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23 Apr  

German composer Moritz Eggert talks to C:T about his life, motivations and new CD Musica Viva 30, which has just been released on the NEOS record label.
 

Moritz Eggert - photo Katharina Dubno

Tell us something about your background.

I was born in Heidelberg and grew up there, in Mannheim and Frankfurt, the latter being where I spent my formative years. My mother is a photographer and my father (who I didn't grow up with) was a writer. My background was certainly artistic, but music was not my primary focus, even though I remember clearly that I constantly created music in my head and could imagine the timbre and sound of instruments very precisely. I just didn't think it was a special skill. I had a good piano education from an early age nevertheless, but not with the goal of actually becoming a musician. I was interested in all kinds of things - film, literature, art...I knew I wanted to become an artist, but I didn't really know exactly what kind of artist until... 

How did you start composing?

...I was asked by a school friend to be part of his band. It quickly became clear that I enjoyed composing music for that band. Then there were more bands, Jazz, Rock, Prog-Rock, and I suddenly found myself falling for music in general. I must have been 15 at that time, and suddenly I realized that I had gotten behind on piano technique compared to others my age. I wanted to play what I heard in my head, and that meant practice, practice, practice...I regularly skipped school to practice piano, which had not a good effect on my grades, obviously. But with the practice came a renewed interest in classical music, and the discovery of more unusual composers like Erik Satie and Charles Ives, which in turn led to my interest in contemporary music.

>> Click here to read the full interview



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19 Apr  

Composer and academic James Wishart has died of a stroke aged 61. Wishart was a lecturer in composition at the University of Liverpool from 1980 to 2013. He was also active as an organiser of conferences, festivals and concerts, including the new music festival Upbeat, The Electric Concerts, and in projects as part of the 2008 Capital of Culture Celebrations. 

 

In 2017 a new archive of his work was opened to coincide with a performance of one of his best-known works 23 Songs for a Madwoman. His music has been described ‘as the continuation and development of modernism in music, as found in composers such as Luciano Berio, Morton Feldman and Peter Maxwell Davies…. Wishart's music aims for clarity of communication rather than being a simple exploration of music theory.’

 

A fuller Guardian obituary can be found, here.



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19 Apr  

Classical music streaming service IDAGIO has announced a collaboration that will make the entire Warner Classics and Erato catalogue available to its users.

 

The IDAGIO catalogue, which already comprises over 650,000 tracks, will encompass all new and recent releases from the Warner Classics and Erato labels, as well as the complete catalogue, including recordings originally issued on such iconic labels as EMI Classics and Teldec (now Warner Classics) and Virgin Classics (now Erato).

 

As an additional aspect of the partnership, IDAGIO will feature exclusive playlists curated by Warner Classics and its artists, and will work closely with the label on additional initiatives to provide an engaging classical listening experience for IDAGIO users.

 

To find out more about IDAGIO (and especially how it can be used by composers), read CT’s recent interview with its founder Till Janczukowicz, here.



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19 Apr  

 

Jennifer Higdon has been awarded the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition for ‘her highly acclaimed and wide-ranging compositions that have led to her status and one of most prolific and frequently performed living composers.’ The prize includes $100,000, a performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and a residency of two to three non-consecutive weeks at the Bienen School of Music.

 

More information available here.



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15 Apr  

Festivals

The Techtonics Festival (5–6th) at City Halls, Glasgow prides itself on being being international, this year being no exception, with performers and composers from Japan, Lithuania, France, Sweden, Norway USA and UK. Premieres include a piece for Japanese koto by American composer and sound artist Miya Masaoka; and new works for the BBCSSO by Dror Feiler, Naomi Pinnock, James Clarke, Evan Johnson, and Marc Sabat. There’s also a focus on the French composer Pascale Criton.

