CLASSICAL MUSIC / On Classical Music

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'We will be heckling for harmony, booing for beauty and, if necessary, getting tonsilitis in the name of truth.' So shrilled the self-styled Heckler, Frederick Stocken, last April, launching his motley 'militia for melody' against the first-night revival of Sir Harrison Birtwistle's Covent Garden opera, Gawain. There's nothing new in composers issuing militant manifestos, of course, though historically they've tended to be French. The young Boulez once famously broke up a Stravinsky concert with a pro-Schoenberg demo (though he now happily conducts them both); Berlioz, too, was a great barracker. But the claque wasn't the only means the French pioneered for settling artistic disagreements; the 18th-century Parisian operatic dispute between the rival fans of Gluck, the modernist, and Piccinni, the melodist, was soon settled when the two composers unveiled alternative versions of Iphigenia - 200 years on, Gluck's opera still holds its place in the repertoire, Piccinni's has sunk without trace. Perhaps Mr Stocken would like to let us hear his Gawain sometime?

In the meantime, fellow Heckler, Keith Burstein (right), has at last broken cover and decided to put some of his music up for critical and public scrutiny. He's a curious case. At the time of the Gawain fiasco, he presented himself as 'leader of the Romantic Futurists' and appeared keen to disassociate himself from Stocken's strong-arm tactics - 'I don't want to tar myself with the same brush,' he was reported as saying. Now, on his latest publicity, he styles himself 'co-founder of the Hecklers' Club' and seems proud to claim allegiance with 'Britain's most backward-looking composer'. And just to confuse matters, he's sending out handwritten covering notes admitting that the Gawain episode was 'a silly gimmick', but insisting that it still raised 'a very serious issue. . .whether it really is becoming more possible to write new classical music which is both accessible and profound'. Anyone keen to hear his answer should get along to Southwark Cathedral on Saturday, when the Keith Burstein Ensemble will perform Eternal City and Leavetaking, for massed brass, and a Requiem for the Young.

Sat 8pm Southwark Cathedral (071-223 7265)

(Photograph omitted)

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