Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Had to get away to see what we could find

Evening in Jemaa El Fna in Marrakech, (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008, headline from Crosby, Stills & Nash. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

A door to the Arab world


For a valuable resource on the Arab world go to http://www.al-bab.com/. The sections on arts and culture and music in particular are very useful. Also good music resources for individual countries, for instance check out Berber music. Al-bab is a private project by Brian Whitaker who is the Guardian's Middle East editor.

Now read about the secret life of an Arab record label.
Photo is detail of Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech, Morocco. The Koutoubia dates from the 13th century and its name derives from el-koutoubiyyin which is Arabic for booksellers, as a book market once filled the surrounding streets. More art of the mosque here. Photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Sweeping cobwebs from the edges of my mind


Evening in the souk in Marrakech, (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008, headline from Crosby, Stills & Nash. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Honey I shrunk the pension fund


There has been quite a lot of interest in the fate of my (and a lot of other people's) EMI pension following my post in October last year. Another letter arrived from the EMI Group Pension Trustees today which says:

'In mid December we reached an agreement in principle with EMI and its ultimate investor, Terra Firma, that the Fund would be granted a meaningful amount of watertight security, which would rank equally with the security granted by EMI to Citi, the bank that loaned Terra Firma the money to take over EMI.

Since that agreement, however, detailed discussions have revealed that the form of security offered does not rank equally with the bank's in certain important respects and is not sufficiently robust in its terms for the Trustee to be able to rely on it in circumstances where it would be needed to support the Fund. In the absence of meaningful and watertight security, and as EMI is not prepared to put forward an alternative funding package, the Trustee has concluded, with regret, that it has no option other than to inform the Pensions Regulator that there is no reasonable prospect of reaching agreement with EMI and Terra Firma on funding.'


As EMI's new owner Guy Hands, whose personal wealth with his wife is estimated to be £200m, said in a recent interview - 'We will fight to come up with a solution to the problems that face the entire recorded music industry'. It's a pity that the solution doesn't seem to include staff pensions.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Eat your heart out RIAA


Everywhere else it is doom and gloom in the record industry. But here is one retailer giving the thumbs up. He runs a market stall in the Jemaa el Fna in Marrakech and official figures show that more than 90% of CDs and DVDs sold in Morocco are pirated, with an industry spokesman saying "every artistic endeavour is affected". Based on my recent visit I would put the piracy rate higher; during nine days in the country I did not see a single legitimate CD on sale. But then, even the BBC gives permission for file sharing for personal use.


Now playing - music of the gnawa communities found in the southern areas of Morocco. The repetitive rhythms and looping riffs of gnawa that are the signature sound of evening in the Jemaa el Fna originated in black African religous rituals and trance and are provided by drums and the gimbri, the long-necked lute seen on the label above, supplemented by iron castanets called karakeb. Hypnotic stuff, but I'm afraid my CD (above) the from the Société Chamusic of Marrakesh label is a pirate copy, legitimate discs were simply unobtainable. What does one do? At least YouTube has some interesting material and Amazon France has a range of non-pirated CDs.

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

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Tripping the Licht fantastic


'Our real journey in life is interior: it is a matter of growth, deepening and of an ever greater surrender to the creative action of love and grace in our hearts' - Thomas Merton


Karlheinz Stockhausen and Thomas Merton are also together here.
Photos of Marrakech-Menara Airport terminal roof (c) 2008 On An Overgrown Path. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Pierre Boulez - I'm not a shy man


He says little has changed in the music world since he started out, in that "20% are very interested in new things, 50% can be persuaded and 30% are in their coffins before their time. It is not a matter of good times or bad times. You always have to make an effort and you always need a strong personality to get things done. If you are timid and unadventurous, no matter how good your ideas, nothing happens. Me, I'm not a shy man. I am willing to have a go. Then it is for others to judge its worth" - unmissable, and original, Pierre Boulez in today's Guardian. Lots more on the bogeyman of twentieth century music here.

Photo credit Le regard de James. 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, April 25, 2008

A contemporary composer's Passion

James MacMillan (left) charts progress on his new Passion in today's Guardian. I am playing his percussion concerto Veni, Veni, Emmanuel on Future Radio on May 11.

Read about another contemporary Passion here.
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Google Earth for classical music?


Google Earth is the water cooler killer app. The image above is from RAMline which uses Topic Maps software to create a unique multi-dimensional index of music and musicians linked to local digitized archives and other online resources, such as manuscript sources and published editions, live performances and recordings, musical criticism and comment. Could this be classical music's killer app?

More here on musical mind maps and music history rewritten.
Image credit A. Pitts/Royal Academy 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

Ysaye listening on Future Radio


There is a rare chance to hear one of Eugène Ysaÿe's sonatas for solo violin on Future Radio this Sunday. My Overgrown Path programme takes a journey from Bach to Belgium and frames Ysaÿe's Sonata No. 2 in A Minor with Bach's Sonata No. 1 in G minor and mighty Partita No 3 in E major. The Ysaÿe Sonatas are inspired by Bach, and the juxtaposition of Ysaÿe's Second Sonata with the E major Partita in the programme mirrors the Belgium composer's statement and restatement of themes from the Bach work. Thomas Zehetmair plays the Ysaÿe and the two Bach works are performed by Mark Lubotsky from Brilliant Classic's invaluable Bach Edition which offers all the composer's works on 155 CDs at a very affordable price. Listen at 5.00pm UK time on April 27 with a repeat at 12.50am on April 28.

Ysaÿe was born in Liège in Belgium in 1858, and after graduation became principal violin of the Benjamin Bilse beer-hall orchestra, which found a home in a disused roller-skating rink and became the Berlin Philharmonic - music was more fun back then. You can hear music from another composer from the Low Countries on Future Radio on May 11 when I play extracts from another rarely heard work, the Missa Pro Defunctis by the 16th century Flemish composer Jacobus de Kerle. The performers are the Belgium based Huelgas-Ensemble directed by Paul Van Nevel who featured here last year in the story of the work that inspired Tallis' Spem in alium. And there is new music from Belgium here.

Photo from the souk in Marrakech, Morocco (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Monday, April 14, 2008

Different tempo but the music continues


'The pause is as important as the note' ~ Truman Fisher

We start a summer of travelling tomorrow with a flight to Morocco, so the tempo of posting will slow markedly. While I'm away do read other great music blogs here, but why not escape the tyranny of league tables and explore the long tail of music blogs over here? But don't forget the music continues on my Future Radio programme at 5.00pm UK time every Sunday with a repeat at 12.50am on Monday morning. Here is the forward schedule which starts on April 20 with two modern composers who between them do not have a single note of their music in the 2008 BBC Proms season.

April 20 Unique British voices - Peter Maxwell Davies Missa Parvula sung by Choir of Westminster Cathedral; Edmund Rubbra Symphony No 6 played by Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Norman del Mar. (Nice Max connection as I took the photo of the Japanese garden at Dartington Hall where he was a fixture at the Summer School for many years).

April 27 Bach and beyond - J.S. Bach Sonata No. 1 in G minor played by Mark Lubotsky; Eugène Ysaÿe Sonata No 2 in A Minor for violin played by Thomas Zehetmair; J.S. Bach Partita No 3 in E major played by Mark Lubotsky.

May 4 Meditations on war - Richard Strauss Metamorphosen in realisation for string septet played by supplemented Brandis Quartet; Benjamin Frankel Violin Concerto, 'In Memory of the Six Million' played by Ulf Hoelscher with Queensland Symphony Orchestra conducted by Werner Andreas Albert.

May 11 Elaborated plainsong - Jacobus de Kerle Missa Pro Defunctis (extracts) sung by Huelgas-Ensemble directed by Paul Van Nevel; James MacMillanVeni, Veni, Emmanuel played by Colin Currie and the Ulster Orchestra conducted by Takuo Yuase.

May 18 Musicians in exile - Bohuslav Martinů Concertino for Piano Trio and String Orchestra played by the Dresden Trio and New Berlin Chamber Orchestra conducted by Martin Fischer-Dieskau; Peter Paul Fuchs Five Miniatures, artists unknown, private recording supplied by Mrs Elissa Fuch; Karl Weigl String Quartet No 5 played by Artis Quartet of Vienna. ITunes podcast of Fuch's Five Miniatures now available for download.

May 25 Vaughan Williams anniversary - Ralph Vaughan Williams Five Mystical Songs sung by Thomas Allen (baritone), Corydon Singers and English Chamber Orchestra directed by Matthew Best and Symphony No. 4 with Sir Adrian Boult conducting the New Philharmonia Orchestra.

Enjoy!

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

At last - music treated as music


In the week when the BBC, EMI and UK media decided that Nigel Kennedy is the future of classical music I greatly enjoyed a new CD from an independent Belgian label that proves that there is still life beyond the celebrity circus.

Llibre Vermell from the Ricecar label is an imaginative realisation based on these anonymous words in the famous medieval manuscript in the Abbey of Monserrat: "Sometimes the pilgrims who are holding vigil in the church of the Holy Virgin of Montserrat wanted to sing and dance, but they were only allowed to sing respectable and pious songs". The CD brings together the Namur Chamber Choir as the pilgrims, the Psallentes as the monks and the excellent boys choir Les Pastoureaux as the choirboys of the Abbey together with period instrumentalists under the direction of Christophe Deslignes. The boy's choir are, for me, the real stand-outs on an exceptional disc, how refreshing to hear young voices in early music.

The recording, which derived from a 2007 Festival de Wallonie concert, is a total delight from start to finish. It combines musical scholarship (which is more than can be said for Kennedy's cadenza in the first movement of his new Mozart concerto recording) with more exuberance and sheer joy in music making than I have heard for years. A mixed programme, which moves between Gregorian Chant, music from the Le Llibre Vermell and dance, avoids the inherent monotony of so many early music discs, while producer Jérôme Lejeune and engineer Philippe de Magnée make the magnificent space of the Église Saint-Apollinaire in Bolland an integral part of the performance.

Research carried out some time back reported that the average classical CD is played 1.3 times after purchase, so the five playings that my copy of Llibre Vermell has received in three days must prove something. I can't offer higher praise than saying I am sure David Munrow would have been delighted with this new release.

