Notes from the London Music Fund’s annual fundraiser

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the London Music Fund‘s annual fundraising lunch at the May Fair Hotel in London.

The London Music Fund (formerly the Mayor of London’s Fund for Young Musicians) supports musically gifted children from low income families across London. It does so by providing scholarships to children who primary schools and local Music Services have identified as having the right combination of potential, enthusiasm and commitment. The LMF then funds around two hours per week of music tuition, including instrumental lessons, ensemble playing and theory. Students also receive a mentor and, if needed, an instrument. Since the Fund was founded in 2011, scholarships have been awarded to more than 500 young musicians.

The Fund also provides partnerships with professional arts organisations (it works with the London Sinfonietta’s Sound Out schools programme for composers, for example), which widen its reach and impact still further. Future projects include work with young musicians from Croydon Music and Arts in preparation for the opening of the redeveloped Fairfield Halls and a partnership between the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and schools in Camden.

Families with incomes of less than £28,000 are half as likely to have a child learning an instrument, according to a recent study by the Musicians Union, as families with high income. A further report by the BPI has found that only 12% of schools in the most-deprived communities have any kind of orchestra – this  compares to 85% of independent schools. As cuts in education begin to bite harder, headteachers are forced to make difficult decisions; music provision is often the first thing to go.

It is, one has to agree, a remarkable charity, driven by the indefatigable Chrissy Kinsella and a tiny team. They are fortunate in having the patronage of the Mayor of London (and Sadiq Khan was in attendance) as well as the good will of many other charities, organisations and social enterprise companies, representatives from several of which I met yesterday. Two scholarship beneficiaries were also there. Fourteen-year-old clarinettist Zaki Osahn, who was a 2013–17 Scholar, played beautifully a movement from Paul Reade’s Victorian Kitchen Garden Suite, demonstrating a musicality, confidence and control over his instrument far beyond his age. And nine-year-old clarinettist Christiana Adebisi, who is just beginning her four-year scholarship, gave an accomplished and moving speech about what the Fund will mean to her and her family. Christiana mentioned among her favourite musicians the saxophonist YolanDa Brown (among other things, star of CBeebies’ YolanDa’s Band Jam) without realising that Brown (an LMF ambassador) was in the room. The huge bear hug Brown gave Christiana as she walked back to her seat gave a glimpse of what the Fund can mean for all parties involved.

As well as fundraising, one of the other reasons for the lunch yesterday was to celebrate a new long-term partnership with Simon Cowell’s Syco Entertainment and the announcement of Simon Cowell as a new ambassador for the charity. Say what you like about Cowell, but he knows a good thing when he sees it, and I’m sure his support will help the London Music Fund achieve even more.

More information about the London Music Fund can be found in its recently published 2018 Impact Report. If you wish, you can support the Fund through its website.

Back from the RNCM, with love

photoIt was a real pleasure to talk yesterday at the Royal Northern College of Music on the subject of contemporary music history. I don’t know what attendance is usually like for these events, but there were people standing at the back and sitting on the floor at the front, so I couldn’t have been happier with the turnout. There were even trans-Pennine delegations from Leeds and Huddersfield, and it was great to see some familiar faces in the audience and to meet some new ones.

My talk had the title ‘Not the end: Untangling contemporary music history’, and was basically extracted from the introduction to my book, plus a couple of short case studies on Pamela Z and Liza Lim. It was videoed by the RNCM, and I will post a link to the recording here when it becomes available. the whole thing can be viewed here:

My thanks to Larry Goves and Richard Wistreich for inviting me, and all at the RNCM for the warm welcome.

Talking at the RNCM

On 1st October I’m going to be presenting as part of the RNCM’s Research Forum series. Mine is the first of this year’s series, and I’m going in big with an attempt to untangle the mess that it is contemporary music history.  If you’re in or around Manchester and fancy a sneak preview of the book, this is your chance.

Talks start at 5.15pm in the RNCM lecture theatre, last about 45 minutes with plenty of discussion afterwards, and are open to the public. Full details are here.

26 ½ hours in Huddersfield

Friday, 3.30pm

I don’t know why I expected it to be otherwise, but I’m still surprised not to see the area around the station full of people obviously on their way to a new music festival. There aren’t any useful maps either. Google just gave me a large white area around the station, minimal landmarks. I pick a road leading off the square and head vaguely towards my guesthouse.


I get really turned around in Huddersfield’s shopping streets and it takes me a while to find the University, and subsequently the venue for the first concert of the festival. Still no sign of anyone vaguely festival related. In Warsaw you can’t miss them. Instead, some students hang listlessly around the foyer of the Central Services Building. It’s warm and dry and there are seats and a vending machine, so I make temporary camp until the first concert, the UK première of Wolfgang Rihm’s -ET LUX-, performed by the Arditti Quartet and Hilliard Ensemble.


