1) Name five things you cannot live without?

1. My family

2/3. Too many composers to list. So at a pinch I'll have to say Richard Strauss and Benjamin Britten!

4. Good food and wine

5. Test Match Special (Cricket)


2) What is the proudest moment of your career so far?

A recent performance of Britten War Requiem in November 2014 featuring my children. Alexei was playing solo horn in RAM Chamber Orchestra and Louis was singing in National Youth Choir.


3) What was the first album you bought?

My first classical album was Brahms 3 Berlin Philharmonic/Karajan on cassette; the other was The Stranger by Billy Joel.


4) Who are your musical influences?

My father used to get me to dance to The Rite of Spring. He also loved Wagner but couldn't get on with Mahler. Even though he never played an instrument he had a huge passion for music.


5) One thing your audience wouldn’t know about you?

I have made my singing debut at Wigmore Hall. Ok, so I need to qualify this: it was the final item in Julius Drake's 50th Birthday Concert – it was ‘Zum Schluss’ from Brahms’ Neue Liebeslieder Op 65. The rest of line-up was: Birgid Steinberger, Alice Coote, Ian Bostridge, Mark Padmore, Gerald Finley and … me. Decided to quit while I was ahead!


6) Do you have any rituals you do before you perform/record?

Not really, apart from making sure I've drunk enough …. water!



Richard Watkins performs Sea Eagle (Music for Horn)                 Sea Eagle (Music for Horn) out now on NMC

Richard Watkins performs Sea Eagle (Music for Horn)                                                        


Related Recordings

Sea Eagle (Music for horn)

We are deeply saddened to hear the news that John McCabe died today after a long illness. We have many fond memories of working with John through the years and our thoughts are with his wife Monica.


Friday, February 13, 2015 John McCabe (1939-2015)

Press release from John's publisher, Novello & Co.

It is with great sadness that Novello & Company Limited announces the death of John McCabe. John passed away peacefully, after a long illness, in Rochester, Kent on Friday February 13, aged 75. He is survived by his wife, Monica. James Rushton, Managing Director of Novello & Company Limited, comments: With John McCabe’s passing we have a lost a man of great wisdom, humour and integrity and a complete musician. A composer and pianist of the highest calibre, he shall be greatly missed. I am struck, when thinking back over John’s career, and over a period of twenty years in which I have had the privilege of working with him, by his constancy. He was devoted as a pianist to the music of Haydn and Scarlatti, Rawsthorne, Bax and many other 20th century composers. John’s recordings were the first introduction that many of us had to such repertoire. He was steadfast in accordance to his core beliefs as a composer. His scores were highly crafted and technically immaculate. But John’s paramount aim was an immediacy of communication and expression. It is the greatest tribute to him that he achieved that in a comprehensive range of forms and mediums. My abiding memory of John will be his acceptance speech when receiving the Classical Music Award at the Ivors last year. It was quite extraordinary - self-deprecating, loyal to fellow composer colleagues, and immensely humorous - leaving everyone on their feet, cheering. That is as it should be.


John McCabe enjoyed a long career as a composer. He decided upon this vocation as a young boy in Liverpool at the age of just five and a half. He went on to compose continuously until his final months of recent ill health. After studies at the Royal Manchester College of Music, now the Royal Northern College of Music, and in Munich, he embarked on an international career as composer and pianist. His complete CD survey of Haydn’s Piano Sonatas for Decca has become a landmark recording. McCabe worked in almost every genre, though large-scale forms lie at the heart of his catalogue. His most recent work, Christ’s Nativity, was commissioned by the Hallé Choir and was premiered in Manchester in December 2014. His compositions, published by Novello over a relationship of more than fifty years, number in excess of 200 works. A formidable catalogue of works spans full-length ballets such as Edward II and the two-part Arthur for Birmingham Royal Ballet, symphonies and concertante works, and music such as Notturni ed Alba for soprano and orchestra and The Chagall Windows for orchestra placed him at the centre of the repertoire. His output of chamber music is equally outstanding and he made a major contribution to piano music. McCabe was appointed CBE by Her Majesty The Queen in 1985 for his services to British music. In 2004 the Incorporated Society of Musicians honoured McCabe with the Distinguished Musician Award in recognition of his 'outstanding contribution to British musical life'. Then, in 2006, Liverpool University awarded him an Honorary Doctorate in Music. Most recently, during his 75th Birthday year in 2014, he was presented with the Ivors Classical Music Award.



Related Recordings

Music of Memory,

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Retorica: English Violin Duos,

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The NMC Songbook
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This subscription entitles you to every release from NMC in 2015 in download format (MP3/ FLAC). The download link for each recording will be delivered to your inbox on the day of release.


We plan to issue six new full-price recordings this year plus a few single releases. This subscription offers almost a 20% discount on our 2015 releases (based on FLAC pricing) and will include albums featuring works by:


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Peter Maxwell Davies

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Thea Musgrave

David Sawer

Mark-Anthony Turnage

Huw Watkins

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Hugh Wood




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Originally printed in the NMC Friends Summer 2014 Newsletter


NMC Friend and Musicologist Bob Gilmore shares his thoughts on listening …

It may be a truism to say that each of us listens to music in our own way, but it is inescapably the case. No one starts from a blank slate: we are all conditioned by numerous factors including taste, upbringing, musical education or lack thereof, age, nationality, sexual orientation (discuss), and much more. This is only normal, and as it should be. But until recently the manifold implications of this have received little attention in the critical writing about music.

Music psychologists have long studied the mechanisms of hearing and perception but (with some honourable exceptions) have paid scant regard to genuinely new music. And only very recently has the idea of a “history of listening” become a real subject within musicology. A research project entitled The Listening Experience Database (LED), currently underway as a joint project of the Open University and the Royal College of Music, is attempting to build an expandable database of records of the “private and intimate” listening experience: we wish them well.

I have been reflecting on how I myself listen to music. Within the context described above I can justify this not so much as an exercise in narcissism but as a form of proto- (or, more likely, pseudo-) research. The question is hugely complex: beyond the already knotty problems of perception we must take into account the ever-shifting sands of cognition, of understanding. I “hear” Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony differently now than I did when I first made its acquaintance more than forty years ago, partly as a consequence of the many different interpretations I’ve experienced in the meantime, but also, more crucially, because my sense of what music is has expanded so much since my youth. The encounter with twentieth- and twenty-first century music has long since eroded the sense I once had of the normativity of Beethoven’s language: the present, as always, influences our perception of the past.

Specifically, though, I am more interested in the basic ways I (and others) listen to music – listening in an intuitive, rather than intellectually mediated, sense. Some people like a tune, some crave rhythm, some enjoy colours, some want “emotions”, and so on. My own primary way of listening, the one that gives me the most satisfaction, has to do with harmony. It is the nature of the harmony that most attracts me to a piece of music, or puts me off it. By that I don’t mean that the harmony need necessarily be complex: sometimes one chord is enough. I also don’t mean that I can’t enjoy music that operates on a wholly different basis - music for untuned percussion, say. It’s simply that, finally, harmony is the aspect of music that most entices me, convinces me, that most fully engages my heart and my brain in the experience of listening.

I wonder if we are “better” listeners now than we were in the nineteenth century. Clearly, we hear far more music today than at any earlier period in history, but that doesn’t mean we listen more, or more intelligently. If anything, we suffer from the problem of overload, of too much choice – from a promiscuity of information, from the proliferation of contemporary sounds, styles and aesthetics. I doubt that this overload has improved matters. I would argue that over the past half-century or more we have witnessed the growth of the opposite phenomenon, a troubling one: a deterioration in our listening skills. To have a vibrant new music culture that evolves in interesting ways we need not merely good playing and composing skills, but also, crucially, composers, performers and musicologists with the ability to hear clearly and accurately. I believe that of all the parameters of music it is harmony that has taken the hardest knocks in this situation.

The deterioration in our listening skills first became a real problem with respect to non-tonal music. Simply put, it is more difficult to hear wrong notes in Schoenberg than in Haydn, both when one is playing and when one is listening. There are numerous reasons for this. One is that Haydn’s music speaks a language that is extremely familiar to us, for all his characteristic development of it, whereas it might be said, exaggerating slightly, that every post-tonal composer is post-tonal in his/her own way. Schoenberg’s music also springs from a general language - diatonicism and tonality-conscious chromaticism - but his departures from it are highly personal. His music has lived on, albeit in relative obscurity, because those departures seem persuasive to us - or at least some of them do.

