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The Independent Culture
Fancy your chances at singing the Salzburg Mass? It's so massive that just photocopying the score should be eligible for an Arts Council grant, and so obscure that theories about its authorship are constantly being revised even as you sing. Or how about a try at Mahler's Das klagende Lied, a work so unwieldy that it makes the composer's recently televised Eighth Symphony look like chamber music? Students at the Dartington International Summer School are well up to such challenges. Not only will they help knock up Purcell's Dioclesian in two weeks max, they'll then take it on tour to Croatia just for fun. David Bedford and Mary Wiegold's A Week at the Knees will be an opera produced from scratch in a week, and the students will still have to make it to choir practice at 9.15 every morning, not to mention having to cope with all that gamelan and African drumming.

The Summer School has been in progress since 1953 but has, under Gavin Henderson's direction, become a real radical influence on contemporary British music, with guest tutors setting up initiatives all over the place. Elvis Costello's recent "Meltdown" season at the South Bank had its roots here, as does Keith Tippett's Rare Music Club. Artists leading courses this summer include Tom Ades, Woolrich, Joanna MacGregor, the Brindisi and Brodsky Quartets, and Louis Andriessen, who directs the advanced composition course. There is also a daily programme of concerts in the Great Hall, making this month in the country one of the busiest music calendars of the year.

Saturday's opening concert by the Consort of Musicke was preceded by Henderson's headmasterly address in which, like John Gielgud in Forty Years On, he wandered through a mazy peroration, introducing the staff, reading out a list of house-parents and issuing stern warnings on the need for croquet equipment to be signed out before use. The Consort's programme, "From Dusk to Dawn", began with some good old-fashioned "Carry On Henry"-style eye-rolling on a ditty beseeching one to come to bed. Although leader Anthony Rooley promised us more risque stuff to come, it was too "hey nonny no" to cause offence.

The following night featured the avant-garde improvisation of Keith and Julie Tippett. Tippett's short solo set was a gem, though he played so quietly that it sorely tested the mettle of his listeners, few of the early music types returning for the second half. The pay-off came when, after the opening tonal marks had honed our concentration, he then broadened out, repeating a baroque theme and a brief quote from "The Nearness of You" until we were immersed in a strange nursery world of powerful, half- sensed images, the effect enhanced by the gentle strumming of bells and chimes.

Later that night, Sheila Barnes and Adrian Hobbs completed the evening with a programme of songs by Poulenc, Debussy and Walton, the elegant lines drifting through the windows and out into the great courtyard, as students went off to cram their scores of the Salzburg Mass for the following day.

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