Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Music for Iran's nuclear programme?

With the row over Iran's nuclear programme escalating I had to laugh at this visitor to On An Overgrown Path today.

Atomic Energy Organization Of Iran
Tehran, Tehran, Iran, Islamic Republic Of, 0 returning visits
No referring link
31st January 2006 12:39:37 theovergrownpath.blogspot.com/2005/12/farewell-to-stromness.html

The article the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran read is about the beautiful piano work Farewell to Stromness that composer Peter Maxwell Davies wrote in protest against a proposed uranium mine on the island of Orkney in 1980. Any takers among the many composers who read this blog for a new piece - Farewell to Tehran?

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Meanwhile on television ...

Lots elsewhere about the Honda Civic TV commercial (run the video via this link). I hardly ever watch television so hadn't seen it myself, but anything that promotes choral singing must be great. I thought I would tag on to the thread by running a thought provoking quote about television from Christopher Rush's superb new book To Travel Hopefully:

'So the whirlwind of idiot hopes and idiot despairs comes spouting out of the pathetic little box, mixed up with all the soaps and meaningless froth of our sick society. Probably the pathetic little box is the real source of crisis, more powerful than any it mentions. It has the power to turn values upside down, to make fair foul and foul fair, to paralyse people into bored passivity for a quarter of their adult lives. Trapped in the triviality of everydayness, trapped in the treadmill of boredom and futility, they succumb. Or they look for an escape. Faust found it by reaching out to unseen forces, dabbling with the unknown. Most people settle for EastEnders (a UK soap - Pliable). It's safer, though even more suffocating than the prison of personal consciousness. It's complete intellectual unconsciousness, the dead end of the human road, a cancer of the spirit.'

To Travel Hopefully is by Christopher Rush (Profile Books ISBN 9781861977939). It is the Scottish novelist's very personal account of the death of his wife at a tragically early age from breast cancer, and his subsequent journey of rediscovery following in Robert Louis Stevenson's footsteps through the Cévennes region of France. He doesn't drive a Honda Civic, instead his transport is a donkey, as Stevenson's was. It is one of the most moving, and yet uplifting, books that I have read in a long time, and is very highly recommended.

If like me you hadn't seen the Honda commercial view it through this link. With thanks to regular reader and contributor Carol Murchie for the heads up on the video, see her guest blog A year at the symphony.
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Image credits: TV commercial
Honda UK , To Travel Hopefully cover Profile Books
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Monday, January 30, 2006

The great free MP3 download fallacy yet again

"Orchestras must embrace new technology following a BBC experiment that highlighted the huge demand for classical downloads. More than 1.3 million people downloaded Beethoven's symphonies for free during a two-month period last year. That proved there is a large untapped market for classical music, according to US critic, composer and consultant Greg Sandow. "

From BBC News report on last week's Association of British Orchestras Conference.

Pliable says if I offer free Beluga Caspian caviar from my web site and there are 1.3 million takers does that prove "there is a large untapped market" for Beluga Caviar?

And elsewhere some rather more rigorous research comes up with thought provoking results which I would have thought would have been of interest to critics, composers and consultants at a major orchestra management conference:

"Music downloading creates listener apathy - internet downloading and MP3 players are creating a generation of people who do not seriously appreciate songs or musical performances, British researchers said. "The accessibility of music has meant that it is taken for granted and does not require a deep emotional commitment once associated with music appreciation," said music psychologist Adrian North. "

From research by the University of Leicester that monitored 346 people over two weeks to evalauate how they relate to music.
In the light of this research it is amazing just how prophetic were the words of that great composer Benjamin Britten forty-two years ago:

"Anyone, anywhere, at any time can listen to the B minor Mass upon one condition only - that they possess a machine. No qualification is required of any sort - faith, virtue, education, experience, age. Music is now free for all. If I say the loudspeaker is the principal enemy of music, I don't mean that I am not grateful to it as a means of education or study, or as an evoker of memories. But it is not part of true musical experience. Regarded as such it is simply a substitute, and dangerous because deluding. Music demands more from a listener than simply the possession of a tape-machine or a transistor radio. It demands some preparation, some effort, a journey to a special place, saving up for a ticket, some homework on the programme perhaps, some clarification of the ears and sharpening of the instincts. It demands as much effort on the listener's part as the other two corners of the triangle, this holy triangle of composer, performer and listener."

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University funding crisis deepens ...

Photo taken at University of East Anglia, Norwich 30th January 2006 by Pliable

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His Master's Voice

Last Friday's Guardian carried a full page interview with EMI Chairman Eric Nicoli but I didn't bother to link to it. The only thing I learnt from it is that Nicoli is one of the new generation of record company executives who can talk the talk on MP3 downloads and namedrop Coldplay, but thinks Má Vlast is a side effect of too many bean burritos.

Meanwhile EMI license their crown jewels, such as Giulini's Missa Solemnis, to entrepreneurial little companies like Brilliant Classics who make a killing, and the orchestra owned labels clean up all the industry awards.

But fear not, the future of the record company that brought you Jacqueline Du Pré's Elgar Cello Concerto, Herbert von Karajan's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and many more recorded masterpieces (and where I once worked) is assured. Under the guiding hand of Eric Nicoli the EMI Classics web site tells me their "latest classical release is from Wild, the sensational new signing to EMI Classics, managed by impresario Mel Bush. This super sexy multi-talented group, with strong classical backgrounds, have come together to create a new visual sound that has the ability to cross all music barriers around the world."

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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Orthodox Church of Saint Seraphim of Sarov

The Orthodox Church of Saint Seraphim of Sarov at Walsingham, deep in rural Norfolk, has been active since its foundation in 1966, and holds regular services as well as being a place of pilgrimage. The church is also home to an icon workshop, and publishes liturgical texts. In 1978 the priest of Saint Seraphim's became a monk and took the name of David, and the church became a monastic control until Archimandrite David died in 1993.

If the architecture looks a little unorthodox (sorry about that) it is because the church was converted from Walsingham's disused railway station. The church is dedicated to Saint Seraphim of Sarov who was born in Kursk, a town in the west of Russia close to the border with the Ukraine.

Below is an icon of Saint John the Wonderworker made by Leon Liddament - iconographer in Saint Seraphim's icon workshop


Web resources:
* Saint Seraphim in Walsingham
web site - do visit it for the inspirational story of the church.
* Icon workshop web site

* Orthodox Church in Great Britain
*
Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain
Photograph of Saint Seraphim's taken taken by Pliable, 28th January 2006, image of icon of Saint John the woodworker from Saint Seraphim's web site.

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Celebrate Mozart with more free downloads

Kind of confusing isn't it? - while some urge us to celebrate Mozart by ignoring him others are showering us with free MP3s and podcasts.

Following Danish Radio with their free downloads of the symphonies we now have Swedish Radio launching 25 hours of podcasts of Mozart performed by Swedish artists. The first programmes feature archive recordings from the Royal Opera House, Stockholm recorded during the 1940's and 1950's starting with a 1943 Don Juan sung in Swedish and conducted by Herbert Sandberg with Sigurd Björling in the title role.

My reservations about the potential impact of free downloads have been aired here many times, but if you are going to do it archive recordings seem to be a less damaging way. With authentic performances all the rage it is worth remembering that my passion for Mozart was sparked by Bruno Walter's lovingly performed, but now politically incorrect, LPs of the late symphonies made with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra in the early 1960s.

Free downloads are what technolgy strategists call a disruptive technology - they force change right across the recording, performing and distribution sectors. But we should not forget that MP3s and podcasts are certainly not the first disruptive technology to disturb the comfortable complacency of the major record companies. Below is an interesting overgrown path from the indispensable Bach Cantatas web site about the arrival of that disruptive technology stereo recording, which resulted in the formation of the Columbia Symphony Orchestra and the recording of my treasured set of the Mozart symphonies. It all reminds me that Bruno Walter once said: "Music springs from and is replenished by a hidden source which lies outside the world or reality" - perhaps he had a premonition about the internet?

Bruno Walter (below) had retired at age 80 after a very successful career recording with the New York Philharmonic, where he served as Musical Advisor from 1947 to 1949, and as a frequent guest conductor over the following seven years. In 1957, while living in California, he was approached by Columbia's executives with a new proposal. Told of the advent of stereo recording and the threat that it constituted to the future sales of monaural records, Bruno Walter was asked to undertake a new series of recordings in stereo to preserve his interpretations in the most modern sound possible, and to allow them to reach new generations of listeners.The result was a new Columbia Symphony Orchestra, chosen specifically by and for Bruno Walter. This group was an ensemble of 50 to 70 members, assembled from the best freelance musicians on the West Coast, many of whom typically never took on orchestral work, but made the exception to work with Bruno Walter. It was one of the best recording orchestras ever assembled in the USA, incorporating many of the best characteristics of the Wiener Philharmoniker and the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig - which Bruno Walter had conducted in Austria and Germany during the 1920s and 1930s - as well as the New York Philharmonic. This orchestra recorded much of the core Classical and Romantic repertoire under Bruno Walter's baton, including the late Mozart symphonies, Mahler's symphonies Nos. 1 and 9, the four Brahms symphonies, Dvorak's Symphonies Nos. 8 and 9, Schubert's Ninth, the Wagner orchestral music, and the complete Beethoven symphonies.

With thanks to Bach Cantatas web site for the extract above, and also
to Adam Bowie's fine blog for the heads up on Swedish Radio
The Swedish Radio podcasts are on their web site.
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Image credits: Mozart Podd Radio from Swedish Radio,
Bruno Walter from Bruno Walter home page
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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Orchestras are "boozy cultures" - continued

Poet Laureate Andrew Motion said that since his appointment in 1999 he had wanted to work with the master of the Queen's music. But Sir Peter Maxwell Davies' late predecessor, Malcolm Williamson (right), was afflicted with long-term health and alcohol problems. "With the best will in the world, he wasn't available, in a profound sense," said Motion.

Andrew Motion was speaking with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies at this week's Association of British Orchestras conference in Gateshead

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Celebrate Mozart ...

All those cool posts elsewhere about 'celebrating Mozart by ignoring Mozart' remind me that George Bernard Shaw once said: "If more than ten per cent of the public like a painting, it should be burned".

* Image credit - Childrentoday.com

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Orchestras are "boozy cultures"

Orchestral musicians may appear, as they mould performances of consummate skill and artistry, to be paragons of grace and harmoniousness. In reality they can be prey to a range of physical and mental problems, from bullying, burn-out and stage fright to hearing damage and dependence on drink or drugs. The problems are so serious that this weekend the Association of British Orchestras launches the Healthy Orchestra Charter, creating a code of practice to help tackle or prevent the afflictions. Orchestral musicians have a notoriously unhealthy lifestyle, including working long hours in difficult or cramped conditions, spending lengthy periods on the road, and encountering the stress and tension associated with performing.

