Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy long tail to all my readers


Right at the end of 2007 the Observer ran a story that shames the whole classical music community, including this and other blogs. It was about the BBC's rejection of director Tony Palmer's Vaughan Williams film, a news story that was featured prominently by the Observer and several music blogs, including this one. It now appears that the rejection letter quoted in the coverage was a publicity-seeking hoax, although the identity of the hoaxer remains unclear - read the full account here.

This story neatly sums up a year in which relevance became the order of the day, and swapping the long tail of culture for the short head of the mass market became the number one priority. 2007 saw Norman Lebrecht's attempts to go mass market hit the buffers, while William Barrinton-Coupe's efforts on behalf of his late wife met a similar fate. It was also the year when the Royal Opera House went mass market with its advertising, BBC TV went mass market with its classical music programming, Deutsche Grammophon went mass market with its CD covers, John Foulds went mass market with his World Requiem, the BBC Proms went mass market with its crooners, and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra went mass market with its concert attire and politics.

'Relevance' is in and the long tail is out. But it doesn't always work as Dominic Sandbrook recounts in his excellent book White Heat, a History of Britain in the Swinging Sixties? 'Many Protestant churchmen, alarmed at their inability to reverse the long decline in church-going, concluded that 'relevance was the order of the day'. According to Grace Davie, the churches, besotted like so many other institutions by the 'desire to be modern', consequently 'looked to the secular world for a lead and borrowed, in some cases rather uncritically, both its ideas and forms of expression'. It was in this period, for example, that liberal churchmen first began wielding guitars, introducing handclapping into the Anglican rite and generally conducting themselves like frustrated pop singers, a tactic that failed to attract many new parishioners and often alienated those still loyal to the Church of England'


In 2008 On An Overgrown Path will stay focussed on the long tail, and now playing is Satori (1999) for solo harpsichord by John Palmer. A long way from the Anglican rite, Satori describes the spiritual awakening during Zen meditation. This penetrating work, with its long silences is influenced both by the composer's friendship with John Cage and by his deep involvement with Japanese culture. Adventurous and thought-provoking new music from the enterprising Sargasso label, which revels in promoting the long tail. Check out good length MP3 samples here.

The CD has excellent sleeve notes by Peter Burt, including this one for the title work - A koan, for instance, is that type of apparently nonsensical question by means of which students in the Rinzai school of Zen are trained to transcend the limitations of verbal reasoning, the most famous example perhaps being Hakuin's 'What is the sound of one hand clapping?' (My own mischievous answer has always been that it is the audience reaction at the average new music concert).

Peter Burt neatly disposes of the long tail versus mass market conflict with these words - All this picturesque 'Japaneseness' might make it sound as though the listener to this CD is in for a comfortable session of 'New-age' easy listening. But be warned: someone who submits himself to the ascetic severities of Zen monastery life could hardly be expected to opt for facile and superficial artistic solutions, and the musical language of John Palmer's work is uncompromisingly Western and modernist. It demands of its listener, no less than of its creator, an attitude of disciplined seriousness. Deeply rewarding listening.

Which eloquently sums up the long tail listening experience.


* Celebrate the new year with some more long tail - my David Munrow on the record programme is being repeated on Future Radio by popular demand at 7.00pm on New Year's Day, click here for the audio stream.

Sand mandala header photo from my 2007 post about the Free Tibet campaign. And no apologies to all those who think politics, music and sport don't mix. With the Olympics in Beijing in 2008 it is a subject I'll doubtless be returning to. Sand mandalas are a motif in Martin Scorsese's film Kundun which also deals with the Chinese occupation of Tibet, and I featured Philip Glass' score for the film on internet radio in November. My middle photo is from Going Buddhist which featured the music of Lou Harrison, the footer image is from Zen and the art of new music about Jonathan Harvey's music, and there is another contemporary music Koan here from James Tenney. Lots of long tail links for the new year.
All photos (c) On An Overgrown Path 2007. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Variations on the Goldberg Variations


The big bonus of presenting programmes on internet radio is I get to play the music I want to play, not the music that a focus group tells me to play. On Monday afternoon we have a fun programme for New Year's Eve, and as part of it I'm playing a 15 minute sequence from a double CD that's a personal favourite, but that doesn't fit into any conventional programme format.

Jazz pianist Uri Caine's treatment of Bach's Goldberg Variations defies any categorisation and I'll be playing tracks varying from solo piano to full on jazz. It's all part of our Happy New Ear's programme which is on Future Radio from 1.00 to 4.00pm on Monday December 31st, the Goldberg sequence should be on air at around 2.00pm.

Uri Caine's take is just one of several variations on the Goldberg Variations in my CD collection. Least successful is Robin Holloway's 'recomposition' for two pianos titled Gilded Goldbergs on Hyperion, a double CD which takes a long time to add very little, while Jacques Loussier's jazz variations take less time to say little more.

Among my favourite variations on variations are two recordings of Dimitri Sitkovetsky's masterly transcription for strings. One is a limited edition CD recorded in the beautiful Romanesque cathedral in Vaison la Romaine by the Trio de Prague in 2002, while the other is the fine 1993 recording by the NES Chamber Orchestra on Nonesuch which is noteworthy for both its committed performance and the sleeve notes by John Adams. But Uri Caine is up there with the best, listen in at 2.00pm UK time on Monday December 30th if you can.

Read more about Dmitry Sitkovetsky and those John Adams sleeve notes 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Today's BBC - the envy of the world?


Envy? Try some other 'Es' ... Expensive, egregious and ennobled.

The source of that 'envy of the world' quote is here.
Photo (c) 2007 On An Overgrown Path. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Friday, December 28, 2007

David Munrow tribute on internet radio


Double Grammy winning record producer Christopher Bishop talks about David Munrow on the record on my programme on Future Radio this Sunday (Dec 30) at 5.00pm UK time. The programme includes music from Munrow's first LP for EMI, Two Renaissance Dance Bands, which is seen above and which was produced by Christopher Bishop. Below is a page from Christopher's recording diary, the second entry down is the sessions for another classic David Munrow album, The Art of Courtly Love.

Christopher Bishop worked with many great artists during historic times. Here is an excerpt from Michael Kennedy's 1971 biography of Sir John Barbirolli: 'It was Bishop with whom Barbirolli was working at the Abbey Road Studios on a day at the height of the Beatle's popularity. As John arrived he saw the famous four and their retinue. 'Is that the Fuzzy Wuzzies?' he asked Christopher, 'because we'd better close the door in case they charge.''

Now playing - Renaissance Dance. This new Virgin Veritas double CD brings together two classic David Munrow LPs, Two Renaissance Dance Bands from 1971 (later reissued as Pleasures of the Court) and Praetorius - Dances and Motets from 1973, and adds five bonus tracks from Munrow's last recording, Monteverdi's Contemporaries, from 1975. This is a must for all Munrow enthusiasts, and a perfect introduction to his music for those too young to have grown up with his LPs. Current price on Amazon.co.uk is £5.97 ($12) - unmissable.


Listen on Future Radio at 5.00pm UK time this Sunday, December 30th in real time here. An Overgrown Path podcast will follow. Read more about David Munrow on the record here.
Hear the programme on Future Radio on Sunday December 30 at 5.00pm UK time (convert to local time zones here). Listen by launching the Radeo internet player from the right side-bar, or via the audio stream. Convert time 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. With thanks to Future Radio for making the programme possible, and in particular to Dan Nyman editor extraordinaire. Also thanks, again, to James the joiner for the sleeve scans. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Oscar Peterson or Karlheinz Stockhausen?


Who touched more people's lives, Oscar Peterson or Karlheinz Stockhausen? Not a rhetorical question, but one prompted by reading a fascinating book over the Christmas break. Both Peterson and Stockhausen were consumate musicians who created seminal works in the 1960s. Night Train was recorded in 1962 and Stimmung was composed in 1968. But they were polar opposites in their approach to music making, and they were polar opposites in their propensity to disturb people.


White Heat, A History of Britain in the Swinging Sixties by Dominic Sandbrook is a superbly researched social history which follows on from the author's survey of Britain in the 1950s. Sandbrook's central thesis is that 'the sixties are best understood not as a dramatic turning point, interrupting the course of the nation's history and sending it off in a radically new direction, but rather as a stage in a long evolution stretching back into the forgotten past'. His conclusion is echoed by a New Society survey of social attitudes carried out at the end of the 1960s.

'Shouldn't one talk of the Cautious Sixties, rather than the Swinging Sixties? Hardly any of the obsessions of the metropolitan mass media rate favourably: some of them don't even rate strongly. You emerge with the very strong impression that if the the 1960s meant anything special to most people in Britain it was because they got, during them, a better chance to lead a not-too-poor, not-too-insecure life ... Despite the way the 1960s have often been portrayed, this has not become a wildly changed country: most people are not that keen on being disturbed.'

Oscar Peterson or Karlheinz Stockhausen? I would choose both. But despite our current obsession with all things new, doesn't Dominic Sandbrook's summing up apply as much to the first decade of the twenty-first century as it does to the 1960s? - 'Not ... a dramatic turning point, interrupting the course of ... history and sending it off in a radically new direction, but rather as a stage in a long evolution stretching back into the forgotten past.'


Read how Bill Evans and György Ligeti were part of that evolution.
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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The almost submerged cathedral


Claude Debussy's La cathédrale engloutie (The submerged cathedral) in his Préludes Book 1 was inspired by the legend of the sunken city of Ys off the Brittany coast. My photograph above was taken in France, but not in Brittany. It shows the Church of Champaubert which is almost submerged by the waters of the Lac du Der Chantecoq in the Champagne region. The lake was created in 1974 as part of a massive flood prevention scheme for the tributaries of the River Seine. It covers 4800 hectacres, and its creation submerged three villages whose 345 residents had to be relocated. Champaubert was one of the villages flooded, but the church remains in eerie isolation by the lakeside.

The huge man-made resovoir has been put to good use. A cycle path runs round the lake, and the area is now a major centre for watersports and cycling. The photo below shows me on the lakeside path. For cycling readers, I am riding my Moulton APB, which is the bike I travel with when serious off-roading is not on the agenda. My ride round the lake was a lot more pleasant than that taken by Debussy's friend Ernest Chausson. In 1899 he lost control of his bicycle on a downhill slope, ran straight into the brick wall of his estate in Limary, Seine-et-Oise, and died instantly, aged 44. But no such mistakes by me on the big downhills.

An interesting bit of music trivia. In 1930 Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra performed an orchestral transcription of Debussy's La cathédrale engloutie with the bass line augmented by a theremin. But the low frequencies caused nausea in the back ranks of the srting section and the experiment was not repeated.

Now playing - Debussy's La cathédrale engloutie, on a piano, what else? Gordon Fergus-Thompson is the pianist on the Brilliant Classics reissue of his ASV recordings of the complete piano music of Debussy and Ravel. Another brilliant bargain from the Dutch label.


More on floods here and here.
Photographs (c) 2007 On An Overgrown Path. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Christmas to all my readers


Photo taken at the festival of lessons and carols in Blythburgh Church sung by the Blythburgh Singers on December 22nd, 2007, a church which has many connections with Benjamin Britten. Have a peaceful Christmas everyone, and a musical New Year.
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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

For unto us a child is born


It was a night spent in the basement of a burnt out building.
People injured by the atomic bomb took shelter in this room, filling it.
They passed the night in darkness, not even a single candle among them.
The raw smell of blood, the stench of death.
Body heat and the reek of sweat. Moaning.
Miraculously, out of the darkness, a voice sounded:
"The baby's coming!"
In that basement room, in those lower reaches of hell,
A young woman was now going into labor.
What were they to do,
Without even a single match to light the darkness?
People forgot their own suffering to do what they could.
A seriously injured woman who had been moaning but a moments before,
Spoke out:
"I'm a midwife. Let me help with the birth."
And now life was born
There in the deep, dark depths of hell.
Her work done, the midwife did not even wait for the break of day.
She died, still covered with the blood.
Bring forth new life!
Even should it cost me my own,
Bring forth new life!
by Sadako Kurihara


Sadako Kurihara was at her home in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb exploded on August 6th 1945. Two days later, in a nearby basement shelter just a mile from ground zero, a baby was born in pitch darkness surrounded by the dead and dying. The seriously injured nurse who delivered the child died, but the baby survived and grew into an adult who sixty years later still lives in the city.

After the trauma of Hiroshima Sadako Kurihara was determined to express her furious hatred of nuclear weapons, and to campaign against their use. Her talent as a poet gave her a powerful outlet for her beliefs. Her most famous work is the story of the baby born amongst nuclear devastation. In Japanese it is Umashimenkana, which translates as Bring forth new life.

For the rest of her life Sadako Kurihara was a staunch anti-war and anti-nuclear campaigner. She published a literary magazine on the theme of the atom bomb attacks on Japan, and circulated an anthology of anti-war poems when discussion of the bombing was restricted by the occupying Allied powers. The author of more than five hundred poems in a writing career spanning more than seventy years, she died in March 2005 aged 92.

Now take An Overgrown Path to the radiance of a thousand suns.
Credit for image and text, Tomiko Miyaji September 15, 1945, from Hiroshima Peace site. Please visit the website of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) who are a non-partisan international grouping of medical organisations dedicated to the abolition of nuclear weapons. They work with the long-term victims of nuclear explosions and accidents from Hiroshima to Chernobyl, and their work has been recognised with the 1984 UNESCO Peace Prize, and 1985 Nobel Peace Prize.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Madonna of Stalingrad

"I spent Christmas evening with the other doctors and the sick. The Commanding Officer had presented the letter with his last bottle of champagne. We raised our mugs and drank to those we love, but before we had had a chance to taste the wine we had to throw ourselves flat on the ground as a stick of bombs fell outside. I seized my doctor's bag and ran to the scene of the explosions, where there were dead and wounded. My shelter with its lovely Christmas decorations became a dressing station. One of the dying men had been hit in the head and there was nothing more I could do for him. He had been with us at our celebration, and had only that moment left to go on duty, but before he went he had said: "I'll finish the carol first, O du fröhliche!" A few moments later he was dead. There was plenty of hard and sad work to do in our Christmas shelter. It is late now, but it is Christmas night still. And so much sadness everywhere."

The German army was trapped outside Stalingrad during the bitterly cold Christmas of 1942. Among the German troops was Kurt Reuber, a clergyman and doctor. Drawing on the back of map of Russian (the folds can be seen on the reproduction above) he used a stick of charcoal to portray Mary holding the baby Jesus in her arms, and shielding Him with her arms. The words above are taken from Kurt Reuber's last letter before he was captured by the Russians. He perished in a Soviet prisoner-of-war camp.

His family chose the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin to display the Madonna of Stalingrad, and to pass on the message of light, love, and a sense of protection contained in this moving drawing. A message particularly appropriate at this Christmas time.

Two copies of the Madonna have been sent from Berlin as symbols of hope and reconciliation. One is in Coventry Cathedral which was destroyed by German bombs in 1940, and reconsecrated in 1962 with the first performance of Britten's War Requiem. The other is in the Russian Orthodox Church in Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad).

For more on the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church take An Overgrown Path to Music rises from the ruins in Berlin
The full story of Kurt Reuber and the Madonna, from which the quotation above was taken, can be read here. Image credit: Scanned from reproduction purchased in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin. 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, December 21, 2007

Taize chants to celebrate Christmas


Taizé chants start my musical celebration of Christmas on Future Radio this Sunday, December 23rd. If you have not heard the music of Taizé before you are in for a very special experience. This is Gregorian Chant updated to the 21st century, it is music written for communal celebration, and it is the perfect way to start Christmas. My header photo shows the Church of Reconciliation in Taizé which we visited again this September. The second half of my programme is drawn from the arrangement of the Christmas Vespers by Rudolf Mauersberger that is sung every year by the Kreuzchor in the historic city of Dresden.

The programme is broadcast at 5.00pm UK time on Sunday, December 23rd. Convert to local time here, and launch the audio stream here. Read more about the music of Taizé here, and the Dresden Christmas Vespers here.

Now visit the green hill faraway called Taizé.
Hear my Christmas programme on Future Radio on Sunday December 23 at 5.00pm UK time (convert to local time zones here). Listen by launching the Radeo internet player from the right side-bar, or via the audio stream. Convert time 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. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Musical stocking fillers from Overgrown Paths


* Walter Braunfels' Te Deum from Furtwängler and the forgotten new music. A major successs in the lifetime of this now forgotten composer, Braunfels' Wagner influenced Te Deum is a response to the horrors of the First World War - on CD from Orfeo.
* Philippe Boesmans Julie from New music from the old world. Video release of the opera's 1995 premiere production at the Théâtre Royal de La Monnaie in Brussels - on DVD from BelAir.
* Karl Amadeus Hartmann's Simplicius Simplicissimus from The Well-Tempered Concert. This video captures the Stuttgart production of Hartmann's only opera. Written in 1935 it uses the Thirty Years' War as a metaphor for Nazi oppression - on DVD from Arthaus Musik.
* Francisco Guerrero's Missa Super flumina from Size does matter. Rising early music star Michael Noone and his Ensemble Plus Ultra presents the premiere recording of a Guerrero Mass - on CD from Glossa.

More simple gifts for Christmas here.
DVD replay standards differ between continents, make sure you buy the right version. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Happy new ears on internet radio


In between programmes of music by Karlheinz Stockhausen, Colin McPhee and Alvin Curran I have been working on three Christmas specials commissioned by Future Radio featuring Tchaikovsky's great ballets. The hour long programmes will be presented by my wife, and musical highlights from each ballet are linked by a summary of the plot. The project has been a delight from start to finish, and not only because my wife is easier on the ear (and eye) than me. What wonderful music Tchaikovsky wrote, and that's a view shared by some pretty influential people.

'The sheer inventiveness of Prince of the Pagodas is extraordinary - so many memorable ideas - as is the sustained brilliance of the orchestral writing. The quality of the music is the equal of the Tchaikovsky ballets, which served as Britten's model for a large part of the score (Ronald Duncan recalls that Britten told him he kept a score of Sleeping Beauty beside his bed while writing the piece)' - from Britten by David Matthews (Haus Publishing ISBN 190434139).

Our programmes use the recordings of the Tchaikovsky ballets made by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden conducted by Mark Ermler (sleeve above). These were recorded for the now defunct Conifer label in the late 1980s. They were chosen for their authentically Russian style and excellent sound captured in All Saints' Church, Tooting, with the bonus that the wordless chorus in the Dance of the Snowflakes scene in the Nutcracker is sung by the local Halesworth Middle School Choir.

The conductor Mark Ermler (1932-2002) was born in Leningrad and worked with the Bolshoi Theatre as well as Covent Garden. He had a wide repertoire and conducted the first public performance of Prokofiev's last opera Story of a Real Man in Moscow in 1960. Our Christmas ballet specials are being broadcast by Future Radio on FM locally in Norwich, UK and worldwide on the internet on Christmas Day (Nutcracker 6.00pm), Boxing Day (Swan Lake 3.00pm) and New Year's Day (Sleeping Beauty 4.00pm). The audio stream can be launched from the right side-bar where there is also a time zone converter.

In November 2007 Future Radio commissioned an independent listener survey, and this showed that 5.5% of the station's total audience listened to the Overgrown Path programmes, a figure that is not too far behind some of their specialist rock shows. I am only too aware of the danger of comparisons across different data sets, but to give a perspective RAJAR figures show that 1.2% of the total UK radio audience listens to BBC Radio 3.

The results of the Future Radio survey are very pleasing as the basic rule for my programmes has been 'no compromise'. All the works are broadcast complete, there are no long-winded explanations of the music, no cult of the presenter, and no listener phone-ins. Around 95% of each programme is music, and linking announcements are minimised. This allows the music to speak for itself and the listeners to judge the music for themselves.

The composer listings for the five months that the programme has been on air are also strictly 'no compromise' - Pierre Boulez, Elisabeth Lutyens, Colin McPhee, Elizabeth Maconchy, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Vanessa Lann, Lou Harrison, Beata Moon, William Alwyn, Thea Musgrave, Alvin Curran, Paul Creston, Judith Weir, Terry Riley, Rebecca Saunders and many more.

Overgrown Path radio is an experiment that is just a small part of a long tail. But the results of the listener survey show that when you treat your audience as intelligent equals they respond. That is something much bigger radio stations have forgotten. And they have also forgotten the vital point made by Libby Purves' in her book 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".


Now playing - Britten's The Prince of the Pagodas Suite with Leonard Slatkin conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Regular readers will know that Leonard Slatkin's lacklustre tenure with the BBCSO did not make me a big fan of his conducting. This Chandos CD, which couples the Britten ballet suite with Colin McPhee's Tabu-Tabuhan and the 1941 recording of Britten and McPhee playing a Balinese transcription for two pianos, is a good summary of Slatkin's period with the orchestra.

The CD is worth buying for the performance of Tabu-Tabuhan which is persuasive, and this is the recording I used for my recent webcast. The Britten suite is useful for those who don't want to invest in Britten's own recording of the complete work, but there is little else to recommend it. The performance sounds under-rehearsed and routine. Fine for a budget release of a concert performance, but not for a full price CD.

More wonderful Tchaikovsky from Russia 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

MP3 downloads are a real windup


Here is the perfect Christmas present to compliment those downloads from the DG Web Shop. A windup media player for MP3 files and much more.

Now check out another ethical and musical Christmas present.
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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Thomas Ades out - Pierre-Laurent Aimard in


Just received - a press release announcing that Pierre-Laurent Aimard (photo above) will succeed Thomas Adès as Artistic Director of the Aldeburgh Festival for three years with effect from 2009. As the Independent commented following his BBC Prom earlier this year: "At 50, the French pianist-conductor still has the eager simplicity that induced Messiaen to make him his protégé at 12, and the luminous brilliance that persuaded Boulez to install him at 19 as resident pianist for his brand-new Ensemble InterContemporain. . . .”

Pierre-Laurent Aimard explained: “It was a big surprise to receive Jonathan Reekie's proposal to become Artistic Director of the Aldeburgh Festival. It was only after long reflection that I realised it was the right and possibly natural progression for me in terms of musical challenge and engagement. I love the exploration of musical confrontations and the encounter with various creators and performing partners - embracing the literature of different eras and cultures in such a way as to let the pieces enlighten each other. So what a joy to share with audiences and colleagues music as a living and growing art form in the context of an annual festival rather than a one off event in time. How we can continue to expand on the inspired concept and spirit of the original Aldeburgh Festival will be a fascinating journey in which I hope that we can do justice to the richness and diversity of music today.”

Pierre-Laurent Aimard has an international reputation not only as a great performer but also as a programmer of real invention. He will give three performances at the 2008 Aldeburgh Festival: as soloist/director with the Britten Sinfonia on Saturday June 14th, in recital on Friday June 20th, and performing chamber music with Tabea Zimmermann and Martin Fröst on Sunday June 22nd. All three concerts will feature works by György Kurtág, composer in residence for the 2008 Aldeburgh Festival. Other international curatorial projects led by Pierre-Laurent which form a backdrop to his new role in Aldeburgh include artiste etoile at the Lucerne Festival (2007); Pianist in Residence at the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (2006-07); Domaine Privé at the Cité de la Musique (Spring 2008), Carte Blanche at the Vienna Konzerthaus (2006-07), his own Perspectives series for Carnegie Hall (2006-07); and Artistic Directorship of Southbank Centre’s 2008 Messiaen festival.

Jonathan Reekie, Chief Executive of Aldeburgh Music said: "After an inspirational ten years with Thomas Adès at the helm, in our search for a replacement we were looking for an outstanding, original musician and programmer, who would both respect the Aldeburgh traditions but also stamp their mark on the Festival. In Pierre-Laurent Aimard we have all those qualities, rare in one person - a brilliant performer with a flair for creating concerts and Festivals. His performances here have been the talk of recent Aldeburgh Festivals and we are very much looking forward to working with him."

The 2008 Aldeburgh Festival, Thomas Adès’ tenth festival as Artistic Director, opens on Friday 13th June with a new opera commissioned from Yannis Kyriakides. During the festival Adès will conduct BCMG (Sunday June 15th) and two days later, with Steven Isserlis, will give the premiere of work that he has written for Isserlis. Associate Director of the festival, composer John Woolrich, will remain in this role, working alongside Pierre-Laurent Aimard.

“Every distinguished artist who has been chosen to present a series of Perspectives concerts at Carnegie Hall has used the opportunity to make connections among music of different styles and eras. But no one has taken this kind of exploration to the exhilarating extremes of the brilliant French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard. . . . By mixing and matching short pieces or excerpts from longer ones (46 in all), he created, in effect, an original, evening-length, five-section patchwork composition that audaciously leapt across centuries, defying stylistic categories.” New York Times, May 14th 2007

Now read an exclusive interview with Jonathan Reekie
Photo credit Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Monday, December 17, 2007

Exclusive - David Munrow on the record


My Future Radio programme on Sunday December 30th takes an exclusive look at David Munrow on the record. In the early 1970s the scores for the BBC TV series The Six Wives of Henry VIII and Elisabeth R brought David Munrow’s music to millions. His Pied Piper radio programme was broadcast four times a week for five years, he presented a successful TV series, and wrote the scores for several major feature films including Ken Russell’s The Devils and the film version of HenryVIII (sleeve below).


David Munrow's interest in early music started when he taught in Peru before going up to Cambridge. He combined reading English at Pembroke College with independent studies of Renaissance and medieval music, and went on to form his famous Early Music Consort of London. Under his leadership the Early Music Consort became best-selling recording artists, and David Munrow’s records were considered so important that copies of them were sent to Saturn on board two NASA spacecraft in 1976.


Today David Munrow is remembered by the records he made for EMI that started in 1971 with the LP Two Renaissance Dance Bands. He was brought to EMI by their double Grammy winning recording producer Christopher Bishop (above left) who produced Munrow's first records for EMI, and who also worked with Carlo Maria Giulini, André Previn, Yehudi Menuhin, Sir Adrian Boult and many other great musicians. Christopher Bishop is my guest on Future Radio on Sunday December 30th, and he will be giving listeners an exclusive look at David Munrow on the record. The photo above shows Christopher with me in the Future Radio studios looking at the album Two Renaissance Dance Bands. As well as discussing David Munrow's work we will be playing his recordings. These will include an excerpt from a rare early tape of Christopher Bishop conducting his own London Madrigal Singers and the Munrow Recorder Consort in a Weelkes madrigal.

* David Munrow on the record was broadcast on Future Radio on December 30th, 2007 and is currently available on Soundcloud.


Playlist for David Munrow on the record, Dec 30, 2007:
* Thomas Weelkes: Hark all ye lovely Saints, 3.00", London Madrigal Singers and Munrow Recorder Consort conducted by Christopher Bishop - BBC Third Programme recording 1970
* Tylman Susato: 12 Dances from the Danserye
La Mourisque, 1.13"
Branle Quatre - Bransles, 1.38"
Rondo & Salterelle, 1.34"
from Two Renaissance Dance Bands LP EMI HQS 1249 (Reissued as Pleasures of the Court)
* David Munrow: Henry VIII and his Six Wives
Pastime with good company, 1.32"
Joust, 2.34"
from Henry VIII and his Six Wives LP HMV CSD 9001
* Johann Sebastian Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, 3rd movement, Sir Adrian Boult conducting London Philharmonic Orchestra, 5.08" from LP EMI SLS 866
* Giuseppe Sammartini: Concerto in F major, 3rd movement Neville Marriner conducting Academy of St Martin in the Fields, 4.05" from LP HMV ASD 3028

For a range of David Munrow resources follow this link.

With thanks to Future Radio for making the programme possible, and in particular to Dan Nyman editor extraordinaire. Also thanks, again, to James the joiner for the sleeve scans. Studio photograph (c) On An Overgrown Path 2007. Other 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Nowhere is safe from Messiaen


Violainvilnius commented on my recent post on Stockhausen's teachers "OMG, we'll have a Messiaen year next year? Where can I emigrate to?". Well, according to today's Observer nowhere is safe.

"Radiohead's exuberantly talented Jonny Greenwood is using his time as composer-in-residence with the BBC Concert Orchestra to allow his influences - Ligeti, Messiaen, Dutilleux and Penderecki - to guide his quirky, uneven pen. They certainly seem to be at work behind his latest offering, the soundtrack to Paul Thomas Anderson's acclaimed new film, There Will Be Blood, due for release in the UK next February.

Those arid plains are captured impressively in the opening track 'Open Spaces', which employs what is fast becoming Greenwood's 'signature', the Ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument. Its oscillating frequencies have just the right haunting, vocal quality to evoke an empty, forbidding landscape."


Sample a unique sound world with Naxos' excellent Music of the Ondes Martenot. And read the extraordinary story of another electronic instrument here.
No, it's not an Ondes Martenot. Photo is of Jonny Greenwood playing an Analogue Systems rs6000 synthesizer. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Darker than a starless night


Clear as a sky without a cloud
may be a mother's mind,
but darker than a starless night
with not one gleam, not one,
no gleam to show the way.


The Madwoman arrives at the ferry in Benjamin Britten's first church parable Curlew River. Photograph taken this afternoon inland from Aldeburgh. More on Curlew River here.
Photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2007. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Friday, December 14, 2007

Belgium bags Alvin Curran premiere


New music is alive and well in Belgium. Tomorrow (Dec 15) sees an Alvin Curran (photo above) premiere in Ghent played by pianist Daan Vandewalle (who featured in my Inner Cities webcast) and cellist Arne Deforce. The new Alvin Curran work is called Malapromptus. This is the programme, and more details here:

Anton Webern - Sonate 1914 (2')
Anton Webern - Drei Stucke opus 11, 1914 (2')
Morton Feldman - Durations II 1960 (5')
Edison Denisov - Drei Stücke 1967 (6')
Galina Ustvolskaya - Grand Duett 1959 (22')
Alvin Curran - Malapromtus 2007

Hear Daan Vandewalle talking to me about Alvin Curran's music here. And a double bill of new Belgian music here and here.
Photo credit Hannah Frenzel. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

John Cage and chance spelling


Swapping from William Schuman to Robert Schumann in recent posts has presented a spelling challenge, and, quite rightly, a reader corrected me a while back when I fused the American composer's Christian name with the German composer's surname.

So I was reassured to read the following in David Revill's book The Roaring Silence - John Cage: A Life - 'Cage continued to spend many hours preparing letters seeking support for a center for experimental music. On the back of his inventory of percussion instruments he scribbled one night, "Composers interested in electrical: Jacob Weinberg, Henry Brant, Paul Bowles, William Schumann (sic)"'.

John Cage Christmas gift suggestion here.
Cage collage taken at Les Gargoris, France (c) On An Overgrown Path 2007. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The art of Stockhausen and Schumann


Who said that the art of sleeve design died with the LP? - well actually I did. So, to prove myself wrong here is the sleeve for the recording of Stockhausen's Gruppen that I will be playing in my Future Radio programme this Sunday Dec 16 at 5.00pm UK time.

The CD was released by Budapest Music Center Records in 2006, and the Gruppen was recorded in 1997 in the same hall as the work was first performed in, the Messe Reinlandsaal in Cologne. The three orchestras are drawn from the ranks of the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln and the conductors are the Spaniard Arturo Tamayo, the Hungarian Peter Eötvös and the Frenchman Jacques Mercier.

The coupling is Stockhausen's Punkte, and the excellent sleeve notes are by Richard Toop. As well as recording worthwhile composers BMC Records is one of the few companies committed to keeping good design alive in the digital era. More power to them for that.

Look at these images again. Now do you understand why I wrote Stockhausen - part of a dream?


Now playing - Robert Schumann's Symphony No. 3 'Rhenish'. Schumann and Stockhausen may seem to have little in common other than the letter 'S', but there are links. Both explored new technologies. While Stockhausen pioneered electronic music Schumann was a little less ambitious with his advocacy of the pedal piano which extended the register of the instrument using an organ style pedal action. Schumann's works for pedal piano played by Martis Schmeding are available on the Ars record label, although the nasty close and dry sound of the recording makes it of little interest other than as an academic document.

There are also geographic links between the two composers. Stockhausen was born in Mödrath near Cologne in 1928, and grew up in the Rhineland area where his father was a teacher. Although Schumann was born in Zwickau in the east of Germany he moved west to Düsseldorf in 1850, and later that year wrote his 'Rhenish' Symphony which celebrates the Rhineland and Cologne.

I visited Cologne frequently on business in the 1970s, and was mesmerised by the city's magnificent 13th century Catholic cathedral as well as attending trade fairs at the more prosaic Koelmesse where Gruppen was first performed. The fourth of the five movements of the 'Rhenish' is thought to have been inspired by the ordination of a Cardinal in the Cathedral.

I grew to love the 'Rhenish' through repeated playings of my 1972 LP of Herbert von Karajan's performance with the Berlin Philharmonic (DG 2530 447), and I still retain a great fondness for his interpretation. The Deutsche Grammophon sleeve shown below is wonderfully evocative of the Indian summer of the LP of which it was part. The stark contrast in graphic styles between the Stockhausen and Schumann sleeves also reflects the marked difference between the mellow analogue sound of the 1970s, and the analytical digital sound that was soon to replace it.

When CDs arrived I bought Kubelik's cycle with the Bayerischen Rundfunks Orchestra. These have served well, but never quite generated the frisson of Karajan's performances. More recently I have found David Zinman's cycle for the BMG's budget priced Arte Nova Classics label to be very rewarding. The orchestra is the Tonhalle Zurich who use natural trumpets, baroque trombones and other period instruments. The resulting crispness and bite provides a welcome antidote to Schumman's sometimes thick orchestration. Zinman's CD set is recommended. However, unlike BMC's Stockhausen and DG's Schumann, the CD artwork isn't worth reproducing here. But for some more striking images go to Robert Schumann's Zwickau.


Hear Karlheinz Stockhausen's Gruppen on my Future Radio programme on Sunday December 16 at 5.00pm UK time (convert to local time zones here) I will also be playing Lou Harrison's 1985 Piano Concerto. Listen by launching the Radeo internet player from the right side-bar, or via the audio stream. Convert time 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.

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

Olivier Messiaen in Bryce Canyon


Henry Holland has left a new comment on your post On the path of Stockhausen's teachers - "It's actually Bryce Canyon in the photo used for the poster, the rock formation that looks like a cup above the 'h' in Southbank is the giveaway; Messiaen, of course, visited Bryce Canyon, which is mentioned in the 7th part of Des Canyons aux Etoiles."

My photo above is also from the Southbank Centre's Messiaen festival brochure, and shows the composer in Bryce Canyon.
Photo (c) Yvonne Loriod. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Now sample the gamelan online


Much interest in the gamelan threads started by my Colin McPhee posts and webcast, including this comment from Jessica Duchen - 'One of my most fascinating musical experiences was playing in a gamelan orchestra at Dartington when I was a student. After you've entered and become part of that soundworld with all its ringing overtones for two hours at a stretch, a Mozart violin sonata can seem very strange indeed.'

Follow this link and sample that special soundworld online with a complete concert from CBC of music for gamelan by Colin McPhee and contemporary composers.

While elsewhere you can play your own Virtual Javanese Gamelan using free software developed by WCS Music using the Javanese Gamelan of Wells Cathedral School. Their website reports that using the expertise of the music faculty of the Cathedral School, and leading consultants, an innovative and award winning suite of music education software has been created. This allows users to explore one of the liveliest forms of Javanese Music, the Lancaran, and take part in an ensemble performance using sampled sounds from a gamelan. There is also the opportunity to compose and export audio files, and learn about Indonesian Music using online resources.

The first module of the Virtual Javanese Gamelan is available for immediate download free of charge from the WCS Music website. Reader reports on the software are welcome.

Lou Harrison was one of the Western composers who embraced the gamelan. I am very grateful to regular reader Jean Missud of Fitchburg State College, Massachusetts for sending me a link to a wonderful interview with Lou Harrison. Which is a very approprite way to end this gamelan post.

