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

15 comments:

Pliable said...

Email received

Dear "Pliable" I have just read your latest blog. It was, as ever, entertaining and insightful in its coverage of major issues in current music and its appraisal of the past.

I commend your caution re the Bolivar machine that is trundling along!

My best wishes for the future both as a blogger and a broadcaster.

All power to your elbow...etc in your quest to unseat the " Blessed Norman L " from his absurd self imposed throne of grandeur! What even the current Radio 3 team see in him & why they have let him back on the air waves is a mystery!

When you are back in harness I would be interested in your thoughts on the BBC Radio Player system which keeps failing. Following your prompt I've been exploring net radio with success.

To me,it seems in comparison that Radio 3 is trying to have too much content available to be easy to access and maintain - with the awful interface not helping the viewer/listener!

Enjoy your break

Geoff

Pliable said...

Email received:

Many happy returns.

Thanks to the high quality of your work, Janacek would have said that “On an overgrown path” is no longer “in the mists”.

Antoine

Pliable said...

And another email

Congratulations! Thank you providing such a thought-provoking, illuminating blog.

Best,

Beata

Drew80 said...

Pliable, I could not agree with you more about the "volatile mix of musical vision, politics and commercialism" with which the Venezuelans are marketed, and I could not agree with you more about the presence of Venezuelan flags at an orchestral concert.

Goodness gracious! If Russian or German or American youth orchestras appeared in London wrapped in their countries' flags, they would be booed off the stage mercilessly, and deservedly so.

Pliable said...

Drew, very well put indeed.

So why are so few of us saying it?

Drew80 said...

You know, Pliable, that is not an easy question to answer.

The easiest answer: people are simply not paying attention.

Another answer: disadvantaged youth from a poor country, surmounting their difficult circumstances through the gift of music, makes an appealing story.

This is about the best I can do without getting long-winded.

Drew80 said...

And I realize, Pliable, that my answer is a very poor one, and utterly ignores the flag-waving issue, which I find very unsettling.

I also thought that some of the London reviews of the concert were very unsettling.

Read the last paragraph of The Guardian review. It is dumbfounding.

Pliable said...

Drew, again I can only agree.

Here is a link to the Guardian review.

And I'm glad to find I'm not the only one thinking this way.

Anna said...

Congratulations on your three years of blogging.
I'm sure I speak for many, when I say, enjoy your break and we look forward to your return.

Henry Holland said...

Congratulations Pliable and enjoy the vacation.

I fully expect a scathing condemnation from both Pliable and Drew80 of the fact that before every baseball, hockey or basketball game I attend, I have to stand up, remove my hat and pretend to sing along to the utterly ghastly Star Spangled Banner or face rude comments and (in some cases) physical threats or (in one case) an attempted punch in the face. And that at Angels games at least, I have to stand up etc. during the seventh inning stretch to sing the utterly vile God Bless America or face etc.

I mean, you do want to be consistent, don't you?

Here's a hint about maybe why people aren't reacting like you two want on this issue: you're wrong.

It's a possibility, you know.

Drew80 said...

I'm surprised, Mr. Holland, that you are witnessing those kinds of things on the West Coast. I have not heard similar stories about sporting events in the Twin Cities.

Myself, I wear an Uncle Sam costume to work every day and whistle "The Stars And Stripes Forever" while writing legal documents in my office--and anyone who doesn't join me in the trio gets smacked with a baseball bat!

Further, I am pleased to pass on that the Minnesota Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra will, I understand, depart from their formal concert attire this coming season. Black and white will be out. Red, white and blue will be in.

Now get back to those patriotic songs you've been working on! I want you to lustily join in at future sporting events! And don't mess up the lyrics!

Drew80 said...

And I am now gone for the weekend, Mr. Holland, but I totally agree with you that patriotic songs have no place at sporting events.

Jonathan said...

Pliable,

Congrats on 3 years of solid blogging. I only discovered this blog in the past 1/2 year and it is in my daily reading. Thanks!

BTW, you were right about Harry Potter distubing sales patterns.

Link, I'm undecided now.

Pliable said...

Henry, perhaps the reason why Venezuelan flag waving on the concert platform is so rapturously received is the wisdom of crowds?

That is something that a corporate record company with its roots in rock music, like Universal Music who own Deutsche Grammophon, understand and are in the business of exploiting.

The audience for Dudamel's Prom included most of the UK retail record trade. They had been lavishly entertained by DG prior to the concert, including viewing a powerful PR film.

The problem is that, as cited in the reference above, not all crowds, whether at a baseball match, symphony concert or back in history, are wise.

Garth Trinkl said...

Rearding Andrew's initial comment, I agree that it would be atrocious if youth orchestras showed up for an international youth orchestra festival and celebration all wearing costumes patterned on national flags. When I, with my multi-racial, multi-classed youth orchestra, attended the "Herbert Von Karajon International Festival of Youth Orchestras" in [West] Berlin, in September 1972, all orchestras, from Moscow, USSR to San Francisco/Oakland USA wore traditional black "mini-tuxedos" and uncomfortable black patent leather shoes. Perhaps at that time there was less commercialism and nationalism in the air (though there was still, at least in the USA, the remnants of 1960s egalitarianism/idealism). The Youth Orchestra from the Moscow Conservatory won the top prize, being the best disciplined and trained.

Perhaps if the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra had come to the classical music world attention more slowly and traditionally, through lower-key international cultural exchange, and without the Proms appearances and DG record contracts, it would have been healthier for all. Where are the New York, London, Moscow, Berlin, Washington, Tokyo and Singapore-based international festivals and celebrations of youth orchestras, today?

That said, I reread the Guardian article and believe that I understand that the Venezuelan colored jackets were only worn during the encores. This somewhat lessened my shock, if not my concern (having read, earlier in the day, about Goebbel's 'brilliant' staging of the Hitler 'coronation' in Nazi-sceptical Prussian Potsdam, Germany in early 1933). The wild behaviour on the part of the Venezuelan youth, on the other hand, seemed uncalled for and to be criticized.

The Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra will be performing at the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, on November 4, and perhaps the Austrian-born Governor of the State of California can speak to the DG PR people (through his contacts at Stanford University's conservative Hoover Institute) and mention that, given that there will be no Union Jacks in S.F. now (as there were Nazi flags at meetings in S.F. [and L.A.?] in the 1930s) there is no need to bring the tri-color encore flag jackets (and that those jackets and the unchecked non-musical enthusiasm is bad for the adolescents). The November 4 S.F. appearance of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra concert is sponsored by the San Francisco Symphony (which has its own well-travelled multi-racial, and multi-class, Youth Orchestra) and the Chevron oil company.

*

Yesterday, I attended a free noon concert by a tired San Francisco Symphony and MTT in an urban park, and the performance began with the Star-Spangled Banner. (I did not stand.) There were speeches by the conservative local radio station, the President of the SFS, and a VIP from the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, which distributed thousands of lime-green, Chinese-made plastic lunch bags emblazoned with the PG and E logo and "Let's Build an Environmentally-Sustainable City Now!" The audience on the grass was a sea of unnatural green as people used the lunch bags as hats under the bright sun ...