I would like to introduce you to our Featured Composer for 2011, Ian Munro. If you have enjoyed any sustained connection with classical music in Australia you would be familiar with Ian’s reputation, and probably his performances, as a brilliant and incredibly versatile pianist. But you might still be unaware that he has a bulging portfolio of his own award-winning compositions tucked under the metaphorical bed. I encourage you to read his Strung Out interview for more about his music making and the 2011 season. This seems like a good time to talk about why Musica Viva bothers to “feature” any composer, and why we present modern music at all.
In 1800, living composers wrote 80 percent of the music played at public concerts. This proportion dropped to 10 percent a century later, and it was quite possible during the 20th century to go to concerts composed entirely by corpses.
There is no doubt that the masterpieces of the ‘Classical Canon’ are a wondrous gift, and it is part of Musica Viva’s mission to ensure that these treasures are preserved and celebrated. But it is also our mission to sustain a vibrant, living environment for such music, and not devolve to a simple museum culture in either action or attitude.
Composer “residencies” are favoured in some quarters, in which new music is created just in time for the scheduled performance. But this can be fraught. Composers can fail to deliver, the result may not match the necessary program parameters, specific instrumental combinations may become unavailable through illness or misconduct, and the music written may, to be blunt, not be fit to even fire from a cannon.
Although we need music written by beings with a pulse, it isn’t vital that the ink is still wet, and advantages abound in choosing music from a pre-existing catalogue. This is the approach I chose for our composer “Features”. One or two works are given world premiere performances during a year, but the rest is chosen from existing works as the best examples of that composer’s talent, and as the best imaginable partners for other repertoire on offer. The best work of a single composer can be heard throughout the season, in detail and in its best light, and the fascinating frisson of old versus new can be enjoyed to its greatest effect.