Review of 2019

Another year of political turmoil, the deaths of André Previn and Michel Legrand, awards, premieres and festivals. Here’s C:T’s exclusive look back at another year in contemporary music….


C:T kicked off the New Year with an interview with composer Bushra El-Turk. Sad news followed with the death of composer John Joubert, who at 91 had at least lived long enough to hear the first performance of his opera Jane Eyre (1987–1997) in 2016. On 10th we were treated to alternative musician’s view of Brexit from contributor Andrew Glover. Meanwhile an argument was brewing over the EU’s proposed Article 13 legislation, which allowed copyright holders to assert their rights over streaming platforms such as YouTube. On 26th we lost French composer, pianist and singer Michel Legrand, best known for The Windmills of Your Mind.


16th February saw the death of Israeli composer Ami Maayani, who, like Iannis Xenakis, had a parallel career in architecture. A few days later we celebrated wins for composers Ludwig Goransson, who won an Oscar for his soundtrack to Black Panther and John Adams, who was awarded the 2019 Erasmus Prize. This month ended with the death of conductor, pianist and composer André Previn, a man of many parts who will nevertheless be best remembered for certain comedy show appearance.


March began with the launch of Scala Radio. A supposed competitor to Classic FM, one of C:T’s users, Rob Kennedy, commented ‘I listened to Scala for 20 minutes and that was all I could stand. It was full of ads, meaningless talk and only light classical music.’ 

On 21st we celebrated the approaching birthday of brilliant British contemporary music label NMC with an interview with it Executive Director, Anne Rushton. Meanwhile, the Article 13 controversy was continuing, with Boris Johnson’s arguments against it igniting a Twitter Storm.


On 9th April I tentatively reviewed NotePerformer 3, a new sound set for Sibelius. Having used it a bit longer I can now say that it was well-worth the purchase price.  The middle of the month saw ghastly images from Paris as Notre Dame caught fire. The musical world saw some relief when, a few days later, it was confirmed that the majestic Cavaille-Coll organ had survived.


The beginning of the month saw the announcement of The Ivors nominees (songwriting and screen composition) and a new report into the effects of Brexit on the music profession. We also marked the deaths of Belgian composer Dominique Lawalrée and British-Canadian Derek Holman.


In June C:T previewed the programmes for Tête à Tête, one of the UK’s best new music opera festivals, and the Cheltenham Festival and the BBC Proms, venerable older institutions that also do much to promote new music. We mourned the deaths of two composers on the same day, Dane Ib Nørholm and Swede Sven-David Sandström. Also sad to see was the closure of Borough New Music, which held its last concert on 25th.


At the beginning of the month we covered a second annual report from DONNE, Women in Music, which highlighted gender imbalances in composer concert programming—there was little progress year-on-year. On 4th the musical world erupted in indignation at an anonymous Guardian article that posed the question ‘What is classical music for?’ A few days later I posted a few of my own thoughts about it. On 21st Tom Could pointed out an unlikely link between Boris Johnson and Hans Werner Henze:

The month ended with the death of Australian composer Barrington Pheloung, best known as the composer of the Inspector Morse theme.


On 6th we marked the death of Belarusian composer and organist Anna Korotkina, who was known for her synthesis of the modern and the traditional, most notably through her study of ancient Belarusian Orthodox vocal manuscripts. As the UK political situation remained fraught, UK Music issued no deal Brexit guidance. There was bleak news on 17th, with a report highlighting a continued decline in the numbers of pupils studying music at A-level. Worse was to come, with the death of French composer Julien Gauthier who, horrifyingly, was killed by a bear on a field recording expedition in the remote Northwest Territories of Canada. He was just 44.


On 4th we looked forward to performances of new works by Richard James Harvey and Liz Lane at a special concert marking the 75th anniversary of St Albans Choral Society. There were congratulations on 11th, where we celebrated the announcement of new Sound and Music Adopt a Composer Pairings for 2019/20, and on 18th, when we covered the awarding of the Isang Yun International Composition Award to Heinz Hollinger and Kaija Saariaho. On 26th we marked the death of American composer Christopher Rouse, described by John Adams as ‘One of the few whose music will last.’


On 2nd I previewed a fabulous festival that takes place on my own doorstep, the Transit Festival, Leuven.  There were congratulations for composer Aya Yoshida on 6th, who had won the 2019 Zemlinsky Prize and for young composer Jack Pepper on 9th, who had been named as a Music for Youth Ambassador. Sound and Music released its Can Compose report, which aimed to reveal the barriers faced by young people looking to compose and create their own music. In it, 97% of educators agreed that there should be more opportunities for students to compose their own music. At the end of the month the Ivors Academy announced their shortlist for the 2019 Composer Awards, the Oscars of the British composing world.


As the UK election started to warm-up, on 7th UK Music called upon party leaders to back the industry ahead of the general election. There were two new reports, one from Sound and Music that revealed that their efforts to reflect ethnic diversity in their composition programmes were having mixed results, and another, UK Numbers, which revealed that music contributes £5.2 billion to the UK economy. On 20th we marked the death of US composer Nancy Bloomer Deussen, who was a noted advocate for accessibility in contemporary music. On 22nd we lost choral conductor Stephen Cleobury, known in the composition world for his commissioning of a new carol each Christmas at the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings College, Cambridge.


December saw the awarding of the Ivor Novello Awards and congratulations from C:T to all the winners. 

This bring us to the momentous events of today. The victory of Boris Johnson in the UK election means the completion of Brexit. Many—though by no means all—musicians will feel disheartened by this news. As we look towards the new year, however, it is important to realise that there are still arguments for us to make. The next year will either see the shaping of the UK’s new relationship with the EU through the forging of a new trade deal or the collapse of negotiations and the renewed prospect of a no deal Brexit. The nature of the deal, or lack of it, will define how easy it will be for musicians to do business with our continental colleagues. So, as the future unfolds, whilst accepting the matter, we must continue to try to shape the manner. Perhaps this will even mark a return to politics as normal. Not before time.

Originally posted at Composition:Today ©Red Balloon Technology