Monday, June 30, 2008

Moorish Spain - truly multicultural civilisation


Football doesn't feature here very often, but I have to record my delight at Spain's victory last night in Euro 2000. There is currently a refreshing vibrancy about Spain that is all the more remarkable considering that both Spain and its Iberian neighbour Portugal suffered under right-wing oppression for decades after the defeat of Fascist poster-boys Hitler and Mussolini.

The roots of Spain's creative vibrancy go back to the seven centuries of Arab rule from 711 to 1492, which gave rise to a truly multicultural civilisation in which three monotheistic religions and peoples of diverse origins lived in a harmony which should serve as an example in our terror-torn twenty-first century. In Andalucia the cities of Córdoba , Seville and Granada became great centres of cultural, artistic and religous activity in which music and the other creative arts flourished.

Three diverse elements came together to create the Moorish music of the region - Middle Eastern, North African Berber and native Iberian and these three elements also come together in a fascinating CD titled Jardin de Myrtes and inspired by Moorish music from Andalucia. It is played by the French ensemble L'Ensemble Aromates supplemented by Arab musicians. Although an exotic range of instruments is used there is no pretense of historic authenticity; this is a vibrant CD of Oriental music with Baroque touches mixed with Western music with Eastern touches. Highly recommended, and just one of many off-the-beaten-track delights in the innovative Alpha label's Les chants de la terre (Songs of the earth) series. .

More about the truly multi-cultural civilisation in Convivencia and in the story of the Sephardic Jews.
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Sunday, June 29, 2008

In the name of cultural diplomacy


'In a basement studio of the National Centre for the Performing Arts, another wall was coming down. Our education team was working with 28 young Chinese and a group of teachers. Within an hour and a half, they are all producing their own, short, dance piece. To me it seems miraculous. Cultural diplomacy is as important now as it has ever been' - writes the chief executive of London's Royal Opera House in a retrospective justification of the Royal Ballet's tour to China in today's Independent.

The Indies' endline reads as follows - 'Tony Hall is chief executive of the Royal Opera House. The Royal Ballet tour to China is supported by Rio Tinto'.

Continue the tour here, here and here while a dancer in another company takes some wrong steps here. And more cultural diplomacy here.

Header photo is not of Sleeping Beauty which the Royal Ballet took to China but from Indymedia.org.nz. 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, June 28, 2008

Harrison Birtwistle's spirit of space


Spirit of space as well as spirit of place is being celebrated at this year's Aldeburgh Festival. The magic of perspective was present even before the music started with sculptor East Anglian sculptor Laurence Edwards' three nine feet high Creek Men (photo above) menacingly standing guard over the distant marshes.

Space and visual images were also at the heart of last night's double-header new music programme which included the UK premiere of Harrison Birtwistle's string quartet Tree of Strings. This totally convincing study in creative fragmentation started with the superb Arditti Quartet inhabiting a single musical and physical space at the centre of the stage. Then, as the thirty minute work unfolded they moved to separate and distanced spaces around the perimeter of the large Snape platform where they spoke with separate musical voices before individually, and silently, making their exits from the famous performing space. In the magical final moments, as the last member of the quartet, cellist Lucas Fels, stopped playing and left with his instrument, we were left wondering whether the Arditti were on their way across the wind-blown marshes to join the Creek Men.

I have for long thought that Stimmung is a superb piece of music but a miraculous piece of music theatre, and London Voices' exemplary performance, which concluded the evening, confirmed that. Space and visual images were again central, with the six white-clad singers individually moving from the audience to the stage at the beginning of the performance and tossing vocal lines across space during it. A great performance of Stimmung is the ultimate in teamwork, big companies should stop wasting money on expensive team-building consultants and simply send their executives to observe Stimmung being sung as it was last night - at just £10 a ticket think of the budget savings.

But despite affordable tickets neither the Arditti concert, which also included Birtwistle's Bach transcriptions, Stravinsky's Three Pieces for String Quartet and John Cage's String Quartet in Four Parts (which made the new Birtwistle quartet sound positively familiar) or Stimmung were anywhere like full even after energetic marketing which included a late half-price ticket offer. However, w
hat the audience lacked in quantity it made up with quality, Joanna McGregor, Sir Harrison Birtwistle and former Covent Garden and Channel 4 boss Jeremy Isaacs were just some of the celebrities in the rows behind us. As someone remarked to me, if Aldeburgh can't sell out a concert like this who can?

