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15 Nov  

Over the last two-and-a-half years I have come to admire those people for whom Brexit is a turnoff. The mere mention of the word produces a glassy-eyed look, or, perhaps the begrudging phrase ‘I wish they’d just get on with it’ (rather ignoring the fact that what ‘it’ is is exactly the problem). For me it seems to have become an anxiety-inducing obsession. A day like this, when the news is arriving think and fast, leaves me glued to every available news outlet. 

 

As I write, after six government resignations, it seems that May’s deal is dead. We find ourselves in deep constitutional waters. In trying to interpret the mandate given by the British public in 2016 Theresa May has tried, above all else, to accommodate the wishes of the hard Brexit lobby in her own party. Her responsibility as Prime Minister not to crash the economy, not to ignite a sectarian conflict in Northern Island and, frankly, not to ignore objective reality meant, however, that compromise was a necessity. That compromise, unsurprisingly, has pleased nobody. 

 

A survey before the EU referendum in 2016 showed that 96% of those within the UK’s creative industries were against Brexit. Our own straw-poll amongst composers (admittedly a small sample), conducted shortly after the vote, confirmed that bias. If, for any reason, you need to understand the reasons why Brexit might be bad for composers and musicians more generally, I would strongly suggest taking a look at the blog posts of composer Howard Goodall, who has argued perceptively on the benefits that the EU brings in terms of freedom to work and copyright law. 

 

As political events unfold it is important for us to understand what is at stake. May’s deal, a messy compromise, might have brought with it a measure of stability. It is not, however, surviving contact with reality. Instead, hard Leavers and Remainers are playing a high-stakes game that drives us away from compromise and to the extremes, the former towards a purer (and potentially catastrophic) hard Brexit, the latter to revisit the question in a second referendum. The difference between the two, it might be argued, is that the Leavers never had a mandate for a disruptive hard Brexit, so to seek that outcome without further reference to the people is democratically questionable. Remainers, on the other hand, are offering the prospect of settling the question once and for all in a referendum where all options are on the table. This is, then, surely the way forward.

 

As such I would suggest now is a good time to reengage in this debate. Dash off an email or, even better, a letter to your MP, say something on Twitter. Keep it civil but get engaged. We are not without agency in this debate. Though many MPs are cautious about changing their minds, they will respond to the wishes of their electors, just so long as they are expressed in sufficient numbers.  





8 Nov  

This year’s Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (16th–25th November) will feature 15 world premieres, including works by Scott McLaughlin, Nicole Lizée, Christopher Fox, Anna Meredith, Catherine Kontz, Monty Adkins, Matt Wright, Martin Arnold, Supriya Nagarajan and James Dillon. 

 

The festival's composer-in-residence, Christian Marclay, is also known as a visual artist—his hugely successfully video art work The Clock, for example, has toured the world since its creation in 2010 (it is currently on show at the Tate, London). His new work, Investigations, for 20 pianos and 20 players will receive its premiere at the festival on 18th. Other works of his will include the UK premiere of To Be Continued, a graphic score made from found comic books, on 16th; Ephemera, based upon a collection of newspaper advertisements, magazine illustrations, restaurant menus and other disposable printed matter, on 19th (and performed twice); and Screen Play, in which performers respond to a projected musical score, on 20th. Thoughout the festival there will also be an exhibition of the scores that provide visual cues for the works performed.

 

Of the other concerts there will be some 70 UK premieres, many of which will feature works from the festival’s international partners. The Netherlands will be represented by 10 concerts involving Dutch musicians, including works by emerging composers Chaz Underriner, Graham Flett, Jan-Peter de Graaff, Celia Swart and Aart Strootman. There will also be a focus on Swedish music, including the UK premiere of Malin Bång’s Kudzu (21st) and performances of works by Johan Svensson, Hanna Hartman and Joakim Sandgren (23rd).

 

The full programme is downloadable, here





2 Nov  

 

Vanessa Rose. Photo Credit: Julia Gang.

