Speaking to Hamish

Old Town Edinburgh from Calton Hill, G.W.Wilson 1870s

Old Town Edinburgh from Calton Hill, G.W.Wilson 1870s

Hamish is my closest friend, albeit a fairly grumpy one. He has seen much of my joy and sorrow and commented on nearly all of what he has seen. There has been plenty of laughter along the way. It is now over 20 years since I left Edinburgh but the connection with him has grown stronger, not weaker. Artistic matters are the most personal of all and I have been able to discuss these with him, but not so candidly with others. Like everyone, I am guarded about what is most personal. Yet I have the necessary release of being able to share my private world with this one friend.

Though Hamish is not a musician, he hears me out on my ideas for writing music, saying what he finds positive and what he finds negative. And this is good as one wishes in any case to reach out to a public that does not comprise simply fellow composers. Our music descends into a purely professional activity if we are not careful. We speak to each other like doctors whose jargon excludes the general public. Yet music is intended for that general public just as much as medicine is. Indeed, is it not a sort of medicine? At college, where one sits in the auditorium amongst fellow students, listening to the work of other students, one acquires a taste for “purely professional activity”.

So, in a long conversation last night I explained what I have been planning for the group in Venice I am writing for. It is a radical departure for me, though in a direction I have tried to travel before. There is a point of departure, a direction, a route, a goal, and all things must align themselves if the voyage is to happen. Yes, I can be honest and admit that I have spent a great deal of time hanging around the harbour “getting ready” whereas I was actually “getting into trouble” of various kinds. After I talked to Hamish and he approved my ideas, I felt a nice puff of wind in my sails and some forward momentum as a result.

Conversations with Ananda Sukarlan “Nice Kitty you have”

Kanye West

Kanye West

This conversation needs a few footnotes. This evening, Hamish, my best friend from Scotland, arrives. That means a change of regime here. I am not allowed in the kitchen or even to choose what is cooked. Anyway, Hamish does all the work, so that suits me. But he can become a bit of a Hitler, if I don’t watch out.

Ananda Sukarlan is my great mate from students days in Den Haag. But he now lives in Spain with his wife and child and organizes his career from there (concert pianist). At the same time he is increasingly creative – writing music and organizing events. But he starts out from the point of view that the postwar classical music avant-garde is a pile of stinking shite. So that makes for a sometimes difficult relationship between the two of us. He enjoys stinging me on this subject and when he sees a nice red bump coming up, he swoops in to sting me a second and a third time.

Why do I tolerate it? Well one reason is that A. is very interested in my music. Another reason is that my views actually overlap his. The idea that “it is not done” to like certain music or “not done” to watch (for example) a memorial concert to Diana, is something that irritates me, to put it mildly. So if I am not exactly an Andrew Lloyd Webber fan, I heartily approve of the idea of liking any music that you like, just because you like it. The question “how can you like that?” – well it’s more of an admonition of course – is just about the worst question you can ask me. The concept of “good taste” cannot drop off the face of this planet fast enough, as far as I’m concerned.

I had sent A. a photocopy of “For Kitty”, a little piano piece that someone commissioned a few years back as a Christmas present for his wife. I am at pains to point out that the style of this music strikes me as uniquely “me”. He makes a pun on the title of one of my works You, Always You. We both refer also to The Beautiful Question and The Persistence of Gravity, two piano pieces I wrote for him when he was a student. Finally, as background to this conversation, lies the fact that I have been for some months sorting through my compositions. I have been finding pieces I had forgotten about and, in some cases, pieces I don’t even recognize……

A.S. nice kitty you have
G.K. Is it really good?
any criticisms?
hmm … too short
but very nice
I think that style is unique to me. Or am I wrong?
yes, it’s very “YOU” . You, Always You
It’s the same mood as “Beautiful Question”
well, in fact i think u should make them into 1 group. 3 pieces. with the persistence of grav
Well wait, there are other piano pieces that you’ve not seen yet
My flowering genius…..
I am more fertile than most [lipstick emot.]
so, your genius hasn’t been exposed completely ???
[blush emot.]

hidden genius … or undiscovered genius ?
Well I’m actually serious here
me too !!
What amuses me about For Kitty
is that although you’ve got all the usual chords
and stuff from Romanticism
it’s unique to me
well that’s how it strikes me
but I might be 1000% wrong here
oh yea, but u know debussy said “the c major scale in beethoven’s works sounds different” . i mean, we all work with materials used by thousands of composers
it’s not the material we use. it’s what we do with it, right ?
Yep, well I’m just lucky if it’s true, what I say, because I’m not TRYING to be different
Am just writing a bit of “beautiful question” that comes naturally
Anyway, glad you got it
It will be interesting to see how many piano pieces there are
u don’t have to try to be different
just write good music
You mean me personally or WE
You mean the “difference” is already there?
In everyone?
i think so
all that avantgarde rubbish is there because people TRY to be different … and then they all became the same … absolutely equal ….
no, i couldn’t ! what was it ? how was it ?
It was fab
on Sunday
there was an Andrew Lloyd Webber selection
yeah, i was travelling … and stuck in the bloody studio
oh ! i missed it
[crying emot.]
….and I saw Diana’s sister crying after it was over…
apparently D liked ALW
so there was classical music !
thats good . i thought it was pop music
There was also a bit from Swan Lake which made me tearful
And Elton John is a total master
I have to take my hat off to him
[smiley with tongue hanging out emot.]
yes, Elton is great
No, it was everything: Pop, Rap, Oldie Rock Bands, Musicals, Ballet
Elton is a master
what a man!
And I’m so proud of him ’cause he’s gay
Well but at least there is classical music. it’s not “dead” like many people say
Classical music lives on in this strange way, through films, musicals etc.
And in the subsidized sense too
yea, so in a big concert like the D. memorial there is Swan Lake, ALW … am very happy to hear it
Yeah and the SwanL. went down a treat, there was a roar of approval
People like what is good
They don’t get stuck in genre problems
WOW !! u really, really made me happy
Kanye West…………mmmm……..I want to lick him all over
[big smiley emot.]
[smiley with tongue hanging out emot.]
Anyway I have to house clean now because Hamish is arriving
ok. bye

Conversations with Ananda Sukarlan

"Bernstein with Composer, Aaron Copland at Bernardsville, ca. 1920-1989, Library of Congress., Mentor and Friend, New Jersey." August 1945. The Leonard Bernstein Collection

“Bernstein with Composer, Aaron Copland at Bernardsville, ca. 1920-1989, Library of Congress., Mentor and Friend, New Jersey.” August 1945. The Leonard Bernstein Collection

Ananda Sukarlan had sent me a clip of Bernstein rehearsing Le Sacre du Printemps……….


(Geoffrey King) Very interesting to compare with the Boulez approach isn’t it.
(Ananda Sukarlan) I don’t know the Boulez approach.

What he says about the Russian choir and the Duke Ellington thing……
Am watching him conduct the Candide overture. FANTASTIC.
…..and the twin nature of that bit of the Danse Sacrale, are spot on.
And you need that, to show musicians what the composer is talking about.
They have to know what the notes mean.
Well, LB was the greatest.
Simply the best….
You’ll never be like B.
……better than all the rest…..
He was so vulgar.
No, no one could.
And that’s necessary in his job.
Yeah, I like his T- shirt.
He is like a slut.
Do you know what I mean?
Yeah, no pretentions at all. Just as he was.
That’s good, because sometimes music is like a slut too.
Well, I’ll include this conversation in my blog.
I’m doing my blog.
Let me know.
What is that, Candide?
Yeah, make our garden grow.
You still there?
It’s done.
Chatting with Chen in Paris……
Ok, I’ll check.
Give Chen my [kiss emoticon].
He gives back a kiss.
Nice pic eh?
Yes, very nice.
He was CUTE when he was young.
Well he was always handsome and charismatic.
[?? emoticon]
The “make our garden grow” doesn’t connect. You missed a sentence.
Let me look….
Well, “make our garden grow” is a reference to me putting your views on the blog, isn’t it?
So it makes sense as I edited it.
No, check our conversation again.
I just did.
But, just leave it as it is.
If you read it, you’ll see I edited it well.
I meant, I was watching “Make my garden grow”. But leave it as it is . It’s cute.
Oh, sorry, is that a bit of Candide?
Is it an aria?
Yes, I gave you another link.
But what is “Make my garden grow”?
Ok, I’ll have a look.
Anyway, am gonna go to bed.
Ok bye.
Enjoy LB.
Am listening……….so vulgar.
Yeah, so great.
Glitter and be gay.
G’night….ah, don’t tell me you don’t know what it is.
Glitter and be gay
I don’t know what it is.
Oh well ….. just search in YouTube.
Honestly……..and you call yourself a composer……
You could include it in your blog…..this next conversation…….
[laughter emoticon]
I’m adding our WHOLE conversation in my blog.
Well, if u wanna embarrass yourself, go ahead. I mean……u r the only composer in the world who doesn’t know glitter and be gay !!!!
Oh shit.
He-he…..well, I think you should start to study music.
Anyway that Bernstein is over now.
Good night then.
We won’t ever see Boulez conducting THAT.
Well I even forgot Boulez existed!
Oh, you need more music lessons from me.
You are the only composer in the world still talking about Boulez! Only concert managers talk about him!
Go to bed.
Sleep tight.

Tribute to Benjamin Britten, by Geoffrey King and Ananda Sukarlan

Benjamin Britten

Benjamin Britten

A.S. Am really curious about your string quartet………………..

G.K. Did you read what I said?

A.S. Yes.

G.K. Is it understandable? It was a bit hard to explain.

A.S. For musicians it’s understandable.

G.K. Am just listenening to Britten’s Cello Symphony.

A.S. Oh. Love it.

G.K. I am still baffled by Britten’s poor reputation.

A.S. Poor ??? Really ?

G.K. Amongst the cognoscenti, I mean. Late 60s, early 70s, when I was a student, he was just dismissed. Did these people actually LISTEN to his work?

A.S. Oh, by “avant-gardes”. They always dismiss people. Even their own mummy.

G.K. I mean, that’s mastery that almost NO ONE has.

A.S. Yes I know. I really envy him. Those people did too. That’s why they dismissed him. Envy. Jealousy.

G.K. How can you just dismiss it? I don’t know anything about the piece, I must read about it. What a master he was.

A.S. Yes. I have almost all of his works……Just some operas I don’t have. Owen Wingrave, Billy Budd. The rest, yes.

The Language of Modern Music

angerMy new string quartet is shaping up, slowly. What is helping me this time is to think of an audience. As a matter of fact, I have been thinking quite specifically of an audience of woman factory workers and composing “for them”. I am visualising them and even the spot where they and the quartet will be sitting.

Music without a goal is rather difficult to f…………

At that very moment I was interrupted by a Skype communication from a pianist friend (he’d better remain anonymous) complaining about having to work on the Ligeti Etudes. (He’d already written earlier in the day to complain that “I am up to my BIG BALLS in work” and “I have had ENOUGH of LIGETI . F U C K that dead jerk …. I have to do all his etudes on Friday”….)

Here is what he said this time……

Geoffrey King says: how are your 2 large balls?
Geoffrey King says: I am just writing a note about my quartet for the blog, so that I understand what I am trying to do
Anon says: 2 conditions to write ugly contemporary music : SOFT and EASY . otherwise it’s PURE RUBBISH
Anon says: DIRT 
Anon says: TRASH
Anon says: CRAP 
Geoffrey King says: The la grenuoiller movement will be the second one 
Geoffrey King says: grenuillere
Geoffrey King says: grenouillere
Geoffrey King says: FROG
Anon says: SHIT 
Anon says: VOMIT 
Anon says: PUKE 
Anon says: STINK 
Geoffrey King says: I’m glad I have a friend who’s such a fan of contemporary music… (chuckle) 
Anon says: am going. bye

As I was saying……music without a goal in mind is difficult to write. So, my first big piece, written when I was sixteen or seventeen (Contrasts for piano), explored the number seven within the language of 1960s style Stravinsky and also that of Webern. And because of this focus, it was fairly easy to write. And I still love it………but I certainly wouldn’t recommend dishing that piece up to an audience of factory workers.