Monday, August 27, 2007

I'm away on a sea interlude


On An Overgrown Path is taking a sea interlude until the end of September. To reduce maintenance I've locked the post facility, but you can still email me via - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk. And you can still listen to my Overgrown Path radio programme on Future Radio while I away at 5.00pm UK time on Sunday evenings, click here for the audio stream (real time only). The featured composers are:

Sept 2 - Terry Riley & John Adams
Sept 9 - Beata Moon, Elizabeth Maconchy, Elisabeth Lutyens & Vanessa Lann
Sept 16 - Judith Weir, Morten Lauridsen & Bayan Northcott
Sept 23 - Lou Harrison

Follow this path for highlights of the last twelve month's posts, and this one for contemporary composers worth exploring. While I'm away support the other fine music blogs here. Remember, it's the music that matters.

Convert Overgrown Path radio on-air times to your local time zone using this link. Windows Media Player doesn't like the audio 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 are in the Norwich, UK area tune to 96.9FM. Photo of Aldeburgh beach (c) 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

Bach's distant cousin is a real discovery

There is more music by Bach than by any other composer in my CD collection. But until last week one Bach has been absent. Johann Ludwig Bach (1677-1731), seen in the portrait here, was a distant cousin of Johann Sebastian, and was the first Bach to be employed in a leading musical position in a court, serving the ducal court in Meiningen for twenty-eight years. In 1726 J.S. Bach performed eighteen of his cousin's cantatas, and integrated some of the stylistic elements into his own compositions.

Much of J.L. Bach's music has been lost, but eleven motets, twenty-two sacred canatatas, a Funeral Music and Mass, two secular cantatas, an orchestral suite and a double violin concerto survive. The CD that I added to my colection was an important new recording of ten of the motets by the Belgian choral ensemble Ex Tempore Gent (photo below) and the Orpheon Consort directed by Florian Heyerick.

Much headline seeking nonsense has been written recently about the impending death of classical music. Yes, the traditional big players among the symphony orchestras and corporate record companies may be struggling. But that is mainly due to the self-serving antics of over-paid jet set maestros and unimaginative programmes.

For evidence of the rude health of classical music look no further than the many flourishing European vocal groups that have featured on these pages recently, including Exaudi, Estonian Philharmoinc Chamber Choir, Tonus Peregrinus, Flemish Radio Choir, Les Jeunes Solistes and now Ex Tempore Gent. Founded in 1989 by Florian Heyerick, Ex Tempore Gent is a professional ensemble that is building a big reputation in repertoire ranging from 1600 to the present, with particular specialisation in the 17th and 18th centuries.


J.L. Bach's Motets are a revelation, and a real discovery. This is a distinctive musical voice that deserves to be heard irrespective of the Bach connection - listen to MP3 audio samples here. Ex Tempore Gent are persuasive advocates of this fine music, and the sound quality captured by Emmanuel Théry in Eglise de Bessières - Saint Gérard, Belgium is excellent. This new recording comes from the Stuttgart based Carus who have also released a CD of J.L. Bach's Cantatas. Choral groups should note that Carus are also publishers of J.L. Bach's scores.

Carus are a very enterprising publisher and record company who also support modern composers. One example is their fine recording of Rudolph Mauersberger's moving Dresden Requiem which I wrote about last year.

More little known Bach is to be found on a new Sony release. The Gesualdo Consort of Amsterdam directed by Harry van der Kamp have recorded a double CD of the complete works of C.P.E. Bach for vocal ensemble and bass continuo, including litanies, motets and psalm settings. This is a premiere recording for a number of the works, and as a bonus there is Harry van der Kamp's realisation for eight voices of the Contrapuntus XlX from J. S. Bach's Art of Fugue. Mre evidence of the rude health of classical music and recording.

Now read about a Bach chorale's secret French connection.
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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Ingratiating schmaltzy and patronising


Tomorrow night West End star Michael Ball sings an evening of show tunes at the BBC Proms. Outgoing Proms director Nicholas Kenyon justified his appearance with these words: "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".

Which resonates with a story from 1995, when Nicholas Kenyon was controller of BBC Radio 3. Here is the story from the late Humphrey Carpenter's excellent official history of the network. And the words in the headline are not mine, they come from that very same official history.
Radio 3's new 9-10 am programme would be called Morning Collection, and would be presented by Paul Gambaccini [photo above], the transatlantic-born disc jockey whose 'music for lovers' programme on Classic FM had been a target of some mockery in the statuion's early days ... He would now join Radio 3.

