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26 Feb  

Bregenz Staging of Judith Weir's Miss Fortune

As promised last month, my monthly roundup of concerts has now been moved to CT's own concert diary page. I've just updated the page, which now gives a really good at-a-glance view of what March holds for new music concert-goers. Again, members are encouraged to add their own concerts to this list.

 

My personal picks start with Judith Weir's new opera, Miss Fortune, which receives its British première on March 12th. You can read more about this in the interview I did with the composer last week. On the subject of opera, also not to be missed is John Adams' The Death of Klinghoffer, which continues its run at ENO with performances on 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th March. Fans of John Adams also have a world première to look forward to this month with the first outing of his new piece Absolute Jest, to be performed by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra at Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco on 15th March along with another world première, Mass Transmission by Mason Bates. Other noteworthy new works include Nico Muhly's Cello Concerto and Owen Pallett's Violin Concerto at the Barbican, London on 16th March; Lyell Cresswell's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Samuel Holloway's Fault, Jack Body's Little Elegies and Liza Lim's Pearl, Ochre, Hair String at City Halls, Glasgow on 17th March; and Harrison Birtwistle's Fantasia on all the notes at the Wigmore Hall on 13th March.

 

My final pick contains a bit of self-advertising: The Sacher Perspetives Concert with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales on 16th March. This is being held in partnership with an academic conference in Cardiff University on 16th and 17th March. The conference papers will all be inspired by research carried out at the Sacher Archive in Basel, the concert will consist of pieces that were commissioned by Paul Sacher. I wrote some time ago about my own visit to the archive with a Mexican colleague, Mauricio Beltrán, to examine the sketch material for Dutilleux's Symphony No. 2. We'll be presenting the quite surprising the results of our research at that conference. Do come along if you're in town!



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19 Feb  

Christian Morris talks to Judith Weir, whose new opera Miss Fortune will receive its UK première on 12th March at the Royal Opera House.
 

Judith Weir

What drew you to composition? Do you remember your first pieces?

My first pieces were at secondary school. What drew me was finding something that would bring my performing friends together. I played music and I saw it as a fun activity rather than high-level art. I knew a very odd combination of performers. There simply didn’t exist the kind of music we needed to play and so I started to devise music that would fit everybody in.

You played oboe in the National Youth Orchestra. Was that something that you considered doing professionally instead of composition?

Difficult to think myself back. If ever I was that way minded I very soon didn’t think so. I played okay and, as you say, for a short time I played in the NYO, but never as a leading player and it was very clear to me, meeting top performers, that I wouldn’t ever be of that standard and anyway – I knew this from my teacher Robin Miller, who was a leading orchestral musician – I could see that it was a hard life as a player.

You had some lessons with John Tavener whilst at school. Was this as formal as, say, the Bridge-Britten arrangement?

I think it was quite the opposite. He was good enough to have me around to his house probably, in total, about five or six times over a couple of years. I lived in the same outer London suburb as he did and the person that introduced us was my teacher at secondary school, who vaguely knew him. So it was very good of him to give me the time because he was a celebrity young composer, not needing financially to do teaching as most young people do. He would look at what I had done and just make general comments which, nevertheless, were very good, because they were right on the button. I also heard about what he was interested in.

 

>> Read the rest of the interview here



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9 Feb  

 

 

'He fiddles with the keyboard, commanding the computer to play an aria for mezzo-soprano and orchestra...In meekly peeping tones, the computer sings a sinuous, long-breathed melody, twisting and turning over lullaby chords.'

 

I was astonished when I first read this description of John Adams playing back part of a work in progress to Alex Ross in his The Rest is Noise. In my experience, computers are viewed with some suspicion in composing circles and, as such, the use of the technology is best shared only with friends, as if one were admitting to snorting cocaine.  Adams, without shame, uses the playback function of his computer to show off a new piece to a journalist!

 

The anti-computer argument tends to go something like this: a computer limits the imagination because staff notation is limited; the balance and the sounds are not the same as the real thing, leading to inaccuracies of orchestration; computers can play things humans cannot, leading to music that is too difficult. Anyway, it is implied, writing a piece of music demands god-like talent. As such, computers facilitate the less talented to write music when really they don't deserve to.

 

I use a computer to compose. I don't see any difference between perfecting a piece of musical material using a piano (like Stravinsky) or a computer (like Adams), except that the computer gives a closer representation of how it might eventually sound. I also think it is perfectly feasible for composers to hear through the sounds their computers make to imagine real instruments playing. The idea that composers write music that is too difficult when using a computer strikes me as bizarre. Errors of range, lack of breathing points etc. are very elementary problems that can be avoided by musically talented schoolchildren. The limitations of Sibelius score playback can, however, be a problem in more advanced contemporary music. Here, a composer has to be honest with himself. If Sibelius is limiting your imagination you have to ditch it. And, as for composers being gods: some are certainly more skilled than others when getting their ideas down on paper, and here natural musical gifts (perfect pitch etc.) count for a lot. Ultimately, however, it is the quality of the final idea that matters.

 

What follows is a description from three composers of the equipment they use when composing, plus some comments on how they use it. For the record, I use an old laptop PC, a Creative soundcard and Sibelius 4. It's not a very advanced set-up, and, like Max Charles Davies and Liz Lane (below) I hanker after a Mac, especially after a week of trying to install Windows 7, to no avail.

 

I would be very interested to hear other people's comments, either on the use of computers in the composition process, or simply on the equipment used.

 

Phillip CookeHe has had works played across the country by many of the country’s top choirs and ensembles.  Founder and former director of the London Contemporary Music Group, he has taught composition at Oxford University for several years and is also Head of Composition at Eton College. 

 

The use of computers by contemporary composers is something of a white elephant - most composers use them in some form, but many are reluctant to discuss it. Many of those that do use Sibelius and the like and are happy to mention it, but would baulk at the idea of regular use of the playback function, even if most do use it regularly and discerningly - a strange 'open secret'. There is definitely still the assumption that 'good' composers use manuscript and 'lesser' composers computers.

 

I use Sibelius, but an archaic version (1.4) that I have used for ten years - many people laugh at me that I don't upgrade, but I'm so used to it, changing would be like trying to write with my left hand. I used to use awful free software before that, but spending the money to buy Sibelius was undeniably a sound decision. I do worry about composers (myself included) writing to the limits of the programme - some things are just so hard to do on Sibelius - doing something as rudimentary as a setting of Preces and Responses took hours of brainpower and struggle.

 

As for hardware, I have a PC laptop which works well for me - I can move it around for my teaching and try to catch some composing time wherever I am. I don't care about soundcards, or making the playback sound as realistic as possible - I'm used to the awful synthesised sounds and am actually quite attached to them. I can make the distinction somewhere in my brain between what a Sibelius clarinet sounds like (rabid cat stuck in a drainpipe) and what a real one does and I've never had a problem. Even with the awful choir sounds as well. I'm happy with a PC, I'm a creature of habit - I can never find the control button on a Mac.

 

Visit Phillip Cooke's Website

 

Max Charles Davies. Former SPNM shortlisted composer. Based in Cardiff, his music has been performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales and at festivals including Cheltenham and Tête à Tête.

 

Currently, I use Sibelius version 4 in conjunction with Kontakt Player Gold because, even though I only use playback as part of the proof-reading process, I can't stand MIDI sounds, and prefer samples. The reason I have not yet upgraded is largely due to cost - not the programme itself, but the new computer I would need to buy in order to be able to run it.  I would dearly love to own a Mac - either an iMac or Macbook Pro, but they are out of my reach financially.  Indeed, not owning a later version of Sibelius has made recent freelance editing work tricky, with 'back saving' being a bothersome extra thing for clients to think about, especially when dealing with large numbers of files.  So, I do need to upgrade both computer and Sibelius version soon!  Sibelius itself is a very intuitive programme, and over the years I've developed an ability to get pieces typeset quickly and to a professional standard.  The 'export audio' function is also useful for those musicians who request a mock-up mp3 of a piece, or for doing a quick backing track for teaching purposes.

 

In addition to Sibelius, I use a Roland R-05 portable recording device to record performances, rehearsals, workshops etc.  It's a wonderful piece of kit, and I believe that there are many such devices floating about.  I often see composers with them.  On my current computer, I use the free programme Audacity to do the most basic bits of editing (mainly cropping and fading in and out).  If I upgrade my computer soon, I may save further and eventually invest in a copy of Sonar, which will also enable me to experiment with some electroacoustic composition - an as yet uncharted territory for me personally.

 

Visit Max Charles Davies's Website

 

Liz Lane. Composer and arranger. Her works have been played by the Orchestra of Welsh National Opera, Carducci Quartet, Andrew Kennedy, Marlene Ford (USA) and others. As an arranger she worked extensively with the late David Fanshawe. 

 

I use Sibelius 6 at the moment and Finale occasionally. I started with Finale in about 1996, swapping in 2004/5. I have a standard mid-range computer, recently bought, though I wish I had an Apple!

 

I used to have a top-of-the-range Soundblaster soundcard, but found I just didn't use the functions, so, with the new system, it didn't warrant the outlay. Soundcards are much improved these days and anyway I prefer to rely upon my imagination. Portability isn't an issue for me since I work from home, though I make printouts of work in progress for use at the piano or when I really have to work somewhere else. My keyboard is a tried and tested old Yamaha I bought from a colleague 15 years ago!

 

I use a HP1015 printer for producing scores, though I will have to replace it soon as Windows 7 doesn't support it. It has good print quality, although creating perfectly aligned pages is often a challenge! I also use a monochrome Samsung ML-1640, a more recent make though the print quality for music isn't so good. I want to buy a new laser monochrome that does duplex well.

 

Visit Liz Lane's Website



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31 Jan  

A slightly different look to the concert round-up this month. Some will notice that the information here is presented in a very similar way to CT's own concert listings page. The plan is, from next month, to post the information there instead. I will write a blog indicating when the page has been updated. This will then become the hub for all those looking for contemporary music concerts.

 

Members are, of course, encouraged to post concert information there too. Alternatively, if you have suggestions for inclusion, do get in touch.

 

1st

Debussy Danse sacrée et danse profane, Sonata for Cello and Piano, Chansons Bilitis, Sonata for Violin and Piano, Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp. Michael Tilson Thomas, LSO St. Luke’s. Barbican, London.

 

 

Stravinsky Histoire du soldat;  various Bruch. Contrasten Trio. Concertgebouw, Amsterdam.

 

2nd

Debussy Danse sacrée et danse profane; Weil/Brecht Seven Deadly Sins; Debussy orch Holloway En Blanc et Noir; Debussy La mer. Michael Tilson Thomas, LSO. Barbican, London.

 

 

Welsh Composers’ Showcase final concert. Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay.

 

3rd

Stravinsky The Soldier’s Tale. Janine Jansen, Samuel West et al. Wigmore Hall, London.

 

 

Alexander Goehr Adagio (Self-portrait); Britten Our Hunting Fathers; Friedrich Cerha Vienna Kaleidoscope; HK Gruber Northwind Pictures (UK première). HK Gruber, BBC Philharmonic. The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester.

 

 

Judith Weir Musicians Wrestle Everywhere; Seán Clancy Findetotenlieder (world première); Gerald Barry Feldmann’s Sixpenny Editions; Gérard Grisey Quatre Chants pour franchir le seuil. Clement Power, BCMG. CBSO centre, Birmingham.

 

Sun 5th

Philip Glass Three Songs, The Grid from Koyaanisqatsi; James McCarthy 17 Days (world première). David Temple, Crouch End Festival Chorus. Barbican, London.

 

 

Kurtág Intermezzi; various Brahms. Llyr Williams (piano), Jane Atkins (clarinet), Maximiliano Martín. Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh.

 

Stockhausen Klavierstück IX; Villa-Lobos Rudepoema. March-André Hamelin (piano). Wigmore Hall, London.

 

6th

Stravinsky, Symphony in Three Movements; Ravel Daphnis and Chloé Suite no. 2; Beethoven Violin Concerto. Alan Gilbert, New York Philharmonic. Salle Pleyel, Paris.

 

 

Cheryl Frances-Hoad Five Rackets for Trio Relay; Schubert and Ravel. The Lawson Trio. The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester.

 

7th

Magnus Lindberg Feria; Bartok Concerto No. 2 for piano; Prokofiev Symphony No. 5. Alan Gilbert, New York Philharmonic. Salle Pleyel, Paris.

 

9th

John Adams The Chairman Dances; Bernstein Three Dance Episodes from On the Town, Prelude, Fugue and Riffs (orch Foss); Copland Clarinet Concerto; Milhaud La creation du monde; Ellington (orch Henderson) Harlem. Kristjan Järvi, LSO. Barbican, London.

 

 

Thomas Wilson St. Hentigern Suite; Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 1; Borodin Symphony No. 1. Martyn Brabbins, BBCSSO. City Hall, Candleriggs, Glasgow.

 

 

Bartók Four Orchestral Pieces; Debussy Images; Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3. Edward Gardner, CBSO. Symphony Hall, Birmingham.

 

 

Florence Baschet La Muette (première); Györgi Ligeti Piano Études, Book One; Gilbert Amy Cors et cris (première). Laurent Cuniot TM+ ensemble. IRCAM, Pompidou Centre, Paris.

 

10th

Rebecca Saunders Violin Concerto (UK première), Dvorak and Tchaikovsky. Lionel Bringuier, Carol Widmann (violin), BBCSO. Barbican, London.

 

 

Peninsula Arts Contemporary Music Festival (continues until 12th). Full programme available here. Plymouth University.

