The Rambler :: blog

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

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Britpop reaches the GCSE syllabus. Is there no limit to the New Labourising of Great Britain? Key quote:
"God help the students in the classroom taking apart the music of Kula Shaker and Northern Uproar. There's nothing there."

Martin Kettle, also in the Guardian writes unconvincingly on the dea(r)th of new composed music. Hmm. Seems that here's a classic example of the critic unable to see beyond the orchestra pit to what is actually happening in music today. No, not many pieces of the last 50 years have made achieved "a genuinely established place in the repertoire", but:

a) is this a bad thing anyway?
b) is it too early to tell? (a common question asked of new music, but not actually one I hold much truck with. Good music gets you pretty quickly if you're paying it enough attention.)
c) what repertoire? Kettle says that he means "a piece that you can count on hearing in most major cities most years, and a performance of which is likely to bring in a large general audience". This is no mark of quality, but even so there are plenty of recent works that fulfill that criterion - you can be fairly confident that you can find John Adams' Short Ride in a Fast Machine somewhere in the world in any week of the year, and always to a large concert hall audience.

But I doubt this is what Kettle means - what he's after (as his own suggestions imply) is a large symphonic/concertante work that can hold its own as the centrepiece of an evening concert. Well, many composers simply aren't writing those any more. This is not a golden age for either the symphony or the concerto (but neither was the barren musical wasteland stretching from Dunstaple to Bach), and quite rightly the very best composers are writing works more appropriate to the present musical situation. Kettle's right to say that classical music survives "after a fashion ... overwhelmingly on the strength of its back catalogue and performance tradition", but he is misguided when denying the presence of any new creativity. Creativity in non-pop, composed, notated music abounds - some of us even worry that there are too many composers - and has never been greater, but only a tiny proportion of it goes into propping up a dead and irrelevant worldview. New classical music does have little to say about today - that's because it's a pre-WWII legacy. New music outside the confines of the orchestral stage has plenty to say.

Kyle Gann always has good things to say on this precise point; here he is observing the cyclic pattern of the complexity vs simplicity/progressive vs reactionary debate. Good stuff.

Someone who will be greatly missed from the British new music scene is Susan Bradshaw, who died over the weekend. Gerard McBurney has written an excellent obituary to this remarkable woman in the Independent. Do go and read it before it slips behind a registration wall.



Jess Harvell is epic in response to this much discussed Simon Reynolds piece. [c + p copy at the top of this ILM thread]

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