Contemporary Christmas

In musical terms, the festive season isn’t just about Bing, Nat, Frank, Slade, the saccharine carols of John Rutter and the nauseating chintz of Howard Goodall, and all the other music that gets piped at us from mid-October onwards.

For us contemporary music zealots, the Yuletide season often represents a time to go into winter hibernation after the explosion of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, waiting until the shoots of spring music re-emerge the following year.

But actually, Christmas can be a time for new music. There’s usually a commission or two springing up in the two Advent services on Radio 3: the first from St. John’s College, Cambridge, broadcast on the first weekend of Advent, and the second, the great Service of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge, broadcast on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

There are some cracking contemporary carols; Steve Martland’s Three Carols with the ebullient, dancing ‘Make We Joy Now;’ Jonathan Dove’s ‘And the Day,’ with its reference to ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel;’ the epic ‘O Antiphons‘ by Pawel Lucaszewski; John Tavener’s lively ‘Today the Virgin’ to name but a few.

Obviously, most new music at this time tends to be choral, as choirs and societies ask for works which can be performed throughout the churches to which congregations flock during the Advent season. But for those whose musical antennaeĀ  can cease to twitch during December, fear not, for behold: there can be new music at Christmas.

Best wishes for the season to all.


A dancing horse with muscles: Steve Martland

In a live performance from (Le)Poisson Rouge with the Bang On A Can All-Stars back in February, here’s Steve Martland‘s bristling Horses of Instruction.

Combining Martland’s typically brash, modern sound with a fearsomely inventive rhythmic sense, some punchy writing for electric bass, and a touch of minimalism in the marimba, piano and electric guitar, this is a piece that burns with energy. It still reflects the lingering impact of Martland’s learning with Dutch master Louis Andriessen, in the combination of electronic and acoustic instruments, the relentless rhythmic impetus and homophonic textural writing – shades of Andriessen’s epic Hoketus appear. But there’s a vibrancy to the piece that means, for all its muscular strength, it remains light-footed and dances nimbly.

There’s more from the same concert as well as an archive of live concerts over on Q2, which is heartily recommended for those interested in exploring new music, although be warned: browsing the concerts will take over most of your day, even your week: what pleasure for the ears…

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