Monday, March 31, 2008

The world's largest prison for journalists


Nice picture of the new head office for Chinese Central Television (CCTV) elsewhere. Read more about television and the media in China, not from me but from the BBC:

'With more than one billion viewers, television is a popular source for news and the sector is competitive, especially in urban areas. China is also becoming a major market for pay-TV; it is forecast to have 128 million subscribers by 2010. State-run Chinese Central TV, provincial and municipal stations offer a total of around 2,100 channels.

The availability of non-domestic TV is limited. Agreements are in place which allow selected channels - including stations run by AOL Time Warner, News Corp and the Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV - to transmit via cable in Guangdong province. In exchange, Chinese Central TV's English-language network is made available to satellite TV viewers in the US and UK.

Beijing says it will only allow relays of foreign broadcasts which do not threaten "national security" or "political stability". Of late, it has been reining in the activities and investments of foreign media groups. The media regulator - the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television - has warned local stations that foreign-made TV programmes must be approved before broadcast.

The internet scene in China is thriving, though controlled. Beijing routinely blocks access to sites run by the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong, rights groups and some foreign news organisations. It has moved to curb postings by a small but growing number of bloggers.

An international group of academics concluded in 2005 that China has "the most extensive and effective legal and technological systems for internet censorship and surveillance in the world".

The media rights group Reporters Without Borders describes the country as the world's "largest prison for journalists".'


And yes, it even affects music blogs.
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It's good news week for contemporary music


To start the week two excellent reasons why this new release of Peter Maxwell Davies' chamber music is good news. First, it's great music passionately played by the chamber ensemble Gemini and vividly recorded in the slightly dry acoustics of Studio 1 at the Department of Sound & Recording at the University of Surrey. (The department is very highly rated and has offered a tonmeister course for many years). The main work on the CD is Ave Maris Stella from 1975 which lasts for almost 30 minutes. This is classic early Max, writing before he was seduced by the plush sounds of the symphony orchestra and string quartet. Strange isn't it how composers like Maxwell Davies and Ralph Vaughan Williams produce some of their best works on religous themes yet are non-believers? Worth the purchase price alone is Dove, Star Folded from 2001 which, unusually for Max, is based on a Greek Byzantine hymn; John Tavener had better look out.

The second reason why this CD is good news is that it comes from the Metier label which has been aquired by the enterprising small Divine Art Record Company (who have nothing at all to do with Falun Gong ). Metier have a back catalogue well worth exploring, Michael Finnisy Music for String Quartet, Roberto Gerhard String Quartets and Morton Feldman and Christopher Fox's Clarinet and String Quartet are just some of the riches while Divine Art has a future release of piano sonatas from Elliott Carter, Miklos Rosza, Charles Ives and Edward MacDowell.

And talking of Peter Maxwell Davies I'm playing his Missa Parvula on Future Radio on April 20 in a coupling with Edmund Rubbra's Symphony No. 6, which let's me give a heads-up to Dutton's excellent new recordings of Rubbra's chamber music. And it also means I can share some more good news. Future Radio's station manager told me today that the Overgrown Path programme page gets more hits than any other page on their website except for the schedule and webcam pages. That's more hits than the rock, hip-hop, electro and other programme pages. It must be all that Vaughan Williams I'm playing ... And more good news for the small guys/girls, leading independent record store Prelude Records in Norwich was packed on Saturday , the busiest I've ever seen. Is the tide turning away from the internet?

It's good news week, which is why music is good for you..
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Sunday, March 30, 2008

New music ticks outside the box


'Box-ticking' gets short measure in an enterprising concert of new music from Germany and England at The Warehouse, London SE1 on April 10th with the Uroboros Ensemble conducted by Gwyn Pritchard. Here is the programme:

from Germany
Peter Helmut Lang - Dominoeffekt **
Karl-Heinz Wahren - A capricious and romantic meeting **
Johannes K. Hildebrandt - Bruchstück II *
Lothar Voigtländer - Salmo Salmonis *

from Britain
Ross Lorraine - end piece **
James Weeks - The Catford Harmony **
Gwyn Pritchard - Ensemble Music for Six
Joe Cutler - Three Quiet Pieces

** = World première * = UK première

It's an adventurous programme that's refreshingly free of the 'box-ticking' that sanitises so much programming today. And it's not just classical music that suffers from the 'little boxes synodrome'. Here is a thought-provoking extract from a Guardian article about art commissions.

'Today it was announced that Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster will be the ninth artist in the Unilever series of new installations for the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall. Once again you can see the commission ticking boxes.

Free from macho tendencies? Tick. French artist Gonzalez-Foerster makes melancholy films that passively observe city life. Her art is consciously slight and the character she adopts is that of the "flaneur", the artist as sophisticated urban observer, an idea invented by the 19th-century poet and critic Charles Baudelaire. In other words there is no chance of her filling the Turbine Hall with, say, a massive slab of steel. Her contribution will, like those previous classics the crack and the slides, reject grandiosity in favour of the witty and ephemeral. That's a relief - I was scared they might commission a colossal statue of George Bush. But then again Foerster is also ...

Free from north-American tendencies - another box ticked. Apart from Bruce Nauman who's a sort of honorary non-American, the Turbine Hall commissioners strikingly avoid inviting some rather obvious US candidates. It is precisely in the US that artists tend to work naturally, and brilliantly on this scale - but we have to wait a bit longer, it seems, to see a torqued steel creation by Richard Serra in Tate Modern, or a Jeff Koons inflated toy, or a Claes Oldenburg penknife. "Americanness" seems to be one of the vices the series strains to avoid, perhaps in the curators' minds being a synonym for masculine arrogance.

Free from bad taste - tick. The appeal of the slight, Baudelairean gesture, and the minimal aesthetic, is that it is remarkably tasteful. The kind of art that gets selected for Tate Modern is guaranteed not to make you feel daft or silly for liking it - for all its modernity this art has a decorous style. In other words, it will not give critics anything to mock or audiences anything to be embarrassed by.

In the 1960s the French artist Nikki de St Phalle created a giant recumbent woman for an art museum, with a door between her legs. You can guarantee you will never see that in the Turbine Hall. Nor will you see the bad taste genius of Damien Hirst on display here - that would be ... so vulgar.'


Now read about how Benjamin Britten helped a composer closely associated with little boxes.
Header photo image is Jeff Koons' Lips, photo by David Heald from the Guggenheim Museum. 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, March 29, 2008

Favourite stoned listening


'Favourite stoned listening included electronic music by Luciano Berio; the IBM computer singing 'Daisy, Daisy'; John Cage's Indeterminacy - some stories were longer than others, but he read each one in two minutes, some speeded up, others very slowly; a two-volume Folkways recording of a Japanese Zen ceremony - on one track a bell rang once a minute, and it was always great when it finally rang; and lots of the latest squeals and shrieks from the ghetto: Albert Ayler's Bells and Spirits Awake; Ran Blake; Pharoah Sanders; Sun Ra and his Solar Arkestra (photo above); Eric Dolphy's honking bird imitations; Free Jazz by the Ornette Coleman Double Quartet: two reeds, two bassists, two drummers, two trumpets, thirty-eight minutes of spontaneous collective improvisation with no preconceptions'- Barry Miles recalls stoned listening with Paul McCartney in the out-of-print but not out-of-mind In the Sixties.
Now playing - The Brad Mehldau Trio's take on Nick Drake's River Man from Art of the Trio, Volume 5. Nick was no stranger to stoned listening, more here. The book actually misspells Pharoah Sanders by adding a 'u' to his surname and also says Ron not Ran Blake, I've corrected the errors in the quote. 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, March 28, 2008

Carla Bruni's musical connections


French first lady Carla Bruni has some interesting classical music connections. Her mother Marisa Borini is an actress and classical pianist who is reported to have had an affair with Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. Depending on your sources Bruni's biological father is Maurizio Remmert, an Italian businessman who now lives in Brazil Marisa or Marisa Borini's husband, the contemporary composer Alberto Bruni Tedeschi seen in my header photo. Alberto Bruni Tedeschi's distinctions included writing four operas and having one of them filmed with a cast including Charles Aznavour, his own daughter Valeria Bruni and Isabel von Karajan, the daughter of the conductor.

President Sarkozy seems to appreciate ladies with musical connections. His divorced second wife, Cécilia Ciganer-Albéniz, is the great grand-daughter of Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz. Which, interestingly, means the families of both the President's second and third wives are of Sephardic descent.

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Inside the musical avant-garde


Britain is having a love affair with all things French. As well as hosting the current state visit by President Sarkozy and his new wife we have the first IRCAM academy in the UK in April. Is it a sign of these devolved times that the event is not in London, but is being hosted by the BBCSSO and led by Jonathan Harvey in Glasgow on April 7-12? Or is it because, as I've said here before, the BBCSO is on a roll? Read more in today's Guardian, including the inside track by Jonathan Harvey on new IRCAM technologies.

One of the few books to explore IRCAM is the snappily-titled Rationalizing Culture, IRCAM, Boulez and the Institutionalization and the Musical Avant-Garde. Anthropologist and Cambridge don Georgina Born spent a year in IRCAM in Paris producing her ethnographic analysis and if both the title and the book itself reads like a Ph. D. thesis it is not surprising as that is how the book originated. Which means that, unlike Joan Peyser, Georgina Born leaves Boulez's private life off-limits; although it is not all the stuff of dissertations and Michael Jackson receives no less than five mentions.

The 1995 publication date means that the avant-garde is today rather more avant. But, nevertheless, Rationalizing Culture is a brave attempt to get inside the culture of an important and little-understood creative hot-house. Quite appropriately the book is published by the University of California Press using the latest print on demand technology.

More on Jonathan Harvey here.
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Thursday, March 27, 2008

What price the music of an unsung master?


1968 was a year of upheaval. It was the year of sex and drugs and rock and roll and saw the assasination of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the accidental death of Trappist monk and social activist Thomas Merton, the Tet offensive in Vietnam, the rise of the anti-war movement, the student rebellion that paralysed France, and the growth of the civil rights and women's movements. Stockhausen composed Stimmung, Hair opened on Broadway, the Beatles released their White Album and a Lindsay Anderson film put an African version of the Latin Mass at the top of the UK charts. Finally, as a reminder that history rarely repeats itself, but its echoes never go away, in October 1968 Tommie Smith and John Carlos made their controversial protest in support of the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) on the podium at the Mexico Olympics.

While society was in upheaval elsewhere Dom Charles was completing the remarkable work of art seen above in the Abbey church of the Benedictine community at Buckfast in a peaceful Devon valley. The huge east window (judge the size by the altar visible in lower foreground of my photo) is in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at Buckfast Abbey. It uses the technique known as dalles-de-verre in which ‘tiles’ of coloured glass are chipped to shaped and laid mosaic-fashion in a matrix of resin. The window was made by the monks in the Abbey's workshop, and since its completion in 1968 windows have been made by the Brothers for more than 150 other churches using the same technique. One of the most recent commissions has been a window commemorating the New York firefighters who died in 9/11.

