Bernard Haitink, Pierre Schaeffer and a 40,000 year old flute.
Tom Service talks to the conductor Bernard Haitink as he begins a tour with the London Symphony Orchestra, explores the legacy of the American musical polymath Nicolas Slonimsky through letters newly published by his daughter Electra Slonimsky Yourke, and talks to the electroacoustic composer Simon Emmerson and Rob Young of The Wire about the influence of Pierre Schaeffer's classic texts on "concrete music", now translated into English for the first time.
With an international conducting career that has spanned nearly six decades, Amsterdam-born Bernard Haitink is one of today’s most celebrated conductors. Chief Conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra for 27 years he is now their Conductor Laureate and has also held posts at the Royal Opera House, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the London Philharmonic. In a rare interview Haitink talks to Tom after a rehearsal at the Barbican about the very earliest days of his career at Netherlands Radio, the difficulties of conscience he faced working in post war Europe and why today’s politicians must prioritise the arts.
Bernard Haitink conducts the London Symphony Orchestra on the 17th and 21st Feb at the Barbican Centre.
Photo: © Todd Rosenberg
Ice Age Music
This month sees the opening of a new exhibition at the British Museum. ‘Ice Age Art: arrival of the modern mind’ features the world’s oldest known sculptures, drawings and portraits illustrating some of the earliest endeavours of creative expression. Amongst the exhibits is a Palaeolithic flute discovered three years ago by archaeologists in the Hohle Fels cavern in southwest Germany. Estimated to be around 40,000 years old the flute is made from the bone of a griffon vulture. Tom visits the exhibition with Professor Steven Mithen who explains the flute’s significance in our understanding of music at the dawn of the modern mind.
Photo: Hohle Fels, Flute (vulture bone). Photo: H. Jensen, copyright University of Tübingen.
French composer, writer, broadcaster, engineer, musicologist and acoustician Pierre Schaeffer gained widespread recognition in his lifetime for his innovative work in both the sciences—particularly communications and acoustics—and the various arts of music, literature and radio presentation after the end of World War II. Today Schaeffer, who died in 1995, is most widely recognized for his accomplishments in electronic and experimental music, especially his development of the avant-garde musique concrète. As his seminal text ‘In Search of a Concrete Music’ is published for the first time in English, Tom talks to composer Simon Emmerson and music journalist Rob Young about Schaeffer’s unique sense of fun in musical discovery and experimentation, and his influence on subsequent generations of composers.
Photo: courtesy of Ina GRM