Michael White’s music news: Sir Malcolm Arnold; Music@Malling; City Music Foundation

Thursday, 15th October 2020

Sir Malcolm Arnold

Sir Malcolm Arnold

Of all the major composers who have lived in Camden, one that sometimes gets overlooked is Sir Malcolm Arnold who (at a low point in his increasingly tragic life) was found running through the streets of Belsize Park in hospital pyjamas, having escaped from the Royal Free where he’d been sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

Arnold was bipolar, alcoholic, hard to handle, and – by the time of his death in 2006 – reduced to living with a carer in the desperate circumstances that anyone who saw Tony Palmer’s disturbing screen portrait for the South Bank Show will recall: a grimacing, barely coherent figure lying on a bed and spitting venom.

But he was also one of the most successful and versatile British musicians of the 20th century, with an output that ranged from the Oscar-winning film score for Bridge on the River Kwai, and pieces like his Cornish Dances that got famously re-purposed as theme tunes for TV programmes, to nine powerful and often dark symphonies.

With a natural gift for melody, there’s scarcely anything he wrote that doesn’t have a tune you’d want to whistle. And a lot of people will be doing just that in the course of the annual Malcolm Arnold Festival which would normally run this weekend in Northampton but has been adapted into an online celebration accessible from anywhere, free of charge (though donations are invited). From Saturday to Sunday there are performances, talks, archive films… all at malcolm-arnold-festival.livevideostream.co.uk – Recommended.

Another festival worth visiting online is Music@Malling, which runs in the idyllic Kentish town of West Malling but has been modified into an online experience from Friday to Sunday. Leading living composers Mark-Anthony Turnage, Brian Elias and Eleanor Alberga are all in residence to introduce their own music. Of family interest is Alberga’s interactive children’s piece about Snow White, 6pm Sunday. A certain highlight will be Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, 9pm Friday. And if you want to know just how idyllic West Malling is, you can see it all – including its ancient but still-functioning abbey (sneak peak what the nuns get up to) – in an aerial tour by drone, 11am Sunday. www.musicatmalling.com

• Finally, if you miss the Messiaen Quartet – an achingly beautiful score written amid the deprivations of a PoW camp in the Second World War – you might like advance warning of another performance of the piece here in London at 7pm, Friday, October 23. It’s given by young artists on the City Music Foundation programme, and the venue is St Paul’s Cathedral – which should provide a spacious enough acoustic, as well as space for a socially distanced audience of 280. There’s currently a waiting list for tickets, but it’s worth putting your name down because there’s still a chance of getting in: details at www.citymusicfoundation.org  If you’re not lucky enough to get a ticket, the concert will go on the CMF website a few days after the event.

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