On 30th October Anne LeBaron, Board Chair of America Composers Forum, announced the appointment of Vanessa Rose as their new President and CEO from 1st January 2019. 

In appointing Rose, LeBaron said:

 

“Vanessa uniquely stood out for her years of experience in structural and creative development with outstanding contemporary music ensembles that are fiercely committed to supporting the music of living composers….We are all elated with the selection of Vanessa to lead the American Composers Forum as she channels her enthusiasm for composers into new potentials and endeavors. We look forward to her leadership in fortifying existing initiatives as well as creating new programs for serving our composer members, while also increasing the national and international visibility of ACF.”

 

ACF was formed in 1973 to support the work of composers outside academia, and has since grown into an organisation with around 2000 member in all 50 states.

 

More here.





2 Nov  

Congratulations to composer Rachel Portman , who has just won the German Film Music Prize. This adds to her growing collection of honours, including an Oscar for Emma in 1996, Oscar nominations for The Cider House Rules in 1999 and Chocolate in 2000, an OBE in 2010 and an Emmy Award in 2015.

 

Portman’s impressive back catalogue includes more that 100 film, television and theatre scores, including The Manchurian Candidate, Oliver Twist, Hart's War, The Legend of Bagger Vance, Beloved, Benny and Joon, Life Is Sweet, Never Let Me Go, Grey Gardens, The Duchess, One Day, The Vow, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, The Lake House, Infamous, Mona Lisa Smile, The Human Stain and the children’s opera The Little Prince. 

 

 

(See more, here)





19 Oct  

Melvyn Bragg has added his voice to debate on how Brexit will affect the art in the UK, saying in the House of Lords:

 

Today our musicians travel freely; connections are essential in the global creative world. Post Brexit there will be no guarantee of free movement across Europe. In 2016, our orchestras made 96 visits to 26 different EU countries, according to the Association of British Orchestras – impossible to imagine after Brexit. 

 

This comes after an intervention by Howard Goodall in the Independent three days ago:

 

One by one, UK industries have presented politicians with the dire consequences of Brexit for our sectors. What have we had in response? Ministers who say, “We know your industry better than you”, or, “You’re making this stuff up to scare people”, or, simply, “F**k business”

 

And an open letter from UK musicians to Theresa May published in the Guardian on 6th October.

 

Goodall’s piece also back the idea of a people’s vote on the final deal:

 

None of the detail about Brexit’s impact on our industry – about the job losses, the closing and relocating of businesses – was known to the public when they voted in June 2016. I do not believe many sincere people would have voted Leave if the truth about its consequences had been clearly explained to them. That is why they need the chance to reconsider, and why we are calling for a people’s vote.

 

Anyone who feels moved by such arguments might consider joining the People’s Vote Final Say March, which will be held from 12pm tomorrow in central London. It is promising to be even bigger than the march held in June 2018, which was estimated at 100,000. Free buses have been laid on from major UK towns and cities. More details on the People’s Vote website.

 





15 Oct  

   Bryn Harrison after the world premiere of First Light

Leuven’s Transit Festival came to a close last night with Jessie Marino’s bewilderingly Nice Guys Win Twice. Blurring the line between music, theatre and visual art one was left impressed by the means, even if one was ultimately unsure of the message. The work ended on a strikingly visual note, a shoal of radio controlled goldfish sent swimming towards the audience. You couldn’t deny it was entertaining.

 

The rest of the weekend festival provided variety in abundance. There was finely worked and serious concert music, most notably James Dillon’s Tanz/haus, whose sometimes brittle Boulezian textures enchanted the ears. There was a concert of pop-inflected songs, a perfect late night palette cleanser with VONK ensemble; a concert project involving amateur players, the composers providing imaginative and effective solutions to the challenges that this kind of writing poses; there were deconstructed and reconstructed instruments with the Tiptoe Company; and absurdist theatre (and much more) with the Nadar Ensemble. 

