult decisions. Of course, councils are not going to win approval by shutting front-line services when budgets get slashed. Therefore services relating to the Arts get crushed as soon as cuts have to be made. On top of this we have seen the continuing rhetoric from ministers such as Nicky Morgan, Eduction Secretary, claiming that picking Art subjects hold students back in their career choices.
After the decimation of many areas of the UK under Thatcher, the EU highlighted many places in South Wales (where I am based) for specific poverty grants. These grants sought to redress the imbalance of opportunity, both economic and cultural, within regions such as South Wales. My suspicion is that without our relationship with the EU to counter-balance the lasting effects of such depression, many areas will suffer further hardship. What this means culturally for these regions is that, after a certain time, they will become cultural black spots with organisations and professionals moving to areas where there is better chance of securing work. I can see it becoming increasingly likely that the government will increase the call for further austerity measures, citing Brexit as the reason.
Maybe the investment from the EU wasn't quick enough within areas such as Wales (which head-scratchingly voted Brexit), and Northern England. Maybe the deprivation of those areas was already entrenched enough to make (clearly misleading) calls to save public services, and the idea of a protest vote, an attractive decision. People clearly had the passion to get out there and vote, they just didn't think about the complexity of the problems that would be caused by Brexit within their own region in my opinion.
I am not sure where this leaves us. The next generation of composers and musicians will certainly face much tougher decisions. How can we have faith in a government who has arbitrarily decided that foreign-born professionals must earn over £35,000 or face deportation? Such decisions suggest that post-Brexit Britain will likely be one in which the cultural value of music will simply be understood as its potential to generate income, without the comprehension or understanding of its (ironically cost-effective) societal benefits. I dearly hope I am proved wrong.
Einstein said: “A large part of our attitude toward things is conditioned by opinions and emotions which we unconsciously absorb as children from our environment. In other words, it is tradition—besides inherited aptitudes and qualities—which makes us what we are. We but rarely reflect how relatively small as compared with the powerful influence of tradition is the influence of our conscious thought upon our conduct and convictions.”
In the three weeks since Brexit we have had a change of Prime Minister and much social upheaval both here and globally.
I worry. What can I do? How can I make sense of these times?
As a musician it is for me to start listening in a different way.
I must pay super close attention to the whispers and cries coming from all quarters.
It is for me to not only witness — but to take action when necessary.
I must stand up. I must speak up. I must act.
I wish we musicians and artists had stood up more strongly for the international
This tiny island’s decision to Brexit has caused a pyroclastic shockwave around the globe. It has set in motion a kaleidoscope of butterfly wings that has only started to cause chaos across social, financial and educational sectors. That this damage was done by duplicitous individuals, who cared only for their own advancement, will be seen as a mere bagatelle in comparison to the long-term shift in how we, the people of the UK, are viewed and are able to impact the world at large. That Brexit might even act as a model for others elsewhere in the EU to manipulate nationalistic tendencies saddens and sickens me.
The fortune of this country will change slowly – an emergent property of the many systems now at work – as a Brexit of one sort or another is set in motion; we will see whether partnerships are rescinded or altered to our detriment in the fields of science and education; how access to European grants is diminished or terminated; how a more right-wing government under PM May will now act even as articulates it plans in Labour’s traditional philosophies (Labour's need to practice self-immolation at this time is beyond reason). This United Kingdom may stay intact but the evil that has hatched out and divided the country will take time to truly settle again – and I can only hope it does.
There are groups such as Scientists for Britain who say the breaking of EU shackles and obligations of free movement will free science in the UK, allowing for a time of great innovation and realignment, of greater involvement with the US and in our shared mother tongue.* However I can’t think of any artist who fears Europe and what it stands for, or who seeks to renegotiate our entwined and mutual development and exploration, one that began centuries ago and to our betterment. As a composer and person I fear parochialism, ignorance and un-nuanced ‘conviction’; the awareness of cultures and fluidity of contexts is, I believe, what leads us towards a truly flexible, relevant and dynamic art. Whatever form Brexit eventually takes, the world we now live in – thanks in part to modern modes of information exchange – cannot put the genie of artistic awareness and cooperation back in the bottle. It might make it more difficult to gather consortia from across Europe, but to a certain extent it already is, but we continue to connect anyhow. Therefore, we CAN artistically maintain our fraternité, our networks and shared culture and exchange of influences, and in the process, perhaps, we will allow our politics to rise closer to the surface of our art and so speak more forcefully. Might this even allow our art to connect relevantly to a wider public as well? There has to be benefit in that.
* Howard Morris PhD, DSc(Hon), FRSA, FRS, Professor of Biological Chemistry (now Emeritus) at Imperial College, London since 1980
Bill Bankes-Jones, founder and Artistic Director of Tête à Tête, and Chair of the UK's umbrella body for opera companies, the Opera and Music Theatre Forum:
Brexit came as an absolute body blow to me. It's very hard to separate out emotional and professional reactions.
Like pretty much all of us working in the arts, the idea of leaving Europe felt absolute madness to me at a time of increasingly connected communication, when we should all be trying to work together more and developing wider umbrellas.
I had a feeling this was going to happen though. It's like a horrible working through of the core idea of Richard Hoggart's The Uses Of Literacy, where he sets out his idea that mass literacy will send us plummeting towards a lowest common denominator where this great new asset to society is used by commercial forces to profiteer by bringing out the worst in mankind - viz newspapers like The Sun etc.
Unfortunately, I fear he was right, and continues to be proved to be right as our increasing connectedness just encourages the very free flow of ever more debasing porn and other material, and worse still, allows social networks to somehow encourage great outpourings of bile and viciousness, or at best, short-term and shallow answers to deep and crucial questions.
To some extent, I do think this is why there is a general sense of loss of control around the country - that and the awful economic imbalances between London and the English and Welsh regions. What's heartbreaking is the referendum was seized as an opportunity to lash out against these centralised forces by the electorate, without a proper understanding of the very negative consequences that will accrue to these same voters themselves.
Even more frighteningly, I can't see how this loss of control will ever be overcome. Certainly our politicians and democratic processes are unlikely to be able to return any sense of control, which is very frightening indeed.
But with Theresa May telling us that "Brexit means Brexit", we'll have to knuckle down and make the best of it.
In opera in particular, we are very accustomed to a free flow of artists internationally, and of course with Europe next-door, we are very grateful for the lack of red tape involved in the free flow of the workforce. We also welcome and embrace the kind of partnerships Europe has facilitated and often financed. We will have to hope that these things are not too destabilised.
Oddly, I spent the day of the referendum result in Switzerland, a very European country outside the EU. I guess we have to hope that we will be able to remain that connected, while becoming just as prosperous and remaining as creative as we have always been.
The British Arts Festivals Association, chaired by Presteigne Festival artistic director, George Vass, give their view in a recent press release:
Downgrade of the UK’s cultural credit rating
The UK’s withdrawal from the EU will create restrictive conditions for collaborative creative partnerships. The costs and bureaucracy associated with welcoming international artists to the UK will be increased and our potential access to support for these partnerships will vanish. Should the UK leave the EU the impact on the performing arts will be hugely detrimental. Funding will be lost, partnerships will cease to exist, our specialist higher education institutions will lose students, UK artists will find it more difficult to work in Europe and the UK will lose many visiting artists. We have already seen the UK’s financial credit rating downgraded. Should this imprudent action, prompted by political expediency and irrational fear, be ratified, then we must also prepare for the downgrade of the UK’s cultural credit rating.
Other views from individual organisation members of BAFA:
Lyndon Jones, Artistic Director, Swansea International Music Festival
For Wales, the referendum outcome is grim, and possibly catastrophic. In the short term, substantial amounts of EU funding for agriculture, and for capital projects including schools, hospitals, and roads, will vanish. Therefore the Welsh Government’s remaining funds will be stretched to the limit, and arts funding is very likely to be one of the first casualties of new spending limits.
Further ahead, the possibilities of Scottish and Irish independence might see Wales as a (perhaps unwanted) partner of an internationally isolated England which, faced with its own post-Brexit difficulties and a secure Tory parliamentary majority, might struggle to see the value in generous public funding settlements to a predominantly Labour-voting neighbour.
Martin Dimery, Creative Director, Frome Festival
In some parts of the England, like Somerset, austerity budgets have meant the complete withdrawal of arts funding from local councils, followed then by a removal of funding from the Arts Council, who refuse to be the sole provider in these cases. EU funding for capital projects remains one of the few subsidies still available. We can have no confidence, given central and local government policy to the arts in the regions, that this money will be made available from those sources instead, following "Brexit." In Frome, an EU grant bid of significant proportion to help develop a venue has suddenly gone from looking positive to impossible overnight.
Debbie Liggins, Business Development Director, Orchestra of the Swan
On a practical note, I would add to this the volatility of the financial markets which could affect the value of investment portfolios and thus the amount that Trusts, Foundations and Individual Benefactors are prepared to donate to the Arts; the potential property value instability which could affect rental prices of commercial premises; the value of the pound which could cost festivals more to employ overseas artists; the re-allocation of public funding away from the arts in order to fulfil the promises of the ‘Leave’ campaign; the loss of the British brand as the UK breaks up …