The Science Museum


New music in London continues its relentless surge out of the concert hall and into somewhere more interesting. I was one of a rather huge audience who packed into the Science Museum, very much open for business during evening hours, to hear a collection of six new works commissioned by record label NMC. So large was the audience that we split into two separate groups, binarily numbered 0 and 1, to be urged round the enormous spaces of the Museum, up and down many stairs, and quickly through one vast gallery after another.

Listening to the new pieces, each inspired by an object in the museum, involved much perching and leaning, even sitting on the floor on small cushions. At one moment I was transported back to primary school, cross legged on the floor seemingly waiting for hours after the teacher’s point had been made – thank you Gerald Barry for this apercu.

I felt some frustration rushing past the exhibits too quickly to see them while not quite in a position to focus completely on the music (excellently played of course by Aurora Orchestra). I also sensed a possible disconnect between the words Science and Museum. Science for me is a contemporary process, in flux, something we don’t yet clearly understand – Barry Guy’s lively graphic score came closest to that feel, though it turned out to be about Charles Babbage’s Calculating Engine. But why were we listening to a (very good) piece about Romantic Posthorn music by David Sawer? Because of an antique mail coach stationed in the background, near to Stephenson’s Rocket. For the buzz of science as it is happening you need to go to Minerva Scientifica, where composers are working with scientists on their current research. However, I am probably in an audience of one with these reflections, because this was a popular, pioneering evening, inventively directed by Tim Hopkins.

[Space age shot by Suzanne Jansen. We are listening to Claudia Molitor’s entertaining 2TwoLO, about the early use of wireless telegraphy for broadcasting.]

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer

© Judith Weir, 2020