June 18, 2024, 6P Symposium on (Concert) Music and People’s Struggles

Symposium on (Concert) Music and People’s Struggles
Brooklyn College, CUNY (City University of New York)
at Feirstein Studio
(2900 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11210)

Four Studies
(Introduction by Akiva Zamcheck)

1.Ben LUNN (UK): “For Radical Optimism”
2.Anna HEFLIN (US) : “Frederic Rzewski and the Contradictoriness of the Symphony Orchestra”
3.Franklyn OLIVER (UK): “Listening to the Left: An Exploration of Militant Song in Chile and the UK”
4.Rodrigo CADIZ (Chile): “Chilean Virtual Voices: Reinterpreting History Through Electroacoustic Composition”

Anna Heflin (b. 1993) is a composer, writer, and researcher whose pieces construct strange worlds with non-linear narratives that thrive on musical and psychological fragmentation. Her works have been performed at Ostrava Days, Bohemian National Hall, DOX Prague, PowerStation NYC, Banff Centre, Spectrum NYC, University of Oregon, Rochester Fringe Festival, University at Buffalo, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and more.Anna is currently pursuing her Doctorate in Composition at USC’s Thornton School of Music, where she is working with composers Nina C Young and Camae Ayewa (Moor Mother) and author Aimee Bender. Prior to this, she lived in NYC for six years and studied composition independently with Eric Wubbels. annaheflin.com

Ben Lunn has forged himself a unique position within the new music landscape. As a composer, Lunn’s music reflects the material world around him, connecting to his North-Eastern heritage or how disability impacts the world around him or his working-class upbringing. Alongside this, he has become renowned for his championship of others, which have seen him creating unique collaborations with musicians from across the globe and developing unique concert experiences and opportunities for others. He has won accolades from the Scottish Music Awards in both 2023 and 2020 for his work with Hebrides Ensemble and Drake Music Scotland, and in 2024 was shortlisted for the RPS Awards for his concerto History Needs… composed for Nicholas McCarthy. In 2022, Ben Lunn became the first North-East composer to be selected for the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Composer Scheme which sees him paired with Music in the Round.

: Radical Optimism

“Pessimism of mind, Optimism of spirit” a motto initially asserted by Antonio Gramsci, beautifully surmises a goal and outlook progressive movements need. However, clearly described by Mark Fisher in Capitalist Realism with the collapse of the Socialist Bloc, the reigning ideology has been – neo-liberalism is all we have got.

For composers, where does that leave us? The relationship of politics and music, specifically the question of political meaning, is an ongoing argument which sees many sides of the political spectrum arguing their case. Though, this has not stopped composers making political statements in their work. How do we break this deluge, this particular cul-de-sac? This presentation by composer and trade union activist Ben Lunn, will demonstrate how if political music is to break out of its current dilemma we need optimism – but not a blind optimism that does not respond to the problems of today, but an optimism which is as radical as the situation demands, and as Alan Bush said “the hope is the music will help people see the problem clearer, and to be able to define their way out”. 

Franklyn Oliver (b. 1999) is a Mancunian Composer, Academic, and Jaw Harpist based in London. Using a variety of mediums, Franklyn’s compositional practice often reflects on his relationship with his home city and addresses varying political topics. Amongst his influences, he includes Frank Zappa, Meredith Monk, and Neil Luck. In 2023, Franklyn completed his BMus in Composition at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance where he studied with Stephen Montague, Paul Newland, and Deirdre Gribbin. Currently, he is advancing his studies to a postgraduate level at King’s College London. He has had the opportunity to collaborate with many established ensembles such as CoMA, Fretwork, Standard Issue, and Glenn Parkes.

: Listening to the Left: An exploration of militant song in Chile and the UK

The significance of instrumentation as a means of political messaging is nowhere more exemplified than in the Chilean Nueva Canción political songwriting movement. This songwriting tradition, which developed in the lead-up to the monumental election of Salvador Allende in 1968, is unique not only in its unapologetic political messaging but also in the immense popular support and consumption it received. After Pinochet took power in a violent coup in 1973, the musicians of this movement were censored, exiled, and some assassinated. This tragic event heralded the need for remaining Nueva Canción musicians to adapt and survive in the now-threatening political environment. 

In the UK, the composer Cornelius Cardew, a leading figure of the British avant-garde and founder of the Scratch Orchestra, found himself disillusioned with the academic environment surrounding experimental music. In the 70s, he studied the writings of Mao and repudiated his avant-garde works. Cardew began writing explicitly (and objectively awful?) revolutionary popular songs with the aim of educating its listeners on the global political situation and as a vehicle for proselytising to the British working class.  Cardew aimed to investigate proletarian culture through his compositions, with a particular emphasis on taking inspiration from the music being created in socialist countries. 

In this talk, I will explore the development of the Nueva Canción movement from its beginnings to the present day, along the way exploring the links Cardew and other political musicians in the UK had to it. With a focus on the significance of instrumentation, I hope to stimulate a conversation where we discuss methods of further utilising this aspect in the enhancement of political messaging in our own compositions.

In his practice as an academic, Franklyn’s research centres on the significance of instrumentation in the creation of political music, reflecting on the successes of the Nueva Canción political songwriting movement.