Exclusive interview

Gwyn Pritchard is one of the founders of London Ear Festival of Contemporary Music along with fellow composer Andrea Cavallari.  The festival takes place at several venues in and around Waterloo’ usually toward the end of March, and features a busy programme of concerts, workshops, masterclasses and talks.

Gwyn answered our questions about the festival, and contemporary music in general.

  1. What sets London Ear apart from other contemporary music festivals?

Well first of all the programme almost exclusively features music from 1980 to the present day. Secondly, we try to programme the kind of music that you don’t hear with any regularity, or at all, in London or the UK for the most part. There is the London Festival of Contemporary Music, but that festival focuses on a different kind of repertoire in a different setting, and usually not in central London.

I’ve spent much of my career abroad, so over the years I’ve been brought into contact with a very wide range of musical activities, tastes and above all ideas. I think that Britain has frequently suffered from being an island, speaking artistically and culturally. Not in all ways, but in terms of music we’re quite isolated, and I’ve noticed that a lot of new music isn’t properly represented in this country. There are hints of insularity and while we’re clearly not yet at a crisis point, it’s important for us to be aware of musical ideas that are prevalent right now on the continent and beyond . London Ear aims to bring these aspects together.

  1. What motivated you to establish London Ear and how did it come about?

It has its roots in Uroboros Ensemble, which I established in the early 80s. After a dormant period I wanted to find a context to use it again, so I revived it for the Regello Festival, and later I met Andrea Cavallari with whom I decided to put on some concerts for our ensembles in London. So it grew from a concert for our two ensembles into a festival complete with numerous concerts, and other events of many kinds.

  1. What would you like to achieve with the festival?

There are many things, but most of all I’d like to expose this music to people and hopefully inspire them. I have had student composers and audiences members come to me and tell me that London Ear completely turned their awareness around, that they’d never heard contemporary music like that before. I’d like that impact to be ongoing, every time we do the festival.

I would also like to encourage young professional players to get out there and perform this music without worrying about the organisational side. We all know that contemporary music can frighten some listeners, but that will continue to be the case forever if performers aren’t brave enough to go out there and do it, in the process learning how best to communicate it to audiences.

  1. It seems like there’s a strong educational and participatory element to London Ear. Why is that?

Because that’s where it comes from, the music grows from there. It struck me as being deeply important to cultivate an interest in contemporary music, from young children, through older school children and then students, young professionals and beyond. We also have what we call our Featured Young Performer programme. This year he is Jian Ren, a superb young violinist. He auditioned playing Boulez, and he will perform at the festival reception. He’ll also be standing in for Darragh Morgan with the Uroboros Ensemble, which is a rare chance to work with top musicians and perform to figures with strong musical influence in the UK. We want to create career-advancing opportunities.

The composers’ competition is important to us too, as it has no age limit and is open to anybody, except well-established composers. My feeling is that the music should make the impression. It doesn’t matter if the person who wrote it is ninety – if the piece of music is good then let’s hear it!

  1. Do audiences need to have specialist knowledge to enjoy contemporary music?

No they don’t, and sometimes such specialisms can cause listeners to like only the kinds of contemporary music of which they have special knowledge. However, exposure to unfamiliar music, in the right context, can deeply enhance one’s relationship with the music.

London Ear is open to absolutely anybody regardless of whether they have specialist knowledge of the music or not. Inclusivity is important to us; of course we want to appeal to developing musicians and followers of contemporary music, but equally to a wider audience who aren’t as familiar with the music we programme at London Ear.