The Philharmonia Orchestras Music of Today series begins another season on 30 September. Bayan Northcott is the first composer featured
The Philharmonia Orchestras estimable Music of Today series begins its 12th season on 30 September Royal Festival Hall at 6 oclock. Its an informal format and no ticket is needed; just stroll in. The first composer this season is Bayan Northcott, a well-known writer on music. I always wanted to be a composer but I wasnt trained and I didnt really learn an instrument I was attempting pieces that were too difficult for me technically so I went to University and studied English, which I taught for six years. I was scared at one stage by the Boulez thing, that unless you were with the pulse of history you were useless. That was in the air in the fifties and sixties. One way of getting into music was through music journalism, a seductive thing to do.
Bayan Northcott applauds the Philharmonia Orchestra for its Music of Today series; after all, these early-evening concerts do make an intriguing prelude to the Philharmonias 7.30 concert (the concert on the 30th includes popular pieces by Stravinsky and Rachmaninov). Bayan Northcott, effectively self-taught, recalls with gratitude the encouragement he has received from, amongst others, Robin Holloway, Alexander Goehr and the late Hans Keller. And also Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. He got a sight of some of my pieces. I was asked to write a piece for The Fires of London; I was staggered because wed had a stand-up row on television when Id criticised something of his. It was quite a spectacular spat! So it was very nice of him to ask me, and I did write the piece, and the Fires played it.
This Music of Today concert features Bayans opus one, a little oboe sonata. I said to myself, at the age of 36, for gods sake sit down and finish something. Then came some songs and a guitar piece. Itll be intriguing to hear Bayans music; a man of letters, self-taught as a composer, one who loves many aspects of European tradition. Bayan is also attracted by Gamelan or Japanese Ceremonial Music, or modified pop backgrounds, as a basis for a piece. When Hans Keller said that musical communication takes place through the meaningful contradiction of expectations he said something profound. Real musical meaning comes out of setting up something that people recognise and think is going in one direction and then you do something slightly different. The gap between what you do and what is expected is the new information, whats fresh about the piece, and that is how music evolves.
The other work being played is Bayans Horn Concerto, the first piece of mine to be over 20 minutes; my first, extraordinary, here I am in my fifties; it shows you how behind I am! I hope theres an ongoing narrative, a line of thought and feeling which follows right through the piece. Its deliberately rather conservative. It looked at the time, 1990, that Minimalism was taking over, so I was being defiantly traditional. For Bayan, composing is sporadic because I have journalism deadlines but I hope to stay well for the next 20 years and write the work of my life.
Music of Today 30 September, Royal Festival Hall, 6 oclock