The 2016 Frontiers Festival opens in Birmingham today and promises two weeks of creative, experimental and boundary-pushing new music, including more jazz than ever. Rosie Clements is its artistic director.
On its publicity the festival uses the sub-heading “Demolishing Preconceptions”, so I asked Rosie what she thought those preconceptions were and how the festival would be attempting to demolish them?
“The term Contemporary music has recently become a definition of a specific style or genre of music, usually atonal, chromatic or dissonant in nature. The actual definition of Contemporary music is that it is being written now!
“Frontiers presents a huge range of new works from different composers, singer/songwriters and ensembles who are creating new works today in a variety of unique styles.”
“The tagline also defines our main goal as a festival. We want to challenge the existing norms that currently exist in music and push them as far as we can… creating something new in the process.”
No matter what the area of life – artistic, social, work or play – the people we most commonly find on the frontiers, the ones pushing the envelope, are young and curious. So, it’s natural that it’s the music students at the heart of Birmingham who are central to the Frontiers Festival.
Birmingham Conservatoire, part of Birmingham City University, is the promoter and presenter of the Frontiers Festival, and, appropriately, Rosie is herself a Conservatoire graduate.
What drew her to the institution? And what led to her involvement in this festival?
“When I first visited Birmingham Conservatoire I liked the buzz around the place; there was so much going on. Students were running their own projects and I found this especially inspiring.
“Throughout my time studying I got to know more music and began to understand some of the thought behind it. I also created and ran several collaborative projects with other students which led me to events management.”
So, what is it that Rosie finds particularly appealing in contemporary music? “Having composed music of my own and organised many different musical projects I’ve been able to appreciate the power music can have on myself as well as others. It challenges us to think differently while approaching ideas as well as being restorative and comforting.”
And does she think it is in a healthy state in 2016?
“There’s already is a lively contemporary music scene in Birmingham. However, we want to engage with further audiences that have not yet had exposure to this area of music.
“Many people’s first introduction to writing music comes from studying GCSE music at school. For the most part composition is a small and often neglected part of the GCSE music syllabus which both teachers and students can struggle with.
“As part of our Progressions Series we have commissioned Kirsty Devaney to work with young creatives in the local area to workshop and create new pieces to be presented at the festival on 13 March. Through this project we aim to inspire and encourage young people so that they have a positive experience of contemporary music.”
Although the Conservatoire is the principal organiser, the festival takes in events by other promoters – Jazzlines, Birmingham Contemporary Musiuc Group, among them.
It looks like there is a healthy collaboration and flow of ideas between Birmingham’s various genres and music generators.
“Yes, there is so much going on in Birmingham I think it’s really important to work together. Collaboration with other arts organisations such as Flatpack Festival and University of Birmingham’s CrossCurrents has been invaluable, allowing us to reach larger audiences and present more ambitious projects.
“This year our jazz programme is more ambitious than ever, featuring jazz giants such as Stan Sultzmann and Jeff Ballard. Between Places will see the joining of the composition and jazz departments (at Birmingham Conservatoire) as James Alexandropoulos-McEwan brings together classical and jazz musicians in a unique event.
“This collaboration is just one of many events blurring the lines between musical genres.”
Does Rosie have any specific events at the festival she is specially looking forward to hearing?
“There are so many things I am looking forward to in Frontiers 2016. As usual we will be presenting a huge number of world premieres and for me the student works are always a highlight.
This year we have some really ambitious projects, I am particularly looking forward to La Obisparra which uses masks, costumes and audience participation.
“This year funding from Arts Council England has enabled us to commission four of our alumni to create new work or events showcasing the talent shaped by the Conservatoire.
‘Commissioning work is something new for Frontiers so I can’t wait to see the results in our Progressions series! Last year Emily Wright’s one-woman orchestra was a viral success so to see what’s she’s done with her visual tribute to the old library is something I’m looking forward to.
“I also can’t wait for the concert by Gavin Bryars, He’s such an icon of contemporary music and the idea of hearing his work in the gothic surroundings of St Martin’s in the Bullring feels like an intriguing combination.
“Afterwards Bryars will be giving a rare performance alongside Hans Koller, Andrew Bain and Percy Pursglove where he will be playing double bass. Something I personally can’t wait to see as he doesn’t play often.”
For anyone who feels they don’t know much about contemporary music – and may even be a little frightened of it – does Rosie have any advice?
“This Sunday (6 March) we have a perfect introduction to Frontiers with our Teaser Day – six short performances ranging from live film music to an attempted demolition of our Adrian Boult Hall with the use of sound.
“This will be a great opportunity to experience the variety of Frontiers in just one day.
“Other than that my advice would be to jump in and give it a go, you might find something wonderful!”
- The 2016 Frontiers Festival runs from today (4 March) to Friday 18 March in various venues around Birmingham city centre. More information at frontiersmusic.org