Though it does not cover the composer’s later years, Caroline Potter’s survey of the music of Henry Dutilleux is the standard English language account of his life and works. Though an older book, I mention in now because it was out of print until Routledge recently reissued it for £34.99. I never travel anywhere without my copy.
If you’d rather read about a different French composer, you could buy a more recent book by Caroline Potter: Erik Satie: A Parisian Composer and His World. It has just been awarded Sunday Times Classical Music Book of the Year. And, completing the French theme, is Pierre Boulez Studies, edited by Peter O’Hagan and Edward Campbell. Not for the casual reader, it offers serious academic perspectives on the composer from leading practitioners in the field, including the named editors, Robert Piencikowski, Pascal Decroupet, Werner Strinz and Jonathan Goldmann.
It seems that the whole world is going wireless at the moment. My choice for Apple users was going to be their new Airpods. With a minimalist design, fancy charging power case and deep integration into the Apple ecosystem, they make the perfect present for the Apple gadget lover. The problem is, it is not entirely certain they will be available before Christmas. You could, instead go for Apple’s Beats Solo3 headphones, which use similar technology to integrate with Apple devices, but which classical music lover would want to be seen with a brand of headphones that is associated with a bass heavy sound and a rather flimsy build?
There are, of course, much better audiophile options to chose from. If you want a really good spacious classical sound, go for open-backed. The only disadvantage with them, however, is that they don’t stop sound from your environment intruding on your listening experience. I prefer a compromise, something like Bose’s QuietComfort 35 Wireless Headphones, which are closed back whilst still providing decent sound. They also include class-leading noise cancellation, making them perfect when you are out and about.
Never be caught off-guard when musical inspiration arrives. This handy music pad will fit discreetly in your jacket pocket so you can composer anytime, anywhere…
CD pick:Deo, works for choir and organ by Jonathan Harvey £14.57.
Deo on Signum Classics is an exquisite collection of works by Jonathan Harvey performed by the choir of St. John’s College Cambridge conducted by Andrew Nethsingha. You can find out more in my original review, here. My favourite CD of the year.
Christmas album pick:O Emmanuel J.J. Wright, Notre Dame Children’s Choir, Fifth House Ensemble $14.95; Noël Nouvelet, a selection of new and old Christmas music, Vasari Singers £13.28.
I recommended several collections of contemporary music Christmas settings last year. Those still stand.
In addition to these, however, you may consider the recent O Emmanuel by J.J. Wright, which contains imaginative reworkings of familiar Christmas music. It may be a little on the saccharine side for some, but I enjoyed it a lot.
Alternatively you could try Noël Nouvelet which contains a nice mixture of new and old, including pieces by Bob Chilcott, John Rutter, Judith Weir, Naji Hakim and John Gardner.
The ultimate Christmas present for the technologically-minded composer. I raved last year about the Microsoft Surface running the Staffpad notation program. This year Microsoft has once again stolen a march on Apple with the release of its Surface Studio. It essentially performs the same trick as the smaller Surface, in that it can be operated as a normal computer, where it can run legacy programs such as Sibelius, and as a tablet, where is can use touch and stylus programs like Staffpad. The difference, however, is that the screen provides a gigantic area on which to work. There is also an innovative new input method, the Surface Dial, which can sit on the screen or near it, giving you an additional way of scrolling though menus etc. It really is a compelling device that comes, nevertheless, with two drawbacks: it has a hefty price-tag and, sadly, will not be available till early 2017. If someone wants to put a Studio preorder in my stocking, however, I would be quite happy to wait...
Actually released way back in September, I only came across this today and was attracted by its grungy back-to-basics approach. To see what I mean you can read a very thoughtful review of the disk, here. Or better still, have a listen.
The first recording of the composer’s latest symphony, performed by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra. The music is energetic and pretty accessible, especially in the frentic dance-inspired final movement.
A cantata to mark the centenary of the First World War with choral performances from tenor Nicky Spence, the Oxford Bach Choir and Portsmouth Grammar School Chamber Choir. The work is paired with An Airmail Letter from Mozart, directed from the piano by Melvyn Tan.
Subtleties of harmony from a composer who, dissatisfied with equal temperament, has divided the octave into as many as 72 microintervals. There are four pieces: ¿Adónde? Wohin? for violin, soprano and instruments; Oh Bosques|Oh Wälder for soprano, choir and orchestra; ¿Por qué? Warum? for choir in two groups a cappella; and Oh Cristallina… for three groups of vocalists and instruments.
The Tredegar Town Band play a selection of music by Robin Holloway, Lucy Pankhurst, John McCabe, Simon Dobson, Paul McGhee and Gavin Higgins. Britten’s cumulative Fanfare for St Edmundsbury also provides a framework for responses by four of the composers.
France is mourning the loss of composer Jean-Claude Risset, who died on Monday aged 78. He is often mentioned alongside French electronic pioneers Pierre Henry and Pierre Schaeffer and is credited with being one of the first composers to create a piece only using a computer.
Risset’s early training in mathematics and physics led to an interest in synthesised sound. After studying with André Jolivet, in 1964 he travelled to the American research and scientific development company Bell Labs, where he experimented with synthesising real instruments from raw sound. This led to the creation of Music for Little Boy (1968),his first work for computer using the Music V program.
This work and Mutations (1969) formed the basis of a research study Sound Examples, 1969; a compendium of computer sounds that formed the basis for further research and composition.
After Mutations Risset returned to France, accepting academic research posts as well as helping Boulez with the creation of IRCAM. As its head he composed music that extended the domain of computer music to include interactions with live instruments.
Risset continued to experiment throughout the rest of his life, wrote extensively about his work and was frequently invited to speak at institutions throughout the world. In recognition of his contribution, in 1999 he was awarded the Médaille d’or by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.
If, like me, you've entered a few composition competitions in your time, you might be interested in this survey (the link follows the description):
There are few ‘emerging’ composers active today who will have not taken part in a competitive composition opportunity. Masterclasses, residencies, commissions and workshops regularly require a panel to whittle down dozens of applications to just a select few.
It has been assumed that these schemes are necessary parts of a composer’s education – and that they contribute to furthering their career. Yet this assumption has rarely been supported by evidence. Exploring these themes in more detail is the impetus behind the Composition Opportunity Research Project, which will explore the climate of opportunity in new music today.
Composers: we want to know why you apply (or do not apply) for these kinds of opportunities and, more importantly, what makes them fulfilling when you take part. If you have been an ‘emerging’ composer within the last 10 years, we want to hear from you too.
We want to know if any of these schemes have made a difference to your practice, and what others can learn from your positive and/or negative experiences. Have these opportunities expanded your professional networks or encouraged creative ideas?
So, let us learn from your experience! Tell us what would really help you develop as a composer and which opportunities have been wholly unfulfilling. Through your contribution we can better understand, and fight for, the formats that truly encourage creativity.
On December 2nd Valery Gergiev will give the 'world premiere' of Stravinky's Funeral Song. The piece, which was performed just once before being lost, was decribed by the composer as "The best of my works before The Firebird". It was recently rediscovered in the St. Petersburg Conservatoire. The performance will be webcast at medici.tv.
You can also hear Gergiev talking about the performance, here
From the medici.tv website:
A year ago, we learned that a lost work by Stravinsky had been discovered in a pile of dusty scores in the archives of the St. Petersburg Conservatoire. The work turned out to be Funeral Song ("Chant Funèbre"), a 12-minute long musical commemoration of Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky's beloved composition professor. The score disappeared soon after its one and only performance in 1909. The composer wrote in his Memoires in 1935:
Unfortunately, the score of this work disappeared during the revolution... I no longer remember the music, but I recall very well my idea for the work. It was like a procession of all the soli instruments of the orchestra, coming in turns to each leave a melody in the form of a crown on the master's tomb, all the while with a low background of murmuring tremolos, like the vibrations of bass voices singing in a choir.
Specialists have long considered Funeral Song to be a major work by the composer. Numerous searches were organized after the fall of the Soviet Union in hope of finding the score, all without success. But then...
"Natalia, you were looking for a score by Stravinsky, was it called Chant Funèbre?"
Like her professors before her, musicologist Natalia Braginskaya had long held on to the hope of finding the precious document when one day, she received a call from Irina Sidorenko, the librarian of the St. Petersburg Conservatoire. Funeral Song had been found! A year later, Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra perform the miraculously-preserved piece.
December is not traditionally known for its music festivals, which makes the Spitalfields Winter Festival, which this year runs from 4th–11th, a welcome anomaly. There are a number of dance and music events enjoy, but four new music concerts stand out:
A dance and music theatre show inspired by social occasions and life at mealtimes. Choreographed by Luca Silvestrini with music by Orlando Gough.
4. Melvyn Tan (Shoreditch Church, 6th December 7pm)
A concert to mark the pianist’s 60th birthday and the festival’s 40th. It includes music by Judith Weir, Anthony Dove and a host of other composers as part of the compendium piece Variations for Judith.
As well as the new Michael Berkeley carol for Kings (see my previous blog post) there are a number of contemporary music Christmas options to consider in December. On 2nd December the BBC Singers give an Advent concert at St Giles’ Cripplegate that includes music by John Tavener, Judith Weir, Gabriel Jackson, Cecilia McDowall and Owain Park. On the same day at the Barbican there is a chance to hear Neil Brand’s setting of Dickens’ Christmas Carol for spoken voices and orchestra. The work is very family friendly, as can be heard here.
An excellent alternative to Messiah is John Adams’ retelling of the nativity story in El Niño. Adams himself combined the libretto from a number of sources, from ‘pre-Christian prophets to twentieth century Hispanic female writers’ to form a two-hour opera-oratorio. It seems that Adams himself is touring this work around Europe this December; I have found three performances, in London on 4th, Amsterdam on 10th, and Paris on 11th. There may be others.
At St. Davids Hall, Cardiff on 4th December The Sixteen look beyond December to Epiphany with a concert that examines music inspired by the Three Kings. The programme includes music from the renaissance to the present day. At Milton Court Hall, London meanwhile, on 13th the BBC Singers give a concert that includes seasonal music by its conductor Bob Chilcott as well as pieces by Britten, Rutter and James Lord Pierpont.
The composer of this year's commissioned Christmas carol is British composer Michael Berkeley, who has set to music a the traditional 15th century Christmas text This Endernight. The carol will receive its first public performance at A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.
Michael Berkeley is a Fellow of the Royal Northern College of Music and a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music, and in 2012 he was appointed a CBE for services to music in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. Michael is also the son of Lennox Berkeley, who was the first composer commissioned by Stephen Cleobury to write for A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in 1983.
About the new carol, Berkeley writes:
The anonymous c1400 text, This Endernight, is unusual for a carol in that it articulates the voice of the infant Jesus in dialogue with his mother. ‘Ender' or ‘Endris' means past or recent. Maternal feelings of tenderness are in abundance but there is also a knowingness about the importance of the event that is unfolding. It is an upbeat lullaby which looks forward to heavenly bliss and so culminates in a radiant cadence.
This Endernight will be performed during the Christmas Eve service which will be broadcast live on BBC Radio and public radio stations around the world. The carol will also become available as a download immediately following the service through the Apple iTunes Store.
And here is another chance to hear last year's carol, The Flight by Richard Causton:
Four visual artists and three composers have just been announced as recipients of the £50,000 Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award. 'Awards for Artists was launched in 1994 and are the largest individual awards made to visual artists and composers in the UK. At £50,000 per award and with no strings attached, they are designed to give artists the time and freedom to develop their creative ideas.'
The three composers are:
Daniel Kidane (born 1986) is a London-based concert composer whose works range from solo pieces to large orchestral works. Often drawing from experiences from his own background and upbringing, Kidane’s compositions explore social narratives, especially multilingual interactions in everyday life. Among Kidane’s most notable compositions are Foreign Tongues (2015), which re-envisaged the setup of the string quartet and Pulsing (2016), which explored the idea of migration through its energetic instrumental passages and vocal interludes. Kidane’s compositions have been premiered by several notable companies including the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. He has also completed commissioned work for the Orgelbüchlein Project, which was premiered at the Tower of London Chapel.
Heather Leigh (born 1976) is a West Virginian, Texas raised composer and singer currently based in Glasgow. She is renowned for her spontaneous composition and for redefining the pedal steel guitar, taking the instrument beyond the bounds of the country and western genre. As a solo artist, she explores themes relating to the representation of women, sexuality and vulnerability. Leigh’s 2015 album I Abused Animal (Ideologic Organ/Editions Mego) received wide international acclaim, showcasing her talent as a composer, songwriter and vocalist, as well as her pedal steel guitar innovations. This album built upon previous successful releases including Nightingale (Golden Lab Records) and Devil if You Can Hear Me (Not Not Fun). She has an extensive catalogue of collaborative work, which in recent years has focused on her duo with German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann. She has toured widely in the US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
Ailís Ní Ríain
Ailís Ní Ríain (born 1974) is a Cork born contemporary classical composer and stage writer. Currently based in Yorkshire she is a regular collaborator with artists in other artforms, her artistic interests are diverse and combined with an unwavering desire to push and develop her artistic practice through each new project or commission. Working across several media, including small-scale acoustic music, installations, mini-opera and music-theatre, her work uses a multi-disciplined approach to challenge, provoke and engage. Ní Ríain’s compositions focus on strong visual and narrative ideas and building connections with new and diverse audiences. Among Ní Ríain’s most recent compositions was Skloniŝte (2015), a solo accordion and video homage to the people who survived the Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996. The Irish Times described the piece as ‘truly evok[ing] a strong response.’ She has also completed notable commissions for the Royal Irish Academy of Music, The Bronte Society and Feelgood Productions with new commissions lined up for Spitalfields Festival, Temenos Ensemble and Manchester Opera Project. Her work has been performed in the US and across Europe. Alongside her work as a composer, Ní Ríainis a published stage writer with plays produced in the UK, Ireland, Germany and Sweden.