Hardly setting things aflame: New Music 20×12 disappointing

Does anyone else find a lot of the New Music 20×12 written to celebrate the forthcoming Olympic Games somewhat disappointing?

It seemed such an exciting idea: the opportunity to commission a host of works in anticipation of a major sporting occasion would surely yield a range of vibrant, exciting and thought-provoking works, trumpeting the state of contemporary composition in Britain.

And yet…

There’s the anodyne Track to Track: the Athlon from Graham Fitkin; the pompous and unadventurous  Pure Gold: a 4×4 relay by Luke Carver Goss, of which the only redeeming quality is actually not written by Goss at all, but the lyrical poetry of Ian Macmillan; and I’m not even going to talk about the horrendous car-crash that was Joe Cutler’s Ping, for string quartet and live table-tennis players that surely had the police out in force to hunt for the reported-as-missing element of merit, or Anna Meredith’s HandsFree pile of clap.

Jason Yarde’s Skip, Dash, Flow could have been fascinating, a blend of the festival theme with jazz, but hardly breaks any new ground.

Sally Beamish’s Spinal Chord had a few interesting moments, and is an unusual take on the sporting theme; but most of the pieces I’ve heard so far seem to be trading either on gimmickry or a musical language that won’t challenge listeners or frighten them away.

I’ve not yet heard some of the other pieces as part of the project; here’s hoping Julian Joseph’s Brown Bomber and others can rescue it from being consigned to the dustbin of cultural history. As yet, none of the commissions I’ve heard have struck me as likely to be performed more than once. It’s been a real disappointment: the music of many of these composers has been exciting, dynamic, challenging – all qualities no doubt hoped for from them again. A chance to cash in on the Olympic Games and showcase some of the best of British music and its composers has, like the Olympic torch since its arrival on these shores, stuttered and gone out.


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