Penny for your thoughts on the Cultural Olympiad

According to Tony Hall, Chair of the cultural wing of the London Olympics,the penny hasn’t quite dropped yet with the general public that the Cultural Olympiad kicks off tonight (see article in today’s Guardian).

Reading the very first events highlighted in the introductory paragraph to the article, though, I suspect that the penny has dropped – and the public simply isn’t all that moved.

Apparently, according to the events it lists at the start,

The waters of Windermere will burn in the Lake District, Jeremy Deller’s bouncy castle Stonehenge will pop up in the National Botanic Garden of Wales and a peace message from Yoko Ono in 24 languages will be played on all the giant screens installed for the Olympics.

If the quality of the whole cultural festival accompanying the Olympics can be judged from these events, the public aren’t all that excited about a bouncy Stonehenge (which will ring some bells for all fans of Spinal Tap) and a message from Yoko Ono, who is not interesting in herself and therefore can hardly be expected to enthuse the Great British Public.

We are aware of it; as I observed previously with regard to the damp squib that has been New Music 20×12, it’s just failed to set us alight. Disappointment rather than lack of awareness, I’m afraid, Tony…

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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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