Sunday, September 30, 2007

The day the music died


For four weeks in France my appetite for music was met by France Musique, a wide ranging selection of CDs and books (see above), and much fine live music.

When I drove off the cross-channel ferry last Monday I retuned the car radio to BBC Radio 3. Within an hour the presenter had plugged the BBC's New Generation Artists Scheme so many times that I concluded she was earning a bonus for every mention. Between the plugs there was much other useful information, such as "the violinist was born in 1983, which means she is now 24". And later in the afternoon Sean Rafferty fawned over every act a desperate record company or concert agent sent along to the In Tune studio.

The next day the morning presenter helpfully explained to me why I should appreciate Jordi Savall's Bach, while in the evening classical-jock of the week Tom Service started the network's birthday tribute to Sir Colin Davis by leaving studio guest Mitsuko Uchida's microphone closed for the first thirty seconds of her contribution. Then, yesterday, a tribute to record label Lyrita, which promised so much, sounded like a promotional video for a bio-tech company. It came complete with customer endorsements delivered over Stanford's Second Piano Concerto, a work which sounds like film music even when it is not being used as the background for a voice-over.

The patronising presenters could be ignored if they were introducing great radio. But, today's ratings driven Radio 3 has come up with its own inversion of Lord Reith's vision for the BBC, and the network's programmes now, invariably, offer the public 'something worse than it ever thought it wanted'.

This kind of post doesn't make happy reading, or happy writing. But there will not be many more like it, which will please my regular readers at webgw2.thls.bbc.co.uk (British Broadcasting Corporation). After 40 years of almost daily listening I have decided that BBC Radio 3 will no longer be my default radio station. Instead, my default will be Radio 4 and the long tail of internet stations, supplemented by CDs and some much needed silence. Radio 3 will now be a 'destination station', only listened to for worthwhile concerts and programmes such as Iain Burnside's and Michael Berkeley's. Iain's programme today, with his guest, A. C. Grayling, and the Elisabeth Lutyens motet, was an oasis in a desert of mediocrity.

Coincidentally, today is the 40th anniversary of the first day's broadcasting on BBC Radio 3. But for this listener it is the day the music died. There are now much better alternatives. Access one of them by clicking on the image below to to launch the Radeo internet player, and listen to Polski Radio Dwojka.



Now read more about the future of radio.
For the lyrics of American Pie follow this link. Photo taken by me at Le Romarin, Les Gargoris, France, copyright On An Overgrown Path. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Valery under-rehearsed


They may have been queuing for returns for Gergiev's Mahler. But .......

Let's be thankful. At least he caught his plane.
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Leipzig 1989 - Rangoon 2007


Wisest words of the week from Henry Porter in today's Observer. Now read more about Leipzig in 1989 here.
Photo taken by me outside Nikolaikirche, Leipzig - copyright On An Overgrown Path. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Saturday, September 29, 2007

New music is not a Nono in the Guardian


The Guardian is doing a fine job of exploring the long tail of new music. Yesterday it was Stockhausen, and today it is Nono.

Now read about Luigi Nono's music at new music's Woodstock.

Photo of Nono from Rolling Stone. 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, September 28, 2007

The long tail of blogs


Are my jokes really that diffficult? Elsewhere it is good to see Rudolph Dunbar having a great innings, while in the paid for media Karlheinz Stockhausen is in to bat, and here's a classical blog aggregator that's worth a look (and a wait). But the trouble is aggregators ignore the long tail of blogs, such as Le Regard de James, which is the blog my header photo comes from. But who cares? - their nutritional value is lower than a bag of crisps.
Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Classical music's long tail reaches out


Joshua Nemith's blog explores the long tail of new classical radio -
Bob Shingleton (whose contemporary classical radio program was the subject of a recent post here) wrote to me the other day:

"The kind words in your post are very much appreciated - as you realise I'm simply trying to leverage new media to create a radio 'long tail' that reaches music currently being neglected by the ratings driven high profile stations.The very positive response from you, and many others, is prompting me tog o further down the 'tail'.On this week's programme (Sunday Sept 30) I will be playing two full length pieces from young European composers, Rebecca Saunders (England) and Bernard Schweitzer (German) commissioned by the period instrument Freiburg Baroque Orchestra with funding from the Siemens Arts Program. This will probably be the first broadcast of these two works, and they will bookend Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No 6."

