Classical: Music on Radio 3; Old whines and new battles

Last Saturday's first instalment from the 1997 Manchester Composers' Platform offered the ingeniously sinuous Two pieces for two clarinets by 26-year-old Richard Cawston, and a grandly languorous, polymodal piano piece by Guy Newbury entitled Strand Looping. The extracts from Gary Carpenter's Satie: Orchestral Variations played naughty conceptual fun and games with snippets of the Maitre, while Passing Through, a 10-minute string quartet by Nick Giles, revealed a promising ear for the medium and a rather personal vein of not quite tonal harmony.

In between these well-contrasted items, composers, performers and inquiring members of their audiences duly got stuck into detailed questions and criticisms: whether the expressive intentions of this piece really came over, whether the notation of that one could be simplified, and so on. In fact, this first of three edited instalments from the 1997 Manchester Composers' Platform - sponsored by the BBC, the Society for the Promotion of New Music, and various Manchester music departments - radiated that positive involvement in practical music-making that disperses the fogs of metaphysical gloom that tend to gather round more general discussions of the plight of modern music.

Not that many of the musicians involved in the next day's "Sunday Feature" sounded gloomy. This second of 20 monthly documentaries for the Sounding the Century project, under the title of Settling the Score, set out to determine whether the role of the composer has developed or deteriorated amid the social and technological changes of the past 50 years.

Some 10 working composers, from 65-year-old Alexander Goehr to 30-year- old Julian Anderson, had been interviewed, and were supplemented by archival clips from Vaughan Williams, Stravinsky, Elliott Carter and Robert Simpson, quotes from Elgar and Britten, and comments from the academic David Osmond- Smith, the administrator Anthony Everett and the anthropologist Georgina Born. The programme, produced by Andrew Kurowski and linked by Samuel West, duly passed from the problems of audiences with contemporary music (more a matter of context than language, argued Birtwistle), by way of the ageing of such 19th-century institutions as the formal concert and the symphony orchestra (with Christopher Fox so emphatic that he could no longer even imagine composing for the latter, that you immediately felt he should have a go at it), to a hopeful recapturing of a communal function through working with amateurs and in education (Everett fancied "musical resource centres").

Given the variousness and intelligence of the views on offer - never more so than in Nicola LeFanu's mordant rebuttal of the slur of "elitism" - it may seem mean to complain of a certain sense of deja vu. But, as Peter Paul Nash suggested, composers seem to have changed far less than the world around them. Many of the issues raised were already contentious 100 years ago: issues of art versus commercialism, of radicalism versus accessibility, of private versus public patronage. Indeed, when Georgina Born described the audience as many publics, stratified by degrees of status, influence etc, she might just as well have been talking about the 18th century.

On the other hand, only Judith Weir even so much as mentioned CDs. Yet the burgeoning of recording in recent decades really does confront composers with an unprecedented challenge - not only how to assimilate the entire history of music, but also how to devise pieces that may get only a chance or two in live performance, yet will stand up to infinite replayings on disc. And as for the growing power of a few multinational media corporations to condition the mass musical public - enough here, surely, for at least a couple more urgent discussions in Settling the Score.

Bayan Northcott

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special
tvNick Frost, Natalie Gumede and Michael Troughton step up
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Beard, Ben Schnetzer, Douglas Booth and Jack Farthing in ‘The Riot Club’
filmReview: Sheer nastiness of Riot Club takes you aback
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Senior Research Executive - Quantitative/Qualitative

    £27000 - £31000 Per Annum Excellent Benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    ETL Developer / Consultant

    £300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

    Geography Teacher, Immediate start, Dover School

    Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad Education is urgently s...

    English Teacher

    Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: We have an urgent requirement fo...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week