Contemporary classical is fast becoming a much-needed antidote to the irritations of the mainstream. The return of PRS Foundation’s brilliant New Music Biennial this July is a welcome opportunity to escape into thrilling new worlds.
When I was a kid, languishing on the Norfolk Suffolk border wondering why my parents had chosen to settle on the edges of Fenland, there was one village event I looked forward to. I could see it from my bedroom window.
The Weeting Steam Engine Rally: a weekend-long celebration of steam engines accompanied by a myriad of stalls, catering tents, crafts, meaningless tat, farming ‘demonstrations’, and a huge fun fair. It was the one time of the year when the flat, meaningless and pointless area of the world we lived had any purpose.
The ‘rally field’ would be set up over a monthly long period in the run up to the event. From my bedroom window I could count down to the weekend by keeping a careful eye on how things were shaping up. Only the Eurovision Song Contest (until it became a source of bitterness and resentment) came close in the anticipation stakes.
The New Music Biennial shares a similar trait. I stumbled on it two years ago and was immediately captivated by its openness, its playfulness, and blisfully simple innovation. Every piece of music lasts no longer than 15 minutes and is played twice in between which a panel, often including the composer, discuss the work. A glorious way to immerse yourself in something new. No pressure. No expectation. And importantly for all (I think), its free.
Hearing about its imminent return last week prior to the Proms launch, illicited an unexpected reaction in me. Warm and fuzzy. That kind of thing. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, until I realised that it was a) two years since the last one (obviously), b) the point when I experienced the last one was the first few days of my new self-employed life and c) that marks nearly two years of a renewed impetus in the Thoroughly Good Blog and the relaunch of the Thoroughly Good Podcast. Time has passed quickly.
There’s more to it than that though.
The innovative approach to performing new works (a nod to the monumental challenge contemporary composers experience getting their works performed a second time) is one thing.
But its the peer-to-peer element about the weekend, two years on, I now finally understand. Composers converge to listen to one another’s works, but to learn from one another too. And for those of us who have an insatiable appetite to live vicariously through the talents of others, the New Music Biennial is a no-brainer.
And for anyone who considers themselves as a creative and who thrives on gaining insights from those working in parallel artforms, its a gloriously immersive kind of experience. Be sure to bring your notebook.
Most anticipated event? It’s actually an installation: Music for Seven Ice Cream Vans. “A beautifully nostalgic score floods the Southbank Centre Site, as a fleet of ice cream vans call out to one another. The vans, each with their own individual harmony, create a mesmerising symphony of different clustered sounds and a shared soundscape for unsuspecting audiences.” Bliss.
I can’t wait. I’ve missed it. And in its the diary.
The New Music Biennial is from 5-7 July 2019 at Southbank Centre.