In 2018 C:T celebrated Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday; congratulated the many composers who received honours, awards and prizes; reviewed recordings; interviewed composers and mourned the loss of some much-loved colleagues.
It was also hard to ignore the ongoing political fiasco that was Brexit…
January started with the Department for Exiting the EU releasing its Creative Industries Sector Report. It showed that, amongst these industries music is uniquely exposed, given that in terms of its exports, 56% go to the EU, compared to 45% for all creative industries and 39.4% in the UK as a whole. Unsurprisingly Britain’s creative leaders urged the UK government to retain freedom of movement, a request that fell on deaf ears. Elsewhere a storm brewed over a school charging pupils to study GCSE music. At the end of the month C:T chatted to Nigel Osborne, an inspirational composer who had just been recognised for his humanitarian work.
In February composers László Melis and Jóhann Jóhannsson died. At just 48 the loss of Jóhannsson, an exceptional film music composer, was a particular blow. An article on another site made me question the veracity of some composition competitions, including those listed on our own site. Caveat Emptor. There were congratulations, meanwhile, for composer Kaija Saariaho, who was announced as the winner of the 10th edition of the BBVA Foundation Contemporary Music Award.
Having been blown away by a small piece included on a Christmas CD, I had been keen to interview composer Sadie Harrison. I finally got round to this in March. It was also the month in which I discovered the music of Philip Venables through his debut CD, Below the Belt. One of the works felt like an anthem for our times.
In April Mark-Anthony’s children’s opera Coraline, had a mauling from Telegraph critic Hugh Canning. This led to a Twitter spat and Turnage promising to quit opera. Canning did his best to apologise:
I’m sorry to hear that. I’ve been a big fan of your earlier pieces. Can I suggest a few cuts in Act 1 & a sprinkling of fairy-dust on the orchestration? 😈— Monsignor Hugh Canning (@hugh_canning) 7 April 2018
We mourned the death of three composers: Canadian Robert Joseph Rosen, Briton James Wishart and American Donald H. Keats. Veteran composer and teacher Samuel Adler, meanwhile, was celebrating his 90th birthday and Jennifer Higdon the receipt of the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition. On 23rd I chatted to German composer Moritz Eggert about his life, motivations and new CD.
In May we learned that Paul Kildea’s hypothesis that Benjamin Britten died of syphilis was probably not accurate. We also learned that most composers seems to have died from the disease. Except that they probably didn’t either. Of more immediate import was the sad loss of two other composers: New York-based Matt Marks, who was only 38 and Glenn Branca, who was 69.
In June it was announced that the BBC, including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, were to leave their iconic Maida Vale Studios. I chatted to British composer Edward Gregson who, ten years into retirement from a distinguished academic career, was and is composing more vigorously than ever. There were congratulations, meanwhile, for PRS Open Fund and Women Make Music recipients and also for Péter Eötvös, who won Germany’s Goethe Medal.
July began with a real body-blow: the death of British composer and conductor Oliver Knussen at the age of just 66. There was an outpouring of tributes on social media. C:T marked the 50th birthday of British composer Kenneth Hesketh with an interview in which he reflected upon his work to date, current inspirations and the things he wished he’d known when starting out. There were more Brexit worries as the director of the Womad Fesitival complained about the ‘difficult and humiliating’ visa process for visiting performers—a process that might also apply to European nationals playing in the UK (and vice versa). In his 100th birthday year an electrifying Bernstein video was doing the rounds on social media…
In August I reflected further on the Womad controversy and why we should all be worried about Brexit. I also discovered a project aiming to unearth lost masterpieces written by forgotten female composers. There were congratulations for composers selected for the LSO Soundhub and Jerwood Composer+ and sadness at the loss of Israeli composer, conductor and teacher Noam Sheriff at the age of 83.
In September I interviewed one of the UK’s bright young things, composer Kemal Yusuf, who also co-founded the London Graduate Orchestra. We learned that less money after Brexit was likely to culturally impoverish the very areas that voted for it. At the end of the month the Musicians’ Union called for a special post-Brexit touring visa for musicians. I looked forward to Leuven’s Festival 20/21 and interviewed one of its artistic directors, Maarten Beirens.
October began with the rather encouraging news that Simon Rattle had ‘discovered’ a nonagenarian composer. This caused me to wonder just exactly who she was? A few days latter came the terrible shock of learning that Janáček scholar John Tyrrell had died. He had been a wonderful friend and support to me and many others at Cardiff University. In the middle of the month I attended the Transit Festival, part of Leuven’s Festival 20/21. There was much to enjoy. On 20th 700,000 people marched for a people’s vote on the final Brexit deal.
The People’s March had been roughly timed to coincide with the expected ‘meaningful vote’ on May’s deal with the EU, but the negotiations dragged on into November. When she eventually brought the deal back, on 15th all hell broke loose. Amidst the furore on 16th–25th the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival got on with the business of making music, with 15 world premieres. At the end of the month I interviewed composer Philip Venables, who spoke with with wit and honesty about his life, works and the UK’s political predicament.
Politically December has so far been as unnerving as any other Brexit month. When will the chaos stop?