EM Forster mused in Howards End - "I wonder if the day will ever return when music will be treated as music". This highly recommended recording is welcome proof that the only thing that needs to spin in classical music is the CD.

More young voices in early music here.
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The shock of the missing new


Email received - Dear Herbert (sic), The Los Angeles Philharmonic is hosting an online Enter-To-Win a pair of tickets to the Philharmonia Orchestra concert in May. Would you be able to mention this on your blog for your LA readers?

LA Phil Presents – Philharmonia Orchestra – May 6 & 7, 8:00 PM at Walt Disney Concert Hall Christoph von Dohnányi, conductor

For a chance to win tickets to the Philharmonia concert on May 7,
click here or visit: http://www.laphil.com/tickets/special_events/philharmonia_contest.cfm

Thank you! All the best, Stacy
Allied Live/TMG - The Marketing Group
110 S. Fairfax, Suite 210
Los Angeles, CA 90036


Stacy, I'm delighted to give Walter Legge's old orchestra a plug. But couldn't the Philharmonia have offered your funky West Coast audiences something a little more challenging than the programmes below? Did classical music really end with Mahler? Couldn't they have included some of that gorgeous Xenakis I heard them play in London in March?

Regards from UK, Herbert

Tue May 6 8pm
Philharmonia Orchestra
Christoph von Dohnányi, conductor
Mendelssohn Symphony No. 4, "Italian"
Mahler Symphony No. 1

Wed May 7 8pm
Philharmonia Orchestra
Christoph von Dohnányi, conductor
Beethoven Egmont Overture
Schumann Symphony No. 1, "Spring"
Beethoven Symphony No. 5

Header photo shows Elizabeth Schwarzkopf viewing the commemorative display I created for the Philharmonia Orchestra's Walter Legge Memorial concerts in June 1979. I am standing alongside Madame Schwarzkopf. More on that story here.
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EMI - here are my thoughts


Email received - Hi, EMI Classics are running a competition on their site where you can win CDs of your choice from their catalogue if you submit a review of one of their albums. I thought this was something the readers of your blog might be interested in. Please have a look at the link below (deleted) and let me know your thoughts? If you would like to include some information I can send you some assets.

Thanks! Naomi Snuggs
http://www.headstreampr.com/


Naomi, here are my thoughts. You sort out my EMI pension and I'll plug EMI Classics' competition? A deal?
Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Handel's Suites are miracles

'Interesting to listen once again to this 'historic' recording. I know the general public didn't really take to it, so that the people who sell these things clearly didn't make any profit (will it suffer the same fate as Berg's Concerto?.) And why? Audiences (in every country) prefer to buy Bach - out of habit - and because, in doing so, they think they are showing 'greater musicality'. They undervalue Handel or else they ignore him completely. During their own lifetimes, it was exactly the opposite. Handel travelled everywhere in a carriage, while Bach humbly played the organ at the Thomas-Kirche.

Now for Gavrilov and Richter. As soon as I started to listen, Gavrilov struck me as infinitely more interesting (in spite of a certain irreproachability to Richter's playing). Everything about his playing is fresher, more alive, freer. There's nothing studied about it. Only occasionally does he allow himself to be carried away by the fortissimo passages, and here he has a tendency to bang.'

Oddly, the friends who were listening with me and to whom I didn't say who was playing what, often thought that Gavrilov was me and vice versa. If I'd not known, I two could have mixed the two of us up. Clearly there's a reciprocal influence here. Be that as it may, these Suites are veritable miracles, laminated in gold but with virtually no patina.
From Sviatoslav Richter's Notebooks and Conversations edited by Bruno Monsaingeon. Richter, who was the mystery source of my Xenakis quote, kept detailed notes on concerts and recordings he heard by a wide range of performers and composers. There is an almost Zen like avoidance of duality in his observations on music ranging Bach to Boulez and Stockhausen. His detachment and openmindedness is a lesson to us all. I wouldn't mind playing the piano like him either.

The recordings of the Handel Keyboard Suites that he made in 1982 with Gavrilov are indeed veritable miracles. Despite his lack of confidence in their longevity they are still in the catalogue here and here. But given the current shenanigans at EMI that may not last. If they are not in your collection buy them while you can.

Now read what happened to Andrei Gavrilov.
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The view from a major record label

'Polydor executives were not known for diplomacy: the man sent to open their American office startled the crowd at the New York press launch by telling them he had wanted to live in the city ever since he had seen its skyline from Long Island Sound through the periscope of his U-boat in 1943.'
Joe Boyd writes about music in the 60's in White Bicycles, one of the most entertaining and best written books about rock. Now read Joe Boyd on Dylan and the blues, and, of course, he was Nick Drake's producer.

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It is impossible to live without inner peace


On 11th March 2008 Madrid marked the fourth anniversary of the terrorist bombings (above) that claimed the lives of 191 people and wounded 1,856. It was the biggest terrorist attack in the history of Spain and, indeed, Europe, with 10 simultaneous explosions on four of Madrid’s district trains at the height of the morning rush hour. It happened a few minutes before 8 a.m. Later, the police exploded another two bombs that had failed to go off and a third was defused, leading to the identification of those responsible.

The ceremony of remembrance for those who were killed began at twelve noon in front of the monument inaugurated last year which stands in Plaza de Atocha. It was led by their majesties King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophia, who laid a wreath at the foot of the monument. After a minute’s silence in memory of the victims, there was a rendition of the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s “Da pacem, Domine”, a work commissioned by Jordi Savall for performance at the Barcelona Forum of Cultures in June 2004. Inspired in the Gregorian chant Danos la paz Señor, the piece was composed only two days after the tragic bombings as a tribute to the victims who were honoured at the ceremony of remembrance. Arvo Pärt’s “Da pacem, Domine” will be included in a forthcoming Alia Vox release.

In the words of Raimon Panikkar “It is difficult to live when there is no external peace in the world around us. It is impossible to live without inner peace, if there is no peace in our hearts”. Arvo Pärt’s Da Pacem Domine is a prayer for those whom we have lost, as well as an invocation to peace and hope, the music creating a space of peace, both in the world around us and in our hearts.

'For Inner and Outer Peace' is the title of an important book by another great musical humanitarian, Antal Dorati. It was published by International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), but is out of print. All this ... and what for?

Story source Alia Vox. 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, April 12, 2008

Xenakis - the eyes have it


'This is the first time I've heard any music by Xenakis; it's completely bowled me over, even though I'm not sure I've really understood it (or not understood it). Intuition? But can one always trust it? ... It seems to me that this, in fact, is what I'd call real 'new' music.'

Which famous musician seen in the photo above said this? The image will gradually enlarge until the correct answer is posted. Hear Xenakis' Komboi on my Future Radio programme tomorrow,
Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Beethoven keeps on cycling


In 2006 Norman Lebrecht got it wrong when he wrote "in fact, no label had issued a (Beethoven) symphonic cycle in three years, and none was likely to do so again".

In 2008 Lebrecht is proved wrong again by Paavo Järvi's acclaimed new cycle with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen on RCA. Hopefully the CEO of the Bremen orchestra hasn't reviewed any of Norm's books in the past.
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Friday, April 11, 2008

Messiaen and Xenakis - Oiseaux Exotiques


This photo shows Olivier Messiaen pinning the award of Chevalier de la légion d'honneur on Iannis Xenakis in his Paris apartment in 1977. Xenakis was a pupil of Messiaen and I will be playing music by both of them on my Future Radio programme on Sunday April 13 at 5.00pm UK time (repeated 12.50am April 14).

The programme opens with Xenakis' Komboi and closes with another award winner, Angelin Chang, John McLaughlin Williams and the Cleveland Chamber Symphony's Grammy winning recording of Messiaen's Oiseaux Exotiques. The two works are separated by music from a composer who shared Messiaen's deep Catholic faith. Hildegard of Bingen is the earliest composer with a detailed biography and her music drama Ordo Virtutum is considered to be the prototype of the art form that became opera and eight centuries later came full circle in Messiaen's massively underrated Saint François d'Assise which only had its U.S. premiere in 2002. I will be playing the instrumental lament and Scene 3 from Hildegard's Ordo Virtutum performed by Sequentia directed by Barbara Thornton and Benjamin Bagby on Sunday.

Now here's a little quiz. Which famous musician said this after hearing tapes of Xenakis' Mists and Synaphaï?

'This is the first time I've heard any music by Xenakis; it's completely bowled me over, even though I'm not sure I've really understood it (or not understood it). Intuition? But can one always trust it? ... It seems to me that this, in fact, is what I'd call real 'new' music.'

To finish some quick visual arts trivia. Olivier Messiaen died on April 27, 1992 and the figurative painter Francis Bacon, whose masterpiece is the disturbing Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, died the following day. Staying with the visual arts remember Iannis Xenakis also composed in glass.
Photo credit Iannis-Xenakis.com Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Thursday, April 10, 2008

We're riding on the Marrakesh Express



Marrakech in Morocco is one of the few cities that I haven't seen in this blog's reader stats. But if there are any readers there, or if anyone knows the music scene I'd love to hear from them via overgrownpath at hotmail.co.uk as we will be there next week.

While on the subject of Crosby, Stills & Nash can anyone explain why the lyrics of that classic track talk of

Travellin the train through clear Moroccan skies -
Ducks, and pigs, and chicken call, animal carpet wall to wall


when there are hardly any ducks in Morocco, and as it is a strictly Muslim country there are about as many pigs as polar bears? Presumably it was all to do with

blowing smoke rings from the corner of my mouth

C,S & N also appear in Notes of a College Revolutionary.
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Glenn Gould re-engineered


'Whatever I have written, whether published by me during my lifetime or as part of my literary papers still existing after my death, shall not be performed, printed or even recited for the duration of legal copyright within the borders of Austria, however this state identifies itself.'

This extraordinary clause in the will of the Austrian novelist Thomas Bernhard, who died in 1989, was the final event in an extraordinary life. He was born in Holland in 1931 and studied at the Akademie Mozarteum in Salzburg before becoming an author. I have been reading Bernhard's remarkable novel The Loser (Der Untergeher). It tells the story of a fictional relationship between Glenn Gould and two of his fellow students who abandon their own musical ambitions in the face of Gould's incomparable genius.

In The Loser Bernhard unashamedly re-engineers Gould's biography to suit his own ends, and there is no claim to historical authenticity. But as a meditation on success, failure, genius and fame the book is absolutely authentic, and it has the approval of Gould experts who have drawn parallels with Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus. Bernhard himself explained his re-engineering of fact in these words.

'What matters is whether we want to lie or to tell the truth and write the truth, even though it never can be the truth and never is the truth.'

The Loser is quite unmissable. But we haven't yet finished with the extraordinary. The novel is one hundred and seventy pages long and it is written as a single paragraph. Which even outdoes that 'king of the paragraph' Bernard Levin.

Follow this link for a fascinating article on Thomas Bernhard's house. Watch out for a review of another new Glenn Gould book, Katie Hafner's A Romance on Three Legs, here shortly. And more on copyright and the great pianist re-engineered here.
The Loser is published by Vintage Books, ISBN 1400077540. The beautiful cover design for the US edition is by Eva Brandstotter. 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, April 09, 2008

BBC Proms 2008 tries some time travel

1972 - Stockhausen's Carré for four orchestral groups is performed twice in a late-night Promenade concert, rehearsal shown in photo above. Other Proms include the first UK performance of Elliott Carter's Concerto for Orchestra conducted by Pierre Boulez and George Crumb's Echoes of Time and River.


2008 - Proms season includes Stockhausen's Klang (13th and 15th hour), Kontakte, Stimmung and two performances of Gruppen in one concert. There is also Xenakis coupled with Vaughan Williams, and four works by Elliott Carter including two UK premieres, plus lots of Messiaen and Vaughan Williams and a programme of twentieth-century music mixed with renaissance polyphony. (Wish I had thought of that).

Are things getting better under new Proms director Roger Wright? Well, there is also music from Doctor Who as shown in the ridiculous BBC photo opportunity above, dancing round a maypole in Kensington Gardens, and musicians "popping up" on street corners, as the Times reports. But overall it's goodbye Nicholas Kenyon and hello the most interesting Proms season for years.

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Proud to be a music anorak


Nice to see classical vinyl generating excitement in today's Guardian, but not sure about the headline - 'A music anorak's treasure trove' which suggests classical music is some kind of nasty habit. Also it appears from the piece that the Guardian (and BBC's) Tom Service doesn't have a record deck. I'll let you into a secret. I don't have an iPod, but I do have a Thorens TD125, which I guess also makes me a turntable anorak.

Elsewhere in the Guardian a late tribute to Herbert von Karajan adds little original but is good for a laugh with my old EMI colleague Peter Alward describing Karajan as 'very shy, a simple man with simple tastes'. Which is the best description of a very large yacht and Falcon 10 executive jet I've ever come across.
Photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Straussian modernism and Viennese Schmaltz


'It is worth noting that the novel's last scene, with it's off-stage procession, tumultuous church-bells and climactic murder, itself resolves a very inward drama in the convention of grand opera. A fact not lost on the twenty-three-year-old Erich Wolfgang Korngold, whose opera Die tote Stadt (premiered simultaneously in Cologne and Hamburg in December 1920) is based indirectly on Bruges-la-Morte, and is now the form in which the novel is most widely known.

Its immediate source was Le Mirage, the four-act theatrical version of Bruges-la-Morte which Georges Rodenbach prepared at the end of his life, but never saw staged. In dramatising his book he found himself driven to just those kinds of explication through dialogue that the novel pointedly avoids. Korngold, in following him, and in wrapping the play in his precocious melange of Straussian modernism and Viennese Schmaltz, prolonged and broadened the fame of this recondite novel - but at the cost of what makes it so singular and unforgettable.'


Those words are from novelist Alan Hollinghurst's introduction to the new edition of Georges Rodenbach's novel Bruges-la-Morte. It is essential reading and I know many readers will disagree about the Viennese Schmaltz and say that Korngold's opera is also essential listening. Die tote Stadt is available in several versions including one from Naxos. I took the photos of Bruges in February when visiting that evocative city for something well beyond Strauss modernism, the John Cage happening.

Talking of Richard Strauss I will be playing the rarely heard string septet realisation of his Metamorphosen on Future Radio on May 4 as part of a programme marking the anniversary of the surrender of German forces in Europe on May 7, 1945. The main work in the programme will be the equally rarely heard Violin Concerto by Benjamin Frankel. Born in London in 1906 of Polish-Jewish parents Frankel studied in Germany and London, and his 1951 Violin Concerto is sub-titled 'In Memory of the Six Million'.

Two weeks later, on May 18, I will be presenting a programme of works by musicians in exile. The music will be Bohuslav Martinů's Concertino for Piano Trio and String Orchestra, then a very rare treat in the form of Peter Paul Fuch's Five Miniatures in a performance from a private tape made available by the composer's widow and finally the String Quartet No. 5 by Fuchs' teacher Karl Weigl. It is a great privilege to be able to showcase these composers, and my thanks go to Future Radio for making it possible to bring this music to thousands of happy new ears.


