Sunday, March 11, 2007


Yesterday The Times carried a most extraordinary story. It seems that on 25 February the estimable maestro Barry Wordsworth decided at the last moment to drop a world premiere from a concert with the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra. The work, entitled A British Symphony, had been commissioned from the composer Andrew Gant by Rowan Atkinson's businessman brother, Rodney.

Gant is organist, choirmaster and composer at the Chapel Royal, inviting comparison with some of the most distinguished British composers in history - Byrd, Gibbons and Purcell were official organists there. One GF Handel wrote Zadok the Priest while he was in post as official composer to George II.

Wordsworth had decided he 'did not believe' in the piece. But was this unprofessionalism, a middish-life crisis, something vaguely political (the title suggests a patriotism deeply unfashionable on these shores) or real artistic integrity? Unfortunately, we haven't heard the piece, so we can't say.

Can you imagine the works that would never have been performed if their conductors had decided not to believe in them? Tannhauser might never have hit 1860s Paris. Otto Klemperer might have ditched some Korngold (I remember reading he refused to take a bow after conducting Die tote Stadt for the first time. That's his problem.) On the other hand, we might never have had to suffer a single note of...well, don't get me started.

If we don't hear new works, though, we can't assess them - finito. Any artistic 'age' is going to produce mountains of dross and a few really great pieces, and while sometimes it's clear which is which, sometimes also it is not. So it's worth sitting through the occasional piece of c*)p - and conducting it, if that's your job. Who knows, someone somewhere might like it.