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New directions

Vale of Glamorgan Festival of Music 2003


A concert at Stanwell School, Penarth, near Cardiff, Wales on 11 September 2003 convinced me more than ever before just how far contemporary classical music has come since I first began to take an interest in those serious seventies. It wasn't only that the range of styles here was wide and representative -- the five pieces performed were very varied -- but also a realisation that it is now possible to programme solely contemporary music to a receptive audience without problems of monotony, boredom, box office or lack of understanding.

John Metcalf's Vale of Glamorgan Festival of Music -- billed as a 'festival of living composers', ran right through those heady seventies -- he founded it in 1969, has remained Artistic Director, and the concert I describe was the grand finale, given by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales with French conductor Pierre-André Valade, of a seven day, nine event festival which featured, among other things, a toy piano workshop and a concert in a hangar at Cardiff Airport!

Pierre-André Valade with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales at Stanwell School. Photo: Keith Bramich
Pierre-André Valade with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales at Stanwell School. Photo: Keith Bramich

Music by the English composer Anthony Powers (born London, 1953) began this concert -- Architecture and Dreams (1991), a complex piece with a rather unnatural feel. The first of three movements (which play without a break) was rather sparse and bitty, inhabiting quite a dissonant sound-world, and with the feel of lots of short sections. Powers' programme note describes it as 'a mosaic of many different ensembles (from duo to tutti) each with its own distinctive music. The ensembles interlock in various ways in an "architecturally" proportioned structure of recurrence and development.' The slow middle movement, more dream than architecture, is sometimes pullingly beautiful, sometimes eerie and sad. The high energy final movement, again rather episodic, superimposes dances on a moto perpetuo, with a sometimes rather crazy feel.

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Copyright © 29 September 2003 Keith Bramich, London, UK


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