January 2001

From the World to the Warehouse
Christopher Fox


Each new edition of the ISCM World Music Days (WMD) has its distinctive character, often a reflection of the political and musical climate of the host country. This year's festival was in Luxembourg, where people pay for things in Belgian francs and talk about them in French and German, and many of the musicians performing were also borrowed from neighbouring states. Interestingly it was often the players who exhibited distinctive national characteristics, rather than the music they were playing. The Arditti Quartet were passionately engaged, Ensemble Intercontemporain stylishly aloof, the German ensembles (Ensemble Modern and 'Das neue Ensemble' from Hanover) determinedly serious, but new pieces for Ensemble Intercontemporain seemed to sound much the same whether they were by a German, Spaniard or Argentine.

As always, the WMD as a total musical experience left me frustrated, with that childhood regret that the packaging had promised more than the present inside. Part of that frustration was generated in sessions of the ISCM General Assembly - in theory the body which formulates ISCM policy, in practice a corpse whose inertia threatens to smother the Society. But a lot of it was musically generated too.

Which director of an inter-national new music festival, left to their own devices, would devise a programming selection process like the one imposed by the ISCM where a WMD director can only choose music which has been passed fit by national jury or by the international jury? Perhaps I'm wrong but jury selection seems to me to be a process which favours security, reassuring in a justice system but unsuitable for art, and much of the most interesting music in the Luxembourg programmes was there as part of visiting ensembles' repertoire rather than as a result of the juries' sifting.

I left Luxembourg uncertain of the long-term future of the WMD. Yet without the WMD, its flagship brand, does the ISCM have a future itself? For some national sections (or perhaps just their delegates?) performances at the WMD are the ultimate purpose of their membership of the Society; would they still pay their annual subscription if the WMD didn't provide choirs and orchestras to play their countries' music? Plans for future festivals are well advanced, however, for Japan this year, Hong Kong in 2002, Slovenia in 2003 and Switzerland in 2004 (and the British Section and spnm are already in discussions with Hong Kong for a collaborative project for 2002) and details of the Call for Works for Hong Kong can be found here for those composers for whom a WMD performance is still a badge of honour.

In the end organisations are only as good as the activities which they make possible. As readers of my occasional column on ISCM matters in new notes will know, the British Section is trying to turn the ISCM into a year-long diet, not just an annual feast, working in partnership with other national sections to develop mutually beneficial enterprises. On February 17 and 18 we are hosting a weekend of events at the Warehouse, drawing together Ensemble Aleph from France and our own Apartment House. Aleph have been working on an international initiative with young composers, a number of them British - work that has grown out of an spnm workshop at the Bath Festival. Apartment House will play works by composers selected by the ISCM British Jury (again, life beyond the WMD) alongside Norwegian and German works, the first public outcome of the British SectionÕs Ensemble Exchange project. The weekend promises to be lively, full of exciting new musical ideas. If that's the case then the ISCM is, of course, worthwhile. If not... who knows? Christopher Fox is Chairman of the British Section of the ISCM

Christopher Fox

Christopher Fox is Chairman of the British Section of the ISCM

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Previous articles:

December 2000
What price new music?

November 2000
Composing for dance
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October 2000
John Lambert remembered

July 2000
Joanna MacGregor

June 2000
Announcing the shortlist

May 2000
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April 2000
Child's Play

March 2000
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February 2000
the ENO Studio

January 2000
a challenge from Michael Oliva

December 1999
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November 1999
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October 1999
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September 1999
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July/August 1999
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June 1999
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May 1999
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April 1999
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March 1999
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February 1999
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January 1999
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December 1998
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November 1998
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October 1998
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September 1998
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July/August 1998
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June 1998
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May 1998
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April 1998
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