"Yesterday I listened... today I loved!"
Posted on: 26th Mar 2012
The Barbican’s 2012-13 season, announced several weeks ago, has an exciting crop of premières, contemporary works and ‘Total Immersion’ series on the horizon.
There’s an intriguing mixed bag this October in an eclectic-looking individual concert that includes American wunderkind Nico Muhly, wide-ranging pianist Joanna Macgregor, British saxophonist Andy Sheppard, and a première from Scotland’s James Macmillan.
Also appearing at Sounds New this May, Mark-Anthony Turnage will be taking up a residency at the Barbican in February next year; expect his dynamic mix of shrieking textures, in-your-face gestures and vibrant rhythms.
The ‘Total Immersion’ series of festivals, which has recently featured Jonathan Harvey, Brett Dean, and will be featuring Arvo Pärt soon, continues; one event looks to the East with an evocative-looking concert including works by Toru Takemitsu, Dai Fujikura and Toshio Hosokawa; another set of events will focus on Oliver Knussen at 60, and there’s also New from the North with Nørgård and others.
Tippett’s symphonic vision of old age, mixing orchestra with the sampled sound of breathing, the Symphony no.4, will be realised under the baton of Andrew Davis, and there’s also a new piece from David Sawer.
The ‘LSO Futures Week’ will focus on the music of Tansy Davies, also appearing at Sounds New this year, whose excellent Wild Card revelled in some devilish textures and skulking bass-clarinet gestures when it appeared at the Proms in 2010; the same Week also features Jason Yarde in a programme which also includes John Adams’ brash Chamber Symphony, and Stravinsky’s Cubist Symphonies of Wind Instruments, and there’s also a new work by Colin Matthews alongside Boulez’s Notations.
There’s plenty more to get excited about as well: see all the events in the season here.
Posted by Daniel Harding.
Posted on: 13th Mar 2012
I was heartened by an article in The Guardian a few weeks ago, which proclaimed that 'difficult' concert programmes are attracting audiences in their droves, and that contemporary music audiences are actually in robust health (Audiences flock to ‘difficult’ contemporary classical music, 30 January; click here to read). Alex Needham`s article paints a portrait of people turning out in their droves to a plethora of modern works being programmed over the coming months, from a festival of Minimalism in Scotland to political opera in Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer at ENO and to the Glass/Wilson libretto-less marathon, Einstein on the Beach.
People have been proclaiming the decline of contemporary classical music ever since the avant-garde were thought to have lost touch with their audiences in the twentieth century. The image of the high-minded composer writing difficult works, deliberately antagonistic to audiences, and uncaring as to whether people came to listen to them or not, is an enduring one, trotted out whenever pundits want to paint a depressing picture of an art-form increasingly in decline. Or so they would have us believe.
But contemporary composers aren`t like that anymore. It may have been desirable, in the middle of the last century, to write music in Darmstadt that sought to alienate listeners, and, as Needham mentions, if your concert attracted more than thirty people in the audience, it had to be immediately rejected as populist and therefore deplorable; but these days, composers are striking a balance between pursuing their own inner vision which may indeed involve a challenging musical language, with finding ways actually to draw audiences in, instead of turning them away.
Turnage in particular has managed to combine a musical vocabulary rich in wild textures and shrieking harmonies with a self-confessed love of James Brown, Tower of Power, jazz-funk and pop tunes to create pieces which audiences notice; Blood on the Floor, with its improvising jazz trio at the heart of a modern ensemble; the piece Hammered Out at last year`s Proms wrong-footed a few critics, who failed to notice its roots in Beyoncé when younger audiences got it immediately. Fair enough, his choice of salacious, head-line generating subject matter in the opera Anna Nicole may have been a shrewd move, but within the brash music he wrote for the piece, there lurk some affecting melodies, deft jazz writing, and even a moving aria or two.
Festival programmers are responding to this desire for new music. The ravishing orchestra-meets-electronics vision of Jonathan Harvey was celebrated recently in a `Total Immersion` weekend at the Barbican; this weekend sees one devoted to Australian composer Brett Dean, and a similar festival next month will focus on the music of the Estonian composer, Arvo Pärt.
As the composer John Adams observed in his autobiography, there was a time when nineteenth-century concert-going audiences expected to hear new works at concerts, and were actually disappointed when they didn't (Faber, 2008:48). Some shrewd programming by Simon Rattle, when at the helm of the CBSO, would see him sandwiching challenging modern works between classical staples of the repertoire, such that he was able to champion composers such as Turnage, keeping this tradition alive and cannily using programmes of better-known works to introduce audiences to contemporary pieces at the same time.
People will always proclaim the 'death of classical music' or harp on about its dwindling appeal and declining audience numbers. But a closer look at what's happening across the UK - with festivals of contemporary music ranging from here in Canterbury in the south across to the Huddersfield Festival in the north - suggests that the truth may be a lot healthier than you think.
Posted by Daniel Harding.