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Festival (9–16th May) takes place in various venues in South East Wales. There is a focus on the music of Welsh composers, especially works by the festival director John Metcalf, as well as by Chinese composer Qigang Chen and Danish composers Per Nørgård and Bent Sørensen. There will be new works by Helen Woods and David Roche as well as Metcalf’s Six Palindromes in the final concert on 16th.

 

The Prague Spring Festival (12th–3rd June) offers around 50 concerts in its month-long programme. One of the themes of the festival will be a commemoration of the hundredth anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia, with performances of music by Bohuslav Martinů, Josef Suk, Klement Slavický, Pavel Bořkovec, Miloslav Kabeláč, and Eugen Suchoň, as well as representatives of the younger generation including Michal Nejtek, Ondřej Adámek, Lukáš Sommer, and Marko Ivanović. There are also a number of world premieres including Michal Nejtek’s Ultramarine, played by the Warsaw Philharmonic, a new work from Luboš Mrkvička played by Klangforum Wien, the song-cycle Little Works by Marko Ivanović, EQ172 by Alexey Aslamas and Sundial by Jan Kučera. There will also be a special new work, Passacaglia 1918 by Michal Müller to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia.

 

Oxfordshire’s Festival of English Music (25th–28th May) provides, as the name suggests,  a cross-section of music by purely English composers, with a particular focus on polyphonic works of the sixteenth century and music of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The later will include two premieres: the first UK performance of Richard Blackford’s Violin Concerto and the world premiere of Christopher Wright’s Symphony

 

Other May world premieres picks:

 

6th York Höller New work for viola and orchestra, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, Kölner Philharmonie, Germany

7th Dimitri Arnauts Humble Memories, Emmy Wils and Tim Mulleman, Bozar Brussels, Belgium

9th David Matthews Symphony No 9, English Symphony Orchestra, St. George’s, Bristol

16th Charlotte Bray Reflections in Time, London Sinfonietta, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

17th Will Frampton, Dani Howard, David John Roche and Bethan Morgan-Williams, new works, Psappha Ensemble, The Whitworth Art Gallery

18th Willem Jeths, Conductus - Constructio Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, de Doelen Concert Hall

23rd Tan Dun Buddha Passion, for choir and orchester, Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, Kulturpalast Dresden

31st Victoria Borisova-Ollas Exodus: Departure for clarinet and orchestra, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Konserthuset Stockholm



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9 Apr  

Mark-Anthony Turnage's new children's opera Coraline, which finished its run on Saturday, has attracted pretty decent critical notices, including from Fiona Maddocks at the Observer, Tim Ashley at The Guardian and Paul Driver at the Times. A more savage response from Rupert Christiansen at the Telegraph, however, led critic Hugh Canning to tweet that the criticisms were 'spot on'. This led to this Twitter exchange between Turnage and Canning:

Other musicians were quick to support Turnage and Canning later apologised, telling the Guardian: '"Obviously, it’s concerning that a composer I admire may not write any more operas because of an off-the-cuff tweet I had intended light-heartedly...I really didn’t expect Mark to take my suggestions seriously – especially as my enthusiasm for his earlier operas, Greek, The Silver Tassie and Anna Nicole, is a matter of record.”'

More at the Guardian.



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8 Apr  

From the Sibelius Website

 

We’re really proud to announce the release of Sibelius 2018.4, making huge steps forward in many areas of the program. In summary, we’ve expanded on the recently added multi-edit workflows to now include the ability to enter and edit multiple text objects; given our note spacing rules a complete overhaul; enhanced the way you can interact with tied notes and much more, spanning over 70 individual improvements.



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5 Apr  

A belated ‘happy birthday’ to Samuel Adler, who celebrated his 90th birthday on 4th March. Some composers will know him best from his widely used treatise The Study of Orchestration, but he has also had an impressive (and ongoing) composition career. 

 

You can read an excellent interview with the composer (the first of two) by David Dupont, here

 

And hear him talking about composing here:



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5 Apr  

Robert Joseph Rosen

Canadian composer Robert Joseph Rosen died on Monday 19th March in Ottawa. He was 61. 

 

Rosen studied in Canada with Violet Archer, Malcolm Forsyth and Bruce Mather. He attended the Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik in Darmstadt in 1982, later working at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada, where he formed associations with Witold Lutoslawski, John Cage, Heinz Holliger and others.

 

His output includes electroacoustic music, concert, dance, film music and site-specific environmental compositions for groups that include Pro Coro Canada, the Victoria Symphony Orchestra, Calgary Philharmonic, the Vancouver New Music Society and Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. He was also won or was a finalist in a number of Canadian composition competitions. 

 

A memorial will be held on April 15th at 1:00pm, details available here.



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5 Apr  

Young Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson goes from success to success. Fresh from scoring the hit film Black Panther, he has just been confirmed as the composer for Sony’s new Marvel film Venom. And this after a long list of other credits including several U.S. sitcoms and the films 30 Minutes or Less, Fruitvale Station and Creed.

 

More here.

 

Göransson discusses creating the music from Black Panther:



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29 Mar  

If there’s a British composer on a roll at the moment, it’s Philip Venables. His first major opera, a setting of Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis, premiered in 2016 at the Royal Opera House to rave reviews, subsequently winning a British Composer Award; his concert piece The Gender Agenda, ‘a gameshow for ensemble, video and gameshow host’, will reopen the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 12th April, with subsequent performances in Frankfurt, Porto and Amsterdam; and his new portrait CD Below the Belt, has just been released on NMC. 

 

Four vocal works dominate the album—The Revenge of Miguel Cotto; Numbers 76–80, Tristan and Isolde; Numbers 91-95; and Illusions—with two instrumental pieces—Klaviertrio im Geiste and Metamorphoses After Britten (the four movements of which are distributed throughout)—satisfyingly breaking things up. 

 

There’s an obsessiveness to Venables’ music, a determination to extract every last ounce of energy from a musical idea. The result can be visceral, incredibly direct. In its most distilled and elegant form this can be heard in the piano trio, where motives are developed with compelling economy, even to the point where the first movement is simply marked ‘Tacet.’ The vocal works also have their elegant touches (the use of live cassette recording in Numbers 76–80 being a good example), but here the directness can also be shocking. Texts are chanted by voices together, musical figures are obsessed over until they burn out and, if you also check-out live video performances (a must), there are striking visual touches, such as the slapping of boxing punch bags in The Revenge of Miguel Cotto and the video projection in Illusions (below). This last work is, to my mind, a magnificent achievement: bold, brave, filthy, thought-provoking and outrageously funny. The disk marks, then, the arrival of a major talent. Don’t miss it.

 

Philip Venables and David Hoyle: Illusions



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29 Mar  

Other than the Venables album (see above) NMC have just released a programme of music by Brian Ferneyhough performed by Exaudi and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The title work, La Terre est un Homme, an epic and densely written work for 88 instruments, is worth the price of the disk alone. It caused something of scandal at its premiere in  Glasgow in 1979, and was subsequently rarely played. Martyn Brabbins’ performance is brutally exciting and does a remarkable job of making sense of the dense polyphonic writing (the score is 4 feet tall…). 

 

If this is a little intense, why not try out Magnar Åm’s The Broken Vessel on Ravello Records, a series of compositions/improvisations in an abandoned Norwegian factory that makes use of ‘everything from the acoustics in the building to the muffled sounds of traffic outside its walls.’ The results are surprisingly evocative, as if the vibrations of the instruments are giving voice to the old building. 

 

More Zen still, if you’re in the mood for cosmic length, is Morton Feldman’s For John Cage for violin and piano in a new release that forms volume 6 in Bridge Records’ Feldman series. Typical of late Feldman, the work is massively spun out, with small, seemingly inconsequential, musical ideas (most of which barely rise above a whisper) explored over its 70 minute timeframe. Even so, it casts quite a spell, especially when performed, as here, with the requisite concentration.



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22 Mar  

Borough New Music reaches Series 7

 

In April Borough New Music arrives at Series 7 in its mammoth cycle of contemporary music concerts. On 3rd there are works for combinations of soprano, countertenor and piano by George Crumb, HK Gruber, Ross Edwards and Julian Grant; the 10th features music by a single composer Edward Henderson, who is known for his use of founds sounds, found objects, repetition and audience participation; on 17th there are improvisations for saxophone and piano; whilst 24th features new music and theatre from the Windup Penguin Theatre Company. All the concerts are held on Tuesdays at 1pm in the very central St. George the Martyr Church, London. Ideal lunchtime fare.

 

Late Music season kicks off

 

In York, meanwhile, Late Music’s new season kicks off with two concerts on April 7th. At 1pm the Fairfax Ensemble traces the story of Late Music itself, from the 1980s to the present. It will include  world premieres from Emily Rowan, Natalie King, Roger Marsh, Tim Brooks and Nick WIlliams. At 7pm, meanwhile,  Atéa Wind Quintet will premiere works by David Lancaster and Angela Slater (who runs a concert series of her own) as well as works by Gary Carpenter, Thea Mustrave, Berio, Ligeti and Birtwistle. Late Music’s season of contemporary music concerts continues all the way to October, so be sure to have a look at their programme

 

Andrea Tarrodi Weekend

 

From 12th–15th the Konserthuset Stockholm will host a mini festival dedicated to Swedish composer Andrea Tarrodi, whose music is known for its ‘colourful richness and peculiar play of light.’ The festival includes four world premieres: Wildwoods for orchestra and a new Piano Concerto Stellar Clouds on 12th (both repeated on 14th); Acanthes, Concerto for two violins and strings on 13th; and "Drache-Frau" (the wounded diva) for brass quintet 15th. As well as other works by Tarrodi, there will be pieces by Schoenberg and Debussy.

 

First performances

 

Finally, my pick of April’s world premieres, starting in the UK. 12th April sees the London Sinfonietta give first performance of Philip Venables’ The Gender Agenda, described as ‘A concert piece like no other, The Gender Agenda will turn the Queen Elizabeth Hall into a gameshow and the audience into contestants’; on 15th the NYOS and pianist James Willshire give the first performance of Scottish composer Jay Capperwauld’s new piano concerto at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall; also on 15th at the Royal Festival Hall there is the chance to hear works by Solvenian composer Vito Žuraj, including the world premiere of his Ubuquity - farces for soprano and ensemble; at the Barbican on 19th, finally, Simon Rattle and the LSO take on Helen Grime’s Woven Space. 

 

In the US on 6th at Carnegie Hall the American Composers Orchestra will give three world premieres, Hitoma Oba’s September Coming, Ethan Iverson’s Concerto to Scale and Steve Lehman’s Ten Threshold Studies, as well as two New York premieres. In Europe, meanwhile, Péter Wolf’s new Clarinet Concerto will be played by Csaba Klenyán at the Liszt Academy on 7th; a new String Trio by Jukka Tiensuu will receive its first performance by ZilliacusPerssonRaitinen at the Konserthuset on 9th; and Johannes Jansson’s Peace Symphony will be played by Sveriges Radio Symfoniorkester at the Berwaldhallen, Sweden on 13th.




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14 Mar  

Christian Morris talks to composer Sadie Harrison, whose work has been performed internationally and widely recorded. She is also known for her cross-cultural collaborative projects.
 

Sadie Harrison

Tell us a little about your background. How did you become a composer? 

