Saturday, May 31, 2008

Some silence between the notes


In the coming weeks there will be some much-needed silence between the notes as An Overgrown Path takes a summer break. Do support other music blogs here and here while I am away, or even better go to a live concert.

...listen, there's a hell
of a good universe next door; let's go

e.e. cummings

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

Friday, May 30, 2008

Avoid three kinds of master


Avoid three kinds of Master:
Those who esteem only themselves,
For their self-esteem is blindness;
Those who esteem only innovations,
Without meaning;
Those who esteem only what is established;
Their minds
Are little cells of ice.

'To A Novice' by Thomas Merton based on Sufi writings.


My photos show the Ben Youssef Medersa in Marrakech, Morocco. A medersa is a Quaranic school attached to a mosque which is dedicated to the teaching of Islamic scripture and law. This example, with more than a hundred windowless student cells, dates from the 14th century. In 1998 it was used to represent the Algerian Sufic retreat in the film of Esther Freud's novel Hideous Kinky.


Related listening - Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) miraculously captures the mystery of Islam in his setting of The Adhan (Call to Prayer) on his Footsteps in the Light CD. Stockhausen and Sufism may seem unlikely bedfellows but trumpeter Markus Stockhausen (son of Karlheinz) is one of the musicians on Dhafer Youssef's genre-bending Electric Sufi album. Youssef plays oud and provides vocals and ambient sounds on an album that has Sufism at its heart but ranges across a mix of contemporary styles. Watch out for Dhaffer Youssef, he is working with Joanna McGregor (hear them together on BBC Radio 3 tonight) and other progressive artists to prove that mixing it is the way forward.


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

Following the early music path

Yesterday's post about ArkivMusic's reissue of David Munrow's The Art of Courtly Love reminds me that there are also some fine re-issues in Teldec's Das Alte Werk's 50th anniversary series. Particularly notable is Troubadours, Trouvères, Minstrels from Thomas Binkley's (left) under-rated and pioneering Studio der Frühen Musik who also recorded for EMI Electrola's ground-breaking, but so far not re-issued, Reflexe series. Yet more evidence that the tills are alive with the sound of early music.
Image credit Indiana University. 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

New media swings and roundabouts


News comes from Future Radio that one of the station's four salaried team members has lost his job because of funding pressures. Producer Dan Nyman has been a huge support for my various Overgrown Path projects and will be badly missed. Future Radio is a not-for-profit community station and the rest of the team (including me) are volunteers committed to exploring alternative programming and new media opportunities, and the impressive download figures for projects such as my podcast of the music of Peter Paul Fuchs show it is working. Donations to support the running costs of the station can be made via PayPal.

Elsewhere comes news that the BBC's management has been accused of "poor financial accountability" by the BBC Trust after it emerged that the corporation went almost £36m over budget in its spending on bbc.co.uk in the past financial year. A review of bbc.co.uk published by the trust shows that the actual spend in the 12 months to the end of March 2008 on the corporation's UK web operations was £110m - almost £36m, or 48%, above what had been budgeted. The review by the BBC Trust, the corporation's governance and regulatory body, branded this incident a "serious breach" of bbc.co.uk's service licence. The BBC's income in 2007 was £3.2 billion financed by a non-negotiable license fee paid by all UK TV viewers.

"All that you can do is to make - and publicise - the best and most passionately well-crafted programmes you can think of. Ratings have to be watched, but calmly and with a sense of proportion. You have to believe that if even one person is swayed, or inspired, or changed, or comforted, by a programme, then that programme has been worthwhile" - Libby Purves in Radio: A True Love Story.

The good news is that people are being swayed and inspired.
Dan Nyman can be contacted via me using the email address below. 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 CD connects with its inner child

The CD is fighting back by connecting with its inner child, the vinyl LP. Check out this wonderful list of budget-priced re-issues of vinyl classics from Everst which includes Carlos Chavez conducting his own symphonies , Barbirolli conducting Ravel and Boult conducting Hindemith, the latter CD playing for precisely 29 minutes 47 seconds; is that really a record? Cue a tale of two Chavez.
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, May 29, 2008

Steinway acquires 'on-demand' music retailer


Steinway Musical Instruments, Inc. has announced it has acquired ArkivMusic, LLC, an online retailer of classical music recordings. Specializing in the efficient delivery of a broad selection of classical music titles direct to the consumer, ArkivMusic sells over 90,000 titles, including thousands of previously out-of-print recordings produced "on-demand" through its ArkivCD program. The company's annual revenue growth rate has accelerated over the last four years, exceeding 30% in 2007, with sales last year of just over $8 million. ArkivMusic will continue to operate independently as a wholly owned subsidiary of Steinway.

