Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Much music, but how much merit?

A heads-up for some exciting events that are happening in September while I am in France. The media event, if not the musical event, of the autumn is almost certain to be the premiere on Thursday September 7 at English National Opera of Gaddafi: A Living Myth. The work is a collaboration between the musicians of Asian Dub Foundation, director David Freeman and designer Es Devlin. It will certainly push the envelope, but the jury is out on whether it can combine media appeal with merit. It is a co-commission with Channel 4, the TV channel that reaches the peaks of artistic merit with programmes such as Big Brother, and whose next project is a documentary-style film in which George Bush is assassinated. A glimmer of hope comes from the director, David Freeman, who has something of a track record of rejuvenating operatic lost causes, most notably Philip Glass' The Making of the Representative for Planet 8. But don't take my word, make up your own mind on Gaddafi: A Living Myth by following this link.

Meanwhile merit is guaranteed at the Wigmore Hall when a three concert series combining the music of György Kurtág with Bach’s Art of Fugue starts on September 20. The artist line-up is pretty starry, with Thomas Adès, the Keller Quartet, and soprano Valdine Anderson. But it is eclipsed by the appearance of Kurtag himself playing his piano duet Játékok on November 8, and for me these three concerts are among of the musical highspots of the London autumn.

Meanwhile the obsession with anniversaries continues well past the BBC Proms with a Steve Reich fest running at the Barbican from September 28 to October 8. Reich himself (below) premieres a new piece, the Daniel Variations, with the Bang on a Can All-Stars and the BBC Symphony, London Symphony banging their way through everything from Reich’s early opuses to his experiments with video operas. All the media buzz words are there – iconoclastic, multi-media, American, cross arts, new audience, living composer, internet appeal etc etc. Now I am a great fan of Reich's music in the right quantities, and I hate to keep banging on a can. But couldn’t just some of this rehearsal time been used by the BBC Symphony to programme at least one work by Malcolm Arnold and Edmund Rubbra in this anniversary year that they share with Steve Reich? Does anyone seriously believe Reich’s 1993 digital opera The Cave has more merit than Arnold’s 1986 Ninth Symphony or Rubbra's 1972 Ninth Symphony? Or did those composers simply make the error of discarding their baseball caps as they gracefully passed the age of 70?


Finally, just to confirm that you can have too much of a good thing, the Barbican's obsession with contemporary American music at the expense of pretty well everything else continues in November with an American Pioneers series featuring, among others, John Adams as conductor and composer. Adams seems to be a permanent fixture on the podium in London at the moment - perhaps someone in New York would like to organise a British Pioneers series featuring Arnold and Rubbra?

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5 comments:

Pliable said...

There is a Malcolm Arnold Festival in October, but it is in Northampton (Arnold's birthplace) rather than London. Which is a bit like having a John Adams festival in Providence, Rhode Island.

Follow this link for full details of the Arnold Festival.

Garth Trinkl said...

I've always been curious to hear (and read) Philip Glass's 'The Making of the Representative for Planet 8', which has a libretto by British novelist Doris Lessing.

Last week I was excited when a friend promised to slip me a review copy of a new Philip Glass recording -- whose name he couldn't remember. I was disappointed when I was slipped, instead of 'Planet 8', the new recording of the Linz Austria production, led by Dennis Russell Davies, of Philip Glass and David Henry Hwang's 'The Voyage', which I had listened to twice on radio, and which -- I see -- was the second world premiere given by the Metropolitan Opera House, the world's largest and most prestigious, in 26 or so years (the first was the Corigliano/Hoffman 'The Ghosts of Versailles', the previous year).

http://www.orangemountainmusic.com/voyage.html

Garth Trinkl said...

Opps ... I had also meant to mention that last week, in Berkeley, I read in a used book shop Vikram Seth's libretto 'Arion and the Dolphin', for composer Alec Roth and the English National Opera in 1994).

Next month I'll have an opportunity in Washington (some years after London, but before Berlin and Vienna) to see how British composer Nicholas Maw treated William Styron's 'Sophie's Choice'. (Like TS Eliot before him when approached by Michael Tippett with the idea for 'Midsummer's Marriage', Styron apparently told Mr Maw to write his own opera libretto.)

Matthew Westphal said...

"Does anyone seriously believe Reich's 1993 digital opera The Cave has more merit than Arnold's 1986 Ninth Symphony or Rubbra's 1972 Ninth Symphony?"

The Cave? No, probably not. Tehillim or The Desert Music (just for starters)? Hell yes.

Paul Serotsky said...

It's a minor point, but Malcolm Arnold has NOT "discarded his baseball cap" - he still wears one on those accasions when he sits out in the Attleborough sunshine. However, I am becoming heartily sick of the oft-repeated litany of colander-like "reasons" why the BBC Proms choose to ignore him, and would love to know the REAL reason why he is treated as though he had given up his transatlantic headgear.