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April - June
2021

Thoughts on After Covid

Thoughts after Covid

In this Guest Editorial, Dr Brian Hick considers the effect the lockdown has had on the relationship between audiences and musicians – and the exciting potential this opens up

We take it for granted today that if we go to the theatre or a concert hall the lights will go down as it is about to begin and we will be expected to fall silent. More obvious in the cinema, but few events start fully lit even when they could do so. To a large extent I assume we can blame Wagner for this. When he designed the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth, every seat has a totally clear view of the stage, the orchestra pit is hidden out of sight and, once the lights go out, you are in literal one-to-one contact with the action. So far so good, if what you want is total immersion but it was Bertolt Brecht who wanted a thinking, responsive audience, not a mind-numbed one. How can we get our audience to reflect on the action while it is in progress, rather than in a seminar afterwards?

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Music in Lockdown

Keel Watson

Effie Gray reports on how musicians have coped – and continue to cope - during this unprecedented period.

The 2020 UK Music by Numbers report revealed the key role that music plays in the U.K economy, £5.8 billion, to be precise, with music tourism contributing an additional £4.7 billion. Yet, according to the Musicians’ Union, 34% of musicians have received no government aid in the current crisis.

Since March 2020, Help Musicians (formally the Musicians’ Benevolent Fund) has supported over 18,000 musicians with more than £11m in financial hardship funding. However, many musicians have fallen through the gaps and are unable to survive on what they receive.

On behalf of Musical Opinion, I spoke to some of the people who have contributed so magnificently to our economy to find out how the past year has affected them. Since starting this article, I have lost count of the tales of top musicians working in supermarkets, or training to give covid vaccine jabs. Some musicians didn’t want to speak on the record because of the online vitriol that some newspaper articles on the subject have generated, but all of them were very thankful for the previous felicitous circumstances that had allowed them to earn their living doing something they loved.

 

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Richard Blackford - ‘Pieta’ and other of his choral works

Gavin Carr

“Richard Blackford has not enjoyed the acclaim that his passionate yet intellectually cogent music deserves” - so said Times critic Richard Morrison in his review of the London premiere of Pietà in November 2019. While it may be true that Blackford’s name is not yet recognised to the same degree as MacMillan or Chilcott, any composer whose resumé over the last couple of years includes major premieres at the Proms, for the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, winning an Ivor Novello Award for Pietà must surely be counted in the Premier League of contemporary British composers.

Blackford’s choral music is both highly approachable and intellectually intricate; he strenuously avoids ‘writing down’ for his amateur performers, whilst being highly sensitive to the particular qualities of the commissioning organisations, whether they be major Symphony Choruses with international reputations or more local choirs. He has always been keen to ‘be useful’ as a composer - a phrase made popular by Britten, a clear model for his own brand of user-friendly modernism.

 

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John Locke: a case for rediscovery?

Elizabeth Manning

John Locke

Why do composers (or writers, artists and others involved in the creative arts, not to mention those who perform them) become neglected, and what brings about their revival? I have spoken to composers, academics, performers, publishers, an orchestral manager, and a festival director as part of my preparation for this article, and they agree that there are no easy answers.

The neglect of composers is self-evident. Even towering influence of J.S.Bach was checked by the comment, ‘Gentlemen, old Bach is here’, allegedly made by King Frederick the Great of Prussia on the composer’s arrival at Potsdam in 1747. Despite the appreciation and respect implicit in the King’s announcement, the Baroque was giving way to the Enlightenment, and Bach was no longer ‘relevant’. However, it is not as straightforward as this.

 

 

 

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The Myaskovsky Dialogues

Yekaterinburg March 2021

Nikolay Myaskovsky

This year marks the 140th birth anniversary of the Russian composer Nikolay Myaskovsky, and much to their credit, the city of Yekaterinburg in the Urals celebrated his legacy in Russian music.

Myaskovsky wrote 27 symphonies, 13 string quartets, 9 piano sonatas, two concertos, each for violin, and cello, and two cello sonatas, a violin sonata, plus 150 songs. Myaskovsky taught three generations of composers including 81 of the country’s finest composers. A unique aspect of his teaching at the Moscow Conservatoire was encouraging students to find their own voice, and avoid copying styles. He was a noted music critic, and developed contacts with Universal publishers in the 1920s and inviting Bartok, Hindemith, Milhaud, Reger, Casella to Russia. His music was popular in the 1920s and 1930s, the Chicago Symphony played his works 55 times, including the world premiere of the 13th symphony and commissioned the 21st symphony.

The 1948 Zhdanov condemnation led to the almost complete neglect of his music, and in the west, sadly, the cold war had its effect. His students Khachaturyan, Kabalevsky, Shebalin kept his legacy alive, and Shostakovich (who consulted with Myaskovsky on his major works) called Myaskovsky the greatest symphonist of the 20th century. Only in the 1980s was his music revived and the symphonies were recorded by Svetlanov in the 1990s.

 

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Dora Estella Bright - Composer and Pianist

Anthony Bilton

Dora Bright

Dora Bright, a ‘Sheffield Lady Musician’ as reported by the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 12th February 1889, was a highly-regarded and important part of the English music scene from the 1880s through to the late 1930s. Critics reported her as ‘one of the finest piano players of her time’, and throughout her career she was well reviewed and her music well received, being ‘noted above all for grace and charm’.

The Bright’s arrived in Sheffield in around 1786, when her great-grandfather moved from south-west France to work in the newly establishing steel industry. Grandfather, Uncles and Father all prospered as jewellers, silversmiths and cutlers. Her uncle Horatio amassed a fortune, which on his death was distributed to charities across England. All were musical, her cousin Maurice De Lara Bright being an accomplished musician and composer of military band music, with one of his works being accepted by the French Military and published in France.

 

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