2016 was viewed by many in the music world as one to forget. There were the deaths of Boulez, David Bowie, Peter Maxwell Davies and Prince and the twin political earthquakes of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. In fact, the prevailing attitude by the end of 2016 was rather summed up by this cartoon:
So, as we approach the end of 2017, how did we get on? It’s time to take stock…
January started happily enough, with a BBC Total Immersion Day celebrating the birthday of Philip Glass, who turned 80 on 31st. Celebrations to mark this milestone continued throughout 2017. In Hamburg, the opening of the stunning Elbphilharmonie concert hall (below) made London’s foot-drafting over its own new venue all the more bewildering. On 20th Donald Trump was inaugurated President of the United States.
February started with the good news that George Benjamin had been commissioned to write an opera following the enormous success of his Written on Skin, whilst on 8th February C:T marked the birthday of the film music legend, John Williams.
On International Women’s Day in March I reflected on the position of women composers in my country—much progress made but still a way to go. Tristan Murail turned 70 on 11th March, whilst I found myself in Japan attending the International Musicological Society conference, where I was lucky to hear a number of interesting speakers, including composer Toshio Hosokawa. At the end of the month Charlotte C. Gill’s article Music education in now only for the white and wealthy caused a huge controversy that rumbled well into April.
Jim Aitchison and I penned our own contribution to the debate over the Gill article as a response by pianist Ian Pace had gathered over 500 high-profile supporters, including Sir Simon Rattle. David Bernard over at the Brooklyn Symphony, meanwhile, was giving a much better example of how children might be taught to appreciate music. In everyday life I found myself glued to the Brexit news. One story felt grimly ironic: it was announced that the PRS had won funding from the EU to run its European Keychange programme to empower female musicians.
At the beginning of May Donald Trump’s Muslim ban led to the detention of American composer Mohammed Fairouz at a US airport. Back in the UK the schedule for the BBC Proms had been announced, seemingly with fewer new works than ever. Simon Rattle’s few eloquent words on Brexit, meanwhile, were widely reported in the British press. In France Emmanuel Macron won a healthy victory against Marine Le Pen—the populist tide seemed to be turning.
June saw the momentous events of the UK general election. When the dust settled in the morning, however, not so much seemed to have changed. Theresa May walked back into Downing Street with a speech that indicated that it was ‘business as usual.’ It left me wondering whether we were heading for political gridlock.
On 9th July French pioneer of noise music, Pierre Henry, died. He was one of those few composers able to exert an influence outside the field of contemporary art music. C:T talked to the founder of Idagio, Till Janczukowicz, about his new music-streaming app dedicated to classical music. A few days later there was controversy at the Last Night of the Proms, when Daniel Barenboim gave an address that appeared to be inspired by his opposition to Brexit. The reaction of the British press was febrile. By now Brexit seemed to be everywhere, including at the Tête à Tête Opera Festival.
At the beginning of August Anne Midgette at the Washington Post wrote a piece that seemed to suggest that opera was doomed. I wondered what all the fuss was about. On 18th came the news that Donald Trump’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities had resigned en masse. In a typically Trumpian twist the White House claimed that they were going to disband it anyway.
The beginning of September brought the sad news that two renowned British composers, Derek Bourgeois and John Maxwell Geddes had died. Then East Midlands airport was given a roasting for suggesting that performers work for free. I wondered if it would have been quite so ferocious had they asked the same of composers. At the end of the month I was heartened to hear that an 82-year-old composer had made a sudden career break-though. It’s never too late…
On 2nd October we lost Swiss composer, Klaus Huber and then there was more Brexit gloom in October, with the announcement that the European Union Youth Orchestra was moving out of London. The shortlist for the British Composer Awards was announced at the end of the month. I was delighted when one of the judges invited me to the award ceremony in December. It felt like I was off to the Oscars.
We lost several fine musicians in November: the composers Jean-Jacques Werner and Ladislav Kubík and then the baritone Dmitry Hvorostovsky. Ghastly news also for the composer Philippe Manoury, who had 40 pages of drafts for a new string quartet stolen on a train between Strasbourg and Mannheim. Nico Muhly’s new opera opened in London on 18th, to mixed reviews.
After enjoying part of a Stockhausen weekend in Ghent I headed to London for the British Composer Awards on 6th. It was quite something to witness such an array of composing talent in one room. December also saw Theresa May finally able to move the Brexit negotiations onto phase two. Given the difficulty she has encountered so far, I think we can expect 2018 to be a rocky ride.