Music: The Hecklers: they'll scream and scream until we're all sick

A LETTER in Classical Music magazine'scurrent issue describes the Independent as an organ of "profound left-wing bias": a claim that will surprise many at Canary Wharf, not least because it has nothing to do with where we stand on EMU or teenage contraception - such issues feature rarely, if at all, in Classical Music magazine. Instead it comes in the course of a long-running correspondence on the funding, encouragement and general health of British contemporary music. The writer, who I think could fairly be described as not profoundly left-wing, complains about the predominance of what he calls "obscene musical forms a la Birtwistle"; the thrust of his gripe is that we all - music critics, newspapers, the BBC, the Arts Council - support a closed establishment of avant-garde composers with minority appeal, leaving the tuneful, popular conservatives to fend as best they can.

Of course, it's a flawed argument. If the tuneful conservatives are so popular, they don't need support: they'll survive well enough in a commercial environment; many of them do just that, attracting exposure and incomes that their more challenging colleagues will never know. On the other hand, there is value in critical acknowledgement, and you can understand the bitterness felt by composers of quality - from Malcolm Arnold (celebrating his 75th birthday this year) to Howard Blake (whose new ballet Eva has just premiered in Sweden to genuine popular acclaim) - whose work has persistently been marginalised in Britain, simply because its language is not the language of the moment.

But the key word is quality. The composers who have been busiest in advertising their neglect in Classical Music have not been the best examples of their kind; I'm talking here about that small sub-cult of controversialists who call themselves The Hecklers. They are still with us, and still complain- ing that their work is ignored because of its neo-romantic hummability - when the truth is that it's ignored because it's bad. I have heard various pieces by The Hecklers, and none of them has been of sufficient interest, substance or technical competence to demand serious attention.

But this week I heard some conservative music that did demand attention: a large-scale, 40-minute score for orchestra and chorus called Mirror of Perfection, written by Richard Blackford for what looked like the entire forces of the Royal Ballet School, who premiered it at the Royal College of Music last Sunday. It sets the ecstatic texts of St Francis of Assisi in the original Italian and French (St Francis wrote in both), and no one could say it breaks any musical boundaries. The writing is eclectic, juxtaposing stately revisitations of Renaissance polyphony with bits of anglicised, Brittenesque passacaglia sequences and a touch of Walton when the tempo pushes forward (which it doesn't often enough, proving how hard it is to achieve real speed in choral music). But in no sense is it opportunistic. It comes from the heart, with integrity, and a technical assurance that firms up what might otherwise be loosely benign lyricism into something of stature and beauty. Above all, it was obviously good to sing and play, with just enough challenge in the writing to keep it within the capacity and interest of young amateurs. There's a crying need for this kind of "useful" music, and not enough composers of consequence around who seem willing or able to meet it - with all the simplification of language and directness of address that writing for amateurs entails. That's the criticism you could reasonably make of music now; and it's an issue that needs badly to be addressed in the wake of the Arts Council consultation document on new work, which has just been published. Called Striking a New Note, it is meant to provoke a public debate on the function and funding of contemporary music in Britain, with special reference to the opportunities that Lottery money could provide. Copies are obtainable from the Arts Council at 14 St Peter Street, London SW1 (price pounds 1), and responses are invited until 24 May. For anyone with a view to air or interest to defend, this is your chance.

Staying with new music, the UK Nordic Festival continued this week with a cool infusion of Icelandic opera. I Have Seen Someone by Karolina Eriksdottir had its British premiere at the Riverside Studios, conducted by that tireless champion of women composers Odaline de la Martinez; it proved to be an enigmatic piece about broken relationships, darkness and death. To that extent it was, I suppose, characterfully Nordic, but the dramaturgical drift was so vague - a poem set to music, rather than real theatre - that very little in the way of shape or contour survived to help the audience through it. At what point the central character actually died I couldn't say. Nor, frankly, did I care: none of the four roles on the stage meant very much. But they were sung with commitment by Niall Morris, Mark Oldfield, Sarah Leonard and Rebecca de Pont Davies; and if the writing failed them, it did better by the orchestra, which claimed the real interest throughout. Eriksdottir obviously has a keen ear for instrumental colour, and uses it to blend sonorities of subtlety and elegance. For this reason alone I Have Seen Someone was worth doing.

Welsh National Opera was at Covent Garden this week for its annual London visit, touring The Rake's Progress which has already featured on this page, and the new Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci, which hasn't. The Cav & Pag is largely a vehicle for Dennis O'Neill, a tenor I always find conscientious rather than inspired, but he was at his Italianate best here with a full, clear sound that sets the vocal standard for the show. I should really say shows, because the director Elijah Moshinsky has made a point of severing, so far as possible, these Siamese twins of the opera repertory. His Cavalleria is conventionally veristic in the decorative manner of a William Russell Flint; the Pagliacci is less pretty but more interesting, relocated to the 1950s but living the life of the piece with a vengeance - especially in the Silvio/Nedda scene, which Jason Howard and Rosalind Sutherland (finalist in last year's Cardiff Singer competition and an actress of exhilarating spirit) bring off superbly. It's also worth mentioning that the baritone Tonio gets the last line - "la commedia e finita" - which he doesn't always: not, at least, since Caruso introduced the custom of claiming it for the tenor. Such is the pecking order of the lyric stage. The tenor gets the girl, the punchline, the applause, and all for an occasional top C. As the rep- resentative of a profoundly left-wing newspaper, I can only say there's something very wrong with such a values system.

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
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

    Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

    Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

    £30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

    UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

    £45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed