Child's Play


April 2000

What do composers get out of interactions with young performers? In my opinion, the advantages are many. Composing for kids is definitely not an excuse for childish music but demands the sophistication of music pared down to its essentials and should be direct in its communication. For me as a composer, I constantly ask myself, 'how can I be me in the most simple, uncluttered and direct way?' These are invaluable points of departure for any composer, in whatever context.

But simpler music does not necessarily mean simplistic music, in the same way that music for children does not necessarily mean childish music. This perspective or philosophy is right at the heart of spnm's new five-year initiative, c4k (composing for kids). Spear-headed by spnm's artistic director, Joanna MacGregor, c4k aims to put repertoire for young performers at the very heart of spnm's creative outlook: "It's great to be able to move new innovative work especially for children into the centre of the agenda." The next five years will see spnm helping 20 emerging British composers to produce new and sophisticated music for children to perform.

Judith Weir is one composer who continues to write music with young performers in mind. For her the jump from writing music for professionals to writing music for children was not a difficult one: there is a simplicity in her musical language that can sit in both camps quite happily. Her chamber piece, El Rey de Francia, is the epitome of a piece of music playable by young performers, professional performers and amateur performers alike. It retains the 'Weir-ish' sound world, without making any concessions to the technical restrictions of the players. This piece was also the key which opened the door to the Schubert Ensemble's Chamber Music 2000 project, aimed at providing young players with worthwhile but performable chamber music.

The Schubert Ensemble of London is one of a number of groups in this country who are actively promoting new work. Alongside the war-horses of Brahms, Hummel and Fauré they continue to programme newly-commissioned works, absorbing these pieces into their repertoire as an integral part of their programming philosophy. In an age which all too often rolls a first and last performance into the same concert, it is a delight for any composer to have a newly-commissioned work taken into the heart of the chamber-music repertory with such enthusiasm, such care and such attention to detail.

What we have to consider is why so much of the twentieth-century's musical language can seem to have so little to offer young musicians. Other eras saw composers writing music that could be tackled and enjoyed by players at all stages of development. For many composers, myself included, writing music for children is not really child's play at all and demands a rethink of one's own musical language. This can be both time-consuming and challenging. But it is a state of affairs which both c4k and Chamber Music 2000 is beginning to address.

Perhaps more composers should take up the challenge of writing music with younger performers in mind, rather than simply bemoaning the lack of opportunity to have their music performed by established, professional ensembles.

David Knotts

spnm's c4k project is supported by The Alan Fluck Memorial Fund of the Musician's Benevolent Fund, John Lewis Partnership and the Britten-Pears Foundation. Composers and schools keen to take part in c4k should contact Fiona Lambert, project manager, on 020 7828 9696.

For more information about the Schubert Ensemble's Chamber Music 2000 project, contact Ann Senior on 020 8563 0618

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Previous articles:

March 2000
tables turned

February 2000
the ENO Studio

January 2000
a challenge from Michael Oliva

December 1999
into the next century...

November 1999
Joanna MacGregor writes

October 1999
obsessed with consuming?

September 1999
spnm welcomes Joanna MacGregor.

July/August 1999
Spectrum 2 - miniatures for piano.

June 1999
Hoxton Hall New Music Days.

May 1999
Bath International Music Festival is 50.

April 1999
Who is Georges Aperghis?

March 1999
On frost, birth and death

February 1999
Keeping busy...

January 1999
Now that's what I call contemporary!

December 1998
Forty years of madness?

November 1998
To plug in or not to plug in?

October 1998
No, honestly it is a cello

September 1998
Composing for film

July/August 1998
New music on old instruments

June 1998
Blue sheep of record companies

May 1998
spnm looks to the future

April 1998
New Music 98 in Manchester