Review: new festival in Bangor
9 August 2012
Last week saw a new International Music Festival taking place at Bangor University in North Wales. The festival was all part of a summer school jointly held by CoMA (Contemporary Music for All) and ELLSO (East London Late Starters Orchestra) from 30 July to 4 August.
Highlights included a John Cage day on Wednesday 1 August. Loré Lixenberg and Gregory Rose performed a chance-operated selection from John Cage’s Song Books with electronics performed by Robert Worby. Earlier in the day Zac Gvirtzman performed Cage’s famous Lecture on Nothing and during the afternoon there was a lecture on Cage’s music given by composer Larry Goves plus percussion and orchestral workshops and a performance of Cage’s Hymnkus by Summer School participants.
Percussionist Joby Burgess gave two concerts during the week including a performance of Thrashing the Sea God, a Chinese opera by BASCA CJEC member John McLeod (see article image). Pianists Mary Dullea and Adam Swayne both gave solo recitals of contemporary music and there was a performance of the newly-published Variations for Judith by Mary Dullea with Summer School piano students. A late-night performance of music drama Death’s Cabaret by BASCA member Stephen Deazley and Martin Riley was given by virtuoso cellist, baritone and actor Matthew Sharp, who the previous day had performed solo cello works by Param Vir and BASCA member Jason Yarde.
Not all concerts featured contemporary music: string tutors from the ELLSO Summer School performed works by Schumann, Arensky, Bach, Reger and Mozart during the week and there was a concert by Dunajska Kapelye, a band led by violinist Piotr Jordan playing traditional Balkan and Gypsy music.
Concerts were given by all the tutors on the Summer School, providing inspiration for students on the course. Summer School participants included late-starter string players taking part in ELLSO and instrumentalists, singers and composers of all abilities taking part in the CoMA strand. All of the musicians plus participants drawn from the local area joined forces for a performance of Stephen Montague’s Dark Sun – August, 1945, a powerful memorial to the victims of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
This was the second year of a combined CoMA/ELLSO Summer School and the first year in the spectacular surroundings of Bangor University. So, what next for the Festival and Summer School? The selection of concerts and quality of performers and tutors was stunning under the directorship of Festival Director and BASCA Gold Badge alumnus Chris Shurety, and the ready-made audience of summer school participants was boosted by interest from the local community. The new venue provides CoMA and ELLSO the opportunity to expand the operation, but in these financial times just breaking even is difficult. Running a combined CoMA/ELLSO Summer School has enabled both events to continue: CoMA ran no Summer School in 2009 and 2010 and ELLSO numbers were decreasing as the reality of the UK’s financial situation began to bite. Combining the two events works financially and artistically but the storm isn’t over yet. CoMA is grateful to the PRS for Music Foundation for support but the current multi-year package is only guaranteed until December, and CoMA’s reserves have been decreasing since the Arts Council removed its funding in 2008 over CoMA’s decision not to merge with the other new music organisations into a new organisation (Sound And Music).
During an extraordinary summer when the motto coming from Stratford is ‘Inspire a Generation’, ELLSO is inspiring a generation of adults to start playing an instrument for the first time and CoMA is inspiring amateur musicians to explore contemporary music. Wouldn’t it be fitting for their activities to be boosted with a modest level of public funding?
Natalie Bleicher is Classical and Jazz Liaison Officer and British Composer Awards Judging Co-ordinator at BASCA. She was Manager of CoMA from 2007 to 2011.