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13 Apr  


Arts Council England has published findings from a consultation exercise that aims to help formulate a strategy for its next ten years. Taking place between October 2018 and January 2019, they listened to the views of a number of interested parties—museums, libraries, arts organisations, funders, policy makers, local authorities, education and young people. The report can be read here


Following a speech given by ACE’s deputy chief director Simon Mellor given at East London Dance’s 2019 Ideas Summit, The Stage reported that the new direction would mean that ‘Relevance not excellence will be new litmus test for funding.’ This was latter denied by the ACE CEO Darren Henley, who tweeted: ‘ We see no opposition between ‘relevance’ and ‘excellence’.  They can and should complement each other. The headline in The Stage article doesn’t reflect what was actually said in the speech it reported.’ He also said that no decisions had been made about the strategy and that a new round of consultations would begin in June. At that point, interested parties, including readers here can get involved.

9 Apr  

Sibelius has just released version 2019.4, with new playback features and enhancements to Review mode. Their upgrade email also offers a 40% discount on the NotePerformer sound library. That’s $77.99 instead of $129.


I’ve always wanted to install a different sound set for Sibelius, but have been put off by reports of how difficult it can be to get them to work. NotePerformer claims to make the process as easy as using the built-in set. It also offers a full range of orchestral and brass band sounds, intelligent musical phrasing, a wide variety of articulations and nice extras such as a variety of pipe organ stops, brass mutes and effects such as bowed percussion, harmonics and snapped pizzicato. The set is also fully compatible with Finale and Dorico. 


Interested in the offer, I downloaded the demo version of NotePerformer 3 last night. It was as easy to install as they claim—once you have done so you simply choose the sound set in the configuration dialogue that contains the Sibelius sounds sets and general MIDI, then everything works as before. One thing I did notice, however, was that on my five-year-old Mac (8GB of RAM running latest version of Sibelius) there was a certain amount of lag when switching sounds in the mixer panel. At first I thought this a deal-breaker, but it soon settled to an acceptable level. This probably speaks more of my need to upgrade.


The sounds themselves and the playback were at times revelatory, even if not without disappointments. First of all, the balance is much more convincing, with brass especially being much further forward than in the Sibelius set. The quality of the sounds were, in most cases, also much better than those of Sibelius. Sometimes the difference was shocking, as when I tried out a piece I had written for bassoon quartet. Whilst nothing can beat real players, it was surprising to find something that felt so immediate and convincing.

Other tests of woodwind, brass and string yielded similar results—if your main interest is orchestral instruments this is an obvious purchase. 


Two areas of disappointment were harder to ignore. There is just one piano sound, which sounds like a Wild West saloon piano recorded in a bathroom. For such an essential instrument this is unforgivable. Also disappointing were the vocal samples. Whilst they are not great in Sibelius either, they do have a focus that was not present here, which to my mind makes them easier to work with.


Despite these two disappointments, NotePerformer remains a tempting prospect. Now I’ve experienced it I think it’s an option I’m always going to want to have available. To make up your own mind I’d suggest checking out one of many YouTube videos that compare the installed Sibelius Sounds with NotePerformer (one of which you can find below). Or you can head straight over to the NotePerformer website and try their 30-day free trial.


NotePerformer vs. Sibelius Sounds


Product Summary

27 Mar  

Boris Johnson today reacted to the EU’s passing of Article 13, its new copyright law designed to protect content creators, including composers:

27 Mar  

The Manchester-based ensemble Psappha has just launched ‘Composition Bank’, an initiative that allows music lovers to directly support the creation of new works. 


For the 2019–2020 season three composers have been selected as beneficiaries: Mark-Anthony Turnage, Alissa Firsova and George Stevenson. 


Donations start at £100 per score. Supported will get their names listed on the chosen score, invitations to workshops/rehearsals, the option to buy the score signed by the composer and an official certificate of support.


The programme officially opens tomorrow (28th March), but the donations pages already appear to be live.



For more information or if you wish to donate:

21 Mar  

NMC Recordings, a label whose mission is to bring music by British composers to the widest possible audience, will this month celebrate its 30th birthday. To mark the occasion, we talk with its Executive Director, Anne Rushton, about the label's past present and future.