In post-tonal music – whether that music is “atonal”, serial, “free”, or based on personal systems of interval relations specific to a particular composer or even a particular piece – it can be hard to judge wrong notes not merely aurally but also, at times, conceptually. More than forty years ago the musicologist Hans Keller argued that, even though “a rich variety of replacements for tonal organisation has been discovered in [the twentieth] century”, nonetheless “harmonically, none makes sense unless it audibly contradicts that which it replaces; and it is, ultimately, in terms of these contradictions that notes are heard as right, however difficult the task may, at times, appear to be”.[1] Is his argument still valid today?

Thinking of more recent music - some experimental music, say, or free improvisation – we may well ask what counts as a wrong note in an aleatoric situation where sounds collide accidentally without pre-planning, harmonic or otherwise. (Here a “wrong note” means a harmonically and/or melodically inexplicable choice, not the “classical” sense of something different than is written in the score; this kind of music will often not have a score, at least not a conventional one.) In these contexts, is the concept of a wrong note still meaningful? Arguably, no: the distinction between right and wrong notes here becomes irrelevant. This is fine as long as we can then accept the fact that the resulting music is, in this specific sense, incomprehensible – and not just incomprehensible with regard to the laws of modal/tonal music, however broadly defined, but incomprehensible in the sense of deliberately declining to propose any new form of aurally intelligible harmonic logic. We could of course say that, in such music, other parameters have replaced vertical listening as the main dish: rhythm, timbre, texture, “gesture”, and so on, and that we should be content with that – why should harmonic relations be dominant, anyway? Well, perhaps not necessarily “dominant”, but I can suggest one compelling argument in favour of their continued importance, one that the American composer Ben Johnston expressed many decades ago: that harmonic listening is simply “too basic a parameter to be allowed to fall into disuse”.[2] With a lack of concern for harmony other musical values bite the dust too, such as a careful approach to intonation; one cannot play really in tune if one cannot predict the pitches one is supposed to tune to. (Good intonation presupposes a form of inner pre-hearing of a pitch or pitches immediately ahead in the music, a fascinating but little discussed aspect of good performance practice.)

One example of a new approach to harmony that is very much concerned with aural intelligibility, and with tuning, is to be found in the “spectral music” that originated in the Parisian new music scene of the 1970s. (The term is in scare quotes for the reason that not one of its leading practitioners accepts its validity as a descriptive term for what they do.) This approach has evolved in the music of subsequent decades, and informs the harmonic language of such recent works as Julian Anderson’s Eden (NMC D121) or Donnacha Dennehy’s Bulb (NMC D147). In contrast, it seems to me that quite a lot of new music today exhibits what composer Roberto Gerhard memorably called “pitch fatigue”: “at long last”, he wrote in the late 1960s, “‘atonality’, in the literal meaning of the word, has become a stark fact in our day and age, owing to [this] puzzling phenomenon”.[3] Of course, few composers will admit that they don’t care about pitch, or are bored of it; and, sometimes, repeated listenings to an apparently impenetrable piece will begin to reveal a form of harmonic logic that was not immediately evident. And there is a lot of music in which what happens on other levels is so compelling that our listening mode shifts accordingly. I greatly enjoy listening to Jonathan Harvey’s Bird Concerto with Pianosong (NMC D177) or to Richard Barrett’s Dark Matter (NMC D183), even though much of the time I draw a blank at what’s going on harmonically (without, it must be said, having studied the score of either piece).

The difficulty of hearing wrong notes in post-tonal music, and the irrelevance of the concept of a wrong note in most forms of aleatoric music or free improvisation, has made some listeners sharpen their listening skills in a different way so they can navigate these new musical contexts with some confidence – contexts in which the presence of a clear harmonic superstructure would be an irrelevance or an anachronism. But I suspect many listeners – perhaps even the majority – experience something closer to what I experience: the harmonic incomprehensibility, or semi-comprehensibility, of some new music, where I can’t fathom the logic of pitch choice even after several attempts, only dulls my perception. Frustrated in the attempt to understand the music harmonically, I slip into more passive, less demanding modes of listening, letting the music do its thing and abandoning the difficult task of really trying to follow it. Is this a problem? Maybe not, if the music is still enjoyable to listen to. But it seems to me that in such circumstances what I experience is a form of mental laziness, akin to giving up the struggle to follow an intricate philosophical text and simply admiring the choice of font or enjoying the smell of the pages in the book. Some people may well be content to listen to music in this way; but they belong to a club that would probably not accept me as a member.

Bob Gilmore died 2 January 2015. He was a musicologist and keyboard player living in Amsterdam and a Research Fellow at the Orpheus Institute in Ghent and Editor of TEMPO: a Quarterly Review of New Music. His biography of Claude Vivier has recently been published by the University of Rochester Press


[1] Hans Keller, “Wrong Notes in Contemporary Music”, in Tempo 90 (autumn 1969), p. 11.

[2] Ben Johnston, Maximum Clarity and other writings on music, edited by Bob Gilmore (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006), xiv.

[3] Gerhard cited in Keller, “Wrong Notes in Contemporary Music”, in Tempo 90 (autumn 1969), p. 9.


Here is a list of award nominations, end-of-year 'top 10' albums and magazine 'picks' for our releases over the last 12 months.


GRAMMY NOMINATION 2015  http://www.grammy.com/nominees


Britten to AmericaBRITTEN TO AMERICA

'We need to know this music - this tells us so much about the development of this composer, about where his musical voice comes from ...  the performances are superb and the recording frames them beautifully' BBC Radio 3 CD Review‘

Samuel West narrator | Andrew Kennedy tenor | Jean Rigby mezzo-soprano | Mary Carewe mezzo-soprano | Ex Cathedra / Jeffrey Skidmore conductor | Mervyn Cooke, Lucy walker piano | Matthew Dickinson percussion | Huw Watkins piano | Harry Ogg assistant conductor | Hallé / Sir Mark Elder conductor




'Causton is among our most imaginative composers, and these five works, all substantial, often with flaring brilliance, are almost too much to take in. They will repay many listenings' The Sunday Times

Hallé / Nicholas Collon conductor | Birmingham Contemporary Music Group / Gerry Cornelius, Ryan Wigglesworth conductors



'These splendid performances come in Casken's 65th birthday year and afford a powerful distillation of his musical thought' The Sunday Times

Sophia Jaffé violin | Hallé / Markus Stenz conductor




‘A sharp ear and a vigorous imagination. […] the music’s inventiveness and textural control are unmistakeable’ The Sunday Times

Aldeburgh World Orchestra / Sir Mark Elder conductor | Lucy Schaufer mezzo-soprano   Alexandra Wood violin | Birmingham Contemporary Music Group / Oliver Knussen conductor | Huw Watkins piano | Claire Booth soprano |  Andrew Matthews-Owen piano



‘Glittery, incisive, full of leaping lines and incandescent climaxes’  The Sunday Times

Lynsey Marsh clarinet | Hallé Soloists | Hallé Orchestra / Jamie Phillips, Sir Mark Elder conductors







‘The eccentricity is so carefully controlled by both composer and conductor – I started off completely perplexed but soon found myself laughing out loud’  Martin Cullingford, Gramophone Editor

Barbara Hannigan soprano |  Peter Tantsits tenor | Joshua Bloom baritone | Katalin Károlyi mezzo-soprano | Hilary Summers contralto | Alan Ewing bass l Benjamin Bevan bass   Joshua Hart speaker | Birmingham Contemporary Music Group / Thomas Adès conductor



‘Near Midnight, with its strangely amorphous activity – made audible through the assured orchestral handling – amply evokes the fatalistic poem by DH Lawrence that inspired it. A strong recommendation' Gramophone (Editor's Choice)

Lynsey Marsh clarinet | Hallé Soloists | Hallé Orchestra / Jamie Phillips, Sir Mark Elder conductors



'Tavener’s Akhmatova Requiem is a masterpiece' Gramophone (Editor's Choice - reissue/archive)

Phyllis Bryn-Julson soprano | John Shirley-Quirk bass-baritone | BBC Symphony Orchestra / Gennady Rozhdestvensky conductor | Elise Ross soprano | The Nash Ensemble







‘A serious tour de force in technical and dramatic terms … brims with moments where the level of atmospheric storytelling is mesmerising’ BBC Music Magazine






'The first comment to make about this disc is ‘not before time’. Richard Causton has been a significant figure in contemporary British music for almost two decades now and this is the first release devoted entirely to his music. As an overview of his output over some 15 years, it confirms both the singularity and the consistency of his musical vision. An invaluable release’ IRR

Hallé / Nicholas Collon conductor | Birmingham Contemporary Music Group / Gerry Cornelius, Ryan Wigglesworth conductors



All entries in chronological order
16 March 2015
13 February 2015
5 February 2015
5 January 2015
12 December 2014
8 December 2014
21 November 2014
19 November 2014
17 November 2014
13 November 2014