S&H Conference review


EXILE AND SUPPRESSED MUSIC; KEYNOTE LECTURE: Brian Ferneyhough, 'Barbarians at the Gates'; PERFORMANCE PRACTICE IN 20TH-CENTURY MUSIC. CONCERT Sebastian Lexer and John Tilbury (live electronics improvisation)
Ferneyhough, Opus Contra Naturam (London premiere), Bryars, Scelsi, Skempton, Bryars (Ian Pace, piano; Roger Heaton, clarinet; Mieko Kanno, viola)

 Before departing to lecture at Bilbao I was able to attend two sessions of this well subscribed conference organised by Keith Potter, heard Brian Ferneyhough give his keynote lecture and enjoyed a Friday concert.

It is salutary to listen to academic musicologists from time to time, but I found Ferneyhough's dissertation about New Music in a world decreasingly receptive to ethical-aesthetical precepts virtually incomprehensible, despite the elegant construction of his flowing sentences, ruffled only by his misplacing some of his pages.

Erik Levi discussed the political decisions that determined what music suppressed by the Nazis in Germany was heard abroad. The British establishment did not come out of his analysis whiter than white. There were examples of heroism, but also others of xenophobia and anti-semitism. There was by no means a universal welcome for refugee musicians, with even Vaughan-Williams taking a chauvinistic stance.

In a session chaired by Michael Haas, who was responsible for producing the Entarte Musik recording series, Ales Brezina discussed Martinu's relationship to Czechoslovakia and explained how the famous multi-ex-patriate Martinu, who died in Switzerland as an American citizen, was exploited and 'used' by the regime, whilst more marginal composers who had remained in their country were sidelined. Matthias Wurz illustrated the extensive studies of the Orpheus Society by examining the cases of two composers in exile, George Tintner & Viteeslava Kapralova.

In the session about performance practice, Mieko Kanno was especially challenging in her examination of notated scores and differing views about how complex rhythms may be treated. She distinguished rhythm from metre, and the conflict between 'accuracy' and expression of underlying meaning, taking the confusions and uncertainties in the published score of Scelsi's Coelocanth for viola solo, which she played in the evening concert, for particular consideration.

The concert was well attended and catered for a range of tastes. I found the live electronics improvisation with two pianos overlong, but enjoyed the rest. That contrasted the deceptively simple music of Howard Skempton and Tom Johnson (his Bedtime Stories for narrating clarinetist disarmingly delivered by Roger Heaton) with the pianistic tour de force of Ferneyhough's Opus Contra Naturam (Ian Pace). The direct expressivity of Scelsi's Coelocanth and Ixor for clarinet made a satisfying centre-piece in a well balanced and thought provoking program.

A fuller report on the Conference will follow in due course.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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