We had travelled to Buckfast to hear a concert of choral works by the unsung master Philippe de Monte. The music of this 16th century Flemish composer is very rarely performed today (although it is recorded), which is surprising as he wrote 1,073 secular and 144 spiritual madrigals, 45 chansons, 319 motets and 38 mass settings - eat your heart out Leif Segerstam! The intelligently planned and beautifully delivered concert was given in the Abbey church (Lady Chapel seen in my photo below) by the vocal ensemble Voces directed by Martyn Warren. There may still be many voices to a part in choirs in Devon and the men may still wear suits, ties and white shirts, but in other ways they are right up there with Radiohead. Here is an extract from the free programme book which included texts:

Concerts are normally free, allowing you to make your own decision about the contribution you make to the retiring collection. After expenses this will be split equally between the Abbey and the Voce music fund. Neither singers nor conductor take a fee. As a rough guide, a ticket for a concert like this would normally cost you at least £8, and we hope you will give generously with your money as the performers have given of their time in preparing and performing.


Masses of early music on iPods here.
My wife and I stayed in one of the Buckfast Communities splendid retreat houses on the edge of the monastic domain - recommended. Photos (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Know the score?


Which work, composed in the first decade of the twentieth-century and still in the repertoire today, has a score that calls for chorus, soloists, organ and a large orchestra including small and large gongs, antique cymbals, glockenspiel, tambourine, triangle and an ancient Jewish instrument with religous connections?
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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Beatle to Berio to Boulez to birthday boy


Pierre Boulez was born on March 26, 1925. Quite obviously my photo is not of Boulez, but this path leads to him. The photo was taken at the Italian Institute in London in 1965, Paul McCartney is talking to Luciano Berio and between them is Barry Miles who was a key figure in the 60s counterculture. The photo comes from Miles' memoir In the Sixties which places Berio, Cage and others alongside better known icons of the decade and is one of the best books on the period. Like so many good books today it is out of print, but is still available if you search.

One of my favourite Berio CDs is the 1984 Erato recording of his Sinfonia with the New Swingle Singers and Orchestre National de France conducted by birthday boy Pierre Boulez. The Sinfonia is the composer's best-known work and blends Samuel Beckett, Martin Luther King, Claude Levi-Strauss and, of course, Mahler in Berio's unique style.

Barry Miles went to Cirencester Grammar School where his music teacher was Peter Maxwell Davies. In the Sixties describes how Max invited older boys back to the converted apple loft where he lived to drink claret from eighteenth-century goblets, and how, when required to play the piano for the hymns at morning assembly, Max placed a lighted candelabrum on top in the style of Liberace. Miles' other books include an excellent biography of another counterculture figure Allen Ginsberg, read more here.
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Peter Paul Fuchs - musician in exile


When composer and conductor Peter Paul Fuchs died on March 26, 2007, I marked his passing with two tributes written with John McLaughlin Williams. At the end of the second article I wrote the following - We now have information on Fuchs’ music, but don’t have any photographs of him. Any photos for publication would be very gratefully received.

After writing that a student of Fuchs, Adrian McDonnell, who is now conductor of the Orchestre de la Cité Internationale in Paris, emailed me. He is in contact with the composer's widow Mrs. Elissa Fuchs in North Carolina who kindly supplied the photographs and biography that I am publishing to mark the first anniversary of his death. This is the only comprehensive resource on Fuchs on the internet and I am very grateful to Mrs. Elissa Fuchs, Adrian McDonnell and John McLaughlin Williams for making it possible. I have ported the article to Wikipedia so it will reach the widest possible audience.

Peter Paul Fuchs was born on October 30, 1916 in Vienna, Austria, son of Dr. Adolf Fuchs, a well known heart specialist, and Marianne Rusicka, a piano teacher. His grandfather was Alois Rusicka, a prominent Viennese lawyer, originally from the same hometown as Gustav Mahler, and who had encouraged Mahler’s father to further young Gustav’s musical studies.

After his academic studies in the “gymnasium”, he graduated in 1935 from the Vienna Academy of Music where his mentors were Felix Weingartner and Josef Krips in conducting, and Karl Weigl in composition. In 1936 Fuchs was engaged as conductor and repetiteur for the German Theater in Brno, Czechoslovakia. The volatile politics of the period and the imminent Nazi invasion meant he was forced to leave Brno. Without a valid passport or job he spent two years living in exile in Switzerland and Italy until he received a US visa.


In 1938 he sailed for America with a letter of recommendation from Felix Weingartner, a tooth brush, $5.00, and a basic change of clothes. When he arrived in the US he supported himself by accompanying singers and instrumentalists, and playing for ballet classes. He toured with a small Ballet company in 1939-40 and in October 1940 he was hired as accompanist for the Ballet at the Metropolitan Opera.

Fuchs arranged for his parents to leave Nazi occupied Austria in 1940, and brought them to America; two years later he was inducted into the army and automatically became an American citizen. Following the end of hostilities in 1945, he returned to the Metropolitan Opera as a full time staff conductor until 1950 working with Bruno Walter, George Szell, Fritz Reiner, Erich Leinsdorf and Ettore Panizza and others. He also conducted at the San Francisco Opera, the Cincinnati Summer Opera, the Central City Opera, and the Berkshire Summer Music Festival where he was assistant conductor to Leonard Bernstein.

He left the Met in 1950 to become professor of music and opera at Louisiana State University, first as conductor and teacher, then as head of the opera department in 1952. His responsibilities later in the decade when he became the conductor of the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra, an appointment he held for the next 16 years, and also conductor of the Birmingham Opera in Alabama and of the Beaumont Opera in Beaumont Texas, In Beaumont he was conductor and stage director for 13 years.

He also developed an international career and guest conducted in Holland, Greece, Germany, Romania, Portugal, and in his native Austria, appearing with such orchestras the Vienna Tonkuenstler Orchestra, the Aachen Municipal Theatre, the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Bucharest Opera. Louisiana State University awarded Peter Paul Fuchs an honorary Doctorate when he retired in 1976, and he then became Music Director and Conductor of the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra where he remained until 1988 and was also Artistic Director and Conductor of the Greensboro Opera Company from 1981 to 1992.


Fuchs translated several operas into English for American editors, notably Verdi’s “Masked Ball” for the Metropolitan Opera. His writing included two notable books, The Musical Theater of Walter Felsenstein (W. W. Norton) and The Psychology of Conducting (MCA), which has become required reading in many universities.

Fuchs had been composing chamber music, symphonies and opera since he was a teenager in Vienna. In Baton Rouge in the 1960’s he conducted his opera “Darkness at Noon” at Louisiana State University. Then, in the late 80’s and early 90’s, excerpts from his opera “White Agony” were produced at the Komische Opera in Berlin (where Felsenstein had directed). In 1992, the Greensboro Opera produced a staged version of “White Agony” staged by his wife, Elissa Minet Fuchs, former ballerina of Ballet Russe and the Metropolitan Opera who is seen in the photo below together with the composer.


As well as his three operas (Darkness at Noon, The White Agony, and The Heretic), his other compositions include a symphony, a Concertino for Piano and Orchestra, Inventions for Wind Instruments, string quartets, a violin sonata, works for piano, and many songs. (See this note by John McLaughlin Williams on Fuchs' music). He directed many opera workshops notably at the Manhattan School of Music where, in 1962, he conducted the premier of Jan Meyerowitz’sGodfather Death”. Both his daughter Debora Porazzi and son in law Arturo Porazzi work production roles on Broadway. You can listen to Peter Paul Fuchs' music in an exclusive Overgrown Path webcast.

Fuchs' conducting students included:
Bill Conti, composer and conductor mostly active in Hollywood and television.
Milton Crotts, former conductor of the Guam Symphony Orchestra and currently Professor at Davidson College.
Janet Galván, professor of music and conductor at Ithica College, New York
Adrian McDonnell, conductor of the Orchestre de la Cité Internationale in Paris and professor of conducting at the Conservatoire Frederic Chopin.


Peter Paul Fuchs, born Vienna October 30, 1916, Vienna, Austria. Died March 26, 2007, Greensboro, NC.


* Listen to a Peter Paul Fuchs' Five Miniatures for chamber ensemble from private tapes in an exclusive Overgrown Path podcast on iTunes.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Meredith Monk out of focus


Regular readers will know that monastic orders are one of my interests, so it will come as no surprise that I have been greatly enjoying ECM's new release of music by Meredith Monk. Impermanence is a moving meditation on the transitory nature of life that expands Monk's distinctive vocal writing to embrace a range of instruments including piano, elephant bells, marimba, vibraphone and, my favourite, a bicycle wheel. A beautiful CD that is recommended. But am I the only one that now finds ECM's signature out of focus monochrome cover art an irritating cliché?

More on ECM cover art here.
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Investors on the fiddle


Today's Guardian reports - 'One of London's most successful violin restorers and traders, Florian Leonhard, is hoping to attract investors to his alternative investment syndicate as more conventional assets look increasingly vulnerable to an economic slowdown.

The Fine Violins Fund, which counts cellist Julian Lloyd Webber among its directors, has so far raised €16m (£12.5m) towards what it hopes will be a €60m syndicate investing in the most precious pre-19th-century violins, mainly from Italy.

Leonhard intends to invest in 50 violins valued at about $1.5m each - many of them beyond the means of the musicians who play them. The instruments will not be locked away in a bank vault; they are to be loaned out, without charge, to promising musicians, 30 of whom have already been identified.

The syndicate claims to benefit not only because the instruments' quality is maintained by regular use, but also because violins that are linked to the early career of performers who grow in reputation can soar in value'.


More fiddlers here.
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A day to celebrate freedom


Arturo Toscanini was born on March 25, 1867, in Parma, Italy. Happy birthday Maestro! March 25 is also Independence Day and a national holiday in Greece commemorating the 1821 uprising against the occupying Turks that ended with the birth of an independent modern Greece in 1832. It is wonderfully appropriate that Toscanini's birthday and Greek Independence Day fall together as he was a conductor who hated compromise.

Sadly the Greek struggle for independence did not end in 1832, and in the twentieth-century it had to endure invasions by the fascist forces of Italy and Germany, the subsequent Civil War and a military junta. Here are the words of that great folk hero, activist and composer, Mikis Theodorakis, who fought on the side of right in all three conflicts.

So far death has only been defeated by art. All those who tried to reach immortality through violence, power or money have failed. There is no temporal dimension to immortality. Its distinguishing mark is one of quality, a strong sensation. Only art can convey the feeling of being immortal for three seconds.

My header image is the poster for Constantin Costa-Gravas' legendary 1969 film 'Z' which was a barely fictionalised account of the assassination in 1963 of the Greek socialist politician Gregoris Lambrakis. The film and its soundtrack by Theodorakis, became an international symbol of opposition to the Greek military junta, read more about it here. Although out of print copies of Theodorakis' important book Journals of Resistance can still be found. Read it together with Thomas Merton's Passion for Peace, then wonder where are the twenty-first century equivalents?

Now playing - Mikis Theodorakis' own recording of his Requiem (below), which is quite appropriate as March 25 is also the Feast of the Annunciation. My quote above is from the composer's notes for the CD release. More about Theodorakis' Requiem here.


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Monday, March 24, 2008

Goodbye Western art music


The storm was so bad even Peter Grimes would have stayed at home and watched BBC TV's repeat of a Steptoe film on its so-called culture channel. But a good-sized audience braved the worst Easter weather for decades to travel to Snape Maltings on Good Friday for a celebration of something more multi-cultural.

The collabaration between between early music group The Dufay Collective and the Spanish-based Al-Quimia was the outcome of one of Aldeburgh Music's pioneering artist residencies. This musical exploration of the multi-cultural society that flourished in Andalucia seven hundred years ago was a high risk project; this isn't exactly mainstream repertoire and hybrid projects such as this are rarely box-office hits. But that's not what Aldeburgh is about. Britten and Pears created Snape to celebrate the holy triangle of composer, performer and listener and on Friday evening, despite the stacked odds, the spirit of place prevailed and the vital electricity sparked from composer through performers to listener.

In fairness it wasn't so much a collabration as a triumph for Al-Quimia. When the two groups played in concert the collabaration really added no more than a strengthened rythym line. But when the players of the Spanish group took centre stage the music soared, and the Dufay musicians were quite content to join the audience in silent admiration. And what a vindication of Britten and Arup Associates' acoustic vision for Snape, even from our seats at the back of the 830 seater hall the nuances of the oud, dumbek, nay flute and kanun were crystal clear.

I have written here before about adventurous programming such as the celebrated concert comprising an Ockeghem Mass and a Mahler symphony in Berlin in 2000, while none other than Philip Glass has said that world music is the new classical. So, now Aldeburgh Music has seen what electifying musicians Al-Quimia are, please can we have a concert with a set by them in the first half and the Britten-Pears Orchestra playing Messiaen's might multi-cultural Turangalila Symphony in the second? Yes, I know there are boring problems like the platform lay-out. But I live close to Aldeburgh and will happily help swap the oud for the ondes Martenot and oboes in the interval.

Now see the art of the mosque.
Header image is Al-Quimia's only CD to date, available from Samsaoui in Spain. 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, March 23, 2008

There is no difference between life and death


This photo shows John Cage and Daisetz Suzuki in 1962. Now playing is Cage's 36 Mesotics re and not so re Marcel Duchamp which is dedicated to the Japanese video artist Shigeko Kubota and includes this quote from the Zen teacher Daisetz Suzuki: 'There is no difference between life and death'. In the Harmonia Mundi recording the text is sung by Paul Hillier and spoken by Terry Riley. More on Daisetz Suzuki here and here.

Cage Talk, dialogues with and about John Cage is available from Boydell Press. Photo credit Yashuiro Yoshioka. 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, March 22, 2008

The Rite of Spring Eastern style


The Rite of Spring is celebrated today in another culture. March 22, 2008 is the start of the Hindu spring festival of Holi (Phagwa in Bhojpuri). My photo was taken last week at the gorgeous JAS Musicals shop in London which make the sitars seen in the photo.

Now playing - Tarun Bhattacharya santoor with Shiv Shankar Ray tabla on The Art of the Indian Santoor on the wide-ranging ARC label. The santoor is a hammered dulcimer (photo below) related to the Hungarian cimbalon and Chinese yang qin and is used for Hindustani raga, four of which are heard on the CD. Now read about the perils of Eastern tuning.


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

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Love Supreme


'A man who has never seen the world, never lived as a stranger among foreigners, who has never known a life and culture other than his own is in some way limited. He cannot help but feel his own way of life to be superior, to be the only way. This was one of the poisons I saw seeping into my company in Iraq from the beginning: parochialism, ignorance, knowing nothing about Islam or the Middle East, or any other society outside American cities like Tampa or St. Petersburg...


Many people believe in good and evil. Just that, that simple: good on one side, evil on the other. By default, we are always on the good side. This means that any who oppose us must logically be evil. Buddhism tends to take a circumspect view of good and evil, avoiding that distinction entirely and instead speaking of "positive" and "negative" actions as measured by their effect in the world. It is never as final and absolute as good and evil. Yet duality invades every level of society, from religous sermons to the political rhetoric that drove us into the Iraq war.


The absoluteness of good and evil is an incredibly dangerous doctrine, dangerous in the wrong hands and without proper restraint. I believe that experience demonstrates that never in life is anything wholly good or evil. Good and evil are metaphors, signposts to guide us in the right direction. To render good and evil as actual physical truth is to render an infinitely complex moral world into absurd black and white. Further still, to hold that truth out to the mass of humanity and invite them to act upon it is to invite disaster and fanaticism'
- from The Sutras of Abu Ghraib by Aidan Delgado. The author spent a year with the U.S. Army Reserve in Iraq where he worked in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison, and the book charts his progress from soldier to Buddhist and conscientous objector and it is essential reading. My quote is verbatim. I am only too well aware that Telford and St. Albans in England can be substituted for Tampa and St. Petersburg without in any way altering the message.


I will be celebrating the Western Easter this Sunday (March 23) on Future Radio with A Love Supreme, and the main work in the programme is John Coltran's legendary 1964 four movement jazz suite of that name. Before Coltrane's 'gift to God' I am playing music by the Yuval Ron Ensemble. This group has been working since 1999 to break down national, racial, religious and cultural divides using the sacred and folk music of the Middle East. The Ensemble includes Jewish, Arabic and Christian Armenian musicians, and they are all actively involved in building musical bridges between people of different faiths and cultures. In the programme they will be playing music and song, appropriately, from Iraq, and also from Muslim and Jewish Andalucia. Listen online at 5.00pm UK time Sunday March 23 with a repeat at 12.50am on Monday morning for transatlantic listeners.


Now visit the green hill far away seen in the photo above here.
Photos are of five great manifestations of A Love Supreme, the Anglican Shrine at Walsingham, Norfolk and the Neue Synagogue, Berlin (both copyright On An Overgrown Path 2008), the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Istanbul, the Potala Palace, Lhasa and the Taizé Community, France. 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

Stravinsky and Walton are opera's poster boys


Back in 2006 my article about Mahogany Opera's excellent production of Britten's Curlew River was followed by a discussion about operatic double-bills. Nice to see it wasn't just an academic discussion, the company is presenting a double bill of Walton's The Bear and Stravinsky's The Fox at Aldeburgh and London in April. Also good to see the art of poster design isn't dead. More details here and another classical music poster boy 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

Stockhausen off the wall


After John Cage in Bruges Stockhausen has been happening in London. Take a leading rock music venue with no seats and a bar across the back wall, pack in three hundred experimental music fans, add contemporary music specialists Daan Vandewalle (piano - making his UK debut) and Chris Cutler (percussion) and a dodgy piano, and you have last week's Stockhausen tribute.

The first half of the SPNM promoted evening at the Luminaire deep in darkest Kilburn was devoted to emerging British experimental artists and in a neat move the audience was given a free CD recording of the set at the end of the evening. In the second half Stockhausen's Klavierstucke I-IV and the improvised version of Kontakte were coupled with two tributes in which Robin Rimbaud (electronics) joined Daan and Chris.

First came a solo from Robin, Retuning Stockhausen, which used samples of the composers music. A very off the wall evening ended with Opus 2128 based on Stockhausen's curiously suppressed Opus 1970 which was composed to mark the 200th anniversary of Beethoven's birth. In the original the performers listened on headphones to extracts of Beethoven's work and accompanied them in designated ways with the option of making them audible.

In Opus 2128 (the number presumably being the year of Stockhausen's centenary) the Beethoven extracts were replaced, with one exception, with samples from Stockhausen's output. This improvised premiere brought the tribute evening to a suitably experimental end. Daan Vandewalle and Chris Cutler were also the driving forces in the Bruge John Cage Happening, and these tireless musicians are making a habit of showing that off the wall is still a good place for contemporary music music to be.

You can have too many low-light photos of gigs. So, as we were off to the Marcel Duchamp Tate exhibition the next day, my header photo was taken at the Stockhausen gig but shows the grafitti in the mens' toilets (rest rooms in Sequenza21 land). Much more interesting than the Glyndebourne equivalents, and like the Bruge photo I'm in their somewhere. More off the wall pictures here.
Header photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Young Mahler - encouragement worthwhile?


A charming and previously unpublished reminiscence of an 11-year-old Gustav Mahler (photo above) comes to An Overgrown Path from Elissa Minet Fuchs former ballerina with the Ballet Russe and the Metropolitan Opera. Mrs. Fuchs (see photo below) is the widow of conductor and composer Peter Paul Fuchs who was the subject of two tributes here when he died last year. A reader drew Mrs. Fuchs' attention to my articles and she has very kindly supplied me with material, including previously unpublished photographs, on her husband for a full appreciation to be published here on the first anniversary of his death next week. Among the material was this memory of a young Gustav Mahler.

Peter's grandfather on his mother's side, Alois Rusicka, was born in a small town in Czechoslovakia not far from the Austrian border. He was a law student - pursuing his degree and an amateur musician, a cellist. On one of his visits home, he was approached by a tavern keeper. He was asked to meet the tavern owner's young son, 11 years, and to judge the boy's musical talent to see if encouragement in this field would be worthwhile. Herr Rusicka was absolutely sure that this was a significant talent - the boy's name was Gustav Mahler.

Peter's mother told me that her father never revealed this incident to Mahler even though much later in Vienna the then well known lawyer and the then intendant of the Vienna Opera crossed social paths - at soirées, the Opera, coffee houses.

Also of interest - Peter's theory teacher at the Vienna Academy of Music (graduated with honors in 1935) was Karl Weigl, an assistant to Mahler during his Vienna Opera tenure - and also a composer.


Below is the text of this story and a photo of Elissa Minet and Peter Paul Fuchs. I would like to thank Mrs. Fuchs in Greensboro, NC and Adrian McDonnell in Paris for making this valuable material available. There is also a private recordings of Peter Paul Fuchs music available exclusively as An Overgrown Path podcast.


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

Classical music's most exciting thing today?


Today's Guardian asks 'is this the most exciting thing to have happened to classical music this century?' - Thomas Adès? Osvaldo Golijov? or even Gustavo Dudamel? - er .. no.

They were demanding jazz and rock and roll way back.
Image credit Matrix Business Coaching.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

Europe's very own digital concert hall launched


Another 'digital concert hall' has been launched. Dutch media company CommuniServe B.V. are promoting http://www.monteverdi.tv/ (above) as a resource offering 2,500 hours of classical concerts, blogs, reviews, a downloadable music catalogue and several classical radio stations.

A different take on the digital concert hall 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

Sacré bleu! - it is just Bollywood camp


In June last year contributor Antoine Leboyer wrote here about the trivialisation of music at Paris' venerable Théâtre du Châtelet with these prophetic words - 'There are no real operas save, perhaps, a rarity by Roussel which looks more like a vehicle for Bollywood director Sanjay Bhansali. Maybe this reflects the new director’s vision for classical music, but, for Parisian audiences, Le Châtelet is becoming the temple of crossover and mass-market entertainment'.

Andrew Clements' review of the Roussel rarity, Padmâvatî, in today's Guardian confirms that Antoine's prediction was spot on - 'A director of real flair and imagination might breathe life into the piece. But the Châtelet production has been handed over to an all-Indian team led by Mumbai film director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who has simply come up with a series of inert tableaux, to which some coarse acting and risible choreography adds nothing at all. It is just Bollywood camp, and even the on-stage presence of a horse, an elephant and a young tiger (the python promised in the cast list sadly did not materialise) as well as some very dodgy moustaches is not enough compensation'.

Now read about Aida with no clothes.
Image credit AFP - Miguel Medina. 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, March 18, 2008

Classical music has a cult following


Classical music and an "evil cult" are unlikely bedfellows. But my fun story Stockhausen, chaotic music and communism about the oboeist of the Divine Performing Arts Orchestra proved to be a bit more serious than I thought. Several readers have pointed out that the orchestra and The Epoch Times newspaper which ran the story are closely connected with Falun Gong.

A BBC website is headed 'Falun Gong - an evil cult?' and goes on to say 'Claiming to be an ancient technique of self-development, Falun Gong is an eclectic mixture of Taoist and Buddhist principles with a sprinkling of extraterrestrials ... On 22 July, 1999, Falun Gong was declared an 'evil cult' by the Beijing authorities, and totally banned, meriting 'a serious ideological and political struggle that would have a bearing on the future of the Communist Party and the State ... in terms of typical cult techniques, Falun Gong is given a 50:50 Yes/No rating by Time Asia. While it is led by a charismatic leader, fosters an 'us versus them' attitude, and uses jargon that outsiders don't understand, it does not exert pressure on people to join, its believers do not remove themselves from society, nor are they required to donate large sums of money, their homes, jobs, and so on, to a central organisation.'

An unconnected bit of trivia is that I was in Guyana shortly before the dreadful Jonestown mass suicides in 1978. On a much more positive note Georgetown, Guyana, which we were visiting, was the birthplace of the Berlin Philharmonic's first black conductor.
Header image showing Falun Gong members is from a useful article in The Johnsonian, newspaper of Winthrop University. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Online retailer maxed out?


While much attention is being devoted to the demise of 'bricks and mortar' music stores has the disappearance of a much-acclaimed online retailer slipped under the radar? Many commentators, including me, lavishly praised Peter Maxwell Davies' MaxOpus website with its' paid-for audio file downloads when it launched several years ago. Here is what I wrote - 'It is simply a first class internet resource, and a commercial one to boot ... A brilliant concept, with inspired execution.'

But where is MaxOpus today? The composer's pioneering online venture has been returning an 'Internet Explorer cannot display the webpage' message for some time now, although his publisher still links to it. Temporary technical gremlins, too much too soon or just a victim of Max's problems with his business manager? Information and updates, as ever, welcomed.

Now playing - Peter Maxwell Davies' Image, Reflections, Shadow played by The Fires of London with Gregory Knowles cimbalon (visible bottom right in the header image) on the original 1984 LP release from the now defunct independent Unicorn-Kanchana label, and quite magnificent it still sounds. The header image shows the back of the LP sleeve, I'm glad I hung on to the vinyl.

I notice that Misha Donat produced the Unicorn recording. He was also producer of the label's wonderful cycle of Elizabeth Maconchy String Quartets, which is a perfect back-link.
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Monday, March 17, 2008

Contemporary music without tears


Free music is all the rage and a long-running series of free concerts is being used to boost audiences for contemporary music in London. Music of Today is an innovative eight concert series given by the Philharmonia Orchestra in the Royal Festival Hall before regular evening concerts of mainstream repertoire. The deal is you turn up for the free concert at 6.00pm which features an introductory talk by series director Julian Anderson plus a free programme (is the UK alone in having outrageously over-priced programme books?) before paying normal prices for the main concert at 8.00pm. You don't need to buy tickets for the main concert to attend the free one, you can simply enjoy the contemporary music and go home if you choose.

The 6.00pm concerts are not 'bolt-ons', but are meaty and challenging programmes with a different conductor specially booked for the event. Last Thursday we were in London to hear Diego Masson conduct Iannis Xenakis' Anaktoria and Thalleïn in the free Music of Today concert, an event that drew a gratifyingly large audience. The 73 year old Masson is one of the great champions of contemporary music with an incisive stick technique that is rarely seen today and which really fired-up the group of players from the Philharmonia. He is also a great speaker and worked with Xenakis and many other composers, he told how Xenakis struggled for performances in the 1950s, adding that Boulez didn't like his music. A quick cross-reference to Joan Peyser's biography of Boulez confirms this, there is not one mention of Xenakis in it.

In the days when Pierre Boulez was at the BBC the 8.00pm concert would have been Thalleïn in the first half with a Mahler symphony to follow, and the hall would probably have been full. But those days have gone and it was film music all the way with Mozart K467 in the first half and Mahler's Fifth Symphony after the interval. In the Mozart François-Frédéric Guy played very non-Elvira Madigan cadenzas by Marc Monnet - the CV says it all. One of today's hot 'box ticking' young conductors was on the podium. 33 year old Swiss born Philippe Jordan has ticked quite a few boxes already; he has conducted at Covent Garden, the Met and Glyndebourne, has ticked Parsifal in Munich, is signed with leading agency IMG Artists and has a Ring in Zurich and the directorship of the Paris Opera soon to be ticked. Thursday was London and the Mahler 5 box, and it was duly ticked with a performance as mannered and uninvolving as any I can remember.

But congratulations to the Philharmonia for programming contemporary music without tears. But just a couple of questions. Why didn't the 73 year old Diego Masson conduct the Mahler and Mozart, and the 33 year old Philippe Jordan the Xenakis? Could it be that there is no Xenakis box to be ticked on a hot young conductor's CV these days?

My header photo was taken a couple of weeks ago and shows Henry Moore's Reclining Figure in the grounds of Dartington Hall where Diego Masson will follow in the footsteps of Boulez, Stravinsky, Elliott Carter, Bruno Maderna and many other great musicians when he teaches there at this year's Summer School. See Stravinsky in another Dartington header photo here.

* I'm playing Xenakis' Komboi for harpsichord and percussion on Future Radio on April 13. Also in the programme are Scene 3 from Hildegard of Bingen's Ordo Vitutum and John Mclaughlin Williams' Grammy winning recording of Messiaen's Oiseaux Exotiques.

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No classical - no radio


A familiar theme appears in Toronto's Globe and Mail - 'I am almost too depressed about the planned "overhaul" of CBC's Radio 2 to even write about it. What's the point? We've all seen the writing on the wall for some time now, and resistance is futile: The CBC no longer feels there is any point to devoting an entire radio station to the more musically and intellectually complex style of music colloquially, though entirely inappropriately, known as "classical" (more on that tendentious terminology in a moment), because, according to its mysterious studies, no one is interested in that any more.

So, come September, there will only be "classical" music (God, I hate that term!) at midday on weekdays; the rest of the air time will be taken up with light pop and jazz. Yes, that's right, explicitly light: In an interview with The Globe and Mail last week, the executive director of radio explained that the station will be playing even more Joni Mitchell and Diana Krall. The executives have also proudly expressed their interest in playing more middle-of-the-road pop such as Feist and Serena Ryder. Yes, they are proud, proud to be brave purveyors of Serena Ryder and Diana Krall, the very best culture our country has to offer.

In other words, Radio 2 will become essentially an easy-listening station. It will play, aside from four hours a day when everybody is at work, the kind of verse-chorus-verse popular music that is likely to win awards at industry-created ceremonies - the Junos, the Grammys, the Smushies, the Great Mall Music Prize.

Sometimes there will be jazz; I'm guessing it will continue to be the Holiday Inn lounge jazz they already so adore. It's also pretty safe to say there will be no underground pop music, nothing noisy or electronic - unless they keep Laurie Brown's The Signal (surely they must, they must at least keep The Signal?) - and of course that will be only late at night so it doesn't disturb the imagined audience, an audience of the mousiest, nicest, middlest of middle Canadians.

Notice how the CBC has already won half the public-relations battle through its choice of language. It is wise, if it wants to dismiss exciting and abstract music that doesn't have a 4/4 beat, to call such music "classical." That word instantly relegates it to the past. "Classical" connotes that which is established, respected, stuffy - another word for "old favourites."

"Classical" is wholly inadequate in describing an intellectual tradition that has always thrived on innovation, on radical new interpretations, on defiance of previous traditions, indeed, of iconoclasm. When Arthur Honegger sat down to write Pacific 231, when Olivier Messiaen began Quartet for the End of Time, when Edgard Varèse ordered his orchestra to play along to tape recordings from sawmills, do you think they wanted to write something "classical?"

But even this conversation is pointless; it isn't even happening. It belongs to another world. I feel, when talking about these things, like a visitor to an isolated country where everybody believes the Earth is flat and the moon is made of cheese: No one is going to listen to me because every single one of my premises, my fundamental assumptions, is different from theirs.

I assume, for example, that the point of having a government-funded radio station is not to garner the largest possible audience; if that were the goal, and that goal were attained, such a station would be commercially viable and no longer in need of government support. I also assume that art and intellectual inquiry can sometimes be challenging and demanding of intense concentration, and that they are naturally not always going to attract lucrative audiences, and that this does not make them any less valuable, which is why governments in enlightened countries support them and provide access to them.

I guess I assume, too, something even more fundamental and even more fundamentally unpopular, which is that not all art is of equal value. Art that does not tend to follow strict generic conventions (such as, for example, the verse-chorus-verse structure of 90 per cent of pop music) is deserving of extra attention. Art unbound by formula tends to indicate the area where the best, the most original talents are working.

And this is not, I assure you, about the past; it is about the future. Art unbound by formula - music that does not have to accompany words, for example - is the art that will be remembered by cultural historians and will come to define our era.

A country with no public forum for such art, with nowhere for the less privileged to gain access to it and to intelligent analysis of it, is an unsophisticated one.

And furthermore, a radio station that is indistinguishable from commercial stations - other than by its fanatical niceness - will have no reason to receive government support. Why not just shut it down already?'
- byline Russell Smith


And CBC did so many great things.
Header image is CBC Radio 2 website. With thanks to Canadian reader David Cavlovic for the heads-up. 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