Rihm’s piece ends, an hour after beginning, to the general bemusement and meh of almost everyone I heard express a view. My own thoughts: pretty enough, I liked the harmonic language, which smeared back and forth between Renaissance-y consonance and expressionistic dissonance, but it all seemed an uneasy mix of Tavener and Taverner, and I still don’t know why it came to be written or what I was supposed to get from it. On paper this was a blockbuster way to open a festival, but in reality, yawn.


The main reason I’m here: Richard Barrett’s Opening of the Mouth. The stage is full of instruments, but looks unlike any performance set-up I’ve ever seen. It’s tremendously crowded, too, for just 11 performers. None of the players are on stage yet. The electronic prelude to Opening, Landschaft mit Umenwesen is playing over the loudspeakers, increasingly compressing with giant bass roars the hubbub of the audience taking their seats. The players make their way, discretely, one by one onto the stage. Carl Rosman, the conductor, is last. Landschaft mit Umenwesen suddenly stops; a split second later he gives his first downbeat.


Stunned. I worried at first that the amplification, used throughout, would be too much: some of the early vibraphone passages in abglanzbeladen/auseinandergeschreiben distorted. [Edit: I’ve since been told this wasn’t distortion as such, but rather the amplification accentuating the beating patterns in those opening vibe chords. It’s also intentional, which in retrospect makes sense. Coming to the live performance from the recording, though, it did leap out at you.] From where I was sat (near stage right), I thought that the flute (stage left) got a rough deal, but I gather in a later conversation that this wasn’t so apparent if you were sat nearer the middle. I’m still not sure that Engführung II couldn’t happily be cut by a few minutes. But quibbles aside, an extraordinary performance. Deborah Kayser in particular, I thought, was on fire.

Hearing this piece on CD is less than 50 per cent of the music. Most of the notes (especially in the percussion) aren’t apparent from the recording, but are obvious visually from Peter Neville’s flying limbs. The amplification roughened everything, giving the sounds real tack and abrasion. The improvised passages are vicious.

The whole dimension of utterance (its impossibility made possible through the actions of Celan’s poetry and Barrett’s music) is much better seen with the singers in front of you, than hidden behind the screen of a CD player. The ritual aspect, too, has to be seen. So powerful is this sense of ritual communion, of a shared congregational activity between performers and audience (an engagement achieved solely through the penetration of the music, not through any cheap, ‘participation’ gimmicks) that when the purely electronic movement Zungenentwürzeln arrives, the sense of temporary divestment from live, human actions to the music of a pre-recording unmistakably recalled the offertory of the Mass, when the intensity of ritual participation relents, allowing space for private contemplation and a moment to relax.

That sounds like a liturgical reading, but it’s not meant to be exclusively so. I’m just describing what I felt within its ritual structure through the parallels of the ritual with which I am most familiar.

I’m starving, though, so I have to dash into town for fast-food relief before I have a chance to speak to anyone.


I’m not sure how that could be followed. And I barely know Anthony Braxton’s music (and haven’t found much to love in it yet), so I know even less how well a sequence of three of his piano compositions (Nos.1, 10 and 32, played by Geneviève Foccroulle) is going to work. The first few seconds of No.1, angular and obviously indebted to Stockhausen’s early Klavierstücke, kick in. I settle in for a long haul.

Saturday, 12.15am

I shouldn’t have worried. No.32 is 35 minutes of fortissimo clusters, exploding like a thousand suns in the sonic universe of a continually depressed sustain pedal. It is utterly, utterly mad, unlike anything I’ve heard before.

No.10 I thought was just another graphic score. Possibly remarkable to study or to play from, but I didn’t find it so to listen to.

No.1 was a complete revelation. Those opening seconds, it turned out, were just Braxton’s little joke. He was more interested in a weird, warped, post-serial kind of jazz. Where was the jazz? Somewhere in the rhythms, which swung something like the shoulders of a stride pianist, somewhere in the melodies, which crept in in tiny fragments here and there but were never forgotten. But mostly it was in the pianism of treble, middle and bass lines. A bass line in late 60s avant-garde piano music? Strange but true. This music shouldn’t hold together. It shouldn’t exist. Any other composer would have tightened it up, cleaned out a lot of the extraneous material, given it some clarity of structure. And that would have been boring as hell.


Over breakfast with some Dutch performers Braxton is the main topic of conversation. And when we say Braxton, we all mean the long, shattering, unique and baffling No.32. It’s the sort of piece that profoundly impresses people, but to such an extent that it’s hard to find anyone prepared to say much about it even a day later. The mental dust still hasn’t settled enough.


Harvey in conversation, and a showing of Barrie Gavin’s film Towards and Beyond. Harvey says a few interesting things – most memorably about the inherently more interesting dynamic of the spectral hierarchy over a serial flatness – but it is Gavin’s film that really impresses. A beautifully contemplative piece of work – for one long passage towards the end the filming essentially stops entirely, and hands over to the sound of Harvey’s Madonna of Winter and Spring. I’ve never wanted to hear Harvey’s music at length more than this, something I must rectify soon.


Sarah Nicolls – Michael van der Aa: Transit; Atau Tanaka: new work; Pierre Alexandre Tremblay: Un clou, son marteau, et le béton. My head isn’t in a place that’s terribly fair to Nicolls. After Barrett, Braxton and a real taste for Harvey I feel like I’ve got more than enough value out of my time here already, and I don’t really want anything to upset that state of balance.


Ensemble Exposé. Everyone is talking Barrett and Braxton. I don’t know if it was chance, but the two together seemed like an inspired piece of programming. Even the Rihm fitted this plan, even if it didn’t measure up musically: as a feature-length ritual exploration it was set up as a perfect intro to Opening. Credit to Graham McKenzie and the festival organisers.

Exposé’s programme notes (and not just theirs) are plagued by the language of the funding application not the aesthetic document. I’m not sure that the music measured up to the explanations either (which is their fault more than the music’s, I instinctively feel). Christopher Redgate is an extraordinary player in any language, though. The concert might have been better heard in a smaller venue than Bates Mill (which was also noisy from rain drumming on the roof and running down the gutters), but the pieces by Archbold and Redgate in particular came across well.


A bit of last-minute rescheduling means I’m able to catch James Dillon (in conversation with Robert Worby). He’s surprisingly honest, open and unprickly, particularly given some of the questions, which weren’t the most penetrating.

I’ve completely failed to meet any of the people I’d meant to introduce myself to (I’m the world’s worst networker), but it’s almost time to catch my train, it’s wet and the homing beacon has clicked on. I grab something to eat and head for the station.


So, my friends got married in New Haven, my girl and I went to NYC, then drove in a big square across Pennsylvania, up to Niagara, across to Albany and back down. It was hot, we ate too much, and loveditloveditlovedit. Oh, what the hell, have some notes and a photolog …

Soundtrack: Mikel Rouse, Music for Minorities (£2 from Academy); Corey Dargel, Removable Parts (This is funny stuff, Corey, but it also creeps me the heck out!)

Wordtrack: Sergei Lukyanenko, Nightwatch; Virginia Woolf, The Waves

Nice to meet you: Alex, Molly (congratulations again! Hope the cold got better!)

Nice to see you again: Corey, Yvan

Good drinkin’: Cherry Wheat beer
Good eatin’: Cafe 28 deli

Best view: the restrooms (seriously!) at the Rainbow Rooms, Rockefeller Center.

Of the Dark: New York’s finest, parked in traffic, going nowhere on a pedestrian crossing, just using your siren to intimidate pedestrians trying to cross on a Walk sign. My best London ‘What the f*ck?!’ gestures won a laugh and not a beating. Also: US border guards at Niagara Falls. The most inappropriately incompetent, lazy, smugly authoritarian individuals I’ve had the misfortune to deal with. And I’ve travelled through Heathrow. Oh, and pointing at an elderly Japanese couple who have been waiting patiently for 20 minutes to be allowed back onto their tour bus and drawling “These folks from Chinatownland …” doesn’t exactly meet your advertised pledges of courtesy and respect, pal.

Keeping the scores even for the Light: the lovely officer of New York State Police who let us off with a warning for hitting 85 on the Interstate… thank you, officer.

Best swing from falling-off-stool delight to goggle-eyed incomprehensibility: girl in martini bar in Buffalo – “You’re from London? Oh, I love London! B-but what are you doing here?!”

WTF-check-your-perspective moment: From TV news: “It’s 101 degrees in Texas at the moment, but don’t worry if you’re going to the game – they’re closing the roof and the air conditioning will be on.” While we Brits worry about the carbon differential between organic and non-organic beef, Texans are air conditioning sports stadia…

St John Passion

Next Friday I’m going to be doing my occasional Baroque oboe-playing thing, this time in Bach’s St John Passion, at St George’s, Bloomsbury. This is about the ambitous thing I’ve performed in since graduating: it should be a good show though, and if you fancy a bit of Bach to start your weekend off, come long.