It has been a long time in the build-up, but today the Southbank Centre officially launched its year-long festival of 20th-century music, The Rest Is Noise, conceived in partnership with Alex Ross and the book of the same name. The festival will run throughout 2013 and, according to the organisers, it will
bring the book alive, with nearly 100 concerts, performances, films, talks and debates. We take you on a chronological journey through the most important music of the 20th century and dramatise the century’s massive political and social upheavals. The London Philharmonic Orchestra, with over 30 concerts, is the backbone of this festival, which reveals the stories behind the rich, exhilarating and sometimes controversial compositions that have changed the way we listen forever.
First, the positives. The headline has to be the complete package ticket, which gives you a weekend pass for all 12 weekend events of the festival, plus all of those 100 concerts and talks throughout the year. For £500. Just five hundred pounds. Get one now if you are at all interested in what is surely the deal of the century. (Update: intermezzo has done some digging around, and a little maths, and disputes the true value of this offer.)
Secondly, I’m quite excited by the conceit of the whole thing: a year in London devoted to exploring the music of the 20th century. If nothing else, 2013 looks to be a very good year to be a music undergraduate. And the decision to arrange it into broad thematic blocks (an idea lifted from the book) is nicely done too, although one can still discern an over-arching historical narrative to most of the themes: ‘Here Comes the 20th Century’, ‘The Rise of Nationalism’, ‘Paris’, ‘Berlin’, ‘America’, ‘Post World War’, ‘1960s’, ‘Superpower’, ‘New World Order’. Trust me, it is possible to collapse the last hundred years or so along much more diagonal paths than that.
However. The first six months of the programme are online now, and my heart hasn’t yet skipped a beat. The later century is presumably being covered after July (and I wonder what effect that will have on audience numbers/demographic for each half-year), but browsing through it looked, well, quite warhorsey. There was an awful lot of music in there that I would expect to be done in London at some point in any given two or three years anyway. Lots of Shostakovich, Britten and Janáček, at least to my eyes. I detect a whiff of Cultural Olympiadism – quite a few concerts simply look like rebranded versions of the norm. But then, maybe that’s just how the early century now looks from here. I’m pleased to see Satie’s Socrate makes an appearance (London Sinfonietta, 10 February), and there’s quite a bit of Weill too. The only Orff I see is Carmina burana (London Phil et al., 6 April), which looks like an opportunity missed.
My real worry stems from the fact that Ross’s book was weakest in its treatment of the later 20th century, particularly the 70s, 80s and 90s. Without access to the second half of next year’s programme, it’s impossible to say to what extent this might be addressed in the The Rest is Noise‘s programming. A line on the website – “from Richard Strauss to John Adams” – doesn’t suggest radical diversity, but who’s to say. Let’s hope some necks get stuck out.
Elsewhere, Radio 3’s series of Fifty Modern Classics quietly finished up over the weekend. Fifty works of contemporary music (from Varèse to Bernhard Lang) championed in 10-minute slots by figures (some surprising) from music, film, theatre and more. Marcus de Sautoy on Nomos Alpha, John Tilbury on The Great Learning, Steven Schick on Bone Alphabet, Frances-Marie Uitti on Ygghur. Great stuff. If the second half of The Rest is Noise looks anything like that, I’ll take it.
Full details of The Rest is Noise may be found here.
All fifty episodes of Modern Classics can be downloaded for free here.