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FIRST IMPRESSIONS: ON THE PROGRAMMING AND CONCERT PRESENTATION OF NEW MUSIC TODAY

  • Mark Gotham
Abstract
Abstract

This article explores recent, radical developments in the ways in which new music is programmed and presented. It is contextualised by a brief survey of new music programming across the history of public concert-giving, and by several new interviews with industry professionals in the UK. These illustrate various rationales behind current practice including the dissatisfaction with traditional modes of concert-giving where appropriate. They also inform the author's conviction that different branches of new music benefit from different forms of presentation, acknowledging the importance of innovative forms to certain new styles.

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1 This work was conducted during my tenancy of the McCann Research Fellowship at the Royal Academy of Music, funded by the Lucille Graham Trust. I am grateful to both institutions for their support, including extensive access to Norman McCann's concert programme collection. I was reassured that Mr McCann would have approved of the project when I saw that he had been engaged to give a talk at the 1992 Bucharest festival on ‘How to promote Modern Music’.

2 Weber William, The Great Transformation of Musical Taste (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), p. 1. Weber claims that it was common for concerts in 1780 to include 8–15 items, most of them new.

3 See Burkholder Peter, ‘Museum Pieces: The Historicist Mainstream in Music of the Last Hundred Years’, The Journal of Musicology, 2 (1983), pp. 115–34, here p. 117: ‘Weber gives statistics which show that around the turn of the century, almost 80% of the music performed in Vienna, Leipzig, Paris, and London was by living composers, while after mid-century the figure was almost exactly the opposite’. Burkholder is summarising pages 18–19 of Weber William, ‘Mass Culture and the Reshaping of European Musical Taste, 1770–1870’, International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music, 8 (1977), pp. 522.

4 Bashford Christina, The Pursuit of High Culture: John Ella and Chamber Music in Victorian London (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2007), p. 327.

5 Weber William, ‘Miscellany Vs. Homogeneity: Concert Programmes at the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music in the 1880s’, in Music and British Culture 1785–1914, ed. Bashford Christina and Langley Leanne (Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 317.

6 While ‘avant garde’ may be an anachronistic term for Beethoven, his notion of ‘music for a later age’ is clearly an ideological cognate. For an (anecdotal) report of the provenance for this quote, see Thayer's Life of Beethoven, Revised and Edited by Elliot Forbes (Princeton University Press, 1964, first edition 1921), p. 409.

7 Babbitt Milton, ‘Who Cares if you Listen’, High Fidelity, 8/2 (Feb. 1958), 3840, 126–7. Although Babbitt had intended for this piece the rather less provocative title of ‘The Composer as Specialist’, he did ask this rhetorical question in the text.

8 Johnson Julian, ‘Multiple Choice? Composing and Climate Change in the 1990s’, in Aspects of British Music of the 1990s, ed. Peter O'Hagan (Alsdershot: Ashgate, 2003), pp. 2937.

9 Beverley Crew in the Society for the Promotion of New Music's New Notes (January 1999), p. 1. The reference is surely to that series of ‘best of’ pop albums entitled ‘Now that's what I call music’.

10 Joanna MacGregor quoted in an interview with Katherine Smith, published as ‘Playing with Attitutude’, Libretto (ABRSM, 2010:3), p. 12.

11 In conversation with the author. This and all subsequent quotes from practitioners, unless otherwise specified, have been collected through personal interviews and correspondence.

12 Alex Ross, ‘Why do we Hate Modern Classical Music?’, The Guardian, 28 November 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2010/nov/28/alex-ross-modern-classical-music (accessed 29 August 2013).

13 See, for instance, Frodeman Robert, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity (Oxford University Press, 2010).

14 Hewett Ivan, Healing the Rift (London: Continuum, 2003), p. 5.

15 Johnson, ‘Multiple Choice?’, pp. 31–2. See also Hewett, Healing the Rift, pp. 116–17 on the neutral (or otherwise) frame for the presentation of new music.

16 For instance, Christina Bashford has observed that Ella's concerts in Victorian London ‘blended the social with the musical’. The Pursuit of High Culture, p. 351. Related to this, there is also an increasingly large and varied repertoire of recent music in which the audience is directly engaged as part of the work / performance. See the dedicated issue of Organized Sound, 18 (2013) for insights and opinions into some recent practice.

17 See, for instance, the commissioning body ‘Artangle’ (www.artangel.org.uk), some of whose projects include an auditory element.

18 What Boulez actually said, in an interview with Der Spiegel (1967), was ‘Die teuerste Lösung wäre, die Opernhäuser in die Luft zu sprengen’. [The most expensive solution would be to blow up the opera houses].

19 Hewett, Healing the Rift, p. 46.

20 Richard Morrison, ‘Found in a disused car park: the future of music’, The Friday Column in The Times, 22 July 2011.

21 Ross, ‘Why do we Hate Modern Classical Music?’

22 Fox Christopher, ‘New Music and the Politics of Distribution’, in New Music 88, ed. Finnissy Michael, Hayes Malcolm and Wright Roger (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 128.

23 Johnson, ‘Multiple Choice?’, p. 34.

24 Del Mar Norman, A Companion to the Orchestra (London: Faber, 1987), p. 198. The use of ‘progressive’ is strange in light of the discussion above.

25 Quoted in the 1980 Proms booklet. Henry Wood was appointed as musical director in 1895 to achieve this aim.

26 Foreword to Hewett, Healing the Rift, p. x–xi.

27 He also points out that the series relies on a model of short concerts and free admission, meaning that artistic decisions do not have to be based on box office appeal.

28 Malcolm Hayes, ‘1986–7: Some Thoughts’, in New Music 88, p. 2.

29 Though there was also a problem ‘with the selection of works – which did not attract orchestras’.

30 Ross, ‘Why do we Hate Modern Classical Music?’.

31 Ibid.

32 Fox, ‘New Music’, p. 128.

33 For instance, on the occasion of the Royal Opera House's recent premiere of Mark Anthony Turnage's Anna Nicole (in February 2011), the foyer was littered with images of the title-role (as created by Eva-Maria Westbroek) and related props.

34 For instance, Roger Wright, Director of the BBC Proms, cited this as a major success of the institution when reviewing the 2011 season at a Proms Plus event on 7 September 2011.

35 Richard Morrison, ‘Found in a disused car park’.

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Tempo
  • ISSN: 0040-2982
  • EISSN: 1478-2286
  • URL: /core/journals/tempo
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