Thursday, July 18, 2013

Memorable contemporary ditties from the Ardittis

"And what an extraordinary piece it is! Probably the best Lachenmann performance... I've heard" declares Mark Berry of the Boulezian about Helmut Lachenmann’s Tanzsuite mit Deutschlandlied. The Lachenmann work was played by the Arditti Quartet - seen above - with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and Jonathan Nott, and Mark added his comment to my post about the Prom in which it was given its UK first performance. Recently I described the Arditti's performance of Jonathan Harvey's Fourth Quartet at this year's Aldeburgh Festival as providing "one of those rare experiences of being transported by music to another and better world" and in another post I drew attention to the Quartet's recordings on the Aeon label of memorable contemporary ditties from Jonathan Harvey, Pascal Dusapin, Roberto Gerhard and Harrison Birtwistle. The Pascal Dusapin double CD is particularly recommended as it showcases a contemporary composer who deserves to be much better known, while the whole sequence of recordings by the Arditti of contemporary quartet masterpieces for the tiny French Aeon label provides a shining beacon in an industry where the creative vision of the corporate labels grows ever dimmer.

Looking back over my posts in the past week I see I have written more about the 2013 BBC Proms than I did about the entire season last year. Which just goes to show the continuing importance of this music festival, and all credit must go to the BBC for programming the Lachenmann piece. It is also heartening to read Mark Berry reporting in his own post outraged reaction to the Lachenmann on that arbiter of contemporary taste YouTube - "could someone please explain to me what the hell this has to do with music!!" - in fact just like the good old days when audiences stormed out.

That ability to provoke strong reactions shows how vitally important the Proms are. But what a pity that for radio and TV audiences that vital importance is masked by the curse of ego-centricity. Just as an example, last night's Thomas Adès Prom relay was bedevilled by presentation announcements from Katie Derham who, for much of the time, was struggling for something to say but felt she had to say something. Now let's be charitable and assume that there is a demand for this style of vacuous presentation. But the stasis in Radio 3's audience shows that a significant number of people are literally turned off by it. One of the curses of classical music is ego-centricity, the other is the mistaken dogma that one size fits all, with the chosen size invariably on the dumber side of the historic median. But there is a solution. In the distant days when I worked on BBC Radio we had a clean feed into the studio, this was the programme content (music and hall atmosphere in the case of a Prom) stripped of continuity announcements. We live in an age of greatly expanded bandwidth and 'red button' interactive options. It would cost the BBC little and secure the loyalty of its core audience if it provided the choice of the Katie Derham/Petroc Trelawny 'enhanced' Proms for those who want them, or a clean feed of the music only for those who don't - text is available on both FM and digital platforms to identify the music on the clean feed option. And before anyone dismisses my proposal with the comment that broadcast music without continuity announcements is unworkable, isn't that exactly what you get when you attend the concert itself or buy a CD or download?

Header photo via Berliner Festpiele. 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). Also on Facebook and Twitter. No freebies were used in the preparation of this post.


Jane said...

I think we owe a vote of thanks to the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and the Arditti Quartet for bringing to the Proms this example of what must be at the cutting edge of modern German music; a piece that's over thirty years old and written in a style (new sounds for old instruments) that was already passé in the UK at least five years before it was written.

Of course, I may be wrong, and this isn't at the cutting edge. If so, why didn't they bring us a piece that is?

Pliable said...

"That ability to provoke strong reactions shows how vitally important the Proms are...."

Mark Berry said...

The best idea I have heard for a long time: how much more I'd listen to Radio 3 if it weren't for being told how 'fantastic' something was by a 'presenter'! Not that there is anything wrong with commentary; indeed, it would be refreshing to have trenchant post-performance commentary from informed listeners, but commentary is an entirely different business, or it should be, from presenting. (Imagine if a newsreader were to start interrupting a Prime Ministerial speech with her own comments of 'marvellous' or even 'abysmal! Actually, that sounds quite fun, so perhaps I have argued myself out of a point.)

I am puzzled by Jane's comment, though. Surely one would expect a piece from 1979-80 to sound, at least in some stylistic terms, as if it were written thirty years ago, just as one would expect Beethoven's Seventh Symphony to sound as if it were written 200 years ago. As Schoenberg, amongst many others, pointed out, we should not confuse style and idea. He used the example of a Chinese poet writing in Chinese; that told us nothing interesting in itself, for the question remained, 'what is it that he says?'

Michael Strickland said...

I've been listening to the Proms for the first time this year over internet feeds, and enjoying them immensely EXCEPT for the amusingly awful commentators. The solution is to listen to the concerts "plausibly" live, during the following week, when you can fast forward through the nonsense.