On (not so) Young Composers and the Proms…

November 8th, 2016

So, the Proms begins tonight with an odd mixture of Liszt, Brahms, Janáček and Judith Weir – nothing too unusual there, nor so the annual mixed-bag of British, European and American fayre that characterise a Proms season. However, what did catch my eye this year was the new music on offer and how the composers on show, how shall I say this, were not the usual youthful participants of recent years – it is the return of the older brigade!

I’m being facetious, I know, but it was somehow refreshing to see the more experienced composers given the opportunities this year – this is somehow counter-intuitive as in many professions it is a case of waiting for the older generation to pass on before the young get their chance – not so the BBC Proms! For the past five years younger composers have been featured progressively more and more, with the composers getting progressively younger and younger. If we take past couple of years we have had several composers in their twenties, many in their early thirties and the implausibly young Alissa Firsova who was a mere 24 when her Bach Allegro was premiered last year. In many ways, it is great to see young composers championed (being a young-ish composer myself) but it is equally nice to see the older generations championed as well.

The youngest composer on offer this year (and I don’t include cross-over artists such as Matthew Barley, Gabriel Prokofiev, Joby Talbot or Jonny Greenwood – for obvious reasons) is the 48 year old Graham Fitkin, who vies with the 55 year old Sally Beamish, 56 year old Pascal Dusapin and the 59 year old Judith Bingham for the most youthful award. We have strong showings from the 60+ category (Colin Matthews, Michael Berkeley, Robin Holloway and Georges Aperghis), the 70+ category (Peter Maxwell Davies, Harrison Birtwistle and Richard Rodney Bennett) and from the ‘older’ category of Henri Dutilleux (1916 – ) and the wonderfully fecund Elliott Carter (1908 – ).  I realise many of these composers are perennial Proms commissionees, but it is still really good to see, and to hopefully hear (though I suspect with Carter, it will be the usual impenetrable crap).

Do spare a thought for those who aren’t as fortunate as Colin Matthews or Harrison Birtwistle, those that seem to have slipped even further off the radar. Anthony Powers had his only performance in 1996, Robert Saxton hasn’t had an orchestral performance since 1993 and poor old Nicola Lefanu hasn’t had a performance for nearly 40 years. Perhaps next year is their year. Though I suspect not.


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