Now that's what
I call 'contemporary'!
Beverley Crew celebrates
CMN’s innovative 1999/2000 season
While swooning over spnm’s seriously sexy new image, I’ve been
thinking just how radically perceptions of ‘new’ and ‘contemporary’
music have been changing over the past few years.
Up until quite recently, if you’d invited a friend to a contemporary
music concert, chances are they would have politely declined, secretly
conjuring up those old hackneyed images of awkward, hairy musicians shuffling
silently onto a starkly-lit stage to create sounds reminiscent of a rusty
gate in need of a good oiling. That the audience would consist solely
of some two dozen anoraks (always male and most definitely single!), was
inevitable. And presuming that any marketing had been done, it would consist
of a dull, academically-worded A4 sheet, photocopied so darkly as to obscure
the musicians’ photo. Distribution would comprise the local library’s
If this scenario were ever true, it certainly isn’t now. ‘Contemporary’
and ‘new’ are increasingly used as terms to encompass musical
styles as wide and diverse as jazz, classical, world, electronic and experimental,
as well as the more adventurous end of pop, rock and dance music. What’s
more, contemporary music audiences actually feature large numbers of women,
marketing is tight, focused and appealing – and sometimes, if we’re
really lucky, we are allowed to take alcoholic beverages into the auditoria!
It has become second-nature for many composers/musicians to jump effortlessly
between music forms, and most are extremely keen to communicate with really
diverse audiences. So the organisers of events are able to ever increase
their expectations of the broad range of people who are likely to be interested
in attending, and the audience itself is having a far more exciting time
as a result of this diversification.
So where does Contemporary Music Network (CMN) fit into this picture?
CMN, which is funded by and based at the Arts Council of England, has
been a major pioneer in producing innovative live contemporary music tours
across genres for the past 28 years, showcasing world-class artists to
wide audiences throughout the country. We have instigated the first ever
visits to this country by the Steve Reich Ensemble, Gil Evans Orchestra,
Philip Glass Ensemble, Jan Garbarek Quartet and the Kronos Quartet, to
name but a few. We have also championed the huge talent we have here in
the UK, creating opportunities for exceptional British artists to develop
and tour projects and collaborations with the marketing and press support
they deserve. We are delighted that spnm will be striking collaborations
with the 1999/2000 tours and look forward to some exciting initiatives.
CMN’s season for 1999/2000 is one of the most eclectic ever, taking
us into some new territories. Our programme includes Jazz, Tango, Classical,
Brazilian New Beat, Zappa, South African and Cameroonian World/Jazz, Asian
Club, Multi-Media Soundcircus, Folk and Japanese Sound and Image Manipulation
Now that’s what I call ‘contemporary’!
For more information about CMN events, please call 0171 973 6504 or email
Beverley Crew is the Administrator of CMN.
A harpist speaks
out: it is not a piano!
advice on getting through the pedal barrier...
I know harpists have a reputation for being neurotic and temperamental…
but trust me, this has more to do with breaking strings, draughty pits
and having to cart the darned thing around! So why is it that most composers
seem to be frightened off at the very thought of writing for the harp?
It seems one has only to mention a pedal change or an enharmonic in order
to bring a composer out in a cold sweat!
The harp is undoubtedly a complicated beast but it really is worth getting
through that pedal barrier in order to understand it. We have a relatively
small repertoire due to the late development of the pedal action, but
we really need to encourage present-day composers to create some good
repertoire in order for the harp to be taken seriously in the future.
It is an extremely versatile instrument which, in my opinion, is a long
way from achieving its full potential. Of course, we can play beautiful
glissandi and arpeggios (cf. ‘arpa’), but there is so much more
to it than that. It can also be a percussive, aggressive instrument and
we harpists are aching for someone to tap its infinite possibilities.
Berio, Britten and Petrassi have set the ball well and truly rolling,
but all too often we frustrated harpists set about writing ourselves,
and we end up with expert harp writing by ‘less expert’ composers.
I’m sure many composers have been interested in writing for the harp
at some stage, and have probably got as far as reading up the basics –
and then they come across the pedals and opt out! Please give it another
try! It must seem thoroughly illogical and off-putting, but I’d like
to outline a few basic guidelines that may help to break the ice.
1 I know it sounds obvious, but try to spend 30 minutes with a
harp, and preferably a harpist too, and try to play it and understand
the sorts of musical figures that might suit it, before you write a note.
2 Don’t worry… only the people that build harps understand
why the pedals are in that strange order!
The pedals are our problem – don’t feel restricted in your writing.
I would suggest that you write first and then go through the piece bearing
pedal movements in mind. As a general rule, steer clear of chromaticism.
Since almost every harpist has their own quirky way of marking their pedal
changes, you should write in pedals for your own use, but provide the
harpist with a clean unmarked copy. It will save on world Tippex resources!
3 Most harpists use only four fingers in each hand (not the little
finger), although one or two of us are more rebellious and find that using
the little one gives us a fighting chance with Strauss!
4 It is well worth looking in Salzedo’s Modern Study of the
harp or in the front of Berio’s Sequenza for details of different
sonorities and effects that can be made using different parts of the string,
plucking with the nails, etc.
5 Most harpists can easily stretch a tenth in each hand, but be
careful when filling in a tenth with other harmonies… try to avoid
too wide an interval between 4th and 3rd, and 3rd and 2nd fingers:
is much better
6 Avoid repeated notes on the same string. Try to build in enharmonics
so that one can alternate between the two strings:
Playing repeated chords on the same string is rather unrewarding as all
the resonance is stifled.
sound better as:
7 Harmonics sound an octave higher than the string on which they
are played. They have limited success on the metal strings (usually from
about the second G below middle C down) and are horrible anywhere above
about the C above middle C. In short, they are best in the middle range.
The right hand can only play one harmonic at a time, but the left hand
can manage two so long as the interval is no more than a fourth.
I hope these points will help. Of course, the best way to learn is by
trial and error, so have a bash! Some examples of good idiomatic harp
writing can be found in the Mahler symphonies, Puccini operas (very effective
and not difficult), Ginastera Harp Concerto, Britten operas and Suite
(except for the left hand figures in the Overture!), Caplet Divertissements
for solo harp and Conte Fantastique for harp and string quartet, Berio
Sequenza and Fauré Impromptu op 86.
Catherine will give the London première of a work by Martyn
Harry as part of her Park Lane Group recital on 5 January at the Purcell
Room. If you’d like more advice on writing for the harp you’re
welcome to introduce yourself after the concert, or to contact her through
the spnm office.
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