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11 Jul  

Christian Morris talks to composer Kenneth Hesketh, who, in his 50th birthday year, reflects upon his work to date, current inspirations, mortality and the things he wished he’d known when starting out...
 

Kenneth Hesketh (photo: E.Thornton)

You crowned 2017 with a British Composer Award for your wind ensemble piece In Ictu Oculi. Now that work will form part of the programme for a new CD with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, to be released around your fiftieth birthday. Tell us about this new version of the work and the CD.

In Ictu Oculi - Three Meditations was originally commissioned and premiered by the National Youth Wind Ensemble, conducted by the marvellous Phillip Scott in April 2016. I've worked with Phillip for over ten years, but with this commission I really felt it was the first time I had the chance to write something authentic to myself in this medium. 

It's a special piece for me (dedicated to the memory of my grandmother) and of course, being awarded a British Composer Award not only felt good, it felt right that it should be this piece that precipitated it. I'd been shortlisted twice before in this category with lighter pieces and felt that if I wasn't getting anywhere with them I didn't have a chance with this. It's good that one can still be surprised! 

As this piece fits into an ever-enlarging cycle of works that cluster around ideas of momento mori, vanitas and memorial, I felt it should be more widely available and so prepared the orchestral version. From the moment I knew the disc would be recorded I felt the orchestral version should be present, but it was only until much later that I decided to make it the title work for the disc. In approaching the work in orchestral terms, certain other aspects had to be addressed as well. In order to allow the strings an equal part and not simply be an additional gloss, the structure of the work had to be adapted; for example, the orchestral introduction is notably longer than the wind version as are other transitional sections. Keeping the 4 saxes in the orchestral context, rather than rescore or absorb them, was a first for me and certainly added a colour I had never utilised before. The superimposition of new material not only added density and detail it also appealed to my love of the labyrinthine. The result is not a bifurcation into two different works, but rather a single work that occasionally phases in and out of perspective with itself.

 

>> Click here to read the rest of the interview





9 Jul  

The musical world today mourns the loss of one of the outstanding figures in contemporary British music, composer and conductor Oliver Knussen, CBE. He was just 66.

 

Ever self-critical his compositional output was not large, each piece instead being marked by a crystalline perfection and marvellous ear for orchestration. Always generous with his time, he was also a crucial figure in supporting the development of the younger generation of composers. He will be sorely missed.

 

Tributes have been pouring in from his many friends and colleagues.

 

The Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, with whom Knussen had a long-running association as conductor and Artist-in-Association have put up a personal tribute page, including the following words:

 

‘Birmingham Contemporary Music Group are devastated to learn of the passing of our dearest friend and Artist-in-Association, Oliver Knussen….We cannot begin to process the loss of this wonderful man to both the musical community and the wider world.’

 

The Principal of the Royal Academy of Music, where Knussen was an honorary member of staff, released this statement

 

‘The news of Olly Knussen’s death comes as a huge shock to all of us. He was a deeply loved teacher and friend. Olly’s years of regular visits here as Richard Rodney Bennett Professor of Music will remain amongst the most memorable and treasured for all of us who worked with him.’

 

The BBC Proms tweeted:

 

‘We are deeply saddened by the death of Oliver Knussen, a dear friend and colleague to the Proms. Olly performed at more than 30 Proms across 4 decades, memorably marking his 60th birthday in 2012 (article below) when he conducted the @bbcso in a performance of his 3rd Symphony.’

 

Composer Mark-Anthony Turnage remarked:

 

‘He was like my dad really, he was just so generous and kind apart from being an amazing musician. He was a great teacher as well. He used to say to me: just get on with it, don't listen to other people, you will be played by orchestras.’

 

Full obituaries are already available here:

 

The Guardian

The Telegraph

 

There will surely be many more.





6 Jul  

Tête à Tête director Bill-Bankes Jones describes opera as ‘the most visceral of art forms. Unless its driver is something that forces a raw primal cri de coeur, it makes no sense.’ Hence some of last year’s themes: ‘the moment of childbirth, an all-consuming frustration at Trump's Immigration ban, knife-throwing, and Brexit.’ This year, being equally troubled, promises more such rage and frustration. 

 

The festival opens with Cubitt Sessions, small free performances given in the King’s Cross area. These include Errollyn Wallen and her band performing selections from The Errollyn Wallen Songbook; Nightshade: Aubergine, a kind of culinary ‘music theatre road movie’; and Toscatastrophe, the festival’s attempt to ‘massacre’ (their word) a classic opera.

 

Whilst the main programme defies categorisation it is possible to discern the cri de coeur to which Bankes refers—operas include: The Good Immigrant, an exploration of race & identity in contemporary Britain; Blue Electric, which features ‘Cafés and nightclubs, shifty boyfriends and broken friendships’; Nibiru, a ‘techno tone-poem musing on the end of the world, estate agents, social networking, internet conspiracy theories, and large, invasive, tap-dancing happeee-celestial bodies’; and Earth Makes No Sound, a ‘provocation about our planet and how we look after it.’ 

 

There’s a lot else besides, most of it not nearly so angsty, so have a rummage round in the programme before deciding whether you want to attend. I can only say that I spent a splendid few days at Tête à Tête last year—so whatever you see it will provoke and entertain (and maybe infuriate just a tiny bit too…).






1 Jul  

In addition to the excellent new Andrew Hamilton disc, NMC, in association with the PRS Foundation, has released two more recordings in its New Music Biennial series: Eliza Carthy’s Rivers and Railways, a collaboration with Moulettes; and Sam Lee’s Vocals, a collection of songs from in and around the city of Hull. Onyx Brass have also released Onyx Noir (see video, bottom), a collection of contemporary jazz music for brass quintet featuring 12 composers. 

 

On Nonesuch, Thomas Bartlett and Nico Muhly collaborate on a collection of 9 songs entitled Peter Pears: Balinese Ceremonial Music. They are inspired by three Colin McPhee gamelan transcriptions, also featured on the disk. June also sees their release of a new recording of John Adams’ 2005 opera, Doctor Atomic

 

On Wergo Isolde & Tristan / Dreamdancers features two double concertos by Munich-based composer Enjott Schneider that ‘use unconventional combinations of solo instruments to make poetic contradictions audible.’ Libres en el sonido is a collection of seven works by Argentine-Uruguayan composer Graciela Paraskevaídis for Ensemble Aventure. The Philosophy of Composition, meanwhile, is a collection of pieces by South African Michael Blake that explore the period between his retirement to a village near Cape Town in 2008 and his relocation to France in 2015.

 

Toshio Hosokawa’s orchestral triptych Meditation, Nach dem Sturm and Klage is the composers response to the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. It is released on Naxos with Autumn Winds, a work for shakuhachi and orchestra. Also on Naxos, finally, is a collection of Hans Werner Henze works for violin and viola featuring Peter Skærved (violin and viola) and Roderick Chadwick (piano). 





25 Jun  

Norman Lebrecht over at Slipped Disc has just posted this fascinating video of Robin Holloway in conversation with Paddy Gormley about his life and work. There are also a short section featuring Holloway working with performers.

 

Our thanks to him for making this available.

 





22 Jun  

Andrew Hamilton‘s Music for People, a new album on NMC, contains three works by the composer: music for people who like art, for voice and ensemble; To the People for soprano and percussion; and music for roger casement, a ‘quasi-chamber concerto’ for harmonium.

 

music for people who like art sets text from 25 Lines of Words on Art: Statement by American artist Ad Reinhardt. In it the singer repeats the line ‘Art is Art’ over a gradually evolving (‘micro-modifications’, as Liam Cagney explains in his excellent liner notes) musical landscape. Hamilton’s minimalist credentials are very much on display, then, though what is most striking is how wittily he deploys his material, with long pauses, unexpected interjections (‘Yeah!’) and plenty of throwaway postmodern musical gestures. The result is not exactly lacking in seriousness, but one has the impression that Hamilton composes with a barely suppressed grin. It is infectious.

 

One could write almost exactly the same of the music for roger casement, even though the piece is inspired by a serious event—Roger Casement was an Irish nationalist who was executed by the British for treason in 1916, not before they also blackened his name with allegations of homosexuality. The humour is still here though it has most definitely turned black—there is a sense of gothic horror to the whole proceedings, with the whining sounds of the harmonium and the gradual sense of disintegration that the runs towards the frenzied final peroration.

 

To The People sets excerpts from French philosopher Jean Baudrillard's book America, the title being inspired by German artist Blinky Palermo’s abstract paintings To The People of New York City. The work is divided into seventeen movements, the longest lasting more than six minutes, the shortest just twenty seconds. It is surprisingly different in atmosphere from the other two pieces—sparse, straight-faced—even if it does share many of their stylistic fingerprints. What it lacks in immediate physical exhilaration, however, it makes up for in subtlety of inspiration. There also moments of sublime beauty, most notably in the hushed final movement.

 

Read an interview with Andrew Hamilton, here.

 





16 Jun  

Germany’s Goethe-Insitut makes an annual award for those who ‘have performed outstanding service for the German language and for international cultural relations.’ One of this year’s prize winner is Hungarian composer and conductor Péter Eötvös. From the prize page:

 

‘With his compositions and interpretations of the works of contemporaries during and after the Cold War, the Hungarian composer and conductor Péter Eötvös advanced a common European musical culture and continues to influence it today.’

 

More on the Goethe-Insitut website.





13 Jun  

This year's Cheltenham Music Festival packs an impressive 65 events into its two weeks, with plenty of new music to boot.

 

There’s a chance to hear Colin Riley’s ‘new kind of song-cycle’ In Place on 8th. The composer will also be there to talk about the work beforehand. The festival will play its part in the Bernstein centenary celebrations with performances of On the Town on 10th, Chichester Psalms on 11th and Candide on 12th. Choral aficionados might want to make a special effort for the Chichister Psalms performances, which will feature some of Stephen Cleobury’s last concerts directing King’s College Choir. 

 

World premieres include Gavin Higgins’ Gursky Landscapes with David Cohen and the Carducci Quartet on the 6th; new works for the Juice Vocal Ensemble written by the Cheltenham Composer Academy participants on 14th; Kenneth Hesketh’s The Singing Bone as well as a new Debussy arrangement for the Berkeley Ensemble on 14th; and Juliana, a new chamber opera by Joseph Phibbs on 15th

 

The full programme is available here.





13 Jun  

On Monday PRS announced the latest The Open Fund and Women Make Music recipients. The Open Fund is divided into two sections, one for the development of outstanding songwriters and composers, the other to support new music projects. Women Make Music supports the development of outstanding women songwriters and composers. 

 

Congratulations to all of the recipients:

 

The Open Fund for Music Creators

 

Aidan O’Rourke

Ailie Robertson, Donald Grant, David Fennessy, Aidan O’Rourke, Alasdair Nicolson

Balladeste

Cosmism (recording as The Long Now)

Craig Armstrong and Calum Martin

David Mackenzie – Stantz

Edward Jessen

Ensemble x.y

Graham Fitkin

Greg Wanders

Iain Chambers

James Chapman (Maps)

Jenni Roditi, Toby Thompson, Candida Valentino, Haymanot Tesfa, Cassie Yukawa-McBurney

Jon Shenoy

Kitt Philippa

Lanterns on the Lake

Makola

Peaness

Polo

Ruta Vitkauskaite

The Ninth Wave

Wu-Lu

Zara Nunn

 

The Open Fund for Organisations

 

Abram Wilson Foundation for Creative Arts

Brainchild Festival

Capsule

Celtronic Derry Ltd

Chineke Foundation

Dumbworld ltd

English Folk Expo

Eye to Eye

Feral Arts

HD Arts Productions CIC T/A Hidden Door Festival

Immix Ensemble

In Place Of War

Irene Taylor Trust

Jazz re:freshed Ltd

Knockengorroch cic

Low Four

National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain

OneFest CIC

Severnside Composers Alliance

Showcase Scotland Expo

Small Green Shoots

Sound City (Liverpool) Ltd.

Sounds from the Other City

Streetwise Opera

Sŵn Festival Ltd

the hub arts lab CIC

The Riot Ensemble

The Stoller Hall

The Sunday Boys

Three Choirs Festival

Transgressive North

VALLEY COMMUNITY THEATRE

WITCiH

York Mediale

Z-arts

 

Women Make Music

 

Bellatrix

Caswell

Catherine Kontz

Chagall

Dorcha

Getrude Veremu

Giulia Grispino

Gwyneth Herbert

Kathryn Tickell

Laura White

Lucinda Chua

Mithila Sarma

Pink Kink

Shingai

 

More here.





7 Jun  

Christian Morris talks to leading British composer Edward Gregson. Now ten years into retirement from a distinguished academic career, his composing work is more vigorous than ever, with his recent Four Etudes for brass band being nominated for a 2017 British Composer Award.
 

Edward Gregson

When we first started communicating by email you told me you 'had you head down orchestrating.' Would you like to let us know what you have been writing?


I've been working on a Halle commission, a large-scale piece for their Children's Choir and Orchestra. I'm delighted that they take these kinds of commissions seriously by involving the orchestra as well, because the experience for the children in the choir is so much more enhanced. They have around 80-90 voices, between 8 and 12 years of age, 'who enjoy singing and love a challenge!'

However, besides trying to write music that will both challenge and satisfy such a choir (a difficult task in itself), one of the other most demanding elements is scoring it for a full orchestra and trying to achieve a realistic balance between the forces. The work also has two narrators (male and female) that add to the overall dramatic story.

Anyway, the work is called The Salamander and the Moonraker - An Adventure Story in Music - with story and text by Susan Gregson (who also happens to be my wife!). It's around 35 minutes long (so a lot of orchestration!) and will be premiered on 1st July this year at Manchester's Bridgewater Hall. So you see why I had my head down trying to finish it when you contacted me. I should add that the choir has had the vocal score since before Xmas, so they have already been working hard on it.

>> Click here to read the rest of the interview







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