Monday, April 30, 2007

Theremin album back from grateful dead


'Starting out on another concert tour in the fall, (Paul) Robeson took along with him as "associate artist" (and more! - Pliable) Clara Rockmore, the pert, feisty, attractive second wife of Bob Rockmore, and the world's leading theremin player (an instrument whose tone and dynamics are created by the juxtaposition of the hands in an elctromagnetic field). Clara Rockmore had begun her musical life as a prodigy (as had her pianist sister, Nadia Reisenberg), winning admittance at the unprecendented age of five (Heifetz had been eight) to the conservatory in Petrograd to study violin with the famed Leopold Auer, teacher of Heifetz, Zimablist, and Elman. An injury to her arm forced her, at age nineteen, to give up the violin and turn to a career with the theremin.'

From Paul Robeson by Martin Bauml Duberman (Pan ISBN 0330313851). And right on cue Bridge Records have just released Clara Rockmore's Lost Theremin Album. With the duo of Rockmore and Nadia Reisenberg playing treatments of works by Bach, Ravel, Gershwin, Ponce, Chopin and many more, can you resist this back from the dead album? And as a bonus you get interviews with Rockmore and Robert Moog.

For the full story of the theremin take this path, for new music for the theremin take this one, read about Paul Robeson here, and the Grateful Dead here.
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

Nobody’s perfect …

From Media Monkey’s Diary in today’s Guardian : - Poor Norman Lebrecht, and we never thought we’d say that. First the Sunday Times’s Michael White, in a review of Lebrecht’s book, Maestros, Masterpieces and Madness, called him “the Jilly Cooper of music journalism”. Ouch. Then outgoing BBC Proms boss Nicholas Kenyon had a pop, saying of his successor, Radio 3 controller Roger Wright: “he did give Norman Lebrecht a radio programme, but then again nobody’s perfect.” Double ouch! Lebrecht, the Evening Standard’s arts supreme and assistant editor was on holiday last week. Monkey wonders if he had time to dip into Jilly’s latest b0nkbuster.

Nicholas Kenyon’s comment is a first-class case of musical dog eating dog, and here’s another great example.
Typo above is deliberate to allow the many readers who arrive on the Path, through corporate firewalls to read this post. 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

Friday, April 27, 2007

Rostropovich – reaching out for the music


There are three ways of knowing a thing. Take for instance a flame. One can be told of the flame, one can see the flame with his own eyes, and finally one can reach out and be burned by it – Sufi scholar.

Some of us are told of music, some of us can see music, but Mstislav Rostropovich, who died today age 80, reached out and was burnt by it. I first met him after he conducted a wildly exuberant performance of Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony with the Snape Maltings Training Orchestra in 1977. Rostropovich had a long-standing relationship with the Aldeburgh Festival, and with its founder Benjamin Britten, who had died the previous year. This relationship had produced the Cello Symphony, the Cello Suites, and a Cello Sonata, all of which Britten wrote for the Russian cellist.

Back in the 1970s I was working for EMI, and Slava’s relationship with the company went back to 1956 when he recorded the Miaskovsky Cello Concerto. In 1974 Rostropovich and his wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, left the Soviet Union, and the following year he recorded the two Haydn Cello Concertos, with Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, in the Henry Wood Hall in London for EMI.

At that time EMI’s famous International Classical Division, which had been founded by Walter Legge, was housed in modest offices in Hanover Square, just off London's Oxford Street, I was EMI’s international marketing manager working for the division’s director, Peter Andry, who had masterminded several legendary ‘east meets west’ recordings, including Karajan’s Dresden Meistersinger and the Berlin Beethoven Triple Concerto with Richter, Oistrak and Rostropovich.

For me, an incident away from the recording studio showed the difference between Rostropovich and other superstar musicians. We decided to celebrate the release of the Haydn record by inviting Slava to the EMI offices in 1977 to present him with the lavish EMI-Pathé gatefold edition of the concertos. The visit summed up Slava’s approach to life - energy, enthusiasm, passion, but above all a love for music and a love for the human race. He made sure he spent time talking to all the background staff who rarely came into contact with the artists, yet alone superstars. We were working with many other great musicians at the time, but the prospect of Herbert von Karajan visiting our offices, yet alone hugging a secretary was unthinkable.

Others will document Rostropovich’s career and achievements in more detail, and in particular his work defending human and artistic freedoms. We are fortunate that he leaves such a fine recorded legacy as a cellist. He went on to achieve much as a conductor, but the electricity he radiated from the podium was difficult to transfer to recordings. I can remember discussions at EMI as to whether his 1970s Tchaikovsky Symphony cycle should be remastered, as the pressings somehow lacked the frisson of the actual performances.


In the later years his energy was occasionally misplaced, and his fee as a conductor became an obstacles with some promoters, restricting his appearances at important series such as the BBC Promenade Concerts. The last time I saw him was in London several years ago with the Lithuanian Ballet, when he conducted a staged performance of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet that ended with a bizarre mis en scene with Rostropovich joining the dead lovers on stage in the final bars.

Mstislav Rostropovich will be remembered as a genius with the cello and baton, as a champion of human rights, as a consummate ambassador for music, and above all for his love for humanity. He truly reached out and was burnt by the music, let us celebrate that today.

