A new reason not to have a concert

One of the pervasive questions of modern musical life is “why don’t you play more contemporary music?”

Frequently heard reasons for this include a limited audience for new music, the extra time and energy needed to prepare new works, the challenges of working in non-standard instrumental configurations, the expense of renting music under copyright, lousy attitudes among conductors, and the sense that some people just think Strauss is more fun.

To this list, I can now add a new, even more compelling reason—

“We ain’t got no instruments.”

Allow me to explain. Every eighteen months or so, I get the privilege of conducting the Contemporary Music Ensemble of Wales. They’re an astounding group, and do the most challenging and fascinating repertoire you can imagine. Working with them gives me the chance to do music that stretches me technically in a way that nothing else I do regularly really does. It’s like driving a new Ferrari on the world’s most treacherous course evey once in a while.

Our next concert was going to be recorded by Radio 3 for their contemporary music show, Hear and Now. The program included works by Xenakis, Mefano, Brown and a premiere by the ensemble’s long-time artistic director, Gordon Downie. I’ve been looking at the scores for some time now- the Mefano is FIERCE. It is open-form, but also incredibly dense and complex and the performance instructions are a bit contradictory, even given my so-so French. The Xenakis (“Akrata”) is stunning- not as hard for me, but nasty for the players.

Anyway, the concert/recording was to be September 26th. Here’s the thing: CMEW is totally independently run from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, but that doesn’t mean the two groups aren’t inter-dependent. The principal players of BBC NOW, along with pianist Ian Pace, form the backbone of CMEW. BBC NOW is on tour in Prague the week before our CMEW program.

We knew this all along, but only now found out that it’s not possible to get the truck with all the instruments on it back from Prague and through customs in time for the first rehearsal.

Literally, we ain’t got no instruments.

So, September 26th it isn’t. Stay tuned for more information- it’s funded and the broadcast is already scheduled, so it is definitely happening.

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

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