 

Sat 11th

Portrait of Olga Neuwirth Five Daily Miniatures (UK première), …miramodo multiplo… (UK première of ensemble version), Hommage à Klaus Nomi (UK première). Garry Walker/Gerry Cornelius, London Sinfonietta. Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, London.

 

 

Germanus Fetus’ Voyage (world première); Thomas Larcher Böse Zellen (Netherlands Première). Reinbert de Leeuw, Radio Kamer Philharmonic. Concertgebouw, Amsterdam.

 

Sun 12th

Nonclassical present: Consortium5 (recorder group specializing in contemporary music). Troy Bar, 10 Hoxton Street, London.

 

17th

Thomas Adès Polaris (UK première); Stravinsky Symphony in Three Movements; Ravel Daphnis and Chloe Suite (no.2). Alan Gilbert, New York Philharmonic. Barbican, London.

 

 

Jack White Digital Dust (world première); Yuko Ohara Kaleidoscope (world première); Laura Bowler irresistible demands of the flesh (world première); Linda Buckley Chiyo (UK première); Richard Causton Between Two Waves of the Sea. BBCSO, Garry Walker. BBC Maida Vale Studio, London.

 

 

Stravinsky Divertimento. Christian Mason Learning Self-Modulation (Netherlands première); Xanakis Dikhthas. Carolin Widmann (violin), Simon Lepper (piano). Concertgebouw, Amsterdam.

 

 

Schoenberg Five Pieces for Orchestra, Concerto for Violin and Orchestra. Peter Eötvös, ORF RSO Vienna. Musikverein, Vienna.

 

Sat 18th

Magnus Lindberg Feria; Bartok Piano Concerto No. 2; Prokofiev Symphony No. 5. Alan Gilbert, New York Philharmonic. Barbican, London.

 

Sun 19th

Copland Appalachian Spring Suite; André Previn Concerto for Violin, Viola and Orchestra; John Harbison Symphony No. 3. André Previn, LSO. Barbican, London.

 

 

Matthias Pintscher Ex Nihilo (world première); Mendelssohn and Brahms. BBCSSO, Mathias Pintscher. City Hall, Candleriggs, Glasgow.

 

 

Luke Bedford Wonderful Two-Headed Nightingale (world première); Alwyn, Haydn and Mozart. Scottish Ensemble. Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh.

 

20th

André Previn Trio No. 2 in B flat major; Mozart and Mendelssohn. André Previn, Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin). Barbican, London.

 

21st

Ligeti Études; Chopin and Bach. Danny Driver (piano). Wigmore Hall, London.

 

22nd

Stravinsky Le Baiser de la Fée Divertimento for Orchestra; Tomasi Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra; Tchaikovsky. Hans Graf, Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Musikverein, Vienna.

 

23rd

Franco Donatoni Cadeau; Bernhard Gander take nine (première); Marc Monnet Bosse, crane rasé, nez crochu. Hidéki Nagano, Dimitri Vassilakis (pianos), Ensemble Intercontemporain. IRCAM, Pompidou Centre, Paris.

 

24th

Sibelius Symphony No. 4; Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 1; Stravinsky Petrushka. Kirill Karabits, BBCSO. Barbican, London.

 

 

Off the Page (continues until 26th). The UK’s only literary festival devoted to music and audio culture. See here for full programme. Produced by Sound and Music. The Playhouse Theatre, Whitstable.

 

Sat 25th

John Adams Death of Klinghoffer. Baldur Brönimann, ENO. London Coliseum.

 

Sun 28th

Britten, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Stephen Barlow, Guildhall School of Music. Barbican Theatre, London.

 

 

John Adams Death of Klinghoffer. Baldur Brönimann, ENO. London Coliseum.

 

 

 



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23 Jan  

 

I often wax lyrical about Spotify on this blog. What makes a resource like this different from the radio is that one can choose what and when to listen, either at a flat rate or for free. So what are the other 'on-demand' options for those interested in new music?

 

 

The obvious starting point is BBC iPlayer. A large proportion of Radio 3's output is made available for a week after the original transmission on the iPlayer website. There are also apps available for both Android and iOS. The service is especially useful since many of the most interesting live broadcasts such as the Proms happen at a time when musicians are, of necessity, not at home, i.e. in the evening. Other programmes such Hear and Now, the station's regular programme about contemporary music, are on at unsociable times.

 

 

A less obvious source for new (well, newish) music is Lovefilm. I've been a member of the site for a couple of years now. Apart from enjoying the occasional Hollywood blockbuster, I've also rented some interesting music DVDs from its collection. You won't get really esoteric titles, but they've got for example, a good selection of Benjamin Britten DVDs, operas by Janacek, Berg, Stravinsky and Schoenberg and various concerts (though the emphasis does tend to be on early twentieth-century repertoire). There are also some interesting documentaries, including: Phase to Face, featuring the music of Steve Reich; a DVD of Pierre Boulez in rehearsal; and A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts, featuring Philip Glass. This last DVD is also available to watch instantly online as part of your subscription (if you pay at least £5.99 per month). There are also a significant number of other watch instantly music titles. Whilst these largely feature popular music, many will be of interest to CT members.  They include, for example, a number of concerts from the Montreux Jazz Festival; Screaming Masterpiece, a survey of the Icelandic music scene including Björk and others; and documentaries featuring George Harrison and Marc Bolan.

 

There are other online sources worth investigating too. Video repositories such as YouTube and Vimeo are obvious enough, though the breadth of their content is a barrier to browsing. A better starting place would be the excellent The Rambler blog by Tim Rutherford-Johnson. His latest post, for example, lists a number of YouTube new music recordings with scores. 

 

Some festivals are also starting to put up videos of concerts on their websites. One of the best examples of this is Tête à Tête. Their 'The Operas Online' page contains productions from the 2007-2011 festivals as well as other productions with which they were associated. The Manchester Festival also offers a multimedia page where one can see highlights from the festival, though the excerpts are mostly short and incomplete. More in the spirit of Tête à Tête, is the multimedia page of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. It contains documentaries, interviews and some concerts from the festival including: a portrait of Bent Sorenson; several interviews with experimental pianist Philip Thomas; Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco, an audiovisual installation of the famous work by Jonathan Harvey with Visual Kitchen; and Surfaces, a collaboration between James Saunders and Simon Limbrick.

 

 

Individual ensembles are also beginning to make their work available via the web. The Metropolis Ensemble from NYC, for example, has all of their past concerts on their website arranged by composer, concert, soloist or year of performance. The same applies to the British ensemble Chroma, who store a large number of performances on Soundcloud. That site is itself becoming an increasingly popular way for composers to share their music. For those who like such things, they also provide a Facebook-linked social experience as well a number of apps for various devices. A similarly useful site in the US is InstantEncore. It provides rather more slick tools for artist promotion, but also contains a very useful library of sound recordings.

 

A resource that I have also enjoyed from time to time is Boosey and Hawkes' multimedia page. I'm not aware that any other music publisher has taken the trouble to assemble such an array of interesting videos about their house composers. Given Boosey's reasonable desire to make money from their back-catalogue, you will not find complete performances here, but there are some fascinating documentaries and interviews including, for example: Andriessen on Andriessen, a video podcast on Birtwistle's The Minatour, a three-part documentary on Elliottt Carter, Reich on Reich and a video in which Esa-Pekka Salonen explores Bela Bartok's final years in New York..

 

Talking of Boosey, they also offer a near-miraculous online perusal service of their scores. This means that you can choose one of their house composers and view the entire score on your screen. It's not nearly so pleasant as holding a paper score, but it is free. Schirmer also offer an online service. Sign-up is slower and scores expire after ten viewings, though there are also some print options. A final possibility is the IMSLP Petrucci Music Library. Their emphasis is on making out of copyright works available to all, and for this alone they are an enormously useful. But it's also worth perusing the post-1945 section of the site too, where a large number of more recent composers have made their scores available.

 



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11 Jan  

 

Recording of the month: Charles Ives Four Violin Sonatas, Hilary Hahn (violin) and Valentina Lisitsa (piano). Deutsche Grammophon.

 

Charles Ives expressed ambivalence in later life towards his Violin Sonatas, believing them to be too conventional. Ives claimed that his tendency to rein in his more experimental side was a response to the incomprehension with which his music was met. The story that lies, in particular, behind the Third Sonata makes for painful reading, consisting as it does of his experience of hearing a supposedly great virtuoso attempting to play through his First Sonata and not being able to get beyond the first page. According to Ives, the player said: 'This cannot be played. It is awful. It is not music, it makes no sense'. 

 

Ives was probably correct, however, in describing these works as less radical than some of his others. They are not as harmonically challenging as, say, his Concord Piano Sonata, and there isn't the vivid gaudiness of Three Places in New England or the transcendental mystery of Central Park in the Dark or The Unanswered Question. The language in these sonatas is, however, unmistakably Ives. Tonality is never far away, often it is resolutely in the foreground, but it is constantly twisted in unexpected and novel directions. As in many of his works, Ives quotes widely and freely from popular song. In the second movement of the Second Sontata, entitled In the Barn, for example, he uses, in a four minutes, The Battle Cry of Freedom, Sailor's Hornpipe, Turkey in the Straw, The White Cockade and his own Four Ragtime Dances No.1. But the effect is not like Putnam's Camp from Three Places in New England, where the tunes are displayed with brash effrontery.  Instead, the pieces, though clearly audible, are brilliantly and ebulliently integrated. It is tremendous fun.

 

The performances on this new disc are very much to be recommended. Hahn plays with total control in music that is often extremely technically demanding, shifting deftly between the various moods - from frenetic rhythmic activity to velvety tenderness - that Ives's frequent borrowing engenders. Lisita accompanies with both sensitivity and authority, well in command of a part that at all times equals and sometimes, as in the Fourth Sonata, exceeds in difficulty that of the violin. The recording is nicely intimate. Some may find the piano a little far forward at times, but this is appropriate in music that presents soloist and accompanist as equals.

 

The rest of the month's releases.

 

Naxos has released a number of recordings by Swiss-born composer Ernst Lévy with the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, including: Concerto No. 1 for Cello and Orchestra played by Scott Ballantyne; Symphony No.7 and Symphony No. 11 conducted by David Oberg; and a recording of Orchestral Suite No. 3, which also contains a useful spoken introduction to Lévy and his music. Also on Naxos is a disc featuring chamber music by Catalan composers Robert Gerhard, Xavier Montsalvatge and Gaspar Cassadó and, as part of their ongoing survey of the composer, Symphonies No. 6 and 7 by Howard Hanson with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and Chorale under Gerard Schwarz. Decca has released a new recording of Gorecki's Symphony No.3 Symphony of Sorrowful Songs played by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra under Kazimierz Kord; and performances of Shostakovich's Piano Concerto nos. 1 and 2 and Symphony No. 9, featuring Peter Jablonski, Christina Ortiz and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Vladimir Ashkenazy.  Nonesuch, finally, have released a disc of music by Vladimir Martynow played by the Kronos Quartet.



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1 Jan  

 

Happy New Year to all CT members! Here's a little preview of what 2012 holds for contemporary music, minus December (for my thoughts on that, see here). I don't pretend for a minute that this is comprehensive; details are harder to come by as the year progresses, many of my selections are subjective and, besides, I am bound to have missed some pearls...

 

January

 

13th Alexander Goehr world première of When Adam Fell (BBC commission), UK première of Castiglioni Concerto for Orchestra. Barbican, BBCSO conducted by Oliver Knussen. 

 

24th Wolfgang Rihm at 60. A celebration of his work given by the London Sinfonietta. Queen Elizabeth Hall, London. 

 

28th-29th Total Immersion: Jonathan Harvey. The BBC Symphony Orchestra celebrates the life and work of the composer with concerts, films and talks at the Barbican, London.

 

February

 

1st-2nd Welsh Composers' Showcase. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales play works by emerging Welsh composers. BBCNOW conducted by Jac van Steen with Simon Holt in collaboration. Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff.

 

3rd Sean Clancy world première of Findetotenlieder. Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. CBSO Centre, Birmingham. 

 

17th The BBC Symphony Orchestra première orchestral works by Embedded composers Jack white, Yuko Ohara and Laura Bowler. BBC Maida Vale Studios, London. 

 

24th-26th Off The Page. The UK's only literary festival devoted to music criticism and audio culture. Produced by Sound and Music. The Playhouse Theatre, Whitstable. 

 

25th-9th March. English National Opera presents the London premiere of John Adams' The Death of Klinghoffer.  

 

March

 

12th Judith Weir UK première of opera Miss Fortune. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden conducted by Paul Daniel. 

 

13th Harrison Birtwistle world première of Fantasia on all the Notes. Nash Ensemble at Wigmore Hall. 

 

15th John Adams world première of Absolute Jest. Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. 

 

16th World premières of music by Missy Mazzoli Violent, Owen Pallett and Nico Muhly. Britten Sinfonia, Barbican. 

 

17th Total Immersion Brett Dean. A celebration of the composer's work given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra.  

 

17-25th Circus Tricks by Michael Henry and Adey Grummet. Presented by Tête à Tête opera. Riverside Studios, Hammersmith. 

 

17th New Music, including many premières, from New Zealand and Australia. BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. City Hall, Candleriggs. 

 

31st Maxwell Davies UK première of A Reel of Spindrift, Sky. Dundee Symphony Orchestra, Caird Hall. 

 

April

 

26th Gerald Barry European première of The Importance of Being Earnest. Birmingham Contemporary Music Group conducted by Thomas Adès, Barbican.

 

28th Arvo Pärt Total Immersion. The BBC Symphony Orchestra celebrates the life and work of Arvo Pärt in a day of concerts, films and talks at the Barbican. 

 

28th Richard Ayres. A Hear and Now composer focus concert with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. City Hall, Candleriggs. 

 

May

 

10th Kalevi Aho Trombone Concerto (UK Premiere). Jorgen van Rijen (trombone), BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alexander Vedernikov.

 

12th George Benjamin Portrait. A concert of the composer's music given by the London Sinfonietta. Queen Elizabeth Hall. ht

 

24th Philip Glass at 75, with the UK première of Symphony No. 6. BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Collon. City Hall, Candleriggs.

 

24th Harrison Birtwistle UK première of In Broken Images as part of a portrait concert of the composer. London Sinfonietta conducted by David Atherton. Queen Elizabeth Hall, London. 

 

30th-10th June. Bath International Music Festival

 

June

 

1st IRCAM Festival, Paris. Opening concert given by the Orchestre de Paris and inaugurating a large portrait of Philippe Manoury in celebration of his 60th birthday. 

 

8th-24th 65th Aldeburgh Festival of Music and the Arts

 

22nd-27th St. Magnus International Festival

 

July

 

7th-25th Buxton Festival 2012. Will include a performance of Britten's Turn of the Screw

 

7th-26th August. Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival. 

 

18th-18th August. Bregenz Festival. Preview of programme available on their website

 

13th-to 8th September. BBC Proms. Full programme available April, though some information available here

 

August

 

9th-2nd September. Edinburgh Festival. Usually is plenty to interest musicians, though details are limited on the website preview page

 

Tête à Tête Opera Festival. Dates to be confirmed.

 

September

 

North Wales International Music Festival. Dates to be confirmed.

 

Vale of Glamorgan Festival. Dates to be confirmed.

 

October

 

El Festival Internacional de Música Contemporánea de Tres Cantos, Madrid. Dates to be confirmed. Plenty of interest last year (see here).  

 

Sound: North East Scotland's Festival of New Music. Dates to be confirmed.

 

22nd Wien Modern Festival begins. 

 

November

 

16th-25th Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival 

 



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23 Dec  

 

Some while back I wrote about my experience of visiting the Guggenheim in Bilbao. What I especially found striking was how many people were prepared to visit a gallery of contemporary art and yet how few a concert of contemporary music. At the time I speculated at possible solutions for this. First I wondered whether contemporary music should try to find its way out of the starched setting of traditional concerts — the rules of concert-going (no coughing, no fidgeting, no leaving early) can be very off-putting, even to the initiated. I also suggested that one way of creating more interest might be through collaboration with artists. Jim Aitchison, who has experience of this, suggested that musicians are considered the poor relations in art galleries, which in turn made me wonder whether we should be seeking out more neutral territory for joint projects.

 

Such a neutral space could be the Park Avenue Armory in New York City, who have just announced the appointment of Alex Poots as their new artistic director, beginning in the 2013 season. The Armory was built in 1861 by the Seventh Regiment of the National Guard. Occupying an entire city block it is, perhaps, most famous for its 55,000 square-foot drill hall (see photo). Putting that into context, the turbine hall at Tate Modern has about 36,500 square feet and the room at the Guggenheim Bilbao that houses perhaps the largest sculpture commission in history, Richard Serra's The Matter of Time, 42,000. This makes it a mouth-watering space for ambitious visual artists. And since it was taken over in 2007 it has mounted a fair amount of this type of work: Aaron Young's Greeting Card, 'a 9,216-square-foot "action" painting', Ernersto Neto's Anthropodino, 'a multi-sensory labyrinth of fabric and spice' and Christian Boltanski's vast contemplation on individuality, anonymity, life and death, No Man's Land. What I find exciting, however, is that this is a space that refuses to be defined as just a gallery, theatre or concert hall. It has also, for example, staged Bernd Zimmermann's opera Die Soldaten, an evening of Stravinsky sacred music as well as Ariane Mnouchkine's Les Éphéméres, Declan Donnellan's Boris Godunov and productions of Shakespeare given by the RSC.

 

Poots has a proven track record as an artistic director, having successfully led the biennial Manchester International Festival (MIF) since its inception in 2007. That festival has established itself very quickly as one of the most important in the country, with a reputation for creating interdisciplinary artistic projects and for finding innovative ways of taking the arts to the masses. It was under Poots, for example, that MIF commissioned the mobile J.S. Bach chamber music hall from Zaha Hadid, produced the cross-disciplinary Il Tempo del Postino and achieved the coup of holding the première of the Björk's also cross-disciplinary Biophilia.  Given Poots' CV and the fact that the Armory is promising to expand its commissioning of new works we can almost guarantee some spectacular new things to come out of the New York venue. Best of all, we can expect composers to play a full part in this.



