DISTINCTION (PARTS 1 & 2)
By Ian Pace
In connection with its exploration of Hype and Hyperbole, Musical Pointers is pleased to publish the opening sections of an extensive satire by pianist-composer Ian Pace, on the hyperreality of contemporary music today and the discourse that surrounds it. Dedicated to Wieland Hoban, "many intricate conversations with whom had been indispensable in its creation". the whole work will be available on Ian Pace's website soon.
The publisher DDD Music is proud to announce the signing of an exclusive contract with young, up-and-coming composer X , joining DDD 's distinguished catalogue of the finest talent in the country. Since taking the music world by storm with his ensemble work é.-ç . three years ago, X has enjoyed a string of spectacular successes that demonstrate beyond question that he is the most vibrant figure of his generation. X was born in London in 1980 to an extraordinarily cultured and intellectual family – his mother is the renowned violinist M.L. while his father S.D., who escaped from communist Romania to find a new life in Britain, is a leading advisor to governments in the UK and USA on major issues of foreign policy. Since the London premiere of é.ç. was critically lauded, X. has gone from strength to strength with a series of pieces for varying combinations of instruments and voices, proving his versatility with equally eloquent compositions for solo piano, string quartet, varying chamber ensembles and voice and piano. His list of commissions already commit him to a full diary for several years to come, with eminent soloists, ensembles and orchestras all queuing up to commission the next piece. X's music is diverse and pluralistic, sometimes encompassing a kaleidoscope of different styles within the course of a single work in a way one critic called ‘ ceaselessly enchanting ', but always unfailingly demonstrating the most refined taste and the strength of his inner ear. After the premiere of his song cycle Ñ.Æ.F. one critic was moved to remark ‘ It is perhaps no exaggeration to suggest that future generations will come to see X. as the Schubert of the 21 st century ', while his spellbinding evocation of Tibetan culture, ensemble piece Divine Time , was described as ‘ a moving, unforgettable experience which evokes the type of intense spirituality that we have so sadly lost in contemporary materialist society '.
Since the signing to DDD Music of X two years ago, the rise of this precocious young talent has been meteoric. His music has continued to receive unequivocal praise from critics, one of whom said that ‘ it has been some time since one could honestly speak of a composer who has captured the zetigeist of a nation, but that composer has arrived, and his name is X '. His piano trio, premiered last year, made playful allusion to earlier works by Schubert and Ravel whilst subverting these models from within by the use of plucked strings on the piano and the middle pedal, with occasional col legno effects on the violin, daring in such a conventional medium. It has since been taken up by five different trios worldwide, whilst continuing performances of his song cycle Ñ.Æ.F. , often programmed alongside Schubert's Winterreise or Schumann's Dichterliebe , have succeeded in winning over new audiences to contemporary music. His versatility was shown by his contribution of a short and exuberant piano piece, Fire in the Air , for a collection of pieces designed for those on an intermediate level of pianistic ability. DDD are proud to announce the forthcoming premiere of X's new work for solo flute, cello, and orchestra, whose preliminary title is Duudlaga– Azbuki - Magyarnóta , commissioned by the J. Orchestra and to be premiered in autumn 2005 in London. X plans to spend an extended period in Greece, which he has visited since he was a child, in order to compose the piece, deriving inspiration from a part of the world where, as he says, ‘antiquity meets modernity'. In this context, he mentions his allegiance to Greek composer Iannis Xenakis, ‘whose work shows the unquestionable link between the natural formations of rocks and the most advanced architecture.'
The much-awaited premiere of the new work for soloists and orchestra, Ajam – Azbuki - Magyarnóta by compositional wunderkind X will take place on November 10 th , 2005 in London . This major new piece, by a composer who has been described as ‘ the Schubert of the 21 st century ', was composed during an extended sojourn in Greece, and draws upon an eclectic and cosmopolitan range of influences, including the native musics of Russia, Hungary and Morocco, all countries and cultures to which the composer feels a deep affinity. X's ceaselessly imaginative range of delectable orchestral colour is displayed to the full, together with flamboyantly virtuosic parts for the chosen soloists, D.K. on flute and F.N. on cello. X's work has received widespread critical acclaim since its first appearance on the concert stage, and he has been unanimously recognised as the leading composer of his generation.
The concert, which will also feature performances of Elgar's ‘Cockaigne' Overture and Brahms's Symphony No. 2, will be preceded by an early-evening concert of traditional Moroccan music, performed by French-Moroccan musician Jean-Pierre Babouit, together with his world-renowned group of musicians ???????? ???[needs Arabic font]
Subject: New work by X
Hi there B.O.,
We need some good articles on X in the press before his new orchestral piece is done in November. Would you be prepared to write something? Don't worry about the music, I know you don't like modern stuff, the point is to give him a good profile in the press. Just to talk about the person we want to put forward, and the like. He's a bit arrogant, but I know that's your type! :) Also, he really hates Q., so that should put him in your good books!
They're planning to paper the concert, but still it won't look convincing without some good preamble beforehand. You'll like him, I know it!
Subject :Re: New work by X
Trust me, I'll get something in. When would he be free to meet up? As you say, I'm not really into the music, but I've heard about him – arrogant, as you say, but a pussycat really deep down, as you know. They're the best types, they're so ambitious that they'll do anything you ask of them. Anyhow, I'll get back to you in the next couple of days to make arrangements.
Lots of fabulous love,
B.O. meets dapper composer X, who brings cosmopolitanism, suavity and poise to music in his new work for soloists and orchestra. And he's something of a wit too…
Much in demand from all quarters, composer X is clearly not one to waste time idly. I catch up with him in a café in Soho, just an hour before he is due to leave for a trip to the Ukraine, to meet with the director of an orchestra interested in his work and also, in X's words, ‘to try and understand something more of the culture and music of Ukraine, how such a nation, which suffered so terribly under the communists, still defiantly keeps its identity intact.' This will be a fleeting visit, as X will return next week for the world premiere of his much anticipated new work for solo flute, cello and orchestra, Ajam – Azbuki - Magyarnóta in London . How does he keep up, I ask? ‘I try to take it all in my stride', he replies with characteristic modesty. After a round of performances of Ajam – Azbuki - Magyarnóta , X plans to take a well-earned break in Sicily , ‘to relax for a week and enjoy the unspoilt, less hurried, more simple way of life there. In the mezzogiorno region of Italy , you can feel the warmth, good-heartedness, occasional licentiousness, and love of simple things that are so characteristic of the people and culture there. To me these things represent the very heart of the Mediterranean temperament. E.M. Forster saw this very clearly, how the vigour, joy and sensuality of ordinary Italians forms a direct link with the riches of their cultural heritage. I've written some of my best music whilst in Sicily , though I think for my next big project, my opera, I need to spend some time breathing in the air and the romance of Paris .' X's cosmopolitanism is as astounding as his suavity, born of the fact that his family owns houses in several European countries (to where X retreats when he wants the requisite peace and quiet to be able to compose) as well as a gorgeous hacienda in rural Mexico – ‘The Mexican peasants, they are some of the most wonderful people in the world. They are happy to live a quite simple type of existence, desiring none of the material goods we have in the West. A friend of my father's, who advises the Mexican President, was telling me of a time when the wells dried up in a Mexican village. To ensure that their children would have water, the adults would walk 15 miles and back to the nearest village, carrying heavy buckets on the return journey. That shows you how much these people care about their children.'
X is a charismatic, disarming and aristocratic figure, which is so important in this age of the composer as self-promoter. We both exchange smiles when the customer in front of us asks for Kenyan rather than Columbian coffee beans. With characteristic disdain, X whispers to me ‘she's probably from the West Country or something!' X's conversation is peppered with witty put-downs of others who might fruitlessly aspire to his own level of sophistication, ‘he probably gets his hair done by the council', or ‘you can tell how vulgar her music is just by listening to her hideously coarse accent'. As such, even a few minutes spent in X's company is tremendous fun, every bit as much as listening to his music. But of course it is instantly clear to anyone who knows X that this is no vulgar social snobbery – as he puts it ‘the only aristocracy I believe in is an aristocracy of taste and the intellect.'