ArkivMusic has a business model that the struggling major record labels can learn a few things from as it combines the strengths of physical product with the benefits of a minimum inventory technology based business. An example is their licensing and making available "on-demand" EMI's David Munrow back-catalogue, the latest release being The Art of Courtly Love. There is a wonderful irony that as EMI's new owner Guy Hands pontificates about finding "a solution to the problems that face the entire recorded music industry" other smart companies are building those very solutions with EMI's crown jewels.

Read about David Munrow on the record here.
With thanks to T E McCarthy for pointing me down this path. 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

Contemporary music's Grand Canyon Suite?


Glance at the retouched CD sleeve above from EMI's new budget priced American Classics series. What is the music? - Grofé's Grand Canyon Suite or, perhaps, Copland's Rodeo or Billy the Kid? No, as the original sleeve below shows, it is three masterpieces from that most cerebral of composers, Elliott Carter.

The marketing trick of 'every cover picture tells a different story to the music' has been around since the dawn of the LP age. It continues today, in the twilight of the CD era, with, for example, the excellent Warner Apex budget reissues of Boulez resorting to soft focus library images of flowers. But if the cover image doesn't affect sales why not use typography, as HatHut do with their [now]Art label? And if it does affect sales why couple an easy on the eye photo of the Grand Canyon with an excellent CD containing what a perceptive sleeve note by Martin Cotton calls 'a tough listen'.

Connecting with new audiences for contemporary music is quite rightly a pre-occupation on the blogs and elsewhere. But how many floating listeners will buy this £8 CD expecting to hear contemporary music's Grand Canyon Suite, only to feel misled by the visual 'recommendation'? Isn't it better to manage expectations than flatter to deceive? In today's credit crunch markets cost is the excuse that covers all manner of sins. Yes, library images are cheap. But so is the creative use of typography or royalty free deals (as are used so aggressively by the record companies for the music itself) with ambitious young artists and photographers. Independent label Soli deo Gloria shows how it can be done with their attention-grabbing covers using the powerful photos of Steve McCurry.

Surely a new series celebrating the music of America, that most graphic of countries, just cries out for contemporary graphics? Coverless MP3 downloads may be the new wave, but not yet in the budget market where these American Classics CDs are over-the-counter impulse buys. Low priced re-releases like this are an important vehicle for expanding the market for new music, and as Alan Rich explains in his excellent book Music - Mirror of the Arts the visual arts are a powerful tool for making contemporary music accessible.

'The listener who feels out of touch with some of today's musical developments can, beyond any question, enhance his understanding of this music by observing contemporary developments in painting, sculpture and architecture. For the separate arts do not exist in isolation. Together they provide a key to the prevailing creative impulses of their time: a firsthand report, worded directly from the inner consciousness of the creators themselves. Together they form a body which draws upon the spirit of the time, each in its own way. Together they attest strongly to the integrity of the whole of artistic creation.'

The feeble imagery on this EMI re-issue is the greater pity because the music and performances are so good and the price is so affordable. If you don't have Carter's Concerto for Orchestra, Violin Concerto and Ives influenced Three Occasions for Orchestra in your collection this is a 'must buy'. If you have the works but not these performances by Oliver Knussen, the London Sinfonietta and violinist Ole Böhn you are missing something quite special. And the gorgeous sound captured by engineer Tryggvi Tryggvason in Henry Wood Hall and Blackheath Concert Halls in 1992 is confirmation that the fine art of sleeve design may be dead, but the black art of great recorded sound lives on.


Now this is what I call great sleeve art.
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, May 28, 2008

Listen to the music of a metallic nightmare


"This is music of a metallic nightmare" wrote a reviewer of the music of Alexander Mosolov. Born in Kiev in 1900 Mosolov wrote "socialist realist" music in the USSR during the 1920s including the work recorded on the shellac 78 above which is variously described as coming from A Symphony of Machines or a ballet called Steel. More information from the excellent webrarian.co.uk or listen online to the record here.


The "B-side" of the disc features a work evocatively titles "the Dnieper Water Power Station". This is scored mainly for percussion and celebrates the building in 1932 of what was the largest single hydro-electric plant in Europe on the Dnieper River in Ukraine. The composer is Yuli Meytus who was born in 1903 in Elisavetgrad. Again more at webrarian.co.uk and listen online to the music of a water power station here.


Many thanks to prolific 'path finder' Walt Santner for uncovering the musical gems, enjoy more of Walt's research here.
Images from Davno.ru. 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, May 27, 2008

Classical music in the year of the rat


AfriClassical reports that in a last minute change African American conductor James DePreist, who is director of conducting and orchestral studies at the Juilliard School and nephew of Marian Anderson, will not, as previously announced, be leading the Juilliard Orchestra in their imminent tour of China which takes in Beijing and Shanghai. Instead the concerts will be led by Chinese conductor Xian Zhang.

Elsewhere in an unrelated news item leading artists agency Harrison Parrott has just announced the opening of a Shanghai office and says about its new Chinese venture - 'Harrison Parrott's programme for the future includes orchestral tours, artists and special projects as we build on our collaboration with the presenting halls and orchestras ... From an artist management perspective we are proud to represent conductor Xian Zhang with her rapidly accelerating international career.'

More music behind the great firewall of China 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

Gerontius - that is a sublime masterpiece


On 29 September 1958 John Barbirolli conducted Part 1 of Gerontius with the Dublin Choir in the presence of Pope Pius XII at Castel Gandolfo, only a few days before the Pope's death. 'I have often wondered', he wrote, 'what the feelings of Newman and Elgar would be if they could know that the last music [the Pope] heard had been Elgar's setting of Newman's words "Go forth upon thy journey, Christian soul". As Barbirolli knelt before him, the Pope said: 'Figlio mio, questo e un capolavoro sublime' ('My son, that is a sublime masterpiece').

The header photo shows Sir John Barbirolli recording The Dream of Gerontius in 1964 in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester. No CD collection is complete without Barbirolli's Manchester account or Benjamin Britten's version which was recorded in Snape Maltings, the latter is now, thankfully, back in the catalogue - grab it while you can. Also noteworthy is the recent first-ever CD release of Barbirolli conducting Gerontius in Rome in 1957 with the RAI Rome Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. This super-budget version from Archipel has come available because the original recording issued on LP is now out of copyright. Despite the poor quality of the RAI sound the Rome recording is an important historical document as it is the only version with the incomparable Jon Vickers in the title role (the Hallé version has Richard Lewis). But Barbirolli's Manchester version is the one to have, as the Holy Father said 'that is a sublime masterpiece'.

Now read about Glorious John in New York.
Quotation from Barbirolli, the Authorised Biography by Michael Kennedy. The Dublin Choir was from Our Lady's Choral Society. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Monday, May 26, 2008

The art and music of the Sahara


My photos show textiles and other artefacts from a wonderful collection that celebrates the art of the Sahara. A major geographic and cultural barrier, the Sahara is the world's largest hot desert and the second largest desert of any type after Antarctica. Following the Islamic conversion of West Africa in the seventh and eighth centuries important trade routes opened-up across the Sahara connecting North Africa and Europe with sub-Saharan Africa using Berber guides who also supplied camels.


One of the earliest trading routes connected the Senegal and Mali regions south of the Sahara to Sijilmasa in southern Morocco and then on to Marrakech and to European Moorish al-Andalus. As well as transporting gold and slaves north the route also became a very early communications channel along which cultural influences travelled and my photos show exhibits in the remarkable museum recording the multi-cultural development of the Sahara region which was created in Marrakech by the Dutch anthropologist Bert Flint.


Flint was born in Groningen in Holland in 1931 and after studying Islamic and Hispanic art and culture moved to Marrakech in 1957 where he taught art while continuing to study Andalusian-Arab culture. Over the years his focus increasingly turned to rural culture and he built up an important collection of artefacts from the Saharan region through his extensive travels which reached as far as Mali to the south of the Sahara.


In 1981 Bert Flint opened his private collection in a beautifully restored riad, the Maison Tiskiwin, to the public, and it is there that my photos were taken. In 2006 he donated the riad and the major part of his collection to the city of Marrakech and the museum is now administered by the University of Marrakech as a wonderful antidote to the 'lifestyle tourism' that is in danger of submerging the city.


Now playing - The Mandé Variations by Toumani Diabaté; brought up in Bamako, capital of Mali, and son of one of the country's leading griot musicians Toumani Diabaté is one of the best known exponents of the twenty-one string African harp known as the kora. Griot musicians are part of an oral tradition which also includes the storytellers of Morocco who featured in an earlier article here. In recent years Toumani Diabaté has been responsible for the emergence of the kora from ensemble to solo instrument, and this move continues with The Mandé Variations which lay Western pop, Indian classical, flamenco and blues over a foundation of Malian griot music. As a member of the harp family the sound of the kora is not alien to Western ears which means this album is an excellent and accessible introduction to the musical art of the Sahara region.

Judith Weir wrote an opera set in the desert. OK, I know Verdi did as well.
Photos (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Meanwhile back at the BBC

I don't want to write about it and I'm sure not many want to read about it, but here's the link if you must. Or you could ...
Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

My favourite music ...

'My favourite music is the music I haven't heard' - John Cage.

Try some music I'm pretty certain you haven't heard tonight at 0.01am May 26 UK time (Sunday afternoon or evening North American, find the local time here) when Future Radio webcasts a complete African trance ritual together with a minimal trance set as a contribution to cleaning the ears of the musically educated.
Header image was photographed by me at an exhibition of contemporary graphics inspired by Islamic typography in the Badii Palace, Marrakech, and I'm sorry but I don't have a note of the artists name. Photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008.Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Another statistic of the week


He has set up his own highly successful record company and is an acclaimed instrumentalist, composer, conductor, musicologist and intercultural ambassador for the European Union. He has received two Grammy nominations for his film soundtracks, his album of music from the film Tous les matins du monde has sold more than a million copies and last year he performed 182 concerts. Jordi Savall is 67.

You can hear him in conversation with me at 5.00pm May 25 and 0.50am May 28 UK time on Future Radio. Now read why youth is a state of mind, not a time of life.
Header photo is from Jordi Savall and Hesperion XXI's Orient-Occident CD which will feature on my Future Radio programme. 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, May 23, 2008

In Memoriam Siegmund Nissel


'Had Sigi been able to pursue his education without interruption in Austria he might have followed a profession other than that of a musician. He has an excellent mind and says he would have liked to have been a scientist; but he is also a gifted linguistic and competent in many fields. He once called himself a frustrated footballer. The cellist William Pleeth, with whom the Amadeus frequently played, summed up his relationship with Sigi in these words: "I feel I can talk to Sigi all day and night. When you have an affection for someone, then you are contetedly alive with that person, there are no reservations spiritually, humanity-wise and intellectually, and you play ping-ping non-stop".' Muriel Nissel writes of her husband Siegmund Nissel (far right in photo above), second violin of the Amadeus Quartet, who died on May 21, 2008.

The last time I heard the Amadeus play was in the Philharmonie in Berlin shortly before the death of their viola player Peter Schidlof brought their performing career to a premature end in 1987. It was a privilege to have heard them making music live. Fortunately they left many fine recordings behind, their CD of Haydn's Emperor Quartet, op. 76 No. 3 plays as I write.


Speaking of ping-pong.
Quotation from Married to the Amadeus Quartet by Muriel Nissel (ISBN 1900357127 which is highly recommended. 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

Music of Black Africa on Future Radio


'If something is boring for one minute try it for two, and if it is still boring, try it for four minutes; eventually one discovers it is interesting' - Zen saying.

Find out whether the Zen masters are right this holiday weekend when my Future Radio programme scores another first with the broadcast premiere of a complete African trance ritual recorded in the Medina of Marrakech, Morocco. The performance is by traditional gnawa musicians (photo above) and has been made possible by a collaboration between the Norwich community station Future Radio 96.9FM and KamarStudios who are based in Marrakech and New York.

Marrakech is known as the Gate of Black Africa and gnawa music came to Morocco from sub-Saharan Africa with the slave trade. For centuries gnawa has only been played in secret spirit-possession and healing ceremonies called lilas that evolved from ancient African animistic and Islamic Sufi rituals. In these religious rites healing spirits are said “to mount” the possessed, who whirl and writhe in an ecstatic trance.

Recordings of the gnawa trance rituals are very rare as they are performed in private. But KamarStudios have worked with leading gnawa musicians to record the complete ‘black’ section of the twelve hour long Nights of the Seven Colours trance ritual which celebrates the creation of the universe. The ‘black’ ritual lasts for two hours and in a broadcast first will be aired on Future Radio without interruption. The performance is led by gnawa master musician Abbes Baska Larfaoui supported by eighteen musicians and dancers.

Gnawa music, which combines vocals with repetitive and intricate cross rhythms on percussion has many connections with contemporary music and now has its own festival at Essaouira on the Moroccan coast which attracts an international audience, while Steve Reich and many other contemporary composers have been influenced by African drum rhythms.

To reflect these contemporary connections the broadcast of the sacred lilas is being paired with a one hour set which combines the traditional gnawa musicians with two young Marrakech DJs whose influences range from Philip Glass to Bill Laswell. This one hour electro-acoustic ‘minimalist trance’ set concludes the webcast which starts on Future Radio at 12.01am UK time early on Monday morning May 26 which is Sunday afternoon or evening in North America, find precise local time here.

Remember also my interview with Jordi Savall which is being broadcast at 5.00pm UK time this Sunday May 25. As the gnawa trance broadcast takes the usual Overgrown Path repeat slot early on Monday morning the Jordi Savall interview is getting a special repeat at 12.01am on Wednesday May 28, which is Tuesday afternoon or evening in North America.

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, May 22, 2008

Jordi Savall and the just-in-time interview


Jordi Savall's office in Spain was quite certain, he really wanted to give an interview On An Overgrown Path when he was in Norwich. The maestro (above) even phoned me back from his home in Barcelona to say yes, he would definitely find time. I couldn't raise him again on his mobile phone after he arrived in England, but on the morning of the concert I met him at his signing session and he told me to come to the concert venue of St Peter Mancroft at the end of the sound-check at 6.45pm, and he would do the interview between the rehearsal and the 7.30pm concert start. But I arrived at St Peter Mancroft at 6.30pm to find a disaster. The taxi sent to collect him had arrived at his hotel 30 minutes late. So everything was behind schedule and the event manager thought an interview was unlikely. But a message came back from the maestro, he would do the interview after 7.00pm.

The sound-check finished late at 7.05pm and as the capacity audience started to fill the church a charming but tired Jordi Savall said he wanted a cup of tea before facing my microphone. Just after 7.10pm the recording started to the side of the stage in view of some of the audience and soon it really started to flow. But with five minutes to go to the concert start time and only half my questions asked it looked as though On An Overgrown Path might go down in history as the first blog to delay the start of a Norwich Festival concert. So I decided discretion was the better part of valour and bailed out using my scripted exit which thanked the maestro for his time. At which point, and we were now four minutes from the start of the concert, to my disbelief he said 'I just want to say one more thing...' and went on to deliver a short but inspirational message about the power of music and the need inner peace.

He never missed a beat, the concert started on time and was, of course, magnificent. And after it had ended many of the audience wouldn't leave, and the four musicians from Hesperion XXI stayed on stage for some time to talk to members of the audience about the rare instruments they had been playing including an oud, rebab, santur and 100 year old Moroccan drum. The next morning was Sunday, and Jordi Savall was leaving his hotel in Norwich at 7.00am to return to Spain. Before the interview he told me had played 182 concerts last year.

Hear my just-in-time interview complete with audience noise and Jordi Savall's message on inner peace on Future Radio at 5.00pm on Sunday May 25 repeated at 00.01am on Wednesday May 28. Or to the streamed version - less music for copyright reasons - here.

The words 'Prayer for inner and outer peace' are written in Beethoven's own hand in the manuscript of his Missa Solemnis over the line in which the 'Dona nobis' theme first appears. 'For Inner and Outer Peace' was also used as the title of a moving book (below) inspired by Beethoven's masterpiece and written by another great musician and humanitarian. Read more about Antal Dorati here.

Now playing - the Sanctus from Beethoven's Missa Solemnis in the recording with Philippe Herreweghe conducting the Choeurs de La Chapelle Royale and the Collegium Vocale Gent, the Orchestre des Champs-Élysées and soloists. It is surprising how many of today's 'jet set' conductors have failed to scale this peak of Beethoven's creativity satisfactorily. Like Jordi Savall, Philippe Herreweghe built his reputation in early music, but, also like the Catalan musician, for Herreweghe there is no early, classical or contemporary music, just music. For me Herreweghe's performance, which was recorded live at a concert, is one of the great interpretations of Beethoven's masterpiece, as indeed is Dorati's own on BIS. Dorati's version is still in the catalogue but his book and Herreweghe's recording are both, alas, no longer available. Dorati's book was published by International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, read more about their
vital work for inner and outer peace here.

Photo of Jordi Savall taken by my wife during the just-in-time interview and (c) On An Overgown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Unlocking the music of Maurice Ohana

'Neglected genius' and 'undiscovered masterpiece' have become devalued marketing-speak following the John Foulds World Requiem debacle last year. And yes, I know I've used those words myself enough times. But recently both here and on Future Radio I have tried simply to present the music, irrespective of how well or little known the composer is. The music itself is the best advocate of a composer's powers and the listener is the best judge. So as presenter I now try simply to be a conduit for the artist's genius, or otherwise. In that spirit I am discussing a composer today who will probably be as unfamiliar to most readers as he was to me until recently, and my best introduction is to say I was very surprised I had not come across him before.


Maurice Ohana's musical influences are truly multi-cultural. He was born in Casablanca , Morocco in 1913 one year after the Treaty of Fès imposed French rule on the country. He came from Sephardic-Jewish stock and his parents were of Spanish-Gibraltarian origin and held British nationality as a result of the Gibraltar connection. This meant that Ohana was a British citizen until he became a French national in 1976. But although the British side of his parents determined his nationality it was his Spanish ancestry coupled with his exposure to traditional tribal music from Morocco and sub-Saharan Africa and Afro-Cuban folk-music that helped forge his musical style. The photos accompanying this post were all taken during my recent visit to Morocco and I hope they give a flavour of the unique culture that helped mould the young composer.


The teenage Ohana left Morocco to study architecture in Paris, a vocation he shared with Iannis Xenakis. But he soon switched his studies to music and became a concert pianist on graduating. He worked as pianist with a Spanish dance group and became immersed in the music of Falla, Albéniz and Granados. But he saw his future as a composer and in 1937 enrolled in the composition class at the Schola Cantorum in Paris where Renaissance polyphony added another layer to his cosmopolitan composition style. His studies were cut short by the outbreak of the Second World War and, unlike several other composers, Ohana was committed to fighting the horror of Fascism. He escaped to Britain via Portugal in 1940 and saw active service with the British Army in several theatres of war.


When Ohana returned to Paris after demobilisation in 1946 he found himself marginalised by what he considered to be doctrinaire groups who had pursued their music careers during the German occupation. Although Ohana's voice was contemporary and he certainly wasn't swimming against the tide of modernism he felt out of sympathy with Boulez and other members of the Darmstadt School. So Ohana joined with three like-minded composers to form the Groupe Zodiaque which was committed to freedom of musical expression developed from sources such as folk music and plainchant rather than the perceived tyranny of tone rows. This group gained support from Henri Dutilleux and other contemporary composers. But Ohana's refusal to align himself with the fashionable avant-garde left him unclassified and largely unknown outside France. Sixteen years after his death he remains an overlooked figure, a sad and surprising situation given the huge impact of Hispanic culture on contemporary North America.


But at this point I am going to break from the chronological narrative because I've noticed several readers logging off with a resigned sigh saying 'Oh no, here we go again, Ohana is just a late-20th century John Foulds'. Please stop before you leave. Because Maurice Ohana was not a disciple of Darmstadt and IRCAM does not mean he was a reactionary who spent his time writing 'comfort music'. His stylistic influences were pretty eclectic even if they did not include the holy trinity of Boulez, Messiaen and Stockhausen. That great figure of twentieth century music Igor Stravinsky was a major influence with Ohana's Livre des Prodiges (“Book of the Prodigies”) for orchestra paying homage to the Rite through quotation, while some of Ohana's progressive counterpoint recalls Witold Lutoslawski and there are also hints of Carl Orff in his writing for voices.


Among Ohana's early influences are de Falla with whom he shared a passion for the harpsichord, and Ohana's own wonderfully edgy contribution to the harpsichord repertoire looks forward to Xenakis and shares Elisabeth Chojnacka as an advocate. Ohana's orchestral balances were of the moment and favoured piano and percussion over strings, and he explored new techniques including the use of micro-intervals and writing for the voice as instrument rather than narrator. But counterbalancing these contemporary credentials were references to the past including Medieval and Renaissance Spain and Andalusian flamenco.


But I'm going off track again. Ohana would probably have hated my dogmatic attempts to categorise his output, and anyway the music is his most eloquent advocate. For just £12 ($24) you can buy Erato's superb 4CD overview of Maurice Ohana's music which includes what is arguably his finest work Syllabaire pour Phèdre from 1967 together with Livres des prodiges from 1979, plus his first cello concerto and some of his fine music for harpsichord played by the incomparable Elisabeth Chojnacka and much more supported by a fine essay from the composer's biographer Caroline Rae. As I said at the beginning I'm just the conduit. But, believe me, the music of Maurice Ohana is well worth unlocking. My copies of the Erato discs have received far more than the industry standard 1.3 playings and they will be receiving an airing soon on my Future Radio programme. So for this contemporary composer from Casablanca it really is - play it again Ohana


Maurice Ohana website here, read about the Sephardic Jews here.
With thanks to David Derrick for giving me the key to this particular door. All photos (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Close encounters of a fire kind

The Berlin Philharmonic has a close encounter with fire. Some, but fortunately not too much, damage to the Philharmonie (above), so it wasn't the orchestra's darkest hour. But moving their concerts to alternative venues must bring dark memories. And close encounters with fire reminds me it happened not once but twice to the Philadelphia Orchestra. But the inferno at Britten's Snape Maltings was music's greatest tragedy and triumph.

Image credit Wikipedia. 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, May 20, 2008

Serial music as architecture


"Herbert Eimert, who was a critic of Kölnische Rundschau, was a gentle patriarchal figure whom many people found rather unapproachable. In the following years he was to become Stockhausen's paternalistic sponsor, paving his way for his first performances and employment at WDR (West German Radio). Eimert himself had dabbled in composition. The bases of his musical thinking were measure and number; he was deeply impressed when he later found these features in the construction of the Moorish Alhambra Palace in Southern Spain (above), describing it as 'serial music in terms of architecture'" - from Stockhausen - A Biography by Michael Kurtz (Faber ISBN 057117146). Which is also where the graphic below from Stockhausen's score for Zyklus came from.


The recent release of Stimmung by the Theatre of Voices directed by Paul Hillier has been spending a lot of time in my CD player. This is the first recording of this work for more than twenty years, and follows on from Paul Hillier's recent CD of Terry Riley's In C which was recorded in Copenhagen with the Danish vocal group Ars Nova. Stimmung also comes from Copenhagen, but this time with Theatre of Voices who now include several singers from Ars Nova. It seems that football teams aren't the only ones transferring players.

Now see how Iannis Xenakis composed in glass.
Photo credit Wikipedia. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Monday, May 19, 2008

Priceless Wagner rescued from BBC archives


For the first time ever, the legendary centenary production of Wagner's The Mastersingers, conducted by Reginald Goodall (above) and broadcast live from Sadler's Wells Theatre on 10 February 1968 is being released by Chandos on CD as a commercial recording. The 4-CD set is currently being re-mastered from the tapes of a BBC Radio 3 live broadcast from Sadler's Wells Theatre and is scheduled for July release. The cast includes Alberto Remedios as Walther von Stolzing, Norman Bailey as Hans Sachs, Derek Hammond-Stroud as Sixtus Beckmesser and Gregory Dempsey as David, and those of us who were privileged to see this production will remember it as a life-enhancing and life-changing experience.

As I recounted in an earlier article the resounding success of the 1968 Mastersingers brought Reginald Goodall in from the musical wilderness and led to his conducting an 'English' Ring at the London Coliseum in the 1970s. This Ring Cycle was commercially recorded and released originally by EMI on LP, and after that company fell into the hands of accountants it was re-released by Chandos who are doing a magnificent job of keeping these great performances available. But please Chandos, can you do something about your website? It may be cutting-edge and allow the purchase of MP3 files, but the search facility is terrible. Which is why the link above to the Goodall Ring points to Amazon.

It is very good news that this great 'lost recording' of The Mastersingers is at last being released commercially by Chandos to sit in their catalogue alongside that great English Ring. But it does beg the question why it needs an independent record company to exploit this legendary material from the BBC archive? What about the BBC's own appropriately named BBC Legends record label which already has some Goodall material in its catalogue? The BBC's reasons for licensing this priceless material to Chandos escapes me, but I'm quite sure they have nothing to do with the Goodall ENO Ring competing with the Covent Garden Heritage label's own Die Meistersinger recording which just happens to be released this month by the same company as is responsible for BBC Legends.

Now read the full story in Reginald Goodall - the holy fool.
Picture credit from Reggie, the Life of Reginald Goodall by John Lucas. Highly recommended but like many great things, currently out of print. But I do notice that author John Lucas has a new biography of Thomas Beecham scheduled for autumn publication by music specialists Boydell & Brewer. 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, May 18, 2008

Symphonic suite after the Arabian Nights


This visual celebration of different cultures starts a week of cultural diversity On An Overgrown Path. I took the photos in the Majorelle Gardens in Marrakech, Morocco. These famous gardens were created in North Africa in the 1930s by two generations of French artists, Jacques and Louis Majorelle and are now owned by Yves Saint Laurent who was born in Oran, French Algeria.


My week of celebration will culminate with two exclusive Future Radio programmes over the coming holiday weekend. At 5.00pm UK time on Sunday May 25 I will present an interview I recorded with Jordi Savall minutes before he went on stage last night with Hesperion XXl for the rapturously received closing concert of the 2008 Norfolk & Norwich Festival. Hear Jordi Savall talking about the relationship between early, contemporary and world music, about the music of Arvo Pärt, about the shortcomings of major record labels and about music as a humanitarian force in this exclusive interview. Jordi Savall's Norwich concert presented
music from his Occident-Orient project, and my programme will also feature this truly multi-cultural music.


My interview with Jordi Savall will be followed a few hours later by another multi-cultural celebration, the webcast premiere of a complete African trance ritual recorded in the medina of Marrakech, Morocco. The performance is played by traditional gnawa musicians and is being broadcast at 12.01am on May 26 on Future Radio followed by a contemporary 'minimal trance' set.


Now playing - Rimsky-Korsakov's Symphonic Suite after "A Thousand and One Nights" Scheherazade in the classic 1959 recording by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Fritz Reiner. It is easy to understand from this extraordinary performance why Reiner was feared and hated by members of his orchestra. It is hard-driven with almost impossible tempi for the exposed parts and the result is one of the wonders of the gramophone. Not a first choice for Scheherazade, but no CD collection should be without it. Meanwhile back at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra it is still love 'em, hate 'em.


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

Composers in exile


Dear Bob, I just listened to your brilliant program on composers in exile. Bravo to you and to Future Radio.

Thank you for playing Peter Paul Fuch's music (photo above). I do hope that you will have some interesting feedback. Thank you also for helping me discover Karl Weigl's music. I must admit that I really knew nothing of it, and it's wonderful.

I must now run to rehearsal this evening, we're an hour later here. Bravo, et à bientôt..

Adrian McDonnell, Orchestra de la Cité International, Paris


Hear Composers in Exile repeated tonight at 12.50am UK time May 19 (that is Sunday evening North American time, convert to local time zones here) or download Peter Peter Paul Fuchs' music on An Overgrown Path podcast.

We may not be BBC Radio 3, but strong enthusiasm really can change the world.
Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

How we wish this stuff would end


Tinkle, tinkle, pi-a-no,
Only thirty-six hours to go
Just one timbre all weekend
How we wish this stuff would end
Drive the listeners away
Gone to CFM to play.


The few listeners that BBC Radio 3 has left are resorting to doggerel on the station's website to deride this week-end's ill-conceived Chopin Experience. Instead of opting for more of the same on Classic FM why don't they try some Chopin therapy here?
Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The tills are alive with the sound of early music






A great independent artist in a great independent record store - Jordi Savall performs and signs in Prelude Records, Norwich today. Read about another great independent record store here.
Photos (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk