Gove U-turn on EBacc
7 February 2013
Education Secretary Michael Gove has abandoned his plans to replace GCSEs with a new English Baccalaureate in 2015.
This major U-turn is a result of opposition to his plans by MPs across the political spectrum, including deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, as well the exams regulator Ofqual. Apart from running the risk of falling short on EU regulations, the EBacc proposals drew strong criticism for encompassing English, maths, science, languages and history or geography while completely ignoring all the arts and other subjects, which would have been perceived as ‘second-class’.
Mr Gove nevertheless intends to restructure GCSEs, to reduce the amount of course-work that contribute to the overall grades.
Composer Felix Mendelssohn commemorated with English Heritage plaque
6 February 2013
Dmitry Sitkovetsky unveils Mendelssohn commemoration
The regular London visits of Felix Mendelssohn - composer of
the oratorios Elijah, St Paul and Die erste Walpurgisnacht,
as well as a significant body of organ music - have been commemorated with the
installation of a 'Blue Plaque', at the behest of conservation and historic
buildings organisation English Heritage.
The plaque was officially unveiled on 4 February by violinist/conductor Dmitry Sitkovetsky and is attached to 4 Hobart Place, a Grade II listed building near Buckingham Palace in the City of Westminster.
The house is the former home of the Hanoverian embassy secretary, Karl Klingemann. Mendelssohn was at the height of his fame during a series of visits to Britain, stayed four months in total over five separate periods.
During his stays in Hobart Place he conducted the Philharmonic Society on numerous occasions and gave many organ recitals. It was from this building he left to dine with Isambard Kingdom Brunel, which he did not enjoy, and Charles Dickens, which he very much did. It was back to this address that he rushed back to give his account of his audience with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1842.
At his death in 1847 Mendelssohn was widely regarded as Europe’s greatest composer, with one biographer suggesting he was the first composer to be internationally mourned. An obituary in The Times asserted that he 'loved England as heartily as his own home'; memorial concerts were held across the country and a Mendelssohn scholarship was endowed in London the following year.
Sir Nicholas Kenyon, managing director of the Barbican Centre, former BBC Proms director and member of the blue plaque panel, said a key factor in Mendelssohn being widely accepted in the UK was largely down to its enduring choral tradition. 'It was a major factor in the 19th Century, which enabled him to have his works done well here, and as we know they then became accepted into the warp and weft of the English choral tradition in a very major way; Elijah absolutely stood at the centre of that.'
Mendelssohn loved London and his links to the city were strong. Writing about the city he said that there was 'no question that that smoky nest is my preferred city and will remain so. I feel quite emotional when I think of it.'
A plaque was first mooted over a century ago; the case was only recently revived at the suggestion of an English Heritage historian who works on the Blue Plaques scheme. Asked why it had taken over a century for Mendelssohn to be honoured, Sir Nicholas explained that, 'The people at that time who owned the building didn't want a blue plaque on it and the file simply mouldered away until Howard Spencer had a new discussion about it and revived the idea.'
In the year 2016, English Heritage will celebrate 150 years of commemorative plaques, in spite of swingeing cuts in its funding. 'Because there is a huge backlog of nominations for the scheme, there won't be any new nominations for the next couple of years, but plaques will continue to go up,' Sir Nicholas added.
30 January 2013
Toby Young, Kerry Andrew and Stef Conner have won the Incorporated Society of Musicians’ (ISM) inaugural competition for young composers with original works for voices inspired by the music of Benjamin Britten to celebrate the composer’s centenary this year.
ROYAL SEAL OF APPROVAL
30 January 2013
Queen has awarded a prestigious Regius Professorship to the music department of
Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL).
The announcement was made by the Government, and recognises the exceptionally high quality of research and teaching in the RHUL music department. A Regius Professorship is a rare privilege and only two have been created in the past century.
The Queen will bestow the awards to mark her Diamond Jubilee. Professor Julian Johnson, Head of the RHUL music department, said: ‘It is a great honour to have the title of Regius Professor bestowed upon the department and wonderful to hear that the quality of our teaching and research has been recognised in this way.
‘We know that our students rate our teaching very highly and indeed our research placed us as the top Music Department in the UK in the last Research Assessment Exercise. It means a great deal to receive such a mark of public esteem.’
Vicar blasts ‘cringeworthy’ beatbox machines
30 January 2013
Dr Giles FraserBBC
Dr Giles Fraser, former canon of St Paul’s Cathedral, and now vicar of St Mary's, Newington, has condemned karaoke-style recorded music devices in churches as ‘cringeworthy beatbox machines with no gravitas.’
Interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, along with Westminster Abbey sub-organist Robert Quinney, Dr Fraser said, ‘In the liturgy, a musician sitting at an organ needs to react sensitively to what's going on; a machine can’t do that and you can hear how inappropriate a machine's intervention is when it gets it wrong.’
Asked by presenter Jim Naughtie how else churches might replace superannuated organists with no obvious successors to hand, Dr Fraser responded that as Christianity predated the invenation of the organ there were and still are other ways of making music in church – plainsong and taizé chanting, for example – without resorting to machines. ‘If you wouldn’t have it at your funeral, you shouldn’t have it in church on a Sunday morning.’
Robert Quinney added, ‘Anything that sounds so transparently fake needs to be treated with suspicion. It’s not necessarily a natural step for a pianist to become the sort of organist who could play in a local church, but local congregations have changed, and there is still a stock of young organists coming through.’
‘Live’ organists are familiar enough with the perils of lack of co-ordination with congregations – getting ‘out’. ‘A human being playing the organ can hear what other people are doing, so accompanying a congregation enables you to be sensitive to the speed etc,’ said Quinney.
Dr Fraser concluded that, having witnessed one organist eating sandwiches during his sermon and another slyly improvising a processional on the theme tune of Blackadder for a visit by a former Bishop of Bath and Wells, he would miss their ‘fantastic’ sense of humour if replaced by machines, and stressed the importance of organists’ contribution to the liturgy.