Category Archives: News

City Music Alumni Evening at the London Coliseum

The Music Department’s annual alumni reception took place on the evening of Monday 5th March 2018 at the London Coliseum (English National Opera). It was attended by about 60 City music alumni, final year students, and music staff, including several visiting lecturers and instrumental teachers. 

The evening began with a fascinating historical tour of The Coliseum, including the auditorium, which was being set up for the forthcoming season of La Traviata.

The Head of Department, Dr Laudan Nooshin, then welcomed everyone, following which three of our female alumni spoke, to mark the coinciding of the event with International Women’s Week and to celebrate the many achievements of our female alumni. The speakers were: Karen Mason (Music, 1988) Managing Director at Novalex, Laura Selby (Music, 2015) Studio Manager at Brains and Hunch and Fiona Baldwin Tanner (Music 1998) Director Founder of Oyster Opera.

We were then treated to performances by alumni and current students: Annie Yim (DMA alumna and the Minerva Trio with Michal Cwizewicz on violin and Richard Birchall on ‘cello); Ben Schoeman (piano, DMA alumnus); Sasha Karpeyev (piano, DMA alumnus); and Emilie Parry-Williams (voice, 3rd year BMus). Appropriately for International Women’s Week, the performances included a movement from Clara Schumann’s piano trio.

A very enjoyable evening and a great way to stay in touch. You can see more photos on the City Alumni Facebook page.

Laura Selby

Karen Mason

Fiona Baldwin Tanner

Department Trip to Opera Exhibition at the V&A

On Friday 16th February 2018, a group of City Music students and staff visited the exhibition ‘Opera: Passion, Power and Politics’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington.

The exhibition explored the history of opera from its birth in 17th-Century Venice to the present-day through a series of key cities, dates, composers and operas – for instance Venice, 1642, Monteverdi, L’Incoronazione di Poppea; London, 1711, Handel, Rinaldo, and so on.

For each city/date/composer/opera the exhibition explored the social environment of the time and the importance of opera as an art form at different historical periods, for instance in relation to the ideas of the Enlightenment in Mozart’s time, or Italian nationalism in relation to Verdi’s work. The final section of the exhibition looked at opera post-1940.

There was also live music performed by students from the Royal College of Music.

One of the first year BMus students who came on the trip said: ‘The exhibition – its content and the way it was presented – was very inspiring. And it was very nice to be able to share the experience with other students and with the tutors’.

The trip ended in true City style with a meal in a local pizzeria!

Careers with a Music Degree Evening

On the evening of Tuesday 13th February 2018, the Music Department held its annual ‘Careers with a Music Degree’ Evening in conjunction with the City Careers Service. There were 5 speakers, including several City music alumni, as follows:

– Laura Selby, Studio Manager at Brains and Hunch;

– Marc Dooley,  Head of Digital Content Development at Edition Peters;

– Eloise Garland, Freelance Musician, Teacher and Deaf Awareness Campaigner;

– Luke Annesley, Music Therapist at Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust;

– Sophie Ransby, Education Manager – Orchestras at the South Bank Centre.

The evening was led by Estanislao Bouza-Ortin, from the City Careers Service, who asked speakers about their own career paths, what their current work role entails on a day-to-day basis and what advice they would offer students to help them land their dream job.

The evening was attended by both UG and PG students who found it very useful to hear from and ask questions and careers advice from music professionals. Final year BMus student Emilie Parry-Williams commented:  “It was an incredibly informative evening. It was reassuring to hear how from their music degree, the panel had all embarked on different paths and found success in various places within the music industry. Listening to their experiences gave me peace of mind that the degree is the right choice, and will open lots of doors to me upon graduation.” 

After the formal session, the evening continued with networking with wine and nibbles.

‘Radio-Controlled’, BBC R3 Feature, Sun 11 April 18:45. Featuring Ian Pace.

On Sunday 11 April at 18:45, on BBC Radio 3, the Sunday Feature will be a programme called ‘Radio Controlled’, looking at the role of radio stations in supporting and promoting new music in Germany. This is based extensively upon the research of City lecturer and Head of Performance Ian Pace, who is interviewed at length for the feature. His work on radio forms part of a wider research project, drawing extensively upon a large amount of archival data and also many German newspapers from the period, into the origins of German (and indeed European) new music in the period from 1945 to 1951, and its earlier provenance during the Weimar Republic and to some extent through the Third Reich. The below is a short article published on Ian’s own blog, which gives an overview of the subject.