Firstly, thanks very much for asking me to contribute to Composition:Today. It's taken me quite a while to formulate answers to some of the questions - partly because I am lucky enough to have a couple of commissions on the boil at the moment but also because the opportunity has come at a time when I am thinking very hard about the path my composing has taken me on recently and, indeed, after 35 years of writing, where it might lead me next. And if I am to be honest, I do find it rather hard to discuss my work, though I am often called on to do so. My non-musician friends will tell you that composition is not something that I talk about (though they are always interested), and generally I choose not to tell people that I do it at all in order to avoid difficult questions that simply cannot be answered in a few words. I am also mindful of a comment made by Frederic Rzewski in a pre-concert talk (2012 Late Music York) when he was asked why he didn't like programme notes: 'they are vomit bags for composers!' Although I took offence at quite a lot of what Rzewski said that night, I did sympathise with his dislike of unhelpful verbosity. With this in mind, rather than contribute answers for every question I've suggested some sources for more information about specific projects as I'm going along. And there's a lot of information on my website
http://www.sadieharrisoncomposer.co.uk or publisher: http://www.uymp.co.uk 

I can definitely say that I became a composer. I wasn't born one. Although music was a big part of my childhood (taking piano and violin lessons, being part of local youth orchestras), the urge to compose did not manifest itself until I went to Surrey University as an undergraduate in the early 1980s. I remember the exact moment when it happened, during a lecture about Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, in particular Der Kranke Mond. I had an overwhelming visceral reaction to the piece. I immediately understood the language and wanted to write music like it. And I thought I could - something just clicked, a kind of coming home. This is a dramatic statement, but I have come to realise that I have always been searching for the right place for my music to inhabit since that moment. It's a complicated search with directions changing over time, but it has been governed by developing what I hope is a strong, flexible compositional technique and an acceptance of the style of the music I want to write. Perhaps most importantly it has been about understanding how my music can resonate usefully outside the confines of the contemporary music world, a world that I have often felt very at odds with. 

A section from my current biography reads: 'For several years, Sadie also pursued a secondary career as an archaeologist and reflecting her interest in the past, many of her compositions have been inspired by the traditional musics of old and extant cultures with cycles of pieces based on the folk music of Afghanistan, Lithuania, the Isle of Skye, the Northern Caucasus and the UK. She is also well known for socio-political aspects of music-making with several works challenging stereotypes of marginalised peoples - refugees, Afghan women, the deaf, the homeless - celebrating their creativity and individuality with powerful expressions of musical solidarity.' 

I think this sums up where I am now! 

 

>> Read the rest of the interview here 



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13 Mar  

    Milko Kelemen

Croatian composer, conductor and teacher Milko Kelemen died on 8th March in Stuttgart. He was 93.

 

Kelemen was a composition pupil of Stjepan Šulek, later studying in Paris with Messiaen and Tony Aubin and Freiburg with Wolfgang Fortner. 

 

He held academic posts at Düsseldorf Conservatory and the Stuttgart Musikhochschule. He also founded the Zaghreb Biennale.

 

Rudolf Lück and Koraljka Kos divide the composer’s style into three periods: ‘an early corpus – Piano Sonata (1954) to Études contrapuntiques (1959) – written in a style influenced by folk music; an avant-garde period during which Kelemen experimented with musical structure; and, from Grand jeu (1982) onwards, a period marked by his discovery of a new, personal use of intervals and harmony. This last phase also assimilated earlier stylistic changes.’ (New Grove Online)

 

Kelemen was the recipient of many awards, including a Humboldt Scholarship, the Beethoven Prize of Bonn, an ISCM prize, the Vladimier Zazor Prize and the French Chevalier des Art et des Lettres.

 

Milko Kelemen: Changeant (1968)

 

 

Sources: Grove Online, Wikipedia



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25 Feb  

  Plymouth University: Decoding Life

The interface between music, engineering and the life sciences is an ongoing area of research at Plymouth University’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research (ICCMR). ‘Decoding Life’, the theme of this year’s Contemporary Music Festival (2–4th March) is, then, a celebration of this research. Not all of the events involve music, but three are definitely worth checking out: on 4th Ensemble Bash premiere new works by ICCMR composers, Williams, Gimenes and Miranda, plus 2018’s guest composer and music technology pioneer, Archer Endrich; on 4th there are works all inspired by life, both terrestrial  and extra-terrestrial, by Richard Abbott,  Alexis Kirke and Núria Bonet; and, on the same day, there is a cinematic piece of electronic music by ICCMR post-graduate research student Alan D Miles which attempts to capture and explore the experiences of epilepsy.

 

Zeit für Neue Musik in Bayreuth, Germany starts on the same day as Decoding Life but runs, albeit intermittently, until 11th. The emphasis is on mainstream continental (including Russian) composers, both alive and recently deceased. Highlights include a concert featuring piano compositions by Robert H.P. Platz, which will include the use of computer manipulated sound; pianist Olga Andryushchenko playing works from the former Soviet Union; and the world premiere of a new work by Leipzig-based composer Günter Neubert.

 

Archipel (15th–25th) in Geneva, Switzerland lists a total of thirteen intriguing festival themes, including Anagrams and Lipograms, Mechanical Shoes, Cursed Moloch, Machina Humana and Geek Music. They can all be explored here (click the flag top right for English). The festival includes many Swiss premieres and thirteen world premieres from composers Alexandre Babel, Gonzalo Bustos, Stefano Gervasoni, Céline Hänni, Wolfgang Heiniger, David Hudry, Mischa Käser, Masahiro Miwa, Javier Muñoz Bravo, Jean-Frédéric Neuburger, Michael Pelzel, Alberto Posadas and Martin Riches.

 

In contrast the London Ear Festival of Contemporary Music (21st–25th) has just three themes: Japanese music, composers from countries on the Baltic coastline, and the music of Luciano Berio. The first of these includes works by Toru Takemitsu, Yûta Bandoh, Misato Mochizuki, Kotoka Suzuki, Shintaro Imai and Toshio Hosokawa; the second by Dobromiła Jaskot, Dariusz Pryzbylski, Arturas Bumšteinas, Gailė Griciūtė and Martin Stauning and Erkki-Sven Tüür. The Berio thread is also a rich one, with 12 works on offer, including a number of his Sequenzas. There will also be the opportunity to hear Berio’s widow, Talia Pecker Berio, in conversation with Andrew Kurowski and the Festival Directors.  Aside from these themes there are a number of works from British composers and a total of 18 world premieres.



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22 Feb  

Kaija Saariaho

Kaija Saariaho has been announced as the winner of the 10th edition of the BBVA Foundation Contemporary Music Award. The prize is $500,000. 

 

From the BBVA website:

 

The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Contemporary Music category goes, in this tenth edition, to Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho on the basis of “a contribution to contemporary music that is extraordinary in its individuality, breadth and scope.” From her earliest works, the jury continues, Saariaho has exhibited “a seamless interweaving of the worlds of acoustic music and technology,” a quality which the new laureate remarked, after hearing of the award, had come to her quite naturally. When she started studying music at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, she was frustrated at the acoustics of the venues she would attend to hear live performances. Wondering if it was possible to alter characteristics like the volume of the instruments, she began recording them and processing the sound for subsequent playback.

 

Meanwhile Ernst Von Siemens prizes of $40,000 each have been awarded to Clara Iannotta (Italy), Timothy McCormack (USA) and Oriol Saladrigues (Spain). 

 

Source: Slipped Disc



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15 Feb  

Hungarian composer László Melis died on 12th February. He was 65. 

 

Melis studied the violin at the Liszt Academy, Budapest, before performing extensively as a founding member of the contemporary music ensemble Group 180. 

 

As a composer Melis was best known for his music for film, winning awards for the animated film A szél ("The Wind") and Gyurmatek ("Clay Play”) and composing the music for László Nemes’s directorial debut Son of Saul, a widely acclaimed film that follows a Hungarian Jew tasked with managing the disposal of bodies at the gas chambers in Auschwitz-Birkenau. 

 

Minimalist in style, Melis’s compositions can be found on BMC and Hungaroton record labels. Many are also available on YouTube.

 



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15 Feb  

Icelandic composer Jóhann Gunnar Jóhannsson died suddenly at his apartment on 9th February. He was just 48. He is best known for his film scores, including Prisoners (2013), The Theory of Everything (2014) Sicario (2015), Arrival (2016) and The Mercy (2017). At his death he was working on the score for an animated film, Christopher Robin, based upon the Winnie the Pooh stories

 

Jóhannsson also wrote music for theatre, dance and television and released a series of ten solo albums beginning in 2002. The last of these, Orphée (inspired by the Orpheus myth) was released by Deutsche Grammophon in 2016. 

 

Born in Reykjavik, Iceland Jóhannsson learned piano and trombone before going on to study languages and literature. His composing life began as a guitarist in Indie bands using ‘feedback-drenched guitar figures to create multi-layered soundscapes.’ Later encounters with Brian Eno’s Obscure Records albums led to a change of direction: ‘I set the guitar aside and started writing music for strings, woodwinds and chamber ensemble, combining acoustic and electronic sounds.’ His distinctive style, a fusion of traditional and electronic elements, was born.

 

It was a style that won many plaudits, including a Golden Globe for Best Original Film Score (The Theory of Everything) and Oscar nominations for Sicario and Arrival.

 

At the end of his life, Jóhannsson was living and working in Berlin. He is survived by his daughter Karolina Johannsdottir.



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8 Feb  

After updating C:T’s opportunity page today, I came across this article by Norman Lebrecht over at Slipped Disk. It describes how this week’s Singapore Violin Competition has effectively been rigged, since the grand finalists are all students of members of the jury. He goes as far as to suggest that the other violinists who entered ‘should hire a lawyer and sue for the return of their expenses. They would be setting an important precedent.’

 

Whilst such extremes examples of nepotism are to be decried, we might as well admit to ourselves that blander, but no less pernicious, forms of favouritism have long existed in the musical world, including in composing. I certainly know of composers who have been awarded prizes or opportunities by teachers and, I might as well say it, I have probably benefited from this type of patronage myself. The phrase ‘it’s who you know’ could not be more relevant in a career with so many practitioners chasing so few opportunities.

 

There are of course things that competitions can do to increase the chance that the competition will be fair, especially by asking that scores are submitted anonymously. Probably about half of all competitions I post month in, month out here at C:T do this. Whilst this is not a panacea—it’s not difficult, after all, for a judge on a panel to recognise a score written by a student, even if it has no name on it—it does limit the chances of a Singapore-style stitch-up.

 

Beyond this I’m not sure how much more can be done. Music-making is a social activity, so it’s perfectly natural that you are more likely to get musicians with whom you have a relationship to help you. Is that really nepotism? I don’t think so. Unless you are a composer that doesn’t mind being discovered after you’re dead, you have to get out, meet people. There is nothing heroic about sitting in a lonely composing studio expecting the world to come genuflecting to your door.

 

A final thought on competitions, which arose from an email we received here at C:T a couple of weeks ago. It was from a composer who was worried that one of the composer opportunities posted on our opportunities page was a scam—it required money up front and in a currency different from where the website was based, the website itself was amateurish and the name of the competition organiser did not seem to appear elsewhere on the web. There was no definitive answer we could give since the competition did not differ greatly from many others posted here; many competitions ask for money up-front, some are from newcomers who may not be great at website design and even the currency problem may have had a simple explanation. 

 

This doesn’t stop me worrying about the veracity of the compositions we list here in good faith. In one competition last year, for example, entrants were not asked to pay a fee, but when the winner was selected he was asked for $19,000 towards the cost of performing the piece. You could argue that that does not matter, since he could simply refuse, but imagine his frustration if he’d written the piece specifically for the competition. 

 

It is, then, incumbent upon us all to exercise caution and a healthy scepticism when entering composition competitions. Like the entrants in the Singapore Violin Competition, we can’t protect ourselves from the nepotism of jury members, but we don’t have to believe every promise we read or pay every exorbitant entry fee. The same approach, essentially, as when buying a used car. Buyer beware.



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