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'Composers have better things to do'

It was announced this week that two British composers have been offered artistic advisory roles at London's newly refurbished South Bank Centre. Those that have ever visited the centre will know that it lives on the banks of the Thames and comprises three varying size halls that play host to the Philharmonia orchestra, London Philharmonic, London Sinfonietta and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

As a result of the refurbishment the powers that be at the South Bank are attempting to create a more integrated artistic environment to secure the centre's future and funding. Therefore it appears that internationally recognised composers/conductors George Benjamin and Oliver Knussen will be drafted in to facilitate such change.

Needless to say this has sparked concern from many quarters, most notably Norman LeBrecht (see his article using the above link). LeBrecht takes issue with the worth of such positions. Both Benjamin and Knussen are undoubtly gifted composers yet both have a limited output and LeBrecht blames this on their eagerness to accept honours and positions within the artistic establishement. LeBrecht says

'In the prime of life and apparent good health, the pair ought to be at the height of their fertility yet such is the English aptitude for seducing artists away from art - and the concomitant avidness of English artists to accept state honours and financial honoraria - that no-one, not even their loyal publisher, would aver that Knussen or Benjamin has come within a nautical mile of fulfilling a truly remarkable potential.'

It remains to be seen how Benjamin and Knussen will tackle their new roles. It seems simple to say that they can do more for contemporary music by composing but perhaps the, as yet, unknown generation of composers need figures like Benjamin and Knussen to prepare the ground for a more fruitful artistic environment. But perhaps LeBrecht is correct - 'composers have better things to do'.

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