Composer and Artistic Director of the Vale of Glamorgan Festival of Music
On May 7, I'm heading to Wales to attend the last three concerts of the Vale of Glamorgan Festival of Music. The Festival, which this year runs from May 1 through May 11, is dedicated to celebrating the work of living composers from all over the world. This year, for example, two of the featured composers are Danish composer Per Nørgård (on the occasion of his 80th birthday) and Chinese composer Qigang Chen.
The Artistic Director of the Festival is Welsh composer John Metcalf, whom I was lucky enough to meet two years ago. I'd written him to say how much I enjoyed his music, and, when we decided on a trip to Wales, he generously invited us to his home for a cup of tea. What started out as a brief "cuppa" ended up as an unforgettable conversation.
To celebrate the occasion, I'm re-posting an excerpt from a post I wrote after meeting him. It was Metcalf's welcoming spirit that inspired me to explore contemporary classical music. That same spirit is embodied in the Festival, and I've wanted to go ever since.
Here's Metcalf describing this year's Festival. To learn more (and get tickets), click here. If you can get to Wales, I hope you'll consider coming to the Festival, too. It would be great to see you there!
The concerts I'll be attending include, on May 9, Soloists of Traditional Chinese Instruments at St. Donats Art Centre in Llantwit Major.
On May 10, at All Saints Church in Penarth, I'll hear the Ars Nova Copenhagen perform world premieres of works by Gavin Bryars and Peter Bannister, and works by Anne Boyd, Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, Per Nørgård, Arvo Pärt, and Steve Reich.
On May 11, at the Wales Millenium Centre in Cardiff, I'll hear the BBC National Orchestra of Wales perform, among others, two gorgeous works by Qigang Chen.
The Festival opens May 1 with an all Gavin Bryars concert performed by the Gavin Bryars Ensemble, and offers concerts every day through May 11.
Excerpt From Post About John Metcalf
Excerpt From Post About John Metcalf
The week before our visit with John Metcalf in August, 2010, a student had come up to him and said, “My teacher says you can’t write tonal music in 2010." Metcalf replied, "Well, just tell him you can’t write atonal music in 2010." Metcalf has often had occasion to observe how hard it is for people to be themselves.
For Metcalf that means, if he (or anyone) wants to write “a frivolous piece, why shouldn’t I? Or a graceful piece.”
In some quarters, Metcalf’s statement to his student would be considered heresy. Metcalf offered a vision of musical orthodoxy worthy of a Borges short story: “if the whole of literature had been taken over by a style that was Finnegans Wake, you’d have a situation that pertained for a while in contemporary music.”
In Metcalf’s view, it’s not that Finnegan’s Wake isn’t worthy, but rather that neither literature nor music should be confined to just one strand: “You never want to be stuck with one way. Like you have one way of heating your house—if the electric goes off, you’re in trouble." “The point,” Metcalf continued, “is that the world really ought to be open to people.”
In commenting on his piece, Dances from Forgotten Places, Metcalf wrote,
For me they are aesthetic areas, artistic characteristics infrequently visited by or associated with contemporary music. Words like grace, elegance, charm, formality, wit, sentiment, or frivolity might describe some of them.When asked whether he worried that his own musical aesthetic may reside in a forgotten place, he replied, “Well, it may, but I don’t worry about it.”
Metcalf told of meeting Benjamin Britten “at his sixtieth birthday party, and he said to me, ‘oh, nobody ever plays my music.’ . . . At that time, Britten and Shostakovich were definitely considered to be old hat. And of course, it was completely wrong.”
“There’s a confusion in music, to my way of thinking,” said Metcalf, “that stylistic experimentation equals originality.”
Of the Vale of Glamorgan Festival, he said, “What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to shed light on things, we’re trying to understand things.” Metcalf is a knowledgeable and generous guide to contemporary music, as exemplified by the Festival, which he founded in 1969.
No contemporary composer is necessarily out of bounds, but neither is any composer required listening. His basic advice is simple: “Follow your nose.”
If you don’t like it, then don’t worry about it. Just move on to something else . . . . When I’m teaching composing I say, look, please don’t tell me what you don’t like. If you do that, I will spend half an hour telling you all the hobbies I don’t like and I’m never going to do. I’m never going to do pigeon-fancying, I’m never going to do wake-boarding. There are just so many things I’m not going to do. But let’s not bother about that. Let’s focus on the things that really get you out of bed in the morning, things that you’re really excited about.Metcalf’s view about creativity is this: “If you respect yourself and your own creativity, then that’s the key to respecting other people.”
At the end of the interview, Metcalf invited us into his composition room to hear his six piano palindrome, performed by Dutch pianist Jeroen van Veen. Unbeknownst to us, while we were occupied with music, Metcalf was busy, too. As if the gift of his music and musical conversation were not enough, we left his house with a beautiful array of vegetables, flowers, herbs, three perfectly formed heads of garlic, and a loaf of home-baked bread.
The slideshow is accompanied by the Vivace from John Metcalf's Mapping Wales, as recorded on his CD, Paths of Song. Eleanor Turner, harpist, with The Solstice Quartet. Signum Records, SIGCD203. By kind permission of John Metcalf.
A three-part series of posts on the Vale of Glamorgan Festival of Music concerts I attended, including listening lists, can be found at these links: Crossing a Bridge of Dreams, here, Ancient Instruments, Timeless Sounds, here, and Worlds Entwined, here.
Liu Dehai, Qin Yong (Terra Cotta Warriors) (to be performed May 8 & 9)
Anne Boyd, As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams (to be performed by Ars Nova Copenhagen, May 10)
Per Nørgård, Singe die Gärten (Nørgård's work will be performed in several concerts)
Per Nørgård on how he tricked Ligeti: click here
Qigang Chen, Yuan (1/2, 2/2) (performed May 4)
Qigang Chen, Reflet d'un Temps Disparu (1/3, 2/3, 3/3) (UK premiere, May 11)
Edo De Waart on Qigang Chen and his piece Iris Dévoilée (UK premiere, May 11): click here