One smallish moan. Mains hum through the PA was excusable in 1968 when Stockhausen was composing Stimmung for six amplified voices and flaky valve (tube) PA systems were the norm. But things have moved on and the obtrusive 50hz buzz from the left speakers throughout Stimmung last night was inexcusable. But, carping aside, a quite magical evening, and it didn't rain on our between-concert picnic although the wind did blow the candles out.

They don't always get it right. But the magic of Aldeburgh is that, unlike so many of today's prestigous festivals, it is so much more than just a music factory. One of many heroes last night was local sculptor Laurence Edwards who created the Creek Men, and the evening made me think of American sculptor Richard Serra's words about his own work, "It's not going to change the world, but it can be a catalyst for thought."

* Barbara Hepworth's Family of Man sculture occupies the foreground between Snape Maltings and the Creek Men on the marshes, and also comprises three figures. Family of Man is on permanent loan from the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge in memory of Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. But despite the title of the work Hepworth had a distinctly feminine point of view.
Creek Men photo credit EADT24. 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, June 27, 2008

Later they brought me their song


I must confess I rather wish I was at Glastonbury this weekend to hear Leonard Cohen who has been receiving rave reviews for his UK tour. But I'm quite happy to be at Aldeburgh's Faster Than Sound new music festival starting with this double-header tonight:

* Arditti Quartet at 7.00pm ~ Bach arr Harrison Birtwistle Fugue (world premiere), Stravinsky Three pieces for String Quartet, Cage String Quartet in Four Parts, Bach arr Harrison Birtwistle Fugue (world premiere), Harrison Birtwistle Tree of Strings (UK premiere)

* London Voices with Ben Parry director at 10.00pm ~ Stockhausen Stimmung (Header photo of Collegium Vocale performing Stimmung in Paris in 1971 is from Richard Friedman.)

The weather forecast for Aldeburgh is good after rain last night. So we're doing it Glastonbury style with a bottle of wine and a patchouli oil burner for the hour's interval between the two concerts, and Leonard Cohen will be with us in the car.

Oh the sisters of mercy, they are not departed or gone.
They were waiting for me when I thought that I just can't go on.
And they brought me their comfort and later they brought me this song.
Oh I hope you run into them, you who've been travelling so long.
Leonard Cohen- Sisters of Mercy.

Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage and Leonard Cohen appear together here.
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To expel those who do not have the right to stay


'For this purpose the Roma – those with Italian nationality and those without, EU citizens and those from outside the Community – will all have their fingerprints taken. And the rule will even apply to Gypsy children – for reasons that to many of Mr Maroni's supporters must have sounded obvious: "to avoid phenomena," as he put it, "such as begging". The new measures, he said, were indispensable "in order to expel those who do not have the right to stay in Italy"' - no not in Italy in 1938 but in Italy today. Read the full story in the Independent. I fear it is the shape of things to come, and not just in Benito Mussolini's old stamping ground.

Now playing - Bela Bartók's Roumanian Dances with Antal Dorati conducting the Minneapolis Symphony on vinyl LP (SRI75105) in glorious Mercury sound in those wonderful days before the 'benefits' of digital encoding, multi-tracking, multi-miking, multi-editing and multi-promoting. The seven movement dance suite was originally written for piano, and uses tunes transcribed by Bartók from Gypsies in Máramaros in Northern Transylvania. Bartók researched Gypsy folk music in the field travelling with an Edison phonograph. Like the Roma Antal Dorati was forced to migrate by political forces. Born in Budapest, he worked in Dresden before he moved first to Monte Carlo, and then to the US where he recorded this wonderful album with the Minneapolis Symphony, whose music director he was for eleven years.

The header photo of Roma is from an excellent photo essay in Catalyst magazine that I featured here last year. Now read more about the forgotten Holocaust victims, who were expelled, and worse, because they did not have the right to stay.
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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Copyright or copywrong?


'I would be bereft if Viacom succeeded in slimming or shutting YouTube down. Artists are not much bothered by its minor copyright infringements, as they were by file-swap sites, and Hollywood gets more promotion from it than violation. As an educational tool and creative resource, it has untold value' - The Lebrecht Weekly, June 25, 2008.

'The reproduction by whatever means of the whole or any part of any Image (including, without limitation, slide projection, artist's reference, artist's illustration, layout or presentation of Images) is strictly forbidden without our specific written permission' - Terms & Conditions of use of Lebrecht Photo Library, "The world's largest resource for music pictures and all the creative arts".

And Glenn Gould's copyright gets an extension here.
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Recommended for Coltrane loving Democrats


The problem with most jazz treatments of Bach is that creatively they are somewhere on the moderate side of Yo-Yo Ma. But not so a radical new CD which uses improvisation to bring together the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and John Coltrane.

