Peter J. Mallett and then Michael Graham-Jones give their very
different personal reasons for commissioning new music
From tragedy, music
As my mother lay dying of cancer last year, one year after the death of
my father from the same disease, plans began to take shape in my head
for something positive to come out of this personal tragedy.
I was already making preparations for the London debut at the Wigmore
Hall of the Rubio Quartet from Belgium, a group I represent in Japan,
in a concert featuring the Japanese pianist Yoshiko Endo as part of the
'Japan 2001' festival. Due to the Rubio's reputation for 20th century
and contemporary music, and having been advised that a premiere was necessary
to attract press attention, I had decided to commission John McCabe, who
was known to the pianist, to write a piano quintet. The initial plan had
been to look for sponsorship for the composition, but the idea came to
me to commission the work privately as a musical memorial to my parents
for a concert in aid of Imperial Cancer Research Fund.
With a composer as focused and disciplined as John McCabe, the commission
has in fact proved to be the easiest element in the complicated arrangements
for this concert. The work was ready exactly on schedule; John has been
very co-operative regarding rehearsals in Belgium. The composer had complete
freedom in the creation of this quintet, my only condition being that
it should have a Japanese connection. By chance John had already written
the germinal concept for a piano quintet several years ago, inspired by
Japanese director Kenji Mizoguchi's classic 1954 film 'Sansho Dayu'.
The resulting work, 'The Woman by the Sea', is in one movement and begins
with John's notation of the evocative cry of the lone mother in the film,
wailing from the cliffs for the children from whom she was long ago separated.
American artist Sarah Brayer, a friend of mine in Japan, has donated art
work, also inspired by the same scene in the Mizoguchi film, for the programme
and flyers of the Wigmore Hall concert on 12 September when the Piano
Quintet will be premiered. The original print will be raffled in the interval
of the concert with all proceeds being donated to the Imperial Cancer
Peter J Mallett, Chairman Art SPACE (Society for the Promotion of Arts
and Culture Euro-Japan)
"Where have all the patrons gone?
Gone to meetings every one!"
Why, nowadays, are so few pieces of new music commissioned by individuals?
Is it a healthy sign for corporate bodies - councils, committees, trusts,
companies, colleges, quangos and so on - to dominate patronage and thence
public taste? Is ours the Age of Bureaucracy and Compromise? On the other
hand, why should an individual want to sponsor a work of art?
Because it's fun! That's the first reason I give when asked to say why
I have commissioned new music. There are other reasons, of course - serious
ones, moral ones, solemn ones, pompous ones, musical ones - but it's the
fun of the process which I find uppermost.
I say 'process' deliberately because, in the case of my family and the
four works we have (so far) commissioned - first, a painting of the family,
then chamber music pieces for the 25th, 50th and 55th wedding anniversaries
- the fun has come not only from the act of choosing the young artist
(rather like the thrill of placing a bet) and from delight in the celebratory
piece itself but, notably, from the relationship with the artist. He or
she alone decides what to do but the work cannot be begun, nor well finished,
unless its purpose is mutually understood. That is what entails process.
In our case, each time, it is a revelatory, intensely enjoyable and on-going
process; and the family is enriched through it.
Having had lucky bets, it's also enjoyable to feel at least as good as
those corporate bodies - and, perhaps, less given to compromise.
Standlake, Oxon, 5 August 2001
See the listings section for details
of performances of works commissioned by Peter Mallett and Michael Graham-Jones.
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