Weeks and Walshe for your Weekend

Look at that – there’s a sudden spike of new music interest from the British media today.

In the Guardian this morning, James Weeks writes about the inspiration for his new piece in the 17th-century agrarian radical group, the Diggers. Weeks quotes the Diggers’ leader Gerrard Winstanley:

“That which does incourage us to go on in this work, is this; we find the streaming out of Love in our hearts towards all; to enemies as well as friends; we would have none live in Beggery, Poverty, or Sorrow, but that everyone might enjoy the benefit of his creation: we have peace in our hearts, and quiet rejoycing in our work, and filled with sweet content, though we have but a dish of roots and bread for our food.”

before going on to examine some of the implications such a text has for any potential musical setting:

Writing such as this, finding transcendence and exaltation in the simplest, most fundamental things in life, persuaded me to try and set Winstanley to music. Could it work? There were plenty of pitfalls. First, most of his writing consists of detailed political argument, not resonant Obamaesque rhetoric. No matter how interesting I find the role of magistrate in Winstanley’s ideal society, this sort of material was not going to inspire either singers or audience in a visceral way; a great deal of filleting was needed to find the sort of spare, punchy text that would work well. Next to consider was the whole problematic relationship between music and politics that has engaged composers throughout the modern era, from Hanns Eisler to Luigi Nono, Cornelius Cardew, Christian Wolff and Helmut Lachenmann. All music is political, because it stands in a relation to the polis, yet to use music to explicitly convey a political position surely risks reducing it to the level of an advertising prop. One solution to this dilemma is to find a way in which the work can transcend explicit political argument, using the music to deal with issues on a more fundamental, universal level (think Ode to Joy) without entirely losing the cut-and-thrust of the specific debate.

The result, The Freedom of the Earth, for chorus and ensemble, can be heard at Shoreditch Church on Monday, where it will receive its world premiere from the New London Chamber Choir and the London Sinfonietta as part of the Spitalfields Festival.

But it’s a new music double whammy because this evening, between 10pm and midnight, you can hear composer Jennifer Walshe (photo, above) talking to Claudia Winkleman on The Radio 2 Arts Show about the show she is curating for the Oxford Playhouse next week (15 June). Listen to This: The Music of What Happens asks such questions as what happens when:  a computer programme combs the Internet for clips from pop songs; or you combine wine glasses and bags of leaves; or you use the Doppler Effect to make music? Apartment House will be playing four works – Dead End by Amnon Wolman124 Milton Street Extract by Zach Seldess, Plateaux pour deux by Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen and Dog Star by Jonathan Marmor. Some teeth-gritting might be required for the Radio 2 show as ‘quirkiness’ (‘the sounds of mechanical toys, from bags of leaves combined with wine glasses, the sounds from a New York city shower’) is likely to be emphasised over artistic content, but it may be worth catching up with on iPlayer over the weekend; and if you’re in Oxford on Wednesday the concert itself will almost certainly be worth your time.

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