Such an aristocracy undoubtedly has been able to claim X as one of its own from the cradle onwards. He was born in London to a distinguished family: his father is the well-known writer, guest speaker and government advisor S.D., born in Romania , from which he fled in 1979 to Britain , where he had visited the previous year together with the Romanian president, for whom he was working, during the royal visit. X points out that ‘my father was always devoutly opposed to communism, one of the many moral lessons I learned from him, but he knew the best way to fight it was from within. So he chose to work at the highest level of government, knowing his presence there would be a force for good. But then there was a terrible shake-up at the top, and he looked like being demoted to the lower ranks. It was then that he made the courageous decision to leave the country and come here, leaving his house, having only his various savings to draw upon.' There he met the beautiful up-and-coming violinist M.L., some 20 years his junior and having just left finishing school. They were married within the year. S.D. flourished in the West, receiving high and well-deserved fees for his passionately anti-communist speeches during the 1980s, and is today regularly called upon to advise Prime Ministers and Foreign Secretaries of Britain and Presidents and Secretaries of State in the USA . His recent book, Hard Times, Hard Solutions , is a staunch defence of the need for moral fibre from the West when it comes to combating the scourge of terrorism that we all face today. M.L. similarly enjoyed great success as a violinist, but decided to put her family before her career when X was born in 1980, later concentrating on teaching. There are those who say that musicality can be acquired simply with application and good tuition, but ultimately those who come to it via this route will only ever be pale imitators of those for whom it is truly in the ‘blood' and bred from year one. Such was the case with X, one of the reasons he stands head and shoulders of many of the mere pretenders who are his contemporaries.
X was educated at K. College, one of the finest schools in the country, from the age of eight – ‘my parents made real sacrifices to enable me to go there, even taking out a new mortgage on the Sicilian villa during my first year'. Being at such a cultivated place, combined with the intrinsic discernment that was so much a part of his family life, all surely played a major part in shaping such a dapper person. He describes K. as ‘a place for all types of people – I even shared a dormitory with one friend from Saudi Arabia', where he received a classical education (one can only admire some of the Greek quotations he amusingly parodies) and spent much of his spare time and pocket money stocking up on musical scores and recordings. He tells of an occasion where ‘I once saved up for several weeks and then could go out and buy the full scores of most of Richard Strauss's operas'. Such skilful investment is the sign of a true musician, of course, but X reveals how he is both self-effacing and discriminatory when he goes on to tell that ‘About six months later, I threw them all out, realising that I no longer had any need for Strauss'. One can only gasp at the fact that X's level of absorption was of such a degree that he could continue his musical development without need for recourse to such raw materials.
Both at K. and at university, he encountered many other musical colleagues who are set to become the new hope for music in Britain today. Though nowadays he tends to write for more exalted performers, outside of the constraints of the new-music world, his first big break came with the premiere by contemporaries of é.ç. in London , to rapturous critical approval. Many had seen this coming all along: critic W.N., who knew X from when he was a young boy and lived in a neighbouring street comments that ‘I knew from the beginning that he was destined for greatness – I could see it in his fresh face, unencumbered by doubts.' A stream of performances followed on from this, catapulted as X was into the limelight and receiving requests for commissions from some of the most eminent instrumentalists, singers and ensembles of today. He was quickly signed up by the prestigious publisher DDD Music, who rarely take on young composers, preferring to wait until they have had chance to develop and establish their reputations.
X has shown himself to be unconstrained by the dictates of serialism and modernism – he compares his liberation from the all-pervasive aesthetics of the contemporary dark ages to ‘my father's liberation from communism. You know, you weren't free to think for yourself under communism, the system just trampled upon the individual, unless they unthinkingly espoused the party line. I feel the same was true of modernism in music – a few decades ago, there would have been absolutely no place for a composer like me, who isn't prepared to subscribe to any sort of system. We take the sort of freedom we enjoy in the West so lightly, as my father always points out – only the self-styled ‘avant-gardistes' insist on placing chains around our imagination.' Yet isn't X enthusiastic about the work of Boulez, or Stockhausen, both of whom have been presented in major events in London recently, at which I saw X present? ‘Well..... yes I do admire their work very much, time has demonstrated their greatness. They happily don't associate themselves with the new music ghetto any longer, and are more concerned about bringing their work to a wider public. Somehow their names have come to signify something important now, in such a way that one no longer need worry about the difficulty of their music when it was composed. The important thing is that their music has had time to become part of our heritage now, so we no longer need to think of it as ‘contemporary music' but rather simply as ‘music'. Both of those composers committed themselves to some rather fruitless experiments in the 1950s, but quickly saw the error of their ways. Ultimately, all this use of systems and the like was no substitute for real musicality, which I'm sure they would both agree nowadays. They would never have swallowed the quasi-communist line on music. Another I do admire is Xenakis, whose work seems to me a testament to the human spirit. You can hear the very pain of his wartime experiences in every bar of his work.'
For the premiere of Ajam – Azbuki - Magyarnóta , one of the soloist will be the premiere contemporary cellist F.N. He is renowned for his versatility and aloofness in performance, able to turn himself to practically anything with genuine aplomb, never letting his own personality get in the way of the music. These qualities are deeply important to X, who says ‘One of the things I learned at school was how to adapt oneself to all occasions, to be able to act and talk in whatever manner is demanded by the surroundings. We had special classes on this at my school. Alas, though, many composers, especially the self-taught ones from the lower orders…' – at this point X stops to correct himself, and make clear that he's talking about artistic ‘class' rather than anything more social and coarse - ‘they can be such egotistical types, self-obsessed – why should their subjectivity be of interest to anyone else? They should recognise their real role as servants of the public, or else they are simply going to be left behind.'
One wonders where Beethoven would fit into all this? X is quick to reply that ‘Beethoven was really where a lot of the trouble began. Earlier composers respected the institutions and individuals that supported them and were prepared to put their egos to one side in favour of writing music that could speak for itself, rather than imposing themselves upon it. Beethoven, who was basically a yob from Bonn , brought a new type of narcissistic hooliganism into music which I have to say is rather typical of such types. Beethoven had a deeply flawed ear – you can hear that from all those ugly filled-in chords he writes in the bass of his piano works.' One can see the look of slight disgust in X's face as he points this out, demonstrating once again the acuteness of his musical sensitivity. He goes on, in his characteristically subversive manner, to describe Beethoven as ‘the most overrated composer in musical history'. Provocative and charming in equal measure, X makes his apologies as he must get his taxi to the airport. A delightful hour spent in his company which I have no doubt will be replicated in next week's heartily recommended concert.
Subject: Interview with X
Have you heard of this composer X that people are talking about? Anyhow, the boss wants us to do something on him, so I want you to do it. Keep it very personal, style section type of stuff, don't get bogged down in the music and the like. I know what you can do, remember that writer you interviewed whose wife came screaming to our office, and we had to get the police to remove her? Do your best, let's see who this X really is.
If your idea of a contemporary composer is a bearded single man living in a bedsit, then think again, writes A.G., who meets stylish metrosexual X.
I was expecting the worst when I arrived at X's flat, who I hadn't met before, imagining I was going to have to spend the next hour pretending to look interested, while he bored me with endless verbiage about his music, ideas, and the like. And I'd dreaded going into the flat, waiting to see the piles of books, scores and half-eaten meals crammed into a small place that only a real loser would inhabit. But as I walk up the stairs, I come across a tall, butch, but impeccably groomed man walking down. He introduces himself briefly to me – ‘I'm X's personal fitness trainer'. I think to myself, like, what? People in ‘modern music' don't have personal fitness trainers , surely? I'm about to be proved very wrong.
I almost feel my knees knocking together when X answers the door, so disarming and commanding is he. The combination of the shaved head, the thin skin-tight T-shirt slit-kneed denims and Nikes is the way to make any girl's heart go a-flutter. He addresses me warmly and ushers me into his awesome sitting room: wide, spacious, with long windows looking out onto the river, open plan throughout, a dark brown leather sofa on metal supports next to a glass table on which are placed various style magazines, and a selection of objects on the shelves that tell of X's travels – a pair of African masks, several Greek plates with mythological figures engraved on them, even a Chinese lantern hanging from the ceiling. There is a photo of him standing next to Condoleeza Rice, who is sitting at a piano while X looks over her shoulder (‘she's a good friend of my father's. You can tell how deeply she understands the Islamic world just from hearing her play Balakirev or Rimsky-Korsakov'). Now I'm really disoriented, not having expected anything like this. I thought he would be easy meat for a seasoned interviewer like me, but now I have to rethink all my questions from the beginning. He pops briefly into his study when the phone goes - I blow my nose quickly and surreptitiously while he's out of the room.
Why, I ask X, did someone like him choose to go into the cringeworthy world of ‘contemporary music' (I didn't even dare tell my friends that I was going to interview a ‘contemporary composer', they would have laughed at me for weeks afterwards)? Surely this world of socially maladjusted men, living in grubby bedsits, wouldn't appeal to an aspirational type like him? He grins at me, knowing exactly what I mean. Just before he's about to answer, another phone rings, this time in the main sitting room, which he answers. Someone's trying to sell him something, he speaks to them politely but firmly before putting the phone down, then turns to me to say ‘I've got the common touch.' My estimation of him is going up all the time.
He explains to me ‘for a long time, “new music” was indeed the preserve of a rather geeky group of people', many of whom apparently espoused some thing called ‘serialism'. Was that this plinkety-plonk, squeaky-gate stuff, I ask him? He laughs a bit, ‘you could say that!' He tells me of the latest thing, called ‘retro-pluralism', which is apparently all the rage amongst the most clued-up types. ‘You see, in the past composers thought there was a particular direction in which music had to be heading. My generation aren't worried about that at all. We're free to pick and choose as we like, using many styles when they suit our purposes, including serialism if we want to make some playful ironic comment. People talk about “dumbing down” but the reality is that my generation, especially the women, have “clevered up” like never before. Our brains are being reformatted to suit an information age, in which mental speed and flexibility are at a premium. Thinking fast, and absorbing and adapting to new information continually is what is demanded. We are all developing, in varying degrees, the ability to process huge amounts of information (skim-reading) and select what is significant and what can be trusted.'
Phew! This all sounds quite daunting - I want to know more about what he means concerning women? ‘Women are the best consumers in the world, they can walk down any high street and instantly pick out the best things to buy. And they have been at the forefront of retro-chic fashion, demanding neo-1930s clothes from the retailers and the like. The producers find it hard to keep up with the discerning modern female consumer! Anyhow, this is rather like how composition should be, making choices in the same sort of matter. We can freely mix African drumming (it's amazing how intricate the rhythms are in that), Tibetan bell music, hard bop jazz, rave music or even serialism!' This all sounds seriously sexy, a far cry from what I thought ‘contemporary' meant. X then slips into a type of East End dialect, pointing out how he still feels part of his ‘roots'. He tells me ‘I've known all this stuff since I was young, and I have a feel for what real people outside of the new music ghetto want. I used to play drums in an indie band when I was younger – we'd do our own versions of Joy Division, the Cure, the Smiths, everything. To write music that speaks to modern urban youth, you have to have a feel for the language of the street.'
On a shelf to the side of the reclining leather chair he invited me to sit in, I sneak a glance at the row of CDs. Expecting to see some motley collection of stuff by ‘modern music' weirdos, the packaging of which usually tells you everything you need to know, I'm quite startled by what I see: garage, hard house, jungle, drum and bass. X clearly has his finger on the style button in music as much as anything else.
Looking around his flat at everything – the IKEA furniture, the razzmatazz packets of coffee beans, the angle-poised lamps, the knowingly camp blue and yellow salt and pepper pots, the burgundy book-chests filled out with leather-bound volumes in his study – all reveal X to be as discerning a consumer as any woman. I hadn't imagined this was possible from one belonging to the dreaded naff-style group of the ‘contemporary composer', many of whom wouldn't even be able to price most of the items on display in this flat, let alone appreciate them. ‘A lot of composers are just rather misfunctional anoraky types who make lots of noises about being “anti-consumerism”', X tells me, ‘which really means they're anti-women. You can see the depth of feeling between women when they shop together, the way an immediate bond is created even between those who were strangers beforehand. Shopping is the very essence of femininity, and that's what those unreconstructed men most resent.' He doesn't mince his words when he rightly points out that ‘those that hate shops and shopping really hate the people who command such places so effortlessly, namely women. Their disdain towards shopping is just another way of sublimating their violent frustrations and rape fantasies.'
I'm more than impressed by how X shows such an uncharacteristically strong feminine side whilst working in a culture that is the last bastion of unreconstructed machismo. I'm almost frozen in awe of him, until the one big disappointment of my afternoon, which begins as the buzzer goes. After X calls down to say ‘Hey baby, come right on up, we're nearly done', a minute later in walks a skinny platinum blonde wearing a black suit (stylish, one you wouldn't find on just any high street), heels and tied-back hair. Her make-up is well-done, as if she's just put it on, both tasteful and extravagant, with amply rouged cheeks. She looks a little nervous as she walks in and spies me, puffing hard on the cigarette that dangles between her fingers. After introducing the blonde as ‘Lisa' to me, X places his finger under her chin, looking deep and hard at her, then nods and smiles, saying ‘not bad today'. She looks more flustered and says ‘I'll be right back' as she walks slightly hurriedly to the loo. While she's gone, X tells me ‘I choose my women with the same discernment as I apply to anything else.'
He's right, she is rather gorgeous, but this only adds to my mild pangs of jealousy. I know now is the time to leave and drown some cocktails with my girlfriends. But I also know that X will be on my mind all evening now. His charm continues to be effusive as he fetches by coat before showing me out. I hand him my card, and he gives me a soft kiss as I exit the door. Scampering down the stairs, I'm frantically but unsuccessfully trying to put X out of my mind. However, I note his number in my diary next to where I plan my shopping trips – I'm sure I'll be asking him along for his advice next time!
Composer X's searing new work deals with the very atavistic roots of culture, writes L.P. And he's about to start work on his first opera as well.
It is now 5 years since the music world was taken by storm with the premiere of é.ç. , by then 20-year old composer X. Having had no previous knowledge of X or his work, save through persistent recommendations from a colleague who has known him since he was a boy, I was utterly bowled over by the piece, feeling something of the amazement that Pierre Boulez's teachers must have done when he presented them with his Deuxiéme Sonate pour piano . Subsequent pieces have done nothing to dispel that initial enthusiasm – if anything X has shown himself effortlessly able to take the not inconsiderable pressures of the commission circuit and fierce competition that exists amongst young composers in his stride. Meeting him in a quiet room in his exclusive club in central London , he tells me that ‘I really don't like the whole culture of commissions and premieres that pervades the music world. Really what counts is to hear a piece on repeated occasions, so the audiences have a chance to absorb it properly. I've been very fortunate in this respect.' X has managed to avoid the vicious circle of premieres, commissions on demands for star performers and orchestras, and the like, choosing instead to work at his own rate and be led only by his rare and acute artistic instincts. His greatest coup to date has been to land a major new commission for world-renowned soloists flautist D.K. and cellist F.N. together with the leading British Orchestra J. The resultant work, Ajam – Azbuki – Magyarnóta , much of which was written during a reflective period which the composer spent in Greece , is to be premiered next Thursday in London , and promises to be a major event.
The sense of anticipation amongst the music world is palpable, everyone's anxious to know just what it will be like. Rehearsals don't begin until the day before the premiere, so no-one has yet had a chance to hear a sneak preview. I hope vainly that X will have brought a score with him to this interview so that I can take a look, but he is playing his cards close to his chest. But he is quite happy to talk about the piece. The work has been modified somewhat since its inception – originally it was to be entitled is Duudlaga– Azbuki – Magyarnóta , the former title an allusion to the spiritual invocations of Mongolian shamanistic music. But, as X points out to me, ‘I had already absorbed and learnt from Asian music and culture in my earlier piece Divine Time , which captured something of the spirituality of the Tibetan people, the very thing we have lost in our contemporary materialistic existence, so I thought it was time to broaden my horizons and show a wider solidarity with other peoples of the world.' The new title refers to an Arabic mode, the ajam , of which X speaks most knowledgeably. ‘I feel in love with Arabic music and the people from the very beginning, and knew I had to try and recapture something of that lost civilisation that existed until very recently, as the forces of terrorism have unfortunately taken over that region of the world.' This remarkable comment shows how deeply X has thought about the responsibility of the composer in the contemporary world, not turning their back on current events and other wider concerns. He then goes on to describe the life-changing experience when he heard the mystical Gnawan music of Morocco : ‘The incandescent trance-like experience of this music is used for cleansing purposes in the society, by healers, psychics and others. You have low melodies, highly rhythmic in nature, which accompany call-and-response, hand clapping and special cymbals called the krakebs ( ????? ). Whilst I'm not using the actual processes of this music, I was determined to have some krakebs in the percussion section of the orchestra. It took a bit of persuasion to get the orchestra to hire them, but they did after I insisted.' Clearly X is one prepared to fight for his artistic requirements. His orchestra contains other unusual instruments as well, subverting traditional expectations of the medium, including an electric guitar, drum kit and even a fortepiano (‘I use it just a little in the middle section of the work, to underline the extent to which time past is contained in time present – and time future as well').
The first and second sections of Ajam – Azbuki – Magyarnóta allude to quite different musics, specifically Russian chant and Hungarian popular song. Isn't there a danger of such a work collapsing under the weight of its own diversity, I ask X? ‘No, I don't think so at all. The reason for choosing such disparate source materials is to show the essential similarities between all peoples of the world, to capture something of the atavistic roots of all culture and humanity, and as such portray the very essence of the human condition.' Indeed X goes further and links the varieties of ritualistic experience to be found in Moroccan culture with American minimalism or the dizzying journey one goes through when clubbing. ‘In all such forms of experience, the point is to empty the mind, to deny the ego, and feel oneself part of the larger mass of humankind. This appeals to me very strongly as an alternative to the cult of the individual subject, which is both elitist and ultimately little more than an expression of alienated masculinity.' He speaks of meeting all types of people at clubs, ‘stockbrokers, lawyers, civil servants, even politicians, as well as artists. Many of these people have been making difficult decisions in their daily life, the music at the clubs helps them to forget all that and place their troubles behind them. As such it's a profoundly levelling type of communal ritual. This is what I aim for in my own work.'
After the premiere and mini-tour of Ajam – Azbuki – Magyarnóta is over, X plans to take a well-earned rest in Sicily before starting to work hard on his new opera, Maastricht , to be premiered as the opening of the new season in London two years from now. Its libretto, written by the composer himself, takes a seemingly unoperatic subject as its premise: the battle to steer the Maastricht Treaty through Parliament by former Prime Minister John Major in 1992-93. X says ‘I've had this idea festering in the back of my mind ever since I watched the fierce debates on television when I was young. Immediately, I was struck by the intense resemblance to grand opera, and was considering the two groups of Conservative MPs, the loyalists and the rebels, as two opposing choral groups.' X whispers to me ‘I might even call the second group the “bastards”!' with a wicked smile. ‘I started sketching some dramatic music for the two groups to sing, with a withering orchestral accompaniment, and then thought about how the conciliatory voice of John Major would be best sung by a lyric tenor, whose mellifluous line would somehow bring about a confluence between the two sets of musical material. The events in question dragged on over nearly a year's duration, which I'm going to follow over the different acts of the opera. But ultimately, it is a heroic and moral tale, as I think the best opera should be.' X also intends to provide a major role in the opera for Edwina Currie, as the hero's love interest, alluding to cabaret music to emphasise her role as femme fatale on one hand, whilst often accompanied by rich and luxurious string writing to illuminate her inner warmth which ultimately serves to stimulate the hero's sense of resolve and purpose. ‘This is the great appeal of opera to me', says X, ‘the medium allows you both to communicate the outward persona of a character, their public face, through the nature of their vocal writing whilst revealing hidden depths through the use of instruments.'
By basing an opera on recent political events, X shows himself to be the heir of Verdi or Shakespeare, who similarly chronicled the life and loves of great political leaders in their works. Maastricht promises to be a major event when it receives its premiere; the casting of the principal roles has been decided but not made public yet, whilst further productions, including several in the USA, are currently being negotiated.
PARTS 3 & 4 of DIstinction will be available shortly on Ian Pace's website.
© Ian Pace