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4 Mar  

Happy signs that new music is more fashionable than ever. Jim Farber makes the argument in The New Music Paradox, Part 2: Lessons From the Front Lines over at the San Francisco Classical Voice. Well worth a read.



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2 Mar  

 

The Glass@80 celebrations are already in full swing, the maestro having celebrated his birthday on January 31st. Anne Midgette points out, however, that the festivities are not quite so all-pervasive as one might imagine. Dennis Russell Davies, who has conducted all eleven of Glass's symphonies, offers some thoughts as to why that is.

 

 

Read more at The Washington Post



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1 Mar  

From the PRS website:

The Women Make Music Fund was created to draw attention to the gender gap between men and women in the music industry and increase the number of women creating new music in the UK. In 2011, just 13% of PRS for Music members were professional female songwriters and composers. Now in 2017, female membership sits at 16%.

The outcomes of the Women Make Music Fund speak for themselves. To date, the fund has:

Attracted 1,300 applications

Awarded £522,790 in grants

Increased grantee annual income by an average of £3,513

Awarded an average grant of £3,600, representing almost 100% return on investment

The report found that over three-quarters (79%) of Women Make Music grantees – which consists of 157 female songwriters, composers and music creators including; Mercury-nominated ESKA, genre-defying composer and producer, Anna Meredith and Women of the Future Award winner Hannah Kendall – said the fund significantly helped their confidence by enabling them to grow their professional profile.

More here.


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1 Mar  

A fascinating and disturbing article by Douglas Jarman argues that Alban Berg initially planned to use the motto of the Deutscher Turnerbund as a structural device in his Violin Concerto. The Turnerbund was ‘a movement concerned with the setting up of gymnastic and sports clubs…[and]…believed that physical education was not only a cornerstone of health but the very identity of a nation.’ By the time that Berg was writing the concerto, however, the organization had been banned because of it sympathies with the Nazi Party.

The complete article is available here.



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22 Feb  

NMC D220 Hallé, Hallé Youth Choir, The Manchester Grammar School Choir, Jamie Phillips and Sir Mark Elder.

 

It seems ridiculous that a disk that has no overt political agenda should, as the clock ticks inexorably down to the triggering of Article 50, have acted to calm my jittery Brexit nerves. It’s not been fun being British on the continent these last few months, wondering what on earth is going to happen once we leave the EU.

 

There’s something unashamedly international about this disk, a tonic at a time when our politics seem much meaner. O’Regan himself was brought up in the UK, but spent a lot of time in North Africa, his mother being born in Morocco but from an Algerian family. He now lives and works in New York City. These myriad cultural influences are woven deftly into his accessible musical language.

 

The opening work, for example, A Celestial Map of the Sky, contains a collage of texts with a distantly international tone. One of the threads which binds the whole together is Walt Whitman’s Salut au Monde! which includes the lines:

 

I see the cities of the earth, and make myself at random a part of them. 

Within me latitude widens, longitude lengthens; Asia, Africa, Europe, [...] America; 

I see the cities of the earth; 

I am a real Parisian;
I am a habitan of Vienna, St Petersburg, Berlin, Constantinople; I am of Adelaide, Sidney, Melbourne;
I am of London, Manchester, Bristol, Edinburgh, Limerick; 

 

That these words are performed by the fresh, and excellent, voices of The Manchester Grammar School Choir (for whom the work was written) and the Hallé Youth Choir, makes them more poignant still. Citizen of nowhere Mrs. May? Count me in.

 

The music itself reflects wonderfully the changing tone of the different texts. There is the mystical opening of the Gerald Manly Hopkins, the positive and exhilarating energy of the Whitman, the more tonally ambiguous and searching quality of the Mahmood Jamal. Tarik O’Reagan identifies himself as a fan of Benjamin Britten. There is certainly an element of that here in his responsiveness to the text, his facility in writing for young voices and the flexibility of his musical style. Combined with this, there are more obviously American elements—hints of minimalism, a certain stylistic unpretentiousness, an occasionally Coplandesque ‘openness’ to his orchestration—making him truly transatlantic.

