Friday, March 31, 2006

American music strikes a remarkable chord

This weekend, Stephen Layton's Polyphony will reunite with the Britten Sinfonia and the American composer Morten Lauridsen. They will be performing Lauridsen's settings of poems by Robert Graves, Mid-Winter Songs, in Norwich and Ely Cathedrals. Fitting venues for music one critic described as "shamelessly ecstatic", but they are a far cry from the last time the Polyphony/Britten Sinfonia/Lauridsen combination were together in the public eye. That was at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles, home of the LA Lakers basketball team, for 2006's Grammy awards where they had been shortlisted in the choral music section for their Hyperion recording of Lux Aeterna, Lauridsen's settings of sacred Latin texts.

Layton (above), the Polyphony founder and director, says he reluctantly declined the opportunity to mingle with Kanye West and U2 - "it's a nine-hour ceremony!" - and the award eventually went to Leonard Slatkin's recording of Bolcom's Songs of Innocence and of Experience. But Layton professes himself delighted to have been nominated, although he was not particularly surprised. "I've become very interested in this American style of choral music, which does seem to have struck a remarkable chord with the listening public." Since Lux Aeterna, Polyphony have released a CD of music from another contemporary American composer, 35-year-old Eric Whitacre who has been called "son of Lauridsen", which went straight into the classical charts. A recording of Mid-Winter Songs follows later this year.

Lauridsen has sold over a million copies of sheet music in America, and Whitacre made the top 10 of the American classical music charts. Layton is aware that such success has been accompanied by a certain critical sniffiness, but he stands by the quality, as well as the accessibility, of the music. "I've conducted John Rutter's music and think it has provided a wonderful vehicle for anybody interested in music to celebrate. Whitacre has been compared to Rutter but these are pieces not written solely for amateur singers to enjoy. There is a complexity that can test professionals. Equally, the Lauridsen Winter Songs, which is an earlier work than Lux Aeterna, has a harmonic language that owes a lot to Copland. In essence I'm delighted that one day I can be conducting Schnitke or whoever, and then next doing something a little simpler that everybody can sing." Layton suddenly stops himself with a quizzical look. "But I seem to be inadvertently setting myself up as a populist champion which I am not really. However, I do think there might be a shift going on in that people who are seriously interested in music don't always feel they have to listen to Birtwistle."


From today's Guardian

Listen to six minutes of Hyperion's Grammy nominated recording of Lux Aeterna with Stephen Layton conducting Polyphony:

O nata lux [3'39]-

Veni, Sancte Spiritus [2'20]-

and their best selling Eric Whitacre release featured here in Eric Whitacre outsells Mozart , Water Night [5'03] -

Polyphony's recording of Morten Lauridsen's Mid-Winter Songs is released by Hyperion in the autumn, not in April as was stated in earlier versions of this article. Thanks to Prelude Records for spotting my error.

CDs featured in this article are available from Prelude Records. Image and audio file credits - Hyperion. Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Let the people sing and Harrison Birtwistle's cheesy 'Private Passions'

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Visa bill stops top orchestra's US tour

One of Britain's leading symphony orchestras has been forced to scrap an American tour, partly because of the "mind-blowing palaver" and cost of securing visas for 100 players and staff.

The Manchester-based Hallé had been due to visit the US next year for two concerts, including one at the Lincoln centre in New York, the country's principal classical music venue. But managers said yesterday they had cancelled the tour when they realised that the cost of arranging the visas, estimated at £45,000, would render the trip uneconomic.

Other agents said rock musicians, also fed up with the process and expense, were refusing to visit the US to work. Katie Ray, of Traffic Control Group Ltd, which secures visas and work permits mainly for rock bands, said some artists were now choosing not to tour in the US.

John Summers, the Hallé's chief executive, said each orchestra member would have been required to go to London after phoning to arrange an interview at the US embassy. "
We think this would have taken two days out of [our] schedule. The US visa service ... will not use consulates outside London. This palaver of getting visas is mind-blowing."

The cancellation of the tour is a bitter blow for Mark Elder (photo above), who has raised the Hallé to new heights since he became music director in 2000. "
It seems a crying shame that the chance for this wonderful British orchestra to appear on the US east coast should be in part blighted by a too fanatical approach at the embassy."

New visa procedures have been introduced to protect the US against terrorists. Most visitors with machine-readable passports can still use the visa waiver scheme, but performers intending to work in the US cannot do this. They have to arrange an appointment at the US embassy in Grosvenor Square, London, via a phone line charged at £1.30 a minute, and then appear for an interview and fingerprinting. The fee is $100.

"It's not a level playing field," said Russell Jones, director of the Association of British Orchestras. "Journalists and sports people do not have to go through these hoops." He said officials were following orders from the US department of homeland security, but it meant that "that wonderful cross-pollination of orchestras coming from and going to the US is going to decline if it's too much trouble".

From today's Guardian

Visit the Hallé Orchestra's website via this link.

Image credit - Mark Elder from Sanctuary classics . Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Reflections on the Philadelphia Orchestra

Safe landing - but wrong airport

I am a frequent flyer with Irish budget airline Ryanair, including my recent Dresden, Berlin, Leipzig and Arhus trips featured in articles here, so I was interested to read this story in today's Guardian ...

