Prelude to the 600th: less than one week to go.

University of St Andrews Symphony Orchestra
21 April 2011, Younger Hall, 7.30pm.

The culmination of an eighteen-month search for a new orchestral work to celebrate the 600th Anniversary, this concert isn’t to be missed. Alongside three world premieres, the University of St Andrews Symphony Orchestra will be performing Borodin’s In the Steppes of Central Asia and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”).

On the night, you’ll get to hear three contemporary orchestral compositions, from up-and-coming composers that are considered amongst the most promising musicians in the UK. Mark Boden’s Six Degrees is a musical investigation of climate change: a depiction of the scenario of global warming. Simon Smith’s Against All Things Ending draws inspiration from the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant novels of Stephen Donaldson, being an abstract reflection on the emotional aspects of the work. Simon Wilkin’s The Sun Rising is an examination of student-hood and the idea of the journey – physical and emotional – to and through university.

These three new works have been shortlisted for performance on the evening, and the winner, to be decided on the night, will receive £1,000. The judging panel is made up of Prof Louise Richardson (University Principal), Sally Beamish (internationally acclaimed composer), Michael Downes (University Director of Music) and Richard Ingham (University Fellow in New Music and Composer in Residence).

Mark David Boden – Six Degrees (WP)
Simon David Smith – Against All Things Ending (WP)
Simon Wilkins – The Sun Rising (WP)
Borodin – In the Steppes of Central Asia
Dvorak – Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”)

£7/£5 (students). Ticket available on the door, via the On the Rocks boxoffice, or online at http://yourunion.net/ontherocks/events.

For more information, including details of the composers, pieces, and selection process, visit www.st-and.ac.uk/~mussoc/600. Visit our facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/event.php?eid=115263031885779.

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2011 in St Andrews

There hasn’t been any blog activity for the past six weeks, principally because of the frantic nature of the end of term here in St Andrews. With so many concerts to play during the festive season, we’ve all been kept very busy. I’m happy to report, however, that all of these went extremely well.

2011 will be a big year for the Symphony Orchestra. Besides the 600th Anniversary Composition Competition, it’s also worth noting that the Orchestra is embarking on an eleven day tour of Europe in May, with four days in the middle spent in the picturesque town of Köszeg in Hungary. Other stops will include The Hague, Bayreuth, Vienna, Regensburg and Giessen. We’re lucky enough to work on this tour with Mark Biggins, who has previously conducted CUMS I and the Cambridge University Symphony Orchestra.

The year in St Andrews will see many other events that foster artistic excellence. As well as On The Rocks – a week long arts festival showcasing the best in new Scottish and student talent in music, theatre, comedy, visual art, photography, performance, and film – StAnza returns for four days in March. Founded in 1998, StAnza is the only regular festival dedicated to poetry in Scotland. And, of course, 2011 will see the continuation of the partnership between the University of St Andrews and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, as Orchestra in Residence. Not only will we be fortunate enough to see four concerts performed by the SCO this year, we’ll be treated to many more musical workshops and recitals.

Besides this, the Music Society will continue to host weekly lunchtime recitals on Fridays throughout term, and two Concert Wind Band and Chorus concerts. St Andrews Music Centre will hold weekly recitals on Wednesdays in term as well as regular evening concerts, and the St Andrews Music Club will continue to host events monthly. The Heisenberg Enemble will no doubt be brought together again, and St Andrews Chorus will perform, amongst others, Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius.

So Happy New Year, and get yourself to St Andrews. There’s lots going on.

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On Contextualising

The Hallé Orchestra’s new ‘HalléPlay’ page currently has a feature in which Sir Mark Elder talks about the presentation of new music. Click on the above link, then on ‘Performance’ and then on ‘Sally Beamish and Dvorak’. The talk is in reference to a concert in which the Orchestra will perform the following programme:

Prokofiev: Symphony No. 1 (‘Classical’)
Beamish: Cello Concerto No. 2, ‘The Song Gatherer’ (UK première)

Dvorak: The Wood Dove
Dvorak: Slavonic Dances

The clip is well worth watching, being relevant for both the contextualisation of new music and Sally Beamish, who will be judging the competition entries.

The programme is interesting for its presentation of the première alongside not only a well-known symphony and the popular Slavonic Dances, but also The Wood Dove, a rarely-heard tone poem of very programmatic nature. I was very pleased to listen to it for the first time, not least for Dvorak’s use of the timpani practically as a solo instrument. It shows strong contrasts between themes which very obviously refer to the dove and far more earthy, broad sounds.

The underlying theme of the concert is clear; the notes for the Concerto describe strong use of Polish folk song and a Yiddish lullaby. It is also highly reflective of the composer’s close friendship with the soloist, Robert Cohen, for whom it was written. Thus the music throughout the concert has a very specific purpose. In December, the St Andrews Symphony Orchestra will be performing Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, another work highly reflective of the composer’s mood at the time, in both the lyrics and the music (the implications of the fourth movement’s funereal theme in the harp, basses and timpani could not be clearer).

It will be fascinating to see and realise the ambitions of the composers in the competition. Obviously, some music is not so explicit in its message, but to the performer, this presents a wonderful opportunity for reflection and interpretation.

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Article in The Saint

The University of St Andrews Composition Competition was recently featured in an article in The Saint — the Student Newspaper of the University of St Andrews. I reproduce the article below.

Music and film to mark 600th anniversary

By Dalia Cohen

The University of St Andrews will be holding a composition competition to mark the 600th anniversary of the University. As part of the competition people will be invited to submit their own anthem to mark the occasion.

