July/August 1999


Spectrum 2

- 30 miniatures for solo piano.

The response to the first Spectrum anthology showed, in a most gratifying way, that there is a hunger for contemporary music among players of all ages and of widely different attainments. And now a volume of thirty specially commissioned easier pieces, Spectrum 2, has just been published. Addressing, for the moment, early instrumental experience, it is clearly essential that high quality new music should be available to children: we have a responsibility to ensure that they are familiar with the languages of our time. Furthermore, the communal and private delight, discipline and co-ordination that are all part of making music are enriched by the sense of exploration and discovery attached to preparing a new work, as well as the awareness that few (if any) others have played it before. This last factor has been a revelation to me: I had not appreciated how much the freedom from the weight of a performance tradition can contribute to the growth of confidence.
In recent years there has been much contact between professional orchestras, ensembles, composers and schoolchildren. Although of variable quality, many of these projects have clearly been invaluable in providing inspiration and stimulus to teachers and students. If such exercises lead to regular, structured involvement, the long-term benefits may be rich indeed.
What has been largely ignored, though, is the need for relatively easy, musically uncompromising new instrumental works by our finest composers: pieces that are both modest in technical challenge and duration, whilst being identifiably in their composersÕ concert-music style. Emphatically not studies, emphatically not jokey pieces patronisingly written Ôfor childrenÕ - but pieces that lie within the technical grasp of non-professional players and are, at the same time, entirely suitable for the concert platform. Such music of this kind that exists is little published. It is crazy that good contemporary music should be the exclusive preserve of professional performers.
The Spectrum collections for solo piano, although they are intended for amateur and professional players at least as much as for children, aim to address this lack.
Besides offering players an introduction to many styles in new music, the pieces have also proved useful models for student composers. Since ABRSM (Publishing) Ltd produced the first volume in 1996, there have been numerous performances by students, amateurs and professionals in this country and professional performances have taken place as far afield as the USA and Vietnam. Set pieces have been chosen from Spectrum for examinations and festivals. The need and demand for such music is clear. Please, composers and publishers, provide us with more - for all instruments.

ÔMy daughter now approaches contemporary pieces as naturally as she does music of the eighteenth centuryÕ
(parent of a Spectrum-owning student)
ÔI thought it was really weird at first but I love it nowÕ (student performer at the world premi�re)
ÔOf course, IÕd much rather be listening to the Missa SolemnisÕ
(old lady in front row at a recital I gave last summer)
ÔAt last - a piece by a new complexity composer that I can playÕ
(adult amateur)

Thalia Myers

Spectrum - 20 contemporary works for solo piano and Spectrum 2 - 30 miniatures for solo piano are published by ABRSM (Publishing) Ltd. They were commissioned by Thalia Myers with financial assistance from the Arts Council of England, The Holst Foundation and The Britten-Pears Foundation (Spectrum) and from the Britten-Pears Foundation (Spectrum 2).

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Previous articles:

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