Live Music Now Scotland celebrates 30 years – Luminate

April 6, 2015 in featured, guest blog, Live Music Now by newmusicscotland

61JXX+GwYfL._SY300_CD of new works by Eddie McGuire, William Sweeney, Alasdair Nicolson, John Maxwell Geddes and Wildings – released on Delphian label, 6th April 2015. Available from iTunes.

‘It has been my dream to bring live music back into the everyday lives of people of all ages….in those places where most of us spend our time, where we work, study, suffer or celebrate, be it in office or factory, school or prison, parish hall or church.’ These words of Live Music Now’s founder, Yehudi Menuhin, ring as true today in how the scheme operates as in 1977 when his vision began to be fulfilled through the founding of Live Music Now, now a UK-wide and internationally established movement. Through Live Music Now Scotland, for instance, over 600 events are presented each year in places as diverse as those above as well as care homes, day centres, art galleries and museums. Places where audiences have little or no access to high quality live music remain at the core of Live Music Now’s activity. In putting his dream into practice, Menuhin also realised that what highly talented musicians embarking on careers in the music profession really need is performing experience in front of an audience. Live Music Now, from the outset, has always worked to support the early careers of exceptional emerging artists, not only by offering a wide range of paid performing experience, but also training and pastoral support, which all combine to help prepare for a sustainable career in the music profession. Musicians are selected through a rigorous recruitment and audition procedure. Although musical excellence is the bottom line, Live Music Now musicians also have to be able to communicate well with people of all ages and levels of ability, and readily strike up a good rapport with their audiences. Groups who are part of the scheme usually number no more than five and, in Scotland, include classical, Scottish traditional, jazz and rock/pop ensembles. Selection of repertoire is key to successful experiences for musicians and audiences alike, particularly in Live Music Now events when participation or some form of interaction can be vital in engaging with hard to reach groups. Although contemporary classical repertoire is frequently part of Live Music Now Scotland performances – James MacMillan, Peter Maxwell Davies, lmn_logo@2Thea Musgrave are just three Scottish composers who feature regularly – it is generally repertoire which has been written with more mainstream performances in mind. In focussing on the creative continuum that is musicians – audience – composer, each as essential to the other, we realised that there was potential for Live Music Now Scotland to commission music with our typical audiences in mind, but which would also transfer successfully to mainstream concert programmes. With musicians staying on the scheme for around four years and new talent coming through on a regular basis, building a library of specially commissioned music also provides a new resource for up-and-coming artists auditioning to be part of our work, and gives opportunity for multiple performances of new scores. The growing international network of branches of Live Music Now gives a platform for exchange of scores across Live Music Now ensembles in Europe. It is win for musicians in having high quality new music to play, win for composers in having repeat performances and win for audiences who cannot access contemporary music in the concert hall. Already, Eddie McGuire’s ‘Dance Suite for Two’, the first of our commissions with the above in mind, has been performed by the Spencer-Strachan Duo, for whom it was written, for a prison audience in Denmark, for over 100 children and young people with special educational needs in Abu Dhabi, as well as countless rural primary schools in Dumfries and Galloway and members of the general public. The score has gone to a violin and cello duo in Live Music Now Munich, who have sent back one of theirs by a contemporary German composer in return. In commissioning Eddie, the first composer we approached as part of this developing commissioning policy, we gave him carte blanche as to what he’d like to write for from the list of musicians who were part of Live Music Now Scotland at that time. Our next commission was quite different, as it followed a new model, bringing together the creative circle of musicians – audience – composer even closer together. Composing With Care, an initiative developed by Live Music Now Scotland, involves musicians going into care homes and day centres for older people, including those with dementia-related illness, and, through live music, stimulating their memories, emotions and shared social experiences around a particular spence strachentheme. This material is recorded in situ and passed to a composer as the source material to inspire and guide a new piece of music. For Bill Sweeney’s Luminate: From the Islands, two Scottish traditional musicians visited five different Hebridean Islands between them and gathered songs, stories, poems and a myriad of recollections of island life and culture, some of it in Gaelic. Bill used this material to compose his suite of songs for voice – flexibly high or low – and piano. The same method was implemented for John Maxwell Geddes’ A Castle Mills Suite, but this time the focus was on WW1 and the North British Rubber Company in Edinburgh, which made millions of wellington boots and hosing for the British troops. Generations of hundreds of families in west Edinburgh had associations with the North British Rubber Company, which was a major employer even after the war. In commissioning Alasdair Nicolson, we were thinking about Live Music Now’s 30th anniversary and, although the choice was ultimately Alasdair’s, were keen for a string quartet. His The Keeper of Sheep was premiered by the Astrid Quartet at the St Magnus Festival in Live Music Now Scotland’s 30th anniversary year, both publicly and in our outreach programme in care homes and day care centres. This was quickly followed by a second public performance in Music at Paxton festival in the Scottish Borders, demonstrating Live Music Now Scotland’s geographic reach from one end of the country to the other, and again accompanied by associated outreach performances. Different again is Wildings’ Bellany Suite. This was commissioned in association with one of Live Music Now Scotland’s long-established partners, the National Galleries of Scotland, in celebration of the life and work of East Lothian artist John Bellany and written by the three traditional musicians of Wildings collectively in response to his work. It has been performed publicly as well as in education work for East Lothian children in collaboration with NGS.

As the 30th birthday of Live Music Now Scotland approached, it was timely to gather these recent commissions together Edward McGuireonto a cd and Luminate is the result. It is both a snapshot of what Live Music Now Scotland has achieved in commissioning and performing new music since the premiere of Eddie McGuire’s Dance Suite in April 2013 and a springboard for commissioning in the future. Jennifer Martin is currently working on a duo for clarinet and piano, while we are strengthening our relationship with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland so that it is not only performance graduates whose future lives and careers are inspired by the ideals of Live Music Now, but emerging composers too. For the performers who are heard on the cd, being part of Live Music Now Scotland offered a new dimension to their professional development through the exceptional experience of working closely with composers and an award-winning recording label.

The cd could not have happened without the support of those who have funded it and co-commissioned the music. I would like to pay particular tribute to the trustees of Kimie Trust and Bacher Trust, all of whom are much valued, long-standing supporters of our work. They have funded commissions, outreach performances, as well as the recording itself and their confidence in what we do is deeply appreciated. We also acknowledge co-commissioners 14-18 NOW, Luminate Festival of Creative Ageing and the National Galleries of Scotland. Formal acknowledgement of these partners is on the cd booklet, but this blog is a chance to recognise the place of the individuals who have worked with Live Music Now Scotland to build the relationships and fruitful partnerships which make the commissions possible. And, of course, thanks to the team at Delphian who took on what seemed like a bit of an unusual project at the outset, but has resulted in a stunning and impressive recording. Thank you to all.

 

Carol Main MBE

Director

Live Music Now Scotland/International Development (UK)

4 April 2015

Programming Cottier Chamber Project

February 9, 2015 in Andy Saunders, featured, guest blog by Andy Saunders

cottier chamberStarting with a blank piece of paper (or in my case, a pile of blank post-it notes) is one of the most exciting parts of programming a festival. What shall we do this year? Shall we have a theme? Are there particular composers that we want to feature? Or maybe an instrument? A period? A country? If so, what and why?

When The Cottier Chamber Project began in 2011, there were a few rules that I gave myself, to help guide the programme. Firstly, I was aware of how much interest and passion for chamber music there was amongst orchestral players. Many people had small groups that would do the odd concert here and there, but would love to spend more time rehearsing and performing. Secondly, I wanted to feature a whole load of different line-ups and genres of chamber music, rather than the usual diet of string quartets and voice/piano recitals (there is some cracking music out there for odd combinations…so why not perform it?!). Other than that, I suppose that it struck me that there was a lot of enthusiasm for chamber music that was untapped, and which deserved to be encouraged!

Those guidelines have changed a little, though not a huge amount, as the festival has developed, funding parameters have changed, and various relationships and partnerships have flourished, but the core aims of the festival are still the same.

So…programming the festival. Let’s approach this from two different angles – my point of view, and your point of view.

The Cottier Chamber Project isn’t a new music festival. It’s also not an old music festival though. It’s a very mixed programme, that has the aim of allowing the audiences and artists to explore, experiment, and make some new discoveries along the way. I tend to start off with a few lists – composers and pieces that I’d like to include, ensembles and artists, and maybe some general themes. I’ll begin conversations with lots of groups, sometimes asking for specific repertoire, sometimes asking whether there is anything that they would like to perform. There is then lots of to-ing and fro-ing, until the programme takes shape. I’ll spend a lot of time cottier 2listening to things on-line and researching various links between composers and pieces. I’d like to go to more concerts to hear new groups and composers, but I’m often working when they’re on, so that’s a little trickier. I’ll make sure that the whole programme has a wide variety of repertoire, period and instrumentation, and I’ll try to find strong ways to include and link trad, world and jazz music to the chamber music programme. Last year, we expanded to include a dance thread (The Cottier Dance Project – you can probably see what we did there…!), which is curated by Freya Jeffs. We’ll have a look at possible collaborative pieces, see who we think would work really well together, and then start off those conversations as well. We’ll put together an outline draft of our dream programme in March/April (so 14/15 months before the festival), which will then constantly be tweaked until the print deadline (next week – aaaargh!). When all’s said and done, it’s surprisingly close to the original plan.

We’ll put in a few big funding applications early on. If they’re successful, then it means that we’re in a good place and can start moving on things. If not, or the money is less than we need, we’ll need to put a few things onto the backburner. In terms of commissions, it’s been a slow process to build it up to the point that we’re at this year, particularly as our funding has been so tight, and we’ve been partnering with another organisation. For this year, we’ll have 4 purely musical commissions. One from a well established international composer, one from an established Scottish composer (Scottish meaning ‘lives and works in Scotland’), one from an emerging Scottish composer and one from our composition competition (the only restriction here is that composers must live in Scotland – any age, background, experience is fine). We’ll also have one commission from a trad composer working with a group of dancers, and then we’ve got 3 new dance commissions (again from variety of established/emerging, Scottish/overseas choreographers) and one commission from a puppeteer.

cottier danceOf course, funding is a major issue when it comes to commissioning. If I can’t make a strong enough case to a funding body or supporter to commission someone, then that’s the end of it, which is one of the reasons that I try to put together a balanced selection of commissions.

Our audience is also very mixed. We get a lot of people who are either industry professionals themselves (performers, creators, administrators, etc) or regular audience members at the national companies and main venues. We also get a lot of people who live locally and want to try something unusual, and increasingly we’re getting cultural tourists from overseas. We’re beginning to develop a reputation for programming some unusual and surprising pieces which always turn out to be good, so hopefully that means that audience are beginning to trust that whatever is on the programme will be worth hearing. Obviously, it’s important to get an audience to turn up (the more the merrier!), but I’m also happy to programme things that I know fit into a definite niche. They may not be as attractive to a large audience, but they’re important to some people, and are therefore important within the context of the whole festival’s programme.

Now, if you’re a composer, then you’d probably quite like to be on the list of people that I ask. I can imagine that it’s pretty frustrating – you can write pieces, and then persuade groups to play them, but that only pays the bills if someone pays you to write them in the first place (or you get lucky and the BBC use it as a sound track to something lucrative!). You’ve probably got good connections with some really good performers, who would be quite happy to programme your music, but haven’t got the funding to pay for it. Long term funding for composers is a different issue than the one in this piece of waffle – one that is constantly at the forefront of discussions within NMS. In no particular order, a few things to keep in mind might be:

  • If you would like a promoter to consider commissioning you, invite them along to a performance of your music that you know will be good! Sending an email without any opportunity to hear your work isn’t going to work. That goes for performers too!
  • If there are groups that you know already play regularly in a festival or venue, collaborate with them on a pitch for a commission – having someone to play the piece that you want to write will be useful.
  • Bear in mind the context and style of the festival – will your proposed piece fit well with the overall vibe and scheduling of the festival? Will it need loads of complicated electronics, lighting and staging that will make the producer’s life a misery and blow the budget? What else will be in the programme for that concert?
  • Artistic Directors regard their whole programme as a piece of art in itself, so if they say ‘no’, it’s probably not a reflection of whether you are any good or not. It’s just that it’s the wrong fit for this particular festival programme. There are many more composers and pieces than slots in the schedule, so the majority of composers are going to be disappointed.
  • I’ve got long term plan for the festival, and I’d imagine that most other festivals do as well. That means that I’m planning to be commissioning people for a fair few years to come, so I might well get to you at some point. I’m assuming that composers would still like to be being commissioned 10 or 20 years down the line…I realise that this isn’t much help immediately, but it’s the reality of things.
  • Funding doesn’t guide the programming, but it’s an essential component in making it happen. If you’ve already got a commitment (or at least strong interest) of some part funding already, then that is attractive to a festival. Co-commissioning or co-producing something is perfectly possible, and probably increasingly a good idea.
  • If you see a call for scores that has specific parameters, it’s probably not worth trying to persuade a festival that your piece really does fit, even though it’s for different instruments, the wrong length, about a different subject, and you don’t live in the specified region! Sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised…

cottier 3

As with composers, there’s a huge amount of work that goes on to make a festival happen that the organisers aren’t paid for. Obviously that’s not an ideal scenario, but it means that there is a huge amount of artistic integrity in the programmes. It’s certainly the case for me, and I’d imagine that it’s the same with other festivals, that every piece and performer is there for a reason, and it all fits into a plan and a story. I’d love to commission everyone every year, even people whose music I don’t particularly like, but is obviously well crafted and has something original to say (I’m not the greatest fan of Tchaikovsky, but I can concede that he was a good composer!). Sadly, the reality of it is that I can’t.

The programme for the 2015 edition of The Cottier Chamber Project will launch in the first week of March. There’s a fair amount of new music in there, some of which is hopefully a pleasant surprise, so I hope that you’ll grab a copy of the brochure or look up the website (www.cottierchamberproject.com) and mark up your diary for June! If you’re planning to enter the composition competition that we’re running in collaboration with the RSNO, good luck!

 

 

Out of the Silence – John McLeod

December 17, 2014 in featured, guest blog, John McLeod by mwhiteside

John McLeodComposer John McLeod talks about his latest commission for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, ‘Out of the Silence’ – a homage to Carl Nielsen whose 150th anniversary is celebrated in 2015.

When Roy McEwan, got in touch with me early in 2013 to ask if I would like to write a new orchestral work as a tribute to either Sibelius or Nielsen, both of whose 150th anniversaries would fall in 2015, I was intrigued and delighted. I’m always in awe of Sibelius’s works which I adore, but I had no hesitation in choosing Carl Nielsen as the subject for my tribute. His musical language and maverick ideas have always appealed to me. Also the more deeply I probed into Nielsen, the more I became aware of how much the state of silence crops up.

Most of us in our daily lives strive for it but hardly ever experience it – except probably, and this fascinated me, in musical performance. The awe inspiring silence and atmosphere just seconds before a piece begins is extraordinary, and the more people involved in this the more unique is the experience.

So ‘Out of the Silence’ starts in silenceleading the way to an imaginary conversation between me and Nielsen – quite a formidable undertaking when one thinks about it! My ideas started to develop the more I pursued this direction and, as the work took shape, they were often, quite naturally, overpowered and trounced by ripostes (albeit in different orchestrations and different guises) from two works – the Symphony No.4 (The Inextinguishable) and the Clarinet Concerto. The whole piece revolves around these sources until the conversation comes to an end and we reach again a prolonged silence at the conclusion of the piece.

John McLeod’s ‘Out of the Silence’ will be performed by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Joseph Swensen in Perth Concert Hall (January 22nd), Glasgow City Halls (January 23rd) and Edinburgh Queen’s Hall (January 24th) with the composer in conversation at each venue at 6.30 p.m. The other works on the programme are Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto (soloist Maximiliano Martin) and Sibelius’s 4th Symphony.

 

 

 

Mapping Report

November 18, 2014 in featured, Jo Buckley by Jo Buckley

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 20.37.06Earlier this year, the RCS and NMS were fortunate to receive an Innovation Voucher from SFC Interface Scotland to fund a mapping project for new music activity in Scotland. The aims were simple: find out where new music is taking place – and also where it isn’t – and collate the results on an accessible, digital map. The hope was that this map would become an invaluable resource for anyone looking to find out about Scotland’s new music sector, and that the report it generated would answer some key questions: Which venues are programming it? Who is commissioning it? Which organisations are struggling with it? Who is simply not interested?