Kenyon emphasised that Gambaccini had worked for BBC Radio 'long before Classic FM was in rompers', and was chosen because 'his connection with film and pop music makes him unintimidating to people who want to try classical music but are unsure about it'. A BBC publicity handout headed From Puccini to Gambaccini stated that Gambaccini's programme would consist of 'classical greats ... from Brahms to Britten, from Strauss to Stravinsky ... Paul brings his relaxed but knowledgeable style to programmes full of complete works by all the major composes ... Morning Collection takes you on a stimulating journey through 500 years of the classics.'

The music critic [and composer] Bayan Northcott noted that Gambaccini's presentation style on Classic FM was characterised by 'refraining from any information commentary or judgement of the slightest musical interest whatever'. After Morning Collection had begun on Radio 3, listeners' reactions to it were aired on Radio 4's Feedback. 'The outrage was instant,' reported the Daily Telegraph.

Comments on [Gambaccini's] velvet voice and sugary commentary ... ranged from 'unctuous', 'totally inane', 'ingratiating', 'schmaltzy', to 'egregious and patronising'. One listener complained that he sounds as if he's selling raspberry ripple'. Another said listening to him was like wallowing in warm blancmange' ...

Kenyon appeared on Feedback and described Gambaccini as 'a knowlegeable and informed presenter of classical music'. He admitted that the programme was 'a big change of culture and it's meant to be, because we're trying to open up a potential new audience to classical music'.

Paul Gambaccini's place on Radio 3 did not last long. In May 1996, after sustained attacks from listeners and critics, he announced that he would not continue to present Morning Collection when his contract expired later in the year. Kenyon said that the programme's format had been welcomed by listeners but its presentation had been criticised strongly
Bayan Northcott is a respected contemporary composer as well as music critic. Hear his Salve Regina on my Overgrown Path radio programme on September 16 at 5.00pm British Summer Time on Future Radio.
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Malcolm Arnold - English Dances


It's an English Bank Holiday weekend. After endless rain the weather is glorious. But nature hasn't forgotten the bad weather. This photo, taken a few minutes ago, shows the first autumn crocuses appearing in our garden here in East Anglia.

More English sunshine on my Overgrown Path radio programme this afternoon on Future Radio at 5.00pm UK time, with Sir Malcolm Arnold's English Dances Set 1, Guitar Concerto, and suite from the film Hobson's Choice. Click here for the audio stream.

Now read about a neglected 20th century masterpiece.
Convert on-air time to your local time zone using this link. 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 are in the Norwich, UK area tune to 96.9FM. 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, August 25, 2007

Contemporary music - I really enjoyed it!


Aude Gotto writes: When the King of Hearts’ Gallery in Norwich first exhibited my personal collection, composed exclusively of works by living artists, I wrote in the introduction: “This is the collection of someone who didn’t like contemporary art.” A reassurance for the public who generally feels wary of anything "contemporary”, with some reason, it has to be said,in the light of the Turner Prize and other such highlights of the “art world.”

The same wariness applies to modern music, because of what has been termed the “squeaky gate” school, which makes a concert more of a headache than a pleasure. However, I have come a long way over the years, discovering that there are many talented artists and musicians who use a contemporary idiom to express themselves in ways that are both beautiful and arresting, and who are worth making the effort of opening one’s mind to new forms and harmonies.

Indeed we have had quite a number of contemporary works performed at the King of Hearts: the memorable Messiaen recitals by Peter Hill were the initial foray into a world of sound very different from baroque; in 2000 we celebrated the millennium by the commissioning new works, among which the most rewarding was David Bedford’s Quartet, bringing together Piers Adams on recorder, Simon Dinnigan on guitar, Gary Cooper on harpsichord and Tatty Theo on baroque cello. This proved eloquently that a modern composer can write for period instruments with charm and imagination. I was encouraged in the adventure by the comment of an older lady who was a regular attender, and who exclaimed at the end of a concert: "I was rather worried about this contemporary piece and not looking forward to it, but, do you know, I really enjoyed it!”

As far back as 1994, the adventurous harpsichordist Jane Chapman gave a recital which brought together baroque and 20th century music for the instrument; this was quite a revelation, and the reason why we are having her again this year! So we arrive after this rather long preamble, at the theme of this article, the Autumn Festival at the King of Hearts, in Norwich.

The title, Journey across Time, conveys the purpose, which is to cross over barriers, and present music written in the last hundred years as well as baroque favourites. There is an emphasis on Bach and Handel played by some of your favourite performers, so you will no be stretched all the time! But in each concert contrasting contemporary or at least 20th century pieces are included.

The most avant-garde work is a piece for flute and pre-recorded tapes by Jeremy Peyton-Jones, a premiere for the King of Hearts. I trust that flautist Rachel Brown, for whom it was written and who was keen for an opportunity to play it, will present it with her usual musical sensitivity so that we will enjoy the novelty. Another feature is the use of period instruments, such as baroque violin and particularly harpsichord, by modern composers. Stephen Dodgson writes lovely accessible music, Ligeti has toe-tapping rhythms in Hungarian Rock and Takemitsu creates dreamy Japanese harmonises on the harpsichord.


Full details of Journey Across Time from the King of Hearts website, On An Overgrown Path will be there. And stay on the 'old and new' path with Bach and modern technology

Image of 'Boaz Wakes up and finds Ruth at his feet' - original lithograph by Marc Chagall from Aude Gotto's personal collection. 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

Youth and the comb-over compulsion

The more profound problem is really about demographics. The audience is getting older and we don't know what to do about it, so we have the spectacle of a bunch of middle-aged people in the grip of some comb-over compulsion. Youth. Where is it? Why doesn't it watch us? How do we get hold of it? This is the great motive force in contemporary television. Why do they want to find it? The motive is the same everywhere. Money.

Jeremy Paxman (above) tells it like it is in television - and classical music. Essential reading in today's Guardian, and an essential reminder that youth is not a time of life, it is a state of mind.

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One for the boys


Equality is a recurring theme On An Overgrown Path. So it was good to see the fine young conductor Ivan Volkov pulling out of his Edinburgh concert this week due to 'impending fatherhood', and being replaced by the excellent Susanna Mälkki. Slightly disturbing, though, that the main work in the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra's programme was Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex.

Find Oedipus Rex, and a lot more Stravinsky here.
Image of Antigone Leads Oedipus out of Thebes by Charles Francois Jalabeat from Wikipedia. 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, August 24, 2007

They would be booed off the stage mercilessly


Drew80 has left a new comment on your post "A year of stories that had to be told":

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

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


Posted by Drew80 to On An Overgrown Path at 4:20 PM
Photo credit Deceptively Simple. 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

A year of stories that had to be told


On An Overgrown Path is three years old today, and this is post number 1171. The site has received close to a million hits, and the word count is now not far short of a staggering half a million. That is twice as many words as Alex Ross' new book, and half as many as today's BBC Radio 3 presenters use to introduce a single concert.

The last twelve months gave me the opportunity to explore several new paths. Two of the most rewarding articles to write were those on the black Guyanese conductor Rudolph Dunbar and the Afro-French composer Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Appropriately, yesterday was the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, and I am writing this before we dash off to the radio studio to present a studio discussion on the slave trade.

My radio co-presenter is my wife Sorojini. As usual several different paths intersect here. Sorojini was born in Georgetown, Guyana, as was Rudolph Dunbar. A colonial labour system brought the families of both to that country from different continents. And Guyana has been involved for more than 150 years in a border dispute with Venezuela, a country that has featured frequently on the path, and one that I will return to later

Internet radio is another new path I've been exploring. Future Radio, here in Norwich, has been very generous in giving me carte blanche to present an hour of contemporary music every Sunday at 5.00pm British Summer Time. This has meant that listeners around the world have been able to listen to rarely heard music by Mikis Theodorakis, Alan Hovhaness, William Howard Schuman, Thea Musgrave, Pierre Boulez, Edmund Rubbra and others.

Benjamin Britten has, of course, remained a constant on the path throughout the year. In April I wrote one of the year's saddest posts, and marked the death of Britten's friend and collaborator Mstislav Rostropovich with a small personal appreciation.

On An Overgrown Path's commitment to contemporary music has increased. Posts on Pierre Boulez , Bruno Maderna, Jonathan Harvey and Lou Harrison were particularly well received, and it was fun to see my tribute to Conlon Nancarrow reminding some high profile US sites that it was the tenth anniversary of Nancarrow's death.

Less well received were my posts on the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela and Gustavo Dudamel. But I continue to remain uneasy about their volatile mix of musical vision, politics and commercialism, and believe that Venezuelan flags (see above via Deceptively Simple) and union jacks (see below via BBC) are both out of place at the BBC Proms. Youngsters just having fun? Please tell that to the families of the millions of young people who died last century defending freedom of speech. At last the paid-for media, and some other blogs, have also started to question the link between music and politics in Venzuela. And the answers given by Dudamel certainly do not make me change my views.

Of course the Venezuelan music education system is a fantastic way of rejuvenating classical music. But others are also doing great work, and my sequence of reports on the Aldeburgh Festival showed that 'reaching out' and 'selling out' don't always have to rhyme. It was also pleasing to see Aldeburgh Music recognising the importance of music blogs.

In February this year classical music had its 'Diana moment' with the Joyce Hatto 'forgery' revelations, and I tried, without much success, to introduce some balanced reporting. The Joyce Hatto story was, by miles, the year's biggest storm in a teacup.

I received far more satisfaction from writing articles about Elisabeth Lutyens and Elizabeth Maconchy, while the story of Timothy Brady's opera Edalat Square, about the hanging of two young gay men in Iran, just had to be told. My research for the post on Reginald Goodall was also important, not least because the path led to Rudolph Dunbar.

The year also had a lot of laughs. And I am very grateful to Norman Lebrecht for providing most of them.

It was also pleasing to write that youth is not a time of life, but a state of mind. Particularly as this modestly successful blog is written by a 57 year old.

I must apologise to my many overseas readers for the seemingly endless articles deploring the state of BBC Radio 3 and the Proms. But when an old, trusted and loved friend is in agony you desperately want to change things. And a hat tip to Nicholas Kenyon for sending me the longest, most opaque, and least read article posted On An Overgrown Path in the last twelve months. Thanks Nick, and I look forward to receiving my signed copy of your new history of the Barbican Centre.

On a personal front it was very moving to see my photo feature on the inspirational Taizé Community become such an important web resource via Wikipedia. Father Roger's ecumenical community remains a beacon of light in an often dark world.

Apologies to the many readers who emailed me and did not receive an immediate reply. The comments that appear on the blog are the tip of a very large iceberg. Unfortunately some eloquent messages remain buried beneath many from Nigerians generously offering to share their financial windfalls with me.

I hope that the next twelve months will be as rewarding as those just ended. But before my new blogging year gets into its stride On An Overgrown Path will be taking a sea interlude (that's the East Anglian equivalent of a hiatus) in September. In past years I've run the blog at arms length while away, but the size of the readership, its topicality and the risk of legal challenges now make that impractical. So after several more posts, on Monday (Aug 27) I'll be locking the blog down for four weeks, a gap that I'm sure that the many other fine music blogs will fill perfectly well.

Thank you readers for your support, comments, and corrections. In the coming months I will keep following the path mapped so eloquently by Libby Purves in Radio: A True Love Story.

'All that you can do is to make - and publicise - the best and most passionately well-crafted programmes you can think of. Ratings have to be watched, but calmly and with a sense of proportion. You have to believe that if even one person is swayed, or inspired, or changed, or comforted, by a programme, then that programme has been worthwhile'.


Top image credit Deceptively Simple. Lower image credit BBC. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Orchestra of the Age of the Environment

BBC Radio 3 presenter Louise Fryer (left) is gaining something of a cult following for her faux pas. In April she famously muddled her Mozart and Haydn quartets. And during tonight's BBC Prom she introduced the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment as the Orchestra of the Age of the Environment. Just don't let her near the Prom on September 8. One of the composers is Julius Fučík

Now learn how to pronounce Annie Proulx.
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BBC Proms - new music in safe doses


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

* August 29, 10.00pm - important contemporary music is once again consigned to the bed-time ghetto. Works by Oliver Knussen, Anton Webern and Julian Anderson are performed by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.

* August 30, 7.30pm - a rare opportunity to hear Artur Honegger's excellent 1946 Symphony No. 3 Symphonie liturgie played by the Bavarian Radio Symphony under Mariss Jansons . Herbert von Karajan's recorded legacy has dated somewhat, but his recording of this symphony is definitive. (Lovely Lauterwasser cover photo as well).

* August 31, 7.30pm - shout it from the rooftops - the world premiere of Thea Musgrave's Two's Company, a BBC commission. I wrote about Thea Musgrave's concerto for orchestra, Helios, a few weeks ago when I played the NMC recording of it on my Overgrown Path radio programme. The soloists for this premiere are oboist Nicholas Daniel, who also plays on the NMC recording of Helios, and Evelyn Glennie. For this Prom we have a rare sighting of chief conductor Jiří Bělohlávek on the podium with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, obviously finding out where the Albert Hall is before presiding over the Last Night on Saturday. Great to see a big dose of new music, but the BBC really does have a blockage about women composers at the Proms. At the time of writing Thea Musgrave's name is completely missing from the BBC's online listing of composers with performances at the 2007 Proms.

* September 4, 7.30pm - the Vienna Philharmonic and Daniel Barenboim serve up Ligeti in a digestible portion (Atmosphères - 9 mins), and a rather bigger serving of Bartók (Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta - 30 mins). No minimalist composers, but a distinctly minimalist programme - 30 minutes of music in the first half and 38 minutes in the second with top price tickets at £45. Did I hear anyone mention attracting new audiences?

* September 7, 7.30pm - is it a coincidence that this concert by the Boston Symphony and James Levine also contains exactly nine minutes of contemporary music in the form of Elliott Carter's Three Illusions for Orchestra? Or is nine minutes the maximum permissible duration for contemporary music before it is shunted off to the late-night graveyard slot? Safer Brahms and Bartók provide the other 86 minutes.

* September 8, 7.30pm - tokenism reaches its logical conclusion with just one contemporary work in this concert - a three minute excerpt from Thomas Adès' The Storm. Not enough to mar the whitewashing of the history of music.

Now read more about music history rewritten.
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

Lots of fallout from Doctor Atomic Symphony


Length was also a problem in the brand new John Adams work. By default, this turned out to be the world premiere of the Doctor Atomic Symphony - the scheduled premiere in St Louis last March was postponed because the score had taken Adams longer than he anticipated.

But in creating a four-movement, 45-minute span by recomposing music from his 2005 opera, Adams seems to have trusted the original material too implicitly. Without the narrative and text to provide a spine, the result is all surface, lacking in rigour and any genuinely striking ideas, save for the trumpet solo that appears in the final section, which lingers in the mind through its sheer sentimentality.

It was no help to either of Adams's works that the playing of the BBC Symphony Orchestra left such a dreary impression of routine. The whole concert, beginning with a drab account of the suite from Aaron Copland's ballet Billy the Kid, was of a programme left one rehearsal short of a top-quality result.


Andrew Clements reviews the BBC Proms premiere of the Doctor Atomic Symphony in today's Guardian. Sounds like the BBC Symphony Orchestra needs a decent rehearsal facility


Header image shows the first Atomic explosion, July 16, 1945, Trinity Site, New Mexico; July 1945. Photo credit Yellowstone National Park. 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, August 22, 2007

Other minds on internet radio


rchrd has left a new comment on your post "A title given by the Gods":

Congratulations on your radio program. I've been doing Music From Other Minds on local KALW in San Francisco nearly 3 years now. The 115th weekly program will be broadcast on Sept 7 after a summer's break.

Doing radio programs like these are like inviting friends over for a listen .. "here's something I found recently that I want you to hear"

I got my musical education by listening to the radio back in the 50's in New York City. Those days with significant classical music programming on the air are long gone. So I figure now it's all we can do to put interesting things on the radio.

Good luck with the project. Richard Friedman


Listen to the music of Sir Malcolm Arnold on Sunday 26 August at 5.00pm British Summer Time on Overgrown Path radio. More classical webcasts here, and tune in to the long tail of radio 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

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Elgar - as much or as little as you require


The Dream of Gerontius and the two symphonies are Edward Elgar's masterpieces. But in this his 150th anniversary year, these works are missing completely from the BBC Proms, the self-styled 'world's greatest classical music festival'. Yet the same festival finds space for even more 'third pressing Mahler' (not my words) after last year's abundant crop.

But over in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, the Bard Music Festival (photo above) manages to include both The Dream of Gerontius and the E flat Symphony to huge acclaim, as part of a visionary celebration of Elgar's music.

Elgar once said "There is music in the air, music all around us, the world is full of it and you simply take as much as you require." Clearly upstate New Yorkers require more of it than London concert goers.

Now read about Elgar carrying on Beethoven's business.
Header photo shows the stunning Frank Gehry designed Fisher Centre for the Performing Arts at Bard College, NY. Photo credit Bard.edu. 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, August 20, 2007

Musicians setting a good example


Wonderful to see so much enthusiasm for the BBC Prom by the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela and Gustvo Dudamel. But respect also to Alice O'Keefe in the Independent for mentioning the unmentionable.

But with Venezuela fiercely polarised over the "Bolivarian revolution" spearheaded by President Hugo Chavez (above), Dudamel's de facto position as an ambassador for his country is far from easy. Since the government refused to renew the licence for RCTV, the opposition television station, earlier this year, there is increasing unease about restrictions on the freedom of expression.

Dudamel himself was criticised when he conducted the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra playing the national anthem at the launch of TVes, the state-controlled channel that replaced RCTV. One "open letter" circulated on many blogs compared him to Wilhelm Furtwängler, the conductor accused of being a Nazi supporter.

Dudamel is unapologetic. "The launch of TVes was an emotional moment for the country. But if you look at the 30 years of the orchestra, we have recorded thousands of anthems, for both state and private TV and radio channels. The image of the orchestra is made for everyone. ...People ask me what position I take. My position is that I make music, and I am Venezuelan. I want to promote the name of my country – not one political party or another, but my whole country."


Let's not forget that Furtwängler didn't have a monopoly on interesting views about the relationship between politics and music.

Tribunal - "What would you do if Britain were invaded?"

Britten - "I believe in letting an invader in and then setting a good example"


From transcript of Benjamin Britten's appearance before a tribunal for the registration of Conscientous Objectors, 28 May 1942.

Boulez saw benefits in the German occupation of Paris. "The theaters were crowded. People could not leave the cities and all of them jammed into concert halls. I went to a concert given by my own piano teacher and could hardly get into it. The Germans virtually brought high culture to France."

From Boulez - Composer, Conductor, Enigma by Joan Peyser (Schirmer ISBN 0028717007)

Now read how a strange mind can produce great new music.
Image credit Dowbrigade. 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, August 19, 2007

There's no such thing as the music audience


There's no such thing as 'the music audience'. They like the organ, or they like chamber music, or they like symphony concerts, or they like opera, or the nineteenth century, or new music. But they don't like each other. There is a mass of different audiences. So any (radio) schedule you put together is going to displease more people than it pleases. - said former BBC Proms director and BBC Radio 3 controller John Drummond.

Will a 'long tail' of Bach orchestrated by Webern and au naturelle, and Boulez displease more people than it pleases? Listen here at 5.00pm British Summer Time this afternoon (August 19). And now read John Drummond describing how Simon Rattle, literally, revived a great contemporary composer.
Convert webcast time to your local time zone using this link. 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. Photograph (c) 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

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Gustavo Dudamel - in too much of a hurry


Not my words, but Geoff Brown's in the Times
Jetted to stardom in his mid-twenties, with a post as conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the offing, Gustavo Dudamel doesn’t impress all the time. He’s best experienced live in concert, or at least on DVD. Even working with his amazing Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, as he is here, not all his passion and charisma carries over on to CD. Speeds can be reckless and his handling gauche, either through inexperience or lack of sympathy with his repertoire. Dudamel is a talent that needs careful handling.

So far, he’s not getting it. Deutsche Grammophon, his label, seems keen only on letting him fire the big guns, putting him in competition with history’s finest. His Beethoven release (Symphonies 5 and 7) had its disappointments; so, certainly, does this Mahler Five. This was the work that made Dudamel’s name internationally, when his conducting won him the 2004 Mahler Competition in Bamberg.

Yet as captured by the mikes in Caracas, this interpretation with his youth orchestra misses the bull’s eye. Though not at first. On the strength of the first two movements, Dudamel’s approach appears entirely plausible. Avoiding the “drama queen” style of Bernstein and others, he wrestles soberly with Mahler’s death and despair. The brass gleams; the strings surge with a uniform, slightly husky glow (a special feature of this recording). All good stuff — and, for young musicians with no Viennese traditions in their blood, the playing is quite idiomatic.

Trouble starts to overtake in the scherzo, which sits too heavily on the ears. The electricity isn’t switched on. Then comes the string adagietto, where neither musicians nor Dudamel seem sure how best to handle the music’s long ache or the portamento bowing. There are nervous lurches and heavy-handed dynamics. In the finale, virtues and vices maddeningly go hand in hand.

Only a heart of stone could be left unmoved by the strings’ swinging force in that fugal passage, early on. But the more the notes tumble out, the more dangerous Dudamel’s speeds appear. He doesn’t judge their relationships correctly, or, in the last pages, the music’s weight.

Mahler when he wrote this symphony was in his early forties, and already well knocked about by life. Dudamel conducts like a charmed young man in too much of a hurry.
Youth really isn't a time of life, it is a state of mind.

Listen to Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela in Sunday's (August 20) BBC Prom 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

Doctor Atomic explodes as BBC Proms excel


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.

* August 20, 7.30pm - Thomas Adès' Powder Her Face - Suite, London premiere, plus Bartók's Duke Bluebeard's Castle in a complete performance. Christoph von Dohnányi conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra
* August 21, 7.30pm - World premiere of John Adams' Doctor Atomic Symphony which is a BBC joint commission, plus his Century Rolls. The composer conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and Olli Mustonen rolls in the opening work.
* August 22, 7.30pm - Mahler Symphony No. 3 with Claudio Abbado and Lucerne Festival Orchestra
* August 23, 7.30pm - Handel, Purcell and Telemann played by the combined Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, plus the divine Kate Royal.

* August 24, 7.00pm - my prediction for one of the Proms of the season, Bernard Haitink conducts Bruckner's Symphony No. 8. And how good it is to see Haitink back with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. One of my more bizarre Proms memories was in 1975, I think, hearing Zubin Mehta with the touring Los Angeles Philharmonic perform Brucker 8 at a Prom, and then immediately travelling to Amsterdam to hear Haitink conduct Bruckner 9 the following evening with the, then, Concertgebouw Orchestra in the ravishing acoustics of their own hall. Haitink followed the 'unfinished' Bruckner 9 with the composer's Te Deum, a practice which seems to have fallen out of favour. At around the same time I also attended Colin Davis' Ring Cycle at Covent Garden before being sidelined by a nasty attack of glandular fever. Oh to be young and foolish again.
* August 25, 6.30pm - my last choice from an outstanding week's Proms features Haitink and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra again. (I can't get used to typing that 'Royal'). Orchestral excerpts from Parsifal and Tristan will confirm that youth is not a time of life but a state of mind.

Nicholas Kenyon has, quite justifiably, taken a lot of stick here about this year's Proms season. No stick this week though. If I still lived in London I would be at every one of the concerts above. Now read the back story on Doctor Atomic.

Image credit Uruknet. 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, August 17, 2007

A title given by the Gods

Many musicians have wondered why Boulez used the German title Cummings ist der Dichter for a work based on an English poem. Here is the answer; "I was commissioned to write a piece for the festival at Ulm. I couldn't find a title for the work when they asked me what to print on the program. In a letter in German - my German was not very good at that time - I wrote: 'I have not chosen a title yet, but what I can tell you is this: Cummings is the poet.' A reply came from a German secretary who had misunderstood my letter: 'As for your new work, Cummings ist der Dichter....' I found that mistake so wonderful that I thought, well, then, that's a title given by the Gods" ~ from Boulez - Composer, Conductor, Enigma by Joan Peyser (Schirmer ISBN 0028717007)
Pierre Boulez (above) will be one of the composers in my Overgrown Path webcast on Sunday August 19 on Future Radio. I am playing his Rituel in Memoriam Bruno Maderna bookended by Bach. The opening work is Webern's orchestration of the Ricercara from the Musical Offering, BWV 1079/5, and the closing work is the cantata for the fourth Sunday after Easter, BWV 108, in a performance by the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists conducted by John Eliot Gardiner. The webcast is from 5.00 to 6.00pm British Summer Time on Sunday August 19, click here for the audio stream.

For the full story of Rituel in Memoriam Maderna follow this path.
Convert webcast times to your local time zone using this link. 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.Photograph credit Richard Oliver. 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

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The future of radio is confirmed


Six million people are listening to the radio digitally in the UK - a massive rise since 2003, new figures have revealed. Twelve per cent of listeners tune in regularly using digital radio, TV and the internet, while 25% of regular analogue users have also tried digital.

In 2003, only 900,000 people were regular digital listeners, according to radio industry analysts RAJAR in figures revealed today. Overall radio listening figures have also risen, with 91% of the UK population accessing radio broadcasts.

BBC Radio 3's reach is 1.78 million – down on the year (1.83m) and the quarter (1.90m). Listener share for Radio 3 of 1.1% is the same as last year, and slightly down on the quarter (1.2%).

These new figures simply confirm what has already been said here. Specialist internet stations broadcasting over the internet and other new media are the future, and the BBC's repositioning of Radio 3 to appeal to Classic FM listeners is not working.

The continuing decline in the reach of Radio 3 shows that it is failing to win new listeners, but instead it is losing its established audience as standards reduce. In the same period Classic FM's reach was 5.70m and share was 4.0%. Average hours listened per head were 0.20 for BBC Radio 3 and 0.80 for Classic FM. Source BBC and RAJAR.

Now read more about the long tail of radio, and become part of it by clicking here between 5.00pm and 6.00pm British Summer Time on Sunday August 19 to hear Bach and Boulez on Overgrown Path radio.

Picture credit Robert Opie Collection. 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

Remembering two of my heroes


Jazz pianist Bill Evans was born on August 16 1929. His influence has spread far beyond the jazz world.

Brother Roger, founder of the Taizé Community, was stabbed to death on August 16 2005 while at evening prayer in the Church of Reconciliation in Taizé. The influence of this ecumenical community has been felt throughout the Christian communion, and beyond. The photograph above of Brother Roger's grave in Taizé was taken by me last September. The article it was originally published in is the most frequently visited on the whole Overgrown Path , receiving thousands of hits every month, many from Wikipedia. (And this is the second most visited article.) In two weeks time we will be back on that remarkable green hill far away.

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

In Memoriam - Alan Blyth

If you are a keen record collector the chances are that sleeve notes by Alan Blyth (left) will be on a number of your recordings. He wrote for many of the UK's leading newspapers, appeared regularly on BBC radio, was assistant editor at Opera magazine and a longtime contributor to The Gramophone, and published many books including Remembering Britten. He was music critic at The Listener for three years, and used this platform to criticise the programmes of the then BBC Controller of Music, William Glock and Pierre Boulez. His last set of sleeve notes will appear posthumously on the re-issue of the 1959 recording of Handel's Acis and Galatea with Joan Sutherland and Peter Pears.

Alan Blyth died on August 14 2007. Follow this path to The Times obituary.

Photo credit The Gramophone. 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, August 15, 2007

The art of unchecked trivia


"And the work of Michael Nyman arose chiefly from his rejection, as a critic and composer, of ascetic, Bolulez-led modernism" - this week's gem from the peerless journalist who also wrote about "the flaws of a classical blogosphere that trades in unchecked trivia."

For more on Pierre Bolulez follow this 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

Venezuelan music beyond the youth orchestras


Music from Venezuela is big news this week as the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venzuela hits the BBC Proms as part of their eight concert European tour. And later Gustavo Dudamel takes them on an autumn US tour, and then prepares to become music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Great news for classical music. But in the published programmes of the US and European tour by Dudamel and his Venezuelan youngsters there is not one work by Venezuelan composers, nor is there any music by living or female composers of any nationality, although their box office friendly BBC Prom does include music by the 20th century composers Silvestre Revueltas (1894-1940) from Mexico, Alberto Ginastera from Argentina (1916-1983), Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) and Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975).

Elsewhere on their European tour, and on their first two Deutsche Grammophon releases, Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra move even further back in history, with music from colonial Europe by Beethoven and Mahler. (Did I hear 'dead Europeans'?)

Here, for readers to extend and amend, are some suggestions for contemporary Venezuelan composers that Gustavo Dudamel might include in future tour programmes with his Venezuelan orchestra and Los Angeles orchestras. Although I have a feeling that Askonas Holt and Universal Music's Deutsche Grammophon may not be that keen.

Josefina Benedetti (b. 1953) - American born (New Haven, Conn.) Venezuelan composer, who studied piano both in Caracas and London. Extensive range of compositions including electronica, her compositions are frequently programmed in Venzuela and elsewhere. Founded her own record label Música y Tiempo.

Alvaro Cordero (b. 1954) - born in Barquisimeto, Venezuela. Has worked extensively in the US, and represented Venezuela at the International Rostrum Of Composers in Paris. His music has been performed by the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra. MP3 downloads available from website.

Alfonso Tenreiro (b. 1965) - born in Caracas. Studied in Venezuela and at Indiana University, Bloomington. Widely programmed in Venzuela and US, compositions include a symphony and guitar concerto. Numerous audio samples on composer's website.

Ricardo Lorenz Abreu (b. 1961) - composer and conductor now living in Chicago. His orchestral compositions have gained some acceptance in the US and elsewhere.

Sef Albertz (b. 1971) - best known for solo guitar music, including his suite Homenaje a Joan Miró. Also composes for orchestra, including a guitar concerto.

Federico Ruiz (b. 1948) - composes in genres including electronics. Has written successful opera Los Martirios de Colón (1981).

Beatriz Bilbao (b. 1951) - works with electronic mand acoustic forces. She has represented Venzuela at contemporary music conferences.

Follow this path for a directory of Venzuelan composers, and this one for listings of recordings. And this one for more on both Venezuela and 20th century Latin American composers.

Image (c) On An Overgrown Path. Venezuelan composers in my montage around Gustavo Dudamel are, from top left clockwise, Alfonso Tenreiro, Federico Ruiz, Alfonso Tenreiro, Frederico Ruiz and Josefina Benedetti. 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

Frank Zappa comes to Aldeburgh


I suspect that last night's Snape Prom was the first time that the music of Frank Zappa has been played at Aldeburgh. Earlier in their set Scottish based cross-genre band Mr McFall's Chamber had given the English premiere of a commission from Gavin Bryars, and they finished with a stomping version for string quartet, piano and bass of Zappa's G Spot Tornado (that link is a video performance). Particularly interesting, in view of recent posts, is the connection between Frank Zappa and Pierre Boulez (last link is video).

Listen to an audio sample of Mr McFall's Chamber here. Photo of Boulez and Zapp from ZapInFrance. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

You can't get more inclusive than that


Some very interesting reactions to my post on the Conlon Nancarrow (above) anniversary, including emails about Nancarrow interpretations, and a nice link from Sequenza21 where there was some useful discussion on György Ligeti's assessment of Nancarrow.

So a heads-up for pianist Joanna MacGregor. Her 2001 CD Play includes Nancarrow's Player Piano Study No. 11 in a multi-track recording by her (the score is for eight hands!), as well as Etudes, Book 1 No. 6 ("Automne à Varsovie") by Nancarrow champion György Ligeti, and music by William Byrd, Howard Skempton, John Dowland, John Cage, Charles Ives, J.S. Bach and others. You can't get more inclusive than that.


And yes, I'm all in favour of early music on the piano, as well as the harpsichord, and greatly enjoy Alexandre Tharaud's Rameau and Angela Hewitt's Bach. Then, of course, there is Byrd on the piano in what Glenn Gould described as 'the best damn record we've ever made'.

Image credit Minnesota Public Radio, which also has a nice audio download on Conlon Nancarrow. 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