Arts: Classical: The money's too tight to mention

STATE OF THE NATION / LONDON SINFONIETTA SOUTH BANK CENTRE LONDON
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The Independent Culture
"STATE OF the Nation" is the splendidly bold but completely inaccurate description for the annual celebration of a tiny area of new music: one that can only thrive on patronage. But as a barometer of composition today, it was a jolly occasion within narrowish limits.

Over two days, the spaces and halls of the South Bank, with the exception of the Festival Hall, were taken over by workshops and concerts bringing together composers, players, and the skills of Contemporary Music-making for Amateurs (COMA), the London Sinfonietta, Sonic Arts Network, SOUND intermedia, the BBC, the Society for the Promotion of New Music, and Performing Arts Education. Like the Norrington "Experiences", this had all the ingredients of a festive occasion where gaps between events for mixing and mingling proved as important as the events themselves.

Four concerts took place on Saturday, interspersed with four workshop sessions repeated three times. A triumph of organisation, concert length was tightly controlled (as little as 45 minutes for two of them) and workshops kept to a short, sharp 30 minutes. "How to earn a living as a composer" produced two virtual stand-up comics in Stephen Montague and Steve Martland; Montague espousing the business approach with cards and good organisation, reserving the Jeremy Paxman eyebrow for Martland's denial of the efficacy of such an approach.

Joanna MacGregor realised too late that the title of her talk "How to persuade a composer to write for you and what to do with it next" was something of a contradiction in the context of milling composers. She had harsh words for publishers who didn't know how to deal with improvised scores, and dismay over the problem of "second" performances.

One entire concert was given over to works inspired by Patrick Caulfield in the context and physical space of the Hayward Gallery's current exhibition. A small group of London Sinfonietta players - Timothy Lines, David Purser, Enno Senft, and John Constable with SOUND intermedia offered a dark sound spectrum of clarinet, trombone, double bass, and keyboard sampler - for four specially commissioned works. Only Edward Rushton's cheerfully extrovert "Cheap Drinks" approached the literalism of Caulfield's work while Ian Vine's minimal "Three Black Moons", an exercise in suspended sound, derived its name from a mobile by Alexander Calder. Ian Deardon and SOUND intermedia provided immensely subtle electronics in the somewhat uneasy space of the Hayward's upper gallery. With few chairs and few cushions, footsteps and sighs gathered unusual volume.

Earlier in the day, the QEH proved more welcome for the three other concerts. John Wallace and John Constable made deft work of "Shiver and Shake" by Joe Duddell for trumpet and piano, while John Constable gave a studied reading of Luke Stoneham's charming conceit "Nobody here but us Chickens" for solo harpsichord. Martyn Brabbins ably steered many other works for the tireless Sinfonietta players.

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