Review: Steve Martland (2)



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In Martland's case, music education has always been high on the agenda. Aside from his touring schedule, he has been involved with various education programmes up and down the country as well as founding Strike Out, a summer school geared specifically towards junior composers still in education. But when Strike Out started up, Martland envisaged that around forty students would join the project each year. Instead, poor funding allowed just a handful of children to join the scheme, which ran for several years, before becoming impossible to maintain. Having single handily raised what funding the scheme required, you begin to sense how frustrated Martland has become with attitudes in the UK. "There's no funding for things like this over here" he says, exasperated, "nothing!" Since Strike Out began he's also been involved with various workshops and acted as artistic director for SPNM, promoters of new music. Essentially, Martland takes the same approach with teaching as he does with his audience - the main aim is to engage peoples' interest. "I always use some connection with either a theme or idea behind it. It's got to relate to a social issue or just something they care about. I think that's the way to get people engaged in it." When teaching he tends not to refer to the term "classical", and focuses more on demonstrating how traditional techniques relate to the music his students are familiar with. But when it comes to composing, Martland encourages his students to think independently. "I make them aware that they are absolutely responsible for everything. I give them absolutely no musical ideas whatsoever. They've got to come up with it all themselves."

Although his students are in no danger of being force fed, Martland's frustration returns at the mention of award ceremonies such as the Classical Brits. When I ask him if they help to attract audiences to classical music Martland pauses for a second as if wondering whether to warrant the subject an opinion. "It's not meant to draw people in at all," he says, getting noticeably annoyed. "It's meant to draw people to those artists, and make enormous amounts of money for those big record companies. So there's no serious altruism there. There are no executives sitting at their desks worrying that not enough people are listening to classical music."

Instead of nurturing talent, the industry seems more interested in a "quick fix" approach, the aim of which is "pure commerce" as Martland sees it. "I mean if you think about it, Russell Watson sells almost more CD's than any major pop group," he says. "And that's just the middle of the road audience that buys it. There is such a thing as a middle of the road audience - it's the biggest audience there is and the most conservative."

Conservative - not a word often associated with Steve Martland whose latest album release is in no real danger of appearing in the same CD collection as that of Russell Watson. Whilst the music industry's creative output continues to focus on crowd pleasing, the UK will stay sitting on the back burner in terms of a platform for Martland's music. As far as his own creative output is concerned Europe beckons, and with four potential new commissions calling from Holland, he'll undoubtedly be spending the majority of his time abroad again. As Martland gets ready to return to his European schedule, his future commitments highlight the fact that the UK music industry is in danger, not just of alienating audiences from the classical scene, but the artists and composers themselves.

- Helenka Bednar




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