 

Across the weekend several works stood out. Bryn Harrison’s First Light was one of the pieces written for amateur performers, in his case for a choir of 24 singers. His approach, which involved giving each singer a single pitch, was astute and allowed the group to perform the work with real authority. Mostly, however, one was left impressed by the piece itself, the slow inevitability of its transformations, the shimmering beauty of its surface. Alexander Chernyshkov’s of the enlightened state of walruses, performed by the Nadar Ensemble had something of the circus about it, with two unexpected interventions, from a man wearing a mutant tuba and a drummer not quite in command of his apparatus. It was striking, however, that this piece succeeded where other more tricksy works failed, by being sufficiently musically interesting—in particular I enjoyed its Berio-like textural playfulness and clever interactions with a mechanical device mounted upon a table. Frederik Neyrinck’s 4 Fragements, for bass clarinet and double bass, played on Sunday afternoon, kept visual trickery to minimum, the players simply changing position between each of the four movements. The writing was exquisite, a compelling marriage of musical content and extended instrumental technique.

 

Amongst other audience members opinion differed widely as to what counted amongst the festival highlights (even though it was striking how many of those I spoke to mentioned Neyrinck’s work). Whilst disagreeing with one person, who also happened to be a Dutch musicologist, I predictably offered ‘in taste there are no arguments’, as a way of settling things. The Dutch riposte, he helpfully said, was that ‘if you have no argument then you have no taste’. Happily, amidst the disagreements, Transit provided something for all tastes, a splendid weekend of innovative music-making. I think we both went home happy. 





13 Oct  

Congratulations to young Scotsman Gregor Forbes, who is the first composer to win the International Hanns Eisler Scholarship by the City of Leipzig. He will receive 5000 euros and be invited to spend five months in the birth house of Hanns Eisler in Leipzig.

 

The Marie-Josée Kravis Prize for New Music is awarded by the New York Philharmonic for to a composer that has shown ‘extraordinary endeavor in the field of new music.’ Previous winners are Louis Andriessen, Per Nøgård and Henri Dutilleux. On 11th October Unsuk Chin was announced as the next recipient. She will receive $200,000 and a commission for the New York Philharmonic. Commenting on the announcement Chin said ‘I am deeply honoured to have been bestowed with The Marie-Josée Kravis Prize for New Music, having such great respect and admiration for my predecessors and for the New York Philharmonic…I hugely admire the New York Philharmonic’s commitment to new composers and I am thrilled to have a chance to collaborate with them on a new work of mine.’






9 Oct  

Normally at C:T I reserve obituaries for composers. Today I want to spend a moment remembering a musicologist. I wish to do so partly because I have been surprised by how little has been written about him elsewhere, partly because I know that, through his teaching work, he was an enormously important figure for generations of students. Mostly I want to write about him because he was my friend. 

 

John Tyrrell was the world’s foremost Leoš Janáček scholar. Born in Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia) in 1942, he studied at Cape Town, Oxford and Brno. In 1976 he was appointed as a lecturer at Nottingham University, becoming a Professor in 1996. With the support of the British Council and Czech Music Fund he worked on Janacek’s manuscript material in Brno from 1992. From 1996–2000 he was an Executive Editor of the second edition of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. He was appointed Research Professor at Cardiff University in 2000. His publications focus upon Czech music and Janáček in particular. These include Czech Opera (1988), Janáček’s Operas: A Documentary Account (1992), My Life with Janáček, translations of Janáček’s widow’s memoir of her life with the composer (1992), and Intimate Letters, translations of Janáček’s correspondence with Kamila Stösslová (1992). His magisterial two-volume life of Janáček, The Lonely Blackbird and The Tsar of the Forest, published in 2006 and 2007 by Faber, is the definite account. John was awarded honorary doctorates from Masaryk University and the Janáček Academy of Performing Arts and in January was named International Ambassador of Czech Music This year’s Janacek International Festival, held in Brno from November 17th to December 5th will be dedicated to his memory.

 

That is the professional account. The grand man. 