Image credit CBC.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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

On the path of Stockhausen's teachers


In 1950 Karlheinz Stockhausen was accepted into Frank Martin's composition class at the Cologne Musikhochschule. The relationship was not a success, Stockhausen had only a few hours of tuition with Martin, and most of this was spent analysing his teacher's own compositions. More Frank Martin down this path.

Two years later Stockhausen started studying composition with Darius Milhaud in Paris. But once again Stockhausen was dissatisfied with his teacher, and after a few weeks he stopped attending Milhaud's classes. My photo above shows the house that Milhaud was born in at 4, Bd de la République, Aix-en-Provence. His birthplace, which I visited in September, is now the Hotel Artea and not a museum. There is a discount if you check-in after 8.00pm, which cannot be said for many composer's birthplaces.

Milhaud's other pupils at various times included Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Burt Bacharach. Alvin Curran was not among them, but there are connections. Aix-en-Provence supplied my recent Inner Cities photos, and from 1991 to 2006 Curran was Milhaud Professor of Composition at Mills College in Oakland, California. This Chair was endowed in memory of Milhaud who taught there after being forced to leave France in 1940 because of his Jewish backgound. Milhaud's Jewish ancestors had lived in the ghetto in Cavaillon. This town is close to Avignon, sometime home of the Popes, which is where Stockhausen's third teacher, the devout Catholic Olivier Messiaen was born.

Stockhausen's relationship with Messiaen more than made up for his failures with Martin and Milhaud. Stockhausen and Messiean shared the Catholic faith, and the young composer attended Messiaen's course in aesthetics and analysis in Paris twice a week for a year. Stockhausen later said: 'In many respects Messiaen did the opposite of what I wanted. He never tried to convince me. That made him a good teacher. He did not give instruction in composition, but showed me how he understood the music of others and how he worked himself.'

Olivier Messiaen was born on December 10, 1908. His birthplace Avignon is only a short distance from Milhaud's in Aix-en-Provence. In fact all my paths converge in Avignon as the city also has connections with Pierre Boulez, who was another pupil of Messiaen and a colleague of Stockhausen.

The work of Messiaen, Stockhausen and Boulez also converge in London in one of the highlights of 2008, which is, of course, Messiaen's centenary year. The event is the Southbank Centre's festival The Music of Olivier Messiaen - From The Canyons to the Stars. If anything was to tempt me to move back to London it would be this year long feast of twentieth-century music. Full details here, and below are some of my personal 'must attends'.

* Opening concert February 2 - Messiaen Des canyons aux étoiles played by Ensemble Intercontemporain conducted by Susanna Mälkki
* February 7 - Southbank Gamelan Players followed by Messiaen Turangalîla-Symphonie with Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen.
* February 13 - Messiaen Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant Jésus played by Pierre-Laurent Aimard.
* February 15 - concert by Royal Academy of Music Manson Ensemble including Stockhausen Kontra-Punkte and Xenakis Jalons.
* February 17 - must be THE concert of 2008. Boulez Rituel in memoriam Bruno Maderna and Messiaen Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum with London Sinfonietta conducted by Peter Eötvös (who is one of the conductors of Gruppen in my Future Radio webcast this Sunday Dec 16).
* May 1 - Ascension Day service in Westminster Abbey including the organ version of Messiaen's L'Ascension.
* May 11 - Pentecost Mass including movements from Messiaen's Pentecost Mass for organ, Gregorian chant and Victoria's Missa Dum complerentur.
* October 20 - organ recital in the London Oratory that includes a rare chance to hear the Kyrie from Satie's Messa des Pauvres, and movements from Tournemire's L'Orgue Mystique. The Satie fragment was composed for the church that the composer founded, and at which he was the only worshiper, the Eglise métropolitaine d'Art.
* Centenary concert Dec 10 - Messiaen Couleurs de la cité céleste and Sept Haïkaï, Boulez sur Incises with Ensemble Intercontemporain conducted by Pierre Boulez.

I'm just adding up how much a ticket for every concert will cost ...


Now playing - Messiaen's Des canyons aux étoile (From the canyons to the stars) on the double Apex CD with Yvonne Loriod-Messiaen, and Ensemble Ars Nova. The couplings are Messiaen's Hymne au Saint-Sacrement and Les offrandes oubliées, the sound is excellent, and there are decent sleeve notes. You can buy it from Amazon resellers for not much more than a Starbucks latte. What can I say, other than ask that seasonal roast chestnut? - is recorded classical music too cheap?

Header photo (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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

It's about making the link

Having an opinion is unfashionable in some places these days. But not according to a link on A.C. Grayling's website.
Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Wagner Dream comes true


'In terms of new music, 2007 was less special, save for Magnus Lindberg's fine violin concerto, Heiner Goebbels's indefinably moving Songs from Wars I Have Seen, and Jonathan Harvey's adroit chamber opera Wagner Dream. There were no premieres worth mentioning at the Proms, save Esa-Pekka Salonen's Piano Concerto, quite the worst new piece to come my way all year' - writes Andrew Clements in today's Guardian.

Read more about Jonathan Harvey's Wagner Dream in Malcolm Miller's review, which is where the production shot from the 2007 Holland Festival in Amsterdam came from. (Photo credit Clärchen and Matthias Baus). More on Jonathan Harvey 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk