Ever since the oversight of Roger Wright, the Proms Festival has pushed its boundaries and widened its horizons.
David Pickard’s crossover programme taking Bowie’s repertoire and giving it new treatments by Anna Calvi, John Cale, Marc Almond, Laura Mvula and Elf Kid, sought to pay homage but has attracted widely and wildly diverse reactions and polarised opinion.
Here’s a sample, which just goes to show, you can’t please all of the people all of the time!
David Bowie – BBC Proms 2016………..totally amazing, emotionally and a worthy tribute to the greatest “STAR” Thank you to the BBC
Caught up with proms tribute to David Bowie. Wished I had not bothered. The great man must be turning in his grave.
BBC Proms completely destroyed David Bowie’s Space Oddity. Controversial but true. Just sing the song.BBC Proms completely destroyed David Bowie’s Space Oddity. Controversial but true. Just sing the song.
BBC proms David Bowie @MarcAlmond excellent job with Life on Mars. Pathos and beauty.
Watched majority of David Bowie celebration at the BBC Proms. I saw ‘majority’ because I couldn’t watch Marc Almond murder ‘Life on Mars’.
The David Bowie Proms were great but the bloke who sang Life on Mars butchered it and infuriated me.
Thought it’d be better than this, then again you can’t replicate a genius like Bowie!
Watching the proms tribute to David Bowie. Great arrangements for classic songs.
The Bowie Prom was superb, radical and moving at the same time. And I think I’ve fallen in love with the flautist!
Guy Johnston, Niamh Cusack and Rowan Williams illuminate T.S. Eliot
The Festival season is upon us! The summer months bring out the banners and bandstands, bowties and batons. Although, it is fair to say that the fervour for music within the British Isles usually means there is something going on somewhere the length and breadth of the year.
Back to the summer scene, and I have just had my first taste of the season with a performance at the Kings Lynn Festival. A programme built round T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets consisted of readings given by Niamh Cusack, commentaries by Rowan Williams and interpolated music from the Bach unaccompanied cello suites by Guy Johnston.
A full house of 800 gave pin-drop attention to the performances. From the aesthetic viewpoint, It was as near perfect an evening as you will find – sensitive, probing, alert, even profound – full of music not just in the notes but in the words and thoughts; an occasion that uplifts and continues to resonate.
There is so much going on from Aldeburgh to Edinburgh, from Proms to Parks. Try this link ARTS FESTIVALS in the UK as a good collecting point for all that’s in the melting pot – find something near you and support the summer festival scene!
The announcement of the 2016 BBC Proms season brought forth a panoply of comment and observation.
Here are a few choice entries, editorials and utterances to get your interest piqued.
David Pickard is the new Proms Director and as incoming incumbent he largely inherits what has already been prepared and put into place by outgoing Proms Director, Roger Wright, and perhaps more significantly Interim Proms Director, Edward Blakeman.
In response to a question about venues for the season outside the Royal Albert Hall, this is what Pickard chose to highlight: “I’m interested in exploring how we reach out to audiences across London. So as I started to think about that I started to get quite intrigued about matching music to venues in an interesting way. So for example, the Shakespeare Prom in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse seemed like the perfect match; or the chance to hear Steve Reich’s music in a multi-storey car park in Peckham, that seemed ideal too.” Hmm. La Mer at sea? or Night on a Bare Mountain in the Cairngorms?
In answer to the question, What do you think has sustained the Proms?, David Pickard replied: “Different directors, I think. The Proms history is absolutely fascinating. From when the BBC took over the festival, to William Glock taking over as Director, and what happened after Glock. There is a fascinating narrative about how when each different person came along there was a change. The impact that television had when it was first introduced under Robert Ponsonby’s directorship was significant too. Nowadays television is incredibly important to the BBC Proms. And of course, the most recent change for us has been the impact of digital on how people enjoy the Proms: last year in particular the catch-up figures on BBC iPlayer soared.” And where I wonder do Wood, Drummond, Kenyon and Wright figure? To name but a few omissions!
And here’s a bit of flam – Pickard on his new responsibility as Proms Director: “Oh, a huge responsibility, of course. To be honest with you, I’ve had that in a lot of my jobs. It’s something you become accustomed to. But when you’re getting accustomed to that responsibility, you’ll come to realise that you’d be mad not to respect that legacy or history. And that’s where the vision comes in for me: if you look at the origins of the Proms you find the reason why the festival existed in the first place. You don’t start a job like this and think its going to be a different festival, you have to remember that this event, as its always been, has been about bringing the best of classical music to the widest possible audience. Why was the festival set up? Why is it still going? It’s because the initial idea is still relevant today. Obviously, what is the best music in 1895 when the festival started isn’t necessarily what some people regard the best in 2016. But, the original vision remains the same.”
Gramophone online picked out these items as Festival Focus: first, the cello, with 10 concertos receiving performances, including Elgar’s on the First Night (Sol Gabetta with the BBC SO and Sakari Oramo), Alban Gerhardt in the Dvořák Concerto with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Charles Dutoit on August 3, and the world premiere of Huw Watkins’s Concerto with his brother Paul the soloist alongside the BBC NOW and conductor Thomas Søndergård on August 12; next, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s with music from Purcell to Hans Abrahamsen and Duke Ellington; finally, the Brazil Olympics so a particular focus on music from Latin America.
Now here’s the thing, in Henry Wood’s day, the Proms was a wonderful vehicle for new music by living composers, and from a quick count, it looks as if there are 37 living composers featured on the 2016 roster. Let’s delve a little deeper – of the 37, 20 are homegrown, and of that 20, just 5 are women. Of those 20, 14 hit the prime evening spot in the Royal Albert Hall, but a mere 3 of these are women composers. Come on, David, let’s see you fly the flag a bit more and try to tick the equality box!
I have known Max for years – well, about 35 years, and, albeit through intermittent contact, that is still time enough to absorb a sense of the man, the musician, the communicator.
Too often styled as an ‘enfant terrible’ of the contemporary classical music world, his compositions are, to a large extent, far from the ‘difficult’ that commentators loved carelessly and lazily to use in pejorative description or parlance of avoidance, when in truth it was rather too difficult for them to take the time and trouble of better acquaintance.
Max was ever his own person – outwardly mild and congenial, inwardly robust, opinionated, fearless and frank.
A recent interview about his 10th symphony (think how many composers never got past number 9!) had him putting his work as a composer in the ‘upper end of civilised society’. Who dares, these days, from the world of contemporary music, to make such a claim?! Good on you, Max.
I knew Max when I was Chairman of the Composers’ Guild of Great Britain, and he the President. Many times, he attended occasions to deliver a keynote speech, almost always homing in on the lack of opportunity for school children to develop a love of classical music. He was no friend of any government, somewhat of an anarchist and, bizarrely, for a Master of the Queen’s Music, a courteous republican. (His own appellation for this post was MQM.)
Max was generous with his time, seldom turning down an invitation to dignify an event with his quiet, but ultimately, ruthless, presence. He saw these occasions as opportunities to bang heads together, to shake up the establishment and to harangue the authorities for lack of vision.
Max had a passion for music making, particularly within schools and the many educational projects, such as Turn of the Tide, with which he engaged, had far reaching benefits for all those who became involved.
His work is not a single canon, but a series of sub-canons. Take for example the Strathclyde Concertos, (there are 10 in all) composed for soloists from within the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and one of which (No.5 for violin and viola) he conducted at St John’s Smith Square for the Composers’ Guild 50th Anniversary Concert, which I curated. Another sub-canon is the Naxos Quartets (again a series of 10) written for the Maggini Quartet and all, of course, recorded on the Naxos label.
Given his commitment to music in education, it is fitting that his children’s opera, The Hogboon, is to receive its world premiere in June 2016 with the LSO under Sir Simon Rattle, at the Barbican. This, no doubt, will be a sell out!
I think Max would have been amused (if not bemused) to know that he made it onto BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Thought for the Day, on Wednesday 16th March. Here he was the subject of thoughts from the Rev. Lucy Winkett, herself known for her interest in and knowledge of British music and composers. She uses her tribute to Max to introduce reflections on Easter. Now if there ever was a contradiction in terms! . . . but Max, like Lucy, would have turned it to advantage!
I leave you to judge for yourself.
Rev. Lucy Winkett – Thought for the Day – 16th March 2016
This week I have heard a couple of excerpts from the BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week – “Living on paper”: Letters from Iris Murdoch 1934-1995.
It led me to think about the art of writing both words and music and how much technology has influenced the way that it is done today, quite possibly changing the resulting creative work.
What we get from her letters is not only the personal perspective of Iris Murdoch but also an insight into the people around her and the times they were living in. The fact that the letters have been kept for over 80 years is in itself remarkable. I wonder – will we be keeping emails, texts, messaging or postings on Facebook in the same way in 2095?
Technology has changed the way we communicate and to some extent has diminished the art of writing. The letters from Iris Murdoch were considered and composed and not something that was thrown down as the thought occurred to her which is typical of the immediacy of today’s electronic communications.
Has technology also taken away from the art of writing music? Some composers still put pencil to manuscript, but many do not and this is not only because they choose to use technology, but often, also, because they have not learnt the manual writing skills.
Writing music using a computer is surprisingly recent. In the UK, twins Ben and Jonathan Finn created Sibelius 7 to be run on Acorn Computers whilst they were still at university in 1986. By 1998 it was transferred to Windows and Mac and by then the whole world was using it. Finale also came into being in 1988, using the Coda software.
Most of my concerts when I left the Royal Academy of Music, as a clarinettist specialising in British contemporary music, in the 1980’s, were performed from hand written scores. Many of these were clear and rather beautifully written but more, to be honest, were frustratingly illegible.
The act of setting pen or pencil to paper is so much part of a creative process and so very different from that of using a computer. How much, I wonder, has that influenced the art and nature of composition today?
Just a few seconds before 11am on Wednesday 11 November 2015, I was descending the steps into Kings Cross Underground Station in London when a voice came over the tannoy asking that we join with the staff of London Underground in 2 minutes silence to honour those people who had been killed in two world wars and more recent hostilities.
The effect was extraordinary – the people who heard the message hesitated for a moment and one by one stopped their journey and became still and silent. The seconds moved slowly and as new people arrived, they stopped and joined in the silent meditation. The effect was surreal: rather like a film where the action has been paused. And then just as surprisingly the voice came over the tannoy thanking us for joining in the time of remembrance and the film of life jerked into action and off we travelled again.
What will remain with me was the effect of that silence in a busy underground terminal and the way that it drew people together and held our shared attention, making the moment significant in a way that nothing else could.
The significance of silence is recognised by any performer, it is part of your technique of holding the audience with you. Silence is as much a part of the composer’s palette as the notes, and we the interpreters are responsible for inviting the listeners onto the musical canvas with us to be part of the composition in its entirety in both silence and sound.
What better example than John Cage’s 4’33” for solo piano, a period of total performing silence, but joining the attention of performer and audience and the ambience of the hall into the creative wholeness of the live performance.
I carry that silence on the underground with me now, both as a creative expression and also in remembrance, and all the more so as I think of what has happened over the last weekend to the people of Paris.
10th November saw An Evening of New Music curated by young composers Jay Richardson and Alex Woolf, under the aegis of Young Composers’ Network*. Jay is reading Music at Pembroke College, Cambridge and Alex is in his final year at St John’s College, Cambridge. Both already have impressive CVs which include performances with national orchestras and broadcasts on national radio.
So much for introductions – now down to the music. A programme for violin, oboe, horn, piano, dancer and percussion in various combinations presented work by 7 young composers from ages 15 to 20. It was meaty stuff with highly committed performances from all musicians.
Sorry to say the percussionist, Lucy Landymore, who was performing her own work was taken ill at the last minute and that part of the programme had to be abandoned.
The other young woman composer represented in the programme, Alexia Sloane, lost her sight at the age of 2, but nothing daunted, is a chorister, recorder player, flautist, pianist and composer, this last activity being completely internalised and only brought to the page by an amanuensis.
The points to make about this programme are first the fact that it took place, with professionalism, vigour, originality and candour – nothing inhibited about these creators.
The sweep of styles, language and emotion combined with the confidence and craft were all extremely impressive.
The cross-discipline content of poetry and dance brought added dimensions.
The sense of sharing, outreach and communication was palpable and generous.
The calibre of the audience lent further credence to the occasion with not a few Profs and Dons and a good number of other experienced and serious-minded attendees.
Yes, it was too long and yes the programme would have gained by including timings for each piece – in any new work, you need to know the arc of time and attention that you are following.
*Cambridge Young Composers’ Network was set up by Dr Frankie Williams to encourage young people to write music. Projects and opportunities are run in partnership with Aldeburgh Young Musicians, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge Youth Music, Hills Road Sixth Form College and the Faculties of Music and Education at the University of Cambridge. For more information, contact email@example.com
Announced this week is Apple’s music streaming service. Apple’s announcement was inevitable, and composers and songwriters have been predicting the dominance of streaming over downloads for years.
This could be very good for classical music. Not so much in the sense that classical music will be available in the same way as other genres, just as it is now on spotify, but looking rather more to the long term benefit, in the sense that classical music, with its distinctive characteristics, could become a stronger, legitimate and viable alternative music.
Contemporary classical music and living classical composers offer a range and diversity which is really beyond classification (no partial pun intended).
While the global following for pop music is defined by artists as well as genres and sub-genres, appreciation of contemporary classical music is evolving as much more inclusive of the spectrum of styles and sound canvases painted by living composers.
To put it another way, as trends appear, pop music is an all for one (artist) phenomenon (hence the charts) while the scenario for contemporary classical music is increasingly all for all (newly composed work).
Apple will be offering its 800 million users a total immersion in popular music with content pushed on to users at a bombardment level never before experienced. The listeners’ (or should that be users’?) world will become even more frenetic, fragmented and ephemeral.
Enter classical music – space, cohesion, silence, passion, depth, permanence, choice, beauty. We all need something of those qualities in our lives and maybe, just maybe, Apple will unexpectedly open the door to classical music for more people.
tutti is home to the work of over 1,000 composers with 25% of them living and working around the world.
Here are some of our newest acquistions –
Attentive and detailed work from David Stoll in his fourth quartet, Spaces in a Space – listen, download and purchase the score.
Captivating and uplifting music from Rosemary Duxbury – listen to an extract from Reverie for viola and piano and purchase the music.
Wonderful new performances by pianist Alexei Knuppfer of delightful miniatures by Nicholas Wilton (Spanish Dance) – available to download.
An engaging new edition of Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit, brought newly to life by Scottish composer, Graham Robb – (Messe de Minuit) listen to an extract.
Here’s to a great future for classical music – our bite of the Apple!
I was fascinated by a listing in The Times in the run up to Easter, itemising the musical settings due to be performed at Cathedrals, Royal Chapels, Choral Foundations and London Churches on Easter Day. The compiler, Deborah King, named 88 institutions across the UK, and provided service times and the music to be sung for each.
There was no commentary from the author, which made it all the more fascinating a listing for the conclusions the readers could draw for themselves. With liturgical repertoire, it is wonderfully beneficial to composers that the tradition is to name the setting after the composer, as in Schubert in G or Stanford in A. To her credit, Deborah King was meticulous in naming each and every composer regardless of whether their name appeared in the title in this traditional manner. For example Wood, Collegium Regale or Mozart, Coronation Mass, were also fully listed.
Now, here’s where it gets interesting. What repertoire are these venerable, historic and often renowned establishments serving up to their congregations? Of course there is a very good spread of the aforementioned ‘Composers in Key’, and notably Stanford (15 services), but also, Dyson, Darke, Bairstow and Brewer. The French organist composers also get a good look in with Langlais, Widor, Durufle and Vierne.
Returning to the British Isles, the more recent repertoire was led by Howells and followed by Mathias. William Walton, and Vaughan Williams also make appearances, but the name that really caught my eye, was Dove – Jonathan Dove. His Missa Brevis featured in no fewer than 5 locations, out-pacing Missa Brevis by Britten and followed at some distance by his younger contemporary Gabriel Jackson whose Missa Triueriensis was down to be performed (unsurprisingly) at Truro Cathedral who had commissioned it in 2005.
Jonathan Dove is not the first British composer to take flight on the wings of liturgy and bless Deborah King for putting an Easter spotlight on him and 34 other composers.