Playing in new music's sandbox

New music's sandbox went live last night with the Faster Than Sound contemporary music festival playing in the Britten Studio on Snape's new creative campus. Jon Hopkins and Tim Exile (photos 1 & 6) shaped cool sounds and played with Roland Olbeter's musical robots (photo 10). The Prometeo Quartet performed an Aldeburgh Music commission, Salvatore Sciarrino's String Quartet No 8 (photos 8 & 9); a work during which the composer's fascination with the higher registers of the violin was not shared by all the audience. James Weeks and Exaudi experienced no such problems with the world premiere of a challenging new choral work by Amber Priestley. The ever adventurous Exaudi also performed what was for me the highlight of the evening, Alvin Lucier's simple but sublime Unamuno. As if all this was not enough, visual artist Quayola's installation celebrating Rome's renaisance architecture was playing in the new Jerwood Kiln Studio (photo 5).

Remarkable things are happening at Snape under the stewardship of Aldeburgh Music. Dazzling new performance spaces have been created where every assumption about classical music can be challenged. Funding is in place to support Faster Than Sound until 2011, and its remit is being broadened to cover more new music residencies and commissions. There are very few venues where the music comes first, and where, as with the Sciarrino Quartet, the audience are treated as responsible adults and left to decide whether they want to follow the music or retire to the bar.

Aldeburgh Music, who manage Snape, are not blessed with a financial fairy godmother. They share the same financial pressures as other arts organisations. As my article in 2007 explained, 25% of their income comes from ticket sales, 25% from independent fundraising, and 50% from the Arts Council. But Aldeburgh Music differs from many other arts organisations in one important respect. They do not treat the audience as their master. The interesting thing is this refusal to simply chase numbers is resulting in very impressive audience figures.

More chilled new music here.
All photos (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. We bought our £10 Faster Than Sound tickets at the aldeburgh box office. Report errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


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