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

The bonds of peace between nations


'How many people are aware the modern torch relay was introduced by Carl Diem, president of the organisation committee for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, as part of an effort to turn the games into a glorification of the Third Reich. "Sporting chivalrous contest helps knit the bonds of peace between nations. Therefore may the Olympic flame never expire," - Adolf Hitler' - writes Patricia van den Brink from Herne, Germany in today's Guardian.

And how many people are aware that Hitler's court composer was a Harvard alumni?
Photo of demonstration in London on April 6, 2008 from Students for a Free Tibet UK. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Monday, April 07, 2008

Market forces and music collide - again


Canada’s oldest national orchestra is being axed by CBC Radio. Since 1938, the CBC Radio Orchestra, which is the last radio orchestra in North America, has been an invaluable part of Canada’s music scene. The axing is driven by cost savings which have also resulted in the mass culling of classical broadcasts.

Sign the online petition to sign the orchestra here. I hope that the fine CBC musicians will take strength from the story of how, when market forces and music collided in the past at the BBC, the threatened musicians fought back successfully.
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Glass houses and stones


Elsewhere Kyle Gann is upset by comments being posted to his blog. Could this be the same Kyle Gann who recently posted this comment to another music blog?

'I’m so tired of the Brits shoving their immature wunderkind composers down our throats, and whining about being left out of music history in general, that I wouldn’t give a flying f**k about any criticism coming from that country. As for the Germans, after reading the book I wrote Alex a message complimenting the accuracy of his pessimistic assessment of that country’s current activity.'

Sometimes so wrong, sometimes so right.
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Goodbye conductor - hallo composer


Overgrown Path's web logs over the past few days showed little uplift in traffic to my wide range of Herbert von Karajan articles. Most of the increase that happened came either from searches for the conductor's political and sexual predilections or from Japan, which has always had a special love affair with him. This analysis was mirrored in the mainstream media where, despite strong promotion from Deutsche Grammophon and EMI and some unashamed puffery from Simon Rattle, there was little interest in the Karajan anniversary other than tabloid-style trash from Norman Lebrecht and Ivan Hewett. The music industry loves an anniversary and two years ago we celebrated Shostakovich to death. So why did Herbert's birthday party fall so flat?

Many will say it was because of Karajan, but I disagree. Love him or hate him Karajan was a very high profile conductor who has never struggled in the past for column inches. Nobody came to the party this week-end because our love affair with the conductor is finished. The twentieth-century was the age of the maestro, and the big industry names held a baton - Walter, Toscanini, Furtwängler , Karajan, Boult, Beecham, Barbirolli, Klemperer and others. But as the millenium approached new names emerged, and they were holding a pen instead of a stick. The three 'Bs' of Britten, Bernstein and Boulez were on the cusp, and they have been followed by Stockhausen, Reich, Adams (header photo), Maxwell Davies, Adès and many more. Crucially, a number of these composers are, or were, fine conductors not just of their own music but also of composers as far back as Bach.


As we say goodbye conductor and hello composer major festivals such as the 1938 London Music Festival built around Toscanini (programme above) and the Salzburg Easter Festival created as a vehicle for Karajan have become things of the past. Their replacements are events like the South Bank Centre's Messiaen celebration (poster below), and try finding the conductors (one of who is Pierre Boulez) on that poster.

None of this means conductors will disappear. Orchestras need them just like they need concert masters. But how many readers can name the concert master of the Los Angeles Philharmonic? The celebrity conductor is a dying breed and it is interesting to speculate what that means. The record companies (again) stand to lose most as they depend on personalities to sell CDs. It is almost impossible to get composer/conductors such as Thomas Adès to work the press. Which explains the increasingly shrill attempts to promote increasingly young conductors who are only too willing to co-operate in photo opportunities. When they finally read the writing on the wall (which will probably take as long as it did for them to realise the impact of MP3s) will we see labels signing exclusive deals with composers instead of conductors? And before anyone tells me that contemporary composers don't sell I'd remind them that Naxos' second best selling album in 2007 was Philip Glass' Symphony No. 4 (23,000 units) and the fourth best seller was John Adams' Piano Music (14,000 units). Remember that it took four years for Glenn Gould's 1955 of the Goldberg Variations to sell 40,000 units.

Will we see back catalogue exploitation of neglected conductor/composers of the past such as Antal Dorati? Will we see Thomas Adès recording Mozart concertos directing from the keyboard, and Peter Maxwell Davies recording Mahler and John Adams Beethoven from the podium? Will more composers follow the example of Philip Glass (Orange Mountain Music) and Peter Maxwell Davies (MaxOpus) and establish their own record labels? Your guess is as good as mine. But it is definitely goodbye conductor and hallo composer. Watch this space.


Read more about an artist extraordinaire here.
Toscanini programme from my personal collection and (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. 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, April 06, 2008

Happiness is ...


More on Stimmung here and Jordi Savall here.
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Saturday, April 05, 2008

An anniverary howl for Allen Ginsberg


Allen Ginsberg (above) died on April 5, 1997 and Herbert von Karajan was born on April 5, 1908. I'm probably the only person to find a connection between the two, so it's not surprising that if you type "allen ginsberg herbert von karajan" into Google.com the first two results are currently from On An Overgrown Path. Which means you can read about them here and here.

Image credit Summer of Love. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

The art of protest


While in the Guardian author Charles Cumming makes an important point about China's Turkic-Muslim minority - The British media's obsession with Buddhist Tibet says a great deal about western attitudes to Xinjiang and to its predominantly Turkic-Muslim population. It may be that people remain ignorant of Xinjiang because it has no Dalai Lama, no Richard Gere, to bring its cause to the world's attention. If it did, then we would know more about the barbaric treatment meted out to Uighurs on a day-to-day basis.

So paranoid is the Chinese government about the threat of a separatist movement in Xinjiang that it will incarcerate innocent civilians on the flimsiest pretexts. Uighurs have been jailed for reading newspapers sympathetic to the cause of independence. Others have been detained merely for listening to Radio Free Asia, an English-language station funded by the US Congress. Even to discuss separatism in public is to risk a lengthy jail sentence, with no prospect of habeas corpus, effective legal representation or a fair trial. About 100 Uighurs were arrested in Khotan recently after several hundred demonstrated in the marketplace of the town, which lies on the Silk Road.

And what happens to these innocent Uighur men and women once they land up in one of Xinjiang's notorious "black prisons"? Amnesty International has reported numerous incidents of torture, from cigarette burns on the skin to submersion in water or raw sewage. Prisoners have had toenails extracted by pliers, been attacked by dogs and burned with electric batons, even cattle prods.



Listen to samples of the music of the Turkic-Muslim people, not of China but of Azerbaijan here, and more art of protest here.
Image credit Free Tibet Campaign. 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, April 04, 2008

The pilgrim enters the celestial city


The sad news comes from America of the death of the baritone John Noble after a long illness. He was born in 1931 and studied mathematics at Cambridge University. While still a student at Cambridge in 1954 he sung the part of Pilgrim in Ralph Vaughan William's The Pilgrim's Progress and went on to a professional career which included singing the role in the EMI recording under Sir Adrian Boult in 1970/71.

The header photo above was taken in the Kingsway Hall control room during the recording and John Noble is in the centre foreground with, from left to right, Ursula Vaughan Williams, Christopher Bishop (producer), Sir Adrian Boult, Ian Partridge, Gloria Jennings, Christopher Parker (balance engineer), in front John Alldis (chorus master) and Sheila Armstrong.

John Noble's other recordings included Britten's Albert Herring for Decca, Verdi's Macbeth and Don Carlos for HMV, and Finzi's In Terra Pax for Lyrita. He also frequently sung the role of the Christus in the Matthew Passion and movingly passed away on Good Friday. His funeral is on April 8, which quite appropriately is Sir Adrian Boult's birthday.

Lead me, Lord, make my ways straight before my face.
And let all men that put their trust in Thee rejoice.

From Act 3 Scene 2 of Ralph Vaughan Williams' The Pilgrims Progress

With thanks to Mr. J. Vaughan. Photo credits Godfrey McDominic/EMI. 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

No such thing as a free lunch


Music has been chasing money ever since Bach bundled together six concertos in the hope of earning a few lunches from Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg. In the twenty-first century, as the credit crunch bites and funding dries up in Western countries, hardly a day passes without a story about yet more lavish arts patronage in the Eastern 'sunrise' economies.

Today Abu Dhabi gets the red-carpet treatment in the Guardian. Out in the United Arab Emirates the arts are getting everything money can buy, and more. The Louvre is signed up with a new building by Pritzker-winning architect Jean Nouvel and there is a must-have Guggenheim Museum by the must-have Frank Gehry, and crowning it all a 6,300 seater Performing Arts Centre seen above by British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid who won the Pritzker prize in 2004.

Justin Timberlake and Elton John have already done their thing in the new Abu Dhabi Arts Centre, and classical music is represented by a lavish festival organised by IMG Artists, themselves no strangers to chasing money. Sarah Chang, Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the London Philharmonic are just some of the artists who will be enjoying what looks like the ultimate free musical lunch.

Or is it? Despite power-luncher Steven Spielberg's recent epiphany the Guardian's Stuart Jeffries decides to neatly side-step the question of who pays. Which, I am sure, is totally unconnected with the fact that Abu Dhabi's PR people seem to be lunching the newspapers rather well right now. Musicians need to earn a living, music needs audiences and journalists need stories. But just to help explain who pays for this particular meal here are extracts from the Human Rights Watch web site for the United Arab Emirates, of which Abu Dhabi is the capital:

'The country does not hold elections for any public office, and political participation is limited to the ruling family in each emirate. The government has not signed most international human rights and labor rights treaties. Migrant workers, comprising nearly 90 percent of the workforce in the private sector, are particularly vulnerable to serious human rights violations. A major obstacle to monitoring and reporting human rights violations in the UAE is the lack of independent non-governmental organizations. The government actively discourages formation of such organizations.

Nearly 80 percent of the UAE’s population are foreigners, and foreigners account for 90 percent of the workforce in the private sector, including as domestic workers. The UAE’s extensive economic growth has attracted large sums in domestic and foreign investment, and a recent construction boom is one of the largest in the world.

There are persistent credible reports of abuses committed by employers, especially in small firms and against low-skilled workers. A main factor is the immigration sponsorship laws that grant employers extraordinary control over the affairs of migrant workers. Abuses committed against migrant workers include nonpayment of wages, extended working hours without overtime compensation, unsafe working environments resulting in death and injury, squalid living conditions in labor camps, and withholding of passports and travel documents by employers.

Women domestic workers are often confined to their places of work, and may be at particular risk of abuse including unpaid wages, long working hours, and physical or sexual abuse. According to the U.S. State Department, human trafficking to the UAE is an endemic problem.'


While elsewhere the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information reports on the UAE - 'Freedom of expression is missing despite a decision banning imprisonment for press crimes.'

Is there an acceptable middle way for the artist in a society where human rights are denied?
Header image credit Zaha Hadid. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Thursday, April 03, 2008

No flowers please for Herbert von Karajan


Few musicians have generated such a mixture of respect and revulsion as Herbert von Karajan. It takes Richard Osborne 851 pages in his masterly biography to capture the essence of this extraordinary conductor, entrepreneur and opportunist, and it would be impertinent to even attempt to cover the same ground here. So instead, with the centenary of Karajan's birth falling on April 5, I offer this personal vignette from my time at EMI, which I hope in some small way illustrates the conundrum that was this extraordinary man.

During the late 1970s the Machiavellian Karajan had carefully nurtured a deadly rivalry between EMI and his other contract company, Deutsche Grammophon. This meant that EMI had, at very considerable expense, outbid DG for the four act version of Verdi's Don Carlos with José Carreras and Mirella Freni, and Debussy's Pelléas et Méliande with Frederica von Stade and Richard Stilwell. Pélleas was a personal passion of Karajan, and because of this he agreed to make a very rare personal appearance to promote the release of the recording when he was in London in 1979 on a Berlin Philharmonic tour.

It fell to a small team headed by me to organise a 'money no object' Karajan event to prove that anything Deutsche Grammophon could do EMI could do better. At this point I have to confess that several of us were slightly ambivalent about Karajan's personality if not his music making, so we decided that the event should mirror the maestro and be just a little bit over the top. Karajan and his Berlin band were rehearsing in the Royal Festival Hall with one of their 'drive-thru' programmes, including Ein Heldenleben if my memory serves me right. So we booked the Abraham Lincoln Room (yes really) in the outrageously expensive Savoy Hotel directly across the Thames from the hall.

The whole event was organised like a military operation, my plan of action is reproduced at the foot of the article. EMI's Abbey Road Studios provided copy masters of the Don Carlos and Pelléas recordings and tape machines to play them on while KEF supplied monitor speakers. Frederica von Stade and Richard Stilwell also agreed to attend, and eighty leading music journalists accepted the personalised invitation seen below

Our over the top plans included equipping all my team with personal radios (this was decades before cell phones) and communicating with each other military style, with HvK code-named The Eagle. Staff were stationed at the stage door of the Festival Hall to brief us when Karajan was en route, and the company's limo with vanity plates EMI 1 was used to transport the conductor. (Those were the days of company limos, I bet everyone in EMI today has a Tata except Guy Hands). We were explicitly told that the maestro did not eat in public, so the journos were fed the most expensive buffet in company history while Karjan enjoyed a hero's life across the river.

Bang on time the Eagle appeared at the Savoy and Peter Andry, director of EMI's International Classical Division, who was also my boss and a Karajan confidant, chaired a flawless presentation which included the conductor talking passionately about Pélleas, a stunning playback of the love duet from the opera, and questions from the journalists. The header photo was taken at the end of the presentation and Peter Andry is with Karajan; it is from my personal files and may not have been published before.

As the presentation ended Andry thanked Karajan and the conductor left the platform to lively applause. Then came the pièce de résistance. My indefatigable secretary was stationed to the side with a bouquet of the Savoy's finest flowers which probably cost the equivalent of half EMI's current classical recording budget. Only one problem; nobody had told us that as well as not eating in public the maestro did not accept flowers in public. Karajan rudely brushed Rosemary aside and fled for the door leaving a very red-faced secretary clutching a huge bunch of flowers watched by eighty highly amused journalists.

So there we have Herbert von Karajan. Inspired music maker and totally self-serving personality. Even after almost thirty years I can't hear the love duet from Pelléas without thinking of the cost of those flowers.

Happy birthday maestro, wherever you are.


* I will be celebrating the Contemporary Karajan on Future Radio at 5.00pm on April 6 and 12.50am on April 7 with a programme of twentieth-century classics conducted by him. The music is:
~ Alban Berg – Three pieces from the “Lyric Suite”
~ Arthur Honegger – Symphony No 3

Lots more Karajan links here. Peter Andry, who is seen in my header photo with Karajan, master-minded many great EMI recordings including one of my personal favourites, Karajan's 1970 Dresden Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Before joining EMI Andry was a Decca producer and his recording of the Ernest Bloch String Quartets should be in every CD collection. Read more about it here.

All images and text (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008 and not to be reproduced without prior written permission. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk