#promsnewmusic 2018

The BBC Proms listings came out this morning. As usual, I’ve been tweeting the new music highlights, and collected them all below for your reference.

No time for much commentary today, I’m afraid, except to say that there’s little in here – aside from the JACK Quartet’s Prom on 13 August – that really has me excited. Lots of the new pieces are short, and lots of them are by relatively little known names – which in itself isn’t necessarily a problem of course. But I feel there’s even less sense of ambition, new music-wise, than usual. Perhaps I’m wrong – I’ve not properly digested the calendar yet and I may have missed some things. At least it seems more gender balanced than previous years.

Prom 1 (First Night)
Anna Meredith – Five Telegrams, wp

Prom 3
James MacMillan – Britannia
David Bruce – Sidechaining, wp
Iain Farrington – Gershwinicity, wp
Ben Foster – Fantasia on the Young Musician Theme, wp

Proms at Cadogan Hall 1
Caroline Shaw – Second Essay: Echo; Third Essay: Ruby

Prom 4
Magnus Lindberg – Clarinet Concerto

Prom 9
Eriks Esenvalds – Shadow

Prom 10
Thierry Escaich – Deux Évocations

Proms at Cadogan Hall 2
Eve Risser – Furakelà, wp

Prom 12
Andrew Norman – new work, ukp

Prom 13
Daphne Oram – Still Point, wp of revised version

Prom 15
Tansy Davies – What did we see?, wp

Proms 19 and 20 (Ten Pieces Proms)
Includes pieces by Kerry Andrew and Mason Bates

Proms at Cadogan Hall 3
Jessica Wells – Rhapsody for solo oud

Prom 21
Georg Friedrich Haas – Conc. grosso no.1, ukp

Prom 25
Joby Talbot – Gui Conc., wp

Prom 28
George Benjamin – Dance Figures

Prom 29
Mark-Anthony Turnage – Maya, ukp
Anders Hillborg – Bach Materia, ukp
Uri Caine – Hamsa, ukp

Prom 30
Olga Neuwirth – Aello – ballet mécanomorphe, ukp
Brett Dean – Approach – Prelude to a canon
Steven Mackey – Triceros, ukp

Proms at Cadogan Hall 4
Mark-Anthony Turnage – Farewell
Lisa Illean – Sleeplessness … Sails, wp

Prom 33
Thea Musgrave – Phoenix Rising

Proms at Cadogan Hall 5
Simon Holt – Quadriga, wp
Suzanne Farrin – new work, wp

Prom 42
Arvo Pärt – Symphony no.3

Prom 43
David Robert Coleman – Looking for Palestine

Prom 47
Philip Venables – Venables Plays Bartók, wp

Prom 49
Agata Zubel – Fireworks, ukp

Proms at Cadogan Hall 6
Laura Mvula – The Virgin of Montserrat

Prom 51
Per Nørgård – Sym. no. 3

Prom 52
Rolf Wallin – Vn Conc., wp

Proms at Cadogan Hall 7
Bushra El-Turk – Crème Brulée on a Tree, wp

Prom 62
Iain Bell – Aurora, wp

Proms at Cadogan Hall 8
Nina Šenk – Baca, wp

Prom 73
Arvo Pärt – Nunc dimittis

Prom 75 (Last Night)
Roxanna Panufnik – Songs of Darkness, Dreams of Light


Music after the Fall mixtape for The Lake Radio

A fun outcome of my visit to the Borealis Festival last month was an invitation from Jan Stricker of The Lake Radio to produce a new music mixtape for their podcast.

The original brief was that it would accompany an interview with Simon Steen-Andersen and Louise Alenius, so I made sure to include a track by each in there. As for the remaining artists, it’s sort of a Music after the Fall who’s who.