 

The stylistic net is drawn wider still in two works: Raï and Chaâbi. Written for orchestra alone they draw upon popular North African dance forms, though the composer is quick to observe that ‘neither is an ethnographic study.’ Raï, which is Moroccan influenced, takes things a stage further with the inclusion of darbuka drums, which add a propulsive energy to the proceedings. In fact, of the two, Raï is rather the more successful, its taut rondo structure containing a plethora of well-executed ideas. Chaâbi, has a wonderfully elegiac quality, especially in the opening dialogue between soloists and orchestra. It nevertheless feels a little diffuse, and towards the end some of the ostinato patterns begin to overstay their welcome. As if to emphasise this point, the download version of the disk contains a bonus track, Now Fatal Change, for solo violin and countertenor, based on the same material as Chaâbi. It is a beautiful work, poised and focused in a way that Chaâbi can’t quite manage. It also once again highlights the Britten (this time via Purcell) influence.

 

J.S. Bach’s Sonata No. 3 for Solo Violin in C Major provides the inspiration for Latent Manifest, which was commissioned as part of a programme of musical transcriptions at the 2010 BBC Proms. O’Regan explains that his method of transcription is also derived from Bach, for when the composer himself adapted the violin piece for harpsichord ‘the result was more fantasia than conventional transcription.’ The same is certainly true here. The opening is a literal enough quotation, but O’Regan quickly leads us on an exhilarating reinterpretation of the original material. The brassy, and expertly prepared, peroration five minutes in had me clutching the arms of my sofa in delight.

 

The programme ends with Fragments from Heart of Darkness, a suite extracted from O’Regan’s chamber opera Heart of Darkness, based upon the novel by Joseph Conrad. Again that text is seems apposite for our troubled times—though seen through the prism of imperialism, the central question of how one race perceives another remains relevant. The piece, the most substantial in the programme, works in a way that opera suites don’t always manage—we are not merely presented with a bouquet of nice moments from the larger work, but a composition that contains a thrust and narrative drive of its own. It’s not unlike listening to a Strauss tone poem; it is vividly pictorial and contains a circularity (we begin and end in the same place) familiar from, say, An Alpine Symphony. In any case it provides an excellent conclusion to this splendid and highly recommended programme of music. 

 

A Celestial Map of the Sky: Interview with Tarik O'Regan



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15 Feb  

 

  Leuven City Centre

It is with some exhaustion that I have just updated the concert listings here on C:T. Another period of change sees me now living in Leuven, Belgium, having wended my weary way here from sunny Nice a couple of weeks ago. Hunting an apartment has been enervating, rendered more stressful by the desire to become established before Mrs. May begins the business of Brexit. 

 

I hope, soon, to be able to bring some more interesting perspectives from this part of the world. I am, indeed, excited by the possibilities. Nice is a beautiful place, but it is artistically out on a limb. Here I am one train stop from Brussels, with other important cultural centres within easy reach, including London, Paris, Amsterdam and Cologne. 

 

One thing I can report is that linguistically Belgium is fascinating. Here in Leuven the main language is Dutch, or Flemish to be exact. Yet one can quite happily get by in daily life speaking English which, whilst not being an official language, is much preferred to French. And yet if you take that one-stop train journey to Brussels the world turns Francophone. The eastern cantons of Eupen-Malmedy, on the other hand, are Germanic. Different regional languages are, of course, pretty common in Europe—indeed I grew up with this in Wales—but the degree of linguistic homogeneity within each region makes one feel that Belgium is several countries in one, a fact, I suppose, reflected in the country’s federal system of government.

 

Anyway, I digress. March is still a bit early in the season to be a bumper month for new music, but if you cast your eyes around there is, as ever, plenty going on. On 3rd Oliver Knussen will conduct BCMG and Huw Watkins in the world premiere of Helen Grime’s new Piano Concerto at Wigmore Hall, with a second opportunity to hear the work at the CBSO Centre on 5th. In New York on 3rd, meanwhile, Gene Pritsker’s new Violin Concerto with Big Band will be premiered by Vesselin Gellev at The Cutting Room, 19th West 24th Street. 

 

James MacMillan receives a brace of premieres at the Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh in March. The first, on 4th, is his Concertino for Horn and Strings, to be played by Alec Frank-Gemmill accompanied by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. On the 23rd is the Scottish Premiere of his Stabat Mater, performed by The Sixteen.