Some time ago, I figured out to myself that the infrastructure for new music in Europe had its origins in West Germany, in the sense that in that country, before anywhere else, there was a large and elaborate range of festivals, concert series, radio stations broadcasting new music, dedicated journals, newspapers with a range of sympathetic critics, and educational institutions in which modernist composers had teaching positions. Nowadays similar such infrastructures exist, and have done for some decades, in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Italy, Spain, Finland and elsewhere, but that in Germany was essentially in place by the early 1950s. Considering how devastated the country was been after the war, with over three-quarters of buildings destroyed in many major cities, this was a remarkable development, which took place very quickly. I was fascinated to explore how and why this could have happened, exactly which types of music were most favoured at the time (not just those that today’s historical filter determines to be important). Other scholars, including historians David Monod, Toby Thacker, Elizabeth Janik and Andreas Linsenmann, had explored wider aspects of post-war German musical life and its reconstruction, but while all had considered new music, none had made this the primary focus of their study.

There have been other historical models applied loosely in this respect: the so-called Stunde null or ‘zero hour’ model, which maintains that in the wake of the devastation of war, Germany had to rebuild itself from scratch. This was equally true of music, necessitating the forging a new language, free of the tainted historical past. Another model, based upon some questionable writings of Frances Stonor Saunders and others, and widely disseminated by Richard Taruskin, maintains that new music was essentially fuelled by the United States and its intelligence agencies, beginning in the occupation era, and the most ‘abstract’ (especially atonal and pointillistic) work was supported in opposition to Soviet ideals of socialist realism, especially following the Zhdanov Decree of 1948. Thus new music was enlisted as a weapon in the cultural Cold War.

Both these models contain grains of truth, but both are also too simplistic. There were a great many continuities of works, styles and personnel in German music before and after 1945. There is also very little evidence of US support for the most radical new music in Germany after the occupation era, though there was certainly a programme in place in the late 1940s to promote US composers, who were mostly contemporary. These were however mostly the likes of Howard Hanson, Aaron Copland, Quincy Porter or Walter Piston. In the 1950s John Cage would visit Germany on several occasions, and his influence was pronounced and sustained, but there is little evidence of this being connected to any wider US government policy or Cold War strategy. The latter was mostly focused elsewhere (the German programme of the leading agency, the Congress for Cultural Freedom, was relatively small and mostly focused upon Berlin) and they promoted neo-classical music and jazz more actively than the far-out achievements of the post-war avant-garde.

What is a much more significant factor, in my view, is the concept of Nachholbedarf (‘catching up’), which was used widely immediately after 1945. This held basically that Germany had been cut off from all significant international and modernist developments in music for a period of 12 years, and so it was now necessary to ‘catch up’. The assumptions entailed here were at most only partially true, however. Whilst the protagonists of one wing of Nazi aesthetic ideology, epitomised by Alfred Rosenberg and his Kampfbund für deutsche Kultur , were implacably hostile to modernism in all the arts, others thought differently, as did their counterparts in fascist Italy. Composers such as Bartók and Stravinsky were quite widely performed in Nazi Germany at least up until the early years of the war, while the twelve-tone composer and Schoenberg student Winfried Zillig won great success for a range of operas and took a position as music director in occupied Poznań, in Poland (part of the so-called Warthegau, a region of Poland which was the site of some of the most atrocious racial policies against both Jewish people and Poles at the hands of fanatical ideologue Arthur Greiser). Much has been made of the Entartete Musik exhibition in Düsseldorf in 1938, now and also after 1945, but this was not a large-scale event and was in many ways a personal obsession of the organiser Hans Severus Ziegler. It was not attended by many prominent musicians, and did not impress Joseph Goebbels, who wrote about it in his diaries. There was plenty of international music performed throughout the Reich, though generally from friendly nations. Modern Italian music could be heard regularly, as could Spanish music after 1939, while there were tours from Romanian, Hungarian, Bulgarian musicians, even a reasonable amount of Russian music during the period of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Japanese conductor Hidemaro Konoye travelled repeatedly to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and and his score Etenraku (1930), based on a traditional gagaku melody, was played widely throughout the Third Reich and occupied territories. Cultural exchange associations between fascist nations sprung up during the period, while Peter Raabe, head of the Reichsmusikkammer after Richard Strauss’s resignation, essentially subscribed to what is now thought of as a ‘nationalistic cosmopolitics’, favourable towards multiple cultural nationalisms, in opposition to pan-national cosmopolitanism. Raabe was also sympathetic to a fair amount of modernist music. He conducted Schoenberg, Hindemith, Skryabin and others when Generalmusikdirektor in Aachen from 1918 to 1929, and was impressed when he heard Berg’s Wozzeck.

Nonetheless, the assumptions underlying the concept of Nachholbedarf were rarely questioned after 1945, and this argument was used to justify the creation of a range of specialised institutions for new music, gaining financial support from local and state authorities, and the occupying powers, towards this end. Many contemporary institutions for new music were either founded during this period or have their roots there. Furthermore, the US, France and the Soviet Union all had extensive cultural programmes, in large measure devoted to promoting culture from their own countries for a variety of motives (for the US, in part from an inferiority complex, aware of German perceptions that the US was a highly commercialised society lacking high culture; for the French, in order to supplant Germany as the central nation for European culture; for the Soviet Union, in order to promote the purportedly superior possibilities for culture under communism). The UK had a certain programme, but it was relatively modest, and primarily focused upon the press and media, seen as vital in generating a culture of political pluralism.

Furthermore, as has been shown above all in the comprehensive scholarship of Martin Thrun, there was an extremely extensive infrastructure for new music in place during the Weimar Republic. Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne, Stuttgart, Munich and elsewhere all had extensive cultures of new music – and some of the musical aesthetics entailed a more radical break with the recent past (with widespread opposition to the values of Wagnerism and Imperial Germany prominent especially amongst the Novembergruppe of artists in Berlin) than was the case after 1945. A great many festivals and concert series came and went between 1918 and 1933, some continuing beyond 1933. Radio began in Germany in late 1923, and a few years later stations were commissioning new works of music, and composers exploiting the specific possibilities of the medium.

However, this was a time of huge economic instability, and few of the institutions proved financially stable for this reason. The same situation was naturally true after 1945, especially at the time of currency reform in 1948, in which the introduction of a new currency rendered many people’s savings essentially worthless. However, this is where the role of the radio stations, whose funding was relatively stable due to a licence fee system, is crucial. Many of the most prominent and important festivals and concert series for new music – in Munich, Darmstadt, Frankfurt, Donaueschingen, Baden-Baden, Stuttgart, Heidelberg, Cologne and Hamburg in particular – were supported by radio stations, which gave them a staying power which was rare in the 1920s.

Furthermore, it is vital to consider some of the individuals involved with these radio stations – figures such as Heinrich Strobel at Südwestfunk in Baden-Baden, who did a huge amount to support and promote contemporary French music, Herbert Eimert at the branch of Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk in Cologne (later Westdeutscher Rundfunk), who founded the electronic music studio in Cologne and was mentor to the young Karlheinz Stockhausen, Eigel Kruttge, the first music director at the same station and later co-founder of the important new music series Musik der Zeit, Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt at Rundfunk im amerikanischen Sektor in Berlin, who presented a range of programmes with quasi-Socratic dialogues between himself and other individuals unsympathetic to new music, Heinz Schröter at Radio Frankfurt, later Hessischer Rundfunk, who developed a major new music festival in Bad Nauheim and then Frankfurt, and was also involved in supporting the courses at Darmstadt, or Herbert Hübner, also at Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk (later Norddeutscher Rundfunk) but at the central headquarters in Hamburg, who like others created a special late-night series devoted to new music, and from 1951 the series das neue werk, Otto-Erich Schilling at Radio Stuttgart, later Süddeutscher Rundfunk in Stuttgart, or Heinz Pringsheim at Radio Munich, later Bayerischer Rundfunk.  All of these figures had a strong commitment to new music, and almost all were appointed to key positions between 1945 and 1946 (Hübner in 1947). Some had very questionable pasts: Schilling, Kruttge and Hübner had been NSDAP members (possibly also Stuckenschmidt, and also certainly his wife, singer Margot Hinnenberg-Lefèbre, though both may have been entered without their consent), as had other influential figures such as composers Wolfgang Fortner, Ernst Lothar von Knorr and Gerhard Frommel, Robert Ruthenfranz, founder of the Wittener Tage für Neue Kammermusik in 1936, Hugo Herrmann, an interim director of the Donaueschinger Musiktage and musical director of other festivals in Konstanz, Trossingen and Tübingen right after the war, pianist Eduard Erdmann, choral expert Siegfried Goslich, who worked at the radio station in Weimar, in the Soviet Zone, after 1945, and from 1948 played a major role in developing new music at Radio Bremen, or electronic music pioneer Werner Meyer-Eppler. Schilling had written an opera based on the anti-semitic propaganda film Jüd Suß and also a cantata beginning with the text ‘Wir hassen den Juden und lieben, was deutsch ist’ (‘We hate the Jews and love that which is German’). Stuckenschmidt and Eimert’s Nazi-era journalism sometimes parroted Nazi propaganda, as did that of Strobel when writing for the Nazi occupation paper Pariser Zeitung, though in Strobel’s case it should be borne in mind that he was married to a Jewish woman and there is good evidence that he made whatever compromises were necessary to protect her.

But in almost all cases the individuals involved with radio found that the occupying powers found them acceptable and were happy to allow them to take up the positions they did. Kruttge was an exception, and removed from his position at an early stage for a period. Why this was depends on individual cases: in some cases there was simply not the time for the military authorities to investigate the fine details of some people’s journalism and employment of Nazi tropes and rhetoric, and this became less and less of a concern as denazification was scaled down and handed over to German authorities, before being brought to an end entirely. In the case of Strobel, who been an opponent of German romanticism and indeed the expressionism of Schoenberg back in the 1920s, the French authorities had plenty of good reason to believe in his Francophile tendencies, notwithstanding his wartime journalism. As such he could be counted upon to support their own cultural agenda, a prediction which proved wholly accurate.

Without the work of these individuals at radio stations, I do not believe that not only avant-garde German composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen (and arguably less radical composers such as Hans Werner Henze or Giselher Klebe), but also those from elsewhere including Pierre Boulez, Luigi Nono, Bruno Maderna, and indeed John Cage, all of whom were widely performed in West Germany, would have gained the reputation and profile that they did, at least for a period. And their work paved the way for subsequent generations.

‘New music’ is a concept whose roots are in an essay ‘Neue Musik’ published by critic Paul Bekker in 1919, stimulating a wide range of responses through the 1920s), in the sense of a separate realm of musical activity from more ‘mainstream’ classical music, with financial support from sources other than ticket sales and private sponsorship. It is fundamentally a phenomenon borne out of particular historical circumstances in Germany after crushing defeat in 1918 and 1945. This is not the whole picture, for sure, and one should not neglect other parallel developments elsewhere – for  example the Festival internazionale di musica contemporanea founded in Venice in 1932 (thus in the midst of the Fascist era), which continues to the present day, or other developments in France, Austria, the UK and elsewhere. But the scale of such a thing was greatest in Germany. What then becomes a difficult question for all of those (including myself) committed to and involved with such a scene, is what is the basis for its continuation, and financial support, now that historical conditions have changed, and the legitimising arguments for the associated infrastructure no longer have the same cogency.


City Music students visit Fabric

Students taking a new module in Electronic Dance Music had a privileged visit to Clerkenwell clubbing institution Fabric recently. They were met and shown around the building by the club manager, artistic programmer, marketing manager and chief sound engineer, who all gave unique perspectives on what it takes to run a large, iconic club in London for the last 18 years.


Students were able to set foot inside the famous Room 1 DJ booth, experience the unique ‘bodysonic’ sub-bass transducer dance floor, as well as hear the same music played back (at full volume!) on different systems… all to themselves!



A huge thanks to Judy, Kirsti, Luke and Pierre for taking their time to host us.

City Chamber Choir Performs in Trafalgar Square!

The City University Chamber Choir has had a busy end of term with three performances in just over a week. The first was its annual Christmas Concert at St Clement’s Church, King Square, on Wednesday 6th December, with a seasonal mix of carols and a complete performance of Bob Chilcot’s ‘A Little Jazz Mass’.

The following week, on 13th December, the choir gave a lunchtime performance of carols at the main university entrance, in conjunction with the University Chaplaincy.

The choir finished its trio of performances with singing under the christmas tree in Trafalgar Square on the evening of 13th December. Despite the damp weather and competition from the bells of St Martin the Fields (!), much fun was had by all, fuelled by plenty of mince pies! We raised £170 in aid of Mind and the Islington Law Centre.

The City Chamber Choir is conducted by Tim Hooper and is open to anyone in the university. Just email if you’d like to find out more about singing with us.  


Tullis Rennie releases new record ‘Muscle Memory’

Muscle Memory is a new record by composer Tullis Rennie, featuring two recently composed sound pieces made in collaboration with Matthew Bourne and Graham South.

The new release was recently described by The Wire Magazine as “a piece of meta art; an album about listening to music”.

The record is part autobiographic docu-music, part jazz-inspired dreamscape. It is available as a limited numbered vinyl only release from November 2017.

Each recording begins on the sofa in the house of a collaborator. Tullis joins Matthew in his idyllic Yorkshire hilltop live-in studio, and  Graham in his Manchester red-brick front room. From ‘listening-in’ to chat in these domestic spaces, we then float into abstract realms of electronic textures and improvised musical conversations between each pair.

The release was recently celebrated with a series of intimate listening parties held in living rooms in London, Hasting, Brighton and Manchester.

Dr Simon Waters, in a Contemporary Music Review article discussing the work, writing:

“Muscle Memory begins to answer questions about how one work can comment on and analyse or critique another through its own agency as music. It also demonstrates how a work can marshal autobiography and ethnography to illuminate the human capacity to manipulate and be manipulated by musical activity. It explicitly engages multiple modes of listening and points of view: documentary ‘field’ recordist; participant observer; soundscape composer; ‘amateur’ musicologist and music lover; DJ and remix artist; spectromorphological composer—and allows the listener to explore different modes of listening through these multiple and nested points of view such that this becomes the primary formal concern. The listening home (the point of view) is contingent and transitory as we move through the scant twelve and a half minutes of the piece, so the listener is constantly becoming re-involved with, and made conscious of, the act of listening”

Waters, S. (2015) ‘Tullis Rennie’s Muscle Memory : Listening to the Act of Listening’ Contemporary Music Review 34(1), pp.22–32.


Dr Spyridon Antonopoulos leads Psaltikon ensemble on Scandinavian tour

Psaltikon in Copenhagen

Dr Spyridon Antonopoulos, Honorary Research Fellow at City, recently led the vocal ensemble Psaltikon on a three-concert tour in Scandinavia. Psaltikon, founded by Antonopoulos in 2010, is a Boston-based vocal ensemble specializing in Byzantine chant and the music of the Eastern Mediterranean. For this tour, Psaltikon was joined by City University Reader in Music, Dr Alexander Lingas, along with Antonopoulos and six other singers. Prior to the tour, Dr Antonopoulos and Dr Lingas each gave papers at a Symposium on Religious Poetry and Performance at Uppsala University.

The tour program, entitled “Evenings Lights in Miklagård”, refers to the Scandinavian Viking name for Constantinople, the center of the world in the ninth century, when Halfdan the Viking carved his name into the parapet of the upper floor in Hagia Sophia’s southern gallery. The program explored chants which Halfdan might have heard while he inscribed his runes into Hagia Sophia’s marble. Central to the program were two kontakia, melismatic chants (whose text was originally composed in the sixth or seventh century), inscribed in the Psaltikon, the Constantinopolitan chant book for virtuoso soloists (the complementary Asmatikon contained the choral repertories). The kontakia were transcribed from a fourteenth century by the renowned musicologist Dr Ioannis Arvanitis, while the rest of the program editions were prepared by Dr Antonopoulos.

The tour’s first venue was the famous anatomical theater of the Museum Gustavianum. The ensemble then sang a concert for an audience of over 100 at Sofia Kyrka in Stockholm, before embarking on a five hour train through the Swedish woodlands to Copenhagen, where they were treated to a tour of the collections at the Monumenta Musicae Byzantinae, led by Dr Christian Troeslgård.


The MMB, founded in the 1930s at the University of Copenhagen, is one of the most important research institutes for Byzantine musicology. The tour closed with a concert in the beautiful acoustic of St. Thomas in the Frederiksburg neighborhood of Copenhagen.

Ian Pace – Interactive Workshop on Musical Denazification and the Cold War at LSE Conference, March 28, 2017

Ian Pace, Head of Performance and Music Lecturer at City, whose research focuses on modernist music and musical life during the Third Reich and the Cold War, will be giving a workshop on ‘Music, Identity and Nationalism with Reference to the Third Reich and early Cold War Period’, at the ASEN Conference on Anthony D. Smith & The Future of Nationalism: Ethnicity, Religion and Culture’, taking place at the London School of Economics. The conference takes place on March 27-28, 2017, and Ian’s workshop will take place from 11:40-13:10 on the 28th. Places are still available for the conference; full details, and a programme for the conference can be found at .

The purpose of this workshop is to engage with the issues of nationalism as affected German musicians and those working in the music world, through interactive roleplay relating to denazification procedures in each of the four zones of occupied Germany – American, British, French and Soviet.

Fragebogen zur Entnazifizierung (1946)

A series of four ‘legends’ have been created, each relating to a real individual; two composers, one pianist and composer, and one music journalist and writer. Each faced denazification in different zones. Participants are invited to take the role of one of these legends in a mock denazification hearing, which will be directed by Ian Pace in the role of Chief Interrogator. He will question the participant on the nature of their activities during the Third Reich, including questions relating to the aesthetics of their work, and they are offered the chance to reply and defend their record. Others are invited to take role in the ‘defence’ or ‘prosecution’ team, interspersing comments where appropriate relating to the case in question. These requires only study of the legends themselves (those who wish to join the prosecution will be provided with a little extra information unknown to the individual being interrogated).

If time permits, the final half hour of the workshop will be devoted to a wider discussion directed by Ian Pace about wider cultural/political agendas relating to the Cold War in Europe on both sides of the Iron Curtain, as relate to music and nationalism. Some questions to be considered include whether supposedly ‘internationalist’ aesthetic agendas might be viewed in terms of a type of ‘Western European pan-nationalism’ (which has also informed culture in the EEC/EU) or conversely these are less solidly geographically rooted. Another is how in the Eastern Bloc, musical traditions with historical connections to those found elsewhere in Europe and further afield were modified in accordance with the dominant role of the Soviet Union and Russian musical traditions, not least in light of the expulsion of ethnic Germans from most of Eastern Europe.


Introductory Bibliography

Biddiscombe, Perry. The Denazification of Germany: A History 1945-1950. Stroud: Tempus, 2007.

Chamberlin, Brewster S. Kultur auf Trümmern. Berliner Berichte der amerikanischen Information Control Section July – Dezember 1945. Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1979.

Clemens, Gabriele, ed. Kulturpolitik im besetzten Deutschland 1945-1949. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1994

Clemens, Gabriele. Britische Kulturpolitik in Deutschland 1945-1949: Literatur, Film, Musik und Theater. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1997.

Heister, Hanns-Werner and Klein, Hans-Günter, eds, Musik und Musikpolitik im faschistischen Deutschland. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1984.

Janik, Elizabeth. Recomposing German Music: Politics and Tradition in Cold War Berlin. Leiden, Brill & Biggleswade: Extenza Turpin, 2005.

John, Eckhard. Musik-Bolschewismus. Die Politisierung der Musik in Deutschland 1918-1938. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1994.

Kater, Michael. The Twisted Muse: Musicians and their Music in the Third Reich. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Kater, Michael. Composers of the Nazi Era: Eight Portraits. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Linsenmann, Andreas. Musik als politischer Faktor: Konzepte, Intention und Praxis französischer Umerziehungs- und Kulturpolitik in Deutschland 1945-1949/50. Tübingen: Narr, 2010.

Monod, David. Settling Scores: German Music, Denazification, and the Americans, 1945-1953. Chapel Hill, NC and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.

Pike, David. The Politics of Culture in Soviet-Occupied Germany, 1945-1949. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992.

