Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Sponsoring New Music

Dear Music Lover,
I would like to canvass your interest in an idea; as follows.
I am struck by that fact that I enjoy the chamber and orchestral music of the 16th to 19th centuries more than I enjoy the music of the 20th and 21st centuries. I know that the inventiveness remains, and the desire to create and enjoy new music is as vigorously alive today as it ever was, for we see it in the pop and folk music fields. And I am quite aware that there is deeply serious and hard-won music being written by numerous contemporary composers, and that institutional and national sponsors are doing what they can to keep flowing the stream of new music. But I do not enjoy listening to it. Maybe if I wanted to spend an evening reliving the agony of the second world war or the anxieties of psychic disintegration I would find what I wanted in modern music; but I don’t. I want to dance, sing, romance, be roused and relaxed as mankind has enjoyed for the previous thousand or more years. It is devastating to conclude that we go to concerts primarily to listen to the music of dead composers.
It occurred to me that what we have lost, since the First World War, is the commercial force of the buying public, that great number of perfectly ordinary folk, bourgeois and aristocratic, who used to buy printed music or sponsor compositions. (For the European aristocracy of Haydn’s time were perfectly ordinary folk who just happened to be rich. Prince Esterhazy liked to sing round the piano with his wife and daughters and Frederick the Great liked to play his flute to the company after dinner.) From Beethoven to Rachmaninov, composers were able to support themselves without patronage simply from the sale of printed music or concert tickets. Provided they wrote music that people wanted to play and to hear. However, the composition of music is today paid for by relatively few individuals; one or two wealthy donors, or government grants, channelled through panels of experts (who may themselves be contemporary composers). If the music of the renaissance could be said to have been written, played, and listened to by amateurs, that of the baroque was played and enjoyed by amateurs but written by professionals, while that of the romantic 19th century can only be played by professionals, but was still enjoyed by the amateur public. Today, we have reached the point where contemporary music requires a well-trained ear for its appreciation, and reaches only a very small (essentially a professional) audience.

I am therefore suggesting a mechanism whereby the ordinary, concert-going, public can vote (with their money) for the newly written music that they enjoy. Something like this. Members of a “Newcastle Society for the Sponsorship of New Music” (NSSNM) would pay an annual membership fee of £50, and would get a CD (costing £10) containing some 60 minutes worth of new compositions in a variety of genres. After listening to the disc they would be asked to direct the remaining £40 of their membership fee to go to the compositions they wished to sponsor. (It would be hoped that some members would donate considerably more, especially if they were particularly taken with a work.) At the end of the year a local orchestra might be prevailed on to incorporate one of the works into their repertoire if suitable material had been submitted; perhaps the annual “Newcastle Overture”.

What do you think? Would you enjoy participating? Two hundred members would raise £8,000, minimum; 1000 members would raise £40,000. Advertisements would be needed to draw in suitable contributions (which would have to retain copying and performing rights). The secretariat would have to advertise, collate, copy and circulate the discs. Maybe a grant would fund that for a trial period of 3 years. I would appreciate your comments, (particularly if you are enthusiastic).
Yours sincerely,

Ian West
12 Longhirst Village, MORPETH, NE61 3LT, UK