 

An alternative insight into his character, however, is summed up by friends and students who knew him at Cardiff. The first, told by a composer colleague of mine, went like this: 

 

“I do remember once running after him to ask a question: ‘Professor Tyrrell, Professor Tyrrell!’ He span around so quickly and shouted: ‘For God’s sake! My name’s John!’”

 

Another, from a diminutive student: 

 

“We were in his office and the doorbell rang. I jumped up to get it and he said ‘can you reach?'”  [John could get away with this because he was also very short]

 

Another: 

 

“Devastating. He once bought me a CD simply because I expressed some enthusiasm for a composer. He was an incredible tutor.”

 

From a music librarian: 

 

“He was very pro-library, always giving at least two copies of his books to the collection when they came out. He always made time to spend with us. A joy for me every time he came in to the library.”

 

And in response to this: 

 

“He was lovely—but did he speak to you via paper airplane like we did?”

 

John wore his phenomenal scholarship lightly, made himself available, was just a hugely respected, down-to-earth figure. 

 

I met him at Cardiff in 2005. He was in charge of a study techniques module for postgraduates and ran the postgraduate forum with the Professor of Composition, Anthony Powers. It was through the forum that I really got to know him.  Though his interest in every student was abundantly apparent, this felt particularly true of the composers amongst us. He was always keen to play recordings of our works during the forum, to discuss them at length. The composition PhD at Cardiff also required that composers write a substantial commentary to their portfolio of pieces. For many of us, more comfortable dealing with notes than words, this was the most onerous part of the process. John, who had no obligation to offer his time in this way, generously checked though many of these, offering detailed advice. There is no one I have met, before or since, that I would trust more in questions of syntax and style. He always ribbed me that I used ‘too many intensifiers.’ To this day I feel he looks over my shoulder as I write. On his retirement a few of us in the forum organised a collection for him. Asking people to give money to buy presents for John was the easiest job in the world.

 

At one of the Music Department composition concerts, to which he always came, John took a bit of a shine to one of my pieces. We spoke about it at length afterwards. This became the start of a friendship that continued after he left Cardiff in 2008. He became a trusted advisor in all matters, professional and personal. Mostly this was conducted via email: newsy notes and funny stories; requests for advice (from me), wise words (from him). He read through my own PhD commentary and also a couple of articles on the composer Henri Dutilleux. I also had the great pleasure of welcoming him to my native Pembrokeshire and visiting him in Nottingham. Our emails became a little more sporadic as time went by, until in September 2015 we lost touch. 

 

That last email from him, as I was contemplating a turbulent time in my own life–a move to the South of France–fills me with such pain today. As ever he was full of advice, of concern about what lay ahead. His last words were to wish me good luck and invite me to visit him when back in the UK. After I moved I thought often of him, assuming that I would eventually get back in touch and it would be just as if no time had passed at all. Forgetting his age, I believed he was a permanent fixture in my life. Is there any stupidity quite as complete as believing that friends don’t die?

 

No doubt he would chuckle at my distress now. He was only too aware how tangled and complicated life can become, how easy it is to lose touch. And he was too great a person to judge the quality of a relationship by such mean measures.  

 

That knowledge doesn’t diminish the pain, however. I will miss you terribly John. With the rest of the world I will miss your phenomenal scholarship. But most of all I, as with all who really knew you, will miss the funniest, loveliest most generous of men. A gentleman and a gentle man. Rest in peace.





4 Oct  

If you are an ageing composer whose heart was warmed by the news that Simon Rattle has ‘discovered’ nonagenarian Betsy Jolas, you should probably moderate your enthusiasm. Whilst Rattle knew very little about the composer before trawling YouTube for examples of her work, Jolas is hardly a figure plucked from obscurity.

 

Jolas was born in Paris in 1926 into a literary and artistic family. Her mother, Maria Jolas, was a translator, her father, Eugène Jolas, a poet and journalist. Their circle of friends and acquaintances included figures such as Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Henri Matisse and Edgard Varèse. She studied in the U.S. in the 40s, returning to France in 1948 to continue her studies with Darius Milhaud, Simone Plé-Caussade and Olivier Messiaen at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique. She later worked as Messiaen’s assistant, eventually being appointed to the Conservatoire in 1975.

 

Jolas’s background was critical in her formation as a composer. It has been argued that her familiarity with words led to a sensitivity in voice setting that ‘protected her from some of the musical excesses of the post-war music world.’ Unlike other composers, she was also less interested in a break with the past, a fact, for example, reflected in her interest in Renaissance music. Of this Jolas herself has remarked ‘My roots are in the entire history of music, not just in contemporary music.’

 

None of which is to say that Jolas was unaware or uninfluenced by the radical innovations of the postwar avant-garde. After discovering Webern’s Fünf Stüke, op. 10 in the early 1950, she quickly began familiarising herself with the works of Boulez, Stockhausen and others. Her response, however, was tempered by ‘her passion for the voice and its expressive qualities’ as exemplified by such works as Mots (1963), or her breakthrough work Quatuor II, for soprano and string trio (1964), which treats the voice as an equal within the texture:

Jeremy Thurlow identifies another feature of her music, her distinct approach to rhythm and metre. Other composers around this time were experimenting with the blurring of weak and strong beats (Messiaen’s non-retrogradable rhythms or Ligeti’s concept of ‘clocks and clouds’). Jonas took her inspiration from composers such as Lassus and Debussy, the first important example of her approach being J.D.E  (1966), ‘which loosens the ties of conventional rhythmic coordination, without sacrificing the contrapuntal relation of the parts by allowing freely unsynchronized playing’:

 

Subsequent years continued these preoccupations. Though the scope of her work expanded to include orchestral writing, the influence of the voice has never seemed far away, either implied, through the expressivity of the instrumental writing, or by overt reference, as in 11 Lieder for trumpet and chamber orchestra (1977); Frauenleben, 9 Lieder for viola and orchestra (1992); and Lumor, 7 Lieder Spirtuels for saxophone and orchestra (1996). There were also more works that included voice, most notably the operas Le Cyclope (1986) and Schliemann (1987).

 

Jolas’s impressive collection of awards underlines her status. These include those from the Copley Foundation of Chicago (1954), ORTF (1961), the American Academy of Arts (1973) and the Koussevitsky Fondation (1974); the Grand Prix National de la Musique (1974), Grand Prix de la Ville de Paris (1981) and the Grand Prix de la SACEM (1982). Jolas became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1983 and has taught at Yale, Harvard, Mills College, Berkeley, USC and San Diego University. 

 

Before being ‘discovered’ by Simon Rattle, she has also accrued a large number of international performances from groups such as The Boston Symphony Chamber Players, the Concord Quartet, the Domaine Musical, the Percussions de Strasbourg, the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society, the London Sinfonietta, Ensemble Intercontemporain and the Philharmonia. She has an extensive discography

 

Not undiscovered, then, but perhaps not fully appreciated, especially outside France and the Unites States. In this sense Rattle’s raising of her profile has done us all a service.

 

For more information on Betsy Jonas:

 

Betsy Jolas Website

Grove online (subscription required)

Wikipedia

 

Video interview with Betsy Jonas: www.digitalconcerthall.com/en/interview/22414-8

 

Other interviews: 

http://www.kcstudio.com/jolas.html

https://van-us.atavist.com/jolas-interview





26 Sep  

IDAGIO, the streaming service for classical music is now available in North America.

IDAGIO currently offers more than a million classical tracks, and is continuing to expand its catalogue with the addition of 20,000 new tracks each week. This library comprises recordings of more than 130,000 works, including a wealth of curated playlists and content from key concert artists, orchestras, and opera companies.

IDAGIO is $9.99 per month in the US and Canada, either at idagio.com or through IDAGIO’s mobile apps for iOS and Android and desktop apps for macOS and Windows.

To learn more about the service, including its potential as a platform for composers, read C:T’s interview with its founder Till Janczukowicz, here







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