Prieberg, Fred. Handbuch Deutsche Musiker 1933-1945. CD-ROM, 2004, revised version 2009.

Riehtmüller, Albrecht, ed. Deutsche Leitkultur Musik? : zur Musikgeschichte nach dem Holocaust. Stuttgart: Steiner, 2006).

Scherliess, Volker, ed. »Stunde Null«. Zur Musik um 1945. Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2014.

Steinweis, Alan E. Art, Ideology, and Economics in Nazi Germany: The Reich Chambers of Music, Theater, and the Visual Arts. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.

Thacker, Toby. Music after Hitler, 1945-1955. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007.


British-Iranian composer and City PhD student Soosan Lolavar on her opera ID, Please, and experiences of US immigration

Composer Soosan Lolavar, who is currently studying for a PhD at City, has recently received new public attention relating to her experiences in having her opera ID, Please performed in the United States. In this blog she writes exclusively in detail about the new work and her recent trip to the country, following the announcement by the new president Donald Trump of severe restrictions on entry to the country by those of Muslim origin, lending the opera a new topicality.

A year ago, when myself and the playwright Daniel Hirsch discussed a storyline for the opera that we would write together, we had no idea how acutely world events would become entangled in our work. At the time, I was living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania studying Iranian classical music at Carnegie Mellon University with the help of a Fulbright Scholarship. As a British-Iranian immigrant to the US (and as a human being) I was deeply disturbed by the rhetoric of the Republican primaries unfolding around us, particularly the much discussed ‘Muslim ban,’ supported in various gradations by every single Republican candidate. At the time (the halcyon days of early 2016) such a move seemed like grotesque political posturing: a racist and divisive move, but surely one that no sane candidate would ever actually enact. Against this backdrop we briefly considered writing an opera about Trump, but decided that he would likely be gone from public life by the time of the opera’s performance and so might seem like a strange choice of figure. In the end we settled on a piece about immigration, set at border control in an unnamed country and time and considering contemporary rhetoric on borders, nationalism and others.

In February 2017, five days before I was due to fly to the US to attend the rehearsals of our immigration-themed opera, ID, Please, I received the news that, due to my dual British-Iranian nationality, I was officially banned from entering a country I had called home for a year. My experience was, thankfully, incredibly short-lived, since soon enough the privilege of my British passport swung into action and dual nationals of the UK were given special dispensation to travel. This left me in a strange and ambivalent position that I continue to navigate. My situation received some media attention – ‘British-Iranian composer unable to attend rehearsals of her opera about immigration’ has a fairly nice ring to it – in which I struggled to prevent journalists from representing me as a poor, innocent victim of the order. My British privilege had already ensured that I would travel as normal while Iranian passport-holding friends of mine who lived in the US were now terrified for their immigration status. Moreover, unlike my hijab-wearing family, I am able to ‘pass’ as un-threatening at border control and avoid the ‘random’ extra checks they continually endure. This is not to say that I experienced immigration without fear. Due to my dual nationality, I carry a different visa from most British nationals which always elicits a question and the subsequent disclosure of my Iranian nationality. On landing at JFK I braced myself for extra questioning and, in an eerie echo of one of the lines from the opera, “clutched my passport so hard it made my hand hurt”. Oddly, in the end the officer asked me no questions at all. Perhaps he was just tired after a no doubt exhausting week, perhaps he forgot, or perhaps it was due to the fact that the Temporary Restraining Order on the bill had been enacted just four hours before I landed. I suppose I will never know.

Needless to say, the events of the past few months have brought the opera into terrifyingly sharp focus, with the shape of the work altering several times as a result. In reaction to world events, Daniel Hirsch added references to ‘building walls’, ‘checking their teeth’ and ‘a billionaire tyrant’, as well as an instance where a Muslim passenger is asked to visit a different queue on disclosure of her religion (eerily enough, this line was added before we could be sure the Muslim Ban was anything other than bloviating election rhetoric).

Despite these oblique contemporary references, the opera as a whole is located everywhere and nowhere, with the travellers representing everyone and nobody at all. Of a total of three singers, only the baritone border guard represents a fixed and conventional character. The other singers act as ciphers playing multiple travellers with no names, switching gender, religion and backstory dozens of times throughout the opera. Thus, while one singer proclaims themselves a refugee in one instance, they may disclose that they are a drug smuggler, a human-rights activist or a student soon after. The overlapping voice types of traveller one and two – mezzo-soprano and counter-tenor – similarly reflect the constant identity slippages that each singer engages in. Our intention was that the audience is left with a feeling of uncertainty of who anybody really is. Are any of us truly and completely honest at borders? Can the list of questions asked really enable you know someone? Is there such a thing as an innocent or a guilty person?

Moreover, as a result of such shifting characters, the work as a whole eschews a conventional narrative arc. A question I’m regularly asked is how many of the travellers make it through to the other side of the border. The answer is we have no idea. We focus on the plight of one person only briefly and, before we know the outcome, the action shifts to someone new. Here the story explores how individuality (and humanity) can be erased at borders as unique life experiences harden into case numbers. This is true both for travellers facing the power of the state, and for those that work at border control whose individualism is stripped away by a life of dull, repetitive tasks.

Against this backdrop and in terms of the music, I was keen to produce an environment with an overall feeling of instability, fear and mechanical, dehumanising repetition. I was particularly keen to ensure that repetition never felt safe or calming but always had a sense of instability or dread. One technique I used for this was shifting the rhythmic setting of particular reoccuring lines while keeping the melodic contour the same (see figure 1). This not only highlights the potentially ambivalent meaning of particular lines – for e.g. is “I do not like the way you look at me like that” a defiant statement of humanity or a fear of profiling? – but also created the feeling of a shifting foundation where the reality was never quite clear.

Fig. 1 From the mezzo-soprano aria ‘My hands are sweaty, my heart is racing’

Here the melodic contour is transposed down a fourth:

The same interrogation occuring at different points in the opera


The border guard questions travellers

However, the border guard repeats the phrase “anything else to declare?” several times throughout the opera with no changes made to its rhythmic setting. Moreover, he often presents questions to travellers sung entirely on one note. Both processes highlight him as a relatively powerless character, someone who is following orders and is dehumanised by their repetitiveness (see figure 2).

Fig. 2 Dehumanising the border guard

Further techniques that produce a feeling of instability include using mixed meters and syncopation to disrupt the pulse, and setting words so that the stresses fall unnaturally (see figure 3).

Fig 3.

In response to a question about their religious affiliation, traveller one (mezzo-soprano) responds, “Well, I don’t really have one, it’s kind of complicated”. In everyday speech, the stresses for this sentence might fall thus: “Well, I don’t really have one, it’s kind of complicated”. Instead, in this setting, strong beats fall on “Well, I don’t really have one”. Moreover, for “it’s kind of”, the triplet quaver is shifted by a semi-quaver so that a clear pulse is completely absent from the first few beats of the bar, and the first obvious strong beat falls in an unexpected location: “complicated”.

There are several further instances in the opera where a triplet quaver motif is shifted in order to disrupt a clear sense of pulse and stability, see figure 4.

Fig 4. Disrupting the sense of pulse by shifting a triplet quaver figure


A sense of uncertainty is not only produced through rhythmic instability but also through the fluctuation of pitch. There is a reoccurring theme of a low drone being interrupted by a quarter tone at several points throughout the opera (see figure 5).

Figure 5

B drone in marimba, trombone and tuba interrupted by C ¾♭ in bass clarinet, violin II, viola, cello and double bass



A drone on C disrupted by D ¾

This sense of pitch instability is further explored, particularly in a trumpet-cello duet which makes use of extreme vibrato, glissandi, ‘growling’ (a trumpet technique where the player sings into the instrument at the same time as playing, made popular particularly by big band jazz), and the use of a plunger mute to create the sense of an unstable pitch centre, see figure 6.

Figure 6

Pitch stability interrupted by various techniques

ID, Please has become a complex process through which I work through my feelings of instability in the new world order, my fears for immigrant communities across the world and my concerns for the safety of my family and friends. As a result of recent political events, I certainly feel a greater sense of responsibility to produce a piece of work that adequately represents the complexity of such positions.

The work will premier at Pittsburgh Opera on 1st April 2017 and will be live-streamed via the Carnegie Mellon University website with hopes to bring it to the UK in in the near future.