Friday, April 18, 2014

To cat, or not to cat: that is the question


There was an overwhelming response on Facebook to yesterday's feline photo. It was taken at Sidi Ifni in southern Morocco, as are the two photos in this post. Fishing is the main industry of the town, and the daily fish market is home to many contented moggies as Muslims are taught that cats should be cherished and loved. These images are certainly heartwarming, but I am also aware that cats are a very powerful social media clickbait. However there are strong links between cats and art music; this is almost certainly because the condition of synaesthesia - experiencing one sensation (sound) in terms of another (sight) - which is found in many classical musicians, is hardwired into cats. John Tavener was asked by Brian Keeble how he knew if something was going wrong with his music, and could he tell by looking at it whether it was right or wrong. This was the composer's reply:
Yes, I can, and not only by looking at the music. It could be by looking at the cat, which I know is ridiculous, but there is something deeply mysterious about cats. I think they 'know' things that we don't have access to.
Two of John Tavener's pieces for solo piano, In Memory of Two Cats and Mandoodle, are inspired by cats. To cat, or not to cat is the question. To which my answer is that if just one reader of this post discovers these affectionate Tavener miniatures, which are on an excellent Naxos disc played by Ralph van Raat, my use of cats as a benign clickbait is excusable.


Quote is from John Tavener: The Music of Silence edited by Brain Keeble. Any copyrighted materialis included as "fair use", for the purpose of critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Zen and the art of walking away

'A cat sits until it is done sitting, then gets up, stretches, and walks away' - Alan Watts
Photo taken at Sidi Ifni, Morocco; another cat plays a cameo role in On the road with a Sufi saint. Photo is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2014. Any other copyrighted material is included as "fair use", for critical analysis only. Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Also sprach Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tuni


Dependent arising means that while travelling I have been spending much time with Egyptian Sufi music, particularly with the CD seen above from the master of the munshidin - sacred song - Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tûni. This disc is living proof of the unfashionable view that music is humanity's most direct expression of its better self, and I recommend that readers intrigued, or indeed puzzled, by my preoccupation with the esoteric tradition of Islam should exit their comfort zones and enter its force field. My heavy rotation of the sultan of munshidin is evidence of how far I have strayed from today's "it's 2014, so it must be Richard Strauss" monoculture. Audience data and social media trends show that many others are being disenfranchised in the same way. Fortunately the quaint notion that classical music is more than entertainment lives on, and this week the Britten Sinfonia present Bach's St John Passion in Cambridge, Amsterdam, London, Saffron Walden (in the beautateous new Saffron Hall) and Norwich. I will be chairing a pre-concert talk with soprano Julia Doyle and counter-tenor Iestyn Davies at the Norwich performance on Easter Sunday. In his essay for the Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tûni CD Alain Weber's tells how in a Sufi ritual, the hadra - the moment of collective spirituality when the participants enter into the presence of the Divine - is "an open creative event where a whole range of emotional behaviour is expressed". Which is also a very good definition of Passion, as in Bach.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Refreshing antidote to clickbait music journalism


Composing a World: Lou Harrison, Musical Wayfarer appears to have been remaindered as new copies are available from the States on Amazon at very low prices. This definitive study of a grossly underrated composer comes complete with a CD of Harrison's music that is worth the discounted price alone. Running to almost 400 pages with chapter headings inclusing 'Music and the Dance', 'Lou Harrison and East Asian Music', 'Sounding off: Music and Politics', 'Harrison, Homosexuality and the Gay World, and 'Not Just Music: Criticism, Poetry, Art and Typography', Composing a World is a refreshing antidote to today's all-pervasive clickbait music journalism.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. No review copies involved in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Sunday, April 06, 2014

At the shrine of Sidi Ali Ifni


Today I am leaving. I am leaving the Library, my house, my friends, the city where I live. I do not know where I am going. Strangest of all, I am leaving the Library in order to find a book. The only thing I have to guide me is the notebook of the last Librarian. I can scarcely ask him, for he has gone, and his disappearance is precisely what drives me to find out what he found - if indeed there is anything to discover.
This postcard from my travels comes from the south of Morocco. Above is a detail of the shrine of the Sufi marabout Sidi Ali Ifni, in the photo below his shrine is in the foreground with the eponymous town behind it. Sidi Ifni was the Spanish enclave and art deco military garrison of Santa Cruz de la Mar Pequeña until it was reclaimed and renamed by Morocco in 1969 after a long-running territorial dispute. The quotation comes from Sufi inspired The Book of Strangers by Ian Dallas who became the controversial Shaykh Abdalqadir as-Sufi before writing The New Wagnerian using his Western pen name.


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Thursday, April 03, 2014

Semi-detached suburban Aldeburgh Music


Roger Wright's recently announced move from the BBC to Aldeburgh has been described elsewhere as a "bombshell" and "surprising"; but personally I would describe it as another predictable step in the remorseless suburbanization of classical music. Roger Wright has not left the BBC: he has been moved sideways by the music establishment to a "safe house" at Aldeburgh. As has previously been pointed out here, the chairman of Aldeburgh Music council Simon Robey is also chairman of the Royal Opera House, while Aldeburgh Music president Lord Dennis Stevenson of Coddenham is a director of Glyndebourne productions as well as listing consultancy to Universal Music in his parliamentary declaration of interests. Their colleague Laura Wade-Gery sits on both the Aldeburgh Music council and the Royal Opera House board of trustees, another Aldeburgh Music council member David Robbie is a former non-executive director of the BBC, and the Barbican Arts Centre is run by Roger Wright's predecessor at the BBC Nicholas Kenyon. This nepotistic network spans both creative and commercial interests, and some of the most intense personal pressure I have been subjected to in almost ten years of blogging came when Aldeburgh Music unsuccessfully tried to force me to redact a factually correct and diligently cross-referenced post about funding from a multi-national corporation.

Coverage of Roger Wright's move sideways has been, like most current musical journalism, lamentable. Little attention has been paid to new BBC director general Tony Hall's "vision" statement for the arts which was made the day after the announcement of the departure of his classical music network controller; a statement which, I suspect, was a step too far towards suburbanization for even Roger Wright. Most of the coverage by journalists eager to stay onside with the BBC has positioned Tony Hall as a force for good. Which conveniently overlooks that the newly appointed director general spent 28 years immersed in the bloated culture of the BBC before moving to the Royal Opera House. At Covent Garden one of his achievements was to fill the foyers with masters of the financial universe braying into mobile phones and another was to allow young singers to be sponsored - quite unbelievably - by a tobacco company.

In a sycophantic piece in the Telegraph Radio 3 presenter Ivan Hewett says Roger Wright is "off to run the Aldeburgh Festival". Which is somewhat simplistic: he has been appointed chief executive of Aldeburgh Music, an organisation responsible for activities ranging from education and outreach to residencies, new music commissions, and experimental events such as Faster Than Sound, as well as the Aldeburgh Festival. Aldeburgh defines itself as "a place of energy and inspiration for music and the arts". That energy and inspiration can only come from an animateur who is prepared to cross swords with the establishment, which is not something Aldeburgh Music's chief executive designate is exactly noted for. Seen above is one of the houses that Roger Wright - annual BBC remuneration £227,450 plus generous expenses - may be viewing in anticipation of his move. For readers outside the UK I would explain that "semi-detached" means it is part of a larger establishment, and the sterling 1.5 million price tag - which is typical of suburbanized Aldeburgh - converts to US dollars 2.5 million. Forgive me if I lapse back into silence.

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Sunday, March 09, 2014

If you take only one thing from this post take this music


Memories of talented and respected musicians of mature years continuing to perform despite their declining abilities haunts me. I would not be as presumptuous as to suggest that as a writer I am either talented or respected, but the fear of continuing past my sell-by date has prompted a decision to stand back from blogging. The transformation of classical music from art to entertainment is now almost complete, so, to quote a Moody Blues lyric, "I've said my piece and I'll leave it all up to you". There are many other reasons contributing to my decision. Inevitable change means micro-social media such as Facebook and Twitter are now the standard for online communication; unfortunately, I have no aptitude for these platforms and no enthusiasm for the relentless self-promotion required to generate and retain an audience on them. Additionally, writing long-form posts that are tolerably literate and accurate is very time consuming, and the fragmentation of posting and commenting across multiple platforms has added to that workload. But, above all, in recent months the enjoyment of blogging has diminished, and I suspect that if this is the case for the author, it is also the case for the reader. It would be precipitative to bring On An Overgrown Path to a complete halt at this moment. I have some adventurous travel planned and will confine occasional future posts to my exoteric and esoteric journeys. We are currently enjoying glorious spring weather in Norfolk and this morning I was walking under the dazzling East Anglia sky listening to the re-issue of Andrzej Panufnik's radiant Ninth Symphony, Sinfonia di Speranza seen above. Let us hope that an enterprising record label (Brilliant Classics or Naxos perhaps?) records or licenses a complete cycle of Panufnik's ten symphonies for release at an affordable price. Because if we all spent more time listening to music like this and less time on our computers and smartphones, the world would be a very much better place.

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