New To Us – Andrew Skeet

The death of classical music is perhaps its oldest continuing tradition.
Charles Rosen

So today before we get to the main body of the article, we thought we’d take a quick look at the state of classical music. We’re no experts on the subject of course, so we did a bit of research. For starters, we thought we’d better check what classical music actually is. Our good old friend Wikipedia defines classical music as, “art music produced or rooted in the traditions of Western music” which is obviously a little vague, but then perhaps it has to be; essentially anything that’s instrumental music not covered in electronic beats is in danger of being labelled a sub-sect of Classical Music.

All of which brings us to our first issue with classical music, snobbery! Classical music has a habit of walking around with a sense of self-importance. We’re always being told that it’s important to listen to classical music, Pavarotti said, “it is so important for people at a young age to be invited to embrace classical music and opera” whilst Charles Rosen took it one step further when he said, “a love of classical music is only partially a natural response to hearing the works performed, it also must come about by a decision to listen carefully, to pay close attention, a decision inevitably motivated by the cultural and social prestige of the art.” All of which to us, seems to attempt to elevate what is essentially just another genre of music to something more important; it all has a faint whiff of our music is better than your music. Imagine a world where Punk or Metal were held in the same esteem, where we spoke of the importance of listening to The Sex Pistols and of exposing the youth of today to the mastery of Slayer, because truth be told they’re just as important to our current musical and cultural landscape as Beethoven or Mozart.

It is perhaps this sense of self-importance that is contributing to classical music’s downfall. Classical music sales figures are falling, the number of listeners to BBC’s specialist classical station, Radio 3, has fallen below 6music, a station that wasn’t even meant to be relevant enough to stay open and is only available via digital radio and online. Classical music is quick to point the finger; Kent Nagano blamed budget cuts and a lack of education in schools, Bill Zuckerman blamed the homogeneity of teaching that has led to all young talented musicians attempting to achieve the same goal and nobody seems to be willing to do anything about it. Perhaps Kingsley Amis was correct all along when he said that new classical music had, “as much chance of being accepted as paedophilia” but surely for any genre to survive it needs new faces, new music and new ideas?

Classical music to us just feels less omnipresent now. In the early 1990’s, television and film were still regularly scored by classical music, sporting events were more likely to feature Pavarotti than Ricky Wilson, and it all felt if not relevant, then at least still present. In recent years the rise of instrumental musicians who fall outside the sphere of classical music have even started to take over their traditional roles, look at Mogwai scoring Les Revenants, Ólafur Arnalds scoring Broadchurch and Sigur Ros’s monopoly of wildlife documentaries, more modern, more relevant and more flexible, the world is changing as classical stands still.

Music and art that relies not on fan bases, but government grants, and the idea that it is “too important” to not remain funded, can only survive if it is still considered important. In an age where arts funding is being slashed, should we still be funding people playing music from the past? There is so much beautiful classical music out there, but perhaps to find its place in the modern world, it needs to step out of its comfort zone and start engaging with the general public, otherwise it’s a genre with an ageing fan base that is surely living on borrowed time, and increasingly few will mourn its loss.

ANDREW SKEET
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Who?
Andrew Skeet is a composer, orchestrator, pianist, conductor, arranger, producer and an engineer.

What?
Andrew describes himself as, “a musical collager” borrowing ideas from all the vast variety of music he has encountered. His debut album reflects that, a vast catalogue of instrumental pieces that reflect different emotional and sonic spaces, often reflecting on the movement of time and his place in the universe. His background as a classical pianist is clear and a number of the tracks are based around his fantastic piano playing, but fleshed out by a huge variety of sounds from electronic pulses to stunningly arrange string sections.

Where?
Andrew grew up in that most happening of places, Croydon. One of the cheapest places to buy a house in London, Croydon is expected to be greatly changed in the next few years by a project known as Croydon Vision 2020, an urban planning initiative designed to promote Croydon as hub of living, retailing, culture and business in South London and South East England. Croydon actually has a rather proud association with the music industry, a centre for the growth of Dub-Step, birthplace of the composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and home of the Brit School, which has given the world Adele, The Kooks and Rizzle Kicks, but it’s not all bad they also gave us Amy Winehouse and Imogen Heap.

When?
Well Andrew was born in 1969. He came to some fame as a string-arranger when he was recruited by Simon Raymonde of The Cocteau Twins to work on a solo project, which led to working in various guises with the likes of Suede, George Michael, Sinead O’Connor and the Boo Radleys. His career has been something of a scatter gun of musical projects and ideas; producing over seventy musical scores, working with Neil Hannon both as a member of The Divine Comedy and a co-producer of his Swallows and Amazons musical, Andrew is also a well known figure in computer game soundtracking. After all that he has finally got around to releasing his debut solo album Finding Time on the classical arm of Sony.

Why?
Finding Time is a testament to the power of instrumental music to portray more than just beautiful sounds. These ten pieces carry the emotional clout of a singer-songwriter without the use of a single word. It is an album he describes as reflecting the loss of those close to you, but also of finding a sense of home. Not simply a reflection of bricks and mortar but the calmness and stillness Andrew finds in the love of his wife (Karen, a musician in her own right who performs on the record) and daughter.

Andrew has always had a keen interest in the moving image, and this album could easily be the score to an imaginary film, as The Brian Jonestown Massacre set out to achieve earlier this year. Killing Time, in particular is highly reminiscent of Mogwai’s work on the rightly acclaimed Les Revenants soundtrack; ominous, gently repeating piano phrases overlay buzzing pulses of synths. Rhythmic plucked strings take the place of more traditional beats, then slowly unfurl into gorgeous melodies, the whole track underpinned by the heartbeat like synth line with gives the track a harrowing pulse.

Mogwai inclusive, throughout the album there are nods to the great and good of the post-rock world. Setting Out pins a warm complex piano line to electronic swells that gently give way to more organic strings and it all brings to mind Sigur Rós or Haiku Salut. Reflect has shades of Hope Of The States more instrumental moments, especially when the bell-like piano sits above a swirling wash of strings. Radiohead too loom large, Stop The Clock, one of the albums stand out moments, is similar in tone to the outdo of Paranoid Android, whilst the strings on The Unforgiving are reminiscent of Pyramid Song.

That is not to say that this a post-rock album. For starters it’s almost beatless, while at other times it’s oddly jaunty! Taking Off is a reminder of his time with the more theatrically minded Neil Hannon, harpsichord is paired with rapid swooping strings, that are lighter and more playful than elsewhere, bringing to mind the work of Owen Pallet. The title track, Finding Time is Andrew at his most industrial and downbeat, and his furthest from his classical background: it’s closer to James Blake than it is to Sergei Rachmaninov.

Like Nils Frahm or Ólafur Arnalds, Andrew is a man taking classical music in new directions, part of this so called neo-classical movement. It’s music that manages to sound fresh and exciting, whilst maintaining the intrinsic beauty that classical arrangements can bring. A stunning collection of pieces that begs the question, why has nobody pushed Andrew to make a full album before now?

Why Not?
At times he stumbles a little far into classical and away from neo-classical, a move that doesn’t suit him. Pursuing The Horizon for instance just lacks the emotive weight of some of his more progressive moments.

Finding Time is out on Sony Music Entertainment now.

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