Little sailboats on rippling waves under a perfect blue sky - Cap d'Antibes, St Tropez ? No, this is Cardiff, where in improbably lovely weather I spent a couple of days at the Vale of Glamorgan Festival. It's hard to believe, but composer John Metcalf founded this valuable event 52 years ago and still programmes it, in his generous, genial way. When I asked him how he did it, he modestly credited the young composers attending the Festival: "they, really are the inspiration behind battling the funders to support this work year after year. That, and a sprinkling of bloody mindedness!"
My first concert was given by the excellent Magnard Ensemble with pianist Siwan Rhys. The closing item was my (1986) sextet Airs from another Planet. Thanks to a couple of good recordings over the years, this has become more well-known and more often played, but in early days, performers found it puzzling and difficult. It was a pretty great experience therefore to hear this confident young group swing through the music as if it was by Mozart or Poulenc, something they played all the time.
The Festival's composer seminar (the Peter Reynolds Composer Studio led by Rob Fokkens) had spent the week writing for wind quintet, and later on there was a playthrough by the Magnards of these interesting fragments. It was most interesting to consider the problems, and attractions, of such an ensemble with a very able group of emerging composers. Blending these five winds was agreed to be a near-impossible ideal, and we also wondered why the instruments themselves haven't developed more quickly to embrace, for instance, quartertones and multiphonics (with a shout-out to the great Christopher Redgate, who * has* been doing this to the oboe, for years.) Come back to VOG in another 52 years and see how we're getting on with this !