Sunday, March 30, 2008

New music ticks outside the box


'Box-ticking' gets short measure in an enterprising concert of new music from Germany and England at The Warehouse, London SE1 on April 10th with the Uroboros Ensemble conducted by Gwyn Pritchard. Here is the programme:

from Germany
Peter Helmut Lang - Dominoeffekt **
Karl-Heinz Wahren - A capricious and romantic meeting **
Johannes K. Hildebrandt - Bruchstück II *
Lothar Voigtländer - Salmo Salmonis *

from Britain
Ross Lorraine - end piece **
James Weeks - The Catford Harmony **
Gwyn Pritchard - Ensemble Music for Six
Joe Cutler - Three Quiet Pieces

** = World première * = UK première

It's an adventurous programme that's refreshingly free of the 'box-ticking' that sanitises so much programming today. And it's not just classical music that suffers from the 'little boxes synodrome'. Here is a thought-provoking extract from a Guardian article about art commissions.

'Today it was announced that Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster will be the ninth artist in the Unilever series of new installations for the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall. Once again you can see the commission ticking boxes.

Free from macho tendencies? Tick. French artist Gonzalez-Foerster makes melancholy films that passively observe city life. Her art is consciously slight and the character she adopts is that of the "flaneur", the artist as sophisticated urban observer, an idea invented by the 19th-century poet and critic Charles Baudelaire. In other words there is no chance of her filling the Turbine Hall with, say, a massive slab of steel. Her contribution will, like those previous classics the crack and the slides, reject grandiosity in favour of the witty and ephemeral. That's a relief - I was scared they might commission a colossal statue of George Bush. But then again Foerster is also ...

Free from north-American tendencies - another box ticked. Apart from Bruce Nauman who's a sort of honorary non-American, the Turbine Hall commissioners strikingly avoid inviting some rather obvious US candidates. It is precisely in the US that artists tend to work naturally, and brilliantly on this scale - but we have to wait a bit longer, it seems, to see a torqued steel creation by Richard Serra in Tate Modern, or a Jeff Koons inflated toy, or a Claes Oldenburg penknife. "Americanness" seems to be one of the vices the series strains to avoid, perhaps in the curators' minds being a synonym for masculine arrogance.

Free from bad taste - tick. The appeal of the slight, Baudelairean gesture, and the minimal aesthetic, is that it is remarkably tasteful. The kind of art that gets selected for Tate Modern is guaranteed not to make you feel daft or silly for liking it - for all its modernity this art has a decorous style. In other words, it will not give critics anything to mock or audiences anything to be embarrassed by.

In the 1960s the French artist Nikki de St Phalle created a giant recumbent woman for an art museum, with a door between her legs. You can guarantee you will never see that in the Turbine Hall. Nor will you see the bad taste genius of Damien Hirst on display here - that would be ... so vulgar.'


Now read about how Benjamin Britten helped a composer closely associated with little boxes.
Header photo image is Jeff Koons' Lips, photo by David Heald from the Guggenheim Museum. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

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