Contemporary music at the Barbican 2012-13

There’s a healthy swathe of premières and commissioned works announced recently as part of the Barbican’s 2012-13 season.


Image credit: Boosey & Hawkes

February 2013 sees a residency from Bad Boy of British music, Mark-Anthony Turnage,  and an evocative-looking programme of music from Japan with a ‘Total Immersion’ concert including works by Takemitsu, Dai Fujikura and Toshio Hosokawa: the latter’s Cloud and Light painted an evocative picture at the Proms back in 2009.

Leonidas Kavakos will be giving the UK première of Osvaldo Golijov’s Violin Concerto; there’s also an eclectic mix from Nico Mulhy, British saxophonist Andy Sheppard, pianist Joanna Macgregor and others, and a a performance of new piece from David Sawer. I went to the première of Sawer’s opera From Morning to Midnight back in 2001, but it seems to have sunk without trace since, although an orchestral suite has been distilled from it for concert programmes.

There’s also Andrew Davis at the helm for Tippett’s mighty Symphony no.4, where the orchestra is joined by the rasping sound effects of sampled breathing in a symphonic meditation on old age,  and a new work by Colin Matthews in a concert also including Boulez’s Notations.

There’s also a piece by Jason Yarde in a programme including John Adams’ white-knuckle ride, Chamber Symphony, and Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments.

Plenty to whet the appetite: see all the events here.


Can’t dance, won’t dance: how music lost its dancing-feet

There are several reasons why the music of Beethoven evokes a profound sense of boredom in me, but the principle reason is that, as Beethoven expanded the architecture of music, he caused it to lose it rhythmic impetus.

Ballet de la nuit (1653)

Ever since medieval folk lifted their feet to dance the estampie and the ductia, and those of the Baroque danced the chacone, gavotte, menuet, gigue and other types, music had often been driven by a powerful rhythmic impetus. Bass-lines in Bach are often as melodic as the topmost melody line, but they are also as light-footed. The Baroque period saw music dance its way through a variety of dance-forms in instrumental concerti, in concerti grossi, even in the epic B Minor Mass.

Beethoven, it’s true, employed dance-forms – Wagner himself famously called the symphony no.7  ‘the apotheosis of the dance’ – but he sacrificed the rhythmic drive in music for larger-scale structures, in order to support his ever-expanding compositional arguments. Bass-lines ceased to be as melodic as they had been for Bach, and were consigned to underpinning the harmonic and tonal motion: tonics and dominants abound, depriving the bass part of its chance to participate in contrapuntal texture and keep the momentum.

Romanticism continued to explore expanding compostion; Impressionism examined light and colour in music. It wasn’t until Michael Tippett’s sprung-rhythm technique (see, for instance, the wonderfully light-footed first movement of the Concerto for Double String Orchestra) emerged in the twentieth century that rhythm was again elevated to being a principle concern in music.

I won’t deny that Beethoven has his fleeter moments – Symphony no.8, for instance – but that’s not enough to combat the ever-lumpen nature of some of the other orchestral works.

Beethoven: giving music its leaden tread.

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