The University will be celebrating its 600th anniversary in 2013. Celebrations for this much anticipated mile stone will begin at the graduation ceremonies in 2011 and continue until St Andrews day 2013.

The composition competition is aimed at young composers, and is an opportunity to celebrate the anniversary through the medium of music. The winning composition will be played throughout the University’s celebrations, with the winning composer receiving a prize of £1000.

In addition, the shortlisted composers will be given the chance to perform with the University’s Symphony Orchestra, culminating in a public concert for the compositions on April 21.

Patrick Degg, Director of Development fully supports the idea, saying “This is an opportunity for one young composer to write themselves into the history of Scotland’s oldest university.” The deadline for entries is January 7th 2011.

As well as the St Andrews anthem, there will be a film charting the University’s past, present and hopes for the future. The University is greatly anticipating the involvement of the renowned Scottish film maker Murray Grigor with the planned film, which will be shown around the world during the anniversary period. Gigor’s involvement reflects the pride the university feels about celebrating its heritage.

Siena Parker, Director of Representation at the Students’ Association is anticipating the prospect of the film to mark the occasion saying, “It’s a great opportunity for the University to move forward in using different types of media to appeal to both potential donors, alumni and prospective students .”

Degg reflects on how the University is anticipating “ looking towards discoveries yet to be made, questions to be answered, and connections to be born that will shape tomorrow’s world,”

In addition, Principal Louise Richardson expressed how she is honoured to be able to lead the University into its “600th anniversary celebrations and into a seventh century of academic achievement.”

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Ersnt & Young announced as Music Society sponsor

The University of St Andrews Music Society is delighted to announce that Ernst & Young will be the major sponsor of the society this year as well as being the title sponsor of the 600th Anniversary Composition Competition.  Society members will have an opportunity to find out about graduate opportunities with the firm at a sponsor’s jazz night on the 17th November, more details to follow.

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Romanticism and Organicism

The University of St Andrews was lucky enough to have Jeremy Thurlow — a Cambridge based composer, who, incidentally, has been very supportive of the competition — visit last week.  His work was performed at two concerts by the Fitzwilliam Quartet, and he delivered a small talk, followed by an opportunity for questions.

Dr Thurlow’s talk focused on Romanticism in music.  My research is mainly concerned with Romanticism — not in music, but rather in philosophy — so I was very interested to hear what he had to say on the matter.  One theme that emerged during his talk was Organicism.  Organicism might broadly be described to be the view that music ought properly to be modelled on the paradigm of the living entity.  A musical work should seem to grow, rather than seem to have been constructed.  It should contain the seeds of its own development, and progress according to its own internal makeup, rather than seeming to be built from the outside.

These ideas will be familiar to most, and they recur throughout the romantic period.  During the nineteenth century, theories of metaphysics, literature, and the life sciences all share a commitment to Organicism in some form.  But I’ve always had difficulty with whether this position is really meaningful when applied to music.  If Organicism is to be a substantive position that captures something interesting about Romantic music, it must amount to more than merely claim that music ought to be ‘natural’.  ‘Natural’, after all, is already a normativised term, and applied to good music far beyond the Romantic period.  I worry that there is no other way to spell out ‘Organic’, however.  Unlike in non-musical domains, we don’t have ‘Mechanistic’ to contrast it to (at least, we don’t have an idea of ‘Mechanistic’ music that predates Romanticism).  Does a Bach fugue, or a Mozart symphony, progress according to its own internal rules, and develop in an organic and natural way?  It seems so — but obviously this music isn’t ‘Romantic’.  If identifying Romantic works turns on whether the music is ‘natural’, we have a problem.

And moreover, Organicism seems to be in tension with the Romantic image of the author or composer.  For the Romantics, we are told, the creative individual is central.  “It is how I, the artist, see life; how I, the poet, feel about the death of my friend”, as Bernstein once said.  But if their music should grow ‘from the inside’ — in essence, that music ideally writes itself — this seems to trivialise the composer’s role and the craft.  Composer’s often report that, when going well, it feels as if the music is flowing naturally, and almost writing itself.  I take it, though, that this is in reality a fairly rare occurrence.  More often than not, it’s extremely hard work.  Work that we hope you’re enjoying, nevertheless.

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For your listening pleasure…

Here’s a quick round-up of some new music, and some programmes about new music, to be found online. They’re well worth a listen. Please feel free to contribute to this list via the comments below. Happy listening!

Simon Cummings has achieved something quite remarkable on his 5:4 blog; a link to a recording (MP3 and FLAC) of every new and new-ish piece performed at the BBC Proms this year. Not only that but he’s also critiqued every work and provided scans of the programme notes that accompanied each performance. An invaluable resource which is well-worth a visit.

As you may expect there’s a lot of new music on YouTube although it’s often quite hard to find. Luckily, The Rambler comes to the rescue with this list of gems. Also provided are links for Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated! and Lachenmann’s Grido. Brilliant stuff.

Currently on BBC iPlayer, for those in the UK, is Radio Scotland’s mammoth five-and-a-half hour (phew!) collection of interviews with composers including James MacMillan, John Tavener, Craig Armstrong, Thea Musgrave, competition judge Sally Beamish and the wonderful Nigel Osborne amongst many others. The programme is available until 21st October.

Finally, Measure for Measure is a series of interviews with composers on the Innova record label. Presented by Philip Blackburn they are a wonderfully diverse collection of what’s going on musically in the USA.

Enjoy!

TB

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