Sunday, 7 December 2014

How many orchestras are dedicated to new music?

This is something that I have wanting to get off my chest for a long time. Frustrated by the lack of opportunities, I decided to work out how many amateur orchestras there were in the United Kingdom. After a long, hard search, I managed to calculate that there were over 700 full symphony (including extended string) orchestras in the country.  And then it got me many of those groups are dedicated to new music? Well, I searched through the descriptions of each group and I was astonished to discover the rich variety of orchestras that there were.  There were groups associated with banks, financial institutions, places of work, religion, police forces, gender and sexual orientation, age, nostalgia, historical, racial, geographical and even political affiliations but there was one glaring error, in my opinion, one inconceivable oversight...I could not find any orchestras specifically dedicated to an area that I would have have thought would be essential:

To my knowledge, there are no orchestras in England committed to performing music by composers of the last thirty years.

I know that this is not true in America.  The Albany Orchestra, for example, is dedicated to living composers.  I also know that this is not true of some professional orchestras. However, it is a startling fact that of seven hundred amateur orchestras probably none would ever think of giving a new music concert.   It is my belief that ‘Amateur’ orchestras hold the key to the progression of contemporary music.  (Can I say that I prefer the term “voluntary” rather than "amateur" because many of them have adopted professional methods of rehearsal that were introduced in the nineteenth century and some of them can almost produce a ‘professional’ sound.) They have the potential to spearhead the contemporary music scene. They could bring new music to the ears of the general public far more easily than professional orchestras.  What is more, I believe voluntary orchestras are missing an excellent opportunity.  New composers are very keen to get their music heard.  They are more flexible in terms of the practicalities of the music making process - more adaptable.  They understand the importance of cost effectiveness and working under financial restraints.  The can offer practical advice in terms of performance.  Most importantly, they can bring in a new audience.  The audience of an voluntary orchestra is often comprised of relatives, friends and supporters.  If voluntary orchestras performed the music of new composers it would broaden their audience base; there could even be financial rewards from them as well in terms of extra ticket sales. As I mentioned before, financing a new work shouldn't be a problem. Commissioning composers for new music shouldn't necessarily mean it would cost the orchestra anything. There are other ways in which the composer can recoup financial rewards. A localised commissioning or a localised selection scheme would provide tremendous opportunities for a whole range of composers and provide good local voluntary orchestras with a larger and sometimes younger audience - a real platform for the future, which is quite poignant in a period of time where audience numbers seem to be dwindling.

All it takes is a brave visionary to get the ball rolling...

Friday, 14 November 2014

People who only love melody have no passion for music.

This is an interesting debate that I had with someone on the internet...

I hate melody. Whenever I hear a melody, I want to chop it up into little pieces and disembody it over huge leaps so that it is unrecognisably distorted. There is nothing worse than humming along to a 'little tune' completely oblivious of the depth of emotion contained in the rest of the music. Give me orchestration/instrumentation any day. A combination of careful tuning and an expert choice of instruments can convey a world of understanding that a bumbling tune would disguise as 'cheerful contentment.

Sounds like an incredibly reductive and primitive view of what can constitute a "melody". Not to diminish the value of expertly done orchestration, but both can co-exist, and the melody certainly doesn't have to be a "little tune", bumbling or cheerful. See: Ravel, Stravinsky.

I wouldn't regard that much of Ravel's or Stravinsky's music contains what I would call a melody.  I would call it melodic writing which I admire.  Ravel's only sustained melody is that awful piece Bolero which ironically is saved by its consummate orchestration. Stravinsky did exactly what I said I would do to melody; chop it up and distort it.(except for his ill-fated neo-classical period; the saving grace there was that the melodies weren't his own.) I am thinking of Tchaikovsky as a writer of 'bumbling little tunes'. As skilful as he was, he was over reliant on reducing music to its primitive element - the tune and its subservient accompaniment. If you ignore the futility of this aspect of his music, you may find the darkness that lurks inside some of his most cheerful apparel. I am not saying that tune writing is superficial; I am saying that it hides the REAL passion inside the music.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

La Mort Des Artistes

This is the second piece in a group entitled "Etude de Couleur et Lumière" (Study in Colour and Light). Inspired by the French symbolist poet, Charles Baudelaire, it is an attempt to recreate a poem in musical form. Even the intonation of the poem - the exact rise and fall of the vowel sounds - is reflected in the music. In fact, every element of the poetry is represented musically. Also, this work signifies an important evolutionary step in my musical output; it unifies the two opposing elements of timbralism and colourism.

La Mort des Artistes.

Combien faut-il de fois secouer mes grelots
Et baiser ton front bas, morne caricature?
Pour piquer dans le but, de mystique nature,
Combien, ô mon carquois, perdre de javelots?

Nous userons notre âme en de subtils complots,
Et nous démolirons mainte lourde armature,
Avant de contempler la grande Créature
Dont l'infernal désir nous remplit de sanglots!

Il en est qui jamais n'ont connu leur Idole,
Et ces sculpteurs damnés et marqués d'un affront,
Qui vont se martelant la poitrine et le front,

N'ont qu'un espoir, étrange et sombre Capitole!
C'est que la Mort, planant comme un soleil nouveau,
Fera s'épanouir les fleurs de leur cerveau!

How many times must I shake my bells 
And kiss your brow, sad mockery? 
To strike at the heart of mystic nature, 
How many darts, O my quiver, must I lose?

We will wear away our souls with subtle schemes
And we will demolish many a stricture
Before we gaze on the glorious Creature
Which makes us grieve with tormented desire!

There are some who never knew their Idol
And there are sculptors damned and branded by insult,
Who hammer their brows and their own breasts,

In only one hope, bizarre and somber Capitol! 
It is that Death, rising like a new sun, 
Will bring to blossom the flowers of their thoughts!

Romina Basso, who translated the poem, provides us with this insight:

'A purpose of art if not the singular purpose of art, he suggests, is to struggle towards the one "hope" that dying brings blossoms to the "flowers of their thoughts". ' 

It is a live performance which is sung beautifully by the alto singer, Rachel Fisher.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

This may interest some of you...

I published two videos of my piano music, "Les Codomas", to Youtube; one of them has a picture of Jazz musicians in black and white and other one has a picture of my original score. In just 48 hours, the video with the image of the my score has double the number of views than the other one which has been up for over a month.  Why is that?

Reflets Dans L'eau - Claude Debussy (arr. Thomas Goss)

TOOTSinfonia - an online orchestra.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Les Codomas (score)

This is my latest version with a score instead of images.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

How 'English' are English Composers?

One of the most startling questions that is faced by the English people is exactly how "English" are our composers?

Purcell - Italian and French influences.

Handel - German born and bred; until he became naturalised English citizen.

Elgar -  Our most German of English composers. (Listen to his early music.)

Delius - Wrote in the impressionist, French style.

Vaughan-Williams - Murky French, impressionist style (e.g. London Symphony)

Britten - French influences.

Birtwistle - Continental 'avant garde'

Ferneyhough/Finnissy - International 'avant garde'

Oskar Adolf Hermann Schmitz once said that for a [musically] civilised country Britain was"Das Land ohne Musik".  He would have been better off saying it was "Das Land ohne Englisch Komponist"!

A lesson for all... "War Requiem" and "Symphony of Psalms"

When I was a child, a teacher told me that Stravinsky wrote a 'Symphony of Psalms' because he was jealous of Benjamin Britten's 'War Requiem'.  It wasn't until I became an adult that I found out the whole truth... Stravinsky did genuinely dislike Britten's "War Requiem'. He
mocked the “Battle of Britten” sentiment which surrounded the premiere of the composer’s most public and popular work
I think he was not keen on a return to an emphasis 'on subjectivism'. He hated the sentimental aspect of the work.

"Kleenex at the ready… one goes from the critics to the music, knowing that if one should dare to disagree with ‘practically everyone’, one will be made to feel as if one had failed to stand up for ‘God Save the Queen’.” 
He did write a 'Symphony of Psalms' in response to Britten's work but not out of jealousy but to show how the creative process could be both respectful but still retain a degree of 'objectivity' appropriate for the subject matter.

The teacher in question and anybody who would describe themselves as a follower of Britten's music should not have felt offended by Stravinsky's comments; his vision of music was unique.

There is a certain degree of irony.  While Britten's 'War Requiem' , in my opinion, is an exercise in sentimental tedium, Stravinsky's 'Symphony of Psalms' isn't a great visionary masterpiece either.  The only crumb of comfort for Stravinsky is that his work falls well below par; but Britten's work as it was stated before is his

most public and popular work.

Friday, 31 October 2014


What is Subjectivism?

The world as you experience it, through your own thoughts and feelings, is more important than anything else.

Friday, 10 October 2014


What is post-modernism?

It is a 'populist' movement in music which is opposed to modernism.

Monday, 6 October 2014


What is neo-tonality?

Alternative music written now that uses the principle of tonality.

Part One

Palette de Couleur et de Lumiere

The concept of a palette of instrumental colour and timbre is derived from deepest aesthetic principles of the work.  The choice of instruments are essential to the colouristic balance of the work.

Glockenspiel                                            Vibraphone
Bongos                                                    Congas
Tom-toms                                                Bass drum
Small shaker                                            Tambourine
Whistles                                                  Blowers
Flute/Alto Flute                                       Clarinet/Bass Clarinet

With the piano as the mediator, the opportunity for balanced and contrasting exploration of instrumental colour are great.  For example;

The two types of combinations are demonstrated below.  The first is cross-species representation where there is a contrast of both instrument and register.

Example 1


The second contrast intrumental colour only.

Example 2

This is similar to the first cross-species representation above.  Here however, they are of the same instrumental family-the drum.  Therefore the contrast is of timbre rather than colour.

Example 3

This is a contrast of timbre and a subtle change of register.

Example 4

With the keyboard percussion combined (which in terms of colour and register stretches a wide range)interesting cells of timbre and colour emerge. 

Example 5

The combinations are maximised when woodwind are taken into consideration:

Example 6

Example 7
                           Treble           Alto           Tenor          Bass
Catergories I        Flute          Alto Flute   Clarinet      Bass Clarinet

Catergories II       Glock.        Vibraphone.............      Pianoforte 

Catergories III      Cabasa       Tom-Tom    Congas       Bass drum

Catergories can also be made in terms of metal and wood sounding instruments:

Metal                                    Wood
Flute/(alto)                             Clarinet/(bass)
Vibraphone                             Wood blocks...

Like the previous work Apres La Mort des Artistes, the instrumental combinations are devised through an elaborate and complex plan.  The leading figurative writing is divided between instruments that are intended to dominate the texture. 


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