Tuesday, June 27, 2006

PREMIERE://Push! by David Bruce

With plenty of slapstick and drama, the unlikely subject of childbirth makes for great opera

By Paul Driver
From TimesOnline.co.uk - June 25, 2006

There is a lot of death in opera, but remarkably little about birth. Yet parturition, once stripped of taboos that forbid discussing it, still less depicting it theatrically, cries out for operatic treatment. It is, after all, a version of that passionate self-declaration without which characters do not plausibly sing, rather than speak, on stage; and is a chance, too, to redress the operatic balance by which heroines are more often abused than exalted. I can think of only one opera where birth is a central issue: Janacek’s Jenufa, certainly no tale of kindness to single mothers. Thanks to the Tête à Tête company, we can now enjoy an opera in which birth is given no fewer than six times.
Push!, by David Bruce and the playwright Anna Reynolds, directed by Bill Bankes-Jones, was unveiled at Riverside Studios and comprises two short acts (nine scenes) that veer marvellously between comedy and tragedy, the slapstick and the serious. On Tim Meacock’s maternity-ward set, with its colourful swing doors and its cupboards hiding vacuum cleaners, Nimmy gives birth among football supporters as though trying to score a goal; Mary, rearing up at the apex of a great tent, produces talkative quintuplets as building workers take over the operation (both women played by Helen Withers). Cara (Rachel Hynes), recumbent in a paddling pool, is assisted by deep-sea divers; Maddy (Tara Harrison), a baby-batterer, gives birth chained to a policeman as foster parents wait in the wings; and Angela (Louise Mott) rejoices that her stillborn son is with the angels after whom she is named.
Between these scenes, we watch a cleaner (Jacqueline Miura) and caretaker (Mark Richardson) wielding their Hoovers and Dysons. It is an affecting moment when the caretaker sits up with the baby (a flashing jelly baby in an incubator) that will die. The beautiful lamentation of the Angela scene follows, but the work moves to an affirmative close as the cleaner herself has a baby (with the caretaker), and the refrain becomes, as it were, the final verse. Miura rose to her occasion magnificently — but so did all the singers. They had much to spur them on, for what marks out the opera is the composer’s relish for warmly singable lines and the expressive possibility of ensembles. This is emphatically not a “sung play”. Reynolds’s text is, in any case, a model of concision.
Economy is the ruling principle of Bruce’s score for 13 players. With its dabs of accordion, hints of piano riff, one might take it at first for skilful Gebrauchsmusik (utility music), but then come piccolo-flashes of Janacek, violin descants that glisten significantly, subtly swelling brass and a touchingly unexpected use of recorders. (They give the work its final sounds.) There is depth here as well as surface, and a sense of tonal pacing that is more than merely “effective”. When Maddy sings of “loving no one, loved by none”, there is a chord change on the last word to clinch the matter. The conductor, Tim Murray, ensured that it did.

The Spitalfields Festival, which ended on Friday, does not deal in the sensational, nor spring undue surprises on its faithful adherents, yet always seems a fresh, strong growth. The main novelty of recent times was the move from Christ Church, necessitated by the refurbishment of Hawksmoor’s masterpiece, but it had the happy consequence of bringing up Wilton’s Music Hall as an alternative base. There, I caught part of a recital by two festival regulars, the “period” violinist Rachel Podger and the forte-pianist Gary Cooper. They played Mozart’s dramatic E minor sonata, K 304, and Beethoven’s assuaging “Spring” sonata, Op 24, in a way that made it impossible to separate brilliance from thoughtfulness, precision (fantastic keyboard roulades) from a sweeping sense of architecture. I don’t always want to hear this repertory in these thinned-down sonorities, but such manifest musicality — one always wants that.

An entrancing event at Christ Church was a 45-minute sequence given by the Royal Academy of Music Manson Ensemble under the Master of the Queen’s Music. Peter Maxwell Davies’s own Four Instrumental Motets were interleaved with three pieces by RAM composers for the same forces, a sotto voce combination with which Davies transformed his 16th- century Scottish originals for the Fires of London in the 1970s. It was a time when his ear, sensitised by the island sounds of his new Orkney home, was at its most instrumentally fastidious. He works an evanescent magic with a splash of celesta, gurgle of marimba, whisper of guitar. The other items, all accomplished, by Jordan Hunt, Elspeth Brooke and Maxim Bendall, were uncannily able to inhabit this remote terrain without sacrificing individuality. The performances were taut and impressive.
It was poignant to hear the cellist holding his own in a Davies solo against World Cup shouting from the Ten Bells over the street.

FESTIVAL://NAC Young Composers Programme 2006

New Music is presented in two Celebration of Future Classics concerts June 21 and 28

By M Collins
From OttawaStart.com - June 21, 2006

The National Arts Centre will present two "Celebration of Future Classics" new music concerts connected to its Young Composers Programme. The first of these on Wednesday, June 21 at 19:30 in NAC Rehearsal Hall B is a warm-up to the 2006 edition of the NAC Young Composers Programme which begins June 20. It features works by two alumni of the Programme - Andrew Staniland and Maxime McKinley - and one by Samuel Barber. The second concert on Wednesday, June 28 at 19:30 in Southam Hall, with the audience seated on stage with the musicians, will feature works by the five participating composers in the 2006 edition of the programme; one by Gary Kulesha, the Lead Composer of this year's edition; and one by Guest Composer Augusta Read Thomas. The performers for both concerts are drawn from l'Orchestre de la francophonie canadienne, with additional musicians from the NAC Young Artists Programme on June 21 and from the National Arts Centre Orchestra on June 28.

The Young Composers Programme is one component of Pinchas Zukerman's NAC Summer Music Institute which is supported by private donations and the NAC's National Youthand Education Trust (Founding Partner TELUS), including major support from: Scotiabank, TransAlta, Universal, University of Ottawa, and Galaxie - the Continuous Music Network through its Galaxie Rising Stars Program of the CBC. Over the course of ten days, Gary Kulesha will lead the five chosen participants in composition workshops to put the finishing touches on their works-in-progress. They will have at their disposal an ensemble of virtuoso musicians from l'Orchestre de la francophonie canadienne (OFC) led by Jean-Philippe Tremblay, Music Director of the OFC and the NAC Orchestra's former Apprentice Conductor after graduating from the NAC Conductors Programme.
Gary Kulesha enjoys a multi-faceted career as pianist, organist, conductor, choir director, teacher, CBC producer, broadcaster, musical journalist and composer. His works have been performed across North America as well as in Europe and Australia. Since 2002, he has been one of three NAC Award Composers under its New Music Programme. His commissions under the Programme include the Violin Concerto No. 2 premiered in July 2003, and The Boughs of Music premiered in October 2005 and performed during the NAC Orchestra's Alberta-Saskatchewan Tour in November 2005. He accompanied the Orchestra on tour in Atlantic Canada in 2002 and in Alberta-Saskatchewan. His Symphony No. 3 "Serenissima" will be premiered by the NACOrchestra in May 2007. He is currently Composer-Advisor to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and teaches at the University of Toronto.

Augusta Read Thomas, who will join the Young Composers Programme as Guest Composer for the final three days, is Composer-in-Residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1997-2006) and, until 2008, Chair of the Board of the American Music Center, on which she has served for the past five years. This year Thomas resigned from her position as the Wyatt Professor of Music at Northwestern University to devote her time exclusively to composition. Conductors who have programmed her works include Daniel Barenboim, Christoph Eschenbach, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Mstislav Rostropovich, Pierre Boulez, Seiji Ozawa, Oliver Knussen, Marin Alsop, and Leonard Slatkin. Premieres this season have included two new concerti for the Chicago Symphony, a work commissioned by the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and the Music Library Association in honour of its 75th Anniversary, and two new solo piano etudes for a total of six presented by Stephen Gosling in New York City.


PROGRAMMES:

June 21 Celebration of Future Classics I

Gary Kulesha and Andrew Staniland, hosts Jean-Philippe Tremblay, conductor
Ensembles of the Orchestre de la francophonie canadienne and the NAC Young Artists
Programme
ANDREW STANILAND Protestmusik (originally composed during the NAC Young Artists Programme in 2003 and recomposed for orchestra in 2004)
MAXIME McKINLEY Wirkunst - Fellini (composed during the NAC Young Composers Programme in 2005)
SAMUEL BARBER Summer Music for Wind Quintet
Rehearsal Hall B at 19:30 (Enter at the NAC Stage Door)
(This concert and discussion is approximately 1 hour in duration; no intermission)

June 28 Celebration of Future Classics II

Jean-Philippe Tremblay, conductor Gary Kulesha, conductor
Ensembles of the Orchestre de la francophonie canadienne and the NAC Orchestra
GARY KULESHA Variations on a theme of Benjamin Britten
CHRISTOPHER PIERCE Melody with Gesture
BRIAN HARMAN sink
FUHONG SHI In the Timeless Air
JIM O'LEARY Music by a Living Composer
ALEX EDDINGTON Sin Mar a Bha
AUGUSTA READ THOMAS Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour
Southam Hall onstage seating 19:30
(This concert is approximately 2 hours in duration, including intermission.)


The five participants in the 2006 Young Composers Programme are:

Christopher William Pierce: Melody with Gesture
Born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1974, Pierce studied at Arizona State University, and later at the Peabody Conservatory and the Aspen Music Festival and School as a composition fellow under Christopher Rouse and Nicholas Maw. He has also studied with Christopher Theofanidis, Chinary Ung and John Corigliano, and is now a Doctoral student at the University of Toronto under Gary Kulesha. He has received top prize in the Macht Orchestral Composition Competition, the Virginia Carty de-Lillo Prizefor chamber music, P. Bruce Blair Award in Composition, and an ASCAP award, among others. His work is performed frequently throughout the U.S., Canada, South America and Europe.

Brian Harmon: sink
Born in Montreal in 1981, Brian Harman received his Honours BA in Composition from the University of Toronto in 2004, studying with Larysa Kuzmenko and Chan Ka Nin. He is currently completing his Master of Music in Composition at McGill University, studying with Brian Cherney. He has written orchestral, chamber, vocal, electronic and film music. He has been a winner in the Canadian University Music Society's Composition Competition, and a finalist in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's New Creations Competition in 2004. He won a position in the Canadian Contemporary Music Workshop in 2006. He is a founder and artistic coordinator of the Montreal organization Musique Maintenant.

Fuhong Shi: In the Timeless Air
Born in 1976 in Shenyang, China, Fuhong Shi began to study composition at fourteen. She graduated from Shenyang Conservatory of Music in 1995, received a BA from the Central Conservatory of Music in 2000, and a Master's degree in composition at the University of Victoria, BC, in 2005. Now she studies with Gary Kulesha at U of Toronto on a full University fellowship. Her numerous awards include First Prize at the Yanhuang Cup Composition Competition (People's Republic of China) in 1998, and Traditional Music Composition Contest of National Chinese Orchestra (Taiwan) in 2002. Her work was performed during a concert by the China Youth Chinese Music Orchestra, celebrating the 55th Anniversary of China Central Conservatory of Music at Beijing Concert Hall, also in 2005.

Jim O'Leary: Music by a Living Composer
A native of Windsor, Newfoundland, Jim studied percussion at the University of Prince Edward Island, and in 2000, completed his Masters in Composition at the School of Music in Pitea, Sweden. His music has been performed by, among others, the Umea Symphony Orchestra, the Motion Ensemble, the Winnipeg and Vancouver Symphony Orchestras as well as New Music Concerts. In 2001, he placed second in the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's composer competition, and recently received Stockholm county's Culture Prize 2002. He is currently a graduate student in Composition at the University of Cambridge, England.

Alex Eddington: Sin Mar a Bha
Born in 1980 in Toronto, Alex Eddington recently completed a Master's degree in composition at the University of Alberta, after undergraduate training was at the University of Toronto. His works have been commissioned and performed in Canada and internationally by such artists as the Talisker Players, the Sudbury Symphony Ensemble, the Edmonton Saxophone Quartet, the Toronto Chamber Choir, the Da Camera Singers, and soprano Kristin Mueller. In 2004, Alex Eddington received a SOCAN award for his monodrama Death to the Butterfly Dictator! His first orchestral work, Dance Attack!, was a finalist in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's 2004 "New Creations" young composers' competition. He has collaborated with such Edmonton organizations as Mile Zero Dance and the Fringe festival circuit.

Celebration of Future Classics I concert takes place on Wednesday, June 21 at19:30 in NAC Rehearsal Hall B (enter by stage door).
Celebration of Future Classics II takes place on Wednesday, June 28 at 19:30 on the stage of Southam Hall.
Ticketsare $12 for each concert, or $15 for both. They are on sale now at the NAC Box Office or NAC website at www.nac-cna.ca, or through Ticketmaster at (613) 755-1111.
For more information about Summer Music at the NAC, including the public events ofthe Summer Music Institute, visit the NAC website at www.nac-cna.ca.

FESTIVAL://New Music at Cabrillo

By Georgia Rowe
From ContraCostaTimes.com - Thu, Jun. 22, 2006

The world premiere of a multimedia work featuring images by National Geographic photographer Frans Lanting and music by Philip Glass is among the highlights of this year's Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, running July 29 through Aug. 13 in Santa Cruz. "Life: A Journey Through Time," which features a newly commissioned score by Glass, will be conducted by music director Marin Alsop on July 29 and 30 at Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium to open the two-week festival. Works by Thomas Ades, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Michael Gatonska, Nicholas Maw, Aaron Jay Kernis, Laura Karpman and Greg Smith are also on the lineup; this year's guest artists include percussionist Evelyn Glennie, violinist Leila Josefowicz and mezzo-soprano Gale Fuller. Tickets are on sale now; call 831-420-5260 or visit www.cabrillomusic.org.

Monday, June 26, 2006

DVD REVIEW://The wonderful world of Pierre Boulez

By Tim Pfaff
From Ebar.com - 22 June 2006

The young firebrand Pierre Boulez, who, no matter what you think of him or his music, must be counted among the greatest musical minds among us, announced his arrival on the scene with the Nietzschean pronouncement, "Schoenberg is dead." Ever since, his music has largely shared the reception of the predecessor he once decried: as box-office poison esteemed only by a small cadre of contemporary-music specialists. Genius at his level almost always breeds contempt, and Boulez, also one of the most powerful figures on the world music stage by dint of his unsurpassed mind and ear, has seemed to many an odious, otherworldly Klingsor in Parsifal, scheming to do in the musical fools below from his lofty perch. Nor has his silence about being gay and canny avoidance of any scandal surrounding it enlarged his fan base.
But as the musicians who appear in a new DVD about Boulez — combining Frank Scheffer's fascinating film Eclat ("great brilliance" in French), named after a Boulez composition now nearly a half-century old, and Andy Sommers' filming of a Boulez "class" on his composition "Sur incises" followed by a full performance of the piece (Juxtapositions/Ideale Audience) — make clear, they'd throw themselves in front of the Metro for the man. The regard of musicians, a notably sensitive lot, is always worth paying attention to.
Skillfully bypassing all attempts to deify Boulez, this continuously fascinating DVD humanizes him in a way that could open the world of his transfixing music to anyone willing to give it a moment. With an almost avuncular patience and kindness of the kind that could not be faked, Boulez speaks eloquently in English and (subtitled) French about his music and its origins without either talking down to you or going off into the ether. As he comments, "[In my music], you don't look always for the future. You are purely in the moment, when you perceive the sound and the evolution of the sound."
He and Sheffer together make some of his most fundamental artistic concepts arrestingly concrete. Boulez speaks of being given a book of Klee paintings in 1948 and reading Klee's comments about the "days and days" it took him to paint the backgrounds before adding what we think of as the paintings. "I try to do the same thing," Boulez says, as Scheffer's camera darts between him and pictures of fish, which move the way Boulez says that, for him, sound does, darting here and there at unexpected, largely unpredetermined moments. "The musical background is not very specific, and on that I add very precise motives, or musical cells."
Watching the Dutch Nieuw Ensemble under conductor Ed Spanjaard rehearse Eclat — with the composer's sage, calm, patient in-person guidance — is to watch, feel and in every way sense the work come alive. By the end of the film, it's clear that all that's really required to grasp this or any Boulez composition is to stay with it.
In all his compositions, a startling amount of the actual composition is left up to the performer, about which Boulez comments matter-of-factly, "The performer not knowing exactly when he will play gives the performance a tension that cannot be realized by other means." He talks almost blithely about the three phases of encountering a musical work for the first time. "In phase 1, you don't know it; you are in the dark. In phase 2, you analyze it, and you think you know it. In phase 3, you are back in the dark, because you never know why one thing is better than another one." Could this be the voice of bona fide humility?

Growth spurts

Things get headier in the second section, Boulez' public class on "Sur incises," once a short piano-competition piece that, like most Boulez works, wouldn't stop morphing. What he takes his audience through has become a 37-minute work for three pianos, three harps and three percussionists that, he insists, was "born out of the architecture of the instruments — things felt, little by little, that you cannot explain in words."
By the end of the class, he concedes, "Contemporary music is more difficult [than earlier "classical" music] because it has to be lived out, worked through," and he means as much by the audience and players as by the composer. "You create the architecture and find the ideas, and it's all the more rewarding that you have discovered a universe you weren't aware of before hearing it."
The concert of the work, by the incomparable Ensemble Intercontemporain he created, fully bears him out. Having had your lesson, you have only to listen and wonder. Oh, and if male readers don't fall in love with one, two or all three of the Ensemble's pianists, you may have picked up the wrong newspaper.

FESTIVAL://Aldeburgh

Aldeburgh Festival blossoms

By Andrew Clarke
From EADT.co.uk - 20 June 2006

The world renowned Aldeburgh Festival opens this week. This year the annual music event started by composer Benjamin Britten as an antidote to the austerity years following the Second World War is celebrating its 59th anniversary.
What started as a small scale event held over the course of two weekends at a number of local churches and Aldeburgh's Jubilee Hall is now a massive international event commanding live broadcast time on BBC's Radio Three. Today the scope and range of The Aldeburgh Festival is encompasses a much larger view than it did in Britten's day even when the festival venue moved down to the road to the purpose built Snape Maltings concert hall in the late 1960s. Although, Britten used the Festival to showcase his new works, the Festival was never exclusively about his music. It was designed to showcase new works by contemporary composers, particularly British composers, and to revive neglected classics.
Today that guiding principle still continues and the programme is put together by the Festival's long standing artistic director Thomas Ades with that in mind and although music remains the central focus of the festival, it is no longer solely a music event. Today, the Aldeburgh Festival embraces a whole range of diverse events including films, art exhibitions, walks, lectures, cabaret and a programme of fringe festival events which runs at the Pump House in Aldeburgh alongside the main concert programme at the Snape Maltings.
Aldeburgh Productions chief executive Jonathan Reekie said: “The Aldeburgh Festival includes the usual eclectic mix of old and new, internationally-renowned artists and emerging talent, music from the 17th Century to the present day. It performs at a wide variety of venues ranging from Snape Maltings Concert Hall, local churches, a former military airbase, and this year for the first time, Southwold Pier.“ A major new departure is Faster Than Sound, a 'sound experiment' including DJs, sound installations, electronic music and artists performing in the main Festival programme. This event at Bentwaters Airbase on June 24 aims to attract a new, younger audience.Meanwhile the Pumphouse, now in its seventh year, is where the Festival lets its hair down with everything from magic to performance poetry, comedy and the cutting edge of new music.” At a time when Aldeburgh Productions is developing its music education programme and has been declared a centre of European excellence by the Arts Council it is fitting that several of this year's highlights include concerts involving singers or musicians from the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme. The Festival opens with a performance of Stravinksy's The Rake's Progress, which brings together singers from the Britten-Pears Programme and the Philharmonia Orchestra. Anita Crowe, Director of Artist Development at Aldeburgh Productions, which runs the Britten-Pears Programme and the Aldeburgh Festival, said: “It is so exciting for these young singers to be working with a world-class orchestra, experienced conductor Martyn Brabbins and director Neil Bartlett. The cast have been chosen through our international audition process: three of them are from Canada, one from the US and the others are UK-based.” It's not just Britten-Pears Programme singers who will get their chance to shine at the Aldeburgh Festival. Following a five-day course with Aldeburgh veteran Oliver Knussen, the Britten-Pears Orchestra will present a programme of 20th and 21st Century music, including Dutilleux's Correspondences with Barbara Hannigan (June 24). A second course, this time led by period string players Elizabeth Wallfisch and Alison McGillivray, culminates in the Britten-Pears Baroque Orchestra performing works by Handel, Bach, Locatelli and Vivaldi (June 14).
Two other major Artist Development showcases during the 2006 Aldeburgh Festival are productions of Raymond Yiu's The Original Chinese Conjurer (June 15, 17 & 18), a piece for vaudeville-style music hall, and Emily Hall's chamber opera Sante (June 22), an experimental story of love and betrayal set in the weeks running up to the Rwandan genocide. The 2006 programme also sees appearances from festival favourites like pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard (June 11), Britten Sinfonia (June 16), the Belcea Quartet (June 18), Ian Bostridge and Craig Ogden with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (June 19), and three concerts with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, conducted respectively by Sakari Oramo (June 17), Michael Seal (June 25) and Aldeburgh Festival Artistic Director Thomas Adès (also June 25). Artists making their Aldeburgh Festival debuts include Trio Ondine (June 13), recent Aldeburgh Residency participants Robin Ticciati and his ensemble Aurora (June 22), and the Royal String Quartet (June 23).
Woven throughout the Festival are the words of Britten's friend and collaborator, W.H. Auden. As well as The Rake's Progress for which Auden wrote the libretto, and a recital of existing and newly-commissioned works composed to Auden's poems (June 12), the Festival programme is additionally peppered with performances of Britten's settings of Auden's words, including Cabaret Songs and Night Mail (June 13).
The Rake's Progress forms the central theme of this year's festival with a rare screening of Sydney Gilliat and Frank Launder's 1945 film starring a youthful Rex Harrison. It's a magnificent comedy which is rarely seen and still has a lot to say about the public attitude towards the crusty British establishment. The Rake's Progress is being screened at Aldeburgh Cinema on June 12 at 2.30pm. Jonathan Reekie said that there are a strong selection of films this year, each designed to complement a musical strand of the Festival, in addition to The Rake's Progress, there was Theremin - An Electronic Odyssey (June 15), examines the extraordinary life of Leonard Theremin, the inventor of the world's first electronic music instrument; and Pandora's Box, one of the last great silent films, followed by a documentary about the film's star Louise Brooks, entitled In Search of Lulu (June 22).
A late edition to the Festival programme is Murmurations, which follows the screening of Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey at the Aldeburgh Cinema (June 15). Murmurations will bring alive some early electronic musical instruments, offering the opportunity for hands-on encounters with the theremin, the trautonium, rare analogue modular synthesizers and other fascinating antique creations. As an alternative to spending the day indoors at the cinema or at a concert, why not join in one of the Festival walks? There are two walks during the Festival, with coaches departing from the Moot Hall in Aldeburgh. The first is in the Stowmarket area, taking in the tiny village of Onehouse with its Saxon church, the ancient Northfield Wood, and the Museum of East Anglian Life (June 14), while the second is at Minsmere Nature Reserve, exploring the wondrous labyrinth of paths and hides (June 20).
Then there's Faster Than Sound, a super-sonic experience at Bentwaters Airbase that features a mixture of top-level performers and quirky installations (June 24). Bringing together artists including Venetian Snares, Luke Vibert, Mira Calix and Tim Exile, as well as pieces from the Sonic Arts Research Archive, Faster Than Sound will join the dots between the ever-evolving worlds of classical and electronica music, for what will be the first large scale music experiment of its kind. For more information please visit www.fasterthansound.com
As a warm-up to Faster Than Sound, Alexander's Annexe will perform at the Jubilee Hall in Aldeburgh, with support from Goodiepal (June 23). This is a return visit to Aldeburgh for Alexander's Annexe (Warp Records DJ Mira Calix, pianist Sarah Nicolls and sound designerDavid Sheppard), who performed to a sell-out crowd at the Pumphouse last yearfollowing a series of Aldeburgh Residencies.
For art-lovers there is the exhibition The Poetry of Crisis: British Art 1935-1950 at the Peter Pears Gallery, above the Aldeburgh Productions Box Office and the Tourist Information Centre, on Aldeburgh High Street. The exhibition shows the extraordinary diversity of styles explored as artists examined notions of 'Englishness' or of an English art, and includes works byTrevelyan, Nash, Bridgwater and Craxton. There is also an exhibition exploring 40 years of cover design for Faber Music scores, at Snape Maltings Concert Hall Gallery, and Wild Echoes at the Britten-Pears Library, focusing on Benjamin Britten's work in less familiar fields. Last but not least there's the Pumphouse, the Aldeburgh Festival's informal, alternative performance venue and bar. Open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from June 10-24 , the Pumphouse offers everything from poetry, comedy and cabaret to sculpture workshops, jazz and classical music, as well as the second Pumphouse Open Mic Session (earplugs not provided).Performances this year include new music from PowerPlant, lunch-time favourites the Badke Quartet and Drumcliffe; jazz from Ambulance, who recently took part in an Aldeburgh Residency; clay-figure self-portrait workshops with Shirley Jones; comedy from Michael Mcintyre; a selection of sea-related readings from Libby Purves; and a performance by Edinburgh Fringe favourite Mike Maran of Novecento, an extraordinary tale about a ship's pianist.Making return visits are popular Pumphouse performers Phyll et Gilles, DominicMuldowney, the Camberwell Composers' Collective, Fay Presto, and the Sonny and Cher of 'four hands on one piano', Cal Fell and Humphrey Burton.

COMPOSERS CONDUCTING://Discussion with Maxwell Davies and MacMillan

Men of conduct and composure

By Keith Bruce
From TheHerald.co.uk - June 21 2006

The organisers of the St Magnus Festival know their audience pretty well, but they radically under-estimated the interest in a discussion yesterday morning that had sidled over from the conducting course into the main programme. The St Magnus Centre's little hall was packed to the gunwhales to hear Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, James MacMillan and conductor Martyn Brabbins chew over the vexed question of composers who turn conductor. Although the session was lively enough – and the reputations of a couple of sticksmen were so comprehensively traduced that it would be foolhardy of me to relay the comments here – the elephant into the room remained unacknowledged. Both composers have been at the end of critical maulings for their direction of work other than their own. But even if no-one actually asked them about that, they had already filed their defence: society made them do it.
With his own experience mirroring that of Maxwell Davies in an uncanny fashion, the gap in years shortening all the time, MacMillan said his podium debut had come about when a conductor dropped out at the last minute from a BBC Philharmonic performance of his The Confession of Isobel Gowdie. It led to his being asked to assume the composer/ conductor role with that orchestra which Maxwell Davies had pioneered and which the Philharmonic plans to continue with a younger (unnamed but already identified) composer after MacMillan's tenure.
Maxwell Davies had similarly been left holding the baby when a conductor dropped out of a scheduled Scottish Chamber Orchestra recording of one his works after its St Magnus premiere. That led, happily, to the creation of the 10 Strathclyde Concertos, written for the principal players of that band. Directing performances of work by other composers allowed Maxwell Davies to learn their style of playing.
For Macmillan, "composers have an insiders' view into their colleagues music"."Not to say that conductors necessarily don't," he added quickly."The thrust of what I am doing is to discover music I don't know and conducting is just the latest phase of that, with the added bonus that I have the joy of communicating it to others."More surprisingly, he commented that his earlier work seemed as if he was "working in a vacuum" and that he now makes music that is "more workable" from a performer's point of view."I like to be non-proprietorial of my music. Some composers are hanging over your shoulder on the podium, and the musicians don't like that either."I am irritated by under-preparation, but I like to relax and hear different interpretations of my music."
The two men were equally of one voice over the solution to the wider ills of the world. Said MacMillan: "We need to bring music back to the core of our culture. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, intellectuals were at ease with music and discussed it in their work. "Composers were known to them. When was the last time you heard music discussed on Newsnight Review on BBC2 – even in the amateurish way they discuss everything else?"
With a brief aside to condemn David Cameron for displaying his "ignorance and stupidity" on Desert Island Discs in his choice of music and reading, the Master of the Queen's Music was just as forthright." The commercial nature of most people's musical experience is out to exploit them. Education is there only to turn us all into complacent, silent, good consumers. "The converted, of course, cheered them to the rafters.

COMPOSER CONDUCTING://Knussen in Aldeburgh

By Andrew Clements
From Guardian.co.uk - Tuesday June 20, 2006

The first of the City of Birmingham Symphony's two appearances at this year's Aldeburgh festival should have been conducted by the orchestra's music director Sakari Oramo. But Oramo was unwell, and an Aldeburgh local took over: being able to call on Oliver Knussen as a replacement was a luxury indeed. Being Knussen he did not change the programme, other than to re-order it so that each half began with a Mahler item - What the Wild Flowers Tell Me, Britten's 1940s re-scoring for a normal-size orchestra of the second movement of the Third Symphony, and four of the Knaben Wunderhorn settings, sung with gentle eloquence by mezzo Karen Cargill.
Echoes of Mahler ran through the rest of the concert, too. In Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem, which ended the concert, it is filtered through Alban Berg, in what seems to be one of the composer's most extraordinary achievements. Knussen's balefully direct performance, superbly delivered by the CBSO, underlined how thematically economical the three-movement structure is.
In John Woolrich's 1998 Cello Concerto the Mahlerian connection was more to do with mood. The tone of this bitingly sustained single movement is by turns angry, anguished and elegiac, until it finds a modicum of resolution in the closing moments. Compared with much of Woolrich's music the concerto is rhapsodically expressive, and the ways in which the solo cello (played here with vivid commitment by Jean-Guihen Queyras) is alternately set against one section of the orchestra or reinforced by another, sets up the concerto's discourse and generates its most ravishing moments, especially the dialogue between flute and cello that seems to be the wonderfully understated climax. It is one of the very best things Woolrich has done.

COMMISSIONS://Opera and Passion from MacMillan

After making a Sacrifice, he's back with a Passion

By Tim Cornwell
From Scotsman.com - Mon 19 Jun 2006

It seems a milder, more mellow James MacMillan, sipping coffee in a favourite Glasgow restaurant. A couple of months ago, the composer who once made his name for denouncing sectarianism as "Scotland's shame" put down his pen on his first opera in ten years. He is now embarking on another project that he sees as one of the biggest of his life, his new setting of the St John Passion.
James MacMillan is one of Scotland's biggest musical exports; he is in constant demand from orchestras worldwide to conduct his own and others' work. In general, though, the Scottish press have found in MacMillan a composer with a knack for making news, be it demanding an end to sectarianism or condemning the Scottish Executive for "cultural vandalism". Clearly in a mood not to make non-musical headlines, he is also worrying that the Scottish public don't know what he's up to - or even that he still lives in Glasgow.
This week the St Magnus Festival in Orkney is making a feature of his work. It comes after a major retrospective at the Barbican last year. Tonight he conducts the Scottish Ensemble and Cappella Nova in a performance of his piece Seven Last Words from the Cross.
MacMillan is back in St Magnus for the first time since 1991, when he was a young composer-in-residence. He has admired its founder, composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, since he was a teenager. "I have always regarded him as a mentor. He gives a signal to a younger generation of composers that composers have a role, or could have a role, in societies like this."
MacMillan's last full-scale opera was Inés de Castro, which premiered with Scottish Opera at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1996. The new work for Welsh National Opera is The Sacrifice, based on The Mabinogion, a Welsh collection of myths. The libretto is being written by the award-winning Catholic poet Michael Symmons Roberts, MacMillan's frequent collaborator, and will tell a new story, MacMillan says, about tribal conflict and two lovers, with echoes of Romeo and Juliet. Asked why this major work is showing with Welsh, not Scottish, Opera, MacMillan's response is simple: "They asked for it." That said, when it's staged in 2007 there will be a strong Scottish presence - soprano Lisa Milne is to take the leading role.
The Sacrifice took two years to write. "It's a huge change in your life, the making of an opera," MacMillan says.
After finishing Inés de Castro, he thought "never again", but the new offer was too attractive. "It seems to me there's an opera once in a decade. Time's running out for me in a sense."
One of those who worked on Inés de Castro was Alex Reedijk, the New Zealand Opera chief who has returned to Scottish Opera as its general director. It was at the height of Scottish Opera's troubles that MacMillan became patron of the Friends of Scottish Opera. He is still rankled by their "mistreatment". "The eyes and ears of the cultural world are on Scotland just now and the Scottish Executive didn't handle the issue very well. People are watching them very closely but they have an opportunity to redeem themselves by learning from the mistakes and noticing things like Scottish Opera are vitally important aspects of Scottish life.
MacMillan has recently been accepting many conducting slots overseas but is irritated by any suggestion that he has turned his back on Scottish musical life. One newspaper survey of top Scots actually said he lived in London, not Jordanhill. "Some of my most important pieces have been written for Scottish orchestras," he says. "They are still performing quite a lot of my music. It's in my interest to see what life there is beyond Scotland. I've nothing but goodwill for Scottish orchestras, but I suppose we all want to test ourselves with difficult worlds, different countries."
He is patron of St Mary's Music School in Edinburgh, has a close relationship with Cappella Nova, and a close connection to the Catholic chaplaincy at the University of Strathclyde, writing pieces for the university chamber choir. He is about to settle seriously into a commission for Cappella Nova, and respond to a recent invitation from the Scottish Ensemble. He has set his sights on creating a body of work for amateur choirs. "I want to bring about a body of work that is much more suitable for amateur choirs and drops the difficulty level a little bit."
The goal is to give classical music a wider context. He also wants to develop more work for small ensembles and choral groups. "To do that with Scottish-based musicians is very important."
With Sacrifice finished, the major project facing MacMillan now is a Passion, a huge new setting of the Gospel of St John. "This is the work I have been waiting to write for years, maybe decades," he says. There are three parts commissioned for orchestras in three different countries with a world-renowned conductor. "I have lived with the Passion as a boy. The Bach passion is a fantastic model. It has been obsessing my thoughts and plans over the last few months but it is well under way now."
MacMillan doesn't believe in the "mollycoddling" of religion by taking out the "messy stuff". His idea of sacred music is that there has to be an idea of Christ and the cruxificion at the heart of it. "There's the tragedy as well as the joys of life, and the crucifixion is at the heart of that symbolism. Artists through the age have responded to the suffering as well as the joy of their fellow men."

PREMIERES://Django Bates’s Alison in Space

By Geoff Brown
From TimesOnline.co.uk - June 20, 2006

The days are long gone when blowing a brass instrument was a male preserve. Even so, the young trumpeter Alison Balsom remains a singular figure. It’s not that she’s long and blonde; it’s the roar of her talent that makes her stand out, along with her knack for breaking down barriers and making the trumpet so much more than a toot machine.
Olympian agility, a liquid tone, immense subtleties of phrasing: all were abundant in the Spitalfields concert shared with another young British firework, the percussionist Colin Currie. His programme note about Jolivet’s Heptade nailed the work’s pleasures exactly: as if the avant-garde pioneer Edgard Varèse was relaxing in a jazz club. Changing moods and scenery come easily to Balsom; bolstered by Currie and John Reid’s piano, she scorched the earth marvellously with Piazzolla and de Falla, and summoned the blue ghost of Ravel in Henri Tomasi’s smoochy Nocturne. Alone, Currie drilled the wood blocks in Louis Andriessen’s Woodpecker: a ferocious and exciting performance.
The disappointment was the premiere of Django Bates’s Alison in Space, a BBC Radio 3 and Royal Philharmonic Society commission, with Bates in place at the keyboards. Easy enough to suggest an interplanetary journey with arpeggiated whooshes and spectral tintinnabulation. But to marshal a satisfying 15-minute composition, the sounds needed stronger structural support.
There were no vacant thoughts from the Royal Academy of Music student composers heard in the earlier RAM Manson Ensemble concert with Peter Maxwell Davies. These world premieres filled fewer minutes and clung tightly to their composition gambits, all involving processes of transformation. Jordan Hunt’s Morceaux Trouvés and Elspeth Brooke’s Spillage easily held the attention; Maxim Bendall’s With flesh, and blood, and small change fell only a little behind.
Weaving in and out were PMD’s pungent Instrumental Motets of the 1970s, reworkings of 16th-century Scottish pieces: a brilliant composition masterclass. All received gutsy performances from the RAM students; this was a concert full of hope.

FESTIVALS://St Magnus twinned with...Cheltenham

By Kenneth Walton
From Scotsman.com - Mon 12 Jun 2006

Take a look at the programmes of two nominally disparate UK festivals, and some of the similarities this year might astonish you. The surprise lies not so much with the annual St Magnus Festival, which opens in Orkney this Friday with a programme formula so well-established you could set your clock by it. It's the Cheltenham Music Festival that has a somewhat eccentric quality this year - ceilidhs, pipe bands, premieres by many Scottish composers also featuring in Orkney, and appearances by Scottish artists, both classical and folk. Not the kind of rude Celtic intrusion one would normally associate with the Gloucestershire town. More on that later.
But there's a common factor to both events: Martyn Brabbins, the astute and affable English conductor who has been a significant cog in Scotland's musical machinery in recent years. To say he has a deep affection for Scotland would not be an exaggeration. He was, after all, the man who brought the undiscovered music of Edinburgh-born Cecil Coles - and the tale of intrigue that led to the disappearance of Coles' music after he was killed in the First World War - to public notice.
Brabbins' most notable presence here has been as associate principal conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (SSO), a post he stepped down from last year after 15 years. He also during that period struck up strong working relationships with Scottish Opera, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the Chamber Group of Scotland, instigated a postgraduate conducting course at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD), and remains president of the Edinburgh Royal Choral Union.
This week, he is once again part of the mainstream line-up of artists at the St Magnus Festival, appearing with the BBC Philharmonic, the St Magnus Festival Chorus (in Mozart's Requiem) and the Nash Ensemble. Apart from conducting some of the major concerts, however, he will also be officiating over the Orkney Conducting Course he personally instigated three years ago.
"That's been a great success from the start," says Brabbins. A selected group of apprentice conductors benefit from two-piano sessions, and hands-on orchestral and choral experience rehearsing with the main resident orchestra and festival chorus. "Eight is the perfect number for the course, and that's how many we have this year out of over 50 applicants. Among them are an American, a Finn, a Dutchman and a girl from Taiwan."
It's all part of an extended outreach programme which has enabled St Magnus to develop and sustain its presence as one of the most wide-reaching and sustainable festivals in the UK, especially given its isolated geography. This year sees the return of Glenys Hughes as the festival's director. She spent a well-earned sabbatical in Malawi last summer, and the fruits of that trip are evident in the presence in Stromness next week of the poet Jack Mapanje and the Malawian Limbe Choir.
What is truly extraordinary about this year's midsummer event, though, is the sheer number of artists appearing - something in the region of 200 if you tally up the combined forces of the Manchester-based BBC Phil, the Royal Academy Strings (students from the RSAMD), the legendary Nash Ensemble, the Scottish Ensemble, Cappella Nova, and several other groups and individuals.
On an island limited in size and general amenities, part of the magic of St Magnus is the inevitable way festivalgoers mix easily with the artists, not least in the rush for a drink at the crowded bars. As ever, the repertoire is highly adventurous. James MacMillan relives his glory days of the late 1980s - the appearance of his music at the festival then effectively established his reputation - with performances of some of his earlier works, including the mind-blowing Seven Last Words from the Cross played by the original combined forces of Cappella Nova and the Scottish Ensemble.
There are works, too, by younger Scottish composers - Inverness-born Alasdair Nicolson, David Horne and Glasgow-based John Gormley (his first String Quartet). Of the older generation, Edward McGuire has written a new piece, Ring of Strings, which combines traditional and classical musicians. And no St Magnus festival would be complete without the presence, in body and music, of the co-founder, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.
Among the other delights will be a specially conceived community theatre presentation, A Hamnavoe Man, celebrating the lasting influence on the islands of the late George Mackay Brown. Music for the play has been written by a local composer, Kenneth Dempster.
As for Brabbins, while his involvement in Orkney is purely as a prominent guest artist, down in Cheltenham he plays a much more pivotal role as artistic director of that entire Festival. The influence of his perennial Orkney experiences is not lost, however, as this year's programme has an unmistakably Scottish flavour.
There are even noticeable repeats from Orkney, such as David Horne's Splintered Instruments, which will be premiered at St Magnus. "It's always good for a new piece to get two goes," says Brabbins.
This year's featured composer in Cheltenham will be Sally Beamish, whose Lost and Found in the Forest of Dean will be premiered by the King's Singers. MacMillan is there in significant doses, too, as are Nicolson, McGuire and the BBC SSO's young composer-in-association, Anna Meredith.
At the opposite end of the musical spectrum, Blazing Fiddles will set Cheltenham Town Hall alight with their inimitable high-energy fiddling. There's even a Highland Sing for schoolchildren.
The most intriguing commission, Scottish Miniatures, is an imaginative collaborative project featuring four of the Scots composers, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and an idea borrowed from the Russian composer, Mussorgsky. Horne, McGuire, Nicolson and Meredith were all asked to select a painting from the London-based art collection of the Fleming family, which includes works by Scottish artists from the last 200 years - by names such as Macintosh, Cadell and Eardley. Each composer then wrote a short orchestral miniature based on their choice, which would then be knitted together in the same manner as Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. "We asked David Horne to write the linking music," Brabbins adds. The paintings themselves will be on show in Cheltenham Art Gallery.
There is another logical reason for mentioning the Orkney and Cheltenham Festivals in the same breath: travel time to either is much the same if you live in central Scotland. Cheltenham might even be cheaper to get to, given the notoriously expensive cost of flying to Kirkwall. The point is, both are considerations well worth the effort.

The St Magnus Festival runs 16-21 June, www.stmagnusfestival.com. The Cheltenham Music Festival runs 30 June to 15 July, www.cheltenhamfestivals.com.

COMPOSER CONDUCTING://Adès' Powder Her Face

Sparkling performances, shimmering shrubbery, dazzling high camp

By Rupert Christiansen
From Telegraphy.co.uk - 16/06/2006

Thomas Adès conducted a concert performance of his first opera, Powder Her Face, at the Barbican. The score is nothing short of sensational in its brilliance, energy and wit, but the prevalence of parody and pastiche and the arch self-consciousness with which it treats the Firbankian cautionary tale of Margaret Duchess of Argyll leaves the piece no more than a heartless, if dazzling, exercise in high camp.
The singing of the cast of four and the playing of the LSO Chamber Ensemble were magnificent, presided over by Adès's own unimpeachable conducting.


Erica Jeal
From Guardian.co.uk - Monday June 12, 2006

Thomas Adès's Powder Her Face is the chamber opera that, in 1995, catapulted the 24-year-old composer to the forefront of British contemporary music, a position he has been inhabiting comfortably ever since. With a libretto by Philip Hensher, the work archly tells of the downfall of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, brought low by a salacious and very public divorce case; it hasn't been staged in the UK for some years. And nor was it here. Originally advertised as a semi-staging, by the time of performance this had been downgraded, frustratingly, into concert format.
A pity, as the musical performance did justice to this impossibly confident score. Adès himself directed 16 of the London Symphony Orchestra's A-list players and, while he is not the most stylish conductor, the music's vivacity and fluency were obvious. The opera's essence is seedy, sepia-tinged nostalgia. As 1930s popular song, tango and slow waltz course through the score, along with quotations from Richard Strauss, Stravinsky and Schubert, one wonders if - at this stage in his career at least - Adès was most himself when writing pastiches of other people's music.
On an emotional level it's a curiously neutral work, but its portrayal of the Duchess didn't seem quite as heartless as it might - partly because of the dignity in soprano Mary Plazas's exemplary performance, and partly because all the supporting characters are so vividly horrid. The women, simpering airheads with varying degrees of malice, were sung with poise by Valdine Anderson, and in the Judge's monologue Stephen Richardson descended into vicious caricature in a virtuoso lather.
Yet, penguin-suited and evening-dressed, they all seemed uncomfortable - and who could blame them? The largely unnecessary amplification flattened the singers' voices and made us completely reliant on the surtitles. And Plazas had to sing the Duchess's famous wordless fellatio "aria" from behind a music stand, the projected stage directions overhead staying tactfully blank. But losing that semi-staging remained the performance's biggest blow.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

OBITUARY://György Ligeti

Opera News: György Ligeti, 83, Composer of Le Grand Macabre Has Died

New York Times: Gyorgy Ligeti, Central-European Composer of Bleakness and Humor ...

Times Online: György Ligeti

BBC News: Influential composer Ligeti dies

New York Sun: Dancing to Ligeti

Palm Beach Post: On the death of Ligeti

Gramophone: György Ligeti has died

Monsters and Critics: Hungarian Composer Gyorgy Ligeti has died

Variety: Composer Ligeti dies at 83

Washington Post: Gyorgy Ligeti's Music Was a Constant Surprise

Los Angeles Times: Gyorgy Ligeti, 83; a Mercurial Composer Who Despised Dogmas

The Australian: Avant-garde composer a master of absurd and tragic

TheCelebrityCafe.com: Famed composer remembered for his integrity

Guardian: In praise of ... Gyorgy Ligeti

AP (Forbes, CBS News): 'Space Odyssey' Composer Ligeti Dies

Guardian: Ligeti, musical pioneer, dies at 83

Ynetnews: Composer Ligeti dies aged 83

Fox News: Composer Gyorgy Ligeti, of '2001: A Space Odyssey' Fame, Dies at ...

CNN: Gyorgy Ligeti

Blogcritics.org: Composer Gyorgy Ligeti dies at age 83

San Jose Mercury News: Gyorgy Ligeti, 83, leading composer

Reuters: Avant-garde composer Gyorgy Ligeti dies: publisher

North Korea Times: Composer Gyorgy Ligeti dead at 83

Arizona Republic: Gyorgy Ligeti; mercurial composer

Philadelphia Inquirer: Gyorgy Ligeti, 83, acclaimed composer

DailyIndia.com: Austrian composer Ligeti dead at 83

Kansas City Star: Ligeti was a modern icon

Philadelphia Inquirer: Composer Ligeti's music a touchstone of disorder

NPR: NPR : Composer Ligeti, a Kubrick Favorite, Has Died

Sunday, June 04, 2006

PREMIERE://Hesketh and Bedford in London

By Andrew Clements
From the Guardian - Friday June 2, 2006

There are many who admire Alban Berg's music yet still find his Chamber Concerto a hard nut to crack. Perhaps because it is the most Schoenbergian of all his pieces - it was Berg's tribute to his teacher on his 50th birthday - it can seem harder going and less expressively rewarding than pieces like Wozzeck, the Lyric Suite or the Violin Concerto. But Oliver Knussen thrives on such challenges. His account of the Chamber Concerto with violinist Clio Gould and pianist Nicolas Hodges as the superb soloists, and the wind players of the London Sinfonietta providing the accompanying ensemble, made perfect, compelling sense, even when he played the rarely observed repeat in the finale, and everyone also had to contend with mysterious loud thumps emanating from the hall's PA system during the performance.

Knussen had first conducted the premieres of two works from younger British composers, both fluent and one strikingly original. Kenneth Hesketh's Detail From the Record was effectively a quarter-hour sampler for a work-in-progress, a puppet ballet based on Japanese folk tales. The four extracts woven into a single musical span are finished in a thoughtfully exquisite, almost Ravel-like way, while the transparency of the scoring recalls a piece like Mother Goose, but the music itself has no distinctive or memorable character, just a sheen of craftmanship in need of the puppet scenario to give it purpose and meaning.

Luke Bedford's Or Voit Tout En Aventure, though, proclaimed its individuality from the very first moment, setting a sequence of texts from medieval French and Italian songs, but stripping them of their original music and interleaving them to produce a carefully woven tapestry of meditation on musical communcation. The writing for soprano Claire Booth veers between declamation and decoration, while the ensemble sometimes just colours the vocal lines but also goes off on tangents full of wonderfully original instrumental doublings and vivid shards of melody. It's startling stuff - music that's never quite what you expect.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Harrison Birtwistle: why I sounded off about pop

Ivan Hewett talks to the classical music prize winner about the distinction between volume and energy

From Telegraph.co.uk - 01/06/2006

There are two ways for a classical composer to get onto the papers - win a gong, or make a rude remark about pop. Sir Harrison Birtwistle did both in a single day last week, when he won the classical music prize at the Ivor Novello awards. He had sat in the hall listening to James Blunt and KT Tunstall and Athlete and finally when he was called up on stage his impatience boiled over. "I've never heard so many clichés in a single day," he said. "And why is all your music so effing loud?"
So is he after publicity? "I don't care what anyone thinks about me," he said when I spoke to him this week. "I just get on with what interests me'.
Birtwistle wants us to think he's indifferent to it all, but scratch the surface and there really is something riling him. Which is surprising, because Birtwistle is now a name to conjure with.
He's the only British composer who has a seat at the top table of modernists, alongside Lachenmann and Boulez and Kurtág. Being renowned in that world brings handsome prizes (Birtwistle has won the two biggest, the Siemens and Grawemeyer), it brings week-long festivals devoted entirely to your music in nice cities, and in Birtwistle's case he has also been knighted.
But there's no getting away from the fact that it's a small world, with no big record deals or cheering crowds. Step out of it and its marginal nature is frustratingly apparent. "If you're an architect or a playwright, you're at the centre of what you do," he says. "But with music it's different. Say the word 'music' and everyone thinks you mean pop, which immediately puts people like me out of the picture."
It sounds like the resentment of someone who wants to be where the action is, and finds it being made by people much younger and richer than he is, with little grasp of high art. But he insists it's not personal.
"It's not to do with me, or my status, and I'm quite fond of some pop." Can he name any names? "Well, sometimes I hear a performer who's got something. Ray Orbison's got it, and the other day I heard Ms Dynamite and I thought she was remarkable."
So why lash out at pop music in general for being too loud? And isn't that a bit rich coming from the composer of The Mask of Orpheus - which Birtwistle himself describes as possibly the loudest piece ever written? "Yes, but we're talking about contrast. Everything was so relentless at the Novello awards, I felt deadened. I've also written some of the quietest music ever.
"The point I really wanted to make is the distinction between volume and energy. These days, so many things have a technologically produced noise but no energy. It's the same in film. Compare the recent King Kong with the original. In terms of technology, the old one is primitive, but what feeling it has. The new one shows you everything, it's got much better technology, but it's empty."
Well, maybe, but it's hard to see how this applies to music. "It's a mental thing, it's to do with something containing an energy that's hidden and not to do with battering the senses. The other day I heard Alfred Brendel play Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto. You remember how it begins with just that simple quiet chord? Think what's required to achieve that."
So is he talking about classical performance? "No, it's there in the music itself; the performer discovers it and makes it real. There's a mystery in classical music, an energy that comes from avoiding routine. Listen to Bach, see how those progressions are always typical but always surprising. There's always something that escapes analysis.
"And, in my music, I'm always concerned not to repeat myself. Composing is all about getting out of a corner, and I'm always thinking about a different way to do that."
It all sounds as if Birtwistle is keen to position himself in the Great Tradition. "Yes, people attack for me being this shocking radical who writes this incomprehensible music, but really I think I'm doing the same sort of thing as Beethoven. When the Queen asked me what sort of music I write, I said, 'Like Beethoven's', which sounds like a joke, or arrogant, but actually it's true. Now I suppose everyone will say I'm a terrible reactionary."
But, if Birtwistle is heir to a long tradition, surely what he does should be obvious to anyone who likes Bach and Schubert? He admits to being stumped. "It's strange isn't it? I feel exactly the same as Stravinsky, who said he couldn't understand why his 'difficult' late music wasn't obvious to anyone. I don't know what I think about that."
Wrestling with music's "mystery", Birtwistle has the instinctive certainty of a plant turning to the sun. But faced with that other mystery - why the thing called music fell into warring factions, and how it might be joined again, or even whether it should be - he's as dubious as the rest of us.


A knight errant at the Ivors

It was all going so well at the Ivor Novello songwriting awards. And then Sir Harrison Birtwistle stood up.

By Tim Robinson
From the Guardian - May 26, 2006

The first thing that strikes you about the Ivor Novello awards is the scale. There must have been 1,000 people sitting down to lunch in the Grosvenor House Hotel's Great Room yesterday in London. The hotel's ability to serve decent food near-simultaneously to all of them, including vegetarian alternatives for specific guests around the room, was breathtaking.
The ceremony itself was as much fun as ever - more, if anything. The high spot didn't come from Damon Albarn, KT Tunstall, New Order, the Kaiser Chiefs, the Arctic Monkeys, the Bee Gees or even a low-key and self-effacing James Blunt. Neither was it provided by any of the excellent guests, such as Gary Barlow, Rolf Harris, Lulu, Bobbie Gillespie or the lugubrious Terry Hall, who handed them their trophies,
In fact the most memorable moment was when the dumpy and eccentric figure of Sir Harrison Birtwistle stumped onto the stage, throwing himself impatiently into a chair as he waited for Sir John Drummond to finish his well-crafted eulogy and hand over the 2006 Classical Music award. Sir Harry's acceptance speech was nothing if not gracious.
"Why is your music so effing loud?" demanded the knight "You must all be brain dead. Maybe you are: I didn't know so many cliches existed until the last half-hour."
A few minutes later it fell to the rather more popular composer David Arnold, of Bond film fame, to make a riposte as he presented Francis Shaw with the Best Original Film Score award.
"Earlier this year," said Arnold "I was at a reception for the music industry at Buckingham Palace and the Queen asked us that same question. Rob Halford from Judas Priest told her we like it loud because it sounds better."
"Actually," he added, once the cheers and laughter had subsided, "it doesn't make the music any better - just louder." No one had a problem with that.


Avant-garde giant who is damned and revered

By Richard Morrison
From TimesOnline.co.uk - May 26, 2006

A gruff, uncompromising Lancastrian who writes music of granite-like toughness and dizzying complexity, Sir Harrison has long been the biggest beast in the clangorous jungle of British avant-garde music.
Fêted by the critics, knighted in 1988 and regularly performed by leading opera companies and orchestras around the world, he is nevertheless damned as impenetrable by many music lovers. When his orchestral piece Panic was televised at the Last Night of the Proms in 1995, the BBC switchboard was jammed by affronted viewers. But Birtwistle belongs to the generation of modernist composers who believe it far more important to explore new sound-worlds or challenging intellectual concepts than to tickle the ears of millions.
Reticent by nature, he can be as prickly as a hedgehog when riled — though he is revered by the many young composers he has taught.
His apocalyptic orchestral piece The Triumph of Time is regarded as a 20th-century classic to place alongside Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.
In recent years, as hardline modernism has faded from fashion, some critics have detected a new mellowness in Sir Harry’s work. But such changes are relative. So vast is the chasm between his angular, dissonant and ferociously knotty style and the saccharine chords and tunes of the average pop song that it is hard for many people to accept that they both qualify as music. To judge from his remarks, Sir Harry himself is one of those people.


From UTVlive.com - Thursday 25/05/2006

(...)
Classical composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle injected a note of controversy into proceedings with a biting attack on his fellow award winners.Sir Harrison received the Classical Music Award for his modern compositions.Addressing the audience of music stars he said: "Why is your music so effing loud? You must be all brain dead. Maybe you are."I`ve nothing against pop music, I`ve just discovered Roy Orbison, but he`s a real singer."I didn`t know so many cliches existed until the last half-hour."


Winning composer booed off Ivors stage for criticising bands

From TheStage.co.uk - Fri 26 May 2006

Harrison Birtwistle has won his second accolade from the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters in less than a year, scooping the Ivors Classical Music Award at a ceremony at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel.
Birtwistle, who picked up two prizes at the British Composer Awards in December, used his acceptance speech at this year’s Ivor Novello Awards to slam the assembled rock and pop musicians for playing their music too loud.
The composer of The Ring Dance of the Nazarene and Night’s Black Bird, asked winners including James Blunt, KT Tunstall and Kaiser Chiefs: “Why is your music so fucking loud? You must be brain-dead”, complaining that he had “never heard so many cliches” as he had witnessed at the awards. He was subsequently booed off stage.

NEXT SEASON://MusicNOW in Chicago

Next season's lineup for MusicNOW goes global

By Wynne Delacoma
From SunTimes.com (Chicago Sun-Times) - May 23, 2006

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra's new composers-in-residence, Mark-Anthony Turnage and Osvaldo Golijov, have put their stamp on the 2006-07 season of MusicNOW, the CSO's contemporary chamber series.
In keeping with the Silk Road theme of the CSO's next season, MusicNOW's repertoire will come from a far-flung assemblage of composers, including Hans Werner Henze, Gyorgy Kurtag, Louis Andriessen and Gyorgy Ligeti, as well as Turnage from Great Britain and Golijov, a native of Argentina. Turnage chose repertoire for MusicNow's first two concerts, Oct. 23 and Jan. 29, and Golijov made the choices for the remaining concerts April 23 and June 4, 2007. Soprano Dawn Upshaw will perform Golijov's song cycle "Ayre,'' which he wrote for her in 2004, at the final concert.
The Oct. 23 concert will include "Song Offerings'' by British composer Jonathan Harvey and Henze's setting of a Walt Whitman poem, "Whispers From Heavenly Death,'' both with soprano Tony Arnold. Turnage's "Kai'' for solo cello is also scheduled. Cliff Colnot, MusicNOW resident conductor, will be on the podium.
On Jan. 29 the program will be "Zilver'' by Andriessen, Ligeti's "Hamburg Concerto,'' "Testament'' by British composer Jonathan Cole and two pieces by Japanese composer Jo Kondo. Pierre-Andre Valade will conduct.
Ludovic Morlot will conduct the April 23 concert with repertoire including two works inspired by 19th century composer Robert Schumann: Kurtag's "Hommage a R. Sch." and "Eusebius'' by Argentine composer Gerardo Gandini. Ligeti's "Nouvelles aventures" is also on the program.


Golijov and Turnage to Curate Chicago Symphony's MusicNOW Concerts

By Vivien Schweitzer
From PlaybillArts.com - 23 May 2006

The music of Mark-Anthony Turnage and Osvaldo Golijov, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's new composers-in-residence, will be played during the 2006-07 season of MusicNOW, the CSO's contemporary chamber series.
Both Turnage and Golijov will curate various concerts. Turnage's Kai for solo cello will be performed in October and Golijov's song cycle Ayre, with soprano Dawn Upshaw as soloist, in June. According to the Chicago Sun Times Turnage chose the repertoire for the first two concerts and Golijov the pieces for the final concerts.
Other contemporary works on the lineup include British composer Jonathan Harvey's Song Offerings, Hans Werner Henze's Whispers from Heavenly Death, Louis Andriessen's Zilver, and Ligeti's Hamburg Concerto and Nouvelles aventures.
Ludovic Morlot will conduct the April 23 concert with repertoire including two works inspired by Robert Schumann: Kurtág's Hommage à R. Sch. and Argentine composer Gerardo Gandini's Eusebius.

CD REVIEW://Pierre Boulez and Le Domaine Musical, 1956-1967, Vols 1 and 2

By Andrew Clements
From the Guardian - Friday June 2, 2006

In 1954 Pierre Boulez began a series of new-music concerts in Paris, presenting them in the Théatre Marigny, where he worked as music director for Jean-Louis Barrault's theatre company. He called his venture Le Domaine Musical, and the concerts ran for more than a decade, not only revolutionising Parisian musical life but giving Boulez the opportunity to refine his conducting technique and perfect his programme planning. These two fascinating four-disc sets document the history of the Domaine Musical with a mixture of live concert recordings and studio sessions based upon Marigny performances, many of them conducted by Boulez himself.

Volume 1 is marginally the more valuable since, as well as a recording of a concert with works by Stockhausen, Berio, Boulez and Messiaen that was held in 1964, there are discs devoted to Boulez, to earlier French music and to a varied collection of contemporary composers including Kagel and Nono. The performances feature many of the leading contemporary-music interpreters of that time - the mezzo Jeanne Deroubaix is the soloist in Boulez's Le Marteau sans Maître, while the incomparable flautist Severino Gazzelloni plays Debussy, Varèse and Boulez and the pianist Yvonne Loriod tackles Berg, Webern, Henze and Boulez's Second Sonata.

Volume 2 is devoted to Stravinsky and the composers of the second Viennese school, whose works were the bedrock of the Domaine programmes. Though more modern performances may be better played and better recorded there is a real sense of excitement and challenge about much of what's here. Boulez conducts accounts of the Stravinsky Concertino, the burlesque Renard and Symphonies of Wind Instruments, Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony, and his unfinished Three Pieces for Chamber Orchestra, as well as Webern Symphony and two Cantatas. Best of all is a wonderfully fluent account of Stravinsky's Agon from the SWR Orchestra under the underrated Hans Rosbaud. The tracks are not as scrupulously documented as they might be, but anyone interested in the history of music after the second world war will find both these sets totally compelling.

DVD REVIEW://Claude Vivier's 'Dreams of a Marco Polo'

Sudden Shock

By Alan Rich
From LAweekly.com - Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Claude Vivier was born in Montreal in 1948 to anonymous parents, raised in an orphanage and then by foster parents named Vivier. Honored eventually as a brilliant if disturbing composer, he ended up in Paris, where, at 34, he was stabbed to death in his apartment by a young man he had picked up in a bar. On his worktable there was found a completed manuscript, a cantata for voices and orchestra whose narrator tells of cruising a young man who then stabs him to death; the piece ends with the same sudden shock, and then silence, that took place in Vivier’s room.
In the hourlong documentary that is part of Dreams of a Marco Polo, a new two-disc DVD produced by Opus Arte and distributed here by Naxos, a Canadian friend of Vivier’s reads some of the composer’s last letters, which talk of suicide in the most haunting way; there are also hints that another project, which he never began, was to be a dramatic work in which the despairing Tchaikovsky, naked and in full acceptance of his homosexuality, confronts the ways of taking his own life. The DVD set — discs and cover alike — is all in black, as it should be.

In 1971, at 23, Vivier had attracted good notices in Canada, and was sent to Europe on a stipend. There he joined the circle around Karlheinz Stockhausen (who, the story goes, was repelled by the stink of his ancient sheepskin jacket — see photo) and developed his own powerful insights into music as ritual, music as a function of color, music saturated with the scents and the sense of the East. By the time of his death, his praise had been sung by György Ligeti and by the enterprising leadership of the Netherlands Opera. The 150 minutes of Vivier’s music that fills out this extraordinary DVD set has been pieced together by the Dutch conductor Reinbert de Leeuw (who brought us Louis Andriessen’s music during the Minimalist Jukebox, and who becomes a compelling, wise presence as video host) and the Netherlands Opera’s Pierre Audi. Powerful, insinuating, drenched in a restless passion, it is by some distance the strongest music by a Canadian composer I have ever heard, the first I have heard that stands absolutely free from the shadow of that country’s southern neighbor.
Overall, the sequence has been given the name Dreams of a Marco Polo, assuming Vivier himself as the self-proclaimed restless wanderer through many worlds. It begins with his short opera Kopernikus, subtitled “a ritual opera of death,” which involves not so much the medieval scientist as it does real and mythical figures (Lewis Carroll, Merlin, Tristan . . .) around whom dazzling, blinding light images take shape. Into a “Marco Polo” collage several of Vivier’s shorter works have been blended, including Lonely Child, achingly sad evocations of a neglected childhood, set for soprano and ethereal strings. The sense of suffering builds; the final work is the piece on the table in the fateful room. “Do you believe,” the chorus intones, “in the immortality of the soul,” with that “immortality” in German — “unSTERBlichkeit” — itself like a dagger’s thrust. I find a comparable shock, actually, in the impact of this whole astonishing program.

CONCERT REVIEW://Lou Harrison just became a little bit better known

Pacific Symphony makes the case for his importance. That Piano Concerto? Heavenly.

By Mark Swed
From calendarlive.com (Los Angeles Times) - May 26, 2006

The Pacific Symphony concluded the final — and major — program in its sixth American Composers Festival on Wednesday night with Lou Harrison's Piano Concerto. Carl St.Clair conducted with spirit. Ursula Oppens, the soloist, played with clarity, grace and strength, her sterling tone more than capable of penetrating and liquefying the dry acoustics of sound-sucking Segerstrom Hall.
It was half an hour of heaven. Grand claims were made Wednesday for this concerto, which was written 20 years ago. Joseph Horowitz — the artistic advisor of the festival, this year devoted to Harrison — repeatedly called the work one of the great American piano concertos and insisted it should be instantly entered into the standard repertory. On a film clip from Eva Soltes' Lou Harrison Documentary Project, the conductor Dennis Russell Davies, who premiered the work, said the only reason it isn't played more is because his colleagues are ignorant and lazy. That's true, although the concerto is not quite as neglected as all that. Keith Jarrett commissioned and recorded it. The popular British pianist Joanna MacGregor is a champion and recorded it in Australia. Oppens has played it often. The New West Symphony gave its Southern California premiere five years ago, with the composer (who died in 2003) on hand.
Still, this concerto does deserve to be better known. I've witnessed half a dozen performances and can attest to its sway over audiences from Ventura to Boston. No other American piano concerto, I think, is its equal. Edward MacDowell's are historical potboilers. Aaron Copland's is an early work. Henry Cowell's is exciting but not so grandly encompassing. George Gershwin's is uneven. Roger Sessions' is worthy but not great. Elliott Carter's is impressive but impenetrable. Leonard Bernstein's "Age of Anxiety" is more symphony than concerto. Samuel Barber's tunes can't hold a candle to Harrison's.
Harrison begins his concerto with a grand, Brahmsian gesture. Both composers were plump graybeards in their old age. Both looked back to the Baroque, but Harrison looked harder and here asked for a piano with an equal-tempered tuning that harks back to Bach's time. He called for a "selected" orchestra, namely instruments, such as strings and trombones, than can most easily adapt to this tuning. But in the end the concerto, for all its hefty proportions, its robust melodies and its vivid keyboard writing, is more Brahman than Brahmsian. The tunes take us into other worlds, especially through the magic of the pure intervals. For a piano concerto slow movement that so evokes the mystery of the starry sky, you would have go back to Bach's F-minor. But don't even bother looking through the literature for anything similar to the danceable, thumping Stampede movement. And the last movement is a glitter-fest.

The first half of Wednesday's all-Harrison concert went back and forth between the effusive and reflective sides of the composer. It began peculiarly with "Bubaran Robert" for piccolo trumpet (Barry Perkins) and Javanese gamelan (the Harvey Mudd College American Gamelan), which Harrison wrote as music to be played as an audience leaves a hall. Segerstrom is not a gamelan-friendly environment, but the piece might have proved a sensation played in the lobby, requiring us to linger as we left.
"A Parade," written in 1995 for Michael Tilson Thomas' first concert as music director of the San Francisco Symphony, is a kitchen-sink blast of energy. "Elegy to the Memory of Calvin Simmons," written in memory of the conductor who died in a boating accident in 1982 at age 32, is a musical tear hovering around the eye and slowly flowing down a soft cheek. The Suite for Violin, Piano and Small Orchestra, from 1951, is the work in which Harrison found his voice. Hints of music near and far, contemporary and ancient, are mixed up throughout it. Bali meets Virgil Thomson and shakes hands with Schoenberg.
Harrison, who grew up in California, was living in New York when he wrote the suite. It had its premiere in Carnegie Hall. Leopold Stokowski made an early recording. This could have been the start of an epic career. But Harrison couldn't handle New York or the musical establishment. He returned to his roots near Santa Cruz and for half a century went his own way.
The committed, exuberant performances Wednesday, including those by violinist Raymond Kobler and pianist Gloria Cheng in the suite, were moving and joyful. But ghettoizing Harrison in a festival should be only a blip in the graph of the Establishment's catching up with this composer.
Is it too late to put one of these Harrison pieces on the Pacific Symphony's forthcoming Disney Hall concert, which will be attended by representatives from all of America's important orchestras?

FESTIVAL://PREMIERE/Isfahan by R. Murray Schafer

Sounds like a trip to space

Acoustics a priority in avant-garde festival
Grand finale of brass at historic St. Anne's

By John Terauds
From TheStar.com (Toronto Star) - Jun. 1, 2006

Our ancestors were called to the hunt — and the cavalry charge — by the sound of a bugle. Brass instruments continue to musically tell us that something important is about to happen.
That touch of brass runs throughout the first SoundaXis festival, which opens today and runs to June 11 at a variety of venues around the downtown area. It's all about avant-garde thinking as music relates to the space around it, and is presented with a flourish of sonic polish. Approximately 20 music performances and presentations will be staged at a range of sites, big and small.
The Toronto Fanfare Project is likely to be the liveliest component of the SoundaXis festival. Soundstreams Canada has organized a selection of brass-fanfare moments around the city, the biggest involving a number of Canadian players, including the True North Brass, and the Stockholm Chamber Brass from Sweden in the grand finale "MassBrass" at St. Anne's Anglican Church.
Besides works by Gabrieli, Takemitsu, Somers and Arvo Pärt, there is something from Swedish composer Magnus Lindberg and the world premiere of Isfahan, by R. Murray Schafer.
In the spirit of the festival, which wants us to connect the sound we hear and the spaces in which we hear it, the choice of venue is critical. Schafer named his contribution to this concert after a 17th-century mosque he visited in Isfahan, Turkey, in 1969. He was taken with the architecture and the many acoustic possibilities inside it, and found a similarly inspirational place in Toronto — St. Anne's, which is modelled on the domed Hagia Sophia church in Istanbul.
"I wanted to create a piece that would linger in the space as if it belonged there and would remain forever," Schafer writes in his notes. "Architects once created with both stone and sound in a manner that was planned, predictable and effective. It was a glorious time for both architecture and music. Their separation has, in my opinion, left each discipline deficient and incomplete."
Conducting the brass players, who will be placed around the interior of the building that is decorated with frescoes painted by the Group of Seven, is Alain Trudel, Canada's top trombonist.
"It's all the fanfares being presented around the city contained in one concert," says Trudel. "In surround sound. Our senses will be awakened all around us."
Trudel is spending a total of five days with the brass players at St. Anne's, to make sure the elaborate music gets the best-possible airing.
"A lot of the music will be made by the venue," says Trudel. "It will be made by the time between notes."
In the case of Isfahan, Trudel says Schafer "left it to the players themselves to decide when to start playing." Trudel is more coordinator than conductor in this case. But he's not worried. "This is a superstar group of players," he says.