From a height of 33,000ft, the world below can seem a tranquil if confusing place. Gazing down through a veil of cloud, it's not difficult to confuse one main road with another or to mix up two different towns. Apparently, it's also quite easy to mistake one airport for another, even if you're the one flying the plane.


That seems to have been the case when the captain of a Ryanair flight from Liverpool to the City of Derry airport brought his plane down at a military airbase five miles away.

The Airbus A320, which was operated by Eirjet on behalf of the budget airline, touched down at Ballykelly airfield at 2.40 yesterday afternoon, much to the bemusement of its 39 passengers. The jet was grounded by aviation authorities, who ordered an investigation, but it appears the incident was down to pilot error.

Ryanair confirmed that the plane had mistakenly landed at the military base and called for a full inquiry.

It said in a statement: "Flight FR9884, operated by Eirjet on behalf of Ryanair, landed safely at Ballykelly airport instead of City of Derry airport at 14.40 today. This incident arose as a result of an error by the Eirjet pilot, who mistakenly believed he was on a visual approach to City of Derry airport."

The airline explained that the pilot had been cleared to land by air traffic control at City of Derry, but had then mistaken Ballykelly for the flight's true destination. It said the passengers had been able to disembark normally and had then been taken by coach to the City of Derry airport.

The statement concluded: "Ryanair has notified both the Irish Aviation Authority and the Civil Aviation Authority of this Eirjet error."

Follow this link for Ryanair's website.

Image credit - Besserfliegen.de Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Danish thread

Listen online to an orchestra of laptops

At Princeton University's faculty of music, the students are as happy to tickle a Powerbook's plastics as a piano's ivories. They have their own wireless-networked orchestra: a 15-piece band that can play anything from electropop to avant garde on instruments specially designed to interface with their laptops. A virtual conductor keeps them on the beat. The Princeton Laptop Orchestra, or PLOrk as it is known, has caused something of a sensation in academic circles, and avant-garde musicians are queueing up to compose for them.

"It's much more than I bargained for," says Dan Trueman, who created the orchestra with fellow college professor Perry Cook. "I'm delighted and terrified by the level of interest."

For Trueman, the project began several years ago when he created his own electronic instrument, a combination of a violin and a theremin that reacted to his bowing movements across a spherical speaker. "It was quite a trip to play," he says. "The question was, what kind of music could we make if we had 15 or more of these kinds of instruments?"

So Cook and Trueman challenged Princeton students to create their own. A speaker and a laptop to process the sound are the only compulsory parts. The methods of play can vary wildly, from traditional piano keyboards to graphics tablets, and even motion sensors worn on the hands and feet, adding an element of dance to the performances.

The orchestra's sound is equally customised - it is theoretically possible, says Trueman, to play Beethoven or Mozart, but why bother when a traditional orchestra can do that already? Isn't it more rewarding, he suggests, to create a symphony from chirruping crickets, thunder and fruit machines?

·
Listen to PLOrk at: plork.cs.princeton.edu/listen/debut/ via downloads or streaming.

From today's Guardian

Image credits - Plork. Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
For more weird sounds online take An Overgrown Path to Is classical music too fast?

Condoleezza's musical mystery tour revealed

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visits Liverpool, the home of the Beatles, for two days this week. On Friday she is taking in a concert featuring the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and anti-war protesters have caused some local difficulties, including the loss of the compere.

Ms Rice likes her music. When visiting Paris she visited the Conservatoire Hector Berlioz, and reportedly plays in a weekly chamber music group. The good news is that the Liverpool gig is going ahead, but tight security has meant that the concert programme has been kept a secret until this afternoon. The Liverpool Phil's hard pressed Communications Manager, Jayne Garrity, has just emailed over the details, so here, as a little exclusive, are the headlines.

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra will perform the first movement of Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, Bernstein’s Candide Overture and Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

The RLPO will be conducted by Principal Conductor designate, Vasily Petrenko who takes up the baton in September 2006. Recognised as one of the exceptional musicians of his generation, at 29 years old, he is the youngest person and the first Russian in the 165-year history of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic to have been appointed principal conductor.

In addition to the orchestra the young voices of Liverpool Philharmonic Youth Choir will sing Stephen Hatfield's Las Amarillas (do follow that link, a fine young choral composer with a lot of audio files on his site), and other local music groups and dancers will perform.

It is good to see Condoleezza Rice supporting the performing arts in sharp contrast to our own Tony 'air guitar' Blair (left). Nothing too challenging in the programme, but two of the orchestral works are 20th century, and the Elgar only misses out by six months. But it is interesting that the Nimrod variation is well known as a threnody for the victims of war, and in Voltaire's Candide one of the best known passages refers to the execution of the British Admiral John Byng: 'Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres', which translates as 'In this country, it is wise to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others.'

Image credit: Ms Rice - Moveleft.com. Tony Blair - BBC News. Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to 'Glorious John' in New York

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Neil Armstrong finally reveals his moon music

To celebrate today's total eclipse of the sun in Africa and Asia here is An Overgrown Path exclusive on a lunar story that has fascinating musical connections. Notoriously taciturn first man on the moon Neil Armstrong reveals his choice of fly-time music in a book that just been published. And his musical tastes open up undreamt of connections to Russian government research projects, Soviet agents and Communist propaganda films. Moon Dust by Andrew Smith is a new study of how the lives of the Apollo astronauts were changed by their lunar experience. Most of the nine surviving astronauts agreed to be interviewed for the book, but true to form the first man on the moon did not. But in an email exchange Armstrong identified the cassette of ' strange electronic-sounding music' that fellow Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins had reported him taking to Luna.

