Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Classical Music

Anyone regularly attending classical-music concerts or listening to BBC Radio Three will recognise a certain trend in current programming.

In line with an increased awareness of the opportunity offered by a greater knowledge of history, celebrating anniversaries of centenaries or bi-centenaries has become the norm.

Even 50 years since someone or other was born or died, provides a perfectly acceptable hook upon which to hang our attention. Such concentrations allow us to explore the more obscure alleyways off the mainstream highway of musical repertoire we normally take for granted.

2009 gives a number of good excuses for in-depth studies. For example, the Irish conductor and composer Victor Herbert would be a perfect candidate. Born in 1859, he actually spent most of his life in the United States where he became famous in his day for his operas and operettas.

His second cello concerto was supposedly the inspiration for Dvorak’s now better remembered cello concerto.

Isaac Albeniz’s death in 1909 may also give him a chance for reassessment in 2009. It’s 50 years since Bloch, Villa Lobos and Martinu died in 1959 — and what a treasure trove awaits discovery beyond those three names.

In 1959, James MacMillan was born. His 50th birthday should allow deserved focus on his continuing reputation as one of the UK’s leading composers.

But I expect it’s the various anniversaries of the four big hitters from the past — Purcell, Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn — which will attract most interest. A tentative start is made by the Ulster Orchestra at the Waterfront on January 31 by including music by Handel in its concert of Baroque Classics.

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