Slava's Russian roots informed everything he did, now read about Western takes on Russian music.
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, April 26, 2007

Joy of Music - a celebration of diversity


Joy of Music is a book by Leonard Bernstein based on the scripts he wrote for an educational TV series in the late 1950s. The book is a celebration of diversity, ranging from American music theatre, through Mahler and the importance of contemporary music, to Bach’s use of counterpoint in his chorale preludes.


My photographs are a visual celebration of the vibrant musical life beyond busking superstars, child prodigies and MySpace. The photos were all taken at Oxfam Books and Music, Norwich on 26th April 2007. Just left click on the images to enlarge, you'll see real diversity - everything from Monteverdi to Stockhausen, and there is even a record deck to audition them on. I’m now away for a few days, so do explore the joy of music through the wonderfully diverse mix of music blogs listed in my side-bar.


The sleeve above is Glenn Gould's Goldberg Variations, so why not read about the best damn record he ever made?
All photos copyright On An Overgrown Path, 2007. 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

Pity the poor BBC presenter

A novelty at this years' BBC Last Night of the Proms, conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek, is Fučík's Entrance of the Gladiators.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mahler’s message for German parliament


Early in the morning of 26th April 1986 two explosions destroyed reactor no. 4 at the Soviet nuclear power station at Chernobyl in Ukraine. This started the chain of events that led to the world's worst nuclear power accident, and left victims like the children seen above in an oncology unit in the area. 26th April 2007 is Chernobyl Day, and On An Overgrown Path can exclusively reveal that Germany’s Environment Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, is using Mahler’s music to send a powerful message to the country’s parliament.

Last year I told the story of the 20th anniversary Chernobyl concert held in Berlin which featured Thomas Quasthoff singing Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder. Sigmar Gabriel is Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety in German chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet. This week, in a dramatic gesture that underlines the terrible risks associated with nuclear power, he has sent all 614 elected members of the Bundestag a CD of the Chernobyl anniversary concert. Herr Gabriel is no stranger to controversy, and he recently made headlines when he accused the United States of blocking progress on two key areas of global environment protection.

The Mahler CD was recorded in the famous Philharmonie Hall in Berlin, and the performers include Grammy winning baritone Thomas Quasthoff, and the orchestra of the Hanns Eisler Academy conducted by Christian Ehwald. As well as music by Mahler, Schubert and Mozart the CD includes readings from the best-selling book by Belarus author Swetlana Alexijewitsch titled Tschernobyl - Eine Chronik der Zukunft (Chernobyl - a chronicle of the future), and from the writings of Dwight D. Eisenhower and the philosopher Günther Anders.

The benefit concert and CD is just one of many remarkable projects in the twenty-three year history of IPPNW Concerts. They are part of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), a non-partisan international grouping of medical organisations dedicated to the abolition of the nuclear threat, who work with the long-term victims of nuclear incidents ranging from Hiroshima to Chernobyl. Their work was recognised with the 1984 UNESCO Peace Prize, and 1985 Nobel Peace Prize.


* Buy the Chernobyl anniversary CD online via this link.

Read the full story of the Chernobyl anniversary concert here, about IPPNW Concerts here, and read this story which says it all. Image credit Belarusguide.com. 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

Having a ball at the 2007 BBC Proms


West End star Michael Ball has also been signed up to perform an evening of show tunes at the Royal Albert Hall on 27 August as part of the 2007 BBC Promenade Concerts season announced today . Ball, who has starred in The Phantom of the Opera, Aspects Of Love, Les Miserables and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, will perform hits from West End and Broadway musicals.

Outgoing Proms ditector Nicholas Kenyon said: "I think he is one of the great, intelligent singing artists alive today. "He deserves a place at the Proms just as much as performers in the great classical tradition. Our job is to cover the whole waterfront."

The Proms programme also includes a concert featuring scores from celebrated British films including The Dam Busters, Shakespeare In Love, Bridge Over The River Kwai and Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone . Report from BBC News.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you, but at least there is an end to the drought of women composers.

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

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Music blogging from Palestine


Read about music making on the West Bank in Simon Hewitt Jones' blog, and see the video of the Queen of the Night aria sung in Arabic, with traditional Arab instruments. The picture above is from the blog, and shows audience members taking their seats at Ramallah’s Cultural Palace for a concert violinist Simon played in. Ramallah has featured in the news in the past week in connection with the dreadful kidnapping of BBC journalist Alan Johnston.

Now read about Lebanon - a war of our time
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

Monday, April 23, 2007

Berlin Philharmonic's first Black conductor


“At a concert this week in Berlin, Berlin's famed 65-year-old Philharmonic Orchestra was led by a U.S. war correspondent in battledress. Besides being a war correspondent, the guest conductor was a Negro, born in British Guiana. The 2,000 Berliners and the 500 Allied soldiers in the audience found it quite an experience. They applauded warmly when the conductor led the orchestra through Weber's familiar Oberon and Tchaikovsky's Pathétique. They broke into cheers, and called him back five times, when he gave them Berlin's first hearing of fellow-Negro William Grant Still's boisterous, bluesy Afro-American Symphony.

Slender, serious Rudolph Dunbar is no musical freshman. He studied at Manhattan's Julliard School, has several times conducted the London Philharmonic. He was in Berlin as correspondent for the Associated Negro Press of Chicago. Shortly before the Berlin Philharmonic's Conductor Leo Borchard was accidentally killed by U.S. sentries, he had invited Dunbar to guest-conduct. U.S. occupation authorities were all for it, though their interest was more in teaching the Germans a lesson in racial tolerance than in Dunbar's musicianship.”


The news story above was published in Time on September 10, 1945 when the career of Rudolph Dunbar was at its peak. Dunbar lived for another forty-three years, but what happened in those years to the first Black musician to conduct the Berlin and London Philharmonic Orchestras is a mystery. The story starts at the turn of the last century in British Guiana (now Guyana). The date of Dunbar’s birth is variously given as 1902 or 1907, and classical music was an unlikely career for a Black Guyanese boy at that time. But the young Dunbar’s interest was sparked by hearing transcriptions of Wagner and Elgar played in Georgetown by the British Guiana Militia Band. He joined the Militia Band as an apprentice clarinettist at the age of 14, and stayed with them for five years.


His talent was such that he left the band when he was 19 to study at the Institute of Musical Art (now the Juilliard) in New York, and lived in the city until he graduated in 1925. His subjects at the Juilliard were composition, clarinet and piano, but he was also active in the Harlem jazz scene, and was clarinet soloist on recordings by The Plantation Orchestra (photo above). While in New York he became a friend and champion of the African-American composer William Grant Still, and their correspondence is held today at the University of Arkansas.

In 1925 Dunbar moved to Paris as a post-graduate, studying conducting with Philippe Gaubert (below), and composition with Paul Vidal and clarinet with Louis Cahuzac. He also spent time with Felix Weingartner in Vienna. Dunbar’s reputation as a clarinettist grew, and reached the widow of Claude Debussy who invited him to give a private recital in her apartment in 1930 for members of the Paris Conservatoire.

Dunbar moved to London in 1931 to work as a music critic, and he also started the first ever clarinet school, which attracted students from around the world. His reputation was such that in 1939 he was commissioned to write a textbook on the clarinet, and his Treatise on the Clarinet (Boehm System) became the standard reference work for the instrument. It remained in print though ten editions, and today commands high prices as a collectors item.

Dunbar remained active as a jazz musician, and in the 1930s in Britain he led two jazz groups, the All British Coloured Band (also known as the Rumba Coloured Orchestra), and Rudolph Dunbar and his African Polyphony, and made pioneering recordings of West Indian music with both these groups. He also composed, and his 1938 ballet score Dance of the Twenty-First Century (described by Dunbar as ‘ultra modern’), which was written for the famous Cambridge University Footlights Club, was broadcast nationally by NBC with the composer conducting.

The outbreak of war in Europe opened up conducting opportunities for Dunbar, and in 1942 he led the London Philharmonic in the Royal Albert Hall in a concert that was described at the time as a fund-raiser for “Britain’s coloured allies”. He wrote for the Associated Negro Press of Chicago, and this gave him credentials as a war correspondent in Europe. He took part in the Normandy Landings with a Black regiment, and was the first foreigner to conduct a symphony orchestra in Paris after it was liberated, and then went on to conduct in Berlin.

In 1945 Dunbar presented a Festival of American Music in the Théatre des Champs Elysees, Paris with the Conservatoire Orchestra and pianist Jeanne-Marie Darré. The programme included the premiere of In Memoriam: The Colored Soldiers Who Died for Democracy by William Grant Still (right), as well as Still's Afro-American Symphony. The following year Dunbar made his US conducting debut with the Hollywood Bowl Symphony in a programme that again included Grant Still’s Afro-American Symphony. In other concerts he programmed the music of the Afro-British composer Samuel Coleridge Taylor (photo below).

Dunbar was a pioneering activist against racism. When asked at his US debut if he would settle in the country he replied: “I think I will make my home in Paris where, if you are good, they will applaud you whether you are pink, white or black, and if you are bad they will whistle at you.” But he was also supportive of the US, and objected to the British Government promoting his career for political ends, saying “It is not the British who have done it for me, it is the Americans.”

At the end of the war the promise was immense. Dunbar was established as a leading performer and authority on the clarinet, his conducting career was in the ascendant as concert life restarted, and he was seen as a role-model for West Indians. But the promise wasn’t fulfilled. Dunbar is documented as being the first black conductor of a symphony orchestra in Poland (1959), and Russia (1964), both concerts were in Soviet bloc countries at the peak of the Cold War. He promoted concerts for the Jamaican Hurricane Relief Fund in 1951, and toured British Guiana in the 1950s conducting the country’s Militia Band, Philharmonic Orchestra and a youth choir. Rudolph Dunbar died in London in June 1988.

Were Dunbar's conducting talents simply eclipsed by de-Nazified conductors returning to the podium after the war, or were there other reasons why the promise wasn't fulfilled? Exactly what happened remains a mystery, but there are some tantalising clues. Dunbar's brief obituary in the Musical Times says: 'He gradually withdrew from public life, and devoted himself to fighting racism and trying to increase black involvement in Western art music.

But there seems to be more to it than a gradual withdrawal from public life. It is known that Dunbar conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra. One of the leading authorities on music in Guyana is Dr Vibert C. Cambridge at Ohio University, and in an article for the Stabroek News in Guyana in August 2004 Dr Cambridge quotes from an interview Rudolph Dunbar gave six months before his death in 1988:

“Dunbar spoke about the particular vindictiveness of a producer/director of music at the BBC who derailed his musical career in Europe. Dunbar described that director of music as “despicable and vile” and the BBC “as stubborn as mules and ruthless as rattlesnakes”.

Today Rudolph Dunbar (left) is remembered as a one of a pioneering group of West Indians who fought racism in the UK. The musician who was the first Black conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, and who wrote a standard reference work on the clarinet, does not warrant a single mention in the current or earlier editions of the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, or other major music reference books. Why remains a mystery.

* 2011 - important Rudolph Dunbar updates, here, here and here.

Sources:
* Rudolph Dunbar by Dr Vibert C. Cambridge, Stabroek News August 22, 2004
* W. Rudolph Dunbar: Pioneering Orchestra Conductor, The Black Perspective in Music, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Autumn, 1981), pp. 193-225
* Rudolph Dunbar, The Musical Times, Vol. 129, No. 1749 (Nov., 1988), p. 619
* Debut in the Bowl, Time Sept 02 1946
* Rhythm in Berlin, Time Sept 10 1945
* The Pantheon of West Indian Heroes Framed, Black Britain, July 8 2006.
* Settling Scores: German Music, Denazification, and the Americans, 1945-1953, by David Monod, NewMusicBox Oct 24 2006.
* Listeners to the BBC Radio 4 programme on Rudolph Dunbar broadcast on August 7 2007 should read Echoes of Rudolph Dunbar on the BBC.
(c) Bob Shingleton 2007

Now read about Multicultural, multimedia, and banned.
I have contacted Dr Cambridge for more information on the later years of Rudolph Dunbar's career. Other information from readers is very welcome, updates will be published. With thanks to John McLaughlin Williams who read a draft of this article. 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

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Nice one BBC Radio 3

Nice that my article Classical music - revolutionary, elitist, popular supplied the closing moments for this morning's BBC Radio 3 programme on the French presidential elections. Even nicer that presenter Iain Burnside name checked On An Overgrown Path twice, and credited, my translation of Nicolas Sarkozy's comment. You can hear the programme here until 29th April; you need to listen at 1 hour 54 minutes, and there is a fast-forward facility.

As I've written here before Iain Burnside's Sunday morning programme is a shining example of intelligent radio, together with Michael Berkeley's Private Passions. It is surrounded by a rising tide of mediocrity, and is one of the few Radio 3 time-slots not yet infiltrated by 'classical joc' of the moment, the dreadful Petroc Trelawny. But for Iain's sake I hope BBC Radio 3 Controller Roger Wright didn't catch the mentions of On An Overgrown Path.

Not only is Iain Burnside an uncommonly intelligent radio presenter. He is also a very fine pianist who plays on one of my all time favourite CDs, Copland's The Gift to be Free, sung by the late-lamented Susan Chilcott - read the full story here.
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

Classical music - revolutionary, elitist, popular

Could it happen anywhere else? The four leading French presidential candidates answer questions on classical music. Here is a translation of leading rightwing candidate Nicolas Sarkozy's comment - The music we call 'classical' is the most popular since it has transcended time, fashion, and society to become contemporary. The music of Mozart and Beethoven was perhaps revolutionary, even elitist at the time, but how we can claim it's not popular?

For online translation tool click here. And that's the second appearance here by Sarkozy (photo above) in as many days, which shows untypical impartiality on my part.
With thanks to Clive Davis' blog for the heads-up. 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

Youthful optimism will triumph


Today's Observer leader says it all - Julia Pryde is not a household name. She was a 23-year-old graduate biology student who wanted to encourage recycling at the cafeteria at Virginia Tech University. Her face is not as universally known as that of Cho Seung-hui, the man who shot her and 31 others on campus last week. Cho secured his status as an icon of infamy by taking time, amid the massacre, to send a video manifesto to a TV network. Cho wanted not only to terrorise his fellow students, but to stare the world in the face, or rather, to force the world to look him in the eye.

NBC has been criticised for showing the footage. Although there was a legitimate public interest in airing the material - it helped explain the dark motivation of the killer - the decision to run it on a constant loop within hours of the killings was clearly not taken with any consideration of sensitivity to survivors or victims' relatives. NBC apologised and toned down their coverage. But in the modern media age, Cho's broadcast would always have found a worldwide audience. He would still, one way or another, have forced everyone to hear his awful message: it is you who are responsible for this, not me.

That is not true, of course. Cho was a psychopath, determined to kill. It may be the case that his determination was expedited by easy access to guns. But that is a feature of American society and American politics with its own strange logic, immune to comment by outsiders.

The image of Cho striking murderous poses crosses all cultures. It is the face of modern, media-literate terror. That is not a fair emblem of modern American society. A truer symbol is found in the packed classrooms and lecture theatres of Virginia Tech, filled, just days after the massacre, with students who were determined to get on with their education - a triumph of youthful optimism over deadly nihilism.


Our thoughts have been with America this week. Last night we were at a performance in Norwich Cathedral of that life-affirming work, Haydn's Creation. And now playing, on a wonderful spring morning that the victims in Virginia will never see, is a hymn to the triumph of youthful optimism over nihilism. Bernstein's 1956 comic operetta Candide sums up the strange logic of American society and politics with its influences ranging from Offenbach to Gershwin, and use of Voltaire to denounce McCarthyism. The finale "Make our garden grow" also say it all.

* London is to get a new production of Candide. I just hope the music survives the staging. My header photo is of Bernstein's pupil Marin Alsop conducting the New York Philharmonic's semi-staged production - watch a video excerpt here.

Now read more on that strange logic here.
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

Saturday, April 21, 2007

When Sarkozy comes marching in

Nicolas Sarkozy (left), front-running rightwing candidate in tomorrow's French presidential election, spent the last day of his campaign yesterday electioneering around Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. There are some saints there as well.

On Quoting Shakespeare

If you cannot understand my argument, and declare it's Greek to me, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you act more in sorrow than in anger; if your wish is father to the thought; if your lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony, danced attendance (on your lord and master), laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fool's paradise -why, be that as it may, the more fool you , for it is a foregone conclusion that you are,as good luck would have it, quoting Shakespeare; if you think it is early days and clear out bag and baggage, if you think it is high time and that that is the long and short of it, if you believe that the game is up and that truth will out even if it involves your own flesh and blood, if you lie low till the crack of doom because you suspect foul play, if you have your teeth set on edge (at one fell swoop) without rhyme or reason, then - to give the devil his due - if the truth were known (for surely you have a tongue in your head) you are quoting Shakespeare; even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing, if you wish I was dead as a door-nail, if you think I am an eyesore, a laughing stock, the devil incarnate, a stony-hearted villain, bloody-minded or a blinking idiot, then - by Jove! O Lord! Tut tut! For goodness' sake! What the dickens! But me no buts! - it is all one to me, for you are quoting Shakespeare.

Written by the irreplaceable Bernard Levin in the days when music critics were great wordsmiths, and not mere scavengers of classical music. And if you think that paragraph (it is actually a single sentence) needs sub-editing remember that Bernard Levin (right) was in the Guinness Book of Records at one time for the longest sentence ever to appear in a newspaper. It ran for one thousand six hundred and sixty-seven words. Which is pretty amazing as the sentence above is a mere 369 words. Those were the days before the bullet point became the world currency of communication.

Now read about Arianna Huffington's classical music connection
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

When will they ever learn?

So building a 12ft high concrete wall is the new US strategy in Baghdad. When will they ever learn. When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

CD sales can only go up


Back in February I wrote a piece about BBC Proms supremo Nicholas Kenyon's move to the top job at the Barbican. It was titled 'Towards a one-party musical state', and ended with these words: '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?'

Today no one was surprised to hear we now have a one-party musical state. Roger Wright has been appointed the new Director of the BBC Proms in addition to his duties as Radio 3 Controller. Here is the BBC press release.

CD sales can only go up.

Now read about classical music broadcasting Harvard style
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

New music for an ancient liturgy

The liturgical music of the Orthodox Church contains many riches, and discs already featured here such as Brilliant Classic’s Sacred Russian Choral Music and Liturgy of St John Christendom, and Ivan Moody’s Akáthistos Hymn are in constant rotation in my CD player. They have been joined recently by another disc from the enterprising Gagliano Recordings label, this time of music by a contemporary Greek-American composer new to me. Tikey Zes was born in Southern California in 1927, and studied with Ingolf Dahl. His career has included recording the music of Ockeghem, and holding the posts of Professor of Composition at San José State University and choir director of the Greek Orthodox Church of St Nicholas in San José, and my photo above was taken in that church.

The new Gagliano CD Tikey Zes Choral Works includes sacred pieces from the Orthodox liturgy starting with the Great Doxology. As well as liturgical music Tikey Zes has composed a song cycle for high voice and piano on poems by Cavafy, and a number of arrangements of Greek folk songs, two of which conclude the CD. The choir is the excellent Cappella Romana directed by Alexander Lingas, the same forces as those on the Akáthistos Hymn and Fall of Constantinople CDs that have featured here.

The recording venue is St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Portland, Oregon, and credit should go to producer Bryan Johanson and engineer David Johnson for a startlingly life-like recording. Although the Orthodox tradition is for instruments not to be used in worship, Tikey Zes follows the contemporary Greek-American practice of supporting the choir with an organ or piano, and this gives some very impressive pedal notes from organist John Vergin.


In recent years a school of composers working on the West Coast of the US has developed a new liturgical style which combines the traditions of the Greek Orthodox liturgy with the more familiar sounds of Renaissance polyphony, and this has been championed by ensembles such as Cappella Romana. The compositions and performances captured on Tikey Zes Choral Works stay true to their sacred roots, but speak in a fresh and accessible voice that should win a lot of new listeners – highly recommended.

Now take An Overgrown Path to visit the Orthodox Church of Saint Seraphim, Walsingham
Photo of Metropolitan Gerasimos from Greek Orthodox Church of St Nicholas, San José. 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

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

How long is long enough?


Three wonderful concerts in just over a week left me wondering how long is long enough? At Norwich Cathedral last Friday Stephen Layton with Polyphony, Trinity College Choir and the Britten Sinfonia offered a concert of glorious Poulenc and Messiaen lasting 64 minutes excluding the interval. The second half comprised just the Poulenc Gloria, which lasted 27 minutes. The duration of 64 minutes is, of course, the length of a CD, which is no coincidence as the programme will be recorded by Hyperion in the next few days for future CD release.

But 27 minutes doesn't take my prize for the shortest programme half. Just eight days before at Snape, the up and coming Russian Alexander Polianichko conducted the Britten Pears Orchestra in a stunning second half of just the 1919 version of Stravinsky's Firebird. Now at little over 20 minutes that takes my prize for the shortest ever programme half. Can any readers beat it?

Just hours after the fleeting Firebird we experienced programme planning going too far the other way at nearby Blythburgh Church. Now this is a very famous venue, not the least for Benjamin Britten's performances which I wrote about here. Blythburgh is a glorious church with glorious acoustics, but it does have its problems as a concert venue. There are no, what they call at Disney Hall, amenities. The car park is a grass field which becomes a bog in wet weather. And the rest rooms, as they call them over on Sequenza21, are two agricutural sheds down a grass slope at the rear of the church. But the fact that that Ben and Peter used these very urinals gives a whole new meaning to the word resonance.


To historic Blythburgh and its agricultural amenities came the brilliant young vocal group Exaudi (who featured in my Elisabeth Lutyens article) and viol consort Fretwork with a suitably sombre programme of sacred music for the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Day. Now Good Friday is a fine time to do penance. But twelve o'clock on a Saturday is not so good for 90 minutes of Christian Geist, Heinrich Schütz and Arvo Pärt (his exquisite Stabat Mater in the arrangement by Macolm Bruno for viols) without an interval.

As the excellent performance progressed it was clear that the great and good among the Aldeburgh Easter Festival goers had booked lunch in nearby Southwold's trendy restaurants. In order not to lose their tables the audience was slowly slipping away, just like the North Sea tide that you see in my accompanying photos. Exaudi's young director, James Weeks, rose to the occasion like a true professional, and announced that the eight verses of Christian Geist's Es war aber would be truncated to two in the interests of gastronomy, and we were released into the glorious Easter sunshine with Schütz's mercifully short motet Die mit Tränen säen ringing in our ears.

But this Overgrown Path has a happy ending. We would never leave a concert early for something as mundane as a restaurant booking. After relishing the superb Blythburgh concert to its proper conclusion we enjoyed our tasty picnic (and just a little wine) at nearby Aldeburgh. The photos of Iken Church (the village of Iken is the setting for Britten's The Little Sweep) and the Alde estuary which accompany this article were taken near our picnic site. With views like this long can never be long enough.


Now talking of sacred music, read about L'Orgue Mystique
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

Just the facts …


Message received today - That e-mail exchange with Norman is amusing, seeing as there was never a point when funding for the cycle was in question. Like many American orchestras, we are paid for recordings by our own organization, and under our contract, we receive a certain amount of guaranteed media pay regardless of whether CDs and broadcasts occur or not, so it's always in our management's best interest to record and broadcast. BIS picks up the cost of production and engineering, and everybody's happy.

Sorry to disappoint Norman, but as usual, he's talking nonsense with no real knowledge of the situation. As far as I know, I'm the only member of the Minnesota Orchestra (above) that he's met, and I suspect that his animosity came from an old grudge against our CEO at the time, who once penned a highly unfavorable review of a Lebrecht book...

Sam Bergman, viola Minnesota Orchestra


Now it would be nice to hear the facts about those BBC choral evensong tapes which Norman reported were “erased”.
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

I don’t care what they say about Stokowski

“I know there are other things in music that are more important,” he said in his eighties, “but after all, sound is what we’re selling. I hate nasty tone. Even the timpani should sing. I remember the cymbals in the Bruckner Seventh when Furtwängler did it with the Berlin Philharmonic – a shower of stars. Not a bang or a clap, which is what you seem to get these days. I don’t care what they say about Stokowski. He was good. He could achieve a lovely sound. I learned something from that.”

Another great conductor, Reginald Goodall, talks about Leopold Stokowski who was born on April 18th 1882. Quote from Reggie, the Life of Reginald Goodall by John Lucas, John Murray ISBN 1856810518

For Stokowski downloads take this path, to read about Fantasia click here.
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

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Bach chorale's secret French connection


As the French presidential election approaches On An Overgrown Path travels to the Languedoc region of that fine country, and, totally unexpectedly, uncovers a Bach chorale's French connection. Nîmes has some of the best preserve Roman public buildings in Europe. The jewel in the crown is the 1st-century temple known as the Maison Carrée, shown in my photo above, which has survived virtually intact because it was fortunate enough to stay in use for a remarkable range of activities including a meeting hall, stable, Catholic church and archive.

The miraculous Maison Carrée is mirrored across the central piazza by Sir Norman Foster's remarkable 1993 Musée d'Art Contemporain and Médiathèque (photo below and background of header photo). This inspired building is, as the Lonely Planet guide says, 'everything modern architecture should be: innovative, complementary and beautiful.' The Maison Carrée itself dates from 19 BC and was originally dedicated to Caïus Caesar and Lucius Caesar before being rededicated as a Christian church in the fourth century. The tides of religion have ebbed and flowed over Languedoc across the centuries, including the Manichaean doctrine espoused by the Cathars in the 11th and 12th centuries which resulted in the Albigensian Crusade.


In the 16th century the tide turned once more bringing the new Protestant heresy down the Rhône from Calvin's Geneva. Tolerance was again out of fashion among Catholics, and the rallying call for the persecuted Protestants in their prison cells and wilderness assemblies was the Huguenot Psalter. This remarkable work, which is also known as the Genevan Psalter, appeared in its definitive form in 1562, and became the most successful hymnbook of all time.

The Huguenot Psalter set out to reintegrate laymen back into the liturgy by translating the Psalms into the vernacular, and setting them to simple melodies. Calvin wrote in the preface that the Psalter contained 'songs not merely honest but holy', and that it avoided what was 'in part vain and frivolous, in part stupid and dull, in part foul and vile and consequently evil and harmful'.

As the Calvinists had no musical legacy they created their own drawing on a wide range of sources including French folk-songs. And in a remarkable piece of reverse osmosis some of the resulting chorales were incorporated back into the Lutheran mainstream, one notable example being "Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sind" (Bach VII, No. 58). Among the composers who transcribed melodies from the Huguenot Psalter were Samuel Mareschal, Pascal de l'Estocart, Philibert Jambe de Fer and Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck.

The exciting news is that children's voices of the Maîtrise de Nimes have recently recorded a selection from the Huguenot Psalter titled Resveillez-vous chacun fidèle. (The title is taken from Psalm 33 - Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous). This very beautiful, and desirable, new release (left) is sung in French, and was recorded at the historic Protestant Temple of Le Vigan in the Gard under the direction of Vincent Recolin, and uses the two manual organ in the Temple.

This CD is typical of the cultural melting-pot that is Europe today. It is released by the enterprising K617 label which is run by Le Couvent Centre for baroque music in the north-eastern Moselle region of France close to the German border, and in truly global fashion Le Couvent specialises in baroque music from Latin America.

Resveillez-vous chacun fidèle is much more than a useful exploration of little known early music. The Huguenot Psalter contributed to the development of the chorale form which reached its peak with Bach. This lovingly sung and recorded CD is an important addition to the catalogue, and can be bought online from the FNAC website where short audio samples are also available, or online from K617. As Martin Luther said: 'God preaches the Gospel through music too.'

* Founded in 1990, the Maîtrise de Nîmes brings together young people who are trained in choral singing between the ages of eight and seventeen within the framework of a general school education at the Institut Emmanuel d'Alzon in Nîmes. The Maîtrise provides an artistic education which enables the children to practise a wide range of musical activities. There is an emphasis on baroque music, but the schools activities have also included performing Jacques Loussier's Mass Lumières in 1966 at the inauguration of the inspirational new cathedral at Evry that I wrote about here recently. The photo below shows the choir in front of the Maison Carrée in Nîmes, which features in my header photo. The age of the choristers ranges from 9 to 17.


* The Huguenot Psalter was a product of the Calvinists, and Brother Roger, who founded the Taizé Community which has featured here several times, was also a Calvinist and was born in Switzerland. Music is a central feature of the Taizé liturgy as well.

Top two photographs taken by Pliable and copyright On An Overgrown Path. 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
Now read how France said no - with help from Father Joe

Built on rock hard evidence

'I can say no more to protect sources, but those of you who read my weekly column should know I never speculate. What you read is built on rock-hard evidence' ~ Norman Lebrecht in Slipped Disc April 10 2007.

'... while the BBC is mending fences with the music industry which howled blue murder over Beethoven and acted as if Radio 3 was destroying its business when, in fact, no label had issued a (Beethoven) symphonic cycle in three years, and none was likely to do so again' ~ Lebrecht Weekly April 5 2006.

'The third disc in Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra’s Beethoven symphonies cycle features one of the greatest of all symphonies: Beethoven’s Ninth ... the new album is part of a five-year, five-disc plan designed to record the complete Beethoven symphonies. In January 2007 Vänskä and the Orchestra recorded the First and Sixth Symphonies for a fourth album' ~ Minnesota Orchestra website

'The Complete Orchestral Works of Ludwig van Beethoven - This series follows the recently published Bärenreiter Urtext Edition of Beethoven's Symphonies, supervised by Jonathan del Mar, the first new edition of this music for more than 130 years ... This CD-series (by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra) also include the complete stage music, overtures and concertos' ~ Simax website

Now read how a lot of other music critics also looked foolish
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

Monday, April 16, 2007

Spring Symphony


Now playing ~ Benjamin Britten's Spring Symphony on a Decca Jubilee LP, with Britten himself conducting, and with stunning 1961 pre-digital Kingsway Hall sound. Commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, but premiered by the Concertgebouw Orchestra under Eduard van Beinum in Amsterdam in 1949, the Spring Symphony is about the reawakening of the earth and the new life which that brings. It is a hybrid work, part symphony, part oratorio and part song-cycle, and sets texts by several poets for the large forces of soprano, contralto and tenor solos, chorus, boys' choir and orchestra. The texts are boisterous, and include John Clare's inimicable The Driving Boy. Britten's setting of the last lines of the poem are always sung with particular relish:

Cracking his whip in starts of joy
A happy, dirty, driving boy.

My photos were taken yesterday around our house here in Britten's East Anglia, where we are currently basking in temperatures hotter than the Mediterranean. The photos reflect the Spring Symphony's last chorus - Sumer is icumen in. Here is the politically correct modern English version of the opening lines of that bawdy 13th century English round:


Summer has arrived,
Loudly sing, Cuckoo!
Seeds grow and meadows bloom
And the forest springs anew,
Sing, Cuckoo!



Now read about Britten's champagne moment
Britten's recording of the Spring Symphony is, of course, also available on a Decca CD. The lower picture is of St Nicholas' Church, Bracon Ash. the header was taken across the road from the church. This part of rural Norfolk has many links with America, see this article. 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

Imagine there's no piano ...


Today’s Guardian reports: Welcome to the Imagine piano tour, the brainchild of singer-songwriter George Michael and his partner Kenny Goss, who runs a Dallas art gallery, and featuring the piano bought in 1970 by John Lennon and put in his studio in Tittenhurst Park, Berkshire (photo above).

On Saturday it was placed outside the Ford's Theatre in Washington where 142 years earlier Abraham Lincoln was shot as he watched a performance of Our American Cousin. Last week it was outside the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville during the execution of a death row prisoner, and before that it was in Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas, and at the Lorraine motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on the anniversaries of the assassinations of John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King respectively.

Michael bought the piano six years ago for £1.5m - a record price at the time for pop memorabilia. Having bought in, as it were, to the history of the song, the couple felt it would be wrong to leave the piano languishing in their front room and the idea of taking it to places where extreme acts of violence had taken place or were taking place was born. "By taking the piano to all these sites, we are reminded that violence has long been a part of our history," Michael said.

It was on this nondescript-looking instrument John Lennon wrote the song that would become the anthem of peaceniks everywhere, Imagine. Now it is being carted across the US - carefully, by specialist removal people - in a symbolic road trip for peace.


Pliable says - quite so …

Photo credit Goss Gallery 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

Sunday, April 15, 2007

When record shopping was fun

Telemann.live journal has a nice piece about my recent L'Oiseau Lyre article. I couldn't resist reblogging this comment posted there by a reader:

I can remember when record shopping was fun, and I think I could make the point that most of the advances in recorded music engineering and production were made for classical music up to the advent of the Beatles and their own production company.

I still have at least two of the first three classical LP's I bought in Boston at the Jordan, Marsh dept. store record dept. in the summer of 1969. My idea of an afterlife would be the Harvard Coop record dept. under the helm of manager Helga Newcomb, circa 1974. She knew everyone's tastes.

I'll partipate in the choral music scene here in Boston as long as it's still viable and buy their recordings. As for the rest, it's a lost world. . .


Now read about my first classical record.
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

What a bum note, Norman

It's Critics 2 Creatives 0 in today's Observer. First English National Opera's production of Philip Glass's Satyagraha concedes an early goal to Anthony Holden:

"Oh, do get on with it ~ As music, extremely well performed, it is interesting for 10 minutes, pleasant for another 10, then insufferably monotonous for the ensuing three hours-plus. Some will emerge believing they have seen an inspirational affirmation of the human spirit, others a non-violent attempt to bore the oppressor into submission."

But that's nothing to Norman Lebrecht's defeat by Adams Mars-Jones:

"What a bum note, Norman ~ The strange fascination of reading the book lies in seeing how an unstable emulsion of attitudes breaks down into its components. The style is desperately uncomfortable, full of high-impact, low-logic phrasemaking: 'He was on a vertical curve'; 'Prolific? He invented the word'; 'Vladimir Horowitz had more comebacks than Lucifer.' If this is a serious book on an important subject, it should look to its own standards."

Which is precisely what many of us have been saying for some time. Just glad the critics didn't review Peter Maxwell Davies' speech to the Incorporated Society of Musicians. Its style suggests that Max has been reading too much Norman Lebrecht.
Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis, 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

Encore - new music for prepared keyboards

Piano stories are the Da Vinci code of music blogs. After huge readers for that notorious story, the saga of the dropped Bösendorfer broke reader records here last week. So now, if you are prepared, why not read about a burning harpsichord and a grand piano up a mountain?

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

So it goes ~ Kurt Vonnegut, 1922-1977



With many thanks to reader Storey Clayton who helped put this wonderful tribute together. More related links here On An Overgrown Path, and a nice appreciation, with the same title, in today's Observer.

Now read why we aren't marching in the streets anymore.
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