Anna Rushton, NMC

How did NMC Recordings come to be formed? 

Imogen Holst and Colin Matthews (composer, founder and Executive Producer of NMC) set up the Holst Foundation, shortly before Imogen's death in 1984. Imogen had made it clear that the future role should not be to subsidise her father's music in the way that most other composer trusts function. Instead she hoped that it would be able to support the work of living composers and the idea that this might be done via recordings, enabling new work to reach wider audiences, had been mooted. Roll on a few years when The Holst Foundation supported a concert at the Aldeburgh Festival, featuring the Philharmonia conducted by Oliver Knussen. There was an audience of 800 but as the concert wasn't broadcast the Foundation realised that their, not inconsiderable, financial support wasn't having as much impact as it might - and the idea of recordings was revived. NMC's first release, under the auspices of the Society for the Promotion of New Music, of Jonathan Harvey's Bhakti, was in April 1989. 

Why was there such a pressing need for NMC?

There's a perennial challenge for composers in having their work heard. This isn't just for promotional or financial reasons, not that there's anything wrong with those. For most it strikes to the very essence of why they compose; to communicate their creative ideas to those who will listen. And with the inherent limitations (financial and logistical) of putting on new music concerts, recording is the ideal way to ensure that work gets heard, and heard again. Back in the late 80's there were labels which featured occasional contemporary releases, but the representation of living British composers in the record catalogues was very poor: extraordinary to think that, back then, Harrison Birtwistle had only one major recording available (Secret Theatre, now reissued on NMC D148), while Jonathan Harvey had reached the age of 50 without a single significant disc until we released Bhakti. NMC's mission was to redress that underrepresentation and in the process we've become the dedicated home for the work of composers from the British Isles, across a range of styles, chosen and maintained in the catalogue in the face of commercial considerations. 

>> Click here to read the rest of the interview

13 Mar  

     The set from Les Bienveillantes

Three opera premieres to look forward to in April:

Les Bienveillantes is Hèctor Parra’s sixth major theatre work. It is based upon Jonathan Littell's 2006 novel The Kindly Ones (Les Bienveillantes), which explores a fictional protagonist who helped carry out the Holocaust and was present at key events during World War 2. Opera Ballet Vlaanderen give the premiere in Antwerp on 24th, with subsequent performances running into May.


Tarik O’Regan’s new opera, The Phoenix, tells the life of Mozart’s librettist Lorenzo da Ponte. Starting life as a priest and poet, he was banished when it was discovered that had a secret family and was a frequenter of brothels. Despite flourishing as a librettist he eventually faced bankruptcy and fled to America, earning a living as a greengrocer before founding New York City’s first opera company. The work, to a libretto by John Caird, starts its run at Houston Grand Opera on 26th April. 


Oceane is Detlev Glanert’s second collaboration with librettist Hans-Ulrich Treichel. It is based upon a unfinished novella by Theodor Fontane that ‘attempts to encapsulate in the form of Melusine the sense of menace and fascination felt by a bourgeois, male-dominated society faced with femininity coupled with an archaic, erotically permissive artlessness.’ Deutsche Oper Berlin give the premiere on 28th, with performance continuing into May.


Not a premiere but also worth consideration is Alexander Vustin’s opera Le Diable Amoureeux. Based upon Jacques Cazotte’s novel of the same name, it tells of a demon that falls in love with a young nobleman and, in the guise of a young woman, attempts to win his affections. Despite the work being finished in 1989 (after nearly fifteen years of composing) it did not receive its first performance until February of this year. The performances on 5th and 7th April at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre could be your last chance to experience it.


I’ve listed some more premieres from around the world below. Three I find especially attractive:


Joby Talbot’s new cantata, Sheen of Dew on Flowers, sets rare and sensual poetry across several millennia in a concert that celebrated the partnership of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. It is performed by the Britten Sinfonia at the Barbican on 11th


A new work by Harrison Birtwistle is always an event, even when the work itself is small. Duet for 8 Strings for viola and cello will be performed by the Nash Ensemble at Wigmore Hall, London on 12th. There will be a section of other works by the composers, as well as Mosaic by Elliott Carter and, poignantly, a posthumous UK premiere for Oliver Knussen’s Study for 'Metamorphosis' for solo bassoon. 


Also enticing is a new work, KRONOS-KRYPTOS for percussion quintet, by George Crumb, to be performed by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, New York City on 14th. It forms part of an all-Crumb concert celebrating the composer’s 90th birthday year. There will, furthermore, be a chance to hear more works, including his awe-awe-importing Black Angels for Electric String Quartet, on 16th.


April Premiere Diary




8th OSO Arts Centre, London. Luciano, Clarinet Sonata no. 8.

11th Barbican Hall, London. Talbot, A Sheen of Dew on Flowers. Britten Sinfonia.

12th Wigmore Hall, London. Birtwistle, Duet for 8 Strings for viola and cello. Nash Ensemble.




4th Sibelius Hall, Lahti. Aho, Symphony no. 17. Lahti Symphony Orchestra.

4th DR Koncerthuset: Concert Hall, Copenhagen. Ruders, Accordion concerto. Danish National Symphony Orchestra.

4th Maison de la radio:Auditorium, Paris. Robin, New work. Orchestre National de France.

5th, 7th Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre: Main Stage, Moscow. Vustin, The Devil in Love. Stanislavsky Opera.

6th Concertgebouw: Main Hall, Amsterdam. Nas, Horseless Carriage. Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

7th Konserthuset Stockholm: Grünewaldsalen, Stockholm. Lindgren, Nonet. Ensemble Misto.

8th Pesti Vigadó (Vigadó Concert Hall), Budapest. Mizuki, New Work. Ruka Yokoyama, Piano.

13th (dates into May): GöteborgsOperan, Gothenburg. Martinů, Trois fragments de Juliette (World première staging). Göteborg Opera.

24th Opera Vlaanderen, Antwerp, Antwerp. Parra, Les Bienveillantes. Opera Vlaanderen

25th De Doelen: Grote Zaal, Rotterdam. Wagemans, Love, baby love. Nederlands Kamerkoor, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra.

25th Conservatoire Darius Milhaud: Auditorium Campra, Aix-en-Provence. Attahir, Mélodies. Trio Zadig, String Trio. 

28th Deutsche Oper, Berlin. Glanert, Oceane. Deutsche Oper Berlin

30th Temple Church, London. Bruce, New Work for soprano and bass. 




1st Carnegie Hall: Weill, New York City, Nickell, New Work for soprano and piano (World premiere)

7th Collins Center for the Arts, Orono. Richman, New Work. Bangor Symphony Orchestra.

13th Hong Kong City Hall: Concert Hall, Hong Kong. Leung, Life Episode II. Hong Kong Sinfonietta.

14th Lincoln Center: Alice Tully Hall, New York City. Crumb, New Work for Percussion Quintet. 

23rd Carnegie Hall: Weill, New York City. Chang, Cello Sonata.

26th Wortham Theater Center: Houston Grand Opera, Houston. O'Regan, The Phoenix. Houston Grand Opera.

6 Mar  

Bauer Media Group has launched a new classical music station, Scala Radio. On their website they said:


Offering classical music for modern life, Scala Radio is set to be the biggest launch in UK classical music radio in nearly thirty years, Scala Radio anticipates explosive growth in the genre and an ever growing cross-over into the mainstream - the new station will break the mould of classical music in the UK.


The platform is led by award-winning broadcaster, Simon Mayo, who left BBC Radio 2 three months ago. Other familiar names include Mark Kermode, who will focus on film music, Angellica Bell, who will lead the weekend, and Chris Rogers, who will host a live Sunday show. The young composer Jack Pepper will also host a show, though it is not yet clear what the focus of this will be.


The Guardian’s five-star review of the launch was effusive, though it made it clear that the station’s mainstream approach made it ‘a bigger threat to Classic FM than Radio 3.’ Whether it will find a space for more daring contemporary music, only time will tell.


You can tune into the service via the Scala Radio website (though at present clicking on the ‘Listen Live’ button returns an error), via iOS and Android apps, DAB digital radio or a smart speaker.

4 Mar  

Some inspirational words from the late lamented André Previn...

1 Mar  

André Previn died last night at his home in Manhattan. He was 89.


Born in Berlin, Germany, Previn showed phenomenal musical talent at an early age. His father, a lawyer, and mother, a teacher, sent him to the Berlin Hochschule für Musik at the age of six, where he studied piano with Rudolf Breithaupt. Of Russian-Jewish origin the family left Germany in 1938, briefly spending time in Paris before moving to Los Angeles.


Previn became a composer through the world of film. As a boy he accompanied silent films on the piano at a local arts cinema and, whilst still at school, he was hired by MGM to arrange and compose film scores. As a film music composer Previn was also required to conduct his own pieces, a skill he honed further in private conducting lessons with Pierre Monteux.


By his early 30s Previn had already built an impressive career as a film composer, garnering Academy Awards for Gigi (1958), Porgy and Bess (1959), Irma la Douce (1963) and My Fair Lady (1964). Ambitious to pursue a career as a conductor, however, he resigned from MGM and in 1967 was appointed music director of the Houston Symphony Orchestra. The following year he became principal conductor of the LSO. It was in London that he established his reputation for the interpretation of composers such as Vaughan Williams, Walton and Britten. If his choice of repertoire did not tend towards the iconoclastic, this was simply a matter of personal temperament. As Previn explained: ‘I am a complete Romantic. I once talked to Pierre Boulez and he was telling me how he’d like to take human performers out of music, to give everything computer-like precision….I go to see a Puccini opera and I’m touched on the deepest level. That would be purgatory for Boulez, but music that only works on an intellectual level bores me.’


Previn’s time in London also coincided with his blossoming as a media personality, most famously in his 1971 appearance on Morecambe and Wise. He also popularised classical repertoire in the BBC’s prime-time Saturday night show André Previn's Music Night, took part in documentaries about classical and jazz music and even made appearances on the BBC’s panel quiz show Call My Bluff. 


In parallel to his life as a conductor Previn continued to work as a pianist and as a composer. He wrote the scores for the musicals Coco (1969), The Good Companions (1974) and incidental music for Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1977) as well as two operas A Streetcar Named Desire (1997) and Brief Encounter (2007). There was also serious instrumental music, including concertos for solo piano, guitar, cello and violin; orchestral overtures; a wealth of chamber music; solo piano works; and songs and song cycles. Despite resolving not to work in film after he left MGM, he also produced adaptations of other composers' works for the medium, including for the 1973 production of Jesus Christ Superstar. As a pianist he worked in classical and jazz mediums, favouring trio formations in both. He was also involved in crossover projects with classically trained musicians such as Kiri Te Kanawa and Leontyne Price, or from other musical traditions, such as Ravi Shankar. 


Previn never ceased to take the the business of being a musician seriously, famously remarking ‘If I miss a day of practice, I know it. If I miss two days, my manager knows it. If I miss three days, my audience knows it.’ As his much-loved ‘Mr. Preview’ Morecame and Wise sketch so amply exemplified, however, he did not extend this seriousness to himself. This made him a great ambassador, allowing him to connect with people who might not otherwise have been interested in classical music.


As well as four Oscars, Previn was received many Grammy Awards and nominations, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010. He received an honorary KBE in 1996 and in 1998 the Kennedy Honor for lifetime achievement.


André Previn, Honey and Rue - Brianna J. Robinson, soprano

27 Feb  

UK Music, the industry-funded body that represents the collective interests of the British Music Industry, has today called upon MEPs and the EU Council to support the new Copyright Directive, also known as Article 13.


In a statement released to its members, it said:


UK Music and its members have always supported constructive steps to foster a fair music Iicensing environment that benefits creators, performers and those who invest in them. We have campaigned for this together through #LoveMusic and the final compromise text of the Copyright Directive is a notable step in that direction.

In relation to Article 13, we welcome the fact that the compromise text clearly establishes that Online Content Sharing Service Providers should not be entitled to avoid the need to secure licences from rightsholders. As has been widely reported, the text of this Article in particular has been the subject of fierce and passionate debate and the final result includes a number of compromises.

With this in mind, we ask the EU Council and MEPs to support the Directive.

We call on individual member states to ensure that the Copyright Directive, if successfully adopted, is implemented in a way that achieves its original purpose and benefits the whole of the industry.

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