New Music Map

Mapping Report

Mapping Survey Details

The project was not designed to be an exhaustive study in the first instance, but the hope was that the research would be substantive enough to give an accurate picture of the scale and scope of Scotland’s new music sector, and to pinpoint areas for growth and development. As the researcher commissioned to undertake this piece of research, I had the unenviable the task of finding every group, venue, festival and promoter currently involved in new music activity in some way – and there are many ways you can be involved. The survey was not just about listing contemporary music groups and concert halls. From the tiny city art gallery who occasionally host sound art installations, to the rural book festival with a late night music programme, and the dance company who commission new music to accompany their productions, the aim was to capture as many of these new music ‘pins’ as possible. And, perhaps more importantly, we also hoped to track down the organisations who had an interest in becoming involved with new music, but who perhaps faced barriers to doing so.

Drawing up the list was just one of the challenges of this ambitious project – and it relied on the assistance of many other organisations for their input, particularly in areas outside NMS’s usual remit, such as theatre, dance and visual art. We know that, for now at least, not everyone is yet represented on the map, but we have done our best to identify as many organisations as possible within the timescale of the project. And the hope is that as awareness of the digital map grows, people will be encouraged to submit new additions to this ‘living resource’. Defining ‘new music’ was another thorny issue, and one which saw us reluctantly excluding traditional and pop music from the survey, simply because the project’s resources could not extend to that amount of data (the report, however, recommends that further surveys could be carried out for these genres). Even the simple task of ringing round every organisation on the list to gather information about their own programming became a daunting task when faced with over 150 different places to call and document.

But the map helps to give a picture of the scale of new music activity across Scotland, and the results are encouraging. Almost every organisation we spoke to is working with new music in some shape of form – and this is true across the country, from the dense cultural hubs of Scotland’s biggest cities, to the rural towns and villages across the Highlands. There are pockets of intensity and areas of low activity too, but the simple fact that almost all organisations are engaging with music in some way is tremendously heartening. The breadth of new music activity is also remarkable. It is not just contemporary classical music that is being created and performed, but improvisation, experimental and electroacoustic music, jazz, sound art, and much more besides. And in many cases, there is a real willingness for people to step outside their comfort zones and experiment – the survey reveals that many ‘non-music’ organisations are engaging with music in a variety of ways in order to expand their programming and diversify their market.

While the digital map offers a summary of every organisation we contacted, so that groups/promoters/producers can easily identify those working with new music and very quickly have a way of contacting them, the report gives greater insight into the results of the research. Where there are successes, the report helps to show how these are being achieved. And where there are barriers to participation or difficulties gaining audiences, the report also offers recommendations. There are warnings, too, about the dangers of funding cuts from major Scottish arts organisations – particularly those, such as sound, who have been playing such a key part in Scotland’s contemporary music scene for many years. Above all, it is hoped that the report will demonstrate the great richness and diversity in Scotland’s new music sector and the huge potential it has – with the right support – to expand and develop in years to come.

To contribute your own addition to the map, please simply complete the submission form here. And to send comments, recommendations or suggestions about the report, please email info@newmusicscotland.co.uk.

Sound Press Release

October 30, 2014 in featured, Fiona Robertson by mwhiteside

new sound logoShockwaves as arts body pulls regular funding from Scotland’s acclaimed new music festival

Shockwaves were felt widely today as the national arts body, Creative Scotland, pulled regular funding from sound, Scotland’s acclaimed new music Festival. Currently celebrating its 10th anniversary, sound is recognised internationally as a leading festival of new music and locally for its vibrant programme of concerts and community projects across the north east. The festival, whose patrons include world famous percussionist Evelyn Glennie and leading composer James Macmillan is the main hub for new music in Scotland. This year it began a major collaboration with sister festival in France, Musiques Demesurées, and was last year shortlisted for a prestigious Royal Philharmonic Society Award. sound was also described recently by one of the world’s leading percussionists, Colin Currie, as hugely important internationally and vital to performers like himself for whom new commissions are central to their repertoire.

Over the years sound has commissioned more than 40 new works including the critically acclaimed Framed Against the Sky with Brian Irvine and poet Billy Letford which involved hundreds of people across the north east in its creation, and Three Fables with Stephen Montague and Zinnie Harris, one of the highlights of the 2014 Commonwealth Games arts programme and New Music Biennial. It has also premiered hundreds of pieces.

Whilst Creative Scotland commended sound on its excellence and experimentation, and the access that is offers for audiences, they told the festival organisers that they had decided not to include it in the body’s portfolio of Regular Funded organisations.

Festival director, Fiona Robertson said:

“We are obviously distraught that we have lost our regular Creative Scotland funding. It is particularly distressing finding out in the middle of a hugely successful festival which has seen performers from across the world coming to Aberdeen, and world premieres of pieces we have commissioned specially from composers living and working in Scotland and beyond.”

“Planning for the 2015 Festival was well advanced and we will now have take time to establish which of the many and exciting projects that we were developing it will be possible to go ahead with. ”

“We have been advised that the only money available to sound going forward is the open project funding which will impact significantly on our ability to commission new work and achieve our ambitions for new music in Scotland. However, we will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that that Scotland has a vital platform for showcasing new music.”

Associate Ensemble of sound, Red Note, expressed its shock that the festival with which it has worked closely for five years. Director John Harris said:

“As Associate Ensemble, we have been recipients of incredible levels of support from sound ever since Red Note’s formation 5 years ago. We have collaborated closely with sound on many hugely successful projects, developing new audiences across rural Aberdeenshire and bringing new music to people who may never have experienced it before.

The success of this work is due to sound’s superb skill and creativity in making wonderful things happen, and their reputation as a beacon of new and original thinking is recognised across Scotland, the UK and beyond.

We are not alone in being dismayed that Creative Scotland have chosen not to support sound’s growth and development through Regular Funding, and we hope that sound’s achievement and potential will be recognised, supported and developed to its full, remarkable potential by Creative Scotland.

sound is a hugely innovative and important part of the Scotland contemporary cultural landscape, and we most definitely want to see it continue to grow and develop for many years to come.”

The 10th anniversary sound programme continues this coming Friday with a double bill of traditional music with a twist at Woodend Barn in Banchory. The concerts showcase Turkish Harp music and Scottish/Scandinavian fiddle music. In Aberdeen Ensemble Thing will give a free lunchtime concert on Saturday in the Art Gallery and on Saturday evening the celebrated Mr McFall’s Chamber perform at the Lemon Tree. Their programme, Remembered/Imagined, showcases the results of collaborations between Scottish traditional musicians and composers and writers. Performers will include Gaelic singer Maeve Mackinnon, author and actor Angus Peter Campbell and electronic artist and Creative Producer Amble Skuse. The new works are interwoven with beautiful traditional repertoire and poetry, creating a performance that captures the riches of Scotland’s cultural history through music and words with live instrumental, vocal and electronic sound. Meanwhile on Saturday and Sunday afternoons drumming workshops for young people with Kuljit Bhamra and family concerts with Red Note Ensemble Kuljit Bhamra and Fraser Fifield by will be on offer in Migvie Church and Salmon Bothy Portsoy, and over the weekend there will be late night sound sessions in Musa.

Full details of this weekend’s programme at www.sound-scotland.co.uk

Time Out Residency

October 20, 2014 in featured, guest blog, Jo Buckley by Jo Buckley

Francis MacDonald, Sonia Allori, Colin Broom, Drew Hammond, John De Simone and Oliver Searle

Francis MacDonald, Sonia Allori, Colin Broom, Drew Hammond, John De Simone and Oliver Searle

Earlier this year we put out a call for composers: rather than a call for scores, we were looking for composers seeking ‘time out’. Composers who were keen to take a break from the day-to-day challenges of composing, to get together with other like-minded folk and to share, explore and discuss what it means to be a composer in today’s modern world. As one of the participants at the residency announced on arrival: ‘I just want the chance to have a total geek-out and talk about composing all weekend’.

And this is just what we did. We gathered together six composers in the beautiful surroundings of Cove Park, near Helensburgh on Scotland’s west coast. Situated on a hill overlooking Loch Long, where the mist lingers in the morning and gradually lifts by the afternoon to reveal the real beauty of the loch beneath, Cove Park is a haven for artists of all kinds. As well as offering great communal spaces for group work and social sessions, the centre also has self-contained accommodation ‘pods’ and ‘cubes’ for individuals to hide themselves away from the world and get stuck into their personal projects. Left to our own devices over the course of the weekend, we were able to roam the rural, wooded site, gather in separate places for one-on-one sessions and come together in the lovely studio space for dinner, listening, talking and sharing.

The aim of the residency was not to teach anyone anything, but to allow the composers to learn from one another, and to share their ideas and concerns about their work in a supportive environment. Along with Fiona Robertson, I helped shepherd the group sessions and together we structured the discussions around issues that were high on their agendas, which included: How do you promote yourself and find new commissions? How do you create? How do you use technology in your work? When do you find time to compose? The composers were also paired off for one-on-one sessions, where they had the opportunity to swap skills with one another, offer support and learn from one another’s particular expertise. We were also delighted to welcome Sally Beamish for the Saturday morning, when she spoke openly about her own path towards life as a professional composer, the challenges she met on the way, and the techniques and tools she developed to overcome them. Inspiring and intriguing in equal measure, Sally’s session provided a platform from which much of the weekend’s discussions emanated.

There was no shortage of talking in this weekend ‘geek-out’ and by Sunday afternoon we had covered everything from how to orchestrate music for strings to the challenges of composing within the constraints of family life. But everyone – and I include myself and Fiona in this – left the residency inspired, rejuvenated and ready to tackle our work with a renewed sense of purpose and determination.

Here is what the six composers had to say about their own personal experiences at Time Out.

Francis MacDonald

If I wasn’t careful I was in danger of morphing into a character from Little Britain, prefacing almost every comment with “I didn’t study classical music, you know” (“I’m the only only gay in the village!”). This is a reflection of my own circumstances and my wrangling with the idea of Who Or What Defines A Composer. It was reassuring to know that is a fluid concern for both part-time and professional classically-trained composers:

“Sometimes you feel like a fraud? Me too!”

“But you’re not.”

“Neither are you.”

“Let’s bond.”

I only knew the lovely Sonia Allori (from the EIFF Composer’s Lab 2013 but I found everyone else in the group – John, Oliver, Drew and Colin (and Jo and Fiona and Donald) and Sally Beamish – to be welcoming and generous in sharing their knowledge and wisdom. Writing music can be a solitary concern. Bringing people together to discuss and share, in a conducive environment can only be a good thing. This residency was planned and organised extremely well. I am still processing everything that I have managed to soak up. But first thing’s first: I’m off to buy a Pomodoro Kitchen Timer.

Sonia Allori

The New Music Scotland “Timeout Composer Residency” has given me a unique opportunity. Composing as a creative practice can be an isolated endeavour and yet during the last few days I have found myself amongst a group of exceptionally gracious and incredibly supportive kindred souls, with whom sharing process, thoughts and music was a truly organic and intrinsic outcome. This should happen every year as a means to connect, to laugh and to normalise “being a composer”!

Drew Hammond

I tend to believe that a set of ideas arrived on through open and honest discourse will be far more robust than the individually held predilections and biases that constitute personal dogma. One may understand this, it may even be kind of obvious, but it is nevertheless gratifying to engage with such a discourse about creative practice in a setting set aside specifically for that purpose. For me it has had the effect of eroding some of my own hidden, vague, but nonetheless poisonous notions of artistic practice in Scotland, primarily the vision of practitioners as competitors only, each of us sorting out how to maximise our own slice of the ever-diminishing pie of public funding. One short weekend of chatting about, thinking about, and in essence living in the kind of environment we normally may only hope for brings me face to face with the blinding truth: if we choose to see ourselves exclusively on their terms, the terms of the neo-liberal capitalist priesthood – that old Social Darwinist chestnut – we will be choosing our own ultimate extinction.   We may at times bemoan the dire financial straits that The Arts is now apparently in, but we mustn’t forget that societal patronage is a two-way street where our vibrancy and our creativity will deeply impact the future of the arts in Scotland, and leave aside any tendency toward despondency and inaction. A true forwarding of the arts will not be achieved on those therms, in the dumbed down notions of market economics and football relegation that make up so much of the way we are constantly told to think about the world. No, what we need is much better encapsulated in the language of “scene” and “community.” And our scene must be one that chooses a deeper meaning for human activity; we are after all either fools, or not actually here for the money.

Colin Broom

I applied to for a place on New Music Scotland’s Time Out residency for a couple of reasons: I was interested (as I always am) in discussing composing, methods and practice and careers with other composers. Secondly, I was interesting in hearing other composers’ experience (and indeed the experience of the facilitators, Fiona and Jo) of self-promotion, which, for all the reasonable confidence I have in my own practice as an artist, is an area I feel I could be better on. Finally, I was interested to have some discussion about a piece I’m currently working on, and get some objective thoughts on what I’m doing from other composers of similar levels (if different areas) of experience and an open, comfortable environment.

I found the residency was hugely worthwhile. Despite the variance in backgrounds of many of us, several common themes emerged across the weekend, one strong one was that of self-promotion, creating and pursuing opportunities. Everyone shared their own experience of this, and it’s always reassuring to hear others voice similar discomforts about “putting themselves out there” but also to offer some thoughts on ways in which they have handled this. IT was also useful to hear Fiona and Jo’s (of NMS) take on this from the promoter, festival/record label running perspective.

It was also good to hear Sally Beamish’s thoughts on this from her perspective as a more experienced professional composer. Sally was open and very generous in her discussion of her own career, and it was interesting and good to hear the route she has taken, as well as her own working practice.

It was also good to discuss many of the more composition-specific aspects of our practice, from the minutiae of day-to-day practice (starting work, the usefulness of procrastination) to the much larger and wide ranging themes such has how we perceive our work in the larger musical or artistic context.

Across the weekend there was a real openness and generosity of sharing practice and sharing music, and this for me was what made it an insightful, constructive atmosphere and a consistently engaging dynamic. It was hugely helpful to have a group of composers of similar age and experience round the table and in this respect the “peer to peer” aspect of the residency was for me very useful. The fact that it took place in the beautiful misty surroundings of Cove Park, with excellent facilities certainly helped as well.

I’m grateful to have been selected by NMS to attend the residency, which I feel I got a lot of information and ideas from, all of which I will continue to think about, and plan informed by what I have heard and considered over the weekend.

Some of the other composer I knew before the residency, but I expect I will keep in touch with all of the composers, and with NMS.

All of this, in combination with future NMS residencies with other participants (which I hope happen), and related events, should I hope contribute to the consolidation of a sense of a community of composers working in Scotland but worthy of notice much further afield. A hugely successful and useful residency.

John De Simone

With some trepidation, I set off to Cove Park on Friday 10th October. Not sure what to expect, wondering what could come of 6 composers in a room spending time together, rather than in our more usual solitary confinement. I was anxious about sharing my work and experiences, and unsure about what people would make of what I do and have to say. My trepidation was immediately dismissed when I got there and felt at ease and comfort in the beautiful surroundings.

What an amazing bunch of people that were there! From Fiona and Jo’s amazing organisation and cooking, to Sally Beamish’s inspiring and impressively honest reflections about being a professional composer- the participants were in a really great, safe space to enable an honest sharing of experiences, needs, and advice. I have been in a bit of a rut recently, wondering why I do what I do and the wonderful support I got this weekend from Sonja, Colin, Drew, Francis and Olly has me going back to Glasgow newly energised, committed, and enthusiastic about pushing forward with my career as a composer. I had a fantastic time. Thanks NMS!

Oliver Searle

Although I speak to composers a great deal, it is often in passing; over a quick coffee, in a concert interval, walking through a corridor, or through a mouthful of sandwich, with the occasional idea and thought thrown out fleetingly, as I rush headlong into the next activity.

There is very little time to get to the end of a conversation, reach a natural conclusion, or draw a tangible outcome or response from a group discussion, where everyone present has the chance to voice their opinions, concerns and ideas.

This residency facilitated these conversations, providing an opportunity to not only find the negatives in the current working lives of composers, but navigate a way through the quagmire of expectations, to reach positive goals, which we can hopefully take forward to begin making an affirmative change to new music in Scotland.

It was a fantastic chance to meet new composers and their work, but also to hear those I already knew talk more about their processes and activities, as well as hear their concerns (I particularly appreciated Sally’s honesty about her own career path).

The biggest positive outcome for me is the realisation that we can and should be positive about new music in Scotland. There is a diverse range of work being created, and it is all too easy to write much of this off as ‘not within my field’. My greatest hope is that we can support each other’s practice, act as advocates of each other’s work, and actively help each other in finding more/better opportunities to create new music, while crafting careers for the future.

hst-logoNew Music Scotland gratefully acknowledges the support of the Hope Scott Trust, who provided the funding to make this residency possible.

sound festival

October 6, 2014 in featured, Fiona Robertson, guest blog by Fiona Robertson

new sound logoIt’s the beginning of October already and this year’s sound festival is fast approaching.

We’re 10 years old…it’s very difficult to believe that in 2004 we did a small weekend taster to see if there might be an interest in North East Scotland for new music, and then launched the festival in 2005.

It’s strange looking back…so many things have changed, yet the structure of the festival was already there. 2005 was 20 days long (this year will be 19!) and we’d already created a network of local organisations around sound – –involved that year were Woodend Music Society, Aberdeen Jazz, Interesting Music Promotions, Monymusk Arts, Angus Arts, Strathdee Music Club and of course the University of Aberdeen and Woodend Barn. As well as concerts in Aberdeen, there were performances and workshops across Aberdeenshire.

That was the year we jointly commissioned Sally Beamish to write Trance O’Nicht for percussion and orchestra, performed by Evelyn Glennie and the BBC SSO. The Edinburgh Quartet performed new works by Naresh Sohal and Kenneth Dempster, the Hebrides Ensemble performed works by Haflidi Hallgrimsson, Marina Adamia and Olivier Messiaen. Other performers included Bill Thomspon, McKenzie Medboe, the Barbican Trio, the Glasgow String Quartet, Paul Anderson, Frog Pocket and La Boum…! But the most intensive and involving event was an afternoon’s rehearsal and informal performance by a scratch community orchestra of James MacMillan’s Into the Ferment, conducted by the composer, which remains one of my all-time favourite sound highlights. It involved local musicians from 11 to 88 years old, and even I got my viola out and took part (I can’t quite imagine doing that anymore!).

So what has changed since 2005?

The range and scale of the festival is very different. That year there were 27 events, this year there will be 47. In 2005, there were 2 world premieres, this year there will be 19.

sound has been growing up, little by little. It’s gone from being an enthusiastic youngster to a more mature (although still enthusiastic!) festival. It’s moved from being a local festival with a local network to a national festival with a strong network throughout Scotland and abroad. There has of course been a significant addition to that network since 2009. It’s difficult to imagine Scotland without Red Note, who are now our Associate Ensemble and one of our key partners. The local network has not been neglected and has grown over the years, crucial to what we want to achieve…and that is bringing in new audiences.

sound will always be a bit different from a number of other new music festivals. Maybe a little more gentle and less hard-edged. We still sometimes programme old alongside new, with the aim of introducing people gradually to contemporary music. Possibly a contested way of doing things, but it does seem to work for us. And we still have a variety of types of new music and events, aimed at attracting different types of audience.

 

And this year?

Strangely we don’t seem to have any of the same performers or composers at the festival this year as in 2005 (although many have returned multiple times). 2014 is an ambitious, more international festival with a cross-cutting theme of new approaches to traditional music (think harp or fiddles with electronics or works for bagpipes written by major international classical composers…).

The event I’m looking forward to most, though, epitomises where we’ve come to. It’s the result of partnership with Musiques Démesurées, a new music festival from Aberdeen’s twinned city Clermont-Ferrand. We’ve commissioned new works by French and Scottish composers to be performed by the combined forces of Red Note and the Orchestre d’Auvergne. It’s been a major, year-long project, and to see it come to fruition will be great. And the partnership with Musiques Démesurées will hopefully go on long beyond that – helped by sound’s French-speaking (and wine-loving!) team!

Meanwhile, we’ve got our heads down doing all the necessary nitty-gritty stuff – sourcing enormous amounts of percussion, fixing rehearsal times, booking accommodation, organising transport, printing more fliers. After months of planning and fundraising, everything is suddenly very real, very close and rather stressful. So please wait until late November to contact me about future festivals! Unless of course you’re planning a trip to the festival – it would be great to see more of our central belt colleagues making the trip North to hear some exciting new music. Aberdeen’s not that far away, honest!

Events

New Music Scotland Day 2014, Review

September 23, 2014 in featured, guest blog, News, Stuart MacRae by Stuart MacRae

NMS Day 2014A couple of weeks ago I attended the first NMS Day in Glasgow, hosted by the recently formed New Music Scotland. Run as a cooperative, New Music Scotland is unusual in including among its membership not only composers, but promoters, ensembles, performers, festivals and other professionals with an interest in new music.

This spirit of new music as a shared enterprise was apparent throughout the day, which began with a broad discussion of what the fledgling organisation had been set up to do – namely, to foster and encourage opportunity, networking and dissemination among Scotland’s new music practitioners and organisations – and how the board planned to put these aims into action over the coming years. All of which sounded to me like something that should have been done A Very Long Time Ago, so I stumped up 20 quid and became a member there and then.

A longish lunch break provided plenty of time for networking (I don’t like the word, but it’s essential nonetheless!). However the real substance of the day was in the afternoon panel sessions chaired by John Harris and Oliver Searle, which were billed as discussions of the opportunities available for the development of new music, both in Scotland and internationally.

Let’s deal with the massive elephant in the room – at least for the composers – first.

The recent Sound and Music commission fee survey, which revealed the average composer’s annual income from commission fees to be a paltry £3689 (for an average of 2-3 pieces), may have come as a bombshell to many outsiders, but to composers it was merely confirmation of what was already suspected: that the funding available for new commissions is hopelessly incommensurate with the number of new works being written, asked for, performed and commissioned. Not only that: nearly half of the survey’s respondents didn’t get paid for their work at all.

It seems clear that most composers would like to be busy and in demand, but also to be paid fairly for their work. And promoters, performers and festivals say they’d like to do more new music, but that it’s expensive to rehearse, to commission, to hire and to promote. Where there is a limit on available funding (and there always will be) something has to give; and it’s evident that composers bear the brunt of this mismatch, lowering fees and in many cases foregoing them entirely for the sake of having their work performed. Such devaluation of new music surely cannot be acceptable.

Susanna Eastburn, Chief Executive of Sound and Music, stressed in the first panel discussion that what is required is not an imposition of minimum fees, but a change in the value society places on new music: this, it seems, could come about if we find new ways to engage our audiences, to reach a global market through online dissemination and social media, to transform the live experience of music by taking it away from the traditional concert hall.

Clare Hewitt from Creative Scotland, who was also on the panel, echoed this in her emphasis on cross-artform work, citing the recent Commonwealth Cultural programme as an example of how artists and organisations could contribute to public events on a large scale.

But first composers need to decide what value they place on their own work.

Some commissioners of new work really don’t know how much they should be paying for a commission, and this makes it impossible for them to budget appropriately and take the necessary steps to secure funding in good time. I can’t think of a way to improve this that doesn’t involve a set of guidelines of some kind – or at the very least a collective effort between composers and commissioners to decide what is acceptable and reasonable.

The panel’s third contributor, James Hannam from the PRS for Music Foundation, told us he had seen a 300% rise in funding application activity over the last three years, and that there are also fewer festivals across all genres of music. This chimes with anecdotal evidence I’ve heard that as funding sources dry up or tighten their belts (for example private endowments, estates and trusts) there is increasing pressure on large funders such as PRSF and Creative Scotland as commissioners are bottlenecked into the same funding streams. On a more positive note, he pointed out that international interest in UK music is increasing, which suggests there is a wider international market for ensembles and composers out there if we can break into it.

It strikes me that all of the above leaves three options: the status quo, in which many commissions are not paid at a sustainable rate; far fewer, better paid commissions; or finding ways to make new music more economical, more attractive to alternative funders and promoters, and more ‘useful’ as composer John De Simone put it on the day.

The last option surely seems the most positive, and there was much advice to this end during the day, particularly with regard to the use of the Internet as a promotional and dissemination tool with truly global potential. The trick seems to be in learning how to use it effectively; and those who have done so are often now promoters in their own right, far more in control of their own work and opportunities (and income…?) than composers who are more dependent on the traditional system of commissions from established institutions.

(One caveat here: we don’t really know whether these empowered composer-curators who might just change the paradigm for new music are paying themselves either enough, or at all, and it would be interesting to know what goes first when there’s pressure on the budget.)

Next up was Graham McKenzie, Director of Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, who was not short of advice for ensembles and composers alike: make sure project proposals are as well targeted as possible; try to give a clear impression of the composer’s influences and approach; think internationally.

There were two headline figures from Mr. McKenzie’s talk:

  • 1%: the proportion of unsolicited project ideas that end up in the festival.
  • €2000: the amount he expects to contribute to a commission fee for a work to be premiered at the festival.

The first of these gives an indication of the enormity of the task facing big festival directors in choosing what to programme, and should encourage us all to work hard to make proposals as distinctive and necessary as possible.

The second figure, €2000 (yes, that’s Euros and not Pounds, which is revealing in itself) is meant to be just a part of a co-commission, the rest being made up of similar sums from as many as six international partners, which Mr. McKenzie says he works hard to persuade once he has decided to back a project. He didn’t say what size of piece this scenario would relate to (but it seems likely to be something quite substantial such as a full-length string quartet) but pointed out that a successful co-commission benefits everyone involved: more performances, international exposure, and lower costs.

And what if the international festivals don’t want to join in? Well, then the composer might end up with €2000, or no commission.

This all feels quite a long way from the empowered composer-curator mentioned earlier (in fact it seems like good old-fashioned patronage with a bit of modern venture capitalism thrown in) but perhaps that’s the price of finding a top-notch international platform.

Whatever conclusions can be drawn from the day, one thing is certain: the more we talk to each other about how to create and develop a healthy, thriving new music environment in Scotland, the more progress we will make, and the more confident we will grow.

 

New Music Scotland Day 2014

September 1, 2014 in featured by mwhiteside

NMS Day
Friday 5th September, 2014
RCS Opera Studio, Glasgow

We are delighted to announce the full details for the inaugural NMS Day on Friday 5th September.

This event, which coincides with the NMS AGM, is a chance for anyone with an interest in Scotland’s new music scene to come together and share opportunities, suggest ideas, discuss problems, and to meet with performers, composers, promoters and producers from across Scotland and beyond. It is free to attend. To reserve your place, simply email jo@newmusicscotland.co.uk.

We are delighted to welcome Graham McKenzie, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, as our Guest Speaker for the event. Graham will be speaking at the opening session on new music in Scotland and the international market.

We will also be welcoming Susanna Eastburn, Chief Executive of Sound & Music, and Clare Hewitt, Development Officer at Creative Scotland, to join our afternoon discussion panel on opportunities and funding for new music in Scotland.

As well as giving everyone networking time, there will also be an update on recent NMS activity, including the new music mapping project. If you are interested in joining the NMS Board, please let us know, as there will be the opportuntity to do so at the AGM.

Schedule
10.30-11.00: Arrival, coffee and networking
11.00-11.15: Introductions
11.15-12.00: Discussion Session:
New music in Scotland and the international market with speaker: Graham McKenzie(Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival)
12.00-13.00: AGM
13.00-14.30: Lunch and networking
14.30-15.30: New Music Opportunities round-table discussion
Chair: John Harris
With Susanna Eastburn (Sound & Music)
Clare Hewitt (Creative Scotland)
15.30-16.00: Coffee Break
16.00-17.00: Report on NMS mapping activity, website and peer-to-peer composers course

For more information on how to get to the RCS, please visit their website here.

We very much look forward to seeing you there.

New Music Scotland Mapping Questionnaire

August 13, 2014 in featured by mwhiteside

New Music Scotland Mapping Questionnaire leading to the creation of a digital map of new music activity across Scotland, including information about promoters, venues, festivals and ensembles. This will become an invaluable resource for anyone wishing to tour, create, develop or produce new music in Scotland. .



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