In April Manchester hosts its first ever contemporary music festival, and arguably the world’s biggest new music event of the year. The International Society for Contemporary Music’s New Music ’98 will celebrate contemporary music in many forms – from orchestral music to sound installations, from jazz to music for dance, from chamber music to brass bands. Sir John Drummond invites us all to join in.
It is very hard to explain to some people why new music matters so much. It is even harder to try and convince me that it does not. I do not know whether it is my considerable natural curiosity about things or the fact that my degree is in History rather than Music, but new music has always been important to me. I just cannot conceive of a musical world which consists only of the past.
The challenge has been to get new music to an audience that wants to hear it, rather than the often expressed variant, how do you convince an audience that it matters? It has been very striking in my lifetime how regional cities have often had a more enterprising attitude to the new than that of the capital. Bournemouth, Birmingham, Liverpool and Glasgow have all made a contribution to widening the repertoire, largely through their use of subscription series, something London has always found difficult.
One of the main reasons that I was happy to accept the invitation of the already existing committee to become Chairman of the New Music 1998 Festival was that it was to be held in Manchester, a city with a lively audience and, since the opening of the Bridgewater Hall, an increasing one. All those doom merchants who go on about the death of the orchestra have not been to Manchester lately, where audiences for both the Hallé and the BBC Philharmonic are up by a third.
Another reason for my wanting to get involved was the historical element that our Artistic Director Gillian Moore suggested, placing the 1998 selected scores in a context of earlier premières. This is the 75th anniversary of that famous Salzburg get-together when the Society was launched. There is also an important recognition of the role that the so-called Manchester School played in helping the rather isolationist Britain of the fifties and sixties to come to terms with what had been happening elsewhere in Europe. It seems right that the music of Birtwistle, Maxwell Davies and Goehr should take its place alongside earlier ISCM works that have become classics, Bartók, Britten and Boulez among them.
I was also very keen that we should involve dance in the programme, since it is the way in to new music for many people. The dance audience, caught up in the theatrical experience, seems more ready to take new music in its stride. It is striking also how many of the century’s greatest composers have written music for dance.
This year’s ISCM Festival, using both the new and the accepted in its programming, seems to me a real chance for us to demonstrate our belief that innovation is more an opportunity than a threat and to respond to the imaginative programme with enthusiasm rather than the familiar panic. I hope Manchester will involve all kinds of people, not only those of us who depend on music for our livelihood, and show those who are not yet convinced that there are many strands to music today quite as enthralling as the tradition we have inherited. After all, today’s innovations are tomorrow’s classics.
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