Charlie's Summer Picks 2019
This summer sees the publication not only of a bumper crop of books on music and dance, but of one of the books I’ve been looking forward to most all year: Ian Penman’s It Gets Me Home, This Curving Track (Fitzcarraldo Editions). As a music critic, Penman is sui generis, combining an unmatched breadth of cultural reference with prose as musical as the artists he writes about. To celebrate the book, his first in more than twenty years, we’ll be holding an event with Penman in conversation with Jennifer Hodgson on 10 September. I can’t wait.
Just out from Faber is Rough Ideas: Reflections on Music and More, by Stephen Hough. Rightly acclaimed as one of the world’s leading pianists, Hough is also a fine and perceptive writer. As the title suggests, this generous collection of short essays ranges widely, covering music and musicians, performance and recording, art and literature, religion and ethics.
In A New Heaven: Harry Christophers and The Sixteen (Faber), Sara Mohr-Pietsch interviews the founder and artistic director of this pioneering choir, which is celebrating its fortieth anniversary. Christophers talks about how his approach to choir training and performance practice has shaped the sound and ethos of the group over the years, how changes in the record industry have entailed a new model of recording and live performance, and how a new generation of young singers is being nurtured by his education programme known as Genesis Sixteen.
One of the contemporary composers most strongly associated with The Sixteen is James MacMillan, whose A Scots Song: A Life of Music has just been published by Birlinn. MacMillan has always been a forthright commentator on a range of social and religious issues, and in this short memoir he interweaves discussion of his career and musical influences with reflections on the importance of his Scottish roots and Catholic faith.
I was surprised to discover that Marius Petipa: The Emperor’s Ballet Master by Nadine Meisner (OUP) was the first biography in English of Petipa, but Meisner does justice to one of the most important figures in the history of ballet, whose works (albeit often in adapted forms) still provide the basis of many classical ballet companies’ repertoire today.
Another important figure in dance history, though with a style in sharp contrast to Petipa’s, is Merce Cunningham, who would have been 100 this year. To mark his centenary, The Song Cave and the Merce Cunningham Trust have published a limited edition reprint of Changes: Notes on Choreography. Long out of print, this artist’s book from 1968 offers a unique insight into Cunningham’s ideas by way of his working notebooks.