Composers' Choice: John McLachlan

A preview of John McLachlan's Composers' Choice on 4th February 2003 at the NCH, Dublin.

As a programme, this will be quite a contrasting hour or so of music. I have brought together a piece I wrote thirteen years ago with another that is very new, but less representative of my output as a whole. My two pieces are very different in style, and each of the other pieces lines up loosely to one of mine: Lutoslawski’s Jeux vénitiens relates in style to my Concerto for Chamber Orchestra, while Foss’ Ode is closer to my Here Be Dragons. The strange thing is that Here Be Dragons sounds less contemporary than the older piece, if one goes by outward stylistic traits. It was written for younger listeners, and that definitely has something to do with it. It uses and manipulates themes in a traditional and audible way, while the Concerto is predominantly athematic. But the later piece also shows important developments in my use of harmony and orchestration. It is a direct piece designed to make its point on one hearing, but with plenty to go back for on repeated listening.

I have kept in mind the original concept of the Horizons series: to reclaim some of the ‘lost audience’ – traditional concert-goers – for contemporary works. So the third and fourth pieces are relatively easy going. But they are also quality music, and I believe in any case that the question of what is cutting-edge and what is not is more confused than ever at this point in history. The present age is marked by a multiplicity of co-existing musical languages. I generally believe that programmers should be cautious or at least very thoughtful when combining different styles, yet equally they should avoid pretending that only one is valid.

As for one composer working in various styles: Lukas Foss put it better than I can when he wrote:

‘I think it’s questionable to claim: ‘I’m a twelve-tone composer’ or ‘I’m a minimal composer’. Why limit myself to one technique? Can we imagine Bach saying, ‘I’m a fugue composer,’ and writing nothing but fugues? That’s ridiculous … The richer the vocabulary, the richer the music. The trick is, of course, to make all these techniques your own. I didn’t just use these influences; I made them my own, which means I completely transformed them.’

Published on 1 January 2003

John McLachlan is a composer and member of Aosdána. www.johnmclachlan.info

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