Classical: For sale: the corporate concerto

Composers are turning to big business to fund new projects. But is the customer always right?

He who pays the piper may call the tune, but who pays the composer to write the piece in the first place? It might be a state-sponsored funding body, or an ensemble, or a performer (although few pay out of their own pockets for the music they premiere). There are festivals eager to be seen to be promoting new music and charitable foundations (although most prefer to sponsor a performance, rather than the imponderable act of composition). And there are the few individuals who are happy to spend cash on bringing new music into the world.

A host of options, then. But that isn't the same as lots of money - composers find it as hard as ever to get paid to write. And quite rightly, you might say; so much new music is so ordinary, the audience for it so small. Why pay, when hardly anyone wants to listen? Well, some do want to listen. The Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, for example, through its Sound Investment scheme, has managed to persuade its audience members to underwrite the commissioning process to the tune of pounds 100 each. Thoroughly laudable, though few ensembles have that kind of customer loyalty.

Yet customer loyalty of another kind lies behind a new work by David Bedford, whose concerto for the oboist Nicholas Daniel has been commissioned by the John Lewis Partnership. The piece receives 10 performances in 11 days ("More than most new pieces ever get," says Bedford) in the company's customer concerts, a series instituted in 1951 when John Lewis himself paid the Boyd Neel Orchestra to perform at the Peter Jones department store in Sloane Square. "I've spent enough in Waitrose over the years," says Bedford. "This is simply getting some back."

"I've never had a problem receiving commissions in 35 years of composing," he adds, but recalls one corporate commission that nearly went awry. "These kind of commissions are fine if they let you get on with it, but in 1986, the Scottish Postal Board asked me to write a piece for students, Seascapes. Half-way through the writing, having discovered that it was the Year of the Lighthouse, the SPB threatened to withdraw if I didn't somehow include the notion of lighthouses. Fortunately, it all ended up quite friendly."

No such problems with the Oboe Concerto, although the form of the customer concerts has influenced Bedford's conception: "Five of the performances are for children, so the company suggested that there might be some audience participation. What I've done in the movement `Lament with Drone' is to have the strings play a drone, which can, if it feels right, be hummed by the audience after a few minutes' rehearsal."

Bedford points out one way in which such commissions have the advantage over Arts Board funding: "Money is difficult to find. The regional boards never have enough, so they give part-funding for new works. The composer, or their publisher, has to find the rest, which is always difficult, so the composer often ends up working for half price. John Lewis paid the full going rate, for which they get their name on the score, in the programme whenever the piece is performed, and on any recording. It's very enterprising, given the audience for contemporary music. They'd get their name brandished much further afield if they were commissioning someone like Karl Jenkins, but they've done this with a genuine regard for bringing a new work into existence."

Never knowingly undersold? For the moment, what the John Lewis Partnership has commissioned remains more or less in-house (though it will surely receive public performances). The Japanese car manufacturer Mazda, however, is involved in new work in a rather more public, not to say promotional way. Last year, it commissioned Michael Nyman's Double Concerto for cello (Julian Lloyd Webber), saxophone (John Harle) and orchestra. This year, at the Birmingham Motor Show, the company presents its latest musical venture: its new cars will be launched to the accompaniment of a live performance of John Harle's specially written Song of the Swift.

This is not simply an advertising jingle. Rather it is a free-standing piece which, the company presumably hopes, will for ever be associated with Mazda. Some will see this as Harle selling his soul, but that is not the composer's view. "Many of my clearest musical visions have been in building compact blocks such as Song of the Swift," he says. "It's machine music, with motor rhythms, describing speed, propulsion. I've often written music which is quite mechanistic, and I'm not bad at writing to brief, so talking to the people at Mazda was very much like talking to a film director who has a clear idea of what music they want for their film.

"When Nyman wrote his Double Concerto, there was disagreement over whether what he was writing embodied the Mazda philosophy of Kansei," which says, approximately, that conflict can be resolved through human endeavour. Nyman insisted that he was writing what he wanted to write, not a tract, still less an endorsement of Mazda's cars. The Double Concerto was a full- length concert piece. Perhaps chastened by the Nyman experience, Mazda has settled for Song of the Swift, which comes in at around five minutes.

"To a large extent, it's a pop composition," says Harle. "I was in songwriting frame of mind, as opposed to thinking in terms of a concert piece. I'm part of a generation of composers that is moving on from what I regard as the conservative avant garde in new music. Whether writing concert music, or music for film, or a piece like this, I quite naturally include elements of other music, rather like a Surrealist collage. That perhaps makes someone like me more attractive to a company like Mazda, than a composer who writes in a more inaccessible style."

Corporate commissions will always be rarities and perhaps, as Harle suggests, they will tend to go to composers who write "accessible" music. Nevertheless composers and their publishers will be hoping that, given the difficulty of tapping established sources of funding, there will be more money where that came from. Whether that results in corporate composing remains to be seen. Watch this space.

David Bedford's Oboe Concerto premieres at the John Lewis customer concerts, Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, on Monday. Mazda launches its new models at the Birmingham Motor Show, NEC, on 20 October

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine