Tuesday, May 31, 2005
Found Infoshare which is a weblog from the US Music Library Association. A lot of good stuff on it, and it doesn't seem to be too well known.
Listened a lot to Keith Jarrett's new solo double CD Radiance. To date Jarrett has been a musician justifiably lauded for crossing genres, but conversely has kept his work in separate genre boxes with his Standards Trio, radical improvisation work (Book of Ways and Spheres), and solo piano albums such as Koln Concert. Radiance is remarkable because he breaks down the boxes and moves effortlessly between genres in one set. This is not 'comfort music,' and I fear it is going to disappoint some Jarrett fans. It is also (thankfully) well removed from the self-indulgence of the big solo concert sets. I have to admit Radiance didn't bowl me over on first listening. It is like a great wine, it needs to mature, breath and grow on you. It is challenging music, it is Jarrett refusing to rest on his laurels, it is rewarding music, and it is a great album.
Pleased to write a post of just 275 words.
If you liked this post try Improvisation
Sunday, May 29, 2005
So the French referendum has rejected the EU constitution, and the pieces of the jigsaw that make up Europe are once again thrown up into the air. Political bloggers such as Clive Davis are better qualified than me to analyse the implications of the "No" vote, but I cannot let the result pass without some personal comment. In a few days time I depart for my annual extended stay in France. It is a country I love, but also find deeply puzzling. The "No" vote seems to be more of a vote of no confidence in the Chirac government than a rejection of the new EU constitution. France is a fascinating mixture of traditionalism and extremism, and this is nowhere better illustrated than in the French attitude to religion. Although the national constitution makes France a secular state, Catholicism is still a strong force in society.
I had written the post below a few days ago ready to upload while I was on the road south to the Vaucluse next weekend, but I am posting it today as the referendum result reverberates around Europe and the world. The "No" result was determined by a large number of centre-left voters rather than the small extremist groups such as the royalists and Le Pen's National Front party which I mention. But the story of L'Abbaye Sainte-Madeleine at le Barroux is an interesting example of the tensions between traditionalism and extremism that make France unique.
The death of Pope John Paul II brought out the best and worst in people. One prominent British playright said the Pope 'meant nothing to me.' This struck me as a supremely silly comment. Whether you are Catholic or not the impact of Catholicism on society, politics, architecture, music and the world in general is imeasurable. I would be the first to agree the impact is most definitely not all for the good, and much has been written about, for instance, the Catholic Church's role in the spread of Aids in Africa, and the Catholic support for Franco in the Spanich Civil War. But without Catholicism classical music would not exist in the form it does today, and we would not have the inspitational legacy of sacred architecture, and much, much else.
I am not a Catholic, nor am I a candidate for conversion. Two of my paternal great grandparents were Scottish Catholics, and I was brought up in a vaguely Anglo-Catholic household. And as I have travelled on the overgrown path called life I have been awestruck by the magnificence of the cathedrals of Reims and Chartres, the power of monastic ruins such as Castle Acre and Llanthony, the humility of Mother Teresa, the beauty of the Requiems of Cristobal de Morales and Tomas luis de Victoria, the striking relevance of the fifteen hundred year old year old Rule of St Benedict, and the power of the the pre-Vatican II liturgy when sung in Gregorian Chant as restored by the monks at Solesmes Abbey.
I wanted to know more about the extraordinary power that drove these achievements. And I also wanted to understand how the same doctrine that created the Abbey at Cluny, could teach that condoms are ineffective in preventing the spread of Aids. As part of my journey down an overgrown path I spent a week last autumn in the remarkable Benedictine community at the Abbey of Sainte-Madeleine at le Barroux in southern France (see my post Pliable's Travels). The Abbey and Monastery at le Barroux are an extraordinary achievement, and can be seen in my header photo. It is Romanesque in style, but was in fact built in the 1980's. There are various local rumours about where the funding came from. Word has it that one of the wealthy cognac dynasties bankrolled construction, and that a former Abbot was a member of the Calvet family who control a major Bordeaux wine brokerage. The monks are traditionalists in their approach to the liturgy and use of Gregorian Chant. There are suggestions that the monks come from wealthy families and are Royalists (souverainiste). American in France Ruth Philips on her blog Meanwhile here in France has alleged right-wing connections, and the support of National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. The new 'conservative' Pope Benedict XVI also has links with Sainte-Madeleine . (It all sound like good material for a novel) But as a French family living close to le Barroux wrote to me in response to a question about the alleged political links of the monks ............. ...
"Where does it all end?!! Have a glass of cognac and enjoy the Gregorian chant and don't vote Le Pen! The Abbey is certainly a very beautiful place and was built by "Compagnons", very skilled tradesmen, who are certainly not extremists. Have you heard of the Compagnons? (See the footnote at the end of this post for more information on Compagnons - Pliable) Young people wanting to learn a trade can join and do a "tour" of France, staying in lodgings where a "mother" looks after them for the time they are there learning skills from experienced artisans. They then move on to another town, all this lasts a year and the rules etc are very strict and it is not open to just anyone. At the end of the year they make an objet representing so many hours of work showing what they have learnt in their year. There are museums that collect and show these objects, little roofs, stairs etc. I do not know much about them but I do know that anyone who has done his year is highly skilled in his trade and very serious about his work. I am sure this side of the monastery is more interesting!"
I am one of those obsessive people who tries to read and research as much as they can about a subject they are interested in. One of the things that struck me was the lack of accessible literature about the Benedictine way of life. Of course there is the Rule of St Bendict, which is readable, meaningful, and important. But I found other books such as the Genesee Diary largely impenetrable.
So I was intrigued by the publication of a new book called Father Joe. The prognosis looked unpromising. The author is Tony Hendra who progressed from Cambridge University (by one of those strange coincidences that are a feature on an overgrown path he went to St John's College which is where we saw Monteverdi in Cambridge) , through Monty Python to National Lampoon and Spitting Image. Along the way Hendra did two marriages, and moderate quantities of drugs and alcohol. Throughout his journey along this particularly thorny overgrown path he maintained a relationship with Father Joseph Warrilow, a monk in the Bendictine community at Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight. Quarr Abbey was founded by a group of monks who fled from France in 1907 at a time of religous persecution.
Father Joe is the story of the remarkable relationship between Tony Hendra and the Benedictine monk. At one level the book is a fascinating semi-autobiography which avoids most of the pitfalls of the usual media personality best seller, although Hendra does take himself a bit seriously when expounding his views about creation. But at a deeper level Father Joe is a surprisingly useful, and accessible, primer to the Benedictine way of life. Tony Hendra has created a readable, relevant, and remarkably erudite portrait of why Bendictine communities are as relevant in the 21st century as they were in the sixth century .
There are concepts in this book that once again made me stop and think.... laborare est orare - to work is to pray, contemptus mundi - detachment (not contempt) for the world, and the disturbing questions 'Do you do the work you've chosen with joy and gratitude? Do you do it conscientously? Do you do it for others first, and yourself second?
I wish I had read Father Joe before I visited the Benedictine community at le Barroux. It is a rare insight into the continuing relevance of the contemplative way of life, and I recommend it.
If you enjoyed this post try The armchair pilgrim
Footnote from understandfrance.org: "Compagnonnage" is a French tradition which goes back to the Middle-Ages. Highly skilled workers travel and work in different places in order to acquire the knowledge of their specialty from a master ("maître") ; their field can be anything from carpentry to cooking, pastry, plumbing, ironworks, stone-cutting, etc... Moving from one employer to another, they make their "Tour de France" and progress from "apprenti" to "compagnon" and finally "master". This is a medieval tradition going back to the time of the builders of Gothic cathedrals. The Compagnons du Tour de France stay in specific hotels for young workers, called "cayenne", managed by a woman, "la mère" who takes care of them. To become a "master" of the Compagnons du Devoir (founded 1347), they have to realize a "chef d'oeuvre", which is something professionally very difficult, submitted to a college of masters. Needless to say that this is extremely close to freemasonry.
All famous chefs in French restaurants have been through this cursus and can use the title "Meilleur Ouvrier de France" which is its classical expression, but your plumber can also be a "Meilleur Ouvrier de France" and, in this case, you can be sure he is a good plumber. In Paris, you can admire a sample of very impressive "chefs d'oeuvres" in the Maison du Compagnonnage, 2 rue de Brosse 75004. Compagnonnage is a fascinating world of highly skilled professionals with very high technical and ethical standards grounded in a very ancient tradition. Each of them is given a name which includes his region and a moral characteristic (for instance : Tourangeau la Vertu or Périgord Coeur-Loyal).
Friday, May 27, 2005
We walked down Silver Street, along the river and back across Clare Bridge. Despite having seen it so many times we marvelled again at that most uplifting of views, Kings College Chapel viewed from across the river. The buildings are magnificent, but it is the students that make the city. This is the city of Rupert Brooke (who as a founder member of the Marlowe Dramatic Society allows me to insert a contrived link to my Infinite riches in a little room post) , and Silvia Plath (who was at Newnham College in 1955/6 on a Fulbright Scholarship, and whose husband Ted Hughes was at Pembroke College, but not at the same time as Plath). Ralph Vaughan Williams studied here, as did singer/songwriter Nick Drake who was at Fitzwilliam College for six months of his too brief life in 1969. See my posts Smile Why It Has Been , A Troubled Cure for a Troubled Mind and Improvisation for more on Nick Drake. If you are tempted to try his music, as well as his own CDs I highly recommend jazz pianist Brad Mehladau's Live in Toko album which has treatments of two Drake songs on it, Things Behind the Sun, and River Man. This album is the overgrown path that got me into Nick Drake.
Cambridge was pivotal in the Early Music revival. From Edward J Dent’s (who was a don at King's) pioneering presentations of Handel oratorios and operas in the 1920’s. Through Boris Ord’s work with King's College Choir (whose repertoire he expanded into Tudor polyphony) and the University Madrigal Singers, to figures such as Thurston Dart. I have the Neville Marriner Academy of St Martin's recording on LP of Dart's wonderful, but controversial, performing edition of the Brandenburgs, and what performers! - including the late and much lamented David Munrow on recorder. Munrow read English at Pembroke College, and next year is the thirtieth anniversary of his tragic and untimely death; a fate he shared, alas, with Nick Drake, Sylvia Plath and Rupert Brooke. Let's hope for some more Munrow reissues next year, and wouldn't a biography be wonderful? (Pliable Feb 2007 - alas there was no biography, but there was this Overgrown Path tribute.
Sir David Wilcocks helped establish the current world class standard of the King’s College Choir, while St John’s College Choirs has also established an enviable reputation. Two current stars of the Early Music scene (who were in Norwich for our Festival) also have Cambridge connections. Violinist Andrew Manze read Classics at Cambridge, while keyboard virtuoso Richard Eggar was organ scholar at Clare College. Composer John Rutter (who I touched on in my post Lux Aeterna
One of my favourite publications is the Cambridge Concert Calendar. This is published three times a year, and is essential reading even if you don’t live in England, as it gives a marvellous snapshot of life in this most musical of all cities. The current calendar for the Easter Term 2005 covers the period from the end of April to the end of July. It has 54 pages, and there are four concerts to a page – that is more than 200 different events to choose from.
On this weekend the concerts included a celebration of the music of Henri Dutilleux in Kettle’s Yard on the Sunday followed by a symposium on his life and music; and a Baroque programme in Robinson College Chapel on Friday. Monday brought a trio of Indian classical slide guitars and tabla in Emmanuel United Reformed Church in Trumpington Street. (It is wonderful how these place names evoke Rupert Brook’s poem The Old Vicarage Granchester.... At Over they fling oaths at one, And worse than oaths at Trumpington). And on Saturday the riches included a centenary concert remembering Cambridge composer, critic (he is the author of a fine book on the Beethoven Quartets) and academic Philip Radcliffe in King's College Chapel, with the Fitzwilliam Quartet (formed by graduates of the Cambridge college of the same day in the 60's, also Nick Drake's college, a nice crossing of overgrown paths) performing a string quartet by him. The following week Anglia Opera staged performances of Britten's rarely heard Paul Bunyan in the Mumford Theatre auditorium of Cambridge's new Anglia Polytechnic University. (Which allows me to link to my two Britten posts, Easter at Aldburgh and A direct line to Britten.) If you want a real taste of musical Cambridge the Cambridge Concert Calendar is just £2.50 plus postage from Gail Dubbyne at dobbyne at quadrant-video.demon.co.uk. It will give you a picture of the rich musical life of this wonderful city even if you can’t make it to the concerts.
We were in Cambridge for music making by the students, Monteverdi's Vespro Della Beata Vergine of 1610 sung by the University Chamber Choir directed by King's College graduate David Lowe. The performance was in Sir George Gilbert Scott's majestic 19th century St John's College Chapel. Two weekends and two exquisite performance spaces. Last week the Scandinavian simplicity of Norwich's Swedenborgian Chapel (see my post What a Facade! , and now the High Church splendour of a Cambridge College).
This was powerful Monteverdi, sung with gusto and youthful vigour, but also with precision and purity of tone. The University Chamber Choir comprises thirty-two singers; eleven soproanos, eight altos, six tenors and seven basses. What a joy to see such a youthful (and expert) choir, and also so many young faces in the almost capacity audience. (The ageing of the audience for classical music seems to be unstoppable, like mobile phones and i-Pods).
Is it a lute on steroids? No, it is a chitarrone competing with the serpent in my Size does matter post for the largest instrument on the blog award. It also gives me a reason to link to my post about fantastic jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani, this was one of my favourite posts but it created zero reaction, but on the basis his size didn't matter I'm trying again.
The Baroque players (comprising freelance professionals) were suitable 'authentic'; three cornetts, two tenor sackbuts, a bass sackbut, two violins, a cello, organ, and a wonderful contribution from Dai Miller playing the chitarrone. During the interval, after the Lauda Jerusalem, we wandered out into the quadrangle of the College. The night was like black velvet, and unseasonably warm. We had that increasingly rare feeling that all is well with the world, and that Sir Peter Maxwell Davies can relax (see my post A Musician with teeth). The future of 'serious music' is in safe hands with these young musicians.
Note - this performance took place on April 30th. The sheer volume of posts about Norwich Festival events forced me to hold it over.
If you enjoyed this post you may like Lux Aeterna (and not Ligeti)
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
I did comment that some of the audience left during the performance because Hildegard didn't quite seem to be what they were expecting. I am grateful to my friend Chris Marr, who works in the most excellent Prelude Records in Norwich, for the explanation. Like Piable Chris is a fan of contemporary music. It appears that the main regional newspaper in the Norwich area, the Eastern Daily Press (which has been chronicling Norfolk life since 1870) carried a preview of the opera the morning before the performance. The EDP's music critic saw the name Hildegard in the Festival programme, and wrote the following rave preview of this uncompromisingly avant garde (and ninety minutes long without an interval) work in his paper to fill the seats................
Ditch the telly, dump the valium. Let's unwind instead by pouring a hot bath and a large glass of wine, lighting some candles and listening to Hildegard of Bingen. Bach may be best for every occasion, but early music is great for late-night lullabies - confirming, in the words of the medieval Norwich mystic Julian, that all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well. But tonight water, wine and candles will have to wait - as will yet another airing of the 1995 CD Heavenly Revelations (Naxos 8.550998, a blissful £4.99 bargain). For singers and performers are staging a Hildegard tribute in the fitting setting of Norwich Cathedral.
The 10th child of aristocratic parents in the Rhineland, Hildegard entered a convent in 1106 at the age of eight. She died, at 80, an abbess of (good and bad) repute. Julian of Norwich she was not. She surrounded herself with nuns of similarly noble birth and they worshipped in fine jewels and fabulous headgear. I picture a sort of angelic Ascot. Hildegard wrote treatises on medicine and natural history.
A gift for prophesies brought powerful rulers flocking to her gaudy court - I mean, her godly convent. But it was the setting of her visions to poetic choral music that clinched her place in history. Some thought her theology dodgy and her tone suspiciously sensual, but her work speaks to us very directly today, She uses echoes and repetitions like Bach, and like leading contemporary composers (Part, Nyman, Glass). In the broadest sense she creates an image of perfect harmony. Perfect for our cathedral from 9pm today. Can't wait.
If you enjoyed this post try First performance - Douglas Weiland's Second Piano Trio, Pavey Ark
Any copyrighted material on these pages 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). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
My recent post '1984 - you decide' about BBC Radio 3's webcast of Lorin Maazel's controversial opera was mirrored by a number of other music blogs round the world. This, in conjuntion with the Hyperion/Sawkins story resulted in a massive peak in my traffic logs at On An Overgrown Path which lifted first time visitors by a factor of five. (Many thanks to all my fellow bloggers who linked to me on those two stories).
This got me thinking, and then researching, about the range of classical music available via streaming on the internet. I spent a couple of hours surfing around this morning, and compiled a starting list of links to sixty classical stations which you will find on the right hand side of this page under the heading Classical Music on the Web.
And boy, did that research turn up some interesting stations! Personal favourites are Radio B.A.C.H. from Poland which offers not one, but the following eight different channels of 24/7 Bach - The greatest Hits, Orchestral and Chamber Works, Organ Works, Cantatas, Harpsichord Works, Oratorios, Passions and Masses, Motets, Chorales and Songs, and Glenn Gould and Bach.
If the Second Viennese School is more your thing Arnold Schönberg Center Webradio offers an exclusive diet of music by the master. Plus, and I joke not, the online Arnold Schoenberg jukebox. (I just feel even On An Overgrown Path can't follow that, but I will try). If you want something more soothing Radio Notre Dame only broadcasts sacred music, while for those wanting a more varied diet Contemporary Classical broadcasts just that.
The sky seems to be the limit for the range of internet classical stations. My list of sixty, on the right hand side of this post under the Archive list, is not all-embracing or definitive, and there are bound to be some duds in there. Use the Comment facility at the foot of this post to suggest additions to the list, comment on those listed, or recommend deletions! (Or you can email me at overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk). I can guarantee you won't be bored, and remember you heard it first On An Overgrown Path.
Update 25th May - Congratulations to Dulciana, the musical mom from Divertimenti for being the first to submit an addition to the webradio links - OrganLive.com. They stream 100% organ music, even do requests, and when I checked them out were playing Edith Beaulieu: Symphonie No. 1 - IV. Adagio - 11:33. Great stuff, a virtual bottle of champagne is on its way to you Dulciana (I'm afraid we've had cuts to our promotional budget). More recommended webradio stations like that please.
Pretty difficult to follow....but if you enjoyed this post try Easter at Aldeburgh
Valery Gergiev is something of a legend in his own lifetime, and works closely with most leading orchestras worldwide. He is best known for leading the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg through the tumultuous period of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and remains as its Artistic and General Director. He will retain his positions at the New York Met and Rotterdam Philharmonic.
The appointment of Gergiev as Principal Conductor is something of a coup for the LSO which inevitably will face upheaval as its long serving manager Clive Gillinson leaves in July 2005 to become Executive and Artistic Director of the Carnegie Hall in New York. Gergiev will undoubtedly add excitement and quality to the London orchestra scene. It is a shame though that the growth of the Early Music music ensembles seems to be causing a concentration of specialists in the the late romantic repertoire in charge of our major symphony orchestras. Hopefully specialisation will not lead to fragmentation. I hope I'm too young to say 'in the old days', but Sir Thomas Beecham was pretty damn good in Mozart as well as Richard Strauss. And Sir Colin Davis' recordings of Haydn Symphonies with the 'modern' Concertgebouw are something to treasure.
I can't help but finish with a quote from Beecham from the days when the conductor's life was a little less jet set, and there were fewer specialists around.....
'There are two golden rules for an orchestra: start together and finish together. The public doesn't give a damn what goes on in between.'
Update - it has emerged that because of his present recording contract Gergiev cannot record for the LSO Live label. This must be a major blow to the orchestra's own label as Sir Colin Davis' recordings with it such as Berlioz's The Trojans have been award winners. But on the other hand it may be a secret relief to incoming LSO Managing Director Kathryn McDowell . Sources suggest that the LSO Live label is unprofitable, and Gergiev's inability to record on it may give a the management a good reason to wind it down - see my post More on musician run record labels.
If you enjoyed this post you may like My first classical record
Any copyrighted material on these pages 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). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
Sunday, May 22, 2005
Now Jessica has been to see the new opera, and in an updating post she writes...
"I must concede that my various colleagues who panned this thing were dead right: it should NOT have been put on at Covent Garden."
Respect Jessica for writing with honesty and integrity.
1984 has generated a lot of healthy debate in the blogosphere. And the good news is you can now judge for yourself. BBC Radio 3 is broadcasting the whole opera from Covent Garden this Wednesday evening (25th May) at 7.00 o'clock in the evening UK time (Click here for a time zone converter to find out what time it is on in your time zone). You can listen live anywhere in the world on the net using this link, and the performance should be available online for a week after the broadcast date using the BBC 'Listen Again' service via this link.
Covent Garden's poster for Maazel's new opera, 1984
So now there's an opportunity to leverage the internet and find out what the fuss is all about. And when you've heard it post your comments here, and let us know whether Jessica was right and 1984 should not have been put on at Covent Garden.
If you found this post interesting you should also enjoy MaxOpus
Thursday, May 19, 2005
The CD that could change the face of classical recording for the worse
The dispute centred around a performing edition of works by the 17th century French composer Michel-Richard De Lalande edited by French Baroque expert Lionel Sawkins. The performing edition was used in Hyperion's CD Music for the Sun King. Hyperion took the position that the revised text for the works including the grand motets Te Deum Laudamus and Venite Exultemus were the intellectual property of Lionel Sawkins; but the edited music itself which was neither an arrangement or adaption (the tests previously established for copyright to apply), so royalties were not applicable on the music. A High Cout ruling last year found in favour of the music editor, and established that Sawkins edition was in fact an original and legally protectable music work. Hyperion took the case to the Appeal Court, and that Court today upheld that copyright was applicable. The Court judgement used the precedent of a ruling in a dispute over copyright between the Tyco toy company and the maker of Lego bricks. Clearly the English legal system sees important connections between toy bricks and music composed for Louis XlV.
There are two deeply disturbing aspects to this decision. First, the work of editing, as opposed to arranging or adapting, will make the edited edition the intellectual property of the editor. A payment for use of copyrighted material will be generated, thereby forcing already marginal recording projects deeply into the red. (It is normal practice for the editor to receive an editing fee, as happened in the case of the Hyperion recording).
Secondly the legal firm of Carter-Ruck representing Lionel Sawkins acted on a conditional fee. This means no win, no fee. But it also means in the event of a win there is a big fee. Unconfirmed reports indicate the legal costs to Hyperion may be in the region of £1million, and that may jeopardise the financial position of this innovative champion of serious music. (Follow the links on this page to Hyperion's version of this case)
Lionel Sawkins has been confirmed by the High Court as having a copyright on his edition of Lalande's music. But it is a pity he didn't stop to consider that his victory would be pyrrhic. If this ruling prevents the recording of similar music, or in the doomsday scenario if Hyperion are forced to the wall, there will be no work for editors of music such as Sawkins. So who is the winner, other than the lawyers?
Here is part of Hyperion's statement today...
Hyperion now is forced to reconsider its general recorded output and will be reducing dramatically its commitment to many new recordings over the next year or two to concentrate on fund-raising activities to help with the legal costs and to keep a limited number of new recordings in its diary. The collateral damage caused by this decision not only will affect the prosperity of the company but also the dozens of artists and groups, producers, engineers, composers, music publishers and musical editors but most importantly the record buying public whose access to rare and collectable repertoire served by Hyperion, and perhaps many of the other record labels, will be severely diminished.
A good definition of lose/lose for the music industry if ever there was one.
If you found this post interesting you may also like Downfall - and the mystery of Karajan's personal photographer
Here is an interesting story from BBC Radio 3. Between 9.00 o'clock in the morning of June 5th and midnight the following Friday they are broadcating every single note of music written by Ludwig van Beethoven in a week of programming called the Beethoven Experience. When they say every single note, they mean every single note. Not just the symphonies, quartets etc, but also promised are rare morsels such as Two Arias from Ignaz Umlauf's Songspiel The Beautiful Shoemaker's Wife, and a duet with two obbligato eyeglasses. Supporting this Beethoven fest are three distinguished commentators. Alfred Brendel on the piano sonatas, Sir Roger Norrington on the symphonies, and Peter Cropper from the Lindsays on the quartets.
The airwaves are literally being cleared for this epic, and during the five days not a single note of any other composer's music will be heard over the network. If five days is too concentrated a period of listening the whole sequence of programmes can be heard during the following week on demand over the web via the BBC radioplayer service which can be launched with this link. More details of the Beethoven Experience are available from the BBC Radio 3 website.
This is really wonderful stuff, and exactly the kind of 'audience contrary' programming that the PSB stations should be tackling. I am really delighted they are doing it, and I urge everyone to drop in via the airwaves, or the net, to sample the Ludwig van fest. But I have to admit to a sneaking feeling of relief that during that week we will be in Les Gargoris, a remote hamlet in the Vaucluse region of France just up the road from baroque cellist and fellow blogger Ruth Phillips who posts on Meanwhile here in France. We will be close to the inspirational Benedictine community at the Abbey of Ste Madeleine at le Barroux where Gregorian Chant flourishes (see my post Pliable's Travels), and at the foot of cycling shrine Mont Ventoux which I wrote about in Keeping up with Lance Armstrong.
By choice we will be without an internet connection, yet alone BBC Radio 3 reception. (But fear not, On An Overgrown Path will continue posting due to the miracle of technology aka my webmaster son). We will have a CD system (but nothing to compare with my lovely B&W Nautilus 803 speakers), and a huge pile of books including Evening in the Palace of Reason and What We Really Do: The Tallis Scholars. Our equally huge pile of CD's will include Bach, Rameau, medieval polyphony and chant, the new Keith Jarrett solo double CD, Marc Copland (who records up the road from Les Gargoris at the Studio la Buissonne in Pernes-les-Fontaines) , Michel Petrucciani, and the Philippe Herreweghe recording of the Missa Solemnis (which is available in the UK for just £5 in a Harmonia Mundi promotion, and must be the bargain musical experience of the year, if not century).
If you found this post interesting you may also like A direct line to Britten
Any copyrighted material on these pages 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). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
- Assiette of grilled fennel, chicory, white beans and gruyere cheese with white truffle oil
- Parmiggiana di melenzane topped with rocket salad
- AOC Bergerac Sec Les Charmes 2003
7.30pm - A harpsichord recital by Carole Cerasi in the Music Room in the Tudor Mansion which is now the King of Heart's arts venue. This intimate performing space is a medieval room seating just seventy five. It has a beamed ceiling and oak floor which provide ideal acoustics for chamber and early music. It houses a Steinway piano, but the real gem is the resident double manual harpsichord by local maker Alan Gotto. For tonight's recital this superb instrument has been usurped by another of even greater beauty and depth of tone from the same maker. Charles Hoste has kindly loaned from his collection Alan Gotto's reproduction of a French instrument made in Lyons in 1711/16 by Pierre Donzelague. The lid painting is by Angie Maddigan, after a Ruckers instrument in the Russel Collection, Edinburgh.
Carole Cerasi plays:
- Pastorela no. 6 en mi mineur Manuel Blasco de Nebra (1750-1784)
- Huitieme Ordre en si mineur Francois Couperin (1668-1732)
- La Boullongne, La Malesherbe, La Lugeac Claude Benigne Balbastre (1727-1799)
- English Suite no. 4 in F major BWV809 Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
- Sonata K.123 in D minor Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
- Sonata R.15 in D minor Padre Antonio Scoler (1729-1799)
- Sonata in D major Mateo Perez de Albeniz (1760-1831)
9.40pm - The Pulse Cafe Bar
- Grilled bananas with toasted pistachios
- Cava Brut Rosat Pinot Noir
- Sonata No. 2 in A minor, BWV 1003 Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Partita No. 3 in E, BWV 1006
(Note from Pliable: I'm not trying to impress everyone with my refined gastronomic tastes. As everyone else seems to be listing the CD's they are listening to, or the books they are reading, I just thought I'd start a new trend by listing the meal that accompanied the concert. Anyway the bill (with wine) for the excellent meal at The Pulse came to well under £20 a head, and I couldn't resist a post that included the address Labour in Vain Yard. I will be developing the theme of music and food. Look out for a post soon including the famous episode of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, and his home-made (and illegal) swan terrine , which also allows me to link to one of several Max posts A musician with teeth) .
Mullioned window at the King of Hearts, Norwich
If you found this post interesting you may also like Lux Aeterna (and not Ligeti)
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Music and Mathematics
We are now working on the first recording on Glossa by the Italian ensemble, Cantica Symphonia. Called Quadrivium, the music is a selection of motets by Guillaume Dufay, beautifully performed with the careful addition of wind instruments and an organ.
But equally important are the two essays included in the small hard-cover book we are preparing. Mathematician Guido Magnano, who also happens to be Cantica Symphonia’s organ player, writes an outstanding piece about the importance of mathematics in music, and especially in Dufay’s music.
On the other hand, Giuseppe Maletto, the ensemble’s director, delivers his own view on the motets included on the CD. And, last but not least, Glossa’s designers are painstakingly preparing another groundbreaking set of images for this deluxe Glossa Platinum issue.
If you found this post interesting you may also like Kafka on the Shore
Thursday, May 12, 2005
James Wood (photo below) studied composition with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, before reading music at Cambridge (a recurring destination on this overgrown path) where he was an organ scholar, and then going on to study percussion and conducting at the Royal Academy of Music. He was Professor of Percussion at the Darmstadt International Summer Courses from 1982 to 1994, and has had two BBC commissions played at the Promenade Concerts. He has increasingly used electronic and electro-acoustic techniques, and has composed two works for the IRCAM institute in Paris including Mountain Language for alphorn, MIDI cowbells and computer. In 2002 he conducted the world premiere of Stockhausen's Engel-Prozessionen at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw.
It was pretty clear form those credentials that his new opera was going to be an uncompromising piece. The commission came from the avant-garde Percussion Group The Hague, the New London Chamber Choir, and the Belgian Ensemble, Champ de Action. It was conceived originally as a contemporary version of the traditional liturgical drama, based on the life and visions of celebrated twelfth-century writer, composer and mystic, Hildegard of Bingen. (the concept was inspired by Fiona Maddocks excellent book, Hildegard of Bingen). The score which uses microtonality and multiphonics is for substantial forces, two soloists, mixed ensemble of ten players, percussion ensemble of six players (in this performance the co-commissioning Percussion Group The Hague), chamber choir and electronics. Electronics are central to the work. Sound images are managed by a proprietary technolgy known as the Spatialisateur developed in the research labs of IRCAM. Multiple arrays of speakers from Taguchi surrounded the audience (loudspeakers are the new black in Norwich this year, see my post Tallis' Forty Loudspeaker Motet), and spatial effects are an important part of the score. In some sections the percussionists play from points around the audience, the soloists and choir move around the Cathedral, and one section is delivered by a secondary ensemble with its own conductor from behind the audience.
Doing a staggering job of conducting this complex score was Jonathan Stockhammer (photo below). Originally from Los Angeles he studied Chinese and Political Science before majoring in Composition and Conducting. He is now based in Europe, and works closely with the Percussion Group The Hague. He is also closely associated with the New London Chamber Choir and Critical Band which provided the excellent performing forces. For Hildegard Norwich Cathedral was reversed in layout (the pews are not fixed) so the audience faced the mighty West Door with its magnificent stained glass window above. Starting at nine o'clock at night, and lasting for more than an hour and a half without a break the performance was a challenge for performers and audience alike. (In true Rite of Spring fashion a number of the audience left during the performance. It wasn't their fault, or the composer or performers. It was the fault of the Festival publicists who had inexplicably failed to convey the avant-garde nature of this wonderful and inspiring work in the brochure. Surely better to lose the conservative parts of the audience before they book, rather than during the performance?) . The theatrical elements did support the texts, but this was more staged oratorio (a fashionable concept at the moment) than real opera. At times though the costumes and strobe lighting were more Phantom of the Opera than Pompidou Centre.
Hildegard is at the cutting edge of contemporary composition. It uses voices, instruments and technology to produce some very beautiful sounds. There are also some very ugly sounds, but these were planned as 'inharmonic' music for the Devil, as the composer explained in an excellent programme booklet. (Norwich and Norfolk Festival organisers note, the programme book produced by the performers was exemplary, unlike the meagre offerings for other Festival performances this year). Sometimes though it did seem that the sheer range of performers and technology available to James Wood tempted him to use complexity for its own sake. Less can be more, even when so many sonic toys are available. (Photo above The Critical Band).
The central role of the Percussion Group The Hague brought back memories of Peter Maxwell Davies and the Fires of London in his Eight Songs for a Mad King, and the score for Ken Russel's 1971 film The Devils. The overall atmosphere in the Cathedral, the late hour, the tiredness after a day at work, the range of instruments and electronics surrounding the audience, the buzz of the unknown, it all took me back to the Round House, Chalk Farm in London in the 1970's when Pierre Boulez was at the helm of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and the opera houses were designated for arson.
There are further performances in London (St John's Smith Square), St David's Cathedral Pembrokeshire, and Salisbury Cathedral. The Salisbury performance is being recorded for broadcast by the BBC on Hear and Now on Radio 3 on a yet unidentified Saturday evening at 11.00 o'clock. This should be available as a webcast from the BBC Radio 3 website, check there for more details. More details of the other performances are available on the New London Chamber Choir web site.
Overall a brilliant evening. A great credit to the composer, performers (special mention for conductor Jonathan Stockhammer and Sarah Leonard in the fiendishly difficult role of Hildegard), and to the Norfolk and Norwich Festival organisers (no accusations of 'dumbing down'on this one) for pushing the envelope so far. (But more transparent promotional material next time please). The work was a triumph, and it was wonderful to see the beautiful old Benedictine Abbey with its echoes of Elgar approving. The final effect of the opera was the simplest, and most striking. As darkness fell during the performance the luminous stained glass of the mighty West Window darkened. With Jonathan Stockhammer conducting the closing pages of James Wood's wonderful score (and parallels with Parsifal are not over the top) external lighting illuminated the stained glass. Once again we saw that Art and Truth will always triumph over the everyday, the bland and the unadventurous.
Update 13th May: Andrew Clements, who famously savaged Maazel's opera 1984 (see my post 1984 - the sequel) was less positive in his review of Hildegard in today's Guardian giving it just two out of a possible five stars, and saying "there are moments in Wood's score suggesting what might have been, and what still might be." Open this link for the full review. Different strokes for different folks.....
Update 14th May: Composer James Wood has kindly corrected a couple of facts in his biographical details.
Update 15th May: Richard Morrison's Times review of Hildegard seems to be more on message that Andrew Clement's in the Guardian. Richard Morrison writes...' once you accepted that you were trapped for 90 minutes in a dark nave with a chorus that attacked you from front, side and rear (the brilliantly drilled New London Chamber Choir), six frenetic drummers (Percussion Group the Hague) and an instrumental ensemble (the Critical Band) whose jagged fanfares were bounced electronically a round the nave like aural boomerangs — well, it was all rather ear-popping and thrilling.'
Update 26th July: For the last laugh on this story follow this link Classic misunderstandings - Hildegard
Stained glass in Norwich Cathedral
If you found this post interesting you may also like Soli Deo Gloria
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Excellent book, highly recommended. I was particularly intrigued by this section which seems to be a pre-echo of today's blog fever.
"The largest group of early writers who wrote for themselves and published weekly, sometimes daily, fare were the dissenting pamphleteers of the seventeenth century. By Cromwell's Commonwealth, according to one estimate, 30,000 pamphlets and journals with a political motive were being published in a single year. Were they journalists? The pamphleteers didn't think of themselves as reporters in a modern sense but as partisan political players, and often religous bringers of Truth and Enlightenment."
Marr then moves on to genius, tradesman's son, government spy, novelist and traveller Daniel Defoe who "wrote excellent, clear, uncluttered, reporterly English full of relatively short sentences of plain description." Eat your heart out Pliable! (And wait until you see the upcoming post Monteverdi in Cambridge. It grew like mould on a dirty coffeee cup in my drafts folder, and has ended up like the blogging equivalent of Havergal Brian's Gothic Symphony)
Update 13th May - Andrew Marr is stepping down as the BBC's political editor to take over Sir David Frost's Sunday interview show, see this link for the full story.
Cartoon linked from blognessie.com
Monday, May 09, 2005
B&W speakers and no singers in St Peter's Parmentergate Norwich for Janet Cardiff's performance piece.
One of the most innovative music performances at the Norfolk and Norwich Music Festival didn't involve any live musicians. Janet Cardiff is a Canadian artist who specialises in performance art using audio recordings, and she brought her Forty Part Motet to the deconsecrated church of St Peter Parmentergate in Norwich. This work is the ultimate surround sound experience. It uses a specially commissioned recording of Tallis' Forty Part Motet Spem in Alium using forty discrete audio channels (via DAT) for each of the voices. Forty B&W DM303 are located around the periphery of the nave of the beautiful, but empty, church. The speakers, each on a tripod stand, are grouped in eight blocks of five reflecting the five SATB voice groupings in Tallis' score. Some very beefy Tascam power amplifiers bring the performance to life, and continuing my thread of the importance of the performance space the wonderful acoustics of the empty church add a unique sonic signature to the performance.
Being able to move around 'inside' the choir and listen to individual voices was an extraordinary experience, and the sound images produced in the tutti passages were amazing, and quite a tribute to the B&W speakers.
Is this a realisation, an interpretaion, or a dumbing down of one of the great polyphonic masterpeices? Is it in the same category as the much debated Officium (at least Janet Cardiff didn't add any 'dooby dooby doos' to Tallis' score). Does walking around 'inside' the choir add anything to our comprehension of the work? Comments from all as ever welcome. But to really understand this stimulating installation it is probably best to let the artist herself explain what she is striving for. Here is the description from the Abbey Media web site......
Janet Cardiff’s new large scale work, Forty Part Motet, is based around the music Spem in Alium by Thomas Tallis, and is a sculpturally-conceived sound piece, in which forty separately-recorded voices are played back through forty speakers. Janet Cardiff’s work combines sound, movement and environment; the viewer/listener often proactively moves through the space activating sounds and unfolding narratives. Forty Part Motet allows the audience to experience sound from the viewpoint of the choir by physically involving them in the piece. When listening to live music the traditional position is to be at the front, looking on. In Forty Part Motet each speaker unit becomes a mouth; the audience unravels the composition by intimately moving amongst the speakers and hearing harmonies change as if singers were standing next to them. It allows sound to be heard as a changing construct, to be interpreted quite differently, to be carefully considered in a sculptural way and experienced at it's best.Janet Cardiff is based in Lethbridge in Canada and her work has included media such as film, video and audio. She participated in the Munster Skulptur Projekte in 1997, exhibiting in the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh, 1999 and was commissioned by Artangel that year to produce The Missing Voice, an audio walk for Brick Lane and Spitalfields in London. She is currently spending her time in Berlin where she has been awarded a year long scholarship by the DAAD. She will also be representing Canada at the Venice Biennale in 2001 in collaboration with George Bures Miller. Further upcoming exhibitions include "010101" at the San Francisco MOMA, 2000 and a survey of her work at PS1Contemporary Art Centre in New York, 2001.Thomas Tallis was the most influential English composer of his generation and is one of the most popular renaissance composers of today. He was a chorister at Saint Paul’s Cathedral and served as an organist to four English monarchs - Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queens Mary and Elizabeth - as a gentleman of the Chapel Royal. Owing to his extraordinary eminence as a musician he retained his appointment despite the fact that he was an avowed Catholic during the Reformation. It is suggested that one of his greatest works, Spem in alium, a composition for 40 parts, was written on the occasion of the 40th birthday of Queen Elizabeth I to emphasise humility, because of her suppression of the catholic faith.Field commissioned Janet Cardiff to realise this new work to tour a range of venues across Britain and abroad in 2001.The Arts Council of England and Canada House have awarded Janet Cardiff for the project. The work is co-produced by Field with the Salisbury Festival and Salisbury Cathedral Choir; BALTIC in Gateshead; the New Art Gallery in Walsall and NOW in Nottingham. Further assistance from B&W Loudspeakers and Tascam UK.
Size does matter! this is the Tascam supplied 'choir' for the Forty Part Motet. Both photos taken using available light on my son's mobile phone!
Saturday, May 07, 2005
Hugh Warren (second from right) with The Perfect Houseplants
The recording by Hugh Warren I have returned to many times, and I want to share with you today, is called Infinite Riches in a Little Room. (The title comes from Christopher Marlowe's The Jew of Malta Act 1). The CD is on the independent Babel label, and the great news is that it is still available from Amazon.co.uk. In Infinite Riches Hugh Warren takes themes from Dowland's Lachrymae and gives them treatments on piano, keyboards and using samples that vary from the 'lightly cooked' to the more innovative. But in contrast to Uri Caine Warren knows when to stop, and has also left his any indulgent excesses in the out-take bin, rather than padding out the finished commercial offering. Think the best bits of Uri Caine's Goldberg Variations, without all those tracks you have to programme the CD player to skip.
If you're interested in exploring creative realisations of early music without what Richard Friedman has famously described as 'dooby dooby doos' give Infinite Riches in a Little Room a spin. I see from the Amazon.co.uk market place link it is available for £10.81 plus postage from the highly recommended Caiman site in Florida, USA. (I use them regularly and their service is exemplary). And to conclude by bringing in my performing space thread Infinite Riches was recorded in the superb acoustics (but they are more difficult to hear in the samples!) of Potton Hall here in East Anglia, venue for many great piano and chamber music recordings. And in a neat piece of synchronicity I first heard Hugh Warren with the Perfect Houseplants, and bought my copy of Infinite Riches, at a Norwich and Norfolk festival performance several years ago.
Now a request please for feedback from readers of On An Overgrown Path:
1. My blog access logs show quite a few new readers each day (if you are one - welcome!). The blog is set to display twelve posts on the front page. I have a feeling that once a post drops off the front page into the archive it is difficult to access for new readers. Some interesting posts (e.g. the first post in the Lauterwasser archive story has now dropped off the front page. Is the load time for the large front page with linked graphics a problem? Or could I change settings to dislay more - say fifteen posts? (The problem would be solved if someone could tell me how to get Blogger to show more Recent Postings in the sidebar - it doesn't seem to be a user defined parameter).
2. Because of the current volume of new posts I am starting to reduce the links in each post. This is simply to make the creation process faster. Are the multitude of hyperlinks useful? Or is my time better spent on creating posts?
3. I write most posts 'on the fly' (this is being typed in my dressing gown
4. And the crunch question. Do I post too often? Most blogs seem to be updated once or twice a week. Is there too much content posting
In know from the logs that a lot of people read On An Overgrown Path, but only a very small proportion post comments. If you don't like leaving comments online you can email via my 'buffer' address at pliable6003 at hotmail dot com. Any genuine feedback on the points above, or anything else is very valuable and welcome.
Cartoon linked from cartoonstock.com
Friday, May 06, 2005
My thread about the importance of the performance space continues with this post. We took a risk at last night's Jacques Loussier Trio concert in St Peter Mancroft Norwich, and opted to sit in the front row of the choir stalls. This put us five feet behind the bass and drums, and within touching distance of the end of Loussier's piano, and in his direct line of sight. It was a calculated risk as I knew Loussier wasn't going to blast us out of our seats, as had happened when we inadvertently got front row seats for a Joe Zawinul Syndicate gig a couple of years back, and ended up sticking Kleenex in our ears!
We were rewarded with one of the most musically involving jazz performances we have been to for years. Instead of being in a magnificent fifteenth century English perpendicular church we were in a jazz club. We were not watching the band, we were part of it.
I am slightly ambivalent about Loussier's music. But for many of us Loussier's Play Bach LP's were essential steps in our youth on the overgrown path to understanding both jazz and Bach. I appreciate concerns about 'dumbing down' as expressed by Will Benton, or by what Richard Friedman describes in a post on this blog as 'the horror of - dooby dooby doo.' But On An Overgrown Path is all about exploring personal connections, and both Officium and Jacques Loussier were important connections for me to the riches of Bach, Cistobal de Morales (whose wonderful Pace mihi domine from his Officium Defunctorum provides the title for the Hilliard/Garbarek work) , and to the whole literature of baroque and medieval music. These 'interpreters' have put me in the position today where I can at least understand why that musician with teeth Sir Peter Maxwell Davies is so passionate about the future of 'serious music'. So I am quite happy blogging about 'interpreters' such as the Hilliard Ensemble, Jan Garbarek, and Jacques Loussier, (as well as 'authentic' groups in posts about The Sixteen, Schola Cantorum Stuttgart and The Monteverdi Choir, and some new music at First performance - Douglas Weiland's Second Piano Trio, Pavey Ark). Equally I am quite happy to take on alternative points of view from valued fellow bloggers such as Will and Richard (and also Jessica Duchen on the Maazel 1984 fiasco) - that's what the blogosphere is all about.
My admitted ambivalence about Loussier has stemmed from a concern that his performances on record can get perilously close to 'elevator music'. He also has become unfortunately branded as the performer of probably the best known piece of background music for a UK TV commercial; his interpretation of the 'Air on a G string' from Bach's orchestral suite in D BWV 1068. More seriously Loussier's jazz interpretation formulas only really worked for Bach (although his treatments of Satie's Gymnopedies are very effective). Sadly the jazz cognoscenti seem to be fixated on the charges of dumbing down, rather than his role as an evangelist of jazz, and let's face it his damn fine keybaord skills. The Giants of Jazz Piano by Robert Doerschur and The Great Jazz Pianists by Len Lyons are my two standard reference books on jazz pianists, and neither gives a mention to Loussier.
Fortunately the capacity audience at St Peter Mancroft last night hadn't read the jazz reference books or learned blogs. They were queueing 45 minutes before the doors opened, and the cheering really shook the hammer-beams. All I can say is if you've never heard Loussier live you've missed something. In a world where academic analysis and MP3 downloads prescribe our musical tastes we are in danger of losing sight of the importance of live music making. The 71 year old Loussier is a mesmerising figure at the piano, particularly when you are ten feet way and looking straight at him. With his white hair and beard he looks like some kind of musical guru. And those eyes! As he played he was clearly seeing, and hearing, something in Bach that was a long way away from St Peter Mancroft in Norwich.
Another triumph for live music making (and also for new Norwich and Norfolk Festival Director Jonathan Holloway), and a capacity audience cheered the Trio to the hammer-beams. And for those who fear for the direction of On An Overgrown Path we are back in Norwich Cathedral tonight for the Tallis Scholars singing Tallis and Shepherd. And with no dumbing-down or 'dooby dooby doo' in earshot.