Mark-Anthony Turnage named patron of contemporary music ensemble Psappha

I’ll be completely upfront here. I wasn’t aware of Psappha – the Manchester-based contemporary music ensemble – until yesterday.

More the fool me for not being more aware of the UK cultural scene and not having done more research. I’ve certainly spent enough time ploughing my way through the British Music Yearbook and the Arts Council NPO list over the past twelve months. Not quite sure how this slipped through the net.

The contemporary music ensemble from Manchester announced yesterday that composer Mark-Anthony Turnage would be taking up the role following the death of Peter-Maxwell Davies in 2016.

What’s important is the message Psappha gives off with this announcement. For those of us unaware of them, aligning themselves with another powerful force in the UK contemporary music scene helps raise the profile of the group. 

Psappha’s 2018/2019 season starts on Thursday 27 September with a concert of Bartok, Ligeti and Lutoslawski in The Stoller Hall in Manchester. 

Sir Simon Rattle to conduct the LSO in the world premiere of Peter Maxwell Davies’s last opera ‘The Hogboon’

The London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle will join forces with musicians from East London and the Guildhall School in the world premiere of The Hogboon, a children’s opera by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, on 26 June at The Barbican.

The Hogboon is Maxwell Davies’ last major work, following his death earlier this year. The opera is directed by Karen Gillingham with design by Rhiannon Newman Brown. The LSO’s Discovery Choirs (made up of children aged 7 to 18) join the London Symphony Chorus and musicians from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama will all perform alongside the LSO.

Peter Maxwell Davies’s opera is based on a local folktale from the Orkney Islands in Scotland, where the composer lived and worked. The Hogboon tells the story of a boy, Magnus, who must save his family and community from Nuckleavee, a vengeful and terrible sea-monster who lives in the waters around them. Magnus he has the help of his Hogboon, a familiar spirit which lives in each house in Orkney, looking after the the family that lives there.

Also in the programme is Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, performed by Guildhall School musicians sat side-by-side with members of the LSO.

Proms 2009: Prom 70 – Fiddler on the Shore Peter Maxwell Davies Daniel Hope Sibelius 5 Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

There was a distinct whiff of mould in the area where I was sitting. I was fairly certain it wasn’t the widow sat next to me, nor the man in a Harris Tweed to my left. Every now and again I got a strong blast of the smell. It didn’t go down well.

This however was nothing in comparison to the glares flashed in my direction from the front row of the arena at the beginning of the second half.

Seconds after spindly conductor Garry Walker had swept purposefully onto stage, bowed and raised his baton so the unmistakable sound of a twinkling mobile phone rang out from somewhere in the row behind me. Some of the prommers were clearly unable to pinpoint exactly who the culprit was hence why I was hyper-aware of the need to keep my hands by my side. Making any gestures which might indicate it was my mobile phone going off was crucial.

If it had been my mobile phone going off I would, of course, have been embarrassed. The chances are I probably would have made more of a concerted to switch the device off rather than merely gesturing to do so. At least that way I would have avoided it going off a second time. Given the proximity of the musicians it would have been the least I could do. Unfortunately, the owner of the phone twinkling loudly next to the principal double bassist in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra seemed unable to switch it off.

She surely couldn’t have failed to take notice of some of the prommers’ heads slowly turning in her direction. Most displayed momentary disbelief before returning to the focus of their attention on stage. Two, however, saw this otherwise forgivable incident as a cue to shake their heads and mouth their displeasure at having their enjoyment of the performance interrupted. Such opportunities for disdain are not to be missed, it seems, especially in a public forum.

I felt rather sorry. I didn’t know the lady but it did rather feel the reaction of the prommers‘ in question seemed distinctly more unpalatable than the mobile phone going off in the first place.

Who in their right mind would purposefully switch their mobile phone on loud for the beginning of a live concert? What were the odds of someone ringing just at that very moment? Look how close to the stage we were in that position. That phone going off was a mistake. It must have been. To cast disapproving looks towards the culprit seemed unnecessarily judgemental, even by my standards.

I turned to the reassure the lady at the end of the symphony but was surprised to discover she had already left her seat and could now be seen looking over the rail in the direction of the conductor’s walk to the stage door. Was she apologising to the conductor? Whilst the rest of the auditorium appeared to be heartily applauding the band, this seemed to be the most likely explanation. Soon after that the lady in question had left the auditorium.

I caught sight of her outside the Royal Albert Hall on my way to Door 1 to meet some friends. She stood in a tight group, all eyes looking down at the handful of mobile phones in her. She was talking to the ticket touts I seen selling last minute tickets for Prom 70 pre-concert. I’m sure I heard her say to one of them, “I couldn’t make this one work.”

“Really don’t worry about your phone going off,” I gestured, thinking almost immediately that there was every likelihood my words didn’t sound as sincere as they were meant. The men surrounding her laughed as she looked on at me confused. “It happens from time to time.Really, don’t worry.”

She looked at me even more confused.

“Your phone .. “ I pointed at the devices she had in her hand, “it rang during the concert.”

She was definitely the same woman. I recognised the pink hairclip she had in her grey hair. I know it was the same person. I know.

The lady looked back at the touts, smiled and said to me, “I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

Listen to reaction post Peter Maxwell Davies’ UK premiere of Fiddler on the Shore.

Listen to Sibelius 5 from last night’s Prom concert (including the ringtone at the beginning). Peter Maxwell Davies’ concerto is available here.