Andriessen, Turnage and Tavener - and audiences - all suffer from a lack of repeat performances
I’m delighted James McCarthy was able to join a plentiful audience at the Getting It Right conference last week at LSO St Luke’s, organised jointly by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama with the LSO. Since Mr McCarthy gives his readers no idea of what I actually said in my keynote speech [see Composers - consider your audience] - his broadside seems on another tack altogether - the following may be found helpful.
Mr McCarthy was presumably referring to the first part of my speech (in the unrelated second part, I analysed my Cleveland Orchestra commission Fantasias). I played very diverse extracts from pieces by Andriessen, Cage, Dillon, Lachenmann, Lumsdaine, Maw, Panufnik, Radulescu and others which have either never been played in the UK or not been revived for many years. All these pieces are highly colourful, vividly expressive, but in no way and by no definition 'academic' or obscure in their manner of composition. They deserve to be cherished and will reward anyone willing to listen to their contrasted musical worlds with truly open ears and minds. Few of those composers had close connection with the academic world, but even if they had so what? Dvorák, Shostakovitch, Stravinsky, Janácek, Copland, Bernstein and Vaughan Williams all had connections with academic institutions for some or all of their lives. This is an irrelevance.
There was no griping either on behalf of the above-cited living composers or on my own behalf; I've been extremely lucky to get a lot of orchestral performances and much orchestral music recorded (even to have won a Gramophone Award for one of those CDs a few years back, which should show that no more than any of the above am I am writing music merely to 'please academic colleagues'). I simply alerted people in the most positive manner to the presence of much wonderful orchestral music composed since 1960 which is not currently being played in the UK and which would considerably enrich our concert life if it were. Orchestral repertoire has shrunk lately as the authentic instrument bands have taken over most Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, together with much Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. There is plenty of room for good recent works to be added to our orchestral repertoire. Why not add them?
If only Turnage or Tavener did indeed have no trouble getting major orchestral pieces revived, but alas, that is very wide of the mark. How often do UK audiences have a chance to enjoy Turnage’s Night Dances or his 2-trumpet concerto Dispelling the Fears, two of his finest achievements? When did Tavener’s Celtic Requiem last receive an outing in a major UK concert hall? Or his beautiful, but alas unrecorded piano concerto Palintropos, with its memorable depiction of changing sunlight? As long as pieces of this fantasy, imagination and high quality of musical invention are left unheard for very long stretches, the UK concert scene is much the poorer.
So I take this opportunity to encourage your readers as well as concert promoters, artistic directors, conductors and anyone else to spend time exploring the work of any of those mentioned above, and indeed other music they’ve never heard by any recent composer. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it doesn’t kill listeners. We don’t need to repeat the injustices done to Nielsen, Janácek, Mahler, Suk, Enescu, Miaskovsky et al – all geniuses whose music took at least 45 years after their deaths to be fully appreciated in the UK (poor Bruckner had to wait nearly 80 years after dying for his turn). Don’t be lazy: listen beyond the hype, beyond the instantly promoted, good though it may be.
There’s a lot of amazing music out there which could certainly excite interest amongst music lovers if they could hear it well played. You might as well enjoy it whilst its composers are still alive.