Contemporary Music

Music lovers tend to be very conservative. We like what we know and we enjoy hearing different interpretations of the same works again and again. Looking at the syllabus for a concert season in any of the provisional cities in Britain and even more so in London, you will see the same diet of classical music, much of it composed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and guaranteed to please conventional tastes and therefore to keep some sort of hold on a constantly reducing audience. It makes economic sense. Performers have to be paid and concert halls and opera houses maintained.

Meanwhile new music struggles to be heard and imaginative conductors like Ilan Volkov in Scotland and Marion Alsop in Bournemouth slip in what Henry Wood called ‘novelties’ in what otherwise is a popular programme. Without the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters, the innovative input of the BBC’s Radio Three, useful anniversaries when a neglected composer can be remembered, and the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival held in November of each year, new composers would have even less opportunity to get their music heard.

Ironically some of our native composers have a better hearing on the continent and in Europe than in the U.K.

Spain seems to have a better solution to this problem. The Foundation Juan March commissions new works by Spanish composers and gives them their first performance, compiles an up to date archive of contemporary Spanish music and organises concerts in honour of new and well known Hispanic composers on a regular basis. Moreover the foundation encourages young musicians who are often still at school, and there is now a new generation of professionals who have been launched on the first stage in their careers as a result of the foundation’s support.

The Foundation was established in 1955 by the Spanish financier Juan March Ordinas, who seems to have been a sort of James Bond character during the Franco years and by playing a clever game and dodging the political come-back, he was at one time the seventh richest man in the world.

The foundation is a family run institution “with the aim of contributing to the knowledge and solution of problems that affect the future of humanity…to the progress and dissemination of knowledge and, within that, to the study of man and society.” .Its base is in Madrid where many of its sponsored concerts are held, but apparently it also hosts impressive art exhibitions in its galleries in Cuenca and Palma de Mallorco.

Until some billionaire philanthropist emerges in Britain, we have to muddle on as well as we can, welcoming the new instead of shrinking from the effort of meeting a musical language that may not follow a familiar notation and style.

When given the opportunity, I must remember to do that, as I have done on several occasions, sometimes to my bewilderment, often to my profit. Or travel to Madrid!