New Music Britain

'The isle is full of noises, as someone once said, those noises being created now by several hundred professional composers who were born here, composers widely differing in their backgrounds and in the concerns they bring to the art of making music. They pretty much cover the board of what is possible these days stylistically, and yet there are a couple of identity tags they all seem to carry, as musicians originating in this country,' says musicologist Paul Griffiths.

James MacMillan

One of those markers is an awareness of the broken tradition of British music, with a gap of two whole centuries, from Purcell to Elgar, during which no outstanding composer made an appearance – and this was the period when other musical nations were having their Rameaus and their Berliozes, their Bachs and their Beethovens, their Scarlattis and their Verdis. For composers in Britain, the same continuity is not there, and this may make them look elsewhere for their bearings, whether to far-off antiquity or to modern jazz. Or the brokenness may be a theme.

The other feature shared by British composers is the language they all speak. As with anyone else growing up here, the rhythms and the phrase structures of English became deeply embedded in their minds from an early age. In later life – creative life – these roots in a particular tradition and a particular language are bound to count.

From among the hundreds, the Brits in this LSO season are representatives of the handpicked bunch – a considerable and varied bunch – to whose music Simon Rattle has felt deeply drawn over a long period. Mark-Anthony Turnage’s energetically driven scores, with their jazz-noir colourings, took hold of him right away, when Turnage was just starting out, and led him to commission the young composer’s first work for full orchestra: Three Screaming Popes. That was more than thirty years ago. Now Rattle picks up a piece he has not conducted before: the wild double trumpet concerto Dispelling the Fears.

There are also two brand new works this season. James MacMillan’s All the Hills and Vales Along is a memorial in the original sense: a reminder, of the folly and the bloodshed of World War I. MacMillan sets a poem by a fellow Scot, Charles Sorley, who was himself killed in action in 1915, not long past his 20th birthday. Sorley’s vision in the poem from which MacMillan takes his title is of lines of soldiers going in one direction only: ‘On, marching men, on / To the gates of death with song’. The solo tenor part has been written for Ian Bostridge, singing with chorus, strings and brass band.

Harrison Birtwistle, no stranger to the brass band himself as a lad from Lancashire, is another composer with whose work Rattle has long had a close relationship, again dating back to the 1980s, when he took Birtwistle’s early orchestral masterpiece The Triumph of Time to the Salzburg Festival. A lot of time has gone on triumphing since then, carrying Birtwistle on to further staggering orchestral achievements, including Earth Dances and most recently Deep Time. His new Fanfare will inevitably take him further. Disinclined to speak in detail about a work still in progress, he nevertheless observes that each time he writes for orchestra he starts out in a different place, defined by what he has done before. The work begins with a lot of experience already behind it, right from its opening gesture. Where it goes then is up to it. The composer will be as surprised as us all.


Harrison Birtwistle, Holst, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Britten
with Sir Simon Rattle

> 16 September 2018


James MacMillan
Trombone Concerto (UK premiere)
All the Hills and Vales Along (world premiere)
with Gianandrea Noseda

> 1 November 2018
> 4 November 2018


Donghoon Shin Panufnik scheme world premiere
with François-Xavier Roth

> 24 March 2019

Iain Bell The Hidden Place (world premiere)
with Gianandrea Noseda

> 31 March 2019


Liam Mattison Panufnik scheme world premiere
with Elim Chan

9 June 2019



New music at LSO St Luke's

BBC Radio 3 Open Ear

> 29 September 2018
> 26 January 2019
> 13 April 2019


Panufnik Composers Workshop

> 25 March 2019


Soundhub Showcases

> 9 February 2019
> 20 July 2019