Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Youth - not a time of life but a state of mind


If you are gay, black or female the good news is your chances of making it big in classical music are definitely improving. But the bad news is if you are the wrong side of 40 your chances of hitting the big time are not looking so good.

Institutionalised age discrimination in classical music has been around for a long time. One of the most famous examples was the forced retirement of Sir Adrian Boult from the position of Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra when he reached the BBC's mandatory retirement age of 60 in 1949.

But more insidious is the underground age discrimination that is now starting to appear. To get a buzz going about new classical talent they must be under 40, sport an iPhone and be on Facebook, play uptown venues without seats, and have hip-hop remixes on YouTube.

The problem is all due to classical music's obsession with attracting younger audiences. (I wonder if rock musicians spend their time obsessing over how to attract older audiences?) The marketing men now say that unless the elusive youngsters can relate to the performers they won't come to the concert, or buy the CD. So, if there is a choice between a good young musician and a great older musician, the danger is the younger performer will get the nod.

This mindset appeared in a recent Newsweek interview with Christopher Roberts, chairman of Decca Label Group.

Newsweek - Have young, good-looking artists like pianist Lang Lang and opera singer Nicole Cabell helped create new audiences for classical?

Christopher Roberts - Younger artists like Nicole Cabell, Lang Lang and others move a consumer on the edges of classical music toward purchasing, especially given how easy it is to do online, with the close proximity of these artists to those from other, more traditionally mainstream genres.

We also see the mindset in statements like 'middle-aged wankers in dinner suits', in cartoon-style sleeve artwork that tries to give classical music a younger image, in young director's introducing telly talent shows into Wagner's operas, not to mention penises, and in the hyping of symphonies by 15 year olds.

When Alan Gilbert was appointed music director of the New York Philharmonic there was more media coverage of his age than of his outstanding musical credentials. The Washington Post headline summed it all up - New York Philharmonic Picks Young New Leader. If they had appointed Kurt Masur to the post again would the headline have read - New York Philharmonic Picks Old New Leader?

Now there are many very good young musicians around, and they have featured regularly On An Overgrown Path over the years. But there are only two conductors today who I will travel a long way to hear in concert. One is Sir Colin Davis, age 79, and the other Bernard Haitink, age 80. My header photo shows another truly great conductor, Otto Klemperer, celebrating his 86th birthday in 1971. On Sunday we marked Mikis Theodorakis' 82nd birthday here, and on internet radio. Only yesterday I wrote about the superb recordings of his own works made by Igor Stravinsky when he was in his 80s. Pierre Boulez is now 82, and last year London welcomed the 97 year old Elliott Carter, and György Kurtág celebrated his 80th birthday.

Age is also a real asset in the jazz world. Back in 2005 I wrote a profile of jazz pianist Jack Reilly when he was a youthful 73. Two years later Jack has notched up his three-quarters of a century, and his music sounds even younger. Jack's forthcoming Bill Evans inspired double CD Innocence - Green Spring Suite is some of the best jazz piano I've heard from anyone, of any age, for a long time.

Meanwhile London is bracing itself for the tidal wave of hyperbole that Deutsche Grammophon and the BBC will unleash when the young Gustavo Dudamel, and the even younger Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venzuela, storm into town for their August Promenade Concert. I am one of the few people on the planet who didn't receive a free advance copy of their new Mahler 5 CD. But the underground buzz is that it's musical dynamite, and I'm delighted for the youngsters from Venezuela.

Personally, I have been getting a very satisfying buzz from two other Mahler recordings. Bruno Maderna's interpretation of Mahler's 9th Symphony with the BBC Symphony Orchestra is also dynamite. But Maderna made two marketing mistakes. First, he was 51 when he made the recording. Secondly he died two years later. I bet that if Maestro Maderna was under contract to a major record company today, their marketing department would never allow him to make those two elementary mistakes.

While writing this post I listened, on vinyl LPs, to another Mahler recording that really celebrates the joy of age. Otto Klemperer's recording of Mahler's Second Symphony, made in the Kingsway Hall with the Philharmonia Orchestra, is one of the classics of the gramophone. Klemperer was 78 when he made it, but it simply sweeps aside the rival recordings from young bloods such as Simon Rattle. (Rattle was 31 when he recorded Mahler 2, he is now well over the hill at 52). Klemperer's Mahler Second has never been out of the catalogue since its LP release in 1963. I wonder how many Mahler symphonies released in 2007 will still be in the catalogue in 2051?

The choice between the young and old audience is a no-brainer. Classical music needs both. But we are increasingly defining youth as a time of life, and this opens the door to age discrimination. Youth is not a time of life, it is a state of mind, as Robert Kennedy so eloquently explained:

"There is discrimination in this world, and slavery, and slaughter and starvation. The answer is to rely upon youth - not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity."

What better examples of that youthful state of mind than our many living musicians who have passed 40? Let's celebrate them, as well as those fortunate enough to be at the right time of life.

Now read about the perfect mix of youth and experience
Photo credit Godfrey MacDominic. 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, July 30, 2007

Complete Stravinsky at a crazy price


Columbia have released a new compilation of the Works of Stravinsky conducted by the composer and Robert Craft. I paid £29.95 ($60) at Prelude Records for the box, you may find it cheaper online. The twenty-two CD's comprise all the stereo recordings made for Columbia with the composer conducting, one CD with Robert Craft conducting and Stravinsky in attendance, and several older recordings of works not remade in stereo by the composer. The remastering and sound is excellent, far better than earlier issues of these recordings.

