Saturday, February 23, 2008

Gone fishing


Well not exactly, but I'm away from the keyboard and off to the fine county that was the birthplace of composer George Lloyd, home to Malcolm Arnold who wrote a set of his English Dances there in the 1960s and the location of the castle that inspired Arnold Bax's Tintagel. Back soon, there may be a delay in uploading comments but keep them coming. In the meantime please support other music blogs here and here and don't forget Elliott Carter and Michael Tippett on Future Radio.

Fishing boat on Aldeburgh beach (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

The composer conducts - badly?


In the summer of 1919 John Barbirolli was a member of the orchestra for Diaghilev's second post-war season of the Russian ballet ... His particular memory of this season, apart from the pleasure of playing in Stravinsky's Firebird and Petrushka, was of Diaghilev's insistence that Manuel de Falla should conduct his own ballet, Tricorne. Despite the composer's protestations that he was not competent to do it, Diaghilev almost dragged him to the pit at rehearsal. After a few bars they reached some cross-rhythms. Falla stopped beating so the orchestra stopped. 'No, no,' he cried, 'you go on.' He was totally unable to conduct the rhythms he had devised - from Barbirolli the authorised biography by Michael Kennedy.

No, my header photo is not Manuel de Falla; it's Michael Tippett conducting in St Louis in 1968. On March 2 I am playing a recording of Tippett conducting his Second Symphony on my Future Radio programme. Composers have rather a chequered history of conducting their own music, and Elgar, Stravinsky and Copland all received varying reviews for performances of their own works. In his autobiography Those Twentieth Century Blues Tippett confesses "But I don't have the real conductor's technical proficiency ... the main hazard I find is that I begin to listen to the playing as a composer and not as a conductor - which means I can lose my objective control of the performance: and I have to train myself not to go that way".

Tippett's Second Symphony is a notoriously difficult work to perform and the first performance in 1958 under Sir Adrian Boult actually broke down when the BBC Symphony Orchestra's string section lost its way in the complex first movement. But despite the difficulties and his own reservations about his conducting technique Tippett's own version, which was made with a somewhat more secure BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1993, has the Beethovenian energy that is manifestly lacking in Richard Hickox's later, and acclaimed, interpretation on Chandos. But, although Tippett's own recording is very fine, it wouldn't be my first choice; that accolade would go to Colin Davis' electrifying 1968 performance which still sounds fantastic on my Philips LP pressing. The timings of the two versions says it all, Tippett 36' 54", Davis 33' 29"

But judge for yourself how the composer conducts at 5.00pm Sunday March 2 UK time on Future Radio, with a transatlantic friendly repeat at 12.50am Monday March 3. The coupling with Tippett's Second Symphony is Arcangelo Corelli Concerto No 8 in G Minor 'Christmas Concerto'. Check the right-hand side-bar for the audio feed.

YouTube offers Tippett conducting The Midsummer Marriage, Stravinsky conducting The Firebird and best of all Elgar conducting the Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1.
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). Listen on Future Radio at 5.00pm every Sunday and 12.50am every Monday UK time 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. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Friday, February 22, 2008

Breaching the great firewall of China


My post identifying music blogs blocked by the Chinese government has caused justified indignation over on Renewable Music, Soho the Dog and elsewhere. But here is how you breach the great firewall of China. Make sure New Music Reblog mirrors your site, because that's not blocked.

Martin Scorsese's 1997 film Kundun, with its Philip Glass score, was a brave and pioneering anti-Chinese government statement. Remember you read it here first.
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

Elliott Carter on Future Radio

From Beyond the Stave reports - Another interesting programme from our near-neighbour On an Overgrown Path on Future Radio, which will be broadcasting a (somewhat early) centenary tribute to Elliott Carter on Sunday February 24th. Once again those wanting to learn more about the 99 year old Mr Carter will be pleased to know that we have a paperback selection of his essays and lectures. Furthermore, in the Autumn we’ll be co-publishing an exciting new volume with the Paul Sacher Stiftung, Elliott Carter: A Tribute in Letters and Documents (exact title still to be announced) edited by Felix Meyer and Anne C Shreffler. More – including an early extract - on what promises to be a stunning volume in later posts. Available – as always – from a loyal band of specialist retailers.

Read more about Paul Sacher 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). Listen on Future Radio at 5.00pm every Sunday and 12.50am every Monday UK time 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. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Thursday, February 21, 2008

John Cage was really happening in Bruges


happening - a gathering of people at which something happens. A party or function where people indulge in activities contrary to the social norm.
~ from John Basset McCleary's
Hippie Dictionary.


If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all ~ John Cage


The first question I ask myself when something doesn't seem to be beautiful is why do I think it's not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason ~ John Cage.


Which is more musical: a truck passing by a factory or a truck passing by a music school?
~ John Cage


As far as consistency of thought goes, I prefer inconsistency ~ John Cage


There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear ~ John Cage


John Cage was really happening in Bruges, Belgium on February 17, 2008 as my photos show. The one above was taken on the margins of available light in the Concertgebouw's main hall during the performance of Cage's 4' 33" and yes, my digital camera was in 'silent' mode. The amplified cactus, which provided a suitably mystical conclusion to the happening, can just be seen to the left front of the musicians. The Concertgebouw was built for the Bruges' tenure as European City of Culture in 2002. The main hall is acoustically adjustable to suit opera or symphonic/choral music and was also used for a performance of Morton Feldman's Rothko Chapel.


My photo above shows the stunning lantaantoren (‘lantern tower’) which is used for chamber music and amplified events. The new Concertgebouw provides a wonderful choice of flexible performing spaces. But, despite the claims of the project consultants Arup Acoustics, the isolation from external noise in the chamber music venue leaves a lot to be desired. But I'm sure John Cage would have approved of the traffic noise in his Hymns and Variations and the marching band in Sonatas and Interludes.


The Cage happening also included music by Earle Brown. Seen in my photos are the musicians who made it happen, Daan Vandewalle piano, Arne Deforce cello, Jean-Marc Montera electric guitar, Chris Cutler percussion, Aimé Lombaert carillon; Cage's Radio Music (photo 2) was performed by students from the Conservatories of Ghent and Bruge. Lunch (photo 5) was 'indeterminacy cooking' with individual menus decided by a random number generation programme. This was a true happening - a gathering at which something happened contrary to the social norm. Other concert planners, broadcasters and record companies please take note.


'I have nothing to say
and I am saying it
and that is poetry
as I needed it'
~ John Cage


All photos (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at tmail dot co dot uk

Feminine music 2


Ewa Strusinska has been appointed assistant conductor of orchestra of the moment, the Hallé in Manchester. Ms Strusińska (above) was born in Poland and studied at the Frederic Chopin Music Academy in Warsaw. She has built her reputation in the mainstream repertoire but has also conducted music by Brett Dean, Einojuhani Rautavaara and Edward Gregson. Because Ms Strusińska is female we are, thankfully, spared her age in the press coverage. But, to maintain equality of the sexes, I can reveal she was born in the year Benjamin Britten died.

Feminine World Music here.
Photo credit Bamberger Symphoniker. 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

Feminine music?


'Feminine music? Try Meredith Monk' - suggests Richard Friedman on From up here you should see the view.

Lots more music from female composers here.
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A composer who rebelled against modernism


Mr. Holland: I doubt that you would enjoy any of the Naxos McKay discs, and I would not waste your time and money on them if I were you. I think you probably would be appalled by all three of them.

However, I bet you might enjoy all three Naxos George Rochberg discs: the Violin Concerto, the Second Symphony and the Fifth Symphony. The Naxos recording of the Rochberg Violin Concerto is the original version, before Isaac Stern imposed severe cuts on the piece.

The Second Symphony is serial, and very, very beautiful. I think you would love it. I am told that George Szell admired the work. The Fifth Symphony is mostly tonal, and also a very strong work. It was written for Solti and Chicago.

I suspect that you would find the three Rochberg discs to be very rewarding, while I think any of the McKay discs would cause you to grind your teeth.


Writes Andrew on my post about puffery and closed-mindedness. Read more about George Rochberg in this tribute headed Composer Who Rebelled Against Modernism which quotes Rochberg as saying he 'experienced mounting disaffection with the New York avant-garde, which dominated intellectual circles in the 1960s. "I ran in to New York as often as I could to hear concerts, and it all sounded gray and dull, by people with vast reputations based on what, I'll never know," he recalled in a 2001 interview.'

As Philip Glass himself said: These were the factors that brought about the rise and fall of 'the twentieth century music' that became so familiar during the century's final decades, because in narrowing the field down to one that was financially supportable, it also narrowed down the musical options.

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, February 20, 2008

From up here you should see the view


Chandos Records has a new blog and it looks rather familiar. Now they need some decent photos and album covers and to work out how hyperlinks work.

Talking of technology Jean-Michel Jarre is performing his 1977 album Oxygene live at the Albert Hall in March and he is using the original Mellotron, string-ensemble Eminents and VCS 3 synthesisers for the gig, not a computer or pre-recorded track in sight. He thinks the analogue sound is better, and he's not the first to say it. Jarre has a classical pedigree, he studied at the Paris Conservatoire and also with the father of musique concrète, Pierre Schaeffer at the Groupe de Recherches Musicales. More in the Independent.

Staying at the Albert Hall Vernon Handley may not yet have his Knighthood, but my sources tell me he has a 2008 BBC Prom after a long absence from the venue. This is the first season for the new Proms director (and BBC Radio 3 controller) Roger Wright after the Michael Ball years of Nicholas Kenyon. At least the new Proms director has got something Wright. Let's hope a mass cull of Radio 3 presenters in next on the agenda.

Nicholas Kenyon achieved notoriety as director when he presented a complete Proms season featuring 106 male composers and not one female. Which brings me to the question of is there such a thing as feminine music? James Weeks neatly sidestepped the question when I talked to him about his acclaimed CD of Elisabeth Lutyens' music (listen to a podcast of the discussion here).

If pressed my wife (and many men I suspect) would confess to preferring Mahler's Fifth Symphony to Stockhausen's Kontakte of Xenakis' Anaktoria, but at least she is open-minded enough to hear all three works live in London on consecutive evenings in a couple of weeks. Now a Guardian article considers whether men and women listen to music differently. The trouble is that the writer excludes classical from her definition of music. Which is a view also held by the government minister responsible for the arts in the UK.

In an Independent interview our new 38 year old Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Andy Burnham gave this reply when asked what is on his iPod? - 'A mixture of indie stuff, old and new: Billy Bragg, the Stone Roses, Hard-Fi, the Wedding Present, the Arctic Monkeys and the Pogues'. At least he didn't misspell Michael Tippett.

It was Lou Harrison versus Michael Tippitt (sic) on Sequenza21 who triggered a fascinating (and continuing debate) on my post about puffery and small-mindedness. But why choose one against the other when you can have both on Future Radio? My programme on Sunday February 24 includes Elliott Carter's Pastoral for Clarinet and Piano and Sonata for Flute, Oboe, Cello and Harpsichord, while the following week (Sunday March 2) you can hear Michael Tippett's Second Symphony conducted by the composer. Full details, including a new transatlantic friendly repeat, on the right-hand sidebar.

I hope you will listen to my Future Radio programme. But also remember those that can't due to incurable sudden neurosensory hearing loss (SNHL). Read about the dreadful experience of music writer Nick Coleman in the Guardian.

More on politicians' musical tastes here and here.
My headline has mellotron connections, it comes from the lyrics of The Moody Blues 1969 album To Our Children's Children's Children which made extensive use of the instrument, and was on my turntable alongside Mahler, Nielsen and Stockhausen at university in its year of release. Photograph of Minnewater Bruges (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The purpose of puffery and closed-mindedness


Two contrasting responses from America to my post Third rate music on Naxos' American classics?

Flinging merde - 'Granted some of the stuff that Naxos has packaged in that series has been less than distinguished but operating in a cultural establishment where critics treat every cow patty ever dropped by the likes of Alwyn (above) and Bax and Finzi and Michael Tippitt (sic) as if it were fois gras, Clements is hardly in a position to fling merde' - from Sequenza21, and I'm sure Norman Lebrecht would approve of that misspelling of Tippett.


The true beauty of the effort - 'Personally speaking I expect listener reaction to concert music is heavily dependent on emotional mood and cultural/historical context . The concept of "ratings" and "tiers" for composers is pretty much an over-rated specialization of critics, which serves the purpose of puffery and closed-mindedness.

My father is the American composer George Frederick McKay (photo below), who liked to say that "if the criticism of a composer's music gets to be really sharp, then he knows he is writing some good pieces." He also once got a big laugh from hearing concert goers in seats in front of him commenting in reverent tones that he was dead.

His music is really like a big layer-cake; in other words, in his young life, he composed jazz-infuenced pieces and romantic songs. Later, his music became more socially aware and radical-- "ultra-modern" toward the end of the 1930's at a time when he mentored John Cage in Seattle both encouraging the younger composer musically and inviting him to the family home for dinner and philosophical discussion.

Following this, my father launched into a loving involvement with American folk-music, and completely cast aside the "opus' system, which he considered a rather crazy European artifact. As to making critics of his music "cringe," he probably would have enjoyed this, since he had a mischievous and rugged nature derived from his upbringing in the West. His music is far from simple, and in many cases has deep religious and philosophical meaning. Much is yet to be revealed, since he composed nearly 1000 various works.


It is doubtful that any of us will ever get to hear high-level performances of all his works, since most conductors are still under the threat of being pummeled by Symphony Society grannies if they get too far afield from the standard concert fare. We have a commercial radio station in Seattle that broadcasts a full month of Mozart works, with one Mozart piece every hour, which gives me the urge to say "give me a break, guys!" Also noted is the absolute repetition of Vivaldi's Four Seasons by glamour-puss groups of all stripes.

So with this rather subjective outburst, I have implicated myself forever as an indivdually thinking patriotic, and maybe not so clever commentor. I should add that, although I loved Mozart's music in context to the movie "Amadeus," he never will or would have the chance to equal the magic of George Frederick McKay's interpretation of Native American themes that most likely stretch back 10,000 years in human history.

This is the true beauty of the effort John McLaughlin Williams has made to create wonderful recordings of the legendary music of America, that many have forgotten. My father's initiative in his mature years was to merge his music with the natural music of his homeland and speak of international peace'
- comment from Fred McKay on my Naxos American Classics post.

Any American readers who still think Michael Tippett is an English pastoralist should listen to my Future Radio programme on March 2 when I will be playing Tippett conducting his own Second Symphony; while this Tippett post with its world view brings this path full circle.
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, February 18, 2008

Short ride in a fast machine


'Question is - what's more environmentally friendly - going to an independent store, by anything else than on foot, or ordering a CD online?' - asked the irrepressible violainvilnius in a comment on a recent post. I don't know the answer, but we've just arrived back from Belgium with a bunch of CDs bought from an independent dealer and managed to travel by walking, a bicycle, train, bus and just one short taxi ride on the whole trip. The main part of the journey was by Eurostar train which now leaves London from the splendidly restored St Pancras station, seen in my photo above, and stops at Lille before arriving in Brussels just one hour and fifty three minutes later. It may not be environmentally perfect, but it's a step in the right direction.

Now playing - MGV (Musique à Grand Vitesse) by Michael Nyman. This 27 minute orchestral work was commissioned by the Festival du Lille for the inaugaration of the TGV North-European line which we travelled on to Brussels. The first performance was by the Michael Nyman Band and the Orchestre National de Lille under Jean-Claude Casadesus in Lille in 1993.

There is a surprising amount of classical music inspired by trains, with Arthur Honegger's Pacific 231, Heitor Villa-Lobos' Little Train of Caipira and Steve Reich's Different Trains among the best known examples. But my favourite is a little more obscure. In 1983 the composer and director of music at Ely Cathedral Arthur Wills was asked to write a work in aid of the Ely Cathedral Restoration Appeal. The result was the choral work The Spiritual Railway which sets words taken from a memorial slab in the grounds of the Cathedral commemorating a railway worker killed on the track near Ely. The Spiritual Railway was given its first performance on Platform 10 of London's Liverpool Street Station, the terminus for the Ely train.

Now take the train to the Music and Railways website which not only includes The Spiritual Railway but also manages to find railway connections in Bruckner's Fourth Symphony and Dvorak's Serenade for Wind Instruments! Which only leaves me to ask how green was your concert?
Photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2007. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Following a new overgrown path


I've been let out of the Cage for a few days. Back soon, meanwhile support other music blogs here and here and follow the path here.
Photo taken outside my study window a couple of weeks ago (c) On An Overgrown Path. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Is this a record?


CDs just seem to get shorter. After 48 minutes from the Kronos Quartet yesterday comes a new Deutsche Grammophon full price release today of Mikhail Pletnev playing Beethoven's Fifth Piano Concerto which lasts for 38 minutes. But neither match the Wergo CD of Stockhausen's Kontakte I wrote about here which plays for just 34 minutes 56 seconds. Is that a record? Or is it an MP3 file?

More music and mathematics here.
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The complete works on Future Radio


Ralph Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis is one of his best known works, and Tudor church music was a major influence on the composer. During 2008 I am playing all the Vaughan Williams symphonies on my Future Radio programme, and this Sunday (Feb 17) it is the turn of the Eighth Symphony. This for many, including me, is one of his finest works, and it certainly destroys the myth of the composer as a backward looking English pastoralist, with its scoring for vibraphone, xylophone, tubular bells, glockenspiel and three tuned gongs.

I'm coupling all the Vaughan Williams Symphonies with choral music from Thomas Tallis. This will be taken from the splendid new 10CD box of Tallis' complete works at bargain price from Brilliant Classics sung by the Chapelle du Roi directed by Alistair Dixon. Tallis also composed a number of instrumental works which are included in the box. They are not of the same peerless quality as his choral works, but are, nevertheless well worth hearing. I paid £30 for the boxed set (texts included on CD-ROM) from an independent record store, but they are available cheaper online. Which rather captures the current lunacy of the classical music industry. The last of the ten Tallis CDs was recorded by Signum in 2004, and they were selling individually last year for £15.

Cue columns of plainsong soaring upwards.
Listen on Future Radio at 5.00pm every Sunday and 12.50am every Monday UK time 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. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Monday, February 11, 2008

Music behind the great firewall of China


In that classic 1968 film The Graduate Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) is given some of the most famous advice in cinema history:

Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you - just one word.
Ben: Yes sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Ben: Yes I am.
Mr. McGuire: 'Plastics.'
Ben: Exactly how do you mean?
Mr. McGuire: There's a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?
Ben: Yes I will.
Mr. McGuire: Shh! Enough said. That's a deal.


Right now that conversation is being repeated with a slight twist:

Agent: I just want to say one word to you - just one word.
Musician: Yes sir.
Agent: Are you listening?
Musician: Yes I am.
Agent: 'China'
...

Orchestras are listening, composers from Gustav Mahler to Damon Albarn have been listening for years, Google are listening, and even Jordi Savall is listening. I'm quite sure Terry Riley and the Kronos Quartet don't need to listen to their agent, but their latest CD is on-message anyway. The Cusp of Magic (sleeve below) features Wu Man playing a Chinese relative of the lute called the pipa, an instrument which first appeared during the Quin dynasty (220BC-206BC) at the time the earliest sections of the Great Wall were built. Wu Man was born in Hangzhou in the Yangtze Delta in China and studied at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, where she became the first recipient of a master's degree in pipa.

Wu Man has a deservedly high profile on the world music scene, and her fans include Bill Clinton and Philip Glass. It was Philip Glass who once said that world music is the new classical, and who also provided the soundtrack for one of the most powerful criticisms of Chinese human rights abuse in recent years. Wu Man now lives in San Diego and she appeared at the opening of the 2007 Special Olympics in Shanghai together with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan. There are clearly some admirable things happening with classical music in China and Wu Man's advocacy of the country's musical heritage is very welcome.

But at this point politics and music collide. The article that you are currently reading about Wu Man's new CD is not available to internet users in either Beijing where she studied, or in Shanghai where she played at the Special Olympics last year. The results below from a test on WebSitePulse show the domain http://www.overgrownpath.com/
is blocked by the the government controlled great firewall of China in both cities, as is The Rest is Noise, although both blogs are available in Hong Kong (which has special administrative region status and is where my header photo comes from). But Wu Man's own website is available across the whole of China, together with the Kronos Quartet's and arbritrarily Sequenza21.


But this is a music website isn't it? So back to the music and The Cusp of Magic. The pipa is not the only unfamiliar sound in the mix and a synthesizer, peyote rattle and numerous childrens toys add to a work that defies categorisation. The Cusp of Magic was commissioned by the Kronos Quartet to mark Terry Riley's 70th birthday and it contains some beautiful writing and some startling ideas. But it is very different to Riley's early signature compositions such as In C and the episodic nature of the material does make the bigger picture difficult to see at times. If the technique isn't exactly minimalist the CD is, with less than 43 minutes of music on a full price release. Like the huge country behind the great firewall you can't ignore The Cusp of Magic. But also just like China it is more mystery than magic.


Now, I just want to say one other word to you which the great firewall of China won't like - Tibet.
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New music is Europe's hot ticket


The all day John Cage Happening in Bruge, Belgium this Sunday (Feb 17) is a complete sell-out. On An Overgrown Path will be there and also at Morton Feldman's Rothko Chapel two days before. Adventurous programming and new music is certainly pulling in the European audiences, and the next hot ticket looks to be the happening previewed below, and we will be there as well:

spnm’s experimental music night The Sound Source returns to Kilburn’s Luminaire (see footer photo) on 12 March with an unusual and creative response to the work of Karlheinz Stockhausen. Headlining the event are Belgian pianist Daan Vandewalle, who will perform Klavierstücke I-IV, and drummer and percussionist Chris Cutler, who will join him for a version of Kontakte. Electronic artist Scanner completes the line-up with some Stockhausen-inspired works. Rounding off the evening, the three will team up to perform a newly commissioned tribute to one of Stockhausen’s hidden gems, Stockhoven/Beethausen.

The event begins with an Open Source slot, in association with Music Orbit, offering emerging British artists the chance to showcase their work. A CD of the results will be given to audience members at the end of the night.

Chris Cutler is an English percussionist, composer, lyricist and music theorist. After working in the ‘70s with English avant-garde rock group Henry Cow, he founded Art Bears, News from Babel and Cassiber, and joined the American band Pere Ubu. In addition to special projects for stage, theatre, film and radio he still works consistently with Fred Frith, Zeena Parkins, Jon Rose, Tim Hodgkinson, David Thomas, Peter Blegvad, Daevid Allen, Hugh Hopper, Daan Vandewalle and Stevan Tickmayer and has toured the world as a soloist with his extended electrified kit. Other recent projects include Out of the Blue Radio - a daily year-long soundscape project for Resonance FM and p53 for Orchestra.

Belgian pianist Daan Vandewalle enjoys an international reputation as a new music specialist, with a strong focus on 20th century American piano music. He studied at the Conservatory of Ghent, Belgium with Claude Coppens and at Mills College, California with Alvin Curran. His recitals and projects have become increasingly more diverse and challenging, and his programmes are often highly unusual, both on a technical and intellectual level, often combining the classical repertoire with premieres of new works written especially for him e.g. Frith, Newman, Curran, Rzewski. As an improviser he has collaborated widely with David Moss, Fred Frith, Han Bennink, Chris Cutler and Tom Cora amongst others.

British artist Robin Rimbaud, aka Scanner (see header photo), traverses the experimental terrain between sound, space, image and form, creating absorbing, multi-layered sound pieces that twist technology in unconventional ways. From his early controversial work using found mobile phone conversations, through to his focus on trawling the hidden noise of the modern metropolis as the symbol of the place where hidden meanings and missed contacts emerge, his restless explorations of the experimental terrain have won him international admiration from amongst others, Bjork, Aphex Twin and Stockhausen. Scanner has collaborated with artists from every imaginable genre, including Bryan Ferry, Radiohead, The Royal Ballet, Merce Cunningham, Michael Nyman and Luc Ferrari.


Read about other 'hot ticket' new music festivals here and here.
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Sunday, February 10, 2008

On the path of Kurt Atterberg


Interesting post (and audio sample) on the Swedish composer Kurt Magnus Atterberg (1887-1974), seen in my header photo, from a Harvard student, musician and broadcaster and blogger.

More on those WHRB orgies here, follow my Danish thread 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

Is live classical music price elastic?


Amid all the debate about the benefits of free recorded music shouldn't we be asking if live music has the same price elasticity? Would cutting the cost of concert tickets attract new listeners and boost audiences?

One case study suggests it would. I have already written here about the success achieved by Aldeburgh Music in building audiences for adventurous repertoire. Aldeburgh has an established policy of half-price tickets for anyone under 27, no other qualification such as student status are required although Aldeburgh also runs its own student card.

Extending discounts beyond students is a smart move. Student concessions have an image of uncomfortable seats way up in the 'gods'. There are a lot of high disposable income under 27s who are not students and who haven't yet 'got' classical music. They buy designer brands, drive nice cars, and leverage price elasticity through websites such as Lastminute.com. They want decent seats at a concert, and if they like the experience they will return. They are from the other long tails I wrote about recently, and they are an untapped new market for live classical music.

The half-price concessions at the 2008 Aldeburgh Festival translate to £11 for a top seat for Yannis Kyriakides' new opera, and just £5 for either Stimmung or for the Faster Than Sound experimental music event. Judging by the attendances and age range at Snape it works, and Aldeburgh Music will be extending the scheme in the near future to strengthen their links with younger audiences.

Of course there is a cost in any price reduction. But a lot of money is being thrown at more fashionable and less effective schemes aimed at attracting younger audiences. These include advertising with 'attitude', e-cards, Second Life gigs, commissioning concertos for tap dancers and promoting music for babies, not to mention signing wunderkind.

I suspect the problem is that simple old-fashioned price reductions don't earn fees for the many advertising agencies, artists' agents, marketing consultants, digital production agencies and other middle-men who feed off classical music today. But if live music really is price elastic the simple solution may be the most effective.

Stimmung for a fiver is a no-brainer (which would have been my headline if it wasn't a no-no for the search engines). But now read about a Stockhausen concert where ticket prices were a problem.
Image credit is appropriately from The Future of Classical Music - BBC. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Friday, February 08, 2008

John Cage in words and music


From Beyond the Stave - Cage on Future Radio.

A few miles up the road from Boydell’s Suffolk office is the home of the stimulating and often outspoken blog, On an Overgrown Path. The associated Future Radio broadcast this coming Sunday (February 10th, repeated on Monday) will feature the music of John Cage. Anyone coming away from this programme with an appetite for more should investigate Peter Dickinson’s recent book of interviews with and about the composer, CageTalk, described as “a valuable and enjoyable read” by BBC Music Magazine and an “ideal introduction to Cage” by the venerable Times Literary Supplement. Available, as they say, from all good booksellers, some of whom may be found here.


My photo shows John Cage to students of Oberlin College, March 1973 (photo credit: Narrye Caldwell) and is linked from this excellent resource. More on John Cage here.
Future Radio feed on right-hand side-bar. Audio fAny 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

Meanwhile back at Choral Evensong


A year ago there was quite an outcry when BBC Radio 3 controller Roger Wright announced an 'improvement' to the network's schedules which involved moving the weekly live broadcast of Choral Evensong from Wednesdays to Sundays.

Roger Wright has just announced another 'improvement' to the schedules. Choral Evensong is being moved back to Wednesdays.

More Choral Evensong fun and games here.
Header image is of Norwich Cathedral Choir. 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

Youth is when you fly economy class

Naxos, which pioneered discs for a fiver, counts every penny. Five-star treatment is a rarity. "In our company, even with conductors, it goes by age. Below 50, you travel economy; above 50, you travel business class; above 60, you can travel first class. That's the way it has to be" -
says Naxos founder Klaus Heymann in an interview in today's Guardian. My photo shows a sub-50 Kyung-Wha Chung and André Previn on a tour flight. But when your net worth reaches £190 million you travel in your own jet.
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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Some of the best cover art ever


'Some of the best cover art ever was on the EMI Reflexe series' - said David Cavlovic. I'll second that David, and what a fabulous series Gerd Berg's Reflexe was from EMI Electrola in Germany in the 1970s. There were LPs from Thomas Binkley and his Studio der Frühen Musik (cover art above), The Hilliard Ensemble, Hans-Martin Linde and his Linde-Consort, Michel Piguet and the Ricercare-Ensemble für alte Musik, Zurich and, of course, Jordi Savall and his Hespèrion XX Ensemble with their early recordings. More history of the Reflexe series here.

As I have said before, a picture is worth a thousand words.
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

Harmonia muddle


BBC Radio 3's CD Review programme has been on a jolly to Arles in the South of France. The event was French label Harmonia Mundi's 50th anniversary sales conference, and payback time came last Saturday when the BBC programme played the contents of the conference goody bag and gave several senior French executives a lot of valuable airtime to promote the Harmonia Mundi solution for today's turbulent classical music market.

In simple terms the Harmonia Mundi solution is internet bad and independent sector good. Now I am a huge fan of both Harmonia Mundi recordings and independent record stores and feature both here frequently. The header photo of the excellent Harmonia Mundi store in Avignon was taken by me last September and I have spent an awful lot of Euros in their French stores over the years. So congratulations to Harmonia Mundi on fifty wonderful years, and it's great to find such solid support for independent bricks and mortar stores. But just a minute, look at this ...


Open this link. You will see that Harmonia Mundi are trading on the internet as part of the Amazon Marketplace. You can buy Stockhausen's Kontakte on Wergo (a Harmonia Mundi distributed label) online direct from Harmonia Mundi for £10.73 delivered in the UK which is competitive with the price in leading independent record store (see comment from Harmonia Mundi below). And you don't even need to visit Amazon, just buy from Harmonia Mundi's own online store.

To find out what was really happening I ordered Kontakte direct from Harmonia Mundi. My copy arrived in 48 hours, which is faster than I could have got it from an independent store, and it even came with the business card of John Falla, Harmonia Mund's direct sales manager. Great service; but why are Harmonia Mundi cutting out the very independents they claim to support? Could it be that their private view on the future of the independent bricks and mortar sector differs from their public position?

Harmonia Mundi make great CDs, and you cannot blame them for running with the hare and the hounds in today's turbulent music market. But they are going about it in a muddle-headed way. A top independent record store I spoke to before running this story didn't know about their Amazon Marketplace presence, and, not surprisingly, was very unhappy when I told them. And it's a pity that BBC Radio 3 swallowed Harmonia Mundi's bait hook, line and sinker without doing any research. But then the bouillabaisse in the South of France is very good indeed.

Now here is a contemporary composer saying independent record labels never failed me yet.
Header photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2007. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Cleaning the ears of the musically educated


It was, as I remember, through Jean [Erdman} - who is to dancing what Vivaldi was to music - that we met the other member of the party, composer John Cage, who had then become interested in the relationship of music to Zen and was beginning to explore the melodies of silence. My principal tie with John was that we had the same kind of humour, for he would simply bubble with laughter whenever describing his latest plans for musical outrage, such as a very formal piano recital in full evening dress, complete with an assistant to turn the pages, in which, however, the score consisted entirely of rests.

The joke wasn't merely that he was getting away with murder in the hopelessly deranged world of avant-garde music, so as to constitute the master charlatan of all, but that beyond all this and to make matters still funnier, he had also discovered and wanted to share the meditation process of listening to silence. This is simply to close your eyes and allow your ears to resonate with whatever sounds may be happening spontaneously, making no attempt to name or identify them, just as when one listens to formal music. After a while one hears the sounds emerging, without cause or origin, from the emptiness of silence, and so becomes witness to the beginning of the universe.

John slept that night on a divan in the living room, where we kept a hamster in a cage furnished with a vicous wheel, or bhavachakra, wherein the benighted creature could run forever without getting anywhere. This particular wheel squeaked abonimably as the hamster ran, so I told John to put the cage out in the passage if it bothered him. "Oh, not at all!" he said. "It's the most fascinating sound, and I shall use it as a lullaby."

What may not be generally understood about John is that he is an extremely accomplished musician who has, however, realized that we do not know how to listen. Conventional music, as well as conventional speech, have given us prejudiced ears, so that we treat all utterances which do not follow their rules as static, or insignificant noise. There was a time when painters, and people in general, saw landscape as visual static - mere background. John is calling our attention to sonic landscape, or soundscape, which simultaneously involves a project for cleaning the ears of the musically educated public.

As painters once framed "mere" landscape, John is using the ritual of the concert hall to frame silence and spontaneous sound, which we shall in due course find as beautiful as sky, hills, and forests. Imagine, then, the sonic equivalent of those places in national parks usually called Inspiration Point where tourists from Kansas exclaim at the view, "Oh, it's just like a picture!" Buddhahood is the state in which all sensory input is viewed in this way.


Priceless 'John Cage for dummies' from Alan Watts' autobiography, which has recently been republished by New World Library, Novato, California. Alan Watts, who is seen in my header photo, was born in England in 1915. He met the Zen scholar D.T. Suzuki at an early age, and moved to America where he became an Episcopal minister.

After leaving the church Alan Watts wrote more than twenty books on Zen Buddhism, and his teachings were one of the triggers for "beat Zen" in the late 1950s which saw expression in Jack Kerouac's novel Dharma Bums, Franz Kline's black and white abstractions and John Cage's compositions. In the 1960s Watts was considered by many to be a counterculture 'guru', and his circle included Timothy Leary, Aldous Huxley and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass). Watts was also an early environmentalist, and he died at his mountain retreat near Muir Woods, California in 1973.

Buddhism has been an important influence on many other modern composers including Philip Glass and Lou Harrison in the States, and Edmund Rubbra, John Palmer and Jonathan Harvey in England. In My Own Way is the compelling story of one man's pursuit of the Buddhist way, and the impact that his teachings had on many other important twentieth-century figures. Highly recommended, together with the Asian Journals of the Catholic mystic Thomas Merton.

* I am sure my readers' ears do not need cleaning, but this Sunday (Feb 10) you can hear John Cage's Concerto for Prepared Piano and Chamber Orchestra on my Future Radio programme at 5.00pm on Feb 10 and 12.50am Feb 11 framed by Canzoni by the 17th century Italian composer Girolamo Frescobaldi.


Now read about Zen and the art of new music.
Alan Watts website here. Listen on Future Radio at 5.00pm UK time this Sunday, Feb 10 and 1.00am Monday Feb 11 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. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Gruppen for the facts


We all knew it was true. But here is forensic confirmation.
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How to conduct yourself


Ambitious conductors start here. There are some excellent tips in Tim Ashley's Guardian profile of Vasily Petrenko on what it takes today to become principal conductor of an orchestra. Here are some of the buzzwords from the lavish double-page spread - "big, blond, handsome ... age of 30 ... youngish fashionable crowd ... easy on the eye and a balletic mover on the podium ... wowing everyone ... Russian bombshell ... striking determination". And yes, contemporary music is mentioned. In the penultimate paragraph.

But, unlike On An Overgrown Path, the anti-Iraq war Guardian doesn't mention that ambitious young conductors also need to strut their stuff for Condoleezza Rice as well as on Second Life.
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Monday, February 04, 2008

Third rate music on Naxos' American Classics?


I'll be interested in American readers' reactions to the start of this review by the Guardian's Andrew Clements - 'Considering how much third-rate music has been included in Naxos's American Classics series, Elliott Carter has so far been poorly served by the budget-price label. But in the year of the composer's 100th birthday, this - the first of two discs that will include all five of Carter's string quartets - could be the start of a major addition to his discography.'

Andrew Clements then goes on to write a glowing five-star review of Naxos' new CD of Elliott Carter's String Quartets Nos 1 and 5 performed by the Pacifica Quartet. I'll agree whole-heartedly with his verdict on the Carter Quartets, I bought them last week and they are superb performances of superb music. But I am not so sure about his other views.


That judgement of 'third-rate music' raises the interesting point of should a critic focus primarily on the interpretation or the composition? Good music criticism must, of course, combine both. But the balance does seem to be swinging towards judging the notes rather than the way they are played - is that really a healthy trend? Even if some of the music on Naxos American Classics is less than stellar, isn't it better to record that rather than the 371st version of Mahler's Fifth Symphony?

I'll gladly defend Andrew Clements', or anybody else's, right to express an opinion. But these negative attitudes are spreading, and voodoo journalism is alive and well despite despite Klaus Heymann. Perhaps we should all remember the words of that fine contemporary composer Jonathan Harvey - 'I've always felt that it is, and will be, strong enthusiasm that will change the world!'

* On February 24th on my Future Radio programme I'll be expressing strong enthusiasm for Elliott Carter's Sonata for Flute, Oboe, Cello and Harpsichord and Pastoral for Clarinet and Piano in recordings from the independent American label Cedille together with transcriptions of Bach's Trio Sonatas by Robert King.
With thanks to Antoine Leboyer who raised the notes or interpretation debate with me in the context of his review of a recording of Morton Feldman's 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

F stands for ....


Falla, Farnaby, Fauré, Feldman, Finzi, Frankel, Frank, Froberger, Frescobaldi and more. But don't file between Boulez and Boyce.
Photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Sunday, February 03, 2008

An Overgrown Path just got longer


Due largely to requests from transatlantic listeners Future Radio's new schedule includes a repeat of my Overgrown Path programme at 12.50am UK time on Monday mornings. This translates approximately to Sunday afternoon and evening on the North American East and West Coasts, find the exact time locally here and connect to the audio stream here.

The repeats start today (Feb 3) with a programme of early and contemporary music from the Santiago Pilgrimage. Do catch the excerpts from Jody Talbot's new Path of Miracles if you can, they are well worth hearing. More details here.

It may be a small step, but this repeat is recognition that classical music is far from dead, and that adventuous programming produces results. Thank you Overgrown Path readers and listeners for making this possible.

Overgrown Path forward programme schedule - all works are played complete:
* Feb 10 - John Cage Concerto for Prepared Piano and Chamber Orchestra and Frescobaldi Canzoni
* Feb 17 - Vaughan Willimas Symphony No 8 (part of a cycle of all his symphonies in 2008) and Thomas Tallis' choral music
* Feb 24 - Elliott Carter Pastoral for Clarinet and Piano and Sonata for Flute, Oboe, Cello and Harpsichord, and J.S. Bach Trio Sonatas transcribed by Robert King
* March 2 - Michael Tippett Second Symphony (composer conducting) and Corelli Concerti Grossi No 8, 'Christmas Concerto'
* March 9 - Lou Harrison Concerto for Violin with Percussion Orchestra (new recording) and early music from the eastern Sephardic communities, plus a Ghanaian circumcision dance!

* March 16 - Angela Hewitt plays Messiaen and Bach.

Listen on Future Radio at 5.00pm every Sunday and 12.50am every Monday UK time 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. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Live the dream at Snape Maltings


Fancy a duplex in the middle of beautiful countryside, yet across the road from one of the world's finest concert halls? Well fancy no more. You can live the dream at Snape Maltings.

I have already written about the inspirational new creative campus at Snape that builds on the artistic vision of Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. As part of this redevelopment some of the redundant Maltings buildings are being converted into residential properties. In my header visual the concert hall is on the left, the new creative campus in the center, and the new properties are on the right. Below are two visualisations of the properties.


The first eighteen properties went on sale off plan late last year. As I write just three are still available. They are all two bedroom duplexes. The cheapest is £425,000 (US$875,000), the most expensive is £550,000 (US$1.13million). This is for a property with one parking space and a six mile drive to the nearest shops and railway station. Jet set conductors and other wealthy readers can find more details of the properties here.


Now playing - Benjamin Britten's The Building of the House op. 79 with Simon Rattle conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. The 1967 Aldeburgh Festival opened with a visit from Queen Elizabeth and a concert in the new Snape Maltings Concert Hall which included this overture, composed to celebrate the ‘building of the house’. The music is as lively as the wonderful acoustics in which it was first performed. The version performed in 1967 was for chorus and used an English text of Psalm 127 adapted by Imogen Holst, but there are alternative versions which omit the chorus.

Now read how about the rebuilding of the house.
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