It has been a while since I did anything like this, and while the final result is nowhere near as densely layered as those old Blogariddims mixes, I still had a blast making it. The whole thing was put together in Audacity, texture/mood matching things along the way. Here’s a tracklist with timings:

0:00 Laurence Crane: 20th Century Music. Michael Finnissy, pf (Métier)
2:37 Liza Lim: Tongue of the Invisible. Musikfabrik, Omar Ebrahim, Uri Caine, André de Ridder (Wergo)
8:25 Pamela Z: Pop Titles “You”. (Starkland)
11:33 Chaya Czernowin: Sahaf. Ensemble Nikel (Wergo)
14:21 Simon Steen-Andersen: On and Off and To and Fro. asamisimasa (Dacapo)
18:20 Michael Finnissy: The History of Photography in Sound: I. Le demon de l’analogie. Ian Pace, pf (Métier)
24:26 Peter Garland: Another Sunrise (Mode)
27:57 Peter Ablinger: Morton Feldman, from Voices and Piano (Kairos)
29:21 Louise Alenius: Doctor Treves, from Elephant Man (Louis Alenius)
30:50 Sr. Anselme O’Ceallaigh (Jennifer Walshe): Virtue IV (Migro)
35:46 Richard Barrett: Transmission VI, from DARK MATTER. Daryl Buckley, gui (NMC)


Quick and dirty CD reviews: Dunne, Fox/Roche, Kurka

Timothy Dunne: Metaphrase

St Petersburg Chamber Philharmonic; Jeffery Meyer, cond.; Artur Zobnin, vn; Irina Vassileva, sop.; Alexandra Shatalova, eng. hn; James Giles, pf

innova 930

Works of intricate construction and sometimes surprising turns of direction by New York-born composer Timothy Dunne, a former student of Sergei Slonimsky at the State Conservatory of St Petersburg. The playing by the St Petersburg Chamber Philharmonic (to which Dunne has been an artistic advisor) is exquisite, capturing the particular hovering, shadowy qualities of Dunne’s music.

Christopher Fox: Headlong

Heather Roche

métier msv 28573

I can’t pretend to be objective on this one since I count performer, composer and even producer (Aaron Holloway-Nahum) among my friends and colleagues. Nevertheless, a new Fox disc is always to be welcomed; especially one such as this, devoted to what the composer calls in his sleevenote, ‘the most consistent instrumental preoccupation of my compositional life’, the clarinet. The versatile Roche is an ideal choice to cover the great range represented here, across 35 years of compositional activity. Sometimes the challenge with Fox’s music appears to be how such different things could stem from a coherent musical viewpoint; its satisfaction often lies in discovering that (and how) they do.


Irene Kurka

Wandelweiser EWR 1710

Wandelweiser discs come thick and fast these days, and I’m sure I’m not alone in sensing a diminishing return as the exceptional examples struggle to stand out from what is now a very crowded field. Soprano Irene Kurka was responsible for one of these exceptions a couple of years ago with her disc beten . prayer, which justly earned rave reviews. Yet now that every other Wandelweiser recording seems to explore slow, simple monody, that stark nakedness is starting to sound like a mannerism. The music on chants (by Antoine Beuger, Christopher Fox, Eva-Maria Houben and Thomas Stiegler) is, again, sung with extraordinary control and delicacy, and there’s no doubting its attractions. Kurka is certainly one of the more arresting proponents of this style, and her repertory choices more interesting than some others’, but as production of music like this becomes a matter of sheer volume (EWR recently marked its 100th release) I find myself wondering what it is all for.


Radio Rambler – International Women’s Day 2018

Today is International Women’s Day, and as usual I have updated the Radio Rambler Spotify playlist with all-women composers.

A year ago, the PRS Foundation published an evaluation of the first five years of its Women Make Music initiative, which revealed that 78% of interviewees said they had experienced sexism within the music industry.

At the time I described this as ‘shocking’. A year on, and in the wake of all the revelatory horrors that 2017 and 18 have given us, I’m no longer shocked by that statistic, for all that it remains appalling. This simply is, it is now abundantly clear to those of us fortunate enough not to have had to experience it, how the world is and has been for very many people.

But not how it should be, or can be.

The pace of change in the last year has been exhilarating to watch, with record labels, publishers, competitions and festivals all coming under the spotlight regarding their equality practices. Some good things: Huddersfield Contemporary Records committing to 50/50 representation ‘within five years‘ (ie 2022); the PRS’s recently announced Keychange pledge, which ties 45 international music festivals to the same commitment; the louder dynamic level of reports like Rebecca Lentjes’ from the Ostrava Days, which make for uncomfortable but necessarily sobering reading.

But, as some older composers, such as Nicola LeFanu, have cautioned, we have been here or somewhere like it before: in 1972, the Society of Women Musicians (founded 1912) finished operating, concluding that its job had been done and equality achieved. In 1987, LeFanu and others noticed that women had suddenly, and once more, disappeared from the new musical landscape. For a few years, their lobbying bore fruit: women composers and conductors began to achieve some degree of prominence once more. And then after five years or so, she says, ‘the bandwagon rolled by’.

There is certainly much still to be done. The appearance of an all-male shortlist for this year’s Gaudeamus Prize startled many, and provoked a lot of head scratching – how could this happen with an anonymized judging process? Well, clearly it did. And something needs to be fixed, whether that solution comes from lowering the barriers to entry, introducing quotas, or rethinking the whole idea of competitive composing. The comments made in the wake of Keychange by Sally Cavender, vice-chair of Faber Music, that ‘the playing field is relatively level in terms of opportunities and encouragement’ while her own company (one of the UK’s leading music publishers) includes only one woman (Tansy Davies) among its 26 ‘house composers’ should also give pause for thought.

A tide may be turning, but tides have a habit of coming back in. We must use the present moment of advantage to build the structures we need to stop that happening again.

So, as ever, it is with as much solidarity as I can muster that I offer this year’s playlist.

Previous playlists can be found here:

(I failed to make a playlist for 2016; sorry.)


P.S. On a more lighthearted note, I’ve been enjoyably listening my way through Fi Glover and Jane Garvey’s Fortunately podcast; readers of this post might like the 15 December episode with Clemency Burton-Hill, which also touches on this topic.

RIP Klaus K. Hübler

I just read of the sad passing of Klaus K. Hübler.

Hübler’s career was halted for several years by illness in the 1990s, although I’m not sure if there is a connection. He is remembered chiefly for his innovations in the ‘decoupling’ of instrumental technique – whereby individual performer actions (fingers, lips, bows, breath etc) were considered independently of one another, often against the grain of conventional performance practice. Among those on whom he had a great influence were Richard Barrett, Aaron Cassidy, Evan Johnson and Timothy McCormack – all composers dear to this blog’s heart and history.

Hübler’s output is not large, and it is fiendishly difficult. Nevertheless, recordings may be found, notably this double portrait disc on Telos. While you wait for that to come back into stock, here are some other things that can be found online:

Those interested in learning more about Hübler’s work may be interested in this online conversation conducted here with members of the ELISION Ensemble from 2010, discussing his music in advance of a concert that included CERCAR (I believe the video above was recorded the following day).


Borough New Music in 2018


One of the more intriguing developments in London’s new music scene in 2017 was the founding of the Borough New Music series by pianist Clare Simmonds. These lunchtime concerts take place every Tuesday now at St George the Martyr Church on Borough High Street, near the famous market, in the shadow of the Shard and across the river from the City. (Also the church where Dickens’ Little Dorrit was christened and married.) I haven’t been able to make my way yet, but that’s something I plan to rectify in the coming weeks.


Lunchtime concerts are a feature of the City’s churches – but these are typically touristy pops selections, or organ recitals. Both have their place of course, but it’s nice to see the offering widening in Borough to include new music as well. Here’s hoping the series grows in strength through the year.

Programmes have been announced right up to June now and full listings can be found here. Interesting things I spotted in the next couple of months include:

23 January
Miloš Milivojević (accordion) playing music by Astor Piazzolla, Franck AngelisRobert PercyViaceslav Semenov and Victor Vlasov.

6 February
Ben Smith (piano), Kirsty Clark (viola) and Patricia Auchterlonie (soprano) playing music by Helmut Lachenmann, Richard Melkonian and Martin Lodge.

6 March
Chris Brannick (percussion) and Sara Stowe (soprano) playing music by Jorge VidalesGiacinto ScelsiAdrian SutcliffeChris Hobbs, Julie Sharpe, Mauricio Kagel, Paul Burnell, and John Cage/Erik Satie.

20 March
A toy piano special in collaboration with World Toy Piano Week – Kate Ryder plays music by Cage, Stace Constantinou, Christian BanasikJulia WolfeBrian Inglis, Yumi Hara, Katharine Norman, Meredith Monk, and Stephen Montague.

27 March
A portrait of composer Gregory Rose by Loré Lixenberg (voice), Chris Brannick (marimba) and Clare Simmonds.

All concerts start at 1pm, and all are free admission.

2017: Sounds of the Year

I like to think not only of recordings of the year, but sounds of the year. My musical (sometimes simply auditory) experiences are all organised similarly in my mind, around moments in time and their subsequent reverberations; and that goes equally for things on record as it does for things heard live. So here goes. A list of ten, mostly in no particular order.

James Weeks/EXAUDI – Mala punica (Winter & Winter)

That said, I’ve placed this first because I think it was the first album I heard this year that I knew would have to be on a list like this. Enthusiasm for this disc – certainly Weeks’ most approachable, and perhaps also his most beautiful to date – spread infectiously among critics on both sides of the Atlantic (including Alex Ross and Steve Smith in the US). And deservedly so. Here’s what I wrote back in May: “a stunningly subtle, disarmingly simple achievement; a crystallisation of basic ideas down to the point that they transform into something else entirely. Combining the metaphor of the hortus conclusus with a setting of Song of Songs, Weeks’s piece models an exquisite tension between chaste procedure and order, and over-tumbling sensuality.”

Julius Eastman/Heloisa Amaral, Elisa Medinilla, Frederik Croene – Evil Nigger (Only Connect, Oslo, May)

A furious, roof-rending performance this, given in what was once a bank. I reviewed the festival for Tempo (Oct 2017 issue): “The three pianists, their instruments pointing into the centre of the hall (Calvary? Macbeth’s witches?), tore into Eastman’s hammered, fortissimo tremolos before, miraculously, staggeringly, refusing to let up for 30 minutes, generating a spinning storm of sound. Hearts stopped, eyes moistened. The marble walls of this former bank almost cracked.”

Aaron Cassidy, Liza Lim/ELISION – How Forests Think/The wreck of former boundaries (HCR)

Included here in particular for The wreck of former boundaries. Regular readers will know I’ve been following Aaron’s career for several years now, and I consider him (and several others involved with this recording) a good friend and a remarkable musical colleague. So I can’t pretend objectivity: but nevertheless, it’s fantastic to hear the long collaboration (and its own set of friendships) between Aaron and ELISION come to such thrilling fruition.

Chaya Czernowin/Vlaamse Opera – Infinite Now (Vlaamse Opera, Ghent, April)

Czernowin’s music has grown richer in recent years as its means have become sparer – a paradoxical image I think the composer would appreciate. A world away from the precise detailing of Pnima … ins innere, the opera that launched Czernowin onto the international stage at the end of the 1990s, Infinite Now is an opera of vast tableaux, intense, almost overwhelming energies, and supreme confidence. Compared to her work of even the 2000s there is a stripping back of surface activity – revealing vaster spaces beneath – and this six-act meditation on time and entrapment compressed in the mind into something that fitted and filled your skull.

György Kurtág/Reinbert de Leeuw, Asko|Schönberg, Netherlands Radio Choir – Complete Works for Ensemble and Choir (ECM)

A triple album of works spanning Kurtág’s career and containing authoritative performances of some his very best pieces, among them Grabstein für Stephan, Messages of the Late Miss R. Troussova (soprano: Natalia Zagorinskaya) and … quasi una fantasia … (piano: Tamara Stefanovich). Absent from many others’ best-of lists that I’ve seen, but this an essential (and very well presented) addition to your collection.

Laurence Crane/asamisimasa – Sound of Horse (Hubro)

Here’s what I wrote in Tempo (again, Oct 2017): “I confess I listened to the asamisimasa disc for the first time in a state of complete joy. The Norwegian group have long championed Crane’s music … and they have mastered his combination of human warmth and ironic glint.”

Isaiah Ceccarelli/Isaiah Ceccarelli, Katelyn Clark, Mira Benjamin, Galya Bisengalieva, Robert Ames, Gregor Riddell – Bow (another timbre)

Really, all of the extraordinary Canadian Composers series Simon Reynell has curated for his Sheffield-based label another timbre deserves to be here (others issued so far feature music by Linda Catlin Smith, Martin Arnold, Chiyoko Szlavnics and Marc Sabat), but forcing myself to pick a single disc I come down to this one. Ceccarelli is the composer I knew least about in advance of listening these discs (and writing about them for The Wire at the start of the year), but his was the one that really knocked my sideways when I put it on, for its startling transparency. And although I couldn’t attend that night, I understand his portative organ and percussion duo with Katelyn Clark at Café Oto as part of the series’ launch weekend was another highlight. One to watch.