When Eugene Gossens conducted Les Noces in its London premiere with the Ballet Russe in 1926, the four pianists were composers Vittorio Rieti, Georges Auric, Francis Poulenc and Vladimir Dukelsky (Vernon Duke). Stravinsky wanted to replicate this for the 1961 recording included in this set, and the pianists were the composers Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland, Lukas Foss and Roger Sessions. When invited, Lukas Foss accepted on the condition that he played Piano Number One, while Roger Sessions insisted on the easiest part. For the record (literally) Pianos One and Three were played by Lukas Foss and Samuel Barber, Two and Four by Aaron Copland and Roger Sessions.

This starry line-up was bettered by a 1966 New York performance of The Soldier's Tale which Stravinsky conducted with the speaking parts of the Narrator, the Devil, and the Soldier taken by Aaron Copland, John Cage and Elliott Carter respectively. Sadly this performance isn't in the Stravinsky box.

I'll be dipping into this set on the Overgrown Path radio programme in the autumn, Requiem Canticles (or 'Requicles' as Robert Craft called them) will be top of the list. The Works of Stravinsky are a delight from start to finish. Buy it before Sony realise they made a mistake with the price.

Now follow this path for another unmissable bargain box of CDs.
Anectdotal information from the controversial And Music at the Close: Stravinsky's Last Years by Lillian Libman (Macmillan ISBN 333143043). Photo (c) On An Overgrown Path, taken on the living room carpet a few minutes ago! 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

Internet radio - the perfect storm


Jørgen Falck has left a new comment on the post "The political dimension of the artist":

Thank you Pliable. Your Greek birthday-concert for Mikis Theodorakis sounded beautiful here on my iTunes player, and I look forward to your next broadcasts on Future Radio (header photo). Like you I'm interested in the classical music life in general and in the radio. And yes, I am looking for alternatives.

Unfortunately we are facing a grotesque situation here in Denmark because of incompetent government policy: The Danish BBC, DR, are building a great new media house for radio and TV, including a new concert hall for the National SO by the architect Jean Nouvel. However, the financial costs of this house are so overwhelming that the government has forced DR to sack a lot of their best employee's, and to make sharp cuts in the programs as well.

The results are all to clear: Repeat broadcasts and common repertoire in huge quantities, Mozart, Beethoven and Mozart again and again.

Therefore, instead of this misery me and other Danish music lovers are tuning in to the Internet's radio world. That's how I found your Overgrown Path and the Radeo site. And thats how I became a daily listener to the excellent Norwegian station Alltid (Always) Klassisk. If not a Danish, I must have a Scandinavian favourite, after all.


Thank you Jørgen, glad you enjoyed the Skalcottas and Theodorakis. Overgrown Path radio will broadcast every Sunday at 17.00h British Summer Time. As I have said before - this is the future of radio. And the perfect storm gathers strength.
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Sunday, July 29, 2007

The political dimension of the artist


'So it is a question of with whom you want to communicate. It must be a free person for an artist can only communicate with free people. Yet in order to be free that person must have solved certain problems. He must have a job, he must be educated and in good health, he must have certain rights and dignity. I, as an artist, would like to have an interchange with such a person. You can't create art with slaves, no matter whether they were forced into slavery or made to adopt a slavish attitude. At this point the political dimension of the artist comes into force. He must contribute to the rescue of mankind out of pure self-interest.'

Mikis Theodorakis was born on July 29th 1925 on the Greek island of Chios, and his words above are from the sleeve notes for his own recording of his Requiem. The concept of 'free people' resonates strongly for Theodorakis. He had fought in the resistance against the occupying Fascists in World War 2, and was exiled in the subsequent Greek Civil War. He then studied music at the Athens Conservatoire, and in Paris with Olivier Messiaen.

Following the Greek military junta in 1967 Theodorakis went underground, and his music was banned by military decree. He was imprisoned for five months until an international pressure group including Dmitri Shostakovich, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Miller, and Harry Belafonte achieved his release, and he went into exile in April 1970. Theodorakis continued his opposition in exile through concerts and by enlisting the support of international leaders.

After the fall of the Colonels, Theodorakis returned to Greece, and took an active part in politics on a left wing ticket. He was elected to the Greek Parliament twice, and became a minister in the government in the early 1990s.
He was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2000, and opposed both NATO’s involvement in Kosovo and the invasion of Iraq, and has been publicly critical of the policies of George W. Bush.

Mikis Theodorakis is best known for his music for the cinema, notably for his sound-track for Constantin Costa-Gravas' film Z which became a rallying call for opponents of the military regime, and for the film of Nikos Kazantzakis' novel Zorba the Greek which became a sound-track for tourism in Greece. But there is a lot more to Theodorakis' music, including five published symphonies, a string quartet, a Requiem, and five operas.

His 1984 Requiem sets the words of the 6th century Syrian monk John of Damascus. The structure of the work follows the Orthodox Mass for the Dead, and is quite distictinct from the more common Roman Catholic and Protestant requiems. Theodorakis is best known for his music for the theatre, and his Requiem is theatrical as well as sacred music.


Although rooted in the Orthodox rite it uses elements which are not permitted in the Orthodox liturgy - children's and women's voices and a full symphony orchestra, and builds Western polyphony and harmony on a Byzantine foundation. But this is most definitely spiritual music. Although sacred music started moving from the church to the concert hall in Haydn's time, Theodorakis' Requiem, thankfully, does not move as far into the concert hall as Leonard Bernstein's Mass - A Theatre Piece for Singers.

An excellent recording of Mikis Theodorakis' Requiem is available, with the composer conducting (photo below) the St. Petersburg Academic Capella Children's Choir, Choir and Symphony Orchestra. The recording was made in 1997 in the Capella Concert Hall, St. Petersburg, and is on the German Intuition Classics label, as are many other CDs of Theodorakis' music. You can read about Mikis Theodorakis' songs of freedom on this path.


Predictably BBC Radio 3 is not marking Mikis Theodorakis' birthday today, instead they are presenting that rarest of twentieth century music, a Shostakovich symphony. So I will make some small amends on my Overgrown Path programme on Future Radio this afternoon by playing the concluding six movements of Theodorakis' Requiem, plus the Greek Dances of Nikos Skalkottas, who studied with Schoenberg.

The programme is broadcast between 5.00pm and 6.00pm British Summer Time on Sunday July 29 (and following Sundays) and is available on web radio. Convert on-air times to your local time zone using this link. Click here for the audio stream. Windows Media Player doesn't like the stream very much and takes ages to buffer, WinAmp or iTunes handle it best. Unfortunately the royalty license doesn't permit on-demand replay, so you have to listen in real time. If you happen to be in the Norwich, UK area tune to 96.9FM

Today's broadcast and the following week (Aug 5) are test transmissions, and will be identified as such. The station launches on August 6, and here is the provisional forward schedule for Overgrown Path radio with links to the blog articles they are based on. Unless indicated all works will be played complete:

July 29 (test) - The political dimension of the artist: Nikos Skalkottas Seven Greek Dances, Mikis Theodorakis Requiem (excerpts).

Aug 5 (test) - The American Symphony: William Howard Schuman Symphony No.5 (Symphony for Strings), Aaron Copland Short Symphony, Alan Hovhaness Symphony No. 2 "Mysterious Mountain".
Aug 12 - Brain Music: Thea Musgrave Helios, Howard Skempton Lento, William Alwyn Symphony No. 5 "Hydriotaphia".
Aug 19 - Pierre Boulez - great bogeyman of 20th century music: Boulez Messagesquisse, Gyorgy Ligeti Violin Concerto, Boulez Rituel in Memoriam Bruno Maderna.
Aug 26 - Malcolm Arnold - Neglected 20th century master: English Dances, Set 1, Guitar Concerto, Four Scottish Dances, Symphony No. 5 (last movement).
Sept 2 - American minimalists: Terry Riley Cortejo Fúnebre en el Mont Diablo from Requiem for Adam, John Adams Shaker Loops, Terry Riley The Philosopher’s Hand, Terry Riley – In C (excerpt).
Sept 9 - The eternal feminine: Beata Moon Piano Sonata, Elizabeth Maconchy String Quartet No 5, Elisabeth Lutyens Wittgenstein Motet, Vanessa Lann – Dancing To An Orange Drummer.
Sept 16 - Contemporary sacred music: Judith Weir All The Ends of the Earth, Morten Lauridsen – Lux Aeterna, Salve Regina (Gregorian Chant), Bayan Northcott Salve Regina, Morten Lauridsen – O Magnum Mysterium.
Sept 23 - Music of Lou Harrison: Varied Trio, Piano Concerto, Kunsonoro kaj Gloro (excerpt from La Koro Sutro).
Sept 30 - Benjamin Britten - music does not exist in a vacuum: Concerto for Violin, The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra.
Oct 7 - New music from the Baltic: Pehr Henrik Nordgren Equilibrium for 19 strings, Peteris Vasks Botschaft (Message), Per Nogard Constellations.

This is going to be real 'post-ratings radio 2.0. You can even see Pliable on the studio webcam, and send messages to the studio via the Future Radio website. To paraphrase Mikis Theodorakis this is my tiny contribution to "the rescue of mankind out of pure self-interest". Or as Libby Purves wrote - "ratings have to be watched, but calmly and with a sense of proportion. You have to believe that if even one person is swayed, or inspired, or changed, or comforted, by a programme, then that programme has been worthwhile". As ever comment, on both the schedule and transmissions if you can catch them, are welcome.
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Saturday, July 28, 2007

BBC Proms - you thought it couldn't get worse?


Report in The Sun - 'It's gonna be classic on BBC2 - The BBC is launching “Proms Idol” — where celebs will compete for the chance to conduct an orchestra. Eight stars will learn how to wield a baton in Maestro. And the winner of the BBC2 show will take charge of an orchestra during the Last Night Of The Proms at the Royal Albert Hall next year. Channel 4 fave Jon Snow is believed to be in talks with producers to host it. A source said: “The winner will get a great prize.They’ll have to train hard, but it will be worth it.”'

I honestly had to check the Sun article several times to make sure this story wasn't a leg-pull. Is this really 'making great music available to all' as Proms director Nicholas Kenyon claims?

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Middle-class wankers in dinner suits ...


Today's Guardian reports - "In the late-80s, when Factory Records launched its classical off-shoot, Tony Wilson vowed to wrestle classical music away from "middle-class wankers in dinner suits". Twenty years on, despite Factory and numerous embarrassing attempts to sell classical to the yoof and ageing rock stars dabbling in everything from opera to light chamber music, classical remains a dusty, dying art form. You can put William Orbit's orchestral work on at the Manchester International Festival or let Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood write for the BBC Concert Orchestra, but you can't make anyone under 40 care.

Gabriel Prokofiev is aware of this, but refuses to concede defeat. The man behind Nonclassical, a label and London club night, he is bucking the downward trend by returning classical music to its populist roots. Which means moody sleeve designs instead of laborious liner notes and live events where you can get pissed and talk over the crap bits, trading ideas - as Mozart once borrowed from folk - with dance music.

From anyone else, this - programming string quartets with electronica DJs and such - might look contrived, but Prokofiev is a uniquely credible broker. The grandson of Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, he studied classical music to post-grad level before, frustrated with the insular world of contemporary classical music, chucking it all in to pursue various underground dance music projects. Under his patronymic Gabriel Olegavich, he heads-up the mighty disco-punk outfit Spektrum, records off-beam electro as Caspa Codina and has produced leftfield tracks for Lady Sovereign and Manchester MC Envy.

Well versed in the similar politics of classical music - "if you said anything was 'crossover' you'd be stoned to death" - and cutting-edge electro, Gabriel is determined not to produce a "patronising" hybrid of the two.

The first section of the latest Nonclassical CD contains four stark, challenging movements, written by Prokofiev and performed by the Elysian Quartet, which contain echoes of the excitable, repetitive patterns of techno. Those same tracks are remixed by Hot Chip, Conboy and US grime producer Starkey, who improvise hiccuping grooves from plucked strings and such. It's interesting, abrasive and, particularly UK hip-hop head EarlyMan's remix, outright joyous.

Currently working on Concerto for Turntables & Orchestra, a collaboration with the Heritage Orchestra and turntablist DJ Yoda, Prokofiev argues that only by engaging with popular culture can classical music attain a new common vitality.

"I'm not on a mission for classical music per se," Gabriel swerves, unconvincingly, "but it is an amazing tradition. There are things about it which are really special: the incredible instruments that have evolved, the performers who train like maniacs. Dancing to a mechanical beat is thrilling, but so is a really sensitive classical performance. Plus, so many clubs and radio stations play the same stuff, but the general public can handle complicated music."


Report from Guardian, Gabriiel Prokofiev's String Quartet No. 1 on YouTube here, listen to remixes of his String Quartet No. 2 here, and for Prokofiev for middle-class wankers in dinner suits follow this path.
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The end of ghettoising contemporary music?


On An Overgrown Path July 27 Pliable writes - "August 4, 3.00pm, a fine programme of excellent 20th century music at a silly time in a silly place. Elizabeth Maconchy's Music for Strings and Gerald Finzi's Clarinet Concerto (plus Elgar and Grieg) are marginalised to an afternoon concert in the Cadogan Hall, to make way for what in the Albert Hall in the evening? - yet another Shostakovich symphony."

Guardian July 28 Andrew Clements writes - "It's Nicholas Kenyon's last year as controller of the Proms, so the end of ghettoising contemporary music at London's summer music festival may finally be in sight. Over the last 10 years Kenyon has coralled more demanding new works into the hapless late-night slot, ensuring that he can serve populism in the main concerts. This week's late-night offering illustrates the problem perfectly: the programme by Susanna Malkki with the BBC Singers and the London Sinfonietta consists of a UK premiere and a London premiere; that those works are by Pierre Boulez and Sir Harrison Birtwistle, two of today's leading composers, is apparently irrelevant. As a result only a fraction of the potential audience will hear the latest version of Boulez's work-in-progress, Dérive 2, and Birtwistle's luminous choral setting of Pablo Neruda's ode: another opportunity to champion the finest music of today has been ducked."

But will the ghettoising of contemporary music really end under under Nicholas Kenyon's successor Roger Wright? Pigs may fly.

Before anyone writes, it was Andrew Clements who turned 'ghetto' into a verb, not me. 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

Friday, July 27, 2007

Giving classical music a younger image?


William J. Zick, who writes the excellent Africlassical.com, has taken exception to the cover art by French cartoonist Cabu on the new Calliopé release of the music of the Afro-French composer Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges (Calliope 9373). You can see the artwork above, and William describes it as 'disturbing and bordering on ridicule.'

Here is Alain Guédé replying on behalf of the French label Calliopé: - 'Our idea was to use the cover as a means of bringing Saint-George – and through him, classical music in general – to an even wider public, of people from all different backgrounds. We want to give classical music in France a younger image. And I feel that the same thing can be done in the States.'

'Bordering on ridicule' or 'giving classical music a younger image'? Over to you, readers ....
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BBC Proms - a refreshingly adventurous week


Here are Pliable's personal picks for the coming week's BBC Proms. All Proms are available for seven days online, detailed programmes and broadcast times for every concert are available from the BBC web site.

* July 30, 7.30pm - a refreshingly adventurous week starts with the European premiere of Esa-Peka Salonen's Piano Concerto, the pianist is Yefim Bronfman with the composer conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The BBC Symphony has two guest conductors in two concerts this week while chief conductor Jiri Behlolavek picnics at Glyndebourne.

* July 31, 7.00pm - regular readers will know I am a big fan of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and their young chief conductor Ilan Volkov. These days their music making often overshadows the flagship BBC Symphony, which probably has something to do with the fact that the Scottish band lives and works four hundred miles away from the London BBC Radio 3 offices. The BBC Scottish gives two Proms this week, and what concerts! Tonight's includes Britten's too rarely heard Piano Concerto with Scottish pianist Steven Osborne, and Varèse's Ecuatorial.

* July 31, 10.00pm - we could almost be back in the heyday of William Glock, with a late-night Prom of path man-of-the-moment Pierre Boulez's Dérive 2 (UK premiere in the revised version), and Birtwistle's Neruda Madrigales (London premiere). Susanna Mälkki conducts the London Sinfonietta and BBC Singers.

* August 1, 7.30pm - and it gets even better. Tonight's BBC Scottish Prom is an almost perfectly balanced programme of Kurtág's Stele and Mahler's Ninth Symphony conducted by Ivan Volkov. (For another interesting Mahler 9 pairing follow this link.) Not only is this concert my pick of the 2007 Proms, it also takes the Overgrown Path award for the shortest first half ever - 14 minutes.

* August 2, 7.00pm - the premiere of David Matthews' Symphony No. 6 is well worth catching. Matthews has a refreshingly low profile, but writes some fine music - catch it if you can. Jac van Steen conducts the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. I think I am right in saying Jac is the brother of the pianist Jeroen van Steen who also featured here recently.

* August 4, 3.00pm - a fine programme of excellent 20th century music at a silly time in a silly place. Elizabeth Maconchy's Music for Strings and Gerald Finzi's Clarinet Concerto (plus Elgar and Grieg) are marginalised to an afternoon concert in the Cadogan Hall, to make way for what in the Albert Hall in the evening? - yet another Shostakovich symphony.

* August 4, 6.30pm - As well as that Shostakovich Leningrad symphony Mark Elder conducts the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain in Aaron Jay Kernis' New Era Dance. Kernis, who worked with John Adams, became known in the UK in the 1990s when Argo recorded several of his works, I have his Grammy nominated Second Symphony (Argo 4489002) which has the interesting coupling of his Musica Celestis for string orchestra; the composer cites Hildegard of Bingen as an influence on this work, but to my ears early Arvo Pärt also got into the mix. Aaron Jay Kernis' New Era Dance is very much in step with the new era proms, it lasts for just six minutes.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Boulez - great bogeyman of 20th century music


Henry Holland has left a new comment on the post "Boulez - Rituel In Memoriam Maderna":

Ah, one my favorite Paths of yours Pliable since I started to read OAOP two (three?) years ago. I love Rituel in Memoriam Maderna, I listened to it on my iPod a few weeks ago. I wish that there was more than one official recording of it or I could find some live versions on my usual file theft sites. I know Boulez is The Great Bogeyman of 20th Century music along with Schoenberg, and while I certainly don't like all of his pieces, there are some that are among my favorite pieces of music.

I went to a performance of Pli selon Pli at the Concertgebouw when I was in Amsterdam recently and despite the excellent performance by the ASKO Ensemble and Barbara Hannigan I wasn't impressed by the piece all that much; I hadn't heard it in a while.

I keep hoping that a performance of the amazing Repons will take place in the US so I can easily afford to travel to hear it but it's obviously very complicated to do in a live situation.

About 15 years ago (?) Mr. Boulez conducted the four Notations that he had then completed the orchestral versions for here in Los Angeles with the Philharmonic and it was one of the most stunning things I've ever heard in a concert hall. The Phil back then could just barely play the pieces (they'd have no problem now that Mr. Salonen has whipped them in to shape) but what stunning music. I've really wanted Mr. Boulez to come back and conduct here, anything will do, but he hasn't been here in at least a decade. I wonder if he and Mr. Salonen had a falling out? :-(

Great picture of the set-up for the Gruppen premiere and what handsome men Boulez and Stockhausen are in the bottom picture. There's apparently going to be a book about the gay aspect of the Darmstadt group appearing soon and while I will buy it instantly, I'm also afraid that the revelations in it will be used to browbeat that group, much like if you read some of the criticism of Britten in the 40's-70's, there's a barely disguised layer of homophobia to it. As if a lot of people needed the gay angle to denigrate the Darmstadt composers, any excuse along the lines of "they killed classical music" will do! :-)


Thanks for that diversion Henry. Now follow this path for the funny side of Darmstadt, and my picture shows more handsome men there, from left to right, Luigi Nono, Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen.
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Hip hop hooray!


Good to see the Guardian following the Overgrown Path.
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European politicians catch classical music bug

In the audience for yesterday's Bayreuth Festival performance of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg were German chancellor Angela Merkel and the president of the European commission, José Manuel Barroso. In the audience at the recent Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment anniversary concert in London was the new UK culture secretary James Purnell. European politicians are catching the classical music bug, as two articles from the official EU website, which I have combined below, confirm:


'Among the ranks of MEPs are two concert pianists - Lithuanian Vytautas Landsbergis (above left) and Luxembourg's Erna Hennicot-Schoepges (above right). This week we speak to them both to get their views on the relative merits of piano playing and being an MEP.

Erna Hennicot-Schoepges has been a leading politician in Luxembourg since the 1970's - mainly through her involvement in cultural policy. She has also held the post of Cultural Minister of Luxembourg. She is also - like fellow MEP Vytautas Landsbergis - a highly skilled pianist. We spoke to her about her experiences in the cultural field - both on a national level and in the European Parliament where she sits as an MEP for the European People's Party and European Democrats.

Vytautas Landsbergis shot to prominence in the late 80's as the leader of Lithuania's independence movement from Soviet rule. He was the county's first post-Soviet leader before becoming an MEP. Prior to both of these he was a concert pianist.

Are musical and political skills comparable?

- Music and politics are complementary. A piece of music obliges one to start from scratch every time. This calls for a significant amount of discipline and an attitude of humility because irrespective of the music level reached, every piece is a fresh challenge each time. Playing music requires working consistently and insistently. What is lacking in politics is certainly harmony and colours, the art of looking at details and of observation and feeling. The danger of politics lies precisely in the potential loss of one's character and the acquirement of wooden language. Citizens are horrified by these empty words which consist of speaking but saying nothing.

- Skills are mental and physical. When talking about music we usually have physical abilities and their preservation and improvement in mind. Nevertheless, mental skills like memory and ideas for performance are following the music during all the moments. One can prepare a well known repertoire for a concert without practicing for a long time - performance is more than repetition. In the European Parliament sometimes you have to prepare for the meetings when you are at the meeting. Preparation is in one's head, unless the questions discussed are completely new.

Should politicians stay out of or support the arts?

- One should not confuse culture with art. One forms part of the other but culture is profound. It differentiates us from other species and gives us especially in Europe a better knowledge of others and a predisposition to dialogue. In art politics should not interfere in the content but politics must ensure the conditions to carry it out. Negative examples of political interference in art like in Nazism and Communism are still fresh in our minds. Back then art was encouraged and financed to ensure national glory, but at the cost of interference in its contents. In the EU we are now at a crossroads. Those countries of the EU which did not experience communism knew insufficient financing and poor, unstructured social conditions for artists. In other countries which knew generous financing, artists have seen a regression in their material conditions. Freedom requires a terrible sacrifice. For liberty one has less money. Thus the Union today must arrive at a balance. The other model is that of the USA where culture is completely privatised and sponsors influence the contents

- Patronage and care about conditions of creation and expression does not necessarily mean interference. We used to live in a regime that was interfering with everything, including the art, but it met insurmountable obstacles, such as music. Just remember the party's decision on good and bad music taken during Stalinist times. It wasted time and created some rubbish. Interference with art is wrong, nevertheless if politicians care about art it does not automatically mean interference.

You personally know the price of freedom and democracy - what is your message to people who are not inclined to vote?

- Non-voting means treason towards representative democracy. It is a paradox. We're re-establishing independence through democracy and won a right not to mechanically vote, but rather choose. If people do not cherish democracy, do not want to participate in it then they can loose it. Sometimes people have to pass democracy exams and defend their elected governments using direct democracy - like in Lithuania in January 1991.

What about those who compare the European Union to the Soviet Union?

- It is hard to speak to ignorant people who confidently repeat clichés. This mental barrier can be overcome by acquainting with the facts on the spot. For example by organising visits to the EU institutions, showing how debates are conducted. Have the people forgetten about the Soviet dictatorship? The Soviet Union was no union, just a falsified Orwelian entity. There was no socialism – the state became a capitalist exploiting workers.

Aside from music, culture is of great importance to you. What do you hope to achieve in this field in the Parliament?

- In Luxembourg I was a Culture Minister - in Parliament I can speak about and say things that others cannot say because they do not know the issue in depth. My goal is to ensure that culture is admitted as a policy field in its own right. It is also a wide subject like the environment. One can speak about culture in law, industry and education. Culture is everywhere.

In your experience, how compatible are artistic and political lifestyles?

- The political world is very creative and is like art in that respect. I chose politics firstly to show that a musician can bring lots of ideas to politics. Secondly, as a woman in Luxembourg a lot remained to be done back then as is still required today in the field of male-female equality and the combination work-family today.

Finally, what is your favourite piece of music?

- A delicate question indeed...but one of my many favourites includes the Goldberg Variations of Bach.

- It is hard to name a single one. My favourite composer is M. K. Čiurlionis.'


* Biography and music samples of M. K. Čiurlionis via this path - he is a real discovery. Music really can help change the world.
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

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Pliable's picks at BBC Prommers' World


All credit to the BBC. On An Overgrown Path is currently featured on the BBC Prommers World website.
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A fresh face in the house of Wagner


Today's Guardian reports - The 29-year old great-granddaughter of the German composer Richard Wagner will face a crucial moment in her young career tonight when her production of the nation's most controversial opera is staged for the first time. The critical success or failure of Katharina Wagner's (above) Bayreuth Festival debut will not only decide on the future of what is arguably one of the most important musical extravaganzas in the world, but also on who takes pole position in the Wagner dynasty.

Everything depends on the reactions to her production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - from the critics and from those of her father and festival head, 87-year-old Wolfgang Wagner. If the opera is thought a success, she is likely to be chosen by the Wagner Foundation as the successor to the Richard Wagner throne.


The 2007 Bayreuth Festival performances, including today's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, are being webcast on Polskie Radio Dwoja, Warsaw. Click here to listen via the Radeo internet player, and here for schedules. And for more on the Wagner dynasty follow this path.

Picture credit MorgenWeb, and what a change to run a Bayreuth story that doesn't use a picture of Wolfgang Wagner or Hitler! 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

BBC - deeply damaging to the brand

Music and the spirit of place On An Overgrown Path June 19 2007 - 'The BBC Proms are no longer a music festival, they are a global entertainment brand that stands for audience friendly and risk averse programming.'

House of Commons culture committee sitting reported in Guardian July 25 2007 - 'Mark Byford, deputy director general of the BBC, met the committee with a lethal blend of apology and jargon. Gosh, he was sorry. What had happened with the phone-in shows was "utterly unacceptable". Deceiving the public was "not on"; there was a line, and it could under no circumstances be crossed. The whole event had been "deeply damaging to the brand" - and we realised that the BBC, like Marmite and Nike, has become another "brand". '

And let's all remember classical music is not a brand.
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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Bring me cellos. And some cannons ...


* Media Guardian reports - 'Classic FM has signed Blur bass player Alex James to present a show looking at how classical music has influenced pop. The Britpop star turned newspaper columnist and organic farmer will front When Classic Meets Pop, a three-part series beginning on the GCap music station on August 4.

It is the latest addition to the When Classic Meets ... series, which has previously featured Rick Wakeman and Courtney Pine looking at the influence of classical music on rock and jazz music. "Why would I want to listen to Hard-Fi piffling around when there is Rossini?" said James. "Bring me cellos. Bring me French horns. Bring me a choir. And some cannons, maybe, for the end."

Classic FM, which was named station of the year at this year's Sony awards, attracted an audience of 5.71 million in the first three months of the year, according to the latest Rajars. The Classic FM managing director, Darren Henley, said: "As a founder member of one of Britain's foremost pop groups, Alex is uniquely placed to chart the influence classical music has had on the genre." When Classic Meets Pop will feature classically inspired songs such as Barry Manilow's Could It Be Magic, Eric Carmen's All By Myself and The Farm's Altogether Now.'


* BBC presenter Libby Purves writes - 'To run radio you must be like an old-fashioned publisher, a 1930s Gollancz or Faber and Faber, working on faith and idealism and wanting to share what you yourself love. All that you can do is make - and publicize - the best and most passionately well-crafted programmes you can think of. Ratings have to be watched, but calmly and with a sense of proportion. You have to believe that if even one person is swayed, or inspired, or changed, or comforted, by a programme, then that programme has been worthwhile.'

Now read about the circus opera from another member of Blur
Libby Purves quote from Radio, A true Love Story (Coronet Books ISBN 0340822422). Aa well as talking a lot of common sense this book is a wonderful chronicle of a career in broadcasting. Libby was one BBC training course ahead of me in the early 1970s. 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, July 23, 2007

Boulez - Rituel In Memoriam Maderna


Bruno Maderna was a close friend of Pierre Boulez. In 1958 Boulez and Maderna were conductors of two of the three orchestras in the fraught premiere of Karlheinz Stockhausen's Gruppen, the third orchestra was directed by the composer. My picture above, from the Stockhausen archive, was taken at a rehearsal for the premiere in Cologne. Left clicking on the image will enlarge it. Stockhausen is conducting orchestra 1 on the left, Maderna orchestra 2 in the centre, and Boulez orchestra 3 on the right. The photo at the foot of the article shows Boulez, Maderna and Stockhausen in Darmstadt in 1956, and, interestingly, was taken by Hans Keller. .

Maderna's relationship with the BBC Symphony Orchestra was established before Boulez's period as the orchestra's chief conductor, and was one of the many fruits of William Glock's period as BBC Controller of Music between 1959 and 1972. Maderna made his debut with the orchestra in 1959 when he gave the first public performance in Britain of Schoenberg's Op. 22 Songs, together with the symphonic extracts from Berg's Lulu and Stravinsky's Les Noces.

Maderna conducted the BBC Symphony in the notorious premiere of Luigi Nono's uncompromisingly left wing opera Intolleranza at the 1961 Venice Biennale. Protests included stink bombs thrown at the orchestra in the first act, and after the interval Maderna turned up the volume of the pre-recorded chorus parts to drown out the dissenters. In those pre-Classic FM days the BBC relayed the performance live from Venice.

In his invaluable autobiography Notes in Advance (OUP ISBN 0198161921) William Glock writes ~ Maderna himself was one of the most sympathetic human beings I have known, a man of great warmth and amplitude, always generous to other musicians without being blind to their failings. A familiar sight (at Dartington) was to see him with a bottle of wine under each arm and a hamper of food, which he would then cook and devour with friends with the gusto that marked everything he did. As a conductor he achieved authority and friendliness together, and would congratulate individual players on some felicitous phrases in their performance. But, though he was a leader of the avant-garde to whom many others such as Luigi Nono owed a great deal, he did not shut himself away from the music of the past, and more than once I played the Mozart Sonata for two pianos with him, and saw the way he revelled in it".

In 1970 Maderna premiered his Quadrivium with the BBC Symphony, a performance that prompted a perceptive critic to describe the work as - "a large piece, around half an hour long, full of exuberant, romantic, well-wined music, expertly constructed, beautifully scored." Maderna was a regular guest with the orchestra while Boulez was chief conductor, and it was during this period that I was fortunate to see Maderna conduct. I have already praised his Mahler Ninth here which I heard in the 1972 Proms, an interpretation which critic Dominic Gill described as - "both convincing and moving. In human, dramatic terms often very impressive...the final pages were absolutely right." Maderna was also a champion of Elisabeth Lutyens, and programmed her Music for Orchestra 1 with the BBC Symphony.

In March 1972 Boulez conducted Maderna's Aura in place of a new work of his own which was unfinished. In the autumn of that year Maderna was to have conducted a BBC Symphony concert including his Third Oboe Concerto, but he fell seriously ill and withdrew. In November 1972 Maderna died, and this tragedy provided the inspiration for Boulez to complete his unfinished commission.


Rituel in Memoriam Maderna is one of a series of musical memorials by Boulez, which include the Tombeau added to Pli selon pli for Prince zu Fürstemberg, ..explosante - fixe... for Stravinsky, and Messagesquisse for Paul Sacher. Rituel is scored for eight separate groups of instruments, including double percussion in one group. The clarity of structure and Eastern sounding percussion makes Rituel one of the most accessible of Boulez's compositions, and William Glock described it as "the majestic processional in memory of Bruno Maderna". The photo above shows Pierre Boulez at the BBC Maida Vale studios in 1969, before a rehearsal for the premiere of Pli selon pli with the BBC Symphony.

The premiere of the BBC commissioned Rituel in Memoriam Maderna was given by Pierre Boulez and the BBC Symphony Orchestra in April 1975. In November 1976 Boulez and the orchestra recorded the work for CBS in the Henry Wood Hall, London. The fine recording, produced by Paul Myers and Roy Emerson and engineered by Bob Auger, is still in the catalogue at mid-price. It still sounds wonderful, and is highly recommended both as a valuable document of Pierre Boulez the composer, and a moving tribute to Bruno Maderna the musician. The CD couplings of Eclat and Multiples were recorded with Boulez and the Ensemble InterContemporain at IRCAM in Paris.

Staying with Pierre Boulez, IRCAM and the Ensemble InterContemporain, Deutsche Grammophon has just re-released important recordings of three of his later works, Sur Incises (1996/1998), Messagesquisse (1976-1977) and Anthèmes (1997). The CD was recorded in Paris in 1999 with the composer conducting the Soloists of the Ensemble InterContemporain in the first two works. Wonderful music, wonderfully recorded, and in today's crazy music market it is retailing in the UK for just £6.99 ($13). Both this re-release and the CD of Rituel In Memoriam Maderna are musts, both for card carrying Boulez fans, and for any readers who haven't yet been fortunate enough to discover his special sound world.


For more Bruno Maderna resources follow this path,
Picture credits. Pictures 1 and 3 Stockhausen archive, picture 2 BBC. Nicholas Kenyon's excellent book The BBC Symphony Orchestra contains invaluable listings of the premieres given by that great orchestra. 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

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Hip hop's debt to classical music


"An interesting, possibly even dirty, little secret about hip hop is how often its producers turn to classical music when they’re trying to make whatever joker they’re producing sound, at least momentarily, like a god. From solemn East Coast legends like Nas to party MCs like Ludacris (before his disastrous Grammy makeover), plenty of rappers have skimmed grandeur off of classical music; what follows are just a few examples of this odd meeting point between two disparate art forms" - writes Jayson Greene in Stylus Magazine, and then goes on to identify the top ten classical music samples in hip hop.

Now read the unlikely story of Malcolm Arnold and the rock idols.
Image credit Orange and Blue. 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

BBC Proms - dumbing down is contagious

Today's Observer seems determined to follow the BBC down the slippery slope to editorial oblivion. No less than two pages are devoted to a vacuous article whose title, 'From Iggy to Gigli: my journey to the Proms', says it all. Observer journalist Sean O'Hagan is given some free tickets to help puff the BBC Proms to the crossover audience, and reports: - At other times, though, I was totally baffled by what I was hearing. And some of it was simply was too much to take in, particularly, though it pains me to say it, the more modern stuff: Adams's Symphony No 4, and especially Sam Hayden's cacophonous Substratem.

If we ignore the misspelling of Sam Hayden's Substratum and a later incorrect reference to the "Soweto String Quartet", I am sure John Adams' would be surprised to learn that he has written four symphonies, and even more surprised to find one of them confused with Charles Ives Symphony No. 4, which was in fact performed in the July 17 Prom.

But as another journalist and BBC presenter, the inimitable Norman Lebrecht, recently wrote: - Esoteric as it may seem, the supposed fraud shows up the flaws of a classical blogosphere that trades in unchecked trivia. Classical blogs are spreading but their nutritional value is lower than a bag of crisps. Unlike financial blogs, which yield powerful and profitable secrets, classical web-chat is opinion-rich and info-poor. Until bloggers deliver hard facts and estate agents turn into credible critics, paid-for newspapers will continue to set the standard as only show in town.

Now read about a great journalist who wouldn't have made those kind of mistakes
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Saturday, July 21, 2007

David Munrow documentary and resources

BBC Radio 4 broadcast an excellent documentary on early music specialist David Munrow this evening. You can hear the programme on demand here until July 28th. More David Munrow resources via this path.
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Bach in the little town of Bethlehem, PA


The Handel and Haydn Society of Boston perform Haydn's The Seasons at the BBC Proms on Monday (July 23), and their conductor Sir Roger Norrington gives an interesting interview in today's Guardian.

The Handel and Haydn Society is a chorus and period instrument orchestra dating from 1815. They pioneered American performances of the Handel oratorios, and in the 1870s also presented Bach's oratorios in almost complete versions for the first time in America.

But the first American performances of Bach's St John and St Matthew Passions, and the B minor Mass didn't take place in Boston, or even New York. These masterpieces were first heard in the U.S. of A in 1888, 1892 and 1900 respectively under the conductor John Frederick Wolle (seen at the organ in my photo). Wolle had studied Bach's music in Munich with Joseph Rheinberger, and the American premieres of all three works were given by his Bach Choir in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, of all places.

Now check out another great organ console photo.
Image credit WLVT.org.
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