Showing posts with label Sir Harrison Birtwistle. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sir Harrison Birtwistle. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

British Composer Awards 2013 go to... 14 men and NO women

"Major Strasse has been shot. Round up the usual suspects..."

Now, this is in no way to derogate the life-force that is Harrison Birtwistle (it's taken me a long time to become a fan, but I am one now). Nor is it to derogate George Benjamin, James MacMillan, Colin Matthews or any of the exciting "9 new winners", their hard work or their fine compositions. But HOW IS IT POSSIBLE IN 2013 THAT 14 MEN GET PRIZES AND THERE IS NOT ONE WOMAN IN THE LINE-UP?

(This post has been updated since yesterday. There are 13 categories, all of them won by men. In fact one of the winning works is a joint effort, which means that 14 men, not 13, are in the lineup.)

This proves more than ever that it is time for an all-women prize for classical music. Women are achieving great things in this field - but they are not being adequately recognised for it. This time we need more than a list. We need action and we need it now.

Besides, if part of the point of these awards is to help "a composer and their work become more widely recognised" - frankly, Sir Harry is up there and he doesn't need one. The award to him is not so much Casablanca as Groundhog Day.

Here is part of the self-congratulatory press release that accompanies this pathetic outcome.



British Composer Awards 2013

9 NEW WINNERS REVEALED AT THE BRITISH COMPOSER AWARDS 2013 AS BIRTWISTLE GATHERS HIS FIFTH AWARD AND BECOMES THE MOST SHORTLISTED AND WINNING COMPOSER IN BCA HISTORY

The British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) tonight announced the winners in 13 categories of the 2013 British Composer Awards in a ceremony at London’s Goldsmiths' Hall. Of the 13 categories, nine were awarded to new winners.

Six of the winners are completely new to the British Composer Awards, having never even been on the shortlist before this year: Nigel Clarke, Matthew Martin, Ed Baxter/Chris Weaver, Peter McGarr and Toshio Hosokawa.

Nigel Clarke's Cornet Concerto, Mysteries of the Horizon was the winner of the Wind Band or Brass Band category and is a spellbinding work based upon four paintings by the Belgian artist René Margritte. Matthew Martin's innovative I Saw the Lord, written for Daniel Cook and St Davids Cathedral Choir won the Liturgical category while Ed Baxter and Chris Weaver's No Such Object, a major sound art work performed using bespoke hand made electrical equipment that premiered in August 2012 at Arthur's Seat, won the Sonic Art category.

Peter McGarr's Dry Stone Walls of Yorkshire, written for CoMA London Ensemble won the Making Music Award and Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa received the International Award for his orchestral work Woven Dreams.

British Composer Awards Committee Chairman, Sarah Rodgers, said: "One of the achievements BASCA is particularly proud of is that the British Composers Awards, year on year, brings to light rising composers and supports them in taking the next step in their careers. The broadcast and other media exposure we are able to offer, together with commissions and collaborations, all contribute to helping a composer and their work become more widely recognised."

Sir Harrison Birtwistle, who won his fifth British Composer Award for Gigue Machine in the Instrumental Solo or Duo category, became the most shortlisted and winning composer in BCA history. Birtwistle’s previous awards include both the Orchestral and Choral awards in 2005, the Instrumental Solo or Duo award for Crowd in 2007 and the Orchestral category in 2012 for Concerto for Violin and Orchestra. Gigue Machine, for solo piano, was written for Nicolas Hodges and is a remarkably complex, virtuosic work described by Birtwistle as “mimicking a fantasia in two parts”, one resonant, the other staccato.

Joseph Phibbs, George Benjamin, John Surman and James Redwood, are all first-time winners although each has received previous nominations. Phibbs' Rivers to the Sea, commissioned for the 18th birthday celebrations of The Anvil, Basingstoke, won the Orchestral category while George Benjamin’s Written on Skin, which played to sold-out audiences and admiring notices at the Royal Opera House in March this year, won the Stage Works category. John Surman's Lifelines, a groundbreaking work marrying contemporary jazz with the traditional male voice choir was the winner of the Contemporary Jazz Composition category while James Redwood's massive work for 250 young musicians from six diverse ensembles Pass The Torch, An Olympic Symphony, received the Community or Educational Project Award.

Guy Fletcher, Chairman of PRS for Music, said:“Tonight’s new generation of British composers has been truly impressive and I am excited to see such breadth of talent and creativity on the winners’ shortlist. The British Composer Awards provide a vital showcase for music that is part of our cultural fabric and enjoyed the world over. PRS for Music is proud to sponsor such an important event.”

Colin Matthews, James MacMillan and Brian Elias all received Awards for the second time. Matthews, who won the Vocal category in 2012 for No Man's Land this year took the Chamber Award with his String Quartet No. 4, written for the Elias String Quartet. James MacMillan's Since it was the day of Preparation…, for bass, chorus and ensemble which tells the story of the Resurrection was the winner in the Choral category while Brian Elias received the Vocal Award for Electra Mourns, a work for mezzo soprano, solo cor anglais and String Orchestra that premiered at the Proms in 2012.

The Awards ceremony opened with a performance of Rodrigo Barbosa Camacho's work, American Candy - What the hell is Yellow no. 6?!? for viola - winner of the 4th Student Competition at the British Composer Awards - performed by Sarah-Jane Bradley.

Roger Wright, Controller, BBC Radio 3 & Director, BBC Proms said, “Congratulations to all the winners of this year’s 2013 BCA awards. As the home of classical music, and one of the most significant commissioners of new music, BBC Radio 3 is delighted once again to cover this important event for our millions of listeners.”

The British Composer Awards are presented by BASCA and sponsored by PRS for Music. In association with BBC Radio 3 providing exclusive broadcast coverage of the Awards on Saturday 7 December.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Seeing 'The Minotaur'

A revival at Covent Garden of Birtwistle's most recent opera, The Minotaur? Time to take the bull by the horns and see it.

I'm still reeling.

The Minotaur seems to spring from a very deep, dark place and takes us back there with it. The power it packs perhaps concerns the primal nature of the myth and the archetypal imagery that it dramatises, but there is more to it than that. Whatever it says to us, whatever it does to us - from the moment the first notes growl and surge from the pit, with the film of endless swelling sea to match - it hits us at such a profound gut level that it is flummoxing to attempt quantifying it. Most astonishing of all, perhaps, is that this is an evening of gore, ferocity and claustrophobia, yet at its core is an almost superhuman compassion and empathy.

There have been some complaints in other quarters about David Harsent's libretto, but that seems a bizarre response. It's not only sterling-quality poetry, full of images that would flare at high voltage even without the music, but it also has indubitable advantages of strong structure, absolute clarity, concentration and concision that many libretti lack, and that the genre absolutely needs. Every word carries the weight of a hundred, and that's as it should be. It is light years away from the verbose pretentiousness of The Death of Klinghoffer, the extended tracts of book that weighed down Sophie's Choice, the mundane cosy prose of Miss Fortune.


It's loud. Very loud. The percussion spills over on both sides of the stalls circle. The orchestration is remarkable - despite the volume and depth of the music, its is so well written that there is never any problem of balance between singers and instrumentalists. Birtwistle's sonic imagination was what stayed with me most strongly after seeing The Second Mrs Kong about 20 years ago and in this quality The Minotaur doesn't disappoint, however different it is. One of the most inspired touches is the use of the cimbalom, its hard-edged fury jangling the nerves and cutting into the monolithic textures.

This performance was one of those rare occasions when music, text, design and performance fuse into one: it's hard to imagine it staged any differently, or sung any better. John Tomlinson, Christine Rice and Johann Reiter are the original trio of Asterios, Ariadne and Theseus, each a masterful interpretation with a timbre that encapsulates his/her character and offsets the others. Elizabeth Meister is a terrifying coloratura Ker, the steely-winged vulture. Conductor Ryan Wigglesworth, taking over a very tall order from Tony Pappano, who's off with tendonitis, did a magnificent job with it. Grand plaudits to the whole team - director Stephen Langridge, designer Alison Chitty, video company 59 Productions, movement director Philippe Giraudeau, lighting designer Paul Pyant.

I've spent much time in the past few days writing about The Rite of Spring (watch this space). Seeing The Minotaur with The Rite in my ears and mind was intriguing in itself. It seems to me that they share a certain wellspring, dragging us through something subconscious, something mesmerising concerning ritual, mortality, cruelty and that crucial compassion.

It's tempting to wonder what makes someone create an opera like this. Why would anyone attempt to write the last scene of the first half, death after sacrificial death in the bullring, the Keres descending to devour the flesh? I can just imagine asking Sir Harry about it, though, and receiving a response not unlike that of Jerome Kern when someone asked him what made him write 'Ol' Man River', which was originally in Showboat. He's supposed to have said: "I needed something to end Act 1 Scene 3."

Twelve hours after curtain-down I need serious coffee and I need it now.



Thursday, December 15, 2011

Farewell, Russell Hoban (1925-2011)

Very sad today to hear of the death of one of my favourite novelists. Russell Hoban may have been best-known for his children's books, but his adult fiction retained their sense of playfulness and fantasy - something most of us lose with the passing years. His Turtle Diary was the first that I read - about two lonely Londoners who set out to rescue the turtles from the zoo, but don't quite release themselves while they're about it. The Medusa Frequency is a virtuoso take on the Orpheus myth - again featuring a compassionate portrait of contemporary London, but with twists of fantasy that are by turns chilling and glorious in their audacity. Here is a full obituary from The Guardian.

But musicians might know Hoban best for his libretto for Sir Harrison Birtwistle's astonishing opera The Second Mrs Kong, written for Glyndebourne and premiered in 1994. Details of the plot and structure are here along with some excerpts; and the libretto was published by Universal Edition. Hoban plays with concepts, reality and imagery the way a circus performer might perform on the high wire. The only safety net is the term 'magical realism', except that there isn't much realism in there - it's slanted entirely to the magic. In the opera, The Idea of Kong falls in love with Vermeer's Girl with the Pearl Earring, aka Pearl. I still remember well the wild, high, shimmering voice of the singing mirror; and the deep-bronze, luminous tone of Philip Langridge, who sang The Idea of Kong in a gorilla suit...

I once went to Oxford to see the Glyndebourne Touring Opera's Kong with a writer friend who was also a big Hoban fan. That day there was a problem in the theatre and they couldn't get the set of the previous night's opera off the stage, so the cast delivered a semi-staged version in costume in front of the curtain. It was still fabulous. And we spotted Hoban in the bar so went up to him (my pal was braver than I was) to express our enthusiasm. We found him a charming, generous man, with the same twinkle in his eye that you can find in his glittery writing.
MIRROR: It is not love that moves the world from night to morning, it is not love that makes the new day dawn. 
PEARL: Not love?
MIRROR: No. It is the longing for what cannot be...
PEARL: The longing for what cannot be?
MIRROR: The longing for what cannot be. The world needs the power of your yearning, the world needs the power of your love that cannot be fulfilled.