Mental and emotional problems, according to the ABO's Joanna Morrison Mayo, are widespread - but difficult for musicians and orchestral managers to admit and deal with. "We are hoping this charter will open some people's eyes. We think there is an ostrich effect with some of these issues," she said. Andy Evans, who trained as a double bass player before becoming a psychologist, specialises in working with musicians. Social problems in orchestras can involve individuals being bullied or victimised. "Players can harbour grudges against certain people - think they come in too late all the time, for instance," he said.

And, despite the fact that professional musicians appear on stage day in, day out, performance anxiety is common, affecting, he estimates, up to two-thirds of players at one time or another. Serious stage fright can mean string players getting the shakes. Or it can mean musicians become irrationally terrified of vomiting on stage.

Seeking help is relatively rare, however, and many players tackle problems of stress and anxiety with alcohol or drugs. Paul Russell is a psychotherapist who runs the Smart Treatment Centre, a clinic specialising in substance abuse by musicians. Orchestras are "boozy cultures", he says, where beta blockers or alcohol are often used. "The culture in orchestras is that if you can't deal with it, the weak go to the wall," he said, adding that these attitudes go back to colleges and conservatoires.

Physical problems are better documented in orchestras - the risk of hearing damage from exposure to high volumes means that steps are being taken to change rehearsal practice and to programme concerts with awareness of volume levels. Hazel Province, the director of the Royal Opera Orchestra, said she encouraged players to have hearing tests and that the pit at the Royal Opera House had received acoustic treatment to try to minimise potential damage. The new charter will also discourage exceptionally loud pieces from being programmed together and very loud passages from being rehearsed at length.

From article by Charlotte Higgins in today's Guardian. Pliable says highly commendable initiative - but would the Rite of Spring (or other much louder pieces) have got through rehearsals to first performance under this code of practice?

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Image credit - BBC National Orchesta of Wales via The Blake Theatre

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Friday, January 27, 2006

Happy days are here again ...

The North Italian nobleman Carlo Gesualdo – notorious for having his wife and her lover murdered (and getting away with it) – produced in his later years of grief and guilt some of the most searingly expressive vocal polyphony of the High Renaissance. His 1610 setting of the liturgy for Holy Week, the Tenebrae Responsories, is music of tortuous chromaticism, vivid wordpainting and miserably beautiful intensity.

Aldeburgh Easter Festival web site copy for the Hilliard Ensemble's performance of Gesualdo's Tenebrae Responsories in Blythburgh Church on Good Friday, 14th April. Despite the hard sell we've got our tickets, if you haven't hurry as the concert is almost sold out.

* The painting Gesualdo and a Figure or Hospital Corridor is by J. Mark Inman who modestly describes himself as violinist, visual artist, keyboardist, composer, and artistic visionary. He is a member of several performance ensembles including the Benjamininjamninnman Duo, the synth rock keyboard based band Secret Handshake, and the Egalitarian String Quartet. Mark's visual Art has been shown at several galleries in Bloomington Indiana. As a violinist he works on multi-tracked classical improvizations with composer Ben Jacob.
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An equal status with the Twelve-Tone boys ...

The canon changed and developed. It may surprise us now, but a good example of a composer who was slow to gain acceptance to the canon for any more than a handful of pieces was Mozart. Often he was seen just as the creator of naive but inspired miniatures that prepared the way for ‘real’ music and, in an age which saw music as ever-improving as it became ever larger and more complex, Mozart was bound to appear a mere precursor to Romanticism. Even a hundred years ago in Britain, to pick just one moment in the fluctuating history of Mozart's reputation, the academic consensus was sniffy; Parry famously dismissed one great set of variations as 'mere notespinning'. Sir William Hadow said the great operas contained 'no coherent story nor even any serious attempt at dramatic illusion'; and when the Royal Musical Association eventually devoted a whole lecture to Mozart in 1906 it was called, with nicely judged severity, 'Mozart's Early Efforts at Opera`.

What happened in the musical world’s understanding of Mozart’s music during the last half century can be summed up in a phrase; in the wake of the expansion of the canon and the huge revival in the importance to us of 18th century music, Mozart suddenly became serious. W.H Auden put it nicely in a poem for the bicentenary in 1956:

We know the Mozart of our fathers’ time
Was gay, rococo, sweet, but not sublime
A Viennese Italian; that is changed
Since music-critics learned to feel estranged:
Now it’s the Germans he is classed amongst
A Geist whose music was composed from Angst
At International festivals enjoys
An equal status with the Twelve-Tone Boys…


And between 1956 and the next anniversary in 2006, one might add, acquired rather greater status than the twelve-note boys. Mozart’s stock now could hardly stand higher: his emotional ambiguity seems to chime perfectly with our times. Will it last?

From the 12th Leverhulme Memorial Lecture, delivered in March 2005 by Nicholas Kenyon.

Happy birthday Master!

W.H. Auden's poem quoted by Nicholas Kenyon is Metalogue to The Magic Flute.

And a minor scoop (and not of chocolate), did you know that Mozart has his own blog?
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Image credit - Mozart chocolates from
Myaustria
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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Oh the perks of music blogging ...

Hey there! First off, I enjoy your blog immensely...you give me many tips for new music! I'm a musician from Brooklyn doing the night gig and day job thing (I work on a reality TV show at MTV and can afford you some prime gossip). I have toured nationally, have a good online presence, and am finishing up my sixth album and plugging away at a dream I really believe in.

