Is London best?
As the September evenings began to draw in, that amazing musical cornucopia, the Proms, rose to its climax, with two concerts each from the Vienna Philharmonic and the Bavarian State Orchestra in the final week. As long as the Proms are on, London’s boast that it is the centre of the musical world seems justified. The rest of the year, it’s not so clear-cut. There are more concerts in a day in London than you might get in a week in Paris. But why do Londoners so rarely see conductors such as Muti, Barenboim, Ozawa or Mehta? The answer is that these conductors won’t work for London orchestras because we can’t afford to give them adequate rehearsal time. This hones the world-famous sight-reading skills of London’s orchestral players-but it also prevents them soaring to the level of Vienna or Boston. Shortage of money means that London has to rely on its status as a cultural cynosure to attract foreign artists. Many artists and groups include London on their touring schedules, although their fee might be half what they’ll receive in Munich or Rome. But how long before London’s attractions fail to outweigh the paucity of its fees? Even the mighty South Bank Centre, self-proclaimed “world’s greatest arts centre,” was once reduced to haggling for Jessye Norman’s services. “I don’t negotiate,” was her tart response.
MacMillan and public music
What does it take to get a living composer on to the front pages? Certainly not their music; these days that barely makes it on to the arts pages. Only three things can do it: a death, a knighthood, or-best of all-a scandal. But given that these days the most outr? piece of avant-gardism arouses only a yawn of boredom, scandals are in short supply. The brief furore over the “hecklers” who disrupted a piece by Harrison Birtwistle a few years back was the first anyone could remember for years, but compared to the fist-fights at The Rite of Spring premiere in 1913, it was very small beer. So it was a shock to see, on 15th August, the name “James MacMillan” blazing on a Guardian headline. Could this really be the same James MacMillan who writes earnestly catholic music with titles like Seven Last Words from the Cross, and who has become Scotland’s best musical export since the Bay City Rollers? What scandal could his inoffensive modernism…