New Music Biennial 2017 at the Southbank – Seven Insights from #NMB17

Some thoughts arising from NMB17 at Southbank last weekend.

1. New music isn’t scary

The New Music Biennial has given me a taster for exploring a whole new world of music I had previously dismissed because I didn’t think it was for me. I assumed I needed context before I could appreciate a work of art. I don’t. The excitement around new music is not knowing exactly what you might hear.

2. Being in the moment is key

This isn’t necessarily a surprise. Recognising that I needed to be ‘in the moment’ was central to me experiencing the intense joy that is a Mahler symphony.

The advantage of new music is, as I think I’ve blogged before, it doesn’t come with any baggage.

So, being in the moment means you’ll know when you connect with something or not. If you don’t, that’s neither the composer’s fault nor yours. If you do, then something wonderful has happened. You’ve discovered something new.

3. Hearing something twice is divine

NMB makes a point of sandwiching two performances of a new work with a ten-fifteen minute conversation with the composer or performer. It’s an inspired idea. You don’t have to stay for the second performance if you don’t want to.

4. Are full-length concerts the right format anymore?

I really enjoyed the relaxed vibe at the Southbank last weekend. The sun helped. I understand that it was a similar experience in Hull where NMB17 kicked off.

What made the prospect of listening to lots of unfamiliar music more attractive was knowing that each concert was dedicated to the performance of one work, that you’d get to hear it twice, and that no concert would be longer than an hour. I also really liked being able to move from once area of the Royal Festival Hall to another to hear something different.

As much as I love concert halls (and I’m a big fan for the way the orthodox concert promotes a sense of mental space before a performance begins), I wonder whether the format isn’t conducive to newcomers.

5. Try before you buy is the way to go

There’s something to be said for the live performance. Ex Audi’s ‘Pieces About Art’ by Laurence Crane was a revelation during NMB.

But, knowing that I can download the entire twenty-piece NMB running order for a tenner if I so wish is a nice thing. I won’t be going in blind when I purchase, and when I do part with my money, I know I’ll be directly supporting creative talent.

6. Writing about classical music is tough …

Not because you need knowledge necessarily (although sometimes it helps). Rather, you’ve got to be able describe how the music connects with you in the moment. Doing so straight after the performance is the best time to pen the copy.

Difficult as it is, it strikes me that writing about a performance has connected with you on a personal level is really important. Better that than writing about the mechanics.

The prevalence of academia in the contextualisation of music is having a negative effect on audience appreciation.

7. New Music Biennial needs to be every year

Do it every year. Host the same events in multiple towns and cities across the country. That would widen our appreciation of the newest music, and support composers and performers in this country. NMB17 has created an appetite I haven’t had sated yet.


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