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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

Bowie and Boulez

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BOWIE
“Sometimes you will never know the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” Iman Bowie.

On Bowie’s birthday, Jan. 8, Iman used Instagram to celebrate her husband’s special day. She shared a variety of different photos of Bowie, many of which were posted by his fans.

Bowie images flash around the world with all the personas that made it possible for everyone to find their own affinity with the man and his music.

Did anyone ever reinvent himself as often and as successfully as David Bowie?

From Space Oddity to Ziggy Stardust, from Fame to Blackstar and all wrapped up in Lazarus – what a panoply of creativity.

BOULEZ
“Schoenberg is dead; Blow up the opera houses; Authenticity is a nightmare; Henze? ‘rubbish’. Verdi? ‘dum de dum, nothing more'”. So said Pierre Boulez.

From Sur incises to Répons, from Le Visage Nuptial to Pli selon pli, from Le Marteau Sans Maître to Eclat, – inventor, self-critic, visionary, champion of the avant-garde.

Concert hall, music theatre, electronics studio, BBC symphony orchestra, IRCAM – there was nowhere in the musical world his influence did not reach, known or unknown.

Currently the subject of a special exhibition in Paris at the Philharmonie de Paris, Boulez was also featured in the Aldeburgh Festival 2015.

In a bizarre twist of fate, which no doubt will go down in the history books, Philharmonie de Paris is also about to host the exhibition about Bowie – David Bowie Is.

An unusual pairing? Not at all. Two international figures, passionate communicators and music enrichers.

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

Apple’s total immersion is good for classical music

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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!

Sarah Rodgers

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

Standing up for the BBC

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The Beeb, Aunty or just plain BBC has once more been at the heart of hot topics in press and other media.  In advance of charter renewal, due in 2016, Parliament has been conducting a review of how well the BBC is doing and has invited contributions from listeners, programme makers and competitors, alike.

And  what a field day the competitors have been having!  The BBC, as public service broadcasters, (they cry), must be distinctive, take risks, present work commercial broadcasters could not afford to, be accountable, serve all the interests of the entire population across the age spectrum.  What they must not do, (they holler), is tread on the turf of the commercial broadcasters, mirror their repertoire or copy their style of presentation.

Particularly loud whining comes from classic fm’s masters about BBC Radio 3, and why? Is it because Radio 3 presenters have become more personable?  Is it because there are drive-time strands which dare to play part of a work instead of the whole work?  Is it because they give broadcast time to composers of film music?  is it because they are encouraging greater interaction with their listeners? Classic fm would rush to claim all of those.  But the real reason is because Radio 3 programming, programme-making and artistic values are in a class way beyond any other classical music broadcaster on the face of the planet, classic fm included.

What other station would dare to broadcast the entire canon of Bach cantatas; would create Baroque Spring, devoting a month of music drama and comedy dedicated to shedding new light on the baroque era, will be broadcasting every Richard Strauss opera in full, this year, 2014?   And now with their latest 18th century music season, joined up programming sees broadcasts from Radio 3, BBC2 and BBC4.

As music lovers, we couldn’t be more fortunate in the vision, creativity and originality of the team at BBC Radio3.

Here are a few insights into contemporary composition, provided by Radio 3 programme-makers, together with links from tutti to explore more of their music –

John Rutter + music by John R.

Peter Maxwell Davies + music by Max

John McCabe + music by John  M.

and finally, not an interview with a woman composer as there wasn’t one to be found(!), but a performance at the BBC proms by the London Symphony Orchestra of part of

Stars, Night, Music and Light by Judith Weir + music by Judith

Bravo BBC!
Sarah Rodgers

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

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

Operatic Opportunities

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Summer is here and open-air opera is upon us – Glyndebourne, Garsington and W11 to name but a few, but let me cast back a little – nominations in the ‘Best new opera production’ category for the UK’s Olivier Awards were announced just before Easter this year and it’s interesting to observe that three of the four nominated works were ENO productions. One of the three, Caligula, was by a living composer – Boosey & Hawkes published, German composer, Detlev Glanert.  The fourth nomination, also by a living composer, was staged at The Barbican – Philip Glass’s, Einstein on the Beach.

It’s a little surprising that nothing was nominated from that other great London operatic institution, Covent Garden, particularly George Benjamin’s highly acclaimed new work, Written on Skin.  The Royal Opera House is devoting ever more resources to contemporary work and that may be down to the outlook of the current Director of Opera, Kasper Holten, who is reported as saying, “New work is not and should not be at the periphery of our programme, but right at the core of what and who we are.”  Bravo!

Casting back even earlier, at the beginning of this year ROH announced an impressive set of plans for 2013 to 2020 amounting to 15 new works in both the main house and the more experimental Linbury Studio.  Forth-coming productions will include in the near future, work by Australian, Ben Frost, and by British composers Julian Philips, Luke Bedford and Matthew Herbert.  Looking further ahead, there are new commissions for Mark-Anthony Turnage and Judith Weir (follow the link on Judith’s name for a tantalising taster of the ENO production of Judith’s Blond Eckbert). There is lots more on offer for composers from Denmark, Finland, Italy and Germany, too.

Not to be out-done, ENO also raised the curtain on its latest commission which was styled as an “enthralling multimedia ‘occult mystery’, combining live performance, music, 2D and 3D film.”  A collaboration with the Barbican, all performances of Sunken Garden by composer, director and film-maker Michel van der Aa take place there and it opened on the 12th April.

Opera has always been wonderfully eclectic, gloriously international and fiercely innovative.  Here’s hoping that we can add ‘boundlessly contemporary’ to the accolades.  A living composer did win that Olivier Award so that is a step in the right direction.

If you type ‘opera’ into the tutti searchbox, I hope you will be intrigued at what turns up – never the predictable!

Aah, I’ve just caught the final moments of a fiery Norfolk sunset from my studio window – you can see more of the moments I’ve managed to capture posted on the Music at tutti timeline on facebook.

Sarah Rodgers

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