I want to get down my opinions on the whole Southbank Centre redevelopment debacle, before the whole thing BLOWS UP.
Basically, as far as I can tell, the Southbank’s logic is that: a) if there’s no redevelopment, there cannot be any new educational facilities for deprived kids, and b) if they don’t destroy the historic skate park and replace it with retail units, there cannot be a new redevelopment.
The argument is then that, without giving up a certain amount of public space for private profit, we cannot give young people and children the cultural and educational opportunities that I think we all agree they deserve. The skateboarders are being ‘selfish’ by not ‘making space’ by giving up the ‘prime commercial space’ of their current skate-park in order to allow the Southbank to make spaces for ‘other “tribes”‘ (many of these of the Southbank’s own creation) who ‘don’t have a voice’ (apart from the voice of the government-subsidised Southbank Centre and of the private funders who are making up much of the new development’s budget). Continue reading
There are some big and potentially game-changing events going down in London this Summer that have certainly got me shaking with anticipation:::
- Last month’s Nonclassical, at the Macbeth, was a celebration of the work of the late composer Steve Martland – British minimalist pioneer and an anti-establishment hero from whom the biting point still has a lot to learn. It was a fantastic gig, the perfect music for the setting, the perfect setting for the music. The next Nonclassical night, this coming Wednesday, promises to be just as fantastic (and it’s the last of their regular clubnights till September, so a good excuse to get down there). The Ligeti Quartet are performing a diverse programme, including music by John Adams, Arvo Pärt and Anna Meredith, before a set from rarescale, a flexible ensemble centred on the alto/bass flute, promoting new repertoire and blending in plenty of electronics. — Nonclassical feat. Ligeti Quartet/Rarescale, The Macbeth, Hoxton – Wednesday 3rd July, advance tickets £5 — (Listen to a podcast mix by Carla Rees of Rarescale >>>HERE<<<)
- Bold Tendencies, the multi-storey car-park collective in Peckham which hosted the now-legendary car park Rite of Spring Project, is fast becoming an absolutely vital platform for new music in London. The ensemble behind that performance – The Orchestra Project – return with a particularly exciting project on Saturday 6th July called Wishes Lies and Dreams. For the first time, a new piece has been written for the venue and ensemble, by composer Kate Whitley, and it involves children’s choirs from across Peckham. This seems like a particularly important project because the only real negative aspect of these annual car-park concerts (and the venue in general) were their collusion with the intensive gentrification of Peckham currently ongoing. While the Orchestra Project have always done educational outreach work, their car-park concerts were previously treated as a separate initiative. Not any more though – this concert will bring both aspects of their work together, as well as producing something genuinely new out of it all. And while the issue of gentrification is obviously incredibly complicated (although, don’t get me wrong, it is always entirely a bad thing), the bridging of these physical, spatialised socio-economic and cultural gulfs appearing all over London is surely one of the most politically-expedient uses of the ‘community’ music projects that are sopping up most of the remaining government funding. AND TICKETS ARE FREE! BOOK THEM HERE! — Wishes Lies and Dreams, Rye Lane Car Park, Peckham – Saturday 6th July, 5pm, Free
- Most exciting of all, I think: the London Contemporary Music Festival (LCMF 2013). From new production collective Sound Four, this is an absurdly exciting programme of concerts running over two long weekends at the end of July. Again, it is hosted by Bold Tendencies in Peckham, and again it is completely free! The line-up, spread across ten concerts, is incredibly broad and incredibly bold. There’s a ‘drone day‘ featuring a premiere performance by Charlemagne Palestine, a programme of music for loudspeakers, a Glenn Branca premiere, an insanely high-concept programme pairing Ennio Morricone and Helmut Lachenmann, and a beautifully curated set of keyboard music. Most exciting for us at the biting point, there’s a performance of Frederic Rzewski’s famous political work Coming Together, about the Attica prison riots of 1971, as well as two contemporary opera programmes, including an ‘immersive’ premiere from Kate Whitley (paired with Gerald Barry’s La Plus Forte) and a fascinating programme entitled To a New Definition of Opera, including work by Jennifer Walshe, Kurt Schwitters and Laurie Anderson, and extracts from Einstein on the Beach. On paper (or on website), this looks like the new music festival that London deserves. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be successful or have the impact that it could have, but just the fact that it’s being attempted – which gives it a direction from which to grow and develop – is incredibly heartening. And did I mention it’s free?! You have to book though… — London Contemporary Music Festival, Rye Lane Car Park, Peckham – 25th July-4th August, Free
1) Opera is not ’an 18th-century art form’
2) The potential of opera has yet to be fulfilled
1) Opera is not ‘an 18th-century art form’ : : : In his hugely positive review of Michel van der Aa’s Sunken Garden, the music writer Norman Lebrecht wrote the following:
Few new operas address the fundamental question of what an 18th century art form is supposed to do in the 21st.
