9 Nov 2016

Settling the Score: sneak peek

From Upbeat, 1:20 pm on 9 November 2016

Phil Smith dissects the voting patterns and results for RNZ Concert’s 2016 Settling the Score, which comes to a climax on Thursday evening in a live broadcast of the APO performing in the Auckland Town Hall, hosted by Clarissa Dunne and Carol Hirschfeld. Which composer features the most? Did any New Zealanders make their mark? Who voted for what? And what will be the top work? 

The Lark Descending: 2016’s Top Classical Music as voted by you

By Phil Smith (piripismith@gmail.com), @piripismith

Phil Smith

Phil Smith Photo: Supplied.

While America has voted in an election for the ages, New Zealand votes on the music of the ages. RNZ Music is preparing to announce the winners of Settling the Score and Phil Smith teases out a few of the results.

As Monty Python once pondered the air-speed velocity of a fully laden swallow, this week RNZ Concert listeners wait to discover how far a lark can plummet.

It’s Settling The Score week, when RNZ Concert totes up the votes for New Zealand's favourite classical works and schedules the ultimate playlist, climaxing with a gala performance of the winners by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.

The winning pieces remain veiled, but some things we do know:

The Day of the Dead

Dead or Alive Graphic

It’s safe to say the composers of the winning pieces are unlikely to be accepting plaques at the APO concert. Of the top 100 works, just three were composed by someone still alive. Those are three different composers though, while the 97 works by the dead include a greedy amount of multiple instances of the big names.

Germany 1: England 0

It's a good thing the English language has Shakespeare to fall back on, because the German language wipes the floor in fine music. 45 of the top 100 pieces this year were written by German speakers. Just 19 were written by English speakers (and that includes seven from Americans, three Kiwis and a Welshman). The former Russian empires tote up 16 pieces (including various Armenians, Georgians etc.). Incredibly there are more New Zealanders in the top 100 than Italians (take that Puccini!)

The Christchurch Vote

There are, as always, an absurd number of entries for Englishmen. Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending has flitted into the top ten every year since 2003! Though over the last five years it has been The Lark Plummeting, ranking 1, 2, 3, 6, and 7.  So a big question this year is will Vaughan Williams finally exit the top ten or will Mother Country sentiment put the wind beneath its wings? It’s not only Ralph who receives a fillip from the ancestrally minded; Elgar, Holst, Purcell and Tallis all appear with a suspicious frequency. By comparison, the San Francisco classical station KDFC only had one Englishman in their top 30 last year – of course it was that pesky Lark twittering across the mythically bucolic Cotswolds again.

The Scottish Vote

If we call that anglocentrism ‘The Christchurch Vote’, I want to suggest that next year Dunedin gets itself organised and votes Scottish en masse. This year’s first appearance of a Scottish work is at 199th so there is work to do. Possibly the Scottish percussion composer James MacMillan’s stints conducting the NZSO next July will boost him onto the chart. Or perhaps Dunedin could vote for Thea Musgrave and ascend two grouse with one stone, because there is also a chronic lack of females in the list. Kiwi Dame Gillian Whitehead is the top female composer this year – ranked 91st, with Kaija Saariaho, our own Eve de Castro Robinson, and Hildegard von Bingen completing the set.

Flag Waving

While we’re waving flags, other Kiwi composers in the top 100 composers (rated by most votes for any piece) are Douglas Lilburn at 24th (beating Georges Bizet), Gareth Farr at 40th (topping George Gershwin), David Farquhar at 58th (heading off Bela Bartok), John Psathas at 64th (ahead of Franz Liszt), and Ross Harris at 83rd (leading Johann Strauss). That’s not as good as some years. In the 2012 vote John Psathas’ Omnifenix was at number 4, beating everything that Beethoven or Bach ever penned. The following year Gillian Whitehead’s Resurgences was 7th, and just last year John Dylan’s Cave Creek was 11th.

And the Winners are…

For the winning pieces you’ll have to wait for the countdown from 6am til when it's finished on Thursday evening, but the top composers (by total votes for any piece) are:

1 – Beethoven
2 – Mozart

3 – Bach

This is a justifiable troika. The New Testament (Beethoven) beats the Old Testament (Bach), leaving Mozart wedged between them (as The Apocrypha). After that it’s anyone’s guess really. This year it is:

4 – Schubert
5 – Vaughan Williams
6 – Tchaikovsky
7 – Dvorak
8 – Elgar
9 – Brahms
10 – Rachmaninov

Joseph Haydn has already contacted RNZ Concert asking for a justifiable recount, and Wagner is of course blaming a conspiracy of foreigners.

The 2016 Settling The Score Top 90 is being broadcast from 6am Thursday 10th November on RNZ Concert including the live broadcast of the winning pieces, performed from 8pm by the APO at the Auckland Town Hall. You can listen to RNZ Concert on the radio, here on the website, and via SKY and Freeview TV