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Musicians from the Hastings Sinfonia and the Osaka Concert Orchestra

Unique opportunity at Composers’ Festival

As we came out of our third concert in two days of the second International Composers Festival, someone said “In the end, I’d prefer to hear some Beethoven”, thus showing he had entirely missed the point of this wonderful event.  Beethoven can be heard in bucketfuls on the radio and in concert halls.  We had had the unique opportunity to hear works recently created by some prodigiously talented composers, and performed by equally talented musicians, writes Antony Mair.

The Festival – the only one of its kind in Europe – exists to promote “accessible” contemporary music.  This sector fills what may seem a narrow gap between the more experimental approach and easy listening.  Not clear?  perhaps you missed the recent performance of Harrison Birtwistle’s Moth Requiem at this year’s Proms, which is a good example of the former.  As for easy listening, just think of lift music.  So perhaps the gap isn’t quite so narrow as you thought.

Amanda’s quip about cheap music in Noel Coward’s Private Lives has not helped to dispel the prejudice against works that are not part of an established repertoire.  But, as our International Composers Festival has shown, music can be accessible without being cheap.  Nor were the offerings we heard, from seventeen different composers, particularly appropriate for an apartment block’s elevator.

The works varied enormously in scope, from full orchestral numbers such as Danse de l’Inconnue by Saint Leonards’ own Louise Denny, or Robert Draper‘s Rondo in A, at one end of the spectrum, to the astonishingly accomplished piano solo piece Amoreby fourteen-year-old Sophie Westbrooke.  The  composers were more than distinguished, including Patrick Hawes, one-time Composer in Residence at Classic FM, Nigel Hess, formerly House Composer for the Royal Shakespeare Company and Stephen Warbeck, awarded an Academy Award for his score for Shakespeare in Love.  A strong Japanese element was ensured by the presence not only of the Festival’s resident composer Nobuya Monta but also members of the Osaka Concert Orchestra, who bulked out the recently formed Hastings Sinfonia.  If you get the impression that there was a strong element of film music you’d be right.  But at a time when composers such as John Williams are being increasingly recognised in the concert hall it’s not the moment to be dismissive.

It’s always a pleasure to learn of local talent.  Jonathan Bruce, Hastings born and bred and currently principal cellist with the Lewes Concert Orchestra, turned out to be not only an accomplished composer but also a versatile performer on the piano as well as the cello.  But of course the Palme d’Or of this event goes to its founder, our neighbor Polo Piatti., who contributed a number of pieces, concluding with Sentimental Journey, a suite for piano and orchestra that was a vehicle for his virtuoso playing.

Kindford Iford and Plaistow Handbell Ringers Association (KIPHRA)

This would not be Hastings, of course, without its touch of eccentricity.  The second half of the morning concert on the Saturday was dominated by three works for handbells, performed by a dozen ladies and token gent behind tables erected on the platform in a U shape.  The effect was slightly Santa Claus meets the Women’s Institute.  But it made the occasion nicely inclusive.

For yours truly, however, the nicest touch was an orchestral piece by Peter Byrom-Smith called  Postcard from Hastings.  Contrary to my hopes, it transpired that this was not inspired or dedicated to my blog, but I’ve been promised an audio file that I’ll put on here in due course!

Republished with kind permission from Antony Mair’s Postcards from Hastings

Posted 10:54 Monday, Sep 9, 2013 In: Music & Sound

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