Jazz saxophonist Raphaël Imbert has made an academic study of the spiritual elements of jazz and reveres John Coltrane, who said "my goal is to live a truly religous life and express it in my music", as the only true mystic in the history of jazz. For the CD Bach-Coltrane Imbert teams up with jazzers Jean-Luc Di Fraya (percussion) and Michel Péres (bass) for the Coltrane, the Manfred string quartet for the Bach, while classical organist André Rossi, counter tenor Gérard Lesne and Imbert spread themselves across a CD which is based on the saxophonist's credo of "wherever we come from, we are all musicians".

Bach-Coltrane departs from the world of Jacques Loussier and the Modern Jazz Quartet by its willingness to ignore comfort zones as well as stylistic boundaries. Just one example is Gérard Lesne who ranges from the first air from Bach's Cantata BWV 170 to an unforgetable rendering of Coltrane's 'He nevuh said a mumbalin word' which is the main highlight on a disc of many highlights .

Time for the punch-line, and regular readers will know what I am going to say. Bach-Coltrane is yet another outstanding release from a small independent label - Paris based Zig-Zag Territoires. Can't the major labels put the same rocket-juice in their water? The packaging is beautiful and supplies both my graphics. The header shows the session in the church of Saint André, Bouc Bel Air in France where the wonderful new 'Bach style' organ provided the canto fermo for the project. Zig-Zag's main man Franck Jaffrès delivers stunning sound, and a comprehensively documented CD includes excellent main notes from Raphaël Imbert and a full description of the organ of Saint André which is one of the real stars of the recording.

I bought a bundle of CDs on my recent trip to France and I have several more discs to share with you. But Bach-Coltrane has been played more than any of the others since I found it in the Harmonia-Mundi Boutique in Nantes. There are moments on it which transcend any musical category, particularly André Rossi's Choral de Mi and the Manfred Quartets concluding "O Welt, ich muss dich lassen", BWV 45. Recommended not just for Coltrane loving Democrats, but for anyone who wants to explore beyond their comfort zone.

Obama - Ohana.


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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Piano music from a contemporary icon


While Deutsche Grammophon brings us "The Gustavo Dudamel album the world has been waiting for" and the NY Times confirms things can get worse at EMI it is left to savy labels like Naxos to challenge and inspire. Released this week is an album that challenges and inspires quite magnificently - the piano music of John Tavener played by Ralph van Raat. If you think Tavener is just 'holy minimalism' this Naxos CD will make you think again. The influences range from Chopin to the Orthodox Liturgy. No requirement for marketing-speak from me, at budget price the best thing to do is buy it.

Tavener's music and Ralph van Raat's performance are magnificent, as is the sound captured by producer and engineer Michael Ponder in Potton Hall, Suffolk, just down the road from where I write and, ironically, a venue for many fine EMI recordings. A credit is also needed for the excellent sleeve notes by the pianist. But one small moan if I may. I know I am the only person in the world who still buys CDs, and I am also aware that sleeve and label graphics are a dead art in the age of the download. But I will still say that, once again, the Naxos sleeve design and blue label don't do the contents of the CD justice. So instead of a pack-shot I offer my own header photo of a far from contemporary icon taken in the beautiful 9th century Carolingian Abbey at Saint Philbert de Grand Lieu in France.

EMI's new boss Guy Hands may think that all artists are lazy. But the pile of extraordinarily challenging and inspiring new CDs on my desk which are waiting to be shared with you, and not one from EMI or DG and all from independent labels, proves otherwise. And before the Dudamel lobby springs into action let me explain I've paid for tickets to see the man himself when the mountain comes to Mohamed and he plays our village hall in a few weeks. His programme with the Gothenburg Symphony at Snape on August 14 is Ravel La Valse, Anders Hillborg Clarinet Concerto and Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique.

Gustavo's New York agent amicably turned down an interview request due to 'schedule pressures' but OAOP will be at Snape Maltings anyway as that Hillborg concerto with Martin Fröst is not to be missed. And Guy Hands could certainly learn a few things from young Dudamel, not least how he persuaded the Gothenburg management to promote his other new DG release which he recorded, not with his Swedish band, but with the more marketable LA Phil.

And yes, I did mean Tavener with only one 'r'.
Photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Monday, June 23, 2008

With a little help from my strings


Someone just raised the bar (or should that be bow?) on Joshua Bell and Tasmin Little. I bet the cellist was truly weak at the knees over this gig.

Pablo was caught in action on the streets in vibrant Nantes, France. Photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links and strings to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk