Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Karajan on the music of today






This 1963 Stereo Review interview with Herbert von Karajan was tucked inside a copy of Curt Riess' 1955 biography of Wilhelm Furtwängler that I bought years ago from a rare book dealer. In it Karajan ranges from baroque to contemporary music. A fascinating document that is worth reproducing even though it is rather difficult to read in this format. Left clicking (in Windows) on the individual images does enlarge them. Sorry about the legibility and cropping, but transcribing the complete text is beyond even me. However the following exchanges do particularly demand to be captured:

Pendergast - 'In rehearsing the orchestra, you seem to put great emphasis on conveying the proper rhythms to the players. Is this perhaps the most difficult task for the conductor?'

Karajan - 'Yes, it is. It is very strange, but with our race and in our latitude, rhythmic control is the most difficult thing for a musician to achieve. There is hardly a musician among us who can play the same note five times without minor variations. Part of the fault is that rhythm is never taught correctly to young musicians. For the Negro or African, it comes naturally - this sense of rhythm. As for myself, I can tolerate wrong notes, but I cannot stand unstable rhythm. Perhaps I was born in Africa in another existence. Once in Vienna after we had finished a recording session, I surprised everyone by telling them I was going to hear a Louis Armstrong concert. When they asked why? I told them that to go to a concert and know that for two hours the music would not get faster or slower was a great joy to me.'

Herbert Pendergast - 'Do you think that the music of composers like Boulez and Webern will be easily understood by the musical public of the next generation?'

Herbert von Karajan - 'I am quite certain that the next generation will have no problem in understanding most of the music of today. Think of the Bartók Concerto for Orchestra. Twenty years ago it was considered inacccessible; today it is a classic. Think of the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. When we perform it today, it sounds like a concerto grosso of Handel. With the decline of melodic inspiration in music, the serial techniques of today are a necessary self-imposed discipline for the composer...'

Pendergast - 'And those who listen to this music must impose upon themselves a discipline as great!'

Karajan - 'One is not born with an understanding of Beethoven, either!'

Karajan's Schoenberg, Berg and Webern featured here.
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Third Construction


Turner Prize nomination? New York stock exchange after melt-down? CERN Large Hadron Collider after magnet failure? New ECM CD sleeve? Scene from Fritz Lang's Metropolis? Graphic inspired by John Cage's 3rd Construction? No, an image from the post scheduled for On An Overgrown Path this Friday.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Don't put down the hybrids


Lou Harrison once said 'Don't put down the hybrids, because there isn't anything else'. The composer may have lived in a straw bale house, but he wasn't talking about the Toyota Prius. In his search for new musical contexts and new audiences Harrison produced a remarkable series of pioneering hