February 2003

spnm is 60



spnm, originally the Committee for the Promotion of New Music, was formed in January 1943 against a bleak backdrop. Its cosmopolitan emigre founder, Francis Chagrin, had to battle not only against widespread disinterest in new music in Britain, but also against the hardships of the Second World War:

"It all began one bleak December night in 1942. The black-out was at its worst, literally and figuratively. In the midst of the war, contemporary music appeared to be at a standstill, and creative artists were beset by apathy and indifference. That evening I was due to go to an Executive Committee meeting of the Arrangers', Composers' and Copyists' Section of the Musicians' Union... I phoned the secretary, Bob Gill, a young, cultured and serious-minded composer. He answered the telephone in a voice which betrayed a depression near despair. He told me how exasperated he was with sending manuscripts to performers who did not even bother to acknowledge them, let alone show any interest in them. I told him that I would come at once to have a chat with him.

"On the way, I had the idea of an organisation formed of established composers who would join forces to help their younger colleagues and to promote the cause of new music in general. Two axioms were basic: that it is easier to plead anotherÕs cause: and that most musicians are interested in music."

It is testament to the antipathy with which new music was received during the 1940s that the society was set up with the primary aim of promoting new music to performers. Presumably it was inconceivable that the public would be won over in the immediate future.

The new music scene in Britain at the time largely took its outlook from continental Europe, partly because many of the vociferous supporters of new music were emigre composers like Chagrin, who, in the mould of Schoenberg and others, were becoming increasingly used to being ignored. It is therefore not surprising that the stance of the Committee was highly composer-oriented. Despite abject finances, the Society (as it became in 1952) created a rich creative environment and nurtured the early careers of a new generation of British composers, including Peter Maxwell Davies, Harrison Birtwistle, Cornelius Cardew, Thea Musgrave, Nicholas Maw and Alexander Goehr.

spnm has always been aware of the need to adapt to changing circumstances. In the 1960s, when new music was beginning to strike a chord with a growing radical minority, and larger and richer organisations were beginning to commission new works, spnm did not attempt to compete but felt it could best promote its composers by means of collaborative concerts in conjunction with established promoters. This was the basis of spnm's 20th anniversary season in 1963. Its own endeavours received a great boost, however, when it received an unexpected bequest, announced to spnmÕs committee by the then Chairman of the Trustees, Michael Rubinstein:

"When I had made my announcement there was a stunned silence. Then a timid voice from down the table asked 'Does that mean that I can hire drums for our next concert?'" During the 1970s and 80s spnm broadened its scope: following its 40th anniversary in 1983, it was decided that artistic directors should be appointed annually to oversee individual seasons. This allowed plural yet still passionate visions of new music to flourish. spnm also began to organise events outside London, and its claim to be the main advocate of new British music was recognised in 1987, when it took over the administration of the British section of the ISCM.

At 60 spnm remains true to its founding aim of supporting and providing opportunities for emerging composers and promoting the cause of new music in general. It aims to do this through as broad a range of mechanisms as possible and with as broad a view of the terms and purpose of new music as possible. To celebrate its 60th year spnm has invited past artistic directors and vice presidents to curate individual events which will profile both spnm's history and its future. Details of the yearÕs programme will be announced in next monthÕs issue.

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Event listings for this month


Previous articles:

January 2003
Late Starters

October 2002
Internet Audio Experiments

September 2002
Letting Go or Taking Control

July 2002
"He just does education work..."

June 2002
New for Old

April 2002
In Search of Kurtag

March 2002
Back to School

January 2002
spnm in 2002

December 2001
There's no word in Finnish for workshop

November 2001
New Opera?

October 2001
Composer Associations

September 2001
Private Commissioning

July 2001
Joined-up Commissioning

May 2001
The Martland Interview

April 2001
Looking Four-wards

March 2001
Chamber Made

February 2001
Publishing, Promotion and Profitability

January 2001
From the World to the Warehouse

December 2000
What price new music?

November 2000
from start to finish - composing for dance

October 2000
John Lambert remembered

July 2000
The end of the season

June 2000
Announcing the shortlist

May 2000
Word of mouse

April 2000
Child's Play

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 1999
Spectrum 2 - miniatures for piano

June 1999
Hoxton 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!