In the wake of my euphoria over The Sacrifice (see below), I felt I had to e-mail James MacMillan, whom I’ve interviewed once and collaborated with on the Chandos liner notes for A Scotch Bestiary. He had come under fire from certain quarters, so I thought some lines of warm praise might not go amiss (this is part of a general resolve, which I thrashed out with Lynne Walker, to make sure to tell people in our sphere when we’ve been moved or impressed by something; it doesn’t happen often enough in our mealy-mouthed world).
He replied – and told me he was happy for me to reproduce the reply, citing names and all (though I hang fire there, as it might seem like sour grapes from me): ‘Your messages are intriguing and have provoked some thought! Someone said to Michael Symmons Roberts ((poet and librettist of The Sacrifice)) and I on Monday that the new music police "smell their deadliest enemies" in people like us. We have sometimes toyed with the idea of writing about this, but have so far decided against it, as it might look like whingeing. Nevertheless there is a story to be told about the narrow thinking of the contemporary music ghetto mentality and their unfriendliness towards those who depart from the party line. The situation is not helped by ((certain)) people....who continue to be the abrasively aggressive cheerleaders for "the cause", seeing people like myself as some kind of dangerous opposition.
'They haven't managed to land any meaningful blows on me, but I do worry about the impact they might have on the musical culture generally, and how they might depress younger figures coming through who are bullied into paths they might not want to take.’
We are trying out various sounding-boards, following James’s cue to ‘park our tanks’ on the mafia’s lawn, and hope Stephen Johnson might join us. I, too, fervently believe that direct communication in new music still tends to be frowned upon, and that the press wing of the contemporary music mafia continues to peddle the view that new works in performance are setting the world alight when the audience responds tepidly: a new piece a couple of years ago by Richard Barrett was a classic case in point.
Ultimately, no-one should come out of a concert-hall scratching the head and saying, ‘Not sure what I thought about that – what did you think?’ One’s either struck by something – even if one doesn’t understand it all on a first hearing – or not.