Heiner Goebbels/Insomnio – Industry and Idleness, Herakles 2, Suite for sampler and ensemble, La Jalousie (Gaudeamus Muziekweek, Utrecht, September)

Why isn’t Goebbels’ music heard much more widely, especially in the UK? Perhaps my initial reaction to this concert reflects my own ignorance, but it also speaks to how much I enjoyed it. I hear a lot of music (some of it quite bad) dragging samplers, beats and so on into a new music context; I’ve not heard much that does it as well as Goebbels’ Suite. Then there’s his effortless eclecticism and theatricality. I brought Ensemble Klang’s recording of Goebbels’ Walden home with me from Gaudeamus, and my newly discovered affection for his music has continued to grow.

Ragnar Kjartansson/various – An die musik (LCMF, London, December)

While there were undoubted highlights along the way (performances and works by Joan La Barbara, Chris Newman, Jürg Frey and James Tenney among those that I saw, featuring lots of involvement from Apartment House), my LCMF experience felt a little more ragged than usual by the end of the week. Perhaps I hadn’t gone to the right nights. The opening Sunday afternoon, with Ragnar Kjartansson’s seven-hour installation An die musik, was something else, however. Massed pianos again (see Eastman above): these seem to have been an emotional trigger for 2017, and again I found myself on the edge of tears at the enveloping humanity of the thing. Here’s a fuller review.

Bára Gísladóttir/Riot Ensemble – Suzuki Baleno (Nordic Music Days, London, December)

A small one to finish with. It has been a wonderful and humbling experience to work with the Riot Ensemble throughout 2017 as a member of their artistic board and in-house writer. Twice they provided highlights for me within larger events (the second being their premiere of Laurence Osborne’s stele for failed masculinity, Ctrl, at Huddersfield). Gísladóttir’s piece is a real gem, though: an evocation of the day, when she was aged eight, when her father returned home with a car (the eponymous Suzuki) that she knew he couldn’t afford. The way it used contemporary techniques (noise, fragmentation, silence) to capture the incomprehension, anxiety and wonder of that childhood moment was deeply, deeply touching.

Bubbling under:

Jennifer Walshe/Jennifer Walshe, Arditti Quartet – EVERYTHING IS IMPORTANT (Only Connect, Oslo, May). Walshe’s masterpiece (so far). So glad I finally got to see it.

Aisha Orazbayeva, Tim Etchells – Seeping Through (Only Connect, Oslo, May). From my Tempo review: “Trump inevitably barged in. ‘Things to look out for in the first ten seconds of the Trump presidency’, intoned Etchells’ increasingly troubled voice, building step by step until: ‘Things to look out for in the first ten centuries of the Trump presidency’. Haha we laughed. Haha. Orazbayeva was a perfect foil, scratching and grinding loops of her own, playing her instrument like a cat worrying at a loose thread on the couch.”

Pascal Dusapin/Arditti Quartet, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Pascal Rophé – Quartet VI “Hinterland”, Quartet VII “Open Time” (aeon)

I still don’t know what to make of the prolific and widely acclaimed Pascal Dusapin. Much of his music leaves me cold. But then along comes this disc, including his peculiar Sixth Quartet, a so-called “hapax” that also features a full orchestra. The piece made little impression on me when it was performed at the Proms a few years ago, but this recording brings it to life. If I have a way into Dusapin’s music, this would be it.

John Cage, Christian Wolff/Philip Thomas, Apartment House – Concert for Piano and Orchestra, Resistance (HCR)

I’m still coming to terms with this one. Cage’s Concert is legendary, but more seen than heard – its flamboyantly open notation appearing in many 20th-century music textbooks. Thomas’s dedication to realising this work, on recording and in a concert from the University of Leeds (whose video stream I watched from my hospital bed in July) is to be applauded, and this double CD backed with a new work by Christian Wolff is a fine thing to have.

Peter Ablinger/Gisela Mashayekhi-Beer, Marcus Weiss, Hildegard Kleeb – Verkündigung (HCR)

Huddersfield Contemporary Records are fast becoming guilty of releasing more excellent discs than one can possibly keep up with. Here’s another interesting one – a fascinating excavation of one of the earliest pieces (composed in 1990) by one of the most important composers working today. Three versions are presented, two recorded in 2001 and one in 1998. A valuable document of recent musical history.