 

At the Concergebouw, Amsterdam on 11th is the first performance of a new Requiem by Willem Jeths. If one premiere is not enough in a concert, however, there are two concerts worth checking out. On 19th, the New London Children’s Choir celebrates its 25th anniversary with a programme that includes eight world premieres. Similarly, in Paris on 30th Ensemble Intercontemporain marks its fortieth anniversary with concert that includes seven new works, each of which is based on one of the days of Genesis. 

 

At Wigmore Hall on 25th, finally, is a day dedicated to the music of Thomas Adès. It begins with a concert at 1pm that contains his The Four Quarters, Concert Paraphrase on Powder Her Face and Piano Quartet, as well as music by Lutosławski and Walton. At 6pm is the chance to hear Adès in conversation with Wigmore Hall Director John Gilhooly. The day concludes with BCMG performing his Concerto Conciso and Arcadiana Op. 12 alongside works by Kurtág, Janáček and Gerald Barry.



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14 Feb  

The BBC Concert Orchestra recently performed a tribute concert to mark the 85th birthday of John Williams, the complete concert being available here.

 

Much more fun, and educational, however, are their three performances of Star Wars, Jaws and Jurassic park, now available on the Radio Two website. They are interactive, so that you can zoom around the orchestra spotlighting different instrumental sections. Doing so reveals interesting details of orchestration. Unfortunately, it seems that Flash is required, so it won't work on mobile.



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10 Feb  

I have always been amazed at the opportunities offered by Ablaze Records. Especially I’ve wondered how they manage to finance such a lavish range of competitions.

 

Well, according to a story over at Slipped Disc, they do it by asking the winning composer to pay for the performance. Composer Nikita Suhih recently won a competition, but was then asked to stump up $19,000 for the performance. 

 

Caveat emptor…



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9 Feb  

John Adams, who turns 70 this month, has just given some reactions to political events in the U.S. The interview, with Gabe Meline, can be found, here. Well worth a read…

 

This also come as the Seattle Symphony tonight plays a programme of music from the seven countries whose immigrants were banned from entering the country. From their website: 'As artists and Americans, we are committed to freedom of expression and the open exchange of ideas which create an environment of mutual understanding and the capacity for empathy. At the Seattle Symphony, we are inspired to add our voice in the hopes that we can come together through music.'



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8 Feb  

  Ashwood Photography London

Christian Morris talks to Philip Sawyers, whose Symphony No. 3 will be premiered by the English Symphony Orchestra on 28th February at St John's Smith Square, London.

 

Tell us a little about your background. How did you come to compose?

 

Almost as soon as I started learning the violin at the age of 13, making up music just seemed a natural thing to do. I was very lucky at Dartington College of the Arts, where I studied for my A-levels, in having an inspirational teacher in the person of Helen Glatz. She held a 'composers' workshop' every Friday and we were encouraged to bring anything we had written, however incomplete, to have played through and given her perceptive observations. It was a marvellously practical way to learn your craft. At the Guildhall I was a first study violinist so composition was not part of the course and I was left to find my own way. I had pieces performed and received various comments from my peers and from some of the composition staff. My most memorable occasion was conducting my Symphonic Music for Strings and Brass and having Rubbra make encouraging remarks about it.

 

You seem to have led a busy professional life after studying at Guildhall. Was there much time for composition? 

 

After the Guildhall I had to make a living and again was lucky in getting a contract with the ROH orchestra where I played from 1973 to 1997. During that time I also freelanced with other orchestras, including the LSO and BSO, and, amazingly, found time to play in some light music and pop sessions as well! The marvellous thing about the ROH was the list of amazing world-renowned conductors and soloists, of whom I have many happy memories. This clearly left little time for composition but, although fellow musicians and audiences enjoyed my music, it was distinctly out of fashion. In the late 60s and into the 70s only the fashionable avant-garde composers following on from Stockhausen and Boulez seemed to get commissioned and large organisations like the BBC seemed only interested in 'cutting-edge' work. This I found hugely discouraging as a mostly 'tonal' composer and that played some part in my drop in output during those years.


Click here to read the rest of the interview. 