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23 Dec  

There were fewer new CDs this month than usual, so rather than a full review, here's a quick roundup.

On Naxos there are new recordings of William Grant Still's Symphony No. 2 and 3; Paul Moravec's A Franklin Fantasy, Vita Brevis and Characteristics; Howard Hanson's Symphony No. 4 and 5, Elegy and Dies Natalis; Ernesto Cordero's Carribbean Concertos for guitar; Braga Santos's Alfama Suite, Symphonic Overture No. 3 and Elegia a Viana da Mota; and Krzysztof Meyer's String Quartets No, 9. 11 and 12. Nimbus have released a disk that includes works for String Quartet by Britten, Bliss, Delius and Purcell and also a disk of George Benjamin's Ten Short Pieces for Solo Piano. Nonesuch has issued a recording of four works by Vladimir Martynov played by the Kronos Quartet. Hyperion, finally, has issued a recording of the performance of Havergal Brian's gargantuan Gothic Symphony that was given at this year's Proms. I caught this when it was broadcast live. Ironically I found the first half of the work, before the massed forces join in, much more engaging than the second, which, especially in its massively layered counterpoint, sometimes came over as a confused wash of sound. Despite this, the ambitious and epic nature of the work makes it a worthwhile addition to any music collection.



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16 Dec  

 

I said last time that December is the month without contemporary music. By this I meant performances of contemporary music. There exists plenty of Christmas music by contemporary composers, though it often seems to be ignored in favour of more traditional fare. This set me thinking. Is there something about Christmas that contemporary music is unable to tackle? And might this point to a wider problem? As we approach Christmas, concerts emphasize the catchy, the tuneful and the consonant and, at the same time, a lot less contemporary music is played.

 

There have always been composers whose style can comfortably incorporate the kind of straightforwardness that Christmas demands. John Rutter is an obvious example, though, like many, I have a hard time stomaching much of his output. But at least his style is recognisably consistent. The same could be said of the Welsh composer William Mathias. He died in 1992, but his A Babe is Born, Ave Rex (especially the movement  Sir Christèmas) and Bell Carol are perennially popular. These works (apart from the rather saccharine Bell Carol, perhaps) have a harder-edged energy that sets them apart from Rutter, but at the same time manage to capture the tunefulness that Christmas demands. Like the Rutter they are also consistent with the rest of the composer’s style.

 

In contrast, some composers adapt or even water-down their style to accommodate Christmas. Schoenberg’s Weihnachtsmusik, an arrangement of Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen, may have arisen as just one more arrangement for his Society for Private Musical Performances. Even so, it strikes me as a startling admission of the expressive limitations of his emerging serial style. Which is not to deny that it is a gorgeous piece. In contrast, his pupil Webern, in Dormi Jesu, managed to stick to his stylistic guns whilst producing a piece of sublimely simple beauty. But it is the kind of beauty that would probably leave the average Christmas concertgoer utterly bemused. More recently the same might be said of, say, the setting of The Burning Babe by Malcolm Bruno. It is uncompromising and ascetically beautiful, but does not, for me, capture the spirit of the season.

 

It could be argued that such music falls into a more serious category than mere carols, in the same way as Bach’s Weihnachtsoratorium, Handel’s Messiah or Berlioz’s L’enfance du Christ. But the problem with such a parallel is obvious. Those three works are much loved by the average concertgoer. Furthermore The Shepherd’s Farewell from L’enfance du Christ has become a popular carol in its own right. I can only draw one conclusion: the older works are admired largely because of their use of tonality. I know the modernist/postmodernist argument as related to tonality is nothing new, but a festival such as Christmas brings the debate sharply into focus. The popularity and usefulness of a piece of contemporary Christmas music will be in direct relation to its ability to encompass tonality. Take two reasonably widely performed works by living composers, for example: Peter Maxwell Davies’ Five Carols and Judith Weir’s Illuminare Jerusalem. In Five Carols Maxwell Davies engages unashamedly with tonal and modal melodies, though he manages to imbue each movement with a dose of dissonance that makes the work far from saccharine. Weir manages an even cleverer trick. Illuminare Jerusalem seems to pull no harmonic punches at all. But it is impossible to deny that the piece relies for its effect on the tonal-like resolution on the words that make up the title.

 

One might also add that Christmas, by its need to include people and its universality (at least in Western culture), is the Gebrauchmusik festival par excellence. And if composers want to write Christmas music that is useful and performed widely it will normally include elements of tonality. The average carol singer cannot perform something in a consistently modernist style. Is it too much, therefore, to expect him to listen to it in a concert during the rest of the year?

 



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