The cassette in question was transcribed from Neil Armstrong's own LP of Music Out of the Moon featuring Dr Samuel Hoffman. Author Andrew Smith decribes the theremin played by Hoffman on this album, and gives a short history of this unique instrument which mainly relates its use in rock music. But he completely misses out on a fascinating Russian connection. The story is too good to miss, so here it is.

The theremin was an early electronic instrument invented by a young Russian physicist called Léon Theremin, and came about a side-product of Russian government-sponsored research into proximity sensors shortly before the outbreak of the Russian Civil War in 1919. The theremin (left) is the original 'hands free' instrument and requires no physical contact from the player. The player moves his hands close to two antenna, the right hand controls the pitch and the left hand determines volume. A variety of effects can be produced ranging from glissandi to staccato, but the instrument needs to be played from memory as notation is impossible.

The invention was enthusiastically received in Russia, and was personally demonstrated to the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin who went on to take lessons. But America won the ideological struggle and Léon Theremin patented his invention in the US, and it was put into production by RCA with limited success. But facts then gets stranger than fiction. Theremin was kidnapped from his US apartment by Soviet KGB agents who returned him to Russia where he was imprisoned for years, apparently for political reasons. After his release from prison Theremin developed military and espionage devices for the KGB (logo to right), before going to work at the Moscow Conservatory of Music, where he built theremins and taught music for ten years.He did not return to the US until after the collapse of Communism.

Shostakovich's second film score Odna (1931) uses a theremin among the huge orchestral forces. The film was made shortly after the declaration of Stalin's first five-year plan, and it embraces the positive aspects of Communism including teaching, collectivism and modern technology. The theremin had other exponents in the classical field, most notably Clara Rockmore who was famous for her transcriptions for the instrument which included Bach and Bloch's Schelomo. Mrs Rockmore's recording of the Concerto for Theremin and Orchestra by the American composer Anis Fuleihan conducted by Leopold Stokowski has been reissued on CD, as has her The Art of the Theremin which was produced by Robert Moog in 1977.

The Ondes-Martenot, which was invented in 1928 and used so effectively by Olivier Messiaen, as well as Pierre Boulez, Edgar Varèse, Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger, Bohuslav Martinů and André Jolivet (who wrote a concerto for it in 1947), is a cousin of the theremin that uses similar heteroyne oscillators controlled by a keyboard.

The theremin was popular in America for a time after the Second World War, but it was then eclipsed by the new generation of electronic instruments. The best known of these is the Moog synthesizer, whose inventor Robert Moog started his career selling thermin kits. Despite technology improvements the theremin continued to have its advocates. These included Brian Wilson (left) who had to accept a hybrid Electro-Thermin for the recording of the Beach Boy's 'Good Vibrations' in 1966 due to the non-availabiltiy of the real thing. Three years later the best selling album 'Led Zeppelin ll' featured a theremin solo on the opening track 'Whole Lotta Love'.

The other-wordly sound palette of the theremin makes it a natural for film scores. Probably the best known film appearance is in Bernard Herrmann's 1951 score for The Day the Earth Stood Still. The unusual scoring is for a small orchestra combining the acoustic and electric sounds of brass, reed organ, Hammond organs, pianos, percussionists, electrically amplified strings, and cello, and bass and two theremins which play in opposition to create disorienting swirls.

Dr Samuel Hoffman, who recorded the theremin album which started us down this fascinating Overgrown Path, was an American chiropidist turned musician. He met Léon Theremin while playing in a dance band in the 1930s and became an enthusiastic exponent of the electronic instrument. Among Dr Hoffman's claims to fame are playing the theremin part in Miklós Rózsa's score for Hitchcock's Spellbound. Music Out of the Moon is a Capitol album dating from 1947, and was written by classically trained light music composer Harry Revel, with arrangements and conducting by easy listening king Les Baxter.

Apollo 15 Commander Dave Scott and his crew were permanently grounded by NASA for the $6000 trust funds for their children paid for by a German stamp dealer as a reward for carrying unauthorised first day covers to the moon. I wonder what the FBI would have done had they known about the Russian connections of Neil Armstrong's on-board music? Fortunately Music Out of the Moon has passed the test of time better than J Edgar Hoover, and it is still in the Basta catalogue. Samples can be heard on amazon.com

Web resources * Wikipedia theremin article *New book on the history of the theremin - Theremin Ether Music and Espionage from University of Ilinois Press (ISBN 0252025822), there are also more theremin audio files on this site * Dr Samuel Hoffman * Clara Rockmore * Moon Dust by Andrew Smith * DVD Theremin - An Electronic Odyssey * Moog's history of the theremin *

Image credits: Apollo 11 - NASA, Theremin from Theremininfo.com, Brian Wilson - Houseofshred.com, theremin CD - Amazon
Audio file from Amazon.com. Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to David Munrow and the Voyager golden record

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

This is the future of classical music?

Top-selling classical downloads on iTunes

1 Barber's Adagio for Strings, Op 11, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra
2 You Raise Me Up, from Russell Watson's album Amore Musica
3 Jerusalem, from the Last Night of the Proms Collection, performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra under Barry Wordsworth
4 Duet from Bizet's the Pearl Fishers, from Andrea Bocelli's Aria: The Opera Album
5 Pachelbel's Canon in D, performed by I Musici, from the album 100 Classical Favourites
6 Nimrod, from Elgar's Enigma Variations, from the Last Night of the Proms Collection, performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra under Barry Wordsworth
7 Land of Hope and Glory, from the Last Night of the Proms Collection, performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra under Barry Wordsworth
8 Somos Novios, from Andrea Bocelli's album Amore
9 Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, performed by Vladimir Horowitz
10 Bach's Air on the G String, by the London Symphony Orchestra


From Big demand for classical downloads is music to ears of record industry
in today's Guardian.

Image credit - Ihateyouripod.com. Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Music-like-water

Now BBC presents Beethoven's greatest hits

Some time ago the BBC Radio 3 dropped its policy of only playing complete works, and started broadcasting single movements from symphonies and concertos. Yesterday, in their Morning on 3 programme, they took their drive for 'accessibility' still further by playing the Molto Adagio slow movement of Beethoven's sublime Op 132 quartet on its own. Shorn of the framing, and contrasting, Allegro ma non tanto and Alla marcia, assai vivaci Beethoven's great hymn of thanksgiving sounded horribly like film music - which is presumably what the BBC producer intended.

But I'm sure the market driven BBC will say the audience ratings justified it, and that they gave their nemesis Classic FM a bloody nose. So to help them understand what they actually did, I offer the noses of two other great works of art shorn of all those boring bits around them.

Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Classic misunderstandings - Beethoven's movements

Monday, March 27, 2006

Led Zeppelin's 'Stairway to Heaven'

Guitar shop owners across Britain have banned it in fear of losing their sanity, but Led Zeppelin's eight minute 1971 epic, Stairway to Heaven, refuses to go away. Jimmy Page's solo, in a song which has led generations of music fans to sing "ooh, and it makes me wonder", is voted the best air guitar moment of all time.

In a survey that reveals just how frustrating those No Stairway signs must be for guitar shoppers, almost 2,000 readers of Total Guitar magazine voted Page's solo better than a list axe-hero moments by Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Queen's Brian May.

In keeping with the genre's reputation, every single solo in the air guitar top 10 was played by a man imagining a Fender Stratocaster in their hands, most with longer than shoulder-length hair, often permed, and none were recorded after 1991 after which time the popularity of the brazen rock guitar solo waned, derided as pompous and an all-too crass display of self-gratification.

Described as "incredibly ballsy and a little bit flash" by the magazine's editor Stephen Lawson, Page's solo has the ideal attributes for an air guitarist accompaniment. As any guitar afficianado knows, Page produced his masterwork on a 1958 Fender Telecaster but the beauty of his creation for the nation's air guitarists is it can be enjoyed with nothing more than a mirror for equipment, as long as the thought of a cover by Dolly Parton doesn't break their concentration.

US rockers Van Halen came second, and the solos in Guns 'N Roses' Paradise City, The Eagles' Hotel California, and Metallica's Enter Sandman were next. The remaining four were Eric Clapton's Crossroads as a member of Cream, Jimi Hendrix's Voodoo Child (Slight Return), Ozzy Osbourne's Crazy Train, and Free's All Right Now.


From today's Guardian

Image credit - Darkhorse.com. Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Dead '72

Here comes the sun ...

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it's all right
Little darlin' it's been a long cold lonely winter
Little darlin' it feels like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun ...

From the Beatles' Abbey Road

British Summer Time started this weekend, and we put our clocks forward an hour last night. The photo above was taken at Holkham Bay, Norfolk, on Saturday afternoon. The temperature was 15 degrees C (60F)!


Holkham is a few miles from Sandringham, the country retreat of the Queen. John Philip Sousa conducted his band there at a royal command performance for King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra on the Queen's birthday in 1901. The King demanded seven encores, and awarded Sousa the medal of the Victorian Order (right). "Where shall I pin it?" he asked the composer. "Over my heart," Sousa replied. "How American!" said the King.

In return composed his march Imperial Edward which is dedicated to the King. It was first performed in Montreal in 1902, and the manuscript is in the British Museum. But in an ironic example of 'you win some, and you lose some' Sousa considered the march to be one of his least successful compositions.

And, of course, the dedication on the score of Sir Edward Elgar's Second Symphony is '(to the memory of) King Edward VII'. Which neatly brings this Overgrown Path back full circle to Elgar, Alsop and Bernstein.

Sousa anectdotes from 'A Musical Gazetteer of Great Britain & Ireland' by Gerald Norris (David & Charles ISBN 0715378457 Out of Print). Image credit: Goodalls Tailors, now that is one interesting web site .... Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to John Peel's 'Private Passions'

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Live symphony concerts available as downloads

Two programs from the Los Angeles Philharmonic's hip "Minimalist Jukebox" series, performed this weekend, are scheduled for release through DG Concerts and iTunes on April 4. Although pricing is not final, each live concert will probably cost about $10 to download, less for complete individual works.

Both orchestras are part of a new initiative by the Universal Music Group built on its Deutsche Grammophon and Decca labels. DG Concerts and Decca Concerts will, between them, ultimately service about 10 orchestras in the United States and abroad. Negotiations are under way with orchestras in London, Paris and three German cities. The current intention is for each orchestra to offer, on average, four concerts a season for digital downloading, and one of the four would also be released on CD.

The New York Philharmonic, in its three-year project with DG Concerts, is taking a financial gamble in the hope of reaching a worldwide audience. As part of the contract, the Philharmonic members chose a percentage of royalties rather than their usual flat fee up front. The recordings remain the property of the Philharmonic, which has licensed them to Deutsche Grammophon.

"For us, it's all about getting a foothold in the new media," said the violinist Fiona Simon, the chairwoman of the orchestra committee that helped negotiate the deal. "Downloading is probably the way that classical music is going to be distributed in the future. The CD isn't dead yet, but it's fading."

The orchestras involved in the Universal initiative will provide the record companies with edited tape. The labels will do the mastering, prepare the tape for downloading, supply artwork and liner notes to the digital music services, and handle promotion costs.


From today's New York Times

More information via this link.

With thanks to 'American in Europe' Vanessa Lann for the heads-up. Image credit - Walt Disney Hall, venue for the 'Minimalist Jukebox' series from Gayot.com. Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath .

If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Philly's profit share fillip

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Elgar, Alsop and Bernstein

Sir Edward Elgar is currently suffering at the hands of my friends across the Atlantic. First blogger James Reel over at KUAT-FM in Southern Arizona set history straight by telling us that: 'If you are not English, you are more likely to perceive the Elgar Violin concerto as a thematically amorphous, bloated corpse of Romanticism. Sorry, Limeys: Elgar was not a great composer. He wrote a lot of lovely, endearing miniatures (and remember that the "Enigma" Variations are a series of miniatures), but only one large-scale work, the Cello Concerto, of truly international stature. Otherwise, Elgar, like Bruckner, is a provincial composer of severely flawed scores that fervent little fan clubs have bullied us into accepting as masterpieces.'

Then last night, on BBC Radio 3, Marin Alsop showed us how it really should be done, in what the BBC presenter tactfully described as her first 'stab' at Elgar's mighty Second Symphony. Now as my photo sequence shows Ms Alsop was a pupil of Bernstein (that is Marin to the left), and, oh boy, did it show. She has clearly been listening to Lenny's infamous Enigma Variations recording which was universally panned, and described by one reviewer as 'excruciatingly slow, protracted, and mannered'. Alsop dutifully pulled the tempi in the E flat major Symphony all over the place with the final pages of the concluding Moderato e Maestoso taken so slowly that even the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra players, who can busk with the finest, came close to breaking down. You can hear it via the BBC 'listen again' service until 31st March - if you must.

I'm afraid the return match I was trying to organise with Sir Adrian Boult conducting Charles Ives' Third Symphony isn't going to happen. So let's settle it at the soccer World Cup in Germany in June instead.

Image credits, Marin soaks up the histrionics from Marinalsop.com. Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Simply chic symphonies?

Friday, March 24, 2006

The music of Taize

The Church of Reconciliation seen in the photo above was built for the Taizé Community in 1962 by the German organisation Sühnezeichen. This group of architects was formed after the Second World War by German Christians to build symbols of reconciliation in places of war-time suffering. The original design was by one of the Taizé Brothers, and the Church groundplan has been added to over the years to form a functional and flexible space for worship. Movable partitions are used to adapt the interior, and the usable space can be expanded outside in the summer using tents.

The founder of the Taizé Community, Brother Roger (left), was born in Switzerland in 1915. After studying theology in in Strasbourg and Lausanne he searched in France for a suitable location to found a religous community. The derelict rural village of Taizé, near the Abbey of Cluny, was chosen. The hamlet was just a few kilometres from the demarcation line separating unoccupied France from the Nazi occupied zone. The Community sheltered many refugees, including Jews, at considerable risk to Brother Roger, who had to flee to Switzerland at one point to avoid arrest by the Gestapo. When France was liberated the Community also worked with German prisoners of war.

Since the war the Taizé Community has developed into a leading ecumenical body committed to reconciling the different Christian Churches, and it has worked closely with Catholic and Protestant groups. The Community has been particularly successful at appealing to young worshipers, and its use of music in the liturgy is central to this appeal.

Taizé has created a uniquely functional style of liturgical music that reflects the meditative nature of the Community. The music emphasizes simple phrases, usually lines from the Psalms or other extracts from the Scriptures, and these are repeated and sometimes also sung in canon with the repetition aiding meditation and prayer.

In its early days the Community used 16th century settings of the Psalms, and music by the Jesuit Father Joseph Gélineau (1920 - ). Subsequently the French composer Jacques Berthier (1923-1994) was commissioned to write liturgical music, and his compositions, which include the Adoramus te Domine above, are responsible for the widespread popularity of Taizé music today. Berthier, who studied at the César Frank School in Paris, had an extraordinary ability to write truly functional music that could be sung in more than twenty languages on a wide variety of instruments ranging from guitar and keyboard to full orchestra. As well as creating music for the Taizé Community he composed much Catholic liturgical music including Masses. The widespread currency of Jacques Berthier's tuneful music probably debars him from categorisation as a 'serious' composer. But his beautifully crafted output does mean he belongs to an exalted category of composers of functional liturgical music that includes Bach and Palestrina.

Helped by its music the teachings of the Taizé Community have spread through Western Europe, and into the United States. The annual New Year meetings, which are attended by tens of thousands of young people, have been hosted by most leading European cities including former communist countries. The 90 year old Brother Roger was killed in August 2005 when an apparently mentally-disturbed Romanian woman stabbed him during evening prayer at Taizé. Brother Alois, a German Roman Catholic, was chosen to succeed him.

* Follow this link for a photo essay on the Taizé community.

* MP3 audio files of Taizé music can be downloaded from Taizé.fr

* There are many commercial recordings of Taizé music available. The Songs of Taizé (now deleted) on Naive is recommended for its 60 page illustrated booklet with meditations by Brother Roger. The Auvidis CD Catate (T 505) which contains fifteen Taizé works by Jacques Berthier.

* A Universal Heart - the Life and Vision of Brother Roger of Taizé by Kathryn Spink is published by SPCK, ISBN 0281057990

* More information and web resources are available from the Taizé web site.

* More on Jacques Berthier's compositions in The joyful power of music.

Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

I am a camera - Britten's Aldeburgh









Brilliant weather here today with astonishing light, so no words, just pictures. All photos taken this afternoon (23rd March) in Aldeburgh and Snape using a Casio EX-Z120, and (c) On An Overgrown Path.
Other Aldeburgh resources On An Overgrown Path include * Music will rise from the wreckage * Easter at Aldeburgh * A direct line to Britten * East Anglia 1953 - New Orleans 2005 *

Photos are (c) On An Overgrown Path 2010. 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, March 22, 2006

Another Elgar 'discovery' - it will never end ...

Back in December I wrote - Another Elgar 'discovery' - will it never end?

Fellow blogger Jessica Duchen writing in yesterday's Independent would have us believe not.

Nobody seems to have answered my question - Why is classical music so obsessed by 'realisations', 'elaborations' and 'reconstructions' when they are derided elsewhere?

Image credit - Soundandvision.com. Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Elgar's other enigma

The wheel would scar the earth ...

In today's UK budget, the chancellor Gordon Brown raised taxes for gas-guzzling vehicles, with the worst offenders now attracting a vehicle excise duty of £210 ($380). The move has been coupled with a zero rate for a small number of cars with the lowest carbon emissions, and £40 duty for cars with low emissions.

The only wheel in constant use in old Tibet was the prayer wheel: either the huge fixed prayer wheels, embossed with sacred mantras that were spun by pilgrims at monasteries, or the miniature handheld prayer wheels. The monks were none too keen on seeing the wheel, or close replicas of it, used elsewhere for purposes such as barrelling along a road. An ancient prophecy held that the use of the wheel would scar the surface of the earth, releasing evil spirits and destroying the social fabric of Tibet (and that may yet prove correct). From Heartlands - Travel in the Tibetan World by Michael Buckley (Summersdale ISBN: 1840242094)

Now playing: Lou Harrison's La Koro Sutro scored for 100 voice chorus with American Gamelan, harp and organ, conducted by Philip Brett. (New Albion Records NA015). Lou Harrison (below) was a practicing American Budhist, and in September 2005 His Holiness the Dalai Lama attended a performance of the late composer's 'Peace Piece One' at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, with Patrick Gardner conducting the Rutgers Kirkpatrick Choir. An accompanying exhihibition featured Tibetan sculpture, paintings, masks, and musical instruments in conjunction with an audio-video installation of Patrick Gardner conducting La Koro Sutro.

Image credit - Gridlock from Grinning Planet. Lou Harrison from Jinhair.com. Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Chinese puzzle

More passion for books ...

I started my recent article What exactly is a 'classic'? with a quote by Marc Van Doren. This was taken from Robert Giroux's Introduction to The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton which I bought the book last year in the wonderful Libraire Shakespeare English bookshop in the Rue de la Carreterie in Avignon, and then read it in the cloisters of the Benedictine Monastery of Sainte-Madeleine at Le Barroux.

La Libraire Shakespeare is owned by Wolfgang Zuckermann (photo above), author of five books and former owner of Zuckermann Harpsichords, New York. His magical shop follows the tradition of English bookshops in France first started by Sylvia Beach in Paris in 1919 with the original Shakespeare & Co.

Why do so many Americans open bookshops in France? The answer can be found in another quote from The Seven Storey Mountain (first published, remember, in 1948), this time from Thomas Merton himself: 'How does it happen that even today a couple of ordinary French stonemasons, or a carpenter and his apprentice can put up a dovecote or a barn that has more architectural perfection than the piles of eclectic stupidity that grew up at the cost hundreds of thousands of dollars on the campuses of American universities?'

* Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain is published in a Harvest Books edition, ISBN 0156010860.
* Photo of Wolfgang Zuckermann in Libraire Shakespeare linked from his website. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Passion for books ...

Monday, March 20, 2006

More and more Mozart ...

The silly craze for wall to wall programming of a single composer's works is spreading beyond the BBC. This week all 23 of Mozart's original piano concertos are being performed in six days by six orchestras and 19 soloists in the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, thankfully counterbalanced by a little Penderecki and Messian.

As if all that wasn't enough the 'inclusive' festival will include audience participation via a collection of Steinways in the Bridgewater Hall foyer which concertgoers are invited to play.

How 2006.

Image credit - Jan Op De Beek who kindly gave permission for use, do visit his website for more wonderful caricatures, particularly Mahler. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Shostakovich and Strictly Come Dancing

What exactly is a 'classic'?

Scholar and poet Mark Van Doren said: 'A classic is a book that remains in print'. So let's assume that a 'classic' music composition is one that receives regular performances. By this definition 'classic' status has been achieved by the Passion settings of Schütz, Haydn, and of course the incomparable St Matthew and St John Passions from the composer 'whose light blots out the feeble rays of other composers.' But which of the modern Passions will be performed regularly, and become 'classics'?

The trial has only just begun for Oswaldo Golijov's St Mark's Passion. But the verdict on Arvo Pärt's Passio was passed down soon after its 1982 Munich premiere - a contemporary masterpiece that endures today through live performances and recordings. Passio is a setting of St John scored for a quartet of soloists (SA/CtTB) as Evangelist, bass and tenor for Jesus and Pilate, a quartet of instrumentalists (violin, oboe, bassoon and cello), and choir. In it Pärt uses tintinnabuli, with the melody and the accompaniment fused into one. The work is remarkable for its use of silence, with the duration of the silences between the sections determined by the number of syllables in the final word of the preceeding sentence.

On Saturday night Norwich's soaring Norman Cathedral was the setting for a performance of Passio. The six immensely demanding solo roles were taken by members of Tonus Peregrinus, the instrumentalists were the principals from Chamber Orchestra Anglia, and the University of East Anglia Choir supplied the chorus and promoted the performance. Howard Williams provided incisive conducting which successfully maintained the balance between the soloists and the unusually large choir. 'Remaining in print' may seem a cruelly commercial criteria for judging a work of art. But Arvo Pärt's masterpiece, which is not yet 25 years old, held the large audience spell-bound in rapt silence for more than an hour, surely proof that Marc van Doren's definition is more than just a criteria for bean-counters?

Passio has been recorded several times. If you don't know this work look no further than Tonus Peregrinus' award winning, and very low priced, Naxos version (right) directed by Antony Pitts, and stunningly recorded in the Abbey Church of St Peter and St Paul in Dorchester-on-Thames, here in the UK. The principal roles are taken by Robert Macdonald (Jesus) and Mark Anderson (Pilate) - the same soloists as for the Norwich performance.

It is excellent news that there are several good recordings of Passio available. But recordings are not the equivalent of books in print. A healthy music scene depends on healthy composers, and healthy composers need royalty income, and that royalty income depends on live performance or broadcasts. Both the costs , and rewards, for making and distributing recordings have fallen sharply in recent years, while the cost of mounting concert performances has risen. This means generating royalties from live performances is more difficult than ever. Malcolm Arnold's (right) Ninth Symphony illustrates this difficulty. This work, dating from 1986, has been recorded by three major labels, Naxos, Chandos and Conifer, and has been described as a 20th century masterpiece. Yet there is not one single live performance, anywhere in the world, in the composer's 85th anniversary year. I do not suggest they are works of equal stature, but it is interesting to reflect that Elgar's First Symphony received more than a hundred performances within twelve months of its premiere in 1908, well before the era of music-like-water. By contrast, in the twenty years since its composition, Arnold's Ninth Symphony has received just three concert performances.

In Elgar's day regional performances were vitally important to the promotion of new music, and Elgar himself conducted the premiere of his Sea Pictures in Norwich Cathedral in 1899. Thankfully these regional performances do continue, albeit at a greatly reduced level. The performance of Passio is one example, the only US performance of the Arnold symphony is another. Of the latter a critic wrote: 'In March 2000 I attended the U.S. premiere of Malcolm Arnold's Ninth Symphony which was presented by the Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra, a fine community orchestra in northern Maryland, with Sheldon Bair on the podium. It was a highly emotional event; Sir Malcolm was present. However, as I listened I couldn't help but wonder why one of the major American orchestras wasn't presenting this major premiere.'

Although the difficulty of getting live performances is most acute for contemporary music, it also applies to some surprisingly established masters. The catalogue contains fine recordings of Passion settings by Obrecht, Vittoria, Guerrero (left), Byrd and the grossly under-rated, and elusive, Jacob Handl which are rarely, if ever, heard live today.


CDs and MP3s are wonderful things. But the error is to think that they are substitutes for live performance, either artistically or commercially.

The header image is of sculptor David Begbie's magnificent steelmesh Crucifix which I wrote about in Pilgrimage. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Is recorded classical music too cheap?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Why computers will not take over our world

'Here is the relaxing thought: computers will not take over our world, they cannot replace us, because they are not designed, as we are, for ambiguity' - Lewis Thomas' late night thoughts on listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony.

Disambiguation in Wikipedia and Wikimedia is the process of resolving ambiguity—the conflict that occurs when a term is closely associated with two or more different topics. In many cases, this word or phrase is the "natural" title of more than one article. In other words, disambiguations are paths leading to different topics that share the same term or a similar term - Wikipedia guideline.

Lewis Thomas' The Lives of a Cell is published by Penguin, ISBN 0140047433.
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If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to * Lost in translation * Wot no computers
*
Wikipedia is remix *

Friday, March 17, 2006

Steve Reich premiere on BBC webcast

BBC Radio 3 broadcast an unscheduled Steve Reich premiere yesterday evening. Reich was making a guest appearance on Radio 3's In Tune programme to celebrate his upcoming 70th birthday. The live interview with presenter Sean Rafferty was interrupted by an unfamiliar Reich composition which turned out to be the ringtone on his mobile (cell) phone. It took several moments for the embarassed composer to locate the offending phone in a pocket of his voluminous coat, during which time listeners were treated to some exclusive Reich. You can hear this premiere via the BBC 'listen again' service until 23rd March, the performance is 100 minutes into the programme.

Presenter Sean Rafferty was nonplussed. At least it was a composer, and it wasn't a concert ....

Image credit - Adfreak.com Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Pianissimo

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Antal Dorati the composer

Antal Doráti's reputation was justifiably built on his conducting. Just one example is his recording of Stravinsky's complete Firebird ballet which was made for Mercury in Watford Town Hall in 1959. It is one of the major achievements in the history of recorded music and was made on Ampex 350 series three channel ½ inch recorders using valve (tube) recording electronics. (See link in web resources below). Listening to it again does raise the question as to what real benefits do digital recording and jet-setting maestros bring us today?

Less well known, but very well worth finding, is a live Missa Solemnis recorded in the Philharmonie in Berlin with Doráti conducting the European Symphony Orchestra, University of Maryland Chorus, and a distinguished group of soloists on BIS. Beethoven's Missa Solemnis was a very personal work for Doráti, and its score gave the title, and inspiration, to his posthumously published book 'For Inner and Outer Peace' which can be bought from IPPNW Concerts in Berlin.

Antal Doráti is not so well known as a composer, although his First and Second Symphonies have achieved some currency through his own excellent interpretation on BIS. Today (16th March) at 2.00pm GMT there is a very rare opportunity to hear a performance of his Cello Concerto in a live concert by the BBC Symphony Orchestra from their Maida Vale Studio (click here for a time zone converter) . Here is the complete, and very enterprising programme which can be heard live via a webcast, or until 25th March via the BBC 'listen again' service:


Ludwig Irgens Jensen: Passacaglia
Dorati: Cello Concerto with Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
Lutoslawski: Symphony No 4

Well done the BBC for presenting such an innovative programme, this is what the BBC Symphony are so good at - showcasing rarely heard modern music with little preparation time. But one small gripe I'm afraid - the cult of the media personality (or just plain sloppy sub-editing?) means both the BBC Radio 3 and the BBC Symphony websites tell us the name of the continuity announcer and soloist, but not the conductor.

Web resources:
* For audio file of an interview with legendary Mercury producer Wilma Cozart Fine follow this link.
* Antal Dorati web site
Image credit - Antal Dorati from WFCR . Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Who am I? - attaca

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

BBC MP3 downloads fail to get compliments

And regular reader, and contributor, Alex Noel-Tod writes .....

' In view of your ambivalence about the BBC (and others') download offers, you might be amused by this bit of PR illiteracy in
a press release on the BBC Philharmonic website.

" ... featured performances of all the nine symphonies written by Beethoven and was complimented by a free download offer of the performances on the BBC Radio 3 website."

There's a world of difference between
'complemented' and 'complimented', but a world blithely unknown to the BBC Phil website. If Ludwig was around to claim royalties, I don't suppose he'd be offering them many compliments ... '

Image credit from BBC Radio 3. Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to The BBC's frost with the music business

Shostakovich and Strictly Come Dancing

On An Overgrown Path is a huge fan of Shostakovich, and has devoted many articles to him in recent months. But if I hear another note of his music on BBC Radio 3 in the next few weeks I am likely to kick in the fronts of my extremely expensive speakers.

Wall to wall Shostakovich makes no more sense than wall to wall Bach cantatas, or wall to wall Wagner. Shostakovich is a first-rate composer, but even his most ardent fans must acknowledge that his music lacks the sheer range that distinguishes a true master such as Beethoven. To put it bluntly an awful lot of Shostakovich sounds the same, and some of it is the aural sound equivalent of secondhand chewing gum. Broadcast single composer marathons lacking the frisson of live performance do no more than grab media headlines and boost short term ratings.

The Government White Paper published yesterday on the future of the BBC gave some hope as it directed that the BBC 'should not merely chase ratings or copy successful shows on other channels.' But that hope was quickly extinguished by the next paragraph which praised the TV show Strictly Come Dancing for its creativity.

Sadly the BBC has turned composer anniversaries into a media friendly stick to beat audiences with. But there is one anniversary this year which shouldn't be overlooked. The influence of Shostakovich is not hard to find in the symphonies of Sir Malcolm Arnold, and in fact Arnold met Shostakovich when he visited Russia as the representative of the UK Musician's Union. I am told that Communist party member Dimitri Kabalevsky also had to be present at these meetings to make sure the two bad-boys of 20th century music didn't misbehave.

Sir Malcolm is 85 this year. Here is a tonic to the current Shostakovich saturation in the form of a four minute long hi-res MP3 download (10.5MB) of the first movement of Arnold's Quintet for Brass (1961). It is scored for two trumpets, horn, trombone and tuba, and is played by a brass quintet from Berkeley, whose members are AJ Shankar, Nikhil Kacker, Kate Stewart, Avik Chatterjee, and Matt Pereira -

Audio linked from Umesh Shankar's Recordings Page. Image credit - BBC
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If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Arnold's 9th - neglected 20th century masterpiece?