Friday, August 24, 2007
A year of stories that had to be told
On An Overgrown Path is three years old today, and this is post number 1171. The site has received close to a million hits, and the word count is now not far short of a staggering half a million. That is twice as many words as Alex Ross' new book, and half as many as today's BBC Radio 3 presenters use to introduce a single concert.
The last twelve months gave me the opportunity to explore several new paths. Two of the most rewarding articles to write were those on the black Guyanese conductor Rudolph Dunbar and the Afro-French composer Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Appropriately, yesterday was the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, and I am writing this before we dash off to the radio studio to present a studio discussion on the slave trade.
My radio co-presenter is my wife Sorojini. As usual several different paths intersect here. Sorojini was born in Georgetown, Guyana, as was Rudolph Dunbar. A colonial labour system brought the families of both to that country from different continents. And Guyana has been involved for more than 150 years in a border dispute with Venezuela, a country that has featured frequently on the path, and one that I will return to later
Internet radio is another new path I've been exploring. Future Radio, here in Norwich, has been very generous in giving me carte blanche to present an hour of contemporary music every Sunday at 5.00pm British Summer Time. This has meant that listeners around the world have been able to listen to rarely heard music by Mikis Theodorakis, Alan Hovhaness, William Howard Schuman, Thea Musgrave, Pierre Boulez, Edmund Rubbra and others.
Benjamin Britten has, of course, remained a constant on the path throughout the year. In April I wrote one of the year's saddest posts, and marked the death of Britten's friend and collaborator Mstislav Rostropovich with a small personal appreciation.
On An Overgrown Path's commitment to contemporary music has increased. Posts on Pierre Boulez , Bruno Maderna, Jonathan Harvey and Lou Harrison were particularly well received, and it was fun to see my tribute to Conlon Nancarrow reminding some high profile US sites that it was the tenth anniversary of Nancarrow's death.
Less well received were my posts on the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela and Gustavo Dudamel. But I continue to remain uneasy about their volatile mix of musical vision, politics and commercialism, and believe that Venezuelan flags (see above via Deceptively Simple) and union jacks (see below via BBC) are both out of place at the BBC Proms. Youngsters just having fun? Please tell that to the families of the millions of young people who died last century defending freedom of speech. At last the paid-for media, and some other blogs, have also started to question the link between music and politics in Venzuela. And the answers given by Dudamel certainly do not make me change my views.
Of course the Venezuelan music education system is a fantastic way of rejuvenating classical music. But others are also doing great work, and my sequence of reports on the Aldeburgh Festival showed that 'reaching out' and 'selling out' don't always have to rhyme. It was also pleasing to see Aldeburgh Music recognising the importance of music blogs.
In February this year classical music had its 'Diana moment' with the Joyce Hatto 'forgery' revelations, and I tried, without much success, to introduce some balanced reporting. The Joyce Hatto story was, by miles, the year's biggest storm in a teacup.
I received far more satisfaction from writing articles about Elisabeth Lutyens and Elizabeth Maconchy, while the story of Timothy Brady's opera Edalat Square, about the hanging of two young gay men in Iran, just had to be told. My research for the post on Reginald Goodall was also important, not least because the path led to Rudolph Dunbar.
The year also had a lot of laughs. And I am very grateful to Norman Lebrecht for providing most of them.
It was also pleasing to write that youth is not a time of life, but a state of mind. Particularly as this modestly successful blog is written by a 57 year old.
I must apologise to my many overseas readers for the seemingly endless articles deploring the state of BBC Radio 3 and the Proms. But when an old, trusted and loved friend is in agony you desperately want to change things. And a hat tip to Nicholas Kenyon for sending me the longest, most opaque, and least read article posted On An Overgrown Path in the last twelve months. Thanks Nick, and I look forward to receiving my signed copy of your new history of the Barbican Centre.
On a personal front it was very moving to see my photo feature on the inspirational Taizé Community become such an important web resource via Wikipedia. Father Roger's ecumenical community remains a beacon of light in an often dark world.
Apologies to the many readers who emailed me and did not receive an immediate reply. The comments that appear on the blog are the tip of a very large iceberg. Unfortunately some eloquent messages remain buried beneath many from Nigerians generously offering to share their financial windfalls with me.
I hope that the next twelve months will be as rewarding as those just ended. But before my new blogging year gets into its stride On An Overgrown Path will be taking a sea interlude (that's the East Anglian equivalent of a hiatus) in September. In past years I've run the blog at arms length while away, but the size of the readership, its topicality and the risk of legal challenges now make that impractical. So after several more posts, on Monday (Aug 27) I'll be locking the blog down for four weeks, a gap that I'm sure that the many other fine music blogs will fill perfectly well.
Thank you readers for your support, comments, and corrections. In the coming months I will keep following the path mapped so eloquently by Libby Purves in Radio: A True Love Story.
'All that you can do is to make - and publicise - the best and most passionately well-crafted programmes you can think of. Ratings have to be watched, but calmly and with a sense of proportion. You have to believe that if even one person is swayed, or inspired, or changed, or comforted, by a programme, then that programme has been worthwhile'.
Top image credit Deceptively Simple. Lower image credit BBC. 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 other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk