Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Israel can do dance


I do think dance is under-represented on the blogs. So I was delighted to notice Israel Dance linking to my recent article Black people can't do ballet.

Now read why Dance is not an inferior art form
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Music is in the soul of Russia


Stephen Moss tells it like it is in his Guardian music blog, and links to On An Overgrown Path:

It is of course distressing news that the great Russian cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich is seriously ill in a Moscow hospital. Long may this remarkable performer and life-force live. I once shared a lift with him on the morning after a concert he had conducted in Milan, and his extraordinary energy was apparent even then - at 7.30am, following a party that had gone on into the early hours. A bear hug from "Slava" leaves you winded: his commitment and passion, for life and for music, are legendary; listen to him perform the Bach cello suites or conduct Tchaikovsky's ballets, and you will soon realise why he has been a towering presence in music-making for half a century.

How many other ailing classical musicians would make the news in the way that Slava has? And an even more pertinent question: if Slava were British, would our head of state or prime minister have made a special trip to hospital to wish him well, as Russian president Vladimir Putin is said to have done recently? Somehow, I can't imagine the Queen or Blair rushing to be at the bedside of Charles Mackerras or Colin Davis or Janet Baker if, perish the thought, they were seriously ill in hospital.

In Britain, the link between culture and politics is less umbilical than in Russia. The part serious art plays in national life and the taste of our leaders is also rather more restricted. Perhaps if Lester Piggott had a life-threatening condition, our racing-mad Queen would gallop to his aid; and Blair would, presumably, want to be there if, say, Noel Gallagher was stricken with something terrible. But Harrison Birtwistle, Alexander Goehr, Peter Maxwell Davies? Even the Master of the Queen's Music would, I suspect, only get a card.

Putin is said to be fond of the popular classics - Tchaikovsky and Schubert have been mentioned - and also claims to have read a good deal of Russian literature. This may just be spin. But I like to believe it is true - that the steely-eyed but sweet-faced former KGB colonel really does have a penchant for great music and a soft spot for Slava, who is also a political hero in Russia for standing alongside Boris Yeltsin in the face of a communist coup in 1991. And that this represents something profoundly Russian - the sense that music is in the soul of this great nation. That what is now thought of as a country of oligopolists and mafiosi, poverty, hunger and exploitation, is still, at heart, the land of Tchaikovsky,
Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Horowitz, David Oistrakh, Maxim Vengerov ... and on and on. Russia has given more to music-making in the past 120 years than any other country.

The close link between politics and art has a downside, as Shostakovich discovered when Stalin began to take an over-critical view of his work in the 1930s. But I almost prefer that to the indifference of our own leaders, who wouldn't know a Tintoretto from a traffic cone. Thatcher, Major, Blair - do they have an ounce of artistic interest between them? No wonder the Millennium Dome's celebration of culture on New Year's Eve 1999 was such a fiasco: it was organised by a political class for whom great art has no value. Whose budget is to be slashed so the Olympics can get its billions? Why, the Arts Council of course.

Soviet communism proved to be a disaster, but boy did it take the arts seriously - Jade Goody and Cat Deeley would not have been major figures in Smolensk circa 1938. And I don't suppose President Putin is perfect, but he certainly knows a great musician when he sees one - and somehow finds the time in what must be a busy day running his chaotic country to tell a sick man what he has meant to Russia.


Meanwhile back On An Overgrown Path let's remember that Dmitri Shostakovich dedicated both his cello concertos to Mstislav Rostropovich. Listen, and see, Rostropovich talking about Shostakovich and the composition of Cello Concerto No 1 via these BBC Radio 3 online resources.
Rostropovich on playing to Shostakovich
Rostropovich on the Cello Concerto no. 1

And now read more about the musical tastes of our politicians
Photo credit Lavandeira jr/EPA. 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

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The first twelve-tone protest song

Andrew Murray, of the Stop the War Coalition, says that every week he is sent new anti-war songs, but they are mainly in a traditional folk style, and he has not yet come across a new song that has quite the anthemic, rallying resonance of Fixin'-to-Die or War. He said that the anti-war movement has had plenty of support from writers, actors and artists, but not quite as much as he would have hoped from the musical fraternity. Ms Dynamite was at the big 2003 rally, Damon Albarn (right) has also attended protests, and Nigel Kennedy and Brian Eno have been active - but Murray says there is a gaping hole for a new song - as Saturday's Guardian reports. Perhaps the Composers Collective could help?

Arriving at the apartment of Charles and his new wife Ruth Crawford Seeger, Peter found them leaving to hear Aaron Copland (below) speak at the leftwing Pierre Degreyter Club. The couple took the boy to an unheated loft in Greenwich Village. As Peter watched from the back of the room, two dozen prominent New York composers arrived, dressed in corduroys and leather jackets, carrying scores and instruments. Trained in the best music schools in the country, they were the renegades of the Philharmonic, passionately political. “The social system is going to hell,” they told each other. “Music might be able to do something about it. Let’s see if we can try. We must try.”

Charles had finally found a way to mix music and activism. He belonged to a group within the DeGeyter Club, the Composers Collective, which tried to compose songs for picket and unemployment lines. . As devotees of the new dissonance, however, the musicians sought to uplift workers’ musical tastes while stirring up revolution. The Composers Collective was probably the first group in the world to attempt to compose a twelve-tone protest song.

Peter did his best to follow Copland’s address, but neither the politics nor the music made sense to him, what with the talk of German composer
Hanns Eisler (below) and the slogan, “Music is a weapon in the class struggle.” He did sense how important the Collective’s mission was to his father; Charles now wrote music columns for the Daily Worker under a pseudonym. Peter later heard about his father’s entry in a contest for the best May Day song. When the submissions were played through, the Collective chose Copland’s “Into the Streets May 1st,” with its loud rhythmic chords on the piano. Charles agreed that musically, Copland’s song was best; but his was more singable, he insisted. These were marching songs, after all, and how were workers going to carry a piano on a march?

New York 1932 pictured in David Dunaway’s excellent biography of Pete Seeger (Da Capo ISBN 0306803992). Seeger is not just the guy that brought us ‘If I Had A Hammer’ and other inspirational songs. He was investigated for sedition by the House Committee on Un-American Activities, harassed by the FBI and CIA, blacklisted, picketed, and stoned by conservative groups, and received the support of none other than Benjamin Britten, as I described recently.


And bringing this Path full circle, in 1950 Aaron Copland was asked by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears to arrange a group of American songs which they could perform in Aldeburgh. Copland responded with a set of five Old American Songs, which were first performed in October 1951 by Britten and Pears. Which links to another story about music and American politics - 'Tis the gift to be free.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

A troubled cure ... for a troubled mind

The Gramophone has a not unexpected development in the Joyce Hatto story.

Now read A troubled cure ... for a troubled mind.
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Western takes on Russian music

I am a Russian composer, and the land of my birth has inevitably influenced my temperament and outlook. My music is the product of my temperament, and so it is Russian music. I never consciously attempt to write Russian music, or any other kind of music, for that matter. I have been strongly influenced by Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, but I have never consciously imitated anybody. I try to make my music speak simply and directly that which is in my heart at the time of composing. If there is love there, or bitterness, or sadness, or religion, these moods become part of my music, and it becomes beautiful, or bitter, or sad, or religious. For composing music is as much a part of my living as breathing or eating. I compose music because I must give expression to my feelings, just as I talk because I must give utterance to my thoughts.

These are the words of Sergei Rachmaninov, and his intense patriotism means that Russian performances of his sacred music in particular are considered as definitive. But today I will be looking at two Western performances which prove that there is life beyond the poor recorded sound and wobbly bass lines that are the hallmarks of many Russian performances of his liturgical works. Rachmaninov’s Vespers needs little introduction, but the 1999 EMI recording by Stephen Cleobury and the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge definitely does, so who better to do that than the Producer Simon Kiln?

‘There are of course many fine versions of Rachmaninov’s Vespers with mixed-voice choirs, both within the Russian tradition (for which the work was written) and outside it. This is the first to feature a choir of boys’ and men’s voices only. The result, whose point of departure was a particularly fine crop of low basses at King’s that year, blends one of the finest choirs in the English choral tradition with some of the finest music from the Russian tradition. Furthermore the beautiful acoustics at King’s College Chapel are ideal for this repertoire, since they are not unlike those of a Russian Orthodox cathedral. This disc also breaks new ground in that the recording was originally made in surround sound. Though release in that format awaits further developments in domestic audio technology, the listener should already derive some benefit in the enhanced stereo sound of the present CD.’

Those notes were written in 1997. The CD is still in the catalogue at full price, although there are some good deals from internet resellers. The performance is a serious work of scholarship with a credit given to language coach Xenia de Berner. Any recording made in the peerless acoustics of King’s Chapel is a joy to behold, this one is a double delight as it gives a fresh perspective on a very familiar work; shame about the ghastly cover though.

Much less well known is Rachmaninov’s other liturgical masterpiece, his earlier setting of the Russian Orthodox Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. I have previously written about a Russian recording of the Divine Liturgy, but one of the early delights of 2007 has been a new recording of this inspirational work by the Flemish Radio Choir directed by Kaspars Putnins. But it is not quite accurate to describe this as a ‘Western take’ as director Kaspars Putnins is a Latvian who graduated from that country’s Academy of Music, and who has worked extensively with Latvian choral groups.

This excellent new CD of the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom comes from the enterprising Spanish independent label Glossa whose recordings have featured here before. Bonus marks for an excellent essay on the Divine Liturgy in the sleeve notes, but a black mark for the absence of any artist biographies. The acoustics of the Jezuïetenkerk in Heverlee, Belgium sound glorious, with engineering, production and mastering in the hands of Manuel Mohino who is also responsible for many of Alia Vox's glorious sounding productions. And while corporate EMI are still waiting for the new technology smart independent Glossa have it. If you have the replay equipment you can bask in the Divine Liturgy in five channel SACD Surround Sound, although you will need a microscope to find the SACD logo on the sleeve.

These two Western takes on great Russian liturgical music are both pure absolute delights. It is unfortunate that today Rachmaninov is in the shadow cast by the media spotlight on his compatriot Shostakovich. I certainly don’t agree that political persecution is a prerequisite of musical greatness, but if it is Rachmaninov is a fully paid up member, and was described by the Soviet regime as: the servant and instrument of the proletariat’s worst enemies.’ As a result of the Soviet religious persecution his 1910 Liturgy of St John Chrysostom was forgotten, and it is only in recent years that it has been revealed as a masterpiece. This new recording by the Flemish Radio Choir and Kaspars Putnins helps to restore it to its rightful place – unmissable.


* St John Chrysostom (c. 345-407) was a very rare person, he was both a music critic and a saint. He differentiated between good and harmful music with the words: 'Lest demons introducing lascivious songs should overthrow everything, God established the psalms, in order that they might provide both pleasure and profit.'

For more on Rachmaninov’s liturgical masterpieces, and some more beautiful images, read Brilliant Russian sacred choral music.
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An artist is transforming all the time

The big change in Thomas Adès' own emotional life is his relationship with Tal Rosner; they became civil partners at start of 2006. "It's nothing so banal as you get married and everything changes, but if you're truthful, then everything in life contributes to what you are, what you write," he says. "So maybe now I'm allowing certain feelings or spaces in one's soul or heart which before I wouldn't have recognised or even known were there. I do feel that sense of opening and completion, and all of these things have to be tied up with the music I write. But then, if you're an artist worth your salt, you're transforming all the time."

Tom Service interviewing Thomas Adès (photo above) in today's Guardian as the Berlin Philharmonic give the first performance of Adès' new orchestral work Tevot. Service is a fan, and describes: 'the sheer expressive impact the piece makes. Of any piece of new music I've heard at its premiere, this is one of the most immediately, richly powerful.'

Follow this link for video art by Adès' civil partner Tal Rosner to music by Stravinsky. But follow this one for another composer who was less lucky with his civil partnership.
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Sunday, February 25, 2007

World exclusive on the Oscars

Oscar van Dillen (left) is a contemporary Dutch musician and composer. His studies included North-Indian classical music (sitar, tabla, vocal) with Jamaluddin Bharatiya in Amsterdam, bansuri with Gurbachan Singh at Berkeley, California, classical and jazz flute at the Sweelinck Conservatory in Amsterdam, and medieval and Renaissance music with Paul van Nevel in Leuven (Belgium). He now teaches world music composition and jazz, pop and world music department at the Conservatory of Rotterdam. In 2003 van Dillen's first CD, de Stad (the City), was released on Cybele Records. Do follow that last link for a treasure house of contemporary music. Biography via this link.

Oscar Stranoy is a contemporary Argentinian composer who studied with with Guillermo Scarabino, Guy Reibel, Michael Levinas, Gerard Grisey, Hans Zender, and John Carewe. He works in Europe and the US, and lives in Paris. Biography here, personal website via this link.

Oscar Straus (1870-1954) was a Viennese composer of operettas, film scores and songs. He also wrote about 500 cabaret songs, chamber music, and orchestral and choral works. He studied music in Berlin under Max Bruch, and became an orchestral conductor, working at the Überbrettl cabaret. In 1939, following the Nazi Anschluss, he fled to Paris and then to Hollywood, but returned to Europe after the war. His surname is spelt with a single 's'. An unconfirmed story says that he dropped the second 's' to distance himself from the Strauss musical dynasty. Biography via this link.

Oscar Herrero is a leading Spanish flamenco soloist, composer, and teacher . Personal website via this link.

Oscar Peterson is one of the all-time great jazz pianists. Born in 1925 he established his reputation through the 1950s, 60s and 70s with a varying trio line-up, and continues to play today. He has won seven Grammys, and his album Night Train is a gramophone classic. Personal website via this link.

Oscar Perez is a New York based jazz pianist and composer. He has a longstanding involvement with gospel music, and is music director of St Edward's Church in Harlem. Personal website via this link.

Oscar Hernandez is the New York based founder, music director and pianist for the "Spanish Harlem Orchestra" who received a Grammy Award nomination in 2002 for best salsa album. Biography via this link.

Oscar Macchioni is an Argentinian pianist who teaches at the University of Texas. His concert repertoire includes Antonio Soler, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Astor Piazzolla, Alberto Ginastera, Carlos Guastavino, and Castro. Personal websire via this link.

Oscar Shumsky (left) was an American violinist born in Philadelphia. He taught at Curtis Insitute and Yale University, after serving in the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Toscanini. His classic recordings include Ysaye's Solo Sonatas . He was first violin of the Primrose string quartet. Personal website via this link.

Oskar Kokoschka (yes I know, but the Oscars are noted for their self-indulgence) was the expressionist painter who provided a libretto for an opera by Ernst Krenek, whose story is told in Multicultural, multimedia and banned.

Please add missing Oscar, or Oskar, winners using the Comments facility below.
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Catch this if you can

BBC Radio 3's new schedules have taken quite a pasting here. So let's give some praise when it is due. Any programme that mixes Takemitsu, Bach, Honegger, Ligeti, Schubert and Eisler gets my vote. Listen to two hours of pianist Iain Burnside delivering an increasingly rare commodity, intelligent radio, via Listen Again, until 4th March.

And more praise for my alma mater via this link.
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Who said that? - the answer is ....

As we finished, he suddenly said: "I hope these new harmonies will work, but I'm not sure. We will see. You know, I have no confidence in myself ..." When I protested that this was impossible, he gently responded: "But I don't. I know I should, but I don't. I'm basically doing all I do in the most amateur way, just trying to realise something that I imagine in my ear, in dreams. I use techniques, of course, but I forget them after writing and I have no overall scheme or permanent procedures. People of my generation truly believed that music could be explained and structured in a pseudo-mathematical way, but I never believed that."

And the answer is ......

A number of readers emailed in the right answer, and they were split pretty well equally between those that recognised the composer behind the quote, and those that pasted the quote into Google. The prize of a virtual bottle of champagne goes to the Frankfurt-based Californian composer Daniel Wolf who blogs on the esteemed Renewable Music for this answer:

Hello -- the mystery quote is definitely from Ligeti. The subject matter is his late concern with harmony based on mixed spectra and the false modesty and over-polite slight on his contemporaries is typical Ligeti. A great composer, but one who should have never given interviews!

But he did give interviews, now read about György Ligeti's Private Passions
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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Alban Berg - you can't call that music


Today's big art story is that Prince Charles is joining great 20th century artists Joan Miró, Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, and Francis Bacon as the designer of a label for a Château Mouton Rothschild wine vintage. You can view their labels by opening those preceeding artist links, the Royal artwork is above, and Charles' label for the 2004 vintage is here. This story would really have made the late John Drummond laugh, as the following anecdote explains:

'I have always found the Prince's lack of interest in anything to do with the arts in our time depressing, since all his opinions get so widely reported. It seems to me that he has had unrivalled opportunities to get to understand the twentieth century, but he has rejected it without hesitation. Both Denys Lasdun and Colin St John Wilson of the British Library, found work hard to get in the UK in the aftermath of the Prince's criticisms.

I cannot believe it is a proper use of royal patronage to increase unemployment among architects. And it is the same with music. Having listened together at a Bath Festival concert to a superb performance of Alban Berg's String Quartet, written in 1910, the Prince turned to me and said, 'Well you can't call that music, but I suppose you would John.' 'And so should you, sir,' I repled defiantly. We had quite an argument, and later that evening he told our host that he liked me but unfortunately I was wrong about everything.'


* View all the Chateau Mouton Rothschild labels here.

For more on the Royal taste in music read That's Harrison Birtwistle, - quick, let's hide.
Extract from John Drummond's autobiography Tainted by Experience, published by Faber, ISBN 0571200540. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included for "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

A little light among a lot of heat

"Assuming that the allegation that László Simon's BIS recording of Liszt's Transcendental Etudes was copied and passed off as Joyce Hatto's own recording is true, I would be most interested in the background to this theft. Given the circumstances surrounding Ms. Hatto's sickness and fate, there may be deeply felt – if misguided – personal reasons for it. Unless further, aggravating circumstances are discovered, we do therefore not intend to take any legal steps against those responsible for the possible infringement of the copyright of BIS Records." BIS founder Robert von Bahr on his company's website.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Who said that?

As we finished, she/he suddenly said: "I hope these new harmonies will work, but I'm not sure. We will see. You know, I have no confidence in myself ..." When I protested that this was impossible, she/he gently responded: "But I don't. I know I should, but I don't. I'm basically doing all I do in the most amateur way, just trying to realise something that I imagine in my ear, in dreams. I use techniques, of course, but I forget them after writing and I have no overall scheme or permanent procedures. People of my generation truly believed that music could be explained and structured in a pseudo-mathematical way, but I never believed that."

Clue, the name is among this seventy-two.


Answers please to overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk, and I'll upload them. Question mark from Blogs.zdnet 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

All this ….. and what for?


The terrible raids on Dresden by British and American bombers took place on the nights of 13th and 14th February 1945. But the photographs here are not of Dresden, they show the damage inflicted by the German bombing of Norwich, where I live. 1432 people were killed or injured in Norwich by air raids between 1940 and 1943, and 85% of the housing stock was damaged. During April 1942 Norwich was one of the English cathedral cities heavily bombed in the "Baedeker raids" which targeted cultural centres selected from the eponymous German guide book. The photographs accompanying this article are taken from the official account of the air raids on Norwich published in 1944. This remarkable document, and remember it was written while World War 2 still raged, ends with the words below written by the novelist and war poet R H Mottram:

So the long tale of violence and attempted intimidation drags to its close, and as these words are written the seemingly endless vigil is being relaxed.Whatever we may suffer from “Revenge” weapons, we no longer anticipate organised attack. We have laid aside the steel helmet that so often oppressed our brow, and the respirator that we tested and tried on, hangs on its peg accumulating dust. We no longer look with trepidation for children who linger on their way home from school, nor do we stagger sleepily through the black shadows or the ghoulish light of flares to take up our posts of duty.

We hope soon to be replanning Norwich, and only the broken-hearted can fail to hope that a better and finer city may arise on these ashes. Perhaps a new Germany will help to patch our gaping places and re-site our streets. But no skill will bring back
those who lie under the long row of crosses that line the cemetery rail. These, who bore no malice, are a sacrifice to the evil forces still at work in the world. One may be tempted to recall the last lines of the play, appropriately entitled Strife, by John Galsworthy:

“All this …. and what for?”

It is for a new generation to provide the answer.

Now playing - Arvo Pärt’s I am the true vine, (Paul Hillier directing the Theatre of Voices, Harmonia Mundi 90407). The photograph above shows the destruction in the Cathedral Close in Norwich, with the cloisters of the Benedictine Abbey in the foreground. The photo was taken from a vantage point on the magnificent Norman cathedral. Unlike the Frauenkirche and Thomaskirche in Dresden, Norwich Cathedral survived the terrible bombing despite two direct hits from incendiary bombs, and in 1996 Arvo Pärt was commissioned to write I am the true vine to celebrate the Cathedral's 900th anniversary. The work is an English setting of St. John 15:1-14, in which Jesus likens himself to "the true vine" and commands his followers to love each other.

Arvo Pärt now lives in Berlin, another city that suffered terrible war damage, and the CD I am listening to also contains his moving Berliner Messe. Writing in 1944 R.H. Mottram expressed the hope that: “a new Germany will help to patch our gaping places and re-site our streets”, and this is precisely what happened, although the writer could not have anticipated the four decades of agonizing delay caused by the Cold War. In 1989 the collapse of Communism was triggered by events in Leipzig, just a few miles from Dresden. This allowed the creation of a new Europe which now includes many countries that were part of the USSR.


Arvo Pärt was born in Estonia, one of several countries that threw off the Soviet shackles in the early 1990s, and became part of the new Europe. Today the region around Norwich is home to a large community of migrants from these Baltic countries. On Saturday we celebrated their culture with our first Baltic States Festival, thankfully confirming that a new generation of Europeans is starting to provide the answer to the question "All this .... and what for?"

Suffering knows no side in time of war, now read about the Dresden Requiem for eleven young victims
My thanks go to Helen Yates for her grandmother’s copy of Assault Upon Norwich (published by Norwich Corporation 1944). The location of the photographs in descending order are Rampant Horse Street, Westwick Street, and Cathedral Close. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included for "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

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Towards a one-party musical state


Today's announcement that Nicholas Kenyon is to take over as Managing Director of the Barbican Centre arts complex takes London even closer to being a one-party musical state. Kenyon was appointed Controller of BBC Radio 3 in 1992, and has been Director of the BBC Proms since 1996. His tenure at the Proms has been marked by unimaginative planning which totally failed to reflect the diversity of today's contemporary music, and his programming repeatedly backed personal hobbyhorses at the expense of important voices. The track-record may be lacklustre, but Kenyon's pedigree is pure BBC - to the point of having written the official history of the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

The outgoing Barbican boss, John Tusa, was also previously a senior BBC man, but his track-record is positively visionary compared with Kenyon's. The agenda of the one-party state is driven by the BBC, which directly controls the world's biggest music festival, five major orchestras and a leading choir, a classical music broadcast and webcast network, artist's careers via the BBC New Generation Artist scheme, and the biggest new music commissioning budget in the world. Not content with this cultural hegemony, the BBC is now building a sphere of influence ranging from concert venues to artists agents, and is also developing a nifty line in news management.

As if all this is not enough, today's rumour in London is that Radio 3 Controller Roger Wright will take over Kenyon's vacated Proms seat, leaving the door open for another BBC apparatchik to take over Radio 3.

Can this really be healthy?

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Is the organ baroque?

I was in St Alban's Abbey and I was intrigued: they were building a new organ and I went up to - I suppose it must have been - the verger and I said, 'Is the organ baroque?' And he said, 'No, it's in perfectly good order.'

John Tavener in The Music of Silence, A Composer's Testament (Faber ISBN 0571200885). But Music of Silence is not an original title, it is also the translation of the Spanish composer Federico Mompou's piano cycle Música Callada written between 1959 and 1967. If you don't know Mompou's beautiful music his own recording of his complete piano music on 4CDs from Brilliant Classics is a must-buy. Now read about Even more Brilliant Classics, including Carlo Maria Giulini's Missa Solemnis.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Lebrecht lost?

As Paul Donovan pointed out in the Times the BBC are being very secretive about what is happening in the new Radio 3 schedules. Regular readers will know I am a huge fan of Norman Lebrecht, so I am very disturbed to report that Lebrecht Live seems to have disappeared both from the Radio 3 programmes page, and from its regular last Sunday of the month slot, although Norman is still listed as a presenter. Is Lebrecht lost, or will Norm bluster back in another slot? Watch this space.
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Paul Hindemith - a true visionary

"You are not permitted to sell unsanitary macaroni or mustard, but nobody objects to your undermining the public's health by feeding it musical forgeries." Paul Hindemith (left) writing in his 1952 book A Composer's World:" Now read the rest of the story.
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BBC Radio 3 - no live music after 7pm

George Orwell lived long enough to know the Third Programme; he adapted his own Animal Farm for it. Language that is manipulative and deceitful is now for ever Orwellian. He would have undoubtedly recognised some of the ways in which the Third’s successor, Radio 3, has sought to neutralise hostility and influence reaction to its controversial new schedule, which began yesterday.

Its changes are many. Nine shows have been axed. Another five have been moved. Apart from the Proms and other special seasons, and the last act of some New York operas, there will be no live music after 7pm. Late Junction is reduced, Discovering Music extended. There will be a new weekday breakfast host, six new series and afternoon opera.

Well aware that some of this was attacked when partly leaked last November, the BBC has acted decisively. All the main Radio 3 message boards — forums for listeners to give their opinions and let off steam — will be closed from tomorrow. Radio Times and Radio 3’s official announcement of the changes carry not a word about the abolished shows. There was no explanation beforehand as to why they had to go, and no mention of them afterwards. They have just been swept away. Those who laboured on them are presumably now nonpersons. The fact that it was the final edition of all these shows was deliberately left out of all billings and press information. Roger Wright, the controller of Radio 3, has declined to appear on Feedback to defend himself, and ignored the changes in his monthly newsletter.

Chilling, and there is more. Mark Russell, who was the co-host, with Robert Sandall, of Mixing It, which for 16 years featured experimental and improvised music, says on his blog: “Some listeners wondered why Robert and I didn’t make a statement on air. The reason is because it wouldn’t have been broadcast. We recorded our final show yesterday, a few hours before it was broadcast. A BBC senior editor sat through the whole thing. I can’t ever remember that happening before.”

On An Overgrown Path is not the only one saying it, this is Paul Donovan writing in the Times. And don't think the loss of live music on BBC Radio 3 after 7pm, except for the Proms and one offs, is a little local problem here in the UK. It will affect the commissioning and performance of contemporary music from around the world, and will put the livelihood of many fine musicians at risk.

Back in March 2005 On An Overgrown Path said These moments are rare in radio. Sadly, as of this week, they are now even rarer
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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

W.H. Auden holding court ...

Another chance encounter with a writer was due to my friend Julian Pettifer, who was at St John’s (Cambridge). He said there would be a special guest in his rooms that evening, and asked me to drop in late for coffee. I climbed in and found to my delight the rumpled figure of W.H. Auden holding court. He was relatively sober and hugely entertaining, and I could see immediately why so many people found him charming. In later years he became a prize bore when drunk, which was most of the time, going on endlessly about who had sung the Third Lady in The Magic Flute in 1952. Happily, before that I was with him on a number of occasions when he was reading his own works, at which he excelled.

Once in Edinburgh, after a BBC recording, we went to the pub to have a drink with
Stevie Smith at her eccentric best. Within twenty minutes Wystan and Stevie had started on a nostalgic journey through Hymns Ancient and Modern at a hideously out-of-tune piano. I rushed back to the BBC, rounded up a camera crew, and got back in time to film a few minutes of this priceless duet. It is often trotted out in commemorative programmes. Of course, in today’s BBC you would have to have it planned eighteen months in advance.

W.H. Auden was born on 21st February 1907. The story above is taken from John Drummond’s autobiography. Now take An Overgrown Path to Monteverdi in Cambridge

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Classical music should embrace marginality


Regular reader Bernard Tuyttens gives us the heads-up on the post below from A Sweet Familiar Dissonance as a contribution to the current debate, or should that be despair? about the changes to BBC Radio 3.

Tom Strini suggests that the best thing for the future of classical music would be to "embrace its marginality." I tend to "flip-flop" on this issue (if you'll excuse the expression) though most of the time I try to keep a positive outlook. I would like to think there will always be a few people who love classical music - maybe enough to keep it alive indefinitely - but the world we live in is discouraging to a classical music fan. "Singers" who can't read a single note of music make millions of dollars and fans dismiss as "boring" anything that requires the least bit of thoughtful attention. People who have never bothered to listen to even one complete symphony - people who, in fact, may not even realize that the five minute excerpt on some "classical for dummies" CD is not the complete symphony - have already passed judgement on the entire rich and exciting thousand year history of classical music and actually believe they are fully qualified to do so.

Marketing is the primary culprit in this apparently bleak situation. The goal of marketing is to get people to buy - to spend their money without thinking. No matter how much they appear to be appealing to your intelligence, the fact is, intelligent thought is the number one enemy of marketing. Music, like everything else, has become a product to be sold so it is packaged to attract immediate attention, not to satisfy over the long run.

But, in addition to dumbing down the audience, marketing has turned us all in into scorekeepers. We know that number recordings sold or number of dollars made is not an indicator of quality but, nevertheless, we wail about the unfairness of an industry that rewards an untalented, thin-voiced bimbette with vast riches and popularity while real musicians with many years of training and practice remain in obscurity and often have to take other jobs to make ends meet. We should keep in mind that economics has never been and never will be fair.

If classical music is destined to be marginal it is not the only artform of which this is true. I would like to think that truly intelligent people will eventually get bored with most commercialized forms of entertainment - though it may take quite a while with so many things competing for our attention - and will seek other options. When they do, they will find not only classical but a number of other genres, some even more obscure, in which quality is still important. As Strini notes in the article, we have many more choices now and
each slice of pie is thinner than it used to be.

Maybe it will be a healthy thing if the music world becomes more like the book world. Some people read mysteries, some read romances, some read science fiction, some read westerns and so on. Millions of people read Stephen King but there are hundreds of other authors who are each read by only a few thousand devoted fans and they keep writing, perhaps dreaming of greater fame but still happy to perform for their limited audience. So maybe we all need to stop thinking in terms of marketing success and just enjoy the music and, like a good book, share it with a few friends.

Now read about Peak Melody

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Variations on a theme

Today’s Telegraph has a further instalment in the Joyce Hatto story. All this is becoming very familiar to anyone who drives on busy motorways. An accident happens on one carriageway in which people are hurt. The traffic on the other carriageway backs up as everyone slows down to stare at the carnage.

This story in the Guardian is far more important.
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Monday, February 19, 2007

Multicultural, multimedia, and banned


In 1925 New York bandleader Sam Wooding's all-black jazz revue Chocolate Kiddies toured to Berlin (photo above). Among the audience were composers Ernst Krenek and Kurt Weill. Krenek had studied in Vienna under Frank Schreker, and was married Gustav Mahler's daughter Anna for a short while. His compositions include an opera written to a libretto by the expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka.

Chocolate Kiddies inspired Ernst Krenek (photo below) to write his jazz influenced opera Jonny Spielt Auf (Johnny Strikes Up) which was premiered in Leipzig in January 1927, and opened at the City Opera in Berlin ten months later. Jazz was anathema to the ascendant Nazi party due to its African-American origins, but despite this Jonny Spielt Auf achieved major success with audiences across Europe, and was translated into twelve languages. The Center for Jazz Arts describes the opera as having "jazz-infused harmonies, syncopations, and story-lines; an African-American jazz-artist hero (Jonny); interracial romantic story elements; innovative Expressionist and Bauhaus influenced stage sets; and an unconventional incorporation of modern technology into classical opera, such as telephones, radios, and automobiles."

When Jonny Spielt Auf was performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1928 the plot was altered so that the promiscuous black jazz band leader who gives the opera its title could be played by a white. But then in a bizarre twist the title role was actually sung by a 'blacked-up' white singer. This prompted the early civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson to say: 'We have in this country colored singers who could masterfully sing that role. I need only name Jules Bledsoe and Paul Robeson.'

Ernst Krenek's name was put on the Nazis' blacklist in 1933. He was based in Vienna until 1938 but was expelled after the Anschluss. He lived in the US until his death in 1991, although in the last decade of his life he spent summers at the Arnold Schönberg House in Mödling, near Vienna. The year after his death in Palm Springs Krenek's remains were transferred to an honorary grave in Vienna.

* The 1993 Decca recording of Jonny Spielt Auf, with Lothar Zagrosek conducting the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, is available through Amazon Germany. There are some brief audio extracts via this link. The slightly more idiomatic Vanguard recording (left) with the Wiener Staatsopernorchester and Lucia Popp is deleted, but is still available from Amazon resellers. Visit the Ernst Krenek Institute website via this link.

Now read more about contemporary music under the Third Reich in Furtwängler and the forgotten new music
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New music and news stories


The graph above shows hits On An Overgrown over the last month, and the peak is the Joyce Hatto story. Wouldn’t it be great if collectively, we could transfer some of that excitement onto some rather more deserving causes? Here, for starters, is a link to seventy-two composers worth exploring.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Joanna MacGregor and Andy Sheppard live


It's almost midnight here in the UK and we've just returned from hearing Joanna MacGregor and Andy Sheppard at The Forum in Norwich. Live music rules, jazz rules, Joanna MacGregor sounds more and more like Keith Jarrett, and Andy Sheppard sounds more and more like Charles Lloyd.

For more on the inspired duo of Joanna MacGregor and Andy Sheppard read Commercially jazz is in a bad way.
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Some help and understanding needed

I spoke to Joyce Hatto's husband yesterday. William Barrington-Coupe runs the Concert Artist record label that is at the centre of the controversy over the provenance of some of Ms Hatto's CDs. I had been disturbed by the tone of some of the coverage of this story, and thought it might be useful to do the obvious, and speak to the person at the centre of the story.

We spoke for a few minutes, and Mr Barrington-Coupe said he had read the stories on the websites and 'was not running away'. But he asked for questions to be put in writing, and undertook to answer them in twenty-four hours. I submitted six questions, twenty-four hours have elapsed, and I don't have any answers.

I am not surprised I haven't heard from him, and in a strange way I'm relieved. Mr Barrington-Coupe sounded like somebody who needs some help and understanding, irrespective of the facts behind the story. I can offer no information on the source of the disputed recordings. But perhaps we should all remember compact discs are not the most important things in this world.

If I hear back from Mr Barrington-Coupe I will publish his responses. Meanwhile I am moving on to another subject.

Related posts are Pointed questions raised in musical circles, and Faking it in early music.
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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Pointed questions raised in musical circles

And while we are all getting excited about Joyce Hatto ...

Stravinsky always liked to record, and if sessions went well his satisafaction was deep, for the unarguable reason that his recordings under such conditions, represented the truest expression of the ideas he had set down on his manuscript paper. In this sense the three-score-plus Stravinsky listings in the Columbia catalogue form a true document. But it would be equally correct to say that after Stravinsky's eightieth birthday, Robert Craft's assistance was vital for many of the recordings, and these discs may certainly be referred to as the end result of a collabaration. And this poses an intriguing question: how far does this collabaration extend in the final record which the public buys under the title Stravinsky conducts Stravinsky?

By the time Stravinsky stood up for the final run-through and the official take, the orchestra was thoroughly indoctrinated with Robert's tempo (which was generally more rapid than the composer's) and his interpretation (which might also differ), and would therefore have difficulty adjusting. Stravinsky's beat, usually very clear, suffered under the pressure of this situation. Add these circumstances to just time enough for a maximum of two takes and it is easy to understand the pointed questions raised in musical circles in the last five or six years about the authenticity of certain Stravinsky recordings made in the final decade. How much is Stravinsky, and how much is Craft?


Extracted from And Music at the Close: Stravinsky's Last years, the distinctly unauthorised 1972 memoir by Lillian Libman (Macmillan ISBN 333143043, out of print)


18 Feb - Important update

Now read about the authorised version by Robert Craft.
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Faking it in early music

Huge interest in the Joyce Hatto story. So I thought it worth reprising the story below which ran On An Overgrown Path back in June 2005 -

Piracy in Early Music

Back in December 2004 I bought the recording of the Morales Requiem performed by Musica Ficta on the Spanish Enchiriadis label (left). I find it a very good interpretation, and was researching on the internet to write a piece for On An Overgrown Path when I came across the following (literals and all) on the Cantus Records web site ...

Piracy against Cantus
Last July 2002 the Provincial Court of Madrid dictated sentence (which cannot be appealed) in favour of Cantus in the lawsuit against the label Enchiriadis, who had committed an act of piracy against Cantus in December 2000. In that date, the pirate label released a recording that had been stolen in our offices by an ex partner of us. Then they published the recording, which more or less corresponds to our ref. C 9627 Morales: Requiem, performed by Musica Ficta and Raúl Mallavibarrena.


They used a pre-editing of the final master, full of mistakes, and tried to present it as if it was the original recording and their copyright. And although the sentence of the Provincial Court of Madrid is in our favour, nor the label nor their distributor, Diverdi (and their international subdistributors) have yet retired the pirate recording from the market. This has obliged Cantus to use penal prosecution and proceed against the label Enchiriadis, Diverdi and all international distributors of the label, as they are dealing with illegal material.

All early music lovers are kindly advised by Cantus not to buy at all the pirated version. Firstly because it is illegal, secondly because the Cantus presentation, translations and inner booklet is far superior, and thirdly because the pirated version contains a large number of mistakes, childish mistakes, because it was manufactured using a stolen pre-edited version! While we try to effectively contact international distributors of the label that has committed piracy in order to retire all illegal Cds from international market, Cantus cannot accept any responsibilities if customers find the pirate version deceitful, as they will most probably do.

Despite this ruling in 2002 retailers including Amazon.com and Prelude Records here in Norfolk continue to stock the Enchiriais version - strange....

18 Feb - Important update

If you enjoyed this post follow the Overgrown Path to Brilliant Classics
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Friday, February 16, 2007

Brilliant pianist or brilliant fake?

Read this Guardian obituary.

Then read this Gramophone article


18 Feb - Important update

For more on musical fakes read this, follow this link for a pianist who definitely wasn't a fake, and this one for another musical controversy.

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