Anyway, I wanted to ask you if I can send you my new album. It's pretty awesome and I'm really proud of it and I'm trying to get it out into the world as much as I can. I figure if you listen to a track or two and giggle or wiggle your ass a little, my postage is well spent! And maybe just maybe you'll love it so much that you'll mention it on your blog. I figure anyone who runs a blog is down with guerilla word-of-mouth PR campaigns. At least I hope so.... ;)

May I send it to you? I hope you'll feel comfy giving me a mailing address. But there we go!

Thanks and keep rockin the web!
Jenn Lindsay
http://www.jennlindsay.com

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I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction

Behold, I have refined thee but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction. Isiah 48.10

As we mark the anniversary of the birth of one of Austria's most celebrated sons let us also remember that today is Holocaust Memorial Day. Hitler was born in Braunau, Austria in 1889, and his regime murdered six million Jews and many others. Auschwitz, the largest of the Nazi camps, where 1.1 million people died, was liberated by the advancing Soviet army on 27 January 1945.


The photograph above is of the new Holocaust Memorial in Berlin by American Architect Peter Eisenmann. It was inspired by Prague's Jewish Cemetery with its closely packed gravestones, and comprises 2700 grey slabs. The photo was taken by me from where the Berlin Wall once stood and looks across to the centre of the former East Berlin, Alexanderplatz. It is from my recent photo essay I am a camera - Berlin.

Holocaust Memorial Day is usually held on 27th January to mark the liberation of Auschwitz. This year the Memorial Day has been moved forward a day to avoid the Jewish Sabbath.
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Image credit - Pliable, taken in Berlin November 2005 using Nikon F-50 SLR
In memory of the victims of war take An Overgrown Path to The radiance of a thousand suns, I am a camera - Dresden, I am a camera - Berlin, Dreden 1945 - London 2005 and Holocaust opera's rare performance.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Berlin Philharmonic's darkest hour

Wilhelm Furtwängler was born on 25th January 1886. He was Music Director of the Berlin Philharmonic from 1923 to his death in 1954, and held this position for the twelve years that Hitler was in power. In January 1945 he was conducting in Vienna, and fled from there to Switzerland where he remained until the Battle of Berlin ended in the defeat of the Nazis. The musicians of his orchestra remained in Berlin during its darkest hour. Here is their story:


On 28th March 1945 the Russian forces commanded by Marshal Georgy Zhukov were just twenty miles to the east of Berlin. A month previously Albert Speer had been replaced as Nazi armaments minister after trying to persuade Hitler that defeat was inevitable. Speer now turned his energies to preventing the musicians of his adored Berlin Philharmonic from perishing in the inevitable final battle. Reich Commisioner Dr Joseph Goebells, who was in charge of the defence of Berlin, had ordered the entire orchestra to be drafted into the Volkssturm, the Home Guard responsible for the final desperate defence of the doomed city. To delay their drafting Speer sent his liaison officer to remove and destroy the musician's papers while he put in place a plan to save the orchestra. (The photograph above shows a Berlin street in May 1945).

During the day on 28th March a convoy of lorries left the besieged city to take many of the orchestra's scores, pianos, harps, Wagner tubas, and the musician's dress suits south to the relative safety of Plassenburg, near Bayreuth. In the evening the orchestra was to give a concert, conducted by Robert Heger, in the Beethoven Salle, which was miraculously still standing surrounded by ruins. The scheduled programme was Beethoven's Egmont Overture, the Brahms Double Concerto, and Strauss' Tod und Verklarung. But it had previously been agreed that a change to another programme would be the signal that this was the final concert, and that the musicians were to leave the city after the final work. They were then to travel by coach to the Bayreuth area which was about to be taken by American forces, leaving them at a safe distance from the dreaded Soviet Army. The new programme was appropriately the final scene from Die Götterdämmerung, the Beethoven Violin Concerto played by Gerhard Taschner, and to conclude Bruckner's Fourth Symphony, 'the Romantic'.

The concert hall was packed for the 5.00 pm start, despite the danger from air-raids and the absence of any heating. The electricity in Berlin was normally cut off in the evenings, but Speer had arranged for it to remain connected. The hall was in darkness and illumination came only from the lights on the music stands. There was only one unexpected event in this final evening of music making. As the rapturous applause for the Bruckner symphony died away the orchestra did not leave for southern Germany as arranged. They had voted to remain in the city to face the dreadful final days with the other Berliners. Only Gerhard Taschner left in a car driven by Speer's chauffeur, taking with him his wife, two children, and the daughter of another musician.

The other brave musicians stayed to face their own Twilight of the Gods. As the audience left they were offered cyanide capsules (suicide pills) from baskets held by children wearing Hitler Youth uniforms. Of the 125,000 Berliners who died in the final battle for their city 6400 committed suicide. Many of the suicides were women and girls who had been raped by Soviet troops. Over 90,000 women visited doctors and clinics as a result of being raped.

Albert Speer was sentenced to twenty years in prison at the Nuremberg Trials. He had controversially avoided the death sentence passed down to many of his co-defendants. The prison sentence was said to be recognition of his remorse, and his deliberate disobedience of Hitler's orders in the last days of the war. At his trial the prosecution showed a photograph of Speer visiting the Mauthausen concentration camp, where he is clearly shown surrounded by emaciated prisoners. The prosecution claimed this proved Speer was well aware of the Holocaust. However, Speer held that he was only given a "V.I.P." tour of the concentration camp, meaning he never knew the camp's real purpose. Albert Speer was released from prison in 1966, and died in London in 1981. (The photo above shows Albert Speer with Hitler.)

Gerhard Taschner was only twenty-three in 1945. He had travelled to America before the war, and was said to have been encouraged to stay in Berlin by Furtwängler. After the war his career continued as soloist, teacher and chamber musician, although it was hampered by the absence of a major recording contract. He is particularly linked with

Wolfgang Fortner's Violin Concerto which he premiered in 1947, and went on to champion. Taschner died aged only fifty-four in 1976.

Robert Heger
continued his career both as conductor and composer after the war. He died in Munich in 1978.

* Article prepared with acknowledgements to The Fall of Berlin by Anthony Read and David Fisher (Pimlico ISBN 0712657975) and Albert Speer, His Battle with the Truth by Gitta Sereny (Macmillan ISBN 0333645197). Additional material from Wikipedia article on Albert Speer.

* Image credits - Berlin 1945 - Globalsecurity.org
- Gerhard Taschner's recording of Wolfgang Fortner's Violin Concerto, with the Berlin Philharmonic under Wilhelm Furtwangler from Amazon.
- Albert Speer with Hitler from Museum of European Art, New York

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Tribute bands and musical authenticity

Classical music's "period instrument movement" has covered as much ground as music history can throw at it. With a tool bag of gut strings, valveless trumpets, white-noised sopranos and investigative musicology, it has tracked backwards in time from its 18th-century starting point to simulate the music of medieval Parisian troubadours, and forwards to Elgar and Wagner as they might have sounded then. Short of rearing, by barbarous means, some castrati to recreate a night at the opera in Handel's London, where else can the search for musical "authenticity" go?

The answer lies not in brilliantly obscure PhDs about harpsichord string lengths in 18th-century Potsdam, or experiments with grain-fed oboists - but it is almost as kinky. It lies in the world of tribute bands. There are 60 or so Genesis impersonators around the world right now. Lots in middle Europe (a territory where unfashionable rock lives on), one each in Brazil and Japan, and several in the UK and north America. They have a certain following, though it is small compared with the crowds their musical parent once enjoyed, and smaller, too, than those of the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Abba stand-ins that seem now to be de rigueur at stately home summer music festivals.

Two fundamental differences between the cultures of classical and popular music are pop's link between live and recorded performance (the tour to promote the album) and its 50-year history of bands performing their own material. Classical music's notated, published form carries no expectation that its composer will perform it, but with the converse expectation that many different performances will emerge over time.

The nearest classical music got to the cult of the composer-performer was perhaps the pianists Chopin and Liszt. And the ensembles devoted exclusively to the music of Peter Maxwell Davies, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Michael Nyman and Steve Martland generate genuine, composer-sanctioned performances. But as Radio 3's Building a Library programme shows, one of classical music's abiding fascinations is the multiplicity of various interpretations a single piece of music can have.

The term "tribute band" is a silly one. If the Berlin Phil perform a Beethoven symphony, they are not paying tribute to Ludwig. A new kind of rock ensemble may evolve, dedicated to playing discrete repertoire from across the band divide, the music chosen for its intrinsic merit rather than tribal allegiances. It wouldn't be a tribute band, nor a covers band, but something else - more interpretive, more ... "classical".

Extracts from an article in today's Guardian by Meurig Bowen, who although he keeps it a secret in the Guardian article actually manages a world famous Benjamin Britten tribute band himself - the Aldeburgh Festival.

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Footer – Michael Nyman Band from Michaelnyman.com
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Google 'does no evil' to Chinese government

Google has said it will censor its search services in China in order to gain greater access to China's fast-growing market. Google has offered a Chinese-language version of its search engine for years but users have been frustrated by government blocks on the site.

The company is setting up a new site - Google.cn - which it will censor itself to satisfy Beijing's hardline rulers. Google argued it would be more damaging to pull out of China altogether. Critics warn the new version could restrict access to thousands of sensitive terms and web sites, many of which are already off-limits to users because the Chinese government blocks them. Such topics are likely to include independence for Taiwan and the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Google's move in China comes less than a week after it resisted efforts by the US Department of Justice to make it disclose data on what people were searching for. The company argues it can play a more useful role in China by participating than by boycotting it, despite the compromises involved. "While removing search results is inconsistent with Google's mission, providing no information (or a heavily degraded user experience that amounts to no information) is more inconsistent with our mission," a statement said.

The number of internet search users in China is predicted to increase from about 100 million currently to 187 million in two
years' time. A survey last August revealed Google was losing market share to Beijing-based rival Baidu.com. Google is not the only high-tech company accused of carrying out Beijing's dirty work. Last year Yahoo was accused of supplying data to China that was used as evidence to jail a Chinese journalist for 10 years.

From BBC News - but Pliable says the BBC obviously aren't Googling. If they had read On An Overgrown Path's recent story they would know that Google owns 2.6% in 'rival' Baidu.com who actively support music piracy and government censorship, and would have included that important fact in their story.


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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Virtual concert going with Opus 1

Want to find out about concerts tonight in Cleveland, Cologne or Copenhagen, or sixty-seven other cities around the world?

A good starting point is the Opus 1 database which lists more than 16,000 concerts and operas. This innovative Paris based site was chosen by Time Magazine as one of their top ten 'cool' websites. It isn't totally comprehensive, and it does focus on the bigger venues, but it is still a very useful tool which I frequently use when travelling. For instance it sent me to the chamber concert given by the Berlin Symphony Orchestra which I wrote about recently in Music history rewritten. And there is a lot more on the Opus 1 web site, including chargeable file downloads with a wide range of music by 20th and 21st century composers. The resources also include 50,000 audio tracks from 1,900 composers, 620 biographies, 5,300 programme notes and 12,200 composer images. The web site can sometimes be slow , and membership is needed for some areas, but it is worth hanging on in.

And you don't need to be a world traveller to have fun with Opus 1. Sometimes I enjoy some armchair concert going by finding an interesting concert online, and then playing the programme on CD at home with a glass (or three) of medicinal beverage by my side. This week the virtual concert goer can enjoy the following music if their CD collection is comprehensive enough, and there is a virtual prize for the first reader to confirm they have every one of these works in their library (and I want catalogue numbers as proof!) My sizeable collection falls well short; but I was interested to see Bernard Haitink conducting Roussel's Third Symphony in Boston, a very fine and underrated twentieth century symphony which I have as part of Dutoit's complete Roussel cycle on the super-budget Warner Ultima label:

8.15pm, Monday 23 January 2006
Het Concertgebouw/Grote Zaal Amsterdam, Netherlands
Reinbert de Leeuw, conductor; Rosemary Hardy, soprano; RIAS Chamber Choir; Schönberg Ensemble
Schoenberg: Friede auf Erden (Peace on Earth), for chorus and instruments ad lib, op. 13
Dallapiccola: Liriche greche
Bruno Maderna: Tre liriche greche
Schoenberg: De Profundis, op. 50b
Dallapiccola: Canti di Prigionia

7.30pm, Wednesday 25 January 2006
Symphony Hall Boston, United States
Bernard Haitink, conductor; Richard Goode, piano; Boston Symphony Orchestra
Ravel: Alborada del Gracioso (from Miroirs)
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K 488
Debussy: Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun), for orchestra, L 86
Albert Roussel: Symphony No. 3 in G minor, op. 42

4.00pm, Sunday 29 January 2006
Oper Köln Cologne, Germany
Enrico Dovico, conductor; Christian von Götz, director; Insun Min, Thérèse; Ausrine Stundyte, Ariadne; Oper Köln Chorus; Gürzenich Orchester Köln
Poulenc: Les mamelles de Tirésias (The Breasts of Tirésias), opera, FP 125
Martinu: Ariadne, opera in 1 act, H 370

7.30pm, Tuesday 24 January 2006
City Recital Hall Sydney, Australia
Brodsky Quartet
Peter Sculthorpe: String Quartet No. 11 (Jabiru Dreaming)
Janácek: String Quartet No. 2 (Intimate Letters)
Beamish: Two Burns Songs: Ae Fond Kiss, De'ils Awa Wi' The Excise man
Grainger: Sprig of Thyme (from 13 Folksongs)
Grainger: Died for Love (from 13 Folksongs)
Thomas Ford: Tales of the Supernatural

If your concert is not listed on Opus 1 contact them with details at editorial@concert-hall.com
With thanks to the Korean/American composer
Beata Moon whose email sparked this article
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Image credit -
Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra
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If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Rare Romantic Requiems in Avignon

Monday, January 23, 2006

No such thing as free BBC MP3 downloads

The UK television licence fee is to rise to £131.50 ($237 US) from 1 April, a 4.2% increase, the government has announced. Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell said it would enable the BBC to continue to provide a "strong and distinctive schedule". The current fee is £126.50 ($228 US). She said the licence fee for 2006-7 would enable the BBC to remain at the "forefront of broadcasting technology".

The current settlement allows for the fee to be increased by the level of inflation plus 1.5% up to April 2007. The corporation has already asked the government for its next settlement, to run for seven years from 2007 to 2013. BBC director general Mark Thompson said a 2.3% rise above inflation would fund programmes and digital services.

From BBC News

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E.V.Amusements
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If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Download doomsayer and Musician's jobs before free downloads

The perils of citizen journalism



A reader recommended a campsite with a pub in Clonakilty, West Cork, where you might see Noel Redding (ex-Hendrix) jamming (Ask a fellow traveller, page 20, Travel, January 14).
Noel Redding died in May 2003

From today's Guardian Corrections and Clarifications:

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If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Classic misundertandings - Eastern tunings

Sunday, January 22, 2006

John Tavener changes his tune

In 1980 Peter Pears commissioned a song cycle from the 'holy minimalist' composer John Tavener. Pears suggested the texts should be taken from the writings of the Greek poet Cavafy. But to quote Tavener's biographer Geoffrey Haydon: "Tavener found Cavafy's poetry too blatantly homoerotic. Instead he chose six lyrics about love and death from an anthology of poetry written in Baghdad during the Abbasid dynasty" (1).

On January 20th 2006 the Tallis Scholars gave the world premiere of a new choral work by Sir John Tavener, commissioned by Symphony Hall, Birmingham where the first performance took place. The title of the new work is Tribute to Cavafy, and to quote the Symphony Hall web site it "draws on the writings of the famous Greek poet."

And completely unrelated to that is the following story. Once when Horowitz was scheduled to give a concert in Providence, Rhode Island he asked his friend Rachmaninoff if the acoustics were good there. The answer was "If the cheque is good, the acoustics are good" (2).

Sources: (1) John Tavener - Glimpses of Paradise by Geoffrey Haydon (Gollancz ISBN 575057033)
(2)
Horowitz, a biography by Glenn Plaskin (Macdonald ISBN 9780356091792)
Image credit - Portrait of John Tavener from
Richardhaughton.com, and I swear I didn't use Paint Shop Pro.

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If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Big Brother is paying you

Simple Gifts - Shaker chants and spirituals

A real discovery to share with you today. Despite widespread interest in their culture Shaker song remains virtually unknown with one glaring exception - Simple Gifts. This song has been reworked by Aaron Copland and so many others to the point that it is generally assumed that Simple Gifts and Shaker song are one and the same. This is both wrong and a great pity as there is much more very fine music which deserves to reach a much wider audience.

My discovery may help to do that. The library of the Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake, Maine has valuable music archives, including important manuscripts by Elder Otis Sawyer who was an important figure and musician in the Shaker movement. In 1994 a number of songs were transcribed from the Sabbathday Lake archive by Joel Cohen, who then recorded them direcing an ensemble made up of singers from the Sabbathday Lake community, Boston Camerata and Schola Cantorum of Boston. The result was a CD titled Simple Gifts - Shaker chants and spirituals.

These songs on this CD are wonderful discoveries, and they really are discoveries as they were previously truly unknown. With links to folksong and Gregorian chant (the Shaker song In Yonder Valley bears an uncanny resemblance to the plainsong Salve, Regina as it is sung in the ton simple) this is simple, fine and moving music. The singing is exemplary, the recording is demonstration class, and the CD comes with a twenty-two page booklet with notes by Joel Cohen and complete texts. If all this sounds too good to miss here is the clincher. Simple Gifts has been reissued on Warner Classics' Apex super-budget label, and I paid just £5 ($9) for it.

If the other tracks weren't superlative as well the price would be justified by the last of the thirty-four tracks alone - a heart-stopping sixty-four second long 'unreconstructed' rendition of Simple Gifts. And in conclusion it is worth reflecting on Shaker Sister Frances Carr's thoughtful note on this song: 'Although the World has made the song famous, we feel troubled that, in its fame, it is taken so lightly. To Believers it holds a real message reminding us that we do have to come down to 'the place just right' in order to live out Mother's Gospel.'

Simple Gifts - Shaker chants and spirituals is on Apex catalogue number 2564 60367 2

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Fruitlands Museum, Harvard
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If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to 'Tis the gift to be free

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Welcome home Walter Raleigh

The American blogs have been poking gentle fun at the parochial writing in the Penguin Guide to CDs. Well, the new edition of the competing Gramophone Guide clearly hasn't reached the land of the Pilgrim Fathers yet. Last night I came across this review of Carole Cerasi playing Thomas Tomkins' keyboard works:

But though about as fashionable as a 'Welcome home, Walter Raleigh' hat, these pieces have a quality to them - showing by turns something of the exuberance of Bull and the eloquence of Byrd - that's more than enough to maintain their currency today. This disillusioned early version of a Daily Telegraph reader was nothing less that the last representative of that great school of keyboard composers known as the English virginalists, and more than 350 years on, it matters not a bean to the listener which decade he was writing in.

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Amazon
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If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Diary for evening of 12th May 2005

Ruth Kelly and pederastic singers

Tony Blair's Education Secretary Ruth Kelly has had a torrid week over her department's decision to to allow a registered sex offender to work as a Physical Education teacher in a Norfolk school. The furore reminded me of this musical story:

For the first performance of John Tavener's The Cappermakers at Charleston Manor in 1964, students from the Royal Academy and the Royal College were bolstered by professionals. Tavener (right) himself conducted, and Francis Steiner took the prominent piano part in the ensemble, which consisted otherwise of woodwind, horn, trumpet, harp and string quintet. The chorus was the St Christopher Singers, who also provided the male trio to sing the part of Christ. One solo tenor and one baritone shared the parts of Lazarus and the four Jews.

In a volume of Stravinsky's conversations, Tavener had read the great composer's description of the part of Satan in his opera The Flood: 'a high, slightly pederastic tenor'. Having no idea what 'pederastic' meant, but assuming it was a musical term, and loving the sound of Satan on the recording of The Flood, John urged his soloists to sing more pederastically. One of them 'turned the colour of an orange', he remembers. During the next break in rehearsals, someone explained to Tavener what a pederast was
.


From Geoffrey Haydon's biography John Tavener - Glimpses of Paradise (Gollancz ISBN 575057033)

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Schirmer.com
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If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Classic misunderstandings - Beethoven's movements

Friday, January 20, 2006

CIA loves Jerry Springer but not Google

From my server log yesterday:
19th January 2006
13:41:36
relay1.ucia.gov ( Central Intelligence Agency )
Virginia, Fairfax, United States, 0 returning visits
WebPage

http://theovergrownpath.blogspot
.com/2005/07/jerry-springer-rebel
-grabs-gramophone.html

Hope they enjoyed Antony Pitts' contemporary choral work Seven Letters - which is what the article they landed on is about. And from BBC News today:

The internet search engine Google is resisting efforts by the US Department of Justice to force it to hand over data about what people are looking for. Google was asked for information on the types of query submitted over a week, and the websites included in its index. The department wants the data to try to show in court it has the right approach in enforcing an online pornography law.

Hope Google will now take the same line in China. As I've
written before their 'sizeable' investment in Chinese search engine Baidu.com is supporting both music piracy and internet censorship. I guess Google are just backing two horses, PR spin in the US and market opportunity in China, while still claiming to 'Do no evil'.

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PeoplePlayUK
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BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra on a roll


As other orchestras lurch from crisis to crisis it is great to see the BBC Scottish Symphony on a winning streak. The orchestra is playing better than ever, in Ilan Volkov they have one of the hottest young conducting talents as Chief Conductor, and they have just moved into a superb new concert hall in the centre of Glasgow.

The BBC Scottish was formed in 1935, and is first and foremost a broadcasting and recording orchestra. Almost all its performances are aired on BBC Radio 3 or Radio Scotland, and it has recorded for record companies including Hyperion and BIS. 27 year old Israeli born Ilan Volkov is the youngest conductor ever to lead a BBC orchestra, and his first concerts with the orchestra drew superlative reviews from the notoriously cynical Scottish critics. Volkov has already guested with the New York, Boston, Detroit and Gothenburg orchestras, and he follows a distinguished line of conductors who have worked with the orchestra. These include Simon Rattle who was their Associate Conductor at the start of his meteoric career.

Can it get better? Yes, it does - the BBC Scottish has just moved into the totally refurbished Glasow City Halls, built in 1841 and located in the city's historic Merchant City. The old building has been rebuilt as a major music performance and education centre. There are three main performance spaces all linked to the BBC's sound and vision production suites. The largest auditorium seats 1100, and has thankfully retained the glorious, and justifiably famous, acoustics of the original building. Adjacent to their new home is The Old Fruitmarket which can be used for jazz and contemporary music.


I listened last night to the BBC Scottish's first live broadcast from their new home. The programme was designed to showpiece both the superb acoustics of the hall and the talents of the orchestra and its Chief Conductor, and it certainly succeeded in doing this triumphantly. The complete score of Stravinsky's Firebird sounded quite magnificent, crystal clear orchestral lines, bass only when it was in the score, and huge open climaxes. This is broadcast music as good as it gets, and was in sharp contrast to the lacklustre playing and poor technical values from other 'star' orchestras who contributed to the European Broadcasting Union's recent New Year's Day music schedule.

I have to confess to being a great fan of the BBC Scottish. When I lived in Scotland I attended many of their concerts at the MacRoberts Arts Centre in Stirling and elsewhere, and have written about them here before. They are among the unsung heroes of the musical world, turning out top class performaces day after day when the only visible audience is a red light, and they have doggedly championed contemporary music - last night's concert opened with the first performance of a work commissioned from Jonathan Harvey. But there is an even better reason why I love the BBC Scottish, and I suggest all the fans of free MP3 file downloads from the BBC and Danish Radio read the following carefully.

The BBC are a major, and vitally important, supporter of classical music. But they have a "love them, hate them" attitude towards the arts. In Februrary 1980, under increasing pressure to balance its budget, the BBC proposed (with the support of the Scottish Broadcasting Council) a package of drastic cuts to save £130 million ($235m). This involved the closing of five BBC orchestras, including the BBC Scottish Symphony whose players were to be given dismisal notices. These cuts would save £500,000 ($900,000) a year, or 8% of the BBC's total expenditure on music. Please note this, the BBC maintained it could get enough live broadcast music out of freelance players, independent orchestras, and a reduced number of house orchestras (eleven down to six).


In May 1980 the Musician's Union voted to strike against the BBC, and the support of the London based BBC Symphony Orchestra meant that the 1980 Proms season was cancelled - something that even Hitler's bombs had failed to achieve. There was fantastic support for the beleagured Scottish orchestra both from within the UK and overseas. Among those sending letters of protest and support, and even money, were the Berlin Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonc and Carlo Maria Giulini. The dispute dragged on damagingly and painfully until a compromise settlement was reached on 24th July 1980. The compromise involved the disbanding of three BBC orchestras (although their members were to be offered freelance work), the BBC Scottish Symphony was to be spared, but suffered swinging budget cuts from which it took years of total commitment from the players and management to recover.

Now, if there are any takers, here is the link to those free Mozart symphony file downloads supplied by the Danish Broadcasting Corporation and played ironically by the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Or why not support musicians who have really proved that Music will rise from the wreckage and click over to the most excellent BBC Listen Again service to hear two hours of the wonderful BBC Scottish Symphony and Ilan Volkov playing their hearts out in their new concert hall? (This audio file will only be available until 26th Jan 2006, so don't miss it)

Sources:

- Is the Red Light On - the story of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra by John Purser. (Published by BBC Scotland but takes the musicians side in the 1980 dispute, ISBN 0563205202). Out of print and difficult to find.
- The BBC Symphony Orchestra 1930 - 1980 by Nicholas Kenyon (Published by BBC and toes the party line about the 1980 dispute, ISBN 0563176172) In print.
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* Image credits - all from
the photo galleries on the BBC Symphony's excellent web site where there are lots more excellent pictures. But the header picture isn't of the new City Hall (it is the Music Hall Aberdeen). The City Hall redevelopment is so new there aren't any good performance pictures available yet.
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If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Farewell to Stromness

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Baltimore Symphony chief quits

James Glicker, who was introduced as an unconventional problem-solver who would guide the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to new artistic heights and financial security, resigned yesterday as its president and chief executive officer just 18 months after being named to the post.

"It really was my decision to go," Glicker said last night. "It was a question of timing and how long I wanted to stay. I felt I got a lot done, turning around the orchestra's earned income, finding a new music director, increasing community involvement with the BSO."

His announcement comes months after the BSO received international attention for naming Marin Alsop as its next music director, becoming the first major American orchestra to be led by a woman. The BSO also is struggling to attract younger audiences and faces a deficit of about $12 million.

Glicker, who had never worked for a symphony orchestra before, was hired in January 2004 in the newly created post of chief marketing officer. He was hailed for his marketing experience with a diverse range of retail products, including yogurt and several Internet companies. He was named president in June of that year, succeeding longtime BSO head John Gidwitz.

Sporting a ponytail and earring, Glicker easily broke visual expectations for a symphony president. Many of his public comments also defied convention. Early on, he said he wanted to broaden the orchestra's audience beyond "wealthy old white people."


From today's Baltimoresun.com

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