Thursday, January 31, 2008

Old meets new on the Santiago pilgrimage


Recycling is an essential part of the creative process. My photo above was taken last September and shows the West Portal of the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Gilles-du-Gard, which is generally considered be the most outstanding example of Provencal Romanesque architecture in southern France.

Below is the magnificent portal recycled in the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. Industrialist Andrew Carnegie paid the town of Gard 2000 gold francs to allow plaster casts to be taken of the portal. The casts were shipped across the Atlantic in 195 packing cases and assembled in Pittsburgh for the 1907 opening of the museum's Hall of Architecture.

The Abbey of Saint-Gilles-du-Gard is one of the staging posts on the most southerly of the pilgrimage routes to Santiago in Spain, which starts in nearby Arles. In 2005 composer Joby Talbot indulged in some creative recycling when he incorporated the hymn Dum Pater Familias and other pilgrim tunes into his choral work Path of Miracles which celebrates the Santiago pilgrimage. Read more about Path of Miracles here.

On Sunday February 3rd I will be playing the final two of the four parts of Path of Miracles on Future Radio. My programme is broadcast at 5.00pm on Sunday afternoon, and will be repeated at 1.00am on Monday morning for transatlantic listeners, which is afternoon or evening Sunday in their time zones.

I'm framing Path of Miracles with two excerpts from the 1991 recording of music from the Pilgimage to Santiago made by the New London Consort directed by Philip Pickett. This draws on the 12th century Codex Calixtinus also used by Joby Talbot. The New London Consort disc is a classic release from L'Oiseau-Lyre's Indian summer, and it has recently been re-released at budget price - grab it while you can. Read the L'Oiseau Lyre story here.


Listen on Future Radio at 5.00pm UK time this Sunday Feb 3 and Monday Feb 4 in real time here (convert to local time zones here). 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 (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Hallé birthday to you


Youth is certainly a state of mind in Manchester where the Hallé Orchestra is celebrating the 150th anniversary of its founding. Last night there was a celebratory concert presented by Dame Janet Baker (age 75) which included Ralph Vaughan William's Towards the Unknown Region and Edward Elgar's In the South (Alassio) as well as a 1996 Hallé comission, Thomas Adès' These Premises are Alarmed. Well done the Hallé for defying current music fashion and recognising that Elgar and Vaughan Williams did more than linger "lovingly over musical depictions of pastoral hills and fields, implicitly resisting the march of progress."

Hans Richter, Sir John Barbirolli and Mark Elder are the conductors usually associated with the Hallé. But my header photo shows Benjamin Britten rehearsing his Spring Symphony with them in Leeds in 1950. More on the Spring Symphony here.
Image credit Leeds classical music. 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, January 30, 2008

Free music - so what's new?


'Music industry finds the solution to its pirate troubles - give everything away' - screams a Guardian headline. Sorry folks, but the classical sector has been giving away music for years. Here from my current Visa bill are the prices I paid for CDs online recently including delivery: Messiaen Des canyons aux étoiles (2CDs) - £4.00, Dallapiccola choral works - £3.41, Stockhausen piano works - £4.22, Elgar Dream of Gerontius (2CDs) - £5.67.

It actually gets worse in the stores. Just last week I bought 10CDs of Thomas Tallis' complete works in recordings made as recently as 2004 for £3 a CD, and that wasn't discounted. In HMV stores you can currently pick up 14CDs of the complete Mahler symphonies by classical music's premium brands, Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic, for £1.79 a disc. That means a Mahler CD from our industry's most prestigous band now costs less than a cappuccino, and it's not expanding the market for classical music or filling concert halls at all.

So with prices already at rock-bottom what will be the impact of free downloads from Qtrax and others? Classical music will become just another disposable commodity. Download it, give it a quick listen, it doesn't appeal on first hearing? No problem, delete it and try again. Contemporary composers had better start thinking catchy, and record companies (if any survive) had better start thinking instant gratification.

Benjamin Britten had it nailed when he wrote 'Music demands more from a listener than simply the possession of a tape-machine or a transistor radio. It demands some preparation, some effort, a journey to a special place, saving up for a ticket, some homework on the programme perhaps, some clarification of the ears and sharpening of the instincts. It demands as much effort on the listener's part as the other two corners of the triangle, this holy composer, performer and listener'

So what does a dead composer (European to boot) know about today's market with its MP3s and iTunes? The answer is a lot. Britten wasn't just a composer, he was a musical polymath whose vision created one of the few successful, and growing, classical music communities in the world. Last year Aldeburgh Music sold 91,000 tickets. I wonder how many bargain basement Berlin Philharmonic Mahler boxes EMI has sold in the UK - 5000 perhaps? The solution for the music industry isn't to give everything away. It's the opposite. Think added value, think Glossa, think Soli deo Gloria, but above all think Alia Vox.

Now playing is Jordi Savall's newly released Francisco Javier 1506-1553, the Route to the Orient on Alia Vox. Yes, it comes with 2CDs of lovingly researched and performed music, but there is much more in the form of a 273 page colour book (cover above) which is a work of art in itself. In it there are fascinating and scholarly articles ranging from early music performance, to Erasmus of Rotterdam, Niccolo Machiavelli, Thomas More, and Martin Luther, as well as Francisco Xavier, who was an early Jesuit missionary, himself. And the whole package is worth far more than the sum of the parts. I paid £30 for it in Prelude Records in Norwich, and that is the best £30 I have spent on recorded music for a long time. I didn't get two CDs for my money, I got a unique musical experience. And that is what will rejuvenate the market, not giveaways.

Britten would have approved. The Route to the Orient is about as far from instant gratification as you can go. It demands preparation by reading the book, and it also demands effort to understand the non-Western music that it explores. You must leave your computer and take a journey to a special place called an independent record store to buy it, and you will also need to save up as it is not available online at a discount or as a download. The thoughtfully planned multi-cultural programme needs to be understood, and clarification of the ears and sharpening of the instincts are definitely needed for close encounters with instruments such as the shinobue, nokan, sarod and shakuhachi.

Are added value projects like Francisco Javier, the Route to the Orient and Christopher Columbus, Lost Paradises (below) the future of classical music? Or are they just small ripples in a big pond? Only time will tell. But I haven't heard Alia Vox talking about mass redundancies, and their 2008 release schedule looks pretty healthy. Which is more than can be said for EMI.


It was Philip Glass who said world music is the new classical.
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Dialogue of a great twentieth century composer


Francis Poulenc (above) died in Paris on January 30th, 1963. Read about his masterpiece, Dialogue of the Carmelites, here.
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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Weak at the knees over this gig


28 January - a legend - concert room 7.30 - a legend
Paolo Pandolfo viola da gamba

A legend. I've had members of the public weak at the knees over this gig. You won't have heard of him as you are music students but don't let that or good natured sarcasm stop you from coming. FREE FREE FREE for MUS students


That's what the University of East Anglia School of Music internal flyer said, and for once the hyperbole was justified. Like his viol da gamba teacher Jordi Savall, Paolo Pandolfo is a legend. Pandolfo's concert last night, with its seamless transitions between the 17th and 21st centuries, confirmed his status. The evening was crowned by one of the pinnacles of classical musiuc, Bach's Fifth Cello Suite in a transcription for viol, after revelatory interpretations of music by Tobias Hume, Le Sieur de St. Colombe, Marin Marais and Pandolfo himself. The music students may not have heard of Pandolfo, but there was standing room only with the widest range of ages that I have seen at a concert since last summer's Faster Than Sound.

My photo above captures some of the magic of the evening, and there is more magic in the brutalist 1960s architecture of the UEA music room in which it was taken. Paul Hillier's first recording of Stockhausen's Stimmung, made for Hyperion with Singcircle, was recorded there in 1983. Which may explain the interesting similarities between my header photo and Richard Friedman's 1971 shot used in my recent Stimmung post, and no comments, please, that we were both struggling with available light.

Paolo Pandolfo is one of a a disappearing breed - a musician with views on more than his next recording contract and music directorship. Read about them in Baghdad's Spring.
Photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Thank you for the music


Another link with a great musical past was severed on January 25th 2008 with the death of Evelyn Barbirolli, a day after her 97th birthday. Born Evelyn Rothwell she established a reputation as an outstanding oboist before marrying Sir John Barbirolli in 1939, the couple are seen in my header photo. She continued her career after her marriage using her maiden name and was a champion of contemporary music. She played in the first performance of Bohuslav Martinů's Oboe Concerto and had works composed for her by Elizabeth Maconchy, Edmund Rubbra, Arnold Cooke, Arthur Benjamin and Gordon Jacob, and Sir John arranged concertos for her arranged concertos for her from music by Corelli and Pergolesi.

My header photo is from a facinating article on MV Daily. There is a full Guardian obituary here, read more about Glorious John in New York here.
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Monday, January 28, 2008

Making the case for contemporary music

In his masterly book A Concise History of Western Music Paul Griffiths explains that “The past is not a path we and our predecessor's have travelled but a labyrinth, and a labyrinth forever in flux”. Concert planners usually view the musical past as a narrow path that must be followed closely, and as a result they produce predictable programmes that overlook the many riches hidden in the labyrinth of music history.

So how wonderful to see the King of Hearts in Norwich departing from the familiar narrow path for its Autumn Festival, and challenging performers to explore the musical labyrinth. This Journey Across Time provided fascinating perspectives. Not only was it a rewarding musical experience, but it was also very enlightening to see how both audiences and performers responded to the challenge of musical diversity.

The Festival started rather unpromisingly with a recital by violinist Catherine Macintosh and harpsichordist Maggie Cole. These performers are no strangers to contemporary music, and played two works by Stephen Dodgson, including his Inventions which are dedicated to Maggie. But, despite this, the music was presented in a strangely detached way, rather like being introduced to a teenage relative with body piercings. But perhaps it wasn’t just the contemporary music. The Bach and Biber in the programme were rather like being introduced to an elderly relative with a taste for Agatha Christie. Not the most vibrant of starts, and not helped by empty seats. Teenagers with piercings may be the norm outside in Norwich's Magdalene Street, but sadly they are a lot less popular in the King of Hearts.

No lack of spark in the lunchtime Bach from King of Hearts’ regular Carolyn Gibley. There may have been a capacity audience, but her Journey Across Time stopped at 1750, apart from one singularly inappropriate pastiche item. I know Carolyn is quite upfront in her preference for eighteenth century harpsichord music. But a work such as John Palmer’s Koan from 1999 would have taken us much further into the labyrinth than P.D.Q. Bach.

Different strokes for different folks, and both The London Handel Players and Jane Chapman proved just how rewarding exploring the labyrinth can be. Bohuslav Martinů’s Promenade for flute, violin & harpsichord from The London Mozart players showed that twentieth century music need not be feared, while, in the same concert, Rachel Brown’s performance of a work for flute and tape by Barry Guy eased the King of Hearts into the age of electronica.

Either by luck or good planning Aude Gotto had left the best to last. Jane Chapman (photo above) fears nothing in contemporary music. No tokenism or apologia in her harpsichord recital, which went for the jugular with music by Gyorgy Ligeti, Tōru Takemitsu, plus a first performance, with the composer present, from Jeremy Peyton-Jones who is right there in the labyrinth as a colleague of John Cage. Those that chose the competing television coverage of England losing the Rugby World Cup final instead of Jane’s recital missed a real opportunity to celebrate.

The concerts by The London Mozart Players, Jane Chapman and others were a triumphant endorsement of the vision of a Journey Across Time. I really don’t feel that in 2007 I should be making the case for contemporary music. But the empty seats at several of the concerts suggest I should. If you only feed children baby food they never develop proper teeth, and can’t move on to a nourishing diet that allows them to grow. There is too much baby food in today’s concert programmes and radio schedules. Contemporary music is the aural equivalent of the spicy Hungarian goulash served in the King of Hearts restaurant after Jane Chapman’s inspirational recital. More please Aude.

(c) Bob Shingleton 2008, first published in the newsletter of the King of Hearts Centre for people and the arts winter 2007 newsletter. Related articles:

* Contemporary music - I really enjoyed it! - link
* More of Martinu's music please - link
* Brand new music for harpsichord - link
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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Then a wail for their sins


It's probably just me, but if I'm told that a piece of music is "uplifting" or "touches the core of what it is to be human", I run as fast as I can from it - comments Henry Holland on The composer without a shadow? Henry was writing in praise of Richard Strauss, and I wonder what he makes of the music of a contemporary and friend of Strauss', Edward Elgar?

This morning I attended a performance of Elgar's Piano Quintet led by pianist Ashley Wass, and, sorry Henry, but this is a work that is both uplifting and deeply human. Given the over-exposure of the Cello Concerto it is difficult to understand why Elgar's String Quartet and Piano Quintet aren't better known as all three works are from the same period.

They were written when the composer was living in a cottage called Brinkwells at Fittleworth in Sussex between 1917 and 1919. Near Elgar's cottage was a clump of dead trees that had been struck by lightning. Their branches were distorted into strange and almost human forms. Local legend said that impious Spanish monks had held black masses there, and as punishment had been struck down by lightning and turned into the withered trees. The ghostly shapes provided inspiration for both Elgar's Piano Quintet and String Quartet, and also his Violin Sonata. Elgar's wife Alice wrote of the Quintet in her diary:

'Wonderful weird beginning ... evidently reminiscent of sinister trees ... sad 'dispossesed' trees and their fate - or rather curse - which brought it on ... then a wail for their sins - wonderful.'

My header image of the trees at Fittleworth comes from the EMI recording of Elgar's chamber music by the Vellinger Quartet and Piers Lane. If you love the Cello Concerto but don't know these works you have a gap in your CD collection that needs filling.

In today's concert the Elgar was coupled with Frank Bridge's Piano Trio No. 2 from 1929. It is unfortunate that today Bridge is remembered mainly as Benjamin Britten's teacher. This late Piano Trio is a a tough, sinewy work that hovers tantalisingly between tonality and the chromaticism of Schoenberg. Forget the baggage associated with Bridge, this is one of several great works by him that should be recognised for their own merits.

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day, and Elgar's music from his Brinkwells period is a painfull reminder of the carnage of war, as is Strauss' Metamorphosen. But some victims of the Holocaust are still forgotten, read about them here.
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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Contemporary composer paints bigger picture


Ben.H has left a new comment on your post "A great American composer and artist besides": While we're naming names, Gloria Coates is another composer and painter, whose CDs typically use her art for the cover designs.

Ben, thanks for including the eternal feminine.
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Friday, January 25, 2008

Got the T-shirt? - now hear the music


There was some healthy discussion on my recent article about pianist Angela Hewitt's Bach World Tour T-shirts. No discussion on my Future Radio programme this Sunday (Jan 27) at 5.00pm UK time, just 51 minutes 3 seconds of the perfect pianism of Angela Hewitt playing Messiaen and J.S. Bach, connected by less than 5 minutes of the usual low key links from me. The audio stream can be launched here, and is available in real time only.

There is some interesting music coming up on my Future Radio webcasts in the next few months. It includes Elliott Carter's Sonata for Flute, Oboe, Cello and Harpsichord, Michael Tippett's Second Symphony (why aren't his symphonies performed more often?), and a new recording of Lou Harrison's Concerto for Violin and Percussion Orchestra, all complete - no extracts. Through the year I will also be playing all the Vaughan Williams symphonies. Future Radio agreed to this following very positive listener responses to my broadcast of the Fifth earlier this month, and they are rearranging their schedule to accomodate the 71 minute Sea Symphony in August to coincide with the centenary of the composer's birth.

On April 6 I will be presenting Karajan and Twentieth Century Music to mark the centenary of the conductor's birth. For all his faults Karajan made some superlative records, none more so than his 1972 recording of Arthur Honegger's Third Symphony Liturgique, and I'll be playing that with his 1973 recording of Alban Berg's Three Pieces from the Lyric Suite, both with the Berlin Philharmonic. Framing all these contemporary works will be music by Bach, Tallis, Corelli and from the Sephardic Diaspora.

It's all about thinking outside the box, as Olivier Messiaen did.
Listen on Future Radio at 5.00pm UK time this Sunday, January 27th in real time here (convert to local time zones here). An Overgrown Path podcast will follow. 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. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

What exactly is live music?


"Way more than 50% of our output is live music ..." claims BBC Radio 3 controller Roger Wright in a revealing article about a new jazz radio station in today's Guardian.

But Radio 3's definition of live is slightly different to yours and mine. As I reported here in February 2007 virtually all evening concerts on Radio 3, except the Proms, are pre-recorded. But the BBC counts these recordings as 'live' performances, and the text streamed with their FM broadcasts describes them as 'live concert recordings'.

In a wonderful example of BBC corporate-crapola Radio 3 defines 'live' as any music recorded with an audience present. Which has important implications both for musicians who earn their living from live music making, as these recorded 'live' performances can be repeated, and for audiences, who may find real concerts with living breathing musicians disappearing.

If Roger Wright turned up at a concert hall for a 'live concert', and found a pre-recorded performance being played through speakers wouldn't he feel cheated? It's not a stupid question - that's what is actually happening in my header photo. Read about it here.
Header photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

A great American composer and artist besides


Email received - Bob, I found your post about artists who also paint fascinating. As you have pointed out, there are many more than we previously thought. Schoenberg comes to mind. I thought you would be interested in another. Nicolas Flagello was really something, one of the great American composers and an artist besides. I attach these CD covers not to attract publicity for myself, but because these are the only examples of his art in my possession. Though the cover pics are details, I've seen the large originals at Flagello's wife's residence, and they are remarkable.

A day without OAOP wouldn't be a day at all.
Best, JMW



See Arnold Schoenberg's paintings and drawings here, and read about more eye-music here.
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Thursday, January 24, 2008

New symphony is highly infectious


Leif Segerstam's 151st Symphony (eat your heart out Alan Hovhaness) was premiered last week by the estimable BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra with the composer conducting. The single movement symphony lasts for less than half an hour, and Segerstam's programme note cites the recent outbreaks of bird flu as one of the inspirations for the symphony.

Leif Segerstam, seen in my header photo, is one of those musical mavericks who are a dying breed in today's world of 'Mahler cycle before you are 30' agent controlled music making. (And yes, I know he has recorded a Mahler cycle). Segerstram's students include Susanna Mälkki, and he has used aleatoric techniques and has written for conductorless ensembles. He has championed music by contemporary composers including John Corigliano and Christopher Rouse, and fellow Finn Einojuhani Rautavaara.

Rautavaara's music became fashionable in the mid-1990s, and I have several of his works in my CD collection dating from that time. Segerstam's recording of Rautavaara's Seventh Symphony (Angel of Light) plays as I write. I haven't listened to it for ten years, and coming back to it I find it deserving, beautifully crafted but ultimately unremarkable music that lacks any real sense of development - am I missing something?

Judge Leif Segerstam's 151st Symphony for yourself. It is being broadcast on BBC Radio 3 this evening (Jan 24) and will be available for a week on demand after broadcast, or so the BBC says. The photo below comes from my February 2007 article about the bird flu outbreak here in East Anglia. I never thought I'd be able to back link to it from a piece on contemporary music. Thank you Leif Segerstam for making it possible.


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Inner Cities just got longer


'A painting is never finished - it simply stops in interesting places' said the Scottish artist Paul Gardner, and it is the same with contemporary music. Back in November I thought I was broadcasting Alvin Curran's Inner Cities complete, but I was wrong. The epic 4 hour 24 minute cycle for solo piano had just stopped at an interesting place called Inner Cities 11.

Pianist Daan Vandewalle tells me that two new Inner Cities have been added to the cycle, and another is in the pipeline. This week he recorded IC12 in Paris, he has performed IC13 in Italy, and is finalising a commission for Alvin Curran for IC14. I wonder what would have happened if Daan had been around when Wagner was composing the Ring?

My next project is a marathon broadcast of Kaikhosru Sorabji’s Opus Clavicembalisticum for solo piano which also lasts for hour hours. Read about it here.
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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What a Karajan at the BBC


Apologies to readers, who like me, tuned in vain to BBC Radio 4 at 7.15pm this evening to hear the 'reassessment' of Herbert von Karajan's life and work that I mentioned in one of today's post.

I picked up information on the programme from today's Guardian radio listings which highlighted the Karajan programme. This information would have been supplied by the BBC publicity department. As programmes sometimes change I went to Radio 4's webpage. This clearly says:

19:15 Front Row 23 January 2008
Arts news and reviews with Mark Lawson, including a reassessment of the life and work of Herbert von Karajan as the centenary of the maestro's birth approaches.

Just to make sure doubly-sure I googled 'BBC Radio 4 Karajan' and found another page on the BBC website which confirmed that the programme was being aired today at 7.15pm. So I linked to it.

At 7.15 there was no Karajan feature, no explanation, and no apology. Like so many things the BBC does today, totally hopeless.

In the old days at least we made our mistakes with style.
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Stockhausen's Stimmung at summer Snape


A late night performance of Stimmung is one of the highlights of the 2008 Aldeburgh Summer Festival. It will be sung by London Voices as part of the Faster Than Sound experimental music festival within a festival. The evocative photo above was kindly provided by fellow blogger Richard Friedman. He took it at the October 1971 performance of Stimmung in the Théâtre de la Ville, Paris by the group that commissioned it, Collegium Vocale Köln. Richard is also a fellow webcaster, check out his Music From Other Minds on KALW 91.7 FM San Francisco. The footer photo was taken by me at the 2007 Faster Than Sound. Stockhausen's music is just one of many delights at the 2008 Aldeburgh Festival which runs from 13th to 29th June, here are some of the others:

* World premiere of a new opera An Ocean of Rain by Yannis Kyriakides directed by Cathie Boyd.
* Featured composer György Kurtág and his wife Marta in recital.
* Pierre-Laurent Aimard plays The Art of Fugue and conducts the Britten Sinfonia.
* Ensemble Organum sing Machaut.
* Steven Isserlis and Thomas Adès play music by Kurtág, Debussy, Janáček and a new work by Adès.
* I Fagiolini sing Byrd.
* Premiere of John Woolrich's Violin Concerto.

As I've said here before, contemporary music is flourishing in Aldeburgh. This is due to adventurous and challenging programming. And Aldeburgh is not frightened of controversy. They proudly feature the 2007 premiere of their multi-media opera Elephant and Castle on the front of their new brochure, in confident defiance of a one star Guardian review from a grumpy Andrew Clements. Here are the facts that prove music has to be an adventurous experience:

In the past twelve months Aldeburgh Music has:
* Presented more than 150 concerts and events, including music, opera, dance, visual arts, public masterclasses and talks.
* Sold 91,000 concert tickets.
* Involved 8000 people in 250 Aldeburgh Education project days.
* Nurtured musical talent from around the world through the Britten-Pears Young Artists Programme which has more than 300 alumni.
* Started building its visionary new music campus.
* Involved more than 200 established musicians in Aldeburgh Residencies.
* Coached 25 of the region's finest young musicians through the Aldeburgh Young Musicians scheme.

As Benjamin Britten said, music does not exist in a vacuum.


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So you thought classical music was dead?


davidderrick has left a new comment on your post "Music's unmerry widows" - Not 1981, surely? CDs only came in in March 83. This was around 89. Possibly for the genius's 80th birthday? 'Scuse pedantry ...

David, the Galleria series were originally released in LP format. I could not recall having bought any of the series. But age doesn't just make better conductors, it also plays tricks with memory. Which is why Sir John Barbirolli conducted from a score. After your comment arrived I went through my LPs and found this 1982 vinyl record, complete with Eliette von Karajan painting, which I have just photographed. The Deutsche Grammophon website confirms the dates.

Meanwhile the Karajan centenary bandwagon is really starting to roll. Tonight (Jan 23) BBC Radio 4 promises a 'reassessment' of Karajan (why not Radio 3 - not Classic FM enough for them?), while DG's centenary releases are here (but I can't see the excellent vinyl only Second Viennese School set). The Karajan industry is definitely hard currency - the Austrian Mint are to issue a 5 Euro commemorative coin in April. There are going to be books galore (but no Lauterwasser volume), re-releases of recordings, and more memorial concerts than there were for Princess Diana. If you thought classical music was dead check it all out here.

The current Karajan memorial European tour by the Berlin Philharmonic features Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony (but there are no T-shirts). By coincidence my first classical record was that symphony on DG conducted by Karajan. Read about it here.
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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Kind of blue


Miles Davis was a very talented artist a regular reader reminds me in connection with my music and art thread. That is one of his paintings above, and there are more here. His art was just one of the reasons why Miles Davis was chosen as one of the thirty-six most influential people of the hippie era.
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A picture is worth a thousand words


When it comes to sleeve artwork Herbert von Karajan's wife may have got it wrong. But Joni Mitchell got it right. The two images here are from her 2000 album Both Sides Now. Joni provided these superlative self-portraits for the sleeve, and she worked with Vince Mendoza, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Peter Erskine and others to make an album which is a work of art in more ways than one.


More on Joni Mitchell the painter here, and more proof that pictures are worth a thousand words here.
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Music's unmerry widows


Re. Mrs von Karajan - Didn't DG issue a Karajan series featuring Eliette's own artwork? Just how wealthy and influential is this woman? BTW. What ever happend to Herbert's brother, Wolfgang? Cheers David Cavlovic

Ja wohl David. In 1981 Eliette's daubs decorated the sleeves for Deutsche Grammophon's "Karajan-Edition" in their "Galleria" series. 50 original paintings adorned as many record sleeves for music ranging from Vivaldi to Stravinsky. A sample is above, and more information and a better image is here. An estimate by Die Welt puts Eliette von Karajan's wealth at 250 million euro (£187m/$366mUS).

Wolfgang von Karajan died in November 1987. He showed considerable promise in his early career as an electrical engineer, but never really capitalised on this and later tried to make a career in music. In 1984 HvK wanted EMI to record the Art of Fugue with his brother and himself, EMI declined. There was an uneasy relationship between the two brothers as HvK disliked Wolfgang's wife intensely. Wolfgang was a very different personality to Herbert, he was reclusive and slightly eccentric. Thankfully he didn't design record sleeves.

The headline is not mine, it comes from Pierre Boulez. Read about Die Unlustigen Witwen - music's unmerry widows here.
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Monday, January 21, 2008

I was Herbert von Karajan's mate


My prediction that marriage was the musical 'must have' for 2008 is proving to be uncannily accurate. January hasn't finished, and already we have 'marriage - the book' and 'marriage - the CDs'. Herbert von Karajan's widow is marking the centenary of the conductor's birth on April 5, 2008 with a book telling the story of their 31 year marriage. Revelations in the style of Cécile Sarkozy are not expected from Eliette von Karajan who is seen in my photo trying not to put the maestro's latest toy onto the rocks.

Read about the book in German here, or in a fittingly excruciating Babel Fish translation here. And it gets worse. Deutsche Grammophon are redefining adventurous programming with a 2 CD tie in, see below.
Now read a rather more interesting, and exclusive, story from Herbert von Karajan's past here.


Eliette von Karajan: Mein Leben an seiner Seite. is published by Ullstein, 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

The composer without a shadow?


If you want to start a fascinating thread write about Leonard Bernstein's Mass. Here are some comments from my most recent Mass post:

Movie commented - It's not a dishonest piece and I think it still works today.

I commented - But what are examples of dishonest pieces of music?

Pentimento commented - I'd say much of Strauss's oeuvre is dishonest.

I couldn't live without Metamorphosen, Capriccio or the wind concertos, and one of my most memorable, and disturbing, evenings in the opera house was Hildegard Behrens singing the title role in Salome with Karajan and the Vienna Philharmonic at the 1977 Salzburg Festival. But, despite that, you may be right Pentimento. Which leaves me with only one possible back link - Herbert von Karajan Ein Heldenleben
Sorry I cannot credit the lovely portrait of Richard Strauss (I do hope you meant Richard and not Johann, Pentimento), but I do not know who it is by. It comes from Ferdinand Von Galitzien's blog. Help with attribution much appreciated. 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

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Today's logged-in blogged-out youth


'The global forest fire of revolution in 1968 needed no internet - if anything, it was the antithesis of the sedentary, logged-in, blogged-out world of today's deactivated youth. It was a time of direct communication, between countries and within them, so that throughout the Mexican summer mimeographs worked all night to produce 'wall newspapers' telling of prisoners, police brutality, and proposed further agitation. Slogans were spray-painted on buses, handbills thrown from tower blocks and leaflets placed inside brown bags alongside bread sold by bakeries' - Ed Vulliamy writes in today's Observer in one of a series of excellent articles about the year that rocked the world - 1968.

Related logged-in and blogged-out resources here include:
* Notes of a college revolutionary
* Why aren't we marching in the streets?
* They were demanding jazz and rock and roll
* Karlheinz Sockhausen - part of a dream
* The year is '72
* Oscar Peterson or Karlheinz Stockhausen?
* Music can help change the world
* Music acid and the collapse of Communism

* I am a camera - St Tropez 1967

Header image is the London cast album of Hair, which opened, of course, in New York and London in 1968. 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, January 19, 2008

Early music's high Noone


Early music is more volatile than rock music. Hot new groups keep appearing, new personalities keep emerging, and early music has a dynamism that is noticeably absent from other parts of the classical music scene. One of the hot groups right now is Ensemble Plus Ultra under their director Michael Noone. Born in Sidney, Michael Noone studied at the University of Sydney and King's College, Cambridge, and specialises in Spanish Renaissance music. He is known especially for his work in the archives of El Escorial and the Cathedral of Toledo, and his CD Morales en Toledo featured here back in 2005.

Ensemble Plus Ultra record for the enterprising Spanish Glossa label who are one of the few companies still placing importance on the design and presentation of their CDs. I am playing music from their new disc (beautiful artwork above) of sacred choral music by the 16th century Venetian Gioseffo Zarlino in my Future Radio programme at 5.00pm UK time on Sunday 20th January. Zarlino is best known for his great treatise, Istitutioni harmoniche of 1558, and is little known as a composer. His cycle of motets from the Song of Songs, Canticum Canticorum, uses Isidoro Chiari's 1544 translation. This reflects the aesthetic priorities of the Cassinese Congregation of Benedictines of which Chiari was an abbot. Cassinese churches had polished white interiors, clear windows, and a choir centered under the main dome. Among architects and artists who worked for the Congregation were Palladio and Correggio.

In Sunday's programme Zarlino's motets frame Luigi Dallapiccola's Canti di prigionia. Dallapiccola was born in 1904 and grew up as a supporter of the Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini. But Dallapiccola’s wife was Jewish, and when the Italian government aligned itself with the German Nazis in 1936 he turned against Mussolini, and expressed his opposition in music. His masterpiece is Canti di prigionia which was completed in 1941. This is a hymn to all those who have been imprisoned for their beliefs, and it provides a fascinating companion piece to Zarlino's motet settings from four centuries earlier.

Now read about, and hear, masses of early music on iPods.
Listen on Future Radio at 5.00pm UK time this Sunday, January 13th in real time here (convert to local time zones here). An Overgrown Path podcast will follow. 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 (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Thursday, January 17, 2008

BBC's Weir and wonderful programming.


Yesterday afternoon BBC Radio 3 had three clear hours to programme music Towards Judith Weir. They played Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique complete, they played the (inevitable) Shostakovich Piano Concerto No 2 complete, and they played just the finale of Ligeti's Romanian Concerto. What is wrong with the other three movements of the Ligeti - do they bite listeners?

That's György Ligeti in my photo, and you can read his Private Passions complete and unexpurgated here.
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Swollen orchestral manner and poor taste


'A lengthy, pompous, bourgeois sort of thing; it reflects the complacency and stodginess of the era of the antimacassar and pork-pie bonnets; it is affected by the poor taste and the swollen orchestral manner of the post-romantics' - Olin Downes reviews John Barbirolli's performance of Elgar's Second Symphony with the New York Philharmonic on 23rd March, 1939.

Music critics will always differ. George Bernard Shaw thought Elgar was carrying on Beethoven's business, and leading musicians had some interesting opinions about Elgar's music.
Sorry about the sleeve. This is one of the first CD releases of Boult's last recording of Elgar's masterly E flat symphony. EMI simply took the original LP artwork and ruined it with that logo. James the joiner is prancing around in Italy so the LP sleeve didn't get scanned in.
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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Honey I shrunk the soloist


Youth was the musical 'must have' in 2007. Could marriage be the musical 'must have' in 2008? My favourite Christmas disc this year was Ton Koopman playing Christmas Carols on the baroque Van Peteghem organ in St. Martinuskerk, Haringe, Belgium. Wonderful music from Sweelink, Buxtehude, Bull and Bach, wonderful playing by Koopman on the 1778 organ, with wonderful sound from producer Tini Mathot, who just happens to be Mrs Koopman, and the CD really is a family affair as it is released on Koopman's own Antoine Marchand record label. Tini Mathot is a distinguished keyboard player in her own right, and she is seen above playing alongside her husband. I last heard them together several years ago playing the Art of Fugue on two harpsichords ago in the peerless acoustics of St George's Brandon Hill, Bristol.

Tini Mathot and Ton Koopman are the latest in a distinguished line of couples who have worked together as performers and producers. There are Isabella de Sabata and John Eliot Gardiner at Soli deo Gloria, and Montserrat Figueras and Jordi Savall at Alia Vox (photo below), like Mathot and Koopman both couples work in the early music field, what is it about gut strings? They were preceeded by Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge, and of course Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Walter Legge. Reminders of other husband and wife performer and production teams please. And yes, I know about Joyce Hatto and William Barrington-Coupe, while Carla Bruni and Nicolas Sarkozy don't count, even if the bling-bling President's son is a hip hop producer.


Judging by the number of mentions in recent weeks Belgium is the 'must have' country for 2008. Check out these links, and we are off there next month for John Cage, Morton Feldman et al.
Photo credit Trigonale early music festival. 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, January 15, 2008

Mahler with such human warmth and soul

'A greater triumph awaited [Sir John Barbirolli] in January 1963 when he conducted Mahler's Ninth Symphony. Mahler was not often played in Berlin, and the [Berlin Philharmonic] orchestra frankly confess that they did not particularly like his music - 'but,' said one of the principals, 'Sir John made us love it as much as he did himself and we played it as he wanted.' So well, indeed, that a leading Berlin critic wrote: 'Not since Furtwängler have we heard such human warmth and soul combined with superb musicianship.'

The orchestra themselves asked that Barbirolli should record the symphony with them, the first English conductor to record with the Berlin Philharmonic since Beecham in 1937. During the cold January of 1964 this famous recording was made in the Jesus-Christuskirche, in the suburb of Dahlem' - from Barbirolli, the Authorised Biography by Michael Kennedy.
Sir John Barbirolli's Mahler Nine is currently available in the EMI Great Recordings of the Century Series, and for once the record company hype is more than justified. That Berlin critic really said it all - such human warmth and soul combined with superb musicianship. Barbirolli's account ranks alongside Bruno Maderna's as one of the the greatest performances of the symphony committed to record, and easily overshadows Herbert von Karajan's two later versions with the Berlin orchestra.

It is forgotten today that Karajan's classic EMI recording of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, made in East Germany with the Staatskapelle Dresden, was originally planned for Barbirolli. But in 1968 Rafael Kubelik asked fellow musicians not to conduct in countries which supported the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia. Barbirolli withdrew from the proposed recording, leaving the door open to the opportunist Karajan.

The ghastly sleeve design in the header image is my original 1989 CD copy. Ominously the sound was digitally 're-engineered' in 2002. I haven't heard the result, but I cannot see how the original CD mastering could be improved on, or indeed why it needed 're-engineering'. The recording in Jesus-Christuskirche, Berlin was produced by Ronald Kinloch Anderson, and the sound engineer was Ernst Rothe from the local German EMI company. Glorious sound on my copy, glorious playing, and a glorious interpretation.

Today, Mahler recordings are just another box to be ticked as conductors progress towards superstardom. It was very different in 1964. And there is not much human warmth and soul in EMI these days as new private equity owner Guy Hands prepares to cut up to a third of EMI's 5500 staff. Much has been made in the press of the concerns of EMI's rock artists, but there has been no mention of the priceless classical back-catalogue that is now in the hands of the asset strippers. Snap up Barbirolli's Mahler while you can, and also the new release of Thomas Adès' Violin Concerto before somebody gets their Hands on it.

Too many dead Europeans? Try Glorious John in New York.
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Monday, January 14, 2008

Found - thousands of happy new ears


In only six weeks more than a thousand people have visited the Overgrown Path podcast page on iTunes, and this week James Weeks talking about the music of Elisabeth Lutyens has been added to my David Munrow and Alvin Curran podcasts. Doesn't that level of interest in music from the long tail tell us something?

Elsewhere there has been some good humoured discussion of Angela Hewitt world Bach tour T-shirts, with one defender of the Bach world tour marketing machine writing - 'I think you are missing the point here, which is trying to get new people interested in her, giving her profile in the press and recognition ... every interview, every talk show appearance is promotion.'

Every talk show appearance may be promotion. But all promotion is not good promotion. And promoting serious music to mass markets is a risky business. There are very few examples of large, and loyal, new audiences being created by mass marketing. But there are numerous examples that ended in tears, where mass marketing failed to attract a new audiences, but instead drove away the core audience. The most obvious example is BBC Radio 3, where going mass market has failed to attract Classic FM listeners, but has instead, literally, switched-off the network's core audience and resulted in a net loss of listeners.

New audiences are essential for the health of serious music, but so is being realistic. We live in an age of instant gratification, and today's arts administrators and broadcasters want immediate access to new mass audiences. This is not only unrealistic, it also often achieves the opposite result to that intended. New audiences can be reached, but we need to be less greedy and more adventurous to reach them.

As always on this blog these are my personal views. But they are based on real world experience. Yes, the sample size may be small, but, as I have pointed out before, the samples are larger than the focus groups used by the BBC and others. And before the cynics sniff at a few thousand listeners for David Munrow and Alvin Curran they should remember that it was revealed recently that Rupert Murdoch's new satellite Fox Business Network is attracting an average of only 6,000 daytime viewers.

The new audience for serious music is in the receptive long tail, not in the mass market short head. The long tail of classical music has received much attention recently. But there are many other long tails - for literature, for the visual arts, for the cinema, for techno and electronic music, and others. There is overlap, but there is also a sizeable new audience for serious music waiting in those other long tails. These are people who have been driven away from classical music by BBC TV's Classical Star and Classic FM's music for dinner parties. They see serious music today as being unexciting. They don't want to be talked down to by chummy radio presenters. They want the adventurousness of Boulez in the 1970s at the Round House and Proms in London, and at the Rug Concerts in New York. But, with a few notable exceptions, we are not giving them what they want.

I have talked to some of the new audience that my internet radio programmes and blog have reached. They told me they bought CDs and downloads of music by Guillaume Connesson, Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, Conlon Nancarrow and others after discovering them On An Overgrown Path. These new listeners are well educated, have disposable incomes, are interested in the media, travel extensively, have expensive stereo systems, watch art films, and read contemporary fiction. But they listen to non-classical music because they find it more exciting and challenging. They are the long-tail dwellers, they are a receptive new audience for serious classical music, but we need to be a lot more adventurous to reach them.

Sir Brian McMaster arrives at the same conclusion in his controversial and brave report on funding in the UK arts which was published last week. In the report he recommends 'that cultural organisations stop exploiting the tendency of many audiences to accept a superficial experience and foster a relationship founded on innovative, exciting and challenging work'. Or, as that great arts administrator and BBC Radio 3 controller John Drummond wrote "the arts are as much about controversy as about achievement".

We need to be more adventurous and controversial. We already have the exciting music. We should stop apologising for it.

Image with many thanks to AllPosters.com. 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