I think it is always helpful to place newer music into some kind of stylistic context alongside older works with similar instrumentation, common approaches to sound, etc. This can often serve to help listeners identify how composers interact with the past in the present. Bob is taking some very good cues from the programming talents of forward-looking music directors who program adventurously but with an ear for thematic continuity.

Pitting two new pieces involving period instruments against a Bach work that would have used much of the same kinds of instrumental colors in Bach's time is a fascinating idea. (For anyone who might not understand this, period instruments are those that would have been used during a certain historical time period. Many ensembles (here's an example) are attempting more historically informed performances of older works through the use of such instruments as sackbuts, basset horns, recorders, baroque violins, etc.)

It is this kind of creative and audience-obliging approach that will help revitalize the newly restructured classical music industry. Yes, that's right: this business is beginning to form multiple "long tails" (like Bob's radio program and others like it) that will eventually replace some of the outmoded and ineffective models of classical music presentation. What other long tails are there, you ask? Read this post by Jason Heath to learn about the surging long tail in classical music downloads.

Once again if you missed it before: Listen to Bob Shingleton's show on Sundays at Future Radio; it is available for online listening.


Now read more about creative tension in programme planning. Listen to Overgrown Path radio at 5.00pm UK time every Sunday, and many more stations in the classical long tail, by opening the Radeo internet player via this link, or listen to the audio stream. Read Joshua Nemith's blog here.

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. All photos (c) On An Overgrown Path 2007. 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, September 27, 2007

Happy new ears in an ancient monastery


My photos here were all taken at a remarkable event which brings contemporary music to a historic venue in the South of France. L'Académie de musique de chambre contemporaine (Academy of Contemporary Chamber Music) brings together young musicians from France, Germany and Switzerland to perform contemporary and specially commissioned works in the 14th century Carthusian monastery at Villeneuve les Avignon in Provence.


The Chartreuse du Val-de-Bénédiction (above) was formed in 1352 by a gift from Pope Innocent VI (who is buried there), and over 450 years became the largest and wealthiest charterhouse in France. After the 1792 Revolution the monastery, with its magnificent cloisters which can be seen in my photos, was dissolved, and fell into disrepair. In 1973, with funding from the French Ministry of Culture, the charterhouse was restored to house La Centre National des Ecritures du Spectacles. This is a cultural centre offering artist residencies, and has become a creative laboratory exploring new technologies in the performing arts, with artists occupying the cells instead of Carthusian monks.


At the heart of the cultural centre is the Tintel theatre, which is seen in my photo above. The Tintel was the refectory of the charterhouse, and was built more than 400 years ago with specific acoustic properties to allow the mealtime reading by a monk to be heard clearly anywhere in the dining room. The unique acoustics have been acclaimed by many contemporary musicians. These include Pierre Boulez who has performed in the Tintel with his Ensemble InterContemporain, and, conveniently, has built a summer residence to his own design in St Michel in the foothills of the Alps about an hour's drive away. The sound in the Tintel is truly outstanding. I was able to move around during performances, and the chamber musicians could be heard with remarkable clarity from anywhere in the auditorium. The hall does not have the resonance one expects from an ecclesiastical building, but instead the sound is very analytical without being cold - very Pierre Boulez in fact.


L'Académie de musique de chambre contemporaine is formed annually from musicians from Le Conservatoire national supérieur musique et danse de Lyon (Lyons, France) et the Hochschule für Musik und Theater de Hambourg und Landesmusikrat de Hambourg (Hamburg, Germany). The residency combined workshops, a seminar on contemporary chamber music titled 'Happy New Ears' led by Reinhard Flender, and three concerts in the Tintel. Improvisation is an integral part of the residency, and the young composers Stephane Borrel and Ruta Paidere worked with the musicians preparing specially commissioned works.


The photo above was taken at the opening concert which started with the musicians coming on stage to an improvisation prepared by Cornelia Monske. The other composers featured in the concert were Frederic Rzewski (USA), Emmanuel Nunes (Portugal), Alban Berg (Austria), Arne Nordheim (Norway), Philippe Gouttenoire (France), Fredrik Schwenk (Germany), and Ruta Paidere (Lithuania). France has an enlightened attitude, at a cost to the taxpayer, towards using public funding to foster the contemporary performing arts which includes the creation of IRCAM in Paris. L'Académie de musique de chambre contemporaine is another shining example of the positive results of that patronage. And the same patronage also helps to attract new audiences for contemporary music - all three of the excellent concerts given by L'Académie de musique de chambre contemporaine in the Tintel were free.


Old meets new will also be the theme of my Overgrown Path radio programme this Sunday (Sept 25) on Future Radio. The Freiburg Baroque Orchestra in Germany has commissioned new works for period instruments from a number of contemporary composers using enlightened funding provided by the Siemens Arts Program. I will be featuring full length works by the English composer Rebecca Saunders and the German Benjamin Schweitzer in a concert that will also include a Baroque masterpiece, Bach's Brandenburg Conceto No 6. The programme is webcast in real time at 5.00pm UK time on Sunday Sept 25. Listen to it, and many more classical music stations, by opening the Radeo internet player via this link or via this audio stream, and click here for an internet radio user's guide.

Our recent visit to France had a Carthusian theme, and while there I read two fascinating new books about contemporary life in Carthusian monasteries. An Infinity of Little Hours by Nancy Klein Maguire (PublicAffairs ISBN 9781586484323) tells the story of five young men who join a Carthusian foundation in the 1960s, while Sounds of Silence (above) written using the nom de plume Father Benedict Kossmann (AuthorHouse ISBN 1420872915) is the story of a Carthusian who left the Order to marry and live in Florida. And then, of course, there is Into Great Silence.

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. All photos (c) On An Overgrown Path 2007. 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

Music festival is given upright piano


Today's Guardian reports a happy ending to the tale of the inverted Bösendorfer (above):

After the last one fell off the back of a lorry with a crash heard around the world of classical music, a very grand piano heading for a remote corner of Devon will be handled as delicately as a newborn babe. An £85,000 hand-built Bosendorfer Imperial Concert Grand is being presented by the firm to the eclectic Two Moors festival, a feast of classical music scattered among dozens of parish churches and halls across 1,000 square miles (2,590 sq km) of Exmoor and Dartmoor, where at many events soup and sandwiches are supplied to an audience turning up in hiking boots.

The piano will replace the Bosendorfer which the festival organisers bought second-hand at a London auction after fundraising for years. It made the journey safely to Devon, and was being unloaded at the home of festival founder Penny Adie, when it slipped, toppled sideways down a bank and landed upside down in splinters among the spring daffodils, with echoes of a slapstick movie. Mrs Adie captured the scene with her camera as the horrified delivery men literally tore their hair in anguish. It was "a Laurel and Hardy moment," she said at the time. "It made a noise like 10 honky-tonk pianos being hit by mallets."

The new piano should arrive tomorrow, delivered by the firm direct from the factory in Austria, in time for this year's festival, which starts on October 13. Mrs Adie called the firm's generosity staggering. "This is the most elite piano in the world - the generosity of Bosendorfer is colossal. Never in the company's history has it given a piano of this value to any individual or organisation." The destroyed piano was a saleroom bargain at £26,000, but even if the festival could have afforded a new one, it might have faced a long wait: only 400 are built in most years, often to order: owners have included José Carreras, Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, and a Tsar of Russia.

The 10-day Two Moors festival was founded in 2001 to boost the local economy in the aftermath of the last foot-and-mouth crisis. Now, with the Countess of Wessex as patron, it attracts up to 5,000 people to venues including Culbone, one of the smallest churches in Britain. The new piano will be played first by Tom Poster, who comes to the festival fresh from winning the Scottish international piano competition.


Now read how a grand piano hit a high note.
Photo credit BBC News. 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, September 26, 2007

The great mandala


My photo shows a Buddhist monk creating a sand mandala at the recent Free Tibet event which we attended in Malaucène, France (poster below). Buddhist monks and nuns have fought for human rights in Tibet since the Chinese invasion in 1950, and today are demonstrating against the military junta in Burma. Our thoughts are with them, here is a playlist for this disturbing time:

* Le Boudha de la Compassion from La Montagne de la Grande Pureté played by Alain Kremski on sacred percussion instruments collected from Tibet, Burma, Nepal, India and China. Composer Alain Kremski (below) studied with Darius Milhaud and has been influenced by Igor Stravinsky, Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen. Kremski is best known for his percussion works, but is also a noted pianist who has transcribed the Adagietto from Mahler's Fifth Symphony for piano, has recorded the piano music of G.I. Gurdjieff and Thomas de Hartmann, and orchestrated Gurdjieff's sacred dances for Peter Brook's 1979 film, Meetings with Remarkable Men. La Montagne de la Grande Pureté is typical of Kremski's eclectic style, 65 minutes of Eastern influenced percussion compositions are followed by a Siloti transcription for piano of a Bach prelude. Do check out Alain Kremski's website. CDs can be bought direct from it, but La Montagne de la Grande Pureté sadly isn't among them.

* The Great Mandala from Songs of Conscience & Concern by Peter, Paul and Mary. One of the great protest songs. The album title says it all, and a contribution from sales of the CD goes to The Centre for Constitutional Rights. Click here for the lyrics, and read the chorus in the context of today's events in Burma.

* Koan: Having Never Written A Note For Percussion by James Tenney played by Matthias Kaul. Several excellent CDs of contemporary music by James Tenney and others including Morton Feldman and John Cage have been released on the Swiss Hat (now) Art label. The CDs were selling for budget price in France and are highly recommended. I will be playing music by James Tenney on a future Overgrown Path radio programme.


Now go Buddhist with Lou Harrison.
Header photo copyright On An Overgrown Path 2007. 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, September 25, 2007

Holocaust opera as university assignment

Nice, and topical, to see my January 2006 article on Viktor Ullman's (right) holocaust opera The Emperor of Atlantis being set as an assignment by Louisiana State University's music department. Also good to see that nothing changes with students. They are all arriving On An Overgrown Path just a few days before the assignment deadline.

Now here is an opera for study at Columbia University.
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Happy birthday Sir Colin

Sir Colin Davis is 80 years old today. The following post, which I first ran last October, says it all.

Difficult to find the superlatives to describe last night's concert at Snape Maltings with Sir Colin Davis (left) conducting The Combined Orchestra of The Guildhall School of Music and the Royal Academy of Music. This brought together the top players from two of London's (and the world's) leading music conservatoires in a vast orchestra (14 cellos and 12 basses!) that filled the Maltings capacious stage and scarcely left Sir Colin room to make his way to the rostrum. Sir Colin revels in working with young players (his 2005 Prom with an orchestra drawn from the Royal Academy and Juilliard Schools was a highlight of the season) and he has worked regularly at both the Royal Academy and Guildhall.

The programme was Berloz's Overture Béatrice et Bénédict (a Davis speciality), Tchaikovsky's Fantasy Overture Romeo and Juliet, and in the second half Elgar's magnificent Symphony No 1 in A flat major. The 79 year old Sir Colin's Elgar is passionate and red-blooded, in fact close your eyes and you would have thought the conductor was the same age as the players. The intonation and attack of the orchestra belied the large number of players. And the sound, oh the sound ... We are so privileged to have Snape as our 'village hall'; it is brick, the auditorium only holds 700, there are no balconies, and even the seating eschews upholstery to preserve the warmth of the sound. The bottom registers in the packed hall last night were extraordinary, full bodied with real slam, but warm and glowing and never dry.

But above all it was the playing. It would be wrong to say that the quality matched that of the many big-name orchestras I heard at the Proms this year - this student orchestra knocked everyone of them, including the Berlin Philharmonic, into a cocked-hat. It really highlighted the folly of the 'London today, Edinburgh tomorrow' lifestyle of our professional orchestras. In Snape Maltings we heard spontaneity, commitment, enthusiasm and above all risk taking.

Last night rammed home that there is only one form of music, and that is live music. MP3s, CDs, iPods, YouTube and our other technology baubles are just pale shadows of the real thing. And the concert also rammed home that the future of live music making is safe in the hands of the young players of the Guildhall School, Royal Academy and all the other music colleges around the world. As we made our way out of the Maltings car park after the concert the young players passed us laughing, joking and buzzing with adrenalin as they boarded the fleet of buses to take them on the foggy late night 100 mile drive back from Suffolk to London. Elgar denied that there was any programme to his A flat major symphony, but told friends it expressed "a wide experience of human life with great love and massive hope for the future". Amen to that.

* Notable students of the Royal Academy of Music: Sir Harrison Birtwistle, John Dankworth, Lesley Garrett, Evelyn Glennie, Sir Elton John, Dame Felicity Lott, Joanna MacGregor, Michael Nyman and Sir Simon Rattle.

* Notable students of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama - Susan Chilcott, Dido, Sir James Galway, Dave Holland, Paul Lewis, Tasmin Little, Sir George Martin, Anne Sophie von Otter, Jacqueline du Pré, Bryn Terfel and Janice Watson.

* Sir Colin's live (Barbican) recording of Elgar 1 with a professional orchestra on LSO Live is highly recommended, available from Prelude Records and other good record stores.

Now read about the delight of the classical music industry.
Image credit: Lower photo is of Royal Academy players, but Royal Academy Aarhus, Denmark which by sheer coincidence takes us down another 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