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8 Feb  

On 25th March at The Barbican is the chance to hear Shostakovich’s piano score New Babylon, which will accompany a screening of the film. This is the first performance of the work as it was originally conceived.

 

From the Barbican website

 

Shostakovich’s spectacular first film score, New Babylon, was written when he was just 23 years old and is, alongside The Nose, his most important early dramatic work. Numerous re-writes of the film were demanded even before shooting started and the directors’ final cut completed in December 1928, when the composer was contracted to join the production. His myriad musical quotations matched a fast cross-cut film to produce a work of astonishing complexity and precision unequalled in silent film composition.

 

However, after two industry preview screenings with the composer himself performing his original solo piano score, the Moscow Sovkino office ordered the removal of over 20% of the film. Re-editing Shostakovich’s score to match proved impossible, parts were incomplete and early performances, a series of debacles, were beyond the abilities of cinema orchestras. Remaining copies of the piano score, destined for smaller cinemas and now unfitted for the re-edited film, were sold off. A rare surviving copy has provided the material for this first public performance.




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8 Feb  

A very happy birthday to John Williams, who turns 85 today. 

 

It would be impossible to number the composers I’ve met who have been influenced by him in some way. For me, his film scores were among my first introductions to classical music, even before I knew his name—his soundtrack to E.T. was one of the first vinyl single singles I bought. 

 

It seems that the younger generation are just as enamoured by his music as was mine. Here are a couple of kids fanfaring the master six months ago. His reaction is delightful. 

And here he is talking about the scoring of E.T. Though it’s a relatively well-known fact, it’s worth hearing the part where he describes how, in the final section, Spielberg cut the film to match the music, not the other way around.



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7 Feb  

The Konzerthaus Berlin has put out a series of videos in which an orchestra provides soundtracks to everyday events. They're very tongue in cheek, but a lot of fun. Perhaps there are even some real composition ideas in there somewhere...

Here's the first, entitled Currywurst:



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7 Feb  

Le Belvédère, the eccentric house in which Ravel spent his last years, has closed its doors to visitors. There is no certainlty that they will reopen.

More from Sanjoy Roy at The Guardian.

 

 

 



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6 Feb  

Helen Grime, whose new Piano Concerto will be premiered at Wigmore Hall on 3rd March 2017, has been talking to The Guardian about the music that inspires her, from ‘Bach to Bacharach, and Björk to George Benjamin.'

 

To learn a little more about Grime, also check out C:T’s interview with the composer, here.

 

 

 



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6 Feb  

Sounds Like Now, the new magazine dedicated to contemporary music in the UK and Ireland, will, in the first instance at least, be a digital only publication. Dan Goren, the brains behind the new publication, recently emailed all backers of the the magazine:

 

You may well be wondering, given that we’ve not been in touch for some time, how we’re getting on with Sounds Like Now and when you can expect the launch of this exciting new publication.  I’d like to bring you up to date with progress and let you know about some key changes to the enterprise.

 

Launching a quality printed magazine is a major undertaking and towards the end of last year it became apparent that the uncertain economic climate was making it difficult to secure the business investment required to make our plans a reality.  Determined to find a way to deliver we consulted with music and publishing associates and reviewed our plans, concluding that there were two possible routes forward to explore.  The first was to go into partnership with an established magazine publisher, one with the facilities and finances to help bring a new magazine to market.  We discussed the proposal with several publishers of both high profile and specialist music magazines who looked at it in depth. Sounds Like Now was considered a worthwhile and potentially viable proposition, however, given the highly uncertain current economic climate none of the publishers are able at the present time to commit to a partnership on a brand new publication.

 

The second route is to launch an online magazine in the first instance, looking to follow up with a print publication once established.  Re-examining the business model and taking a closer look at existing online magazines we now have a revised plan which in several ways actually improves on the original, with the following advantages:

 

Focussing initially on an online offering we can provide a far more sophisticated and useful promotional and community engagement service

We can focus resources on much needed key content such as professional high quality journalism and a properly edited and maintained UK-&-Ireland-wide events listings

We can create a technically more developed online service operating better on phones and tablets and across social media

We can enhance the offer to other operators in the new music sector such as record labels, publishers and venues.

We will be able to publish more frequently and more responsively, which is especially useful for delivering on our core objective of promoting contemporary music events

The flexible marketing opportunities we can offer via the website, social media and email are more attractive than print both in terms of value for money and reach for performers, venues, agents, record labels, publishers and others.

We will be able to offer much more promotion to the great number of smaller performing groups and venues who operate on very limited financial resources.

Focussing online plays to our own strengths and experience, not least in the setting up and running of Composers Edition.

 

The expanded online offering will include the following:

 

Quality Independent Journalism - sets of articles on performers, composers, trends plus review and critique, issued on a monthly basis and available in full exclusively to subscribers.

 

Events guide - A fully edited guide to all thats going on in contemporary music across the UK and Ireland.  

- Available free to all on the website, through email and social media

- Subscribers will be able to post events for free

- Promotional opportunities through premium listings and event feature articles, with special deals for subscribers

 

New Releases - We'll feature new recordings, sheet music, books, apps and more

 

Offers -  Subscribers will be able to enter regular free sweepstakes for tickets to events and get special deals on products and services.  These will not only be attractive to subscribers but also provide marketing for performers, venues and promotors.  Our TicketSweep service will be particularly geared towards smaller operators who whilst cash-strapped may be able to offer tickets in return for publicity.

 

I would also like to take this opportunity to welcome our new editor Tim Rutherford-Johnson, Tim is author of Music after the Fall: Modern Composition since 1989 (University of California Press) and the acclaimed new music blog The Rambler. He has written widely on new music for publications in the UK, USA and Europe. Between 1999 and 2009 he worked for Grove Music Online, and was subsequently editor of the Oxford Dictionary of Music, sixth edition.  Many of you will of course know Tim’s work and share in my excitement at having him on board.

 

I realise that whilst a significant proportion of crowdfunders opted for a digital subscription, some might share our frustration at not being able to deliver a printed publication at this time.  Overall, I believe we can serve our objective to celebrate and promote contemporary classical music very effectively through an online start to the life of Sounds Like Now.   We are on course to publish by 1 May 2017 and will be in touch regarding listings in due course.  I am very pleased to be able to share these plans with you and will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

 

Yours sincerely,

Dan Goren



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6 Feb  

The Royal Academy of Music recently announced that John Adams will join their staff as a visiting Professor of Composition:

 

John Adams, one of the world’s leading composers, has joined the Royal Academy of Music faculty as a Visiting Professor. His commitment cements a relationship that began in 2012, when he conducted concerts at New York’s Lincoln Center and the BBC Proms in London, in which Academy students performed alongside Juilliard School players.


In 2015, the Academy devoted a day to Adams’ music, during which he was given an Honorary Doctorate, and after which he tweeted, ‘Thrilled to be honored by @RoyalAcadMusic of Music with such pizzazz performances by hugely talented players.’ Most recently, he worked young composers of the Junior Academy and conducted the Junior Academy Symphony Orchestra. As part of his new role, he returns to the Academy in April 2017 to work with Opera Course students, and later in the year with instrumentalists and composers.


John Adams wrote of the new connection: ‘I’m proud and delighted to spend time with the very talented students of the Royal Academy of Music. I’ll be able to spend time with the young composers, singers and instrumentalists in a relationship that is as fruitful for me as it hopefully will be for the students.’


Principal Professor Jonathan Freeman-Attwood said: ‘John’s involvement with the Royal Academy of Music has always been generous and delightful. We’ve had some memorable times, most recently a day at the end of 2015 celebrating his music and performing Grand Pianola Music under his direction. I’m thrilled that his association with the Academy is strengthened further through this appointment.’


James Jolly, editor-in-chief of Gramophone magazine wrote on the occasion of Adams’ doctorate: ‘Adams has given his time selflessly to young musicians, as teacher, mentor and collaborator, as students at the Academy well know. The buzzing energy that marked out the Academy–Juilliard collaboration in 2012 was extraordinary and went hand in hand with the open-hearted joy those students felt at having forged such an inspirational new musical friendship with their conductor, and profound gratitude for John Adams’ artistic generosity.’

 

The new appointment also builds on the Academy’s international roster of Visiting Professors, which includes some of the world’s finest musicians. Recent additions include pianists Bengt Forsberg and Pascal Rogé, cellist Steven Isserlis and conductors Christian Thielemann, Mark Elder and Oliver Knussen. The role allows students a regular connection with such musicians, who are able both to inspire and mentor them during the time they spend at the Academy. 

 




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1 Feb  

Following the enormous success of George Benjamin’s Written on Skin, which has been performed nearly 100 times around the world, the Royal Opera House has commissioned a new opera from the composer, to be performed in 2018 and titled Lessons in Love and Violence. Playwright Martin Crimp will once again provide the libretto. More details are available, here.

 

Their original collaboration continues to go from strength to strength, with a revival by Royal Opera this year, performances in Moscow in April, a DVD release and a planned BBC television broadcast.



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1 Feb  

The PRS has just announced the twelve UK composers who will receive funding ‘to enable them to realise projects and ambitions that may not be possible through traditional commissioning models.’ They (and their associated projects) are:

 

Ed Bennett – Researching and composing music around early phonograph field recordings of Irish traditional song, working with the Crash and Decibel ensembles.

Gary Carpenter – Recording and releasing a CD of four orchestral works with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

Jessica Curry – Composing new music for her unaccompanied choral music and creating a specialised keyboard.

Shiva Feshareki – Composing an orchestral commission for the London Contemporary Orchestra and curations with Eliane Radigue, Lee Gamble, Kit Downes, and Laura Marling.

Stuart MacRae – Developing a dramaturgy and libretto to be premiered at the Lammermuir Festival, East Lothian in 2019.

John McLeod – Recording four orchestral works, with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra including one featuring Dame Evelyn Glennie.

Hilda Paredes – Researching a monodrama on the life of Harriet Tubman.

Lynne Plowman – International promotion for four operas and other key pieces.

Gwyn Pritchard – Researching and composing an orchestral work for the German orchestra: Jenaer Philharmonie,

Philip Venables – Developing techniques to combine spoken word, visual text, song and music for a theatre project.

James Weeks – Researching and composing a substantial piece for solo violin with the violinist Mira Benjamin

Elizabeth Winters – Composing a number of chamber works, working with Rarescale chamber ensemble, Estrilda Trio, and violinist Marie Schreer.

 

See here for more information.



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27 Jan  

Robert Matthew-Walker

Robert Matthew-Walker is a fascinating figure. In the 60s he served in the army, including in North Africa, studied in Paris with Darius Milhaud and founded the Tunnel Club rock venue in Greenwich. In the 70s he worked for CBS records and subsequently founded several record labels of his own. He is also prolific as a broadcaster, author, critic and editor.

 

He is less well-known, however, as a composer, even though he has achieved considerable success in the field (listen to this fine recording of his Piano Sonata No.3, Op 34, for example). Matthew-Walker’s composing output, with some 150 numbered works to his name, is borne of formidable self-discipline—in a recent interview he described being inspired by Hans Keller, who worked from 1.30am–4.30, before starting a full day at 7.30am. 

 

Matthew-Walker’s approach to composition owes much to his varied biography. His latest work A Bad Night in Los Angeles, for example, was inspired by a club experience in L.A.: 

 

Following his outstanding recording of my fantasy-sonata Hamlet, Mark Bebbington asked me for a short solo concert work lasting about five or six minutes. I wanted to write something completely different and decided on a piece in modern disco-style, taking the essence of present-day dance music and transferring it to the recital room.

 

The title comes from a time, many years ago, when I was working in Los Angeles. One evening, I wandered into a nightclub to hear a new driving rock band, Azteca. I was astonished when they began their set with a modern-dance version of the opening sequence of the French composer Darius Milhaud’s Concerto for Percussion and Small Orchestra of 1930.

 

As I had studied in Paris with Milhaud, and knew the concerto well, I was taken aback. At first, it was a bad night for me in Los Angeles, but it turned out well in the end. I hope my piece does, too!

 

You can hear the premiere of Matthew-Walker’s A Bad Night in Los Angeles, his Fantasy-Sonata: Hamlet together with works by Schubert, Bliss and Beethoven at Bromsgrove’s Atrix on 3rd February.

 

Source:

 

Birmingham Post, LA club experience inspired composer's disco-style piece, interview by Christopher Morley



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