His intentions are good, of course, but this suggestion that opera is ‘an 18th-century art form’ goes some way to explain how he could possibly consider Sunken Garden as addressing any ‘fundamental questions’ regarding the 21st century, not to mention constituting ‘the future of opera’ or ‘a projection of what opera ought to be’. Continue reading
A resounding disappointment from a composer/director whose previous ‘multimedia’ musical works have been frequently fascinating. Rather than considering the inherent musico-theatrical possibilities of its dazzling 3D video technology, the whole opera seems to have been retro-fitted around these projections in the most painfully prosaic way, and in doing so falls into pretty much every one of the standard opera traps.
Before I rip into it any further, I should say that I did feel a moment of overwhelming emotion, and even shed a tear, towards the end of Michel van der Aa’s new opera Sunken Garden. It was at the end of the second ‘film aria’ featuring the missing girl, the circumstances of whose disappearance is at the centre of the opera’s ‘occult mystery’, Amber (Kate Miller-Heidke). Specifically, it was the moment at which the music from the first of Amber’s ‘film arias’ returns, with its synth progression transferred to the orchestra. Here’s the music, entitled ‘Slipping out of Mirrors’, in its initial permutation:
1) New opera is not ‘risky’
2) Opera is not ‘fundamentally an emotional art form’
1) New opera is not ‘risky’ : : : The ‘risk’ in programming new opera – commissioning it, developing it, producing it – has become a standard, fairly unquestioned truism in the discourse of ‘practical’ classical music. As far as I’m concerned, any framing of new opera as inherently (or even potentially) ‘risky’ is fundamentally opposed to a serious conception of opera as art. It assumes a particular empirical judgement of ‘success’ based on audience reception – specifically on financial returns, popularity or critical consensus.
In the previous two posts, I outline my thoughts concerning a recent conference for new opera creators, hosted by Sound and Music with the Royal Opera House. It focused on what I’ve termed ‘the ideology of opera creation’ - a set of assumptions which I believe dominate the way in which most new opera producers think about and approach their work. Central to this is a division of artistic labour between three key creative collaborators – composer, librettist and director – as well as an emphasis on the process of collaborative creation as the locus of the work’s ‘success’, at the expense of a strikingly new and progressive final product (I compare this notion of creative labour to that involved in contemporary capitalist production). In this post I want to posit a couple of alternative approaches to operatic collaboration and the relationship between the various artists, the collaborative process and the final production, which themselves draw on historical strategies . . . . . .
Back to the ‘Problem of Opera’
Critiquing the ‘collaborative process’ and the equation of opera with the commodity-form doesn’t exactly solve the ‘problem’ of different artists from different disciplinary backgrounds attempting to collaborate sympathetically on a cogent final project. Whatever one might think of all the Marxist analysis, I think it would be valuable at least to attempt to conceptualise the collaborative process differently from the step-by-step layering of ‘treatments’ – scenario, then libretto, then music, then staging, all attempting to ‘serve’ each other – which has, in my opinion, hijacked the imagination of opera creators, presenting itself as ‘standard practice’. Instead, I want to re-propose two radically-opposed historic strategies, not necessarily in the forms or for the purposes that they were originally conceived, but as more audacious and progressive ways in which to imagine the roles of the various disciplinary dimensions within opera. These historic strategies are: Wagner’s theory of the Gesamtkunstwerk (or ‘total’ work of art), and Brecht’s theory of the ‘Separation of the Elements’ : : : Continue reading
In my previous post, I discussed a recent conference for new opera creators, hosted by Sound and Music with the Royal Opera House. I attempted to outline what I perceived as a particular set of assumptions about how new opera creation should be approached, which I termed ‘the ideology of opera creation’. Along with an emphasis on the ‘collaborative’ nature of opera, one of the key aspects of this ideology was a location of a new production’s success and value within its creative process, rather than in the critical/revolutionary potential of the work itself, or in its ‘truth’ (however that may be understood). In this post I will unpack this idea further, particularly in relation to Sound and Music itself, to ‘official’ culture, and to the question of whether or not opera is a commodity . . . . . .
I do understand why the Stage Notes conference focused on process rather than product. Sound and Music is a public-funded organisations that does a lot of work within a kind of ‘apprenticeship’ model, encouraging young and emerging ‘cultural’ or ‘creative’ workers, creating performance and collaboration opportunities, and helping to expand their ‘skill sets’ and networks at the start of their careers. This is particularly apparent in its ‘Sounding Out’ series of discussions ‘providing insights into professional practice across new music and sound’.
As part of the Sounding Out series, the conference aimed to dispense the creative equivalent of practical vocational guidance; it certainly isn’t the intention of Sound and Music to prescribe what kind of opera needs to be made (even though in practice, as an important funding body, that is exactly what they do). Instead, the focus of initiatives like the Stage Notes conference is to hone the skills of a new generation of producers, so that whatever happens, new work continues to be made (and ‘good-quality’, successful new work which continues to attract audiences, sell tickets, maybe get more people interested in the art form, and thereby optimise conditions for its future reproduction (for economic, social or spiritual reasons, depending on whom you ask)). Continue reading