Saturday, February 08, 2014

What is avant-garde music?

What is avant-garde music? ".... music which is thought by critics to be ahead of its time, i.e., containing unique or original elements, or unexplored fusions of different genres".

Some implications:
  • Magnus Lindberg's oeuvre is quite unique. His latest pieces do not sound avant-garde, but structurally maybe they are. His objective, anti-romantic, Stravinsky-like style sets him apart in today's scene.
  • Reinbert de Leeuw's recent 'Der nächtliche Wanderer' is difficult to pint-point (although comparisons to apparently remote peers, such as Cristóbal Halffter or Henri Dutilleux or even Leif Segerstam, come to mind). That could make him a new kind of avant-garde composer.
  • Spectralism in music is no longer avant-garde.
  • Ensembles such as ASKO|Schönberg, specialising in avant-garde music, should perhaps expand their focus to include avant-garde music of all ages.

Friday, February 07, 2014

How can orchestras and ensembles survive?

Classical music is facing a crisis. How can orchestras and ensembles cope?

First, which are the problems?
  • Less attention for classical music in general and in schools in particular - the result of government policies.
  • Economic crisis, leading governments to cut subsidies.
  • The internet requires new business models.
When it comes to solutions, funding is an obvious first:
  • Sponsoring.
  • Promotion.
  • Extra performances, provided the marginal costs are limited.
  • Try to attract new audiences (without alienating existing ones).
  • Increase income per listener (subscriptions, donations, CD sales, memorabilia, etc.).
  • New subscription services.
  • Cooperations.
  • Serve children.
The internet forces orchestras and ensembles to redefine what they do:
  • Hang on to core values (live performance, focus on specific genres) only.
  • Follow your audience, looking for internet delivery (such as The Digital Concert Hall from the Berlin Philharmonic).
  • Move away from specific windows (i.e. live performance) and make music available on demand. This could range from providing CD recordings of concerts, provided immediately afterwards. Other options: (internet) radio, streaming, YouTube live, YouTube channel, digital TV channel,
  • Build apps (e.g. NY Philharmonic, London PO, Detroit SO).
  • Broaden the repertory.
Broadening the repertory:
  • Newsletter (email).
  • Sponsoring (friends of the orchestra).
  • Social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, SoundCloud, Spotify).
  • Ambassadors (celebrities, politicians, corporate leaders).
  • Engage friended international established musicians.
Subscription services:
  • Concerts, full season tickets.
  • Rehearsals.
  • Supporters (friends).
  • CDs.
  • Soloists paying the orchestra for accompaniment (2-sided business model).
  • New services to develop with peer ensembles (ASKO|Schönberg, Ensemble intercontemporain, Ensemble Modern, London Sinfonietta, MusikFabri/k etc.).
  • Orchestra + ensemble concerts for pieces such as Britten - War Requiem, Dutilleux - Second Symphony, Escher - Summer rites at noon, Stockhausen - Gruppen etc.
  • Multi-discipline concerts across different art forms (cf. AAA-series at the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra).
Concerts for children:
  • Don't just let the kids come to you, but ensembles can visit schools.
  • Don't underestimate children. Wouldn't it be cool to confront them with Georg Friedrich Haas - In vain?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

YouTube as a source of unique new music recordings

YouTube has become a valuable source of historic recordings. There are several channels that are worthwhile checking out. If you combine them with a YouTube-to-MP3 conversion site, you can burn your own CDs, with pretty decent 128 kbps sound quality.

Here are some channels:

For the conversion to MP3, you can use different sites, such as:
All that's left to do, is burn to a CD using Windows Media Player, which will automatically convert MP3 to the standard CD format.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

How to draw a young crowd to a classical concert

The Hague based Residentie Orkest will perform Dmitri Shostakovitch's Symphony No. 10 at the Lowlands popfestival in August 2011. And the Royal Concertgebouworkest has unveiled its 2011/12 programs, including the modern AAA series, which is aimed at drawing a new and young crowd. There will be a few world premieres, but focus is still on the first half of the 20th century. Included are Edgard Varese's Ameriques and Magnus Lindberg's Kraft.

The people in The Hague and Amsterdam have made some very good programming decisions.

Here's a recommendation for an encore: Alexander Mossolov's The Iron Foundry.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Stravinsky: Sacre podcast

There's an LSO podcast devoted to Stravinsky's Le Scare du Printemps on the Boosey & Hawkes website. It can also be found here on the LSO website.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Davies' former agent faces jail

Agent faces jail for stealing £½m from Queen's composer

The former agent of the Master of the Queen's Music was today facing jail for swindling more than half a million pounds from the composer's account after allegedly becoming a gambling addict.

Michael Arnold, 76, admitted taking £522,333 from his lifelong friend, renowned composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, over 16 years.

Sir Peter, 75, who lives in Orkney, only discovered that his account had been plundered in 2006 when he tried to take £40 out of a cash machine only to have his card rejected.

Arnold had complete access to Sir Peter's bank account after managing his business affairs with his wife Judith for 30 years.

When he discovered the theft the royal composer told Arnold he would instruct accountants to check his books prompting his former manager to confess in a letter to taking the money.

Since then Arnold, of Barnet, has sold his house to repay the money and interest after he was taken to the High Court in a civil action.

Remanding him for medical reports, Judge Nicholas Jones at Kingston crown court yesterday warned the starting point was a six-year jail sentence.

Justin Cole, prosecuting, told the court: "The background to the relationship between Michael Arnold and Sir Peter is perhaps one that was ripe for exploitation.

"There was no written agreement setting out the terms of the agency - effectively they could treat his money as their own.

"Despite the lifelong friendship and trust between the two when Sir Peter attempted to withdraw £40 from a cash machine this was rejected for lack of funds. He became suspicious. The information that came to Sir Peter was that Michael Arnold had become a gambling addict."

A spokesman for Sir Peter, known as "Max", refused to comment on the case but added: "It is something which has affected Max very personally."

Monday, September 08, 2008

Peter Eötvös: recent premieres

Peter Eötvös newest compositions:
  • Seven, a violin concerto: UK premiere at the Proms by Akiko Suwanai and the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Susanna Mälkki (musicOMH, Financial Times, Telegraph, This Is London, Times).
  • Levitation, for two clarinets, accordion and strings: World premiere February 13, 2008, at the Festival de Música de Canarias by its dedicatees, Sabine and Wolfgang Meyer, and Sakari Oramo conducting the Finnish YLE Radion sinfoniaorkesteri (Schott).
  • Lady Sarashina (expansion of As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams), an opera (Financial Times, Guardian).
  • Love and other demons, an opera after Gabriel García Márquez: Premiered at Glyndebourne (Financial Times, Telegraph, Independent, Times).

Toshio Hosokawa: New commission

Toshio Hosokawa has been commissioned by pharmaceutical company Roche to write a new piece, to be performed at the 2010 Lucerne Festival. This will be the fifth Roche Commission (Hays Pharma, Nieuwsbank, Roche).

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Kaija Saariaho interview

By Peter Culshaw
From The Telegraph - 07/07/2007

I'm sitting in Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho's flat in Paris, which, like her music, is sparsely decorated with occasional flashes of unexpected colour. Now 53, she is recalling with some disbelief an article she read when she was a 20-year-old student in Helsinki.
"It had various composers explaining why women could not be composers - that their hormonal balance was wrong, that they were incapable of abstract thought - and that was how many people thought only 30 years ago, in what was supposed to be a liberal country. Naturally the article spurred me on, and made me angry."
These days, Saariaho is probably the best known female composer in the world. Her first opera, L'Amour de loin ("Love from Afar"), had its première in Salzburg in 2000 and went on to cause a sensation at the Santa Fe Opera in 2002. The story of a medieval troubadour consumed by a love for a woman he has never met, it was directed by the adventurous American Peter Sellars.
Saariaho credits Sellars as the man who inspired her to write opera: it was only seeing his updated, controversial settings of Mozart in the 1980s that she "started to think that opera could mean something in the modern world".
If L'Amour de loin was notable for its shimmering beauty, Saariaho's new oratorio, La Passion de Simone, commissioned by Sellars for his New Crowned Hope festival in Vienna, is tougher in both musical language and subject matter. It recounts the life of Simone Weil, who starved herself to death in 1943 at the age of 34 ("between the ages of Jesus and Mozart" as librettist Amin Maalouf puts it).
It was written for Dawn Upshaw, who was also the stunning, soulful lead voice in L'Amour de loin. Upshaw, who was ill for the première in Vienna, sings it for the first time in London on Tuesday as part of the New Crowned Hope highlights season at the Barbican.
"I read Simone Weil's books as a teenager," says Saariaho, "and they were important to me - I was impressed how she was always trying to find the answers to the big mysteries of life in mathematics, in philosophy."
Weil starved herself "in empathy with those who were not eating in the war, and she had many problems in her life, but I was fascinated by her inner world, her search for the profound, her gravity and her grace."
Saariaho may be angry at what she sees as the "patriarchal attitudes" of the Finnish musical establishment, but in person she barely raises her voice above a whisper.
She spent years living like a musical hermit at the electronic music think-tank IRCAM in Paris (although she did meet her husband there - fellow composer Jean-Baptiste Barrière ) and says that her first thought for a musical career was "to be an organist in some remote village in Finland".
This rather mystical side of her character is reflected in her other-worldly music. Fans often regard her as a spiritual guru. "I have nothing special to teach," she claims. "If there's something spiritual in me it's my search for music and how to create in the very commercial society we are living in."
Though not from a musical family, she remembers being drawn to music as a child, telling her mother that there was "music coming from my pillow. I would ask her, 'Can't you turn it off?' I imagined music all the time."
She lived in Helsinki but spent summers in the country. "I had strong feelings about birds and nature and rain and forests," she says. She took up the violin but was too shy to be a natural performer.
"Then I became somehow diminished in the search for identity as a teenager." By the time she was a student, "I was writing little songs of settings of poems - it was all I thought I was capable of."
She talks of her good fortune to be taught by composer and pianist Paavo Heininen at a heady time in the 1970s at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki.
Partly thanks to the Finnish government's establishment of a national network of music schools in the 1960s, a gifted crop of students taught by Heininen emerged - fellow students included the composer Magnus Lindberg and the conductors Esa-Pekka Salonen and Jukka-Pekka Saraste.
"I had a very strong desire to express myself in music and Paavo gave me the technical tools and the confidence," says Saariaho. "As a woman I didn't have big composers to identify with. But he helped me find my way back to the imaginative world of my childhood."
It's an introspective musical world with an often lyrical, timeless quality. "That is a temptation for me as a composer - to stop time. It's a place I am longing to go always."

Maxwell Davies' The Seas of Kirk Swarf Premiered

By Keith Bruce
From The Herald - June 29 2007

The influence of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies was, naturally, all over the work from the St Magnus Composer's Course showcased at the cathedral on Wednesday lunchtime. Of the works created over the past week, the most popular among the large audience who turned out to hear them was by RSAMD graduate in traditional music James Ross, but all the work was of a very high standard.
Maxwell Davies himself had a new piece in the closing concert, for much of its length an exercise in varied string colourings as well as a mini-concerto for the bass clarinet, played by Simon Butterworth. The Seas of Kirk Swarf makes virtuoso demands of the soloist - nimble fingering across the entire vast range of the instrument - whose part stands like the thought processes of a figure in the landscape at a point on the coast of the island of Sanday, where the currents and waves of two seas meet. Groups of notes recur in the ebb and flow of its three interlinked movements until, gloriously, there emerges a statement of peace and contentment in a lovely hymn- like tune. It is classic Max that should also find a welcome in the repertoires of other orchestras.
The new piece sat at the heart of a very big programme, with the orchestra's strings on top form in Beethoven's Coriolan Overture and the horns sparkling in a no-holds-barred take on Strauss's Don Juan - plus Mahler's Blumine as a between-course appetiser. Beethoven's Fifth might seem a very safe choice with which to end a festival that has a dedication to new music - but it was, as ever, a popular one. Conductor Stefan Solyom had one destination in mind from those opening bars, and every note was played in service of reaching the glorious finale, dynamics and pauses seemingly exaggerated to build up the tension en route. It was certainly explosive when it came - particularly for the first violinist, who found herself replacing a string halfway through.