A few of my favourite things

Posted: November 21, 2021 in Composing, music education
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I love learning about what other creative people get fired up about, not just in their own discipline but in all areas of the arts. So who are my favourite composers? In the past, when this question came up, I used to feel I had to at least mention some ‘difficult’ composers in response, if only to establish my serious credentials before moving on to composers I actually liked. You know the sort of thing, ‘I have a lot of respect for Brian Ferneyhough, but Steve Reich is more to my taste’. Well, now I’m older, a shred more self-assured, and further from the rather joyless institute where I gained my music degree, I’m happy to declare that I wouldn’t care very much if I never heard another note of New Complexity or Total Serialism as long as I live. But I would care very much if I never got to hear some of these guys again:

Being a choral-head, I love a composer with a real sense of how to write for choir as an instrument. Contemporary favourites include Ola Gjeilo  – check out his Northern Lights to start with, a mini-masterpiece of modern choral writing. I was also a massive fan of the late John Tavener. Estonia is a country that punches way above its weight when it comes to first-rate composers, with Veljo Tormis  and Arvo Pärt being personal favourites.  

 Given I mentioned Steve Reich in the opening paragraph, it won’t surprise you to learn he’s a hero of mine, as was Louis Andriessen, sadly departed earlier this year. There’s also a number of Latin American composers whose music really excites me, including Silvestre Revueltas and Carlos Chavez, which brings me to a particular pre-occupation of mine; I never cease to marvel at how musicology has broadened its focus in the past decade or so. Music students of my generation were educated according to a fairly narrowly defined, Euro-centric canon, and we were certainly never exposed to composers from Latin America or Africa – nor even Asia, with the exception of a handful of Japanese composers. Ready access to culture and different traditions from throughout the world has been a complete game changer, and all to the good. A further positive development in the world of cultural theory, in my opinion, is how we’ve moved beyond unhelpful divisions of music creatives. No longer do we insist on these hard categorisations of songwriters and composers (There is, in my experience, a range of sub-categories within that last one: ‘composers of difficult music nobody wants to listen to‘/ ‘composers of accessible music that people might want to listen to, but serious musicians won’t admit to liking‘ etc…. ) I love the fact that nowadays you can confidently describe Angelique Kidjo or Adrian McNally of The Unthanks as one of your favourite composers without the need to debate or defend the label. These are a few of my favourite things.

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