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Proms 2016 Panoply – where are the women composers this year?

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David Pickard - Proms Director

David Pickard

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!

Farewell to Max

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SirPeterMaxwellDavies

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

Sarah Rodgers

Young Composer Voices in Cambridge

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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.

Entertaining – highly.
Challenging – satisfyingly.
Worthwhile – undoubtedly.

I know – I was there!
Sarah Rodgers

*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
frankie.williams@anglia.ac.uk

Dove takes flight at Easter

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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.

Final statistics – 35

Remembering Benjamin Britten

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Although we are now firmly in 2014 and have left the Britten centennial year behind, I didn’t want to head in to the Richard Strauss 150 years, or indeed even the William Lloyd Webber 100 years celebrations without a final reflection on arguably the UK’s greatest and certainly the most influential 20th century composer.

In late November last year, I had the good fortune to attend the annual St Cecilia’s Day Service arranged by the Musicians Benevolent Fund (now called Help Musicians UK) as part of the Festival of St Cecilia.  It was held this year at Westminster Abbey (it rotates Three Choirs Festival style between the great traditions of the Abbey, Westminster Cathedral and St Pauls Cathedral), and involved the choirs of all three churches.

A true celebration of great English music with particular emphasis on the 20th and 21st centuries, there were works by Britten, Ireland, Tippett, Howells, Vaughan Williams and two living composers, Robin Holloway and Robert Walker. It was exciting, inspiring and deeply touching to hear music of such breadth and diversity and yet linked in so many ways – sometimes pupil to teacher, certainly peer to peer and often by texts and by aspiration which for centuries have been the gifts to creative artists of liturgy and the cathedral tradition in the UK.

The Britten works included, for organ, Prelude and Fugue on a theme of Vittoria; as processional, A Hymn to the Virgin; the anthem, A Hymn to St Columba; and, gloriously for the occasion, his setting in C of Te Deum laudamus.  A small act of remembrance included the placing of flowers on the stone where his remains are interred, close by those of the great English composer, Henry Purcell.

Britten’s output, of course, was not confined to ecclesiastical music and his is probably one of the broadest and most diverse repertoires of any composer of the 20th century.  tutti has several interesting recordings which place Britten’s music in the context of that of his peers, such as Tippett and Berkeley, all on – A Century of English Song on the SOMM label, performed by Sarah Leonard, soprano and Malcolm Martineau, piano, and again with Bridge and Ireland (Britten’s teachers) alongside Stevenson, Berkeley and Colin Matthews, all on – Britten: Resonances, performed by Anthony Goldstone on the Divine Art label or in the rather different company of Rodney Bennett and Lutyens, with a touch of the Catalan in Roberto Gerhard, all on – Love from a Stranger – Four British Film Scores, an early NMC recording.

Britten’s influence is undiminished in the 21st century, so to conclude, a recommendation for the sheet music of a work for guitar composed in 2013 especially for the Britten celebrations and first performed and toured in the USA by the brilliant young Scottish guitarist, Ian Watt –

Fantasy from Themes of Britten’s Gloriana by Scottish composer, John McLeod

And, finally, here’s a little gem of a  video I found on YouTube of a performance in 1956, captured on Japanese TV of Peter Pears singing Purcell, accompanied by Ben Britten.

Peter Pears and Ben Britten perform Purcell Songs on Japanese TV in 1956.

Simply beautiful!
Sarah Rodgers

A giant among composers

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That’s an epithet that can apply in so many ways to Sir John Tavener – a giant of stature, a giant of thought, a giant of spirituality, a giant of musical concept and, apart from his own self-confrontation where he could be brutally judgmental, he was always a gentle giant.

I say was, of course, because he died only a few days ago on 12th November.  “Peacefully at home” is recorded in the public obituaries, but he was still writing with full force and I somehow think that he will not necessarily have gone gentle into that good night.

The news of John’s death was particularly poignant for me as I had encountered him briefly on the forecourt of BBC Broadcasting House in London where he and his family were awaiting a taxi after he had recorded an interview for BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week.  We exchanged greetings and he seemed on reasonable form.

I have several striking memories of this gentle giant.  I remember seeing him for the first time at a service at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Ennismore Gardens, which he frequented during the time when his Greek Orthodox faith was of paramount importance.  He was, literally, head and shoulders above the assembled worshippers.  If you are familiar with Greek Orthodox tradition, you will know that the faithful participate standing.  This particular occasion was led by the Archbishop, Metropolitan Anthony – an even greater spiritual giant.

When John received his classical IVOR, he spoke, as so often on public occasions, in a direct and uncompromising manner and he pinned a room full of music industry hardheads to a memorable silence as he spoke of  the gift of music and the intellectual heart.

Commentators have liked to describe his music as sacred minimalism but for me that is too small a box and too shallow a source.  His work has a complex simplicity, born not of a lack of rigour, but rather springing from a life of searching, of questioning, of seeking.  There are layers but they are not dense;  there is movement but it is not abrupt;  there are climaxes but they are never forced or greedy.

There is no doubt that John’s music has already touched millions – that in itself is a giant contribution  to society, to culture, to humanity and to life.

Peace be with him.

Sarah Rodgers

Apples and Pears

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I was responding recently to a composer whose beef was that the Establishment (do we still use that term?!) continues to favour musical styles which are dissonant, complex and impenetrable and continues to disregard musical styles which are consonant, discernible and accessible.

The short answer is that more difficult music needs platforms if it is to be given a chance at being heard, approached and understood, while less difficult music tends naturally to be more widely received.  If we go beyond that simple statement, we quickly enter the realms of subjectivity and taste which of course is what all art comes down to in the end as it has no life without an audience.

It has always been a puzzle to me as to why difference or diversity should be an issue at any level.  Our created world is strewn with variety and it follows that creative work will mirror that.  Rather than address why dissonant should be favoured over consonant or white over black or rich over poor, I’d far rather celebrate multifariousness and that’s where I get on to apples and pears.

Actually, aside from music, my current other passion is the orchard we are about to create with traditional Norfolk apple and pear varieties such as Striped Beefing, Emneth Early, Adam’s Pearmain and, happily for a musician, Falstaff Red.

At tutti we have a complete apples and pears approach where the music we promote can be as sharp as a Beefing, as sweet as a Pearmain, as juicy as an Emneth or as dry as a Falstaff.

I’m not telling you which is which, but here are some composers for your tasting –

John McLeod   Julian Dawes  Jane Wells  Julia Usher

Sarah Rodgers

RIP – RRB

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tutti talk is our latest email strand and this is the first edition.

We know music is your passion – it’s our passion, too which is why we want to share with you the thoughts, ideas, events and opportunities that we hope will interest you.

The first thing to let you know is that tutti has just launched a facebook page.  It’s really easy to find but here’s a link for your first visit – www.facebook.com/tutti.co.uk.

Just in this first week, we have gained nearly 500 followers and are connected through our friends to nearly 15,000 people.  We’d love you to visit the tutti facebook page and like us.

Looking back to 2012, we saw the loss of three immensely fine composer – Elliott Carter at 103, Jonathan Harvey, 73 and Richard Rodney Bennett at 76.  They all made unique contributions to 20th and 21st century music and I’m pleased to say we have examples of their work at tutti.

RRB was of course well known for his film music, including Far from the Madding Crowd, Nicholas and Alexandra and Murder on the Orient Express – three very different cinematic genres.  At tutti we have an interesting recording which couples Bennett’s work with that of Ben Britten, Roberto Gerhard and Elisabeth Lutyens (a much under-rated English composer who deserves a tutti talk all her own!).  You can find the NMC CD here .

Jonathan Harvey’s piano piece, typically tersely titled – ff – was commissioned as part of the first Spectrum collection for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music.  This is another enterprising NMC recording.

Sarah Rodgers

Composer’s Legacy

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I cannot even guess how long it is since I wrote a blog – too busy writing for everything else but something happened this week which nudged me into scribbling a note today! I heard at the beginning of the week that a friend and colleague of mine the composer, Graham Whettam had died last Friday. I first got to know Graham in the 1980s when I was performing a series of concerts featuring British Music and one of those pieces was the Whettam Sonatina for Clarinet and Piano. There were some tempo markings in the music which I did not think made sense. As a performer, I have never been able or even tried to compose music but I have always been deeply immersed in the performing of music as a creative art. Perhaps this needs a bit more explaining – I mean that the composer envisages what they think the music should sound like but the realisation of the composition only comes to fruition when it is performed. Many composers with modern technology can indeed get a very clear picture of how it should sound but adding the individual performer is what is the final part of the composition (I suspect some composers may disagree with this!) The final bit of the jigsaw (for the peformer) is communicating the work with the audience – the ambience of the hall, the acoustic, the instruments being used and the audience will all influence that. And so it was, back in the 1980’s that I came across the work of Graham Whettam and rather than play the music at a tempo marking which for me seemed far too fast for the interpretation, I gave him a call! That call led on to me performing the Sonatina frequently from Music Clubs to the Wigmore Hall and recording it for radio 3 and this in turn led to two new commissions – Impromptu for solo clarinet and Graham whettam’s second clarinet concerto which was dedicated to me and written in memory of my sister Jennifer who had tragically died of a brain haemorrhage at the age of 33. I also performed and broadcast Graham’s first clarinet concerto as well as giving numerous performances of other arrangements of his music. As I have mentioned previously my performing career then came to an abrupt halt in 1993 when I had a road accident which stopped me performing professionally.

Hearing that Graham had died brought an era to a close but as his widow Janet said to me – he has left his music legacy for us to enjoy. Try listening to Caroline Clemmow and Anthony Goldstone in their recordings of Graham Whettam’s music for solo piano and piano duet for sale on tutti.co.uk.

Geraldine Allen

passionate about composers

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Four years ago, I was instrumental in setting up the British Composer Awards – an annual event which celebrates and rewards the music of composers living and working in the UK. Last night I was a guest on BBC Radio 3 to talk about this year’s nominations which are wonderfully eclectic. Major establishment composers such as John Tavener are on the list alongside people who up to this point have never raised a blip on the composing radar. This year too there is a fascinating left-field nomination for Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead fame. There is a mindset (which the Awards are beginning to unstick) that classical composition is a very narrow, insular and elitist field. As they say in popular language – this is SO not true! Open your ears and eyes! Classical music no longer has stereo-types, it is no longer possible to pigeon-hole it, some would say it is no longer possible even to define it and, yes, that has definite value: classical music is as diverse as the composers who write it – it is defined by their voices. Take these three entirely different composers (unashamedly one is me!!) Sarah Rodgers – lyrical contrapuntalist (ooh, aah yeah but no but!) Graham Fitkin – dramatic minimalist (his music has passion) Timothy Salter – visceral expressionist (hang on to your gut!).

You can hear a short extract of all our music by clinking on the links. Do you like what you hear? Let us know – someone out there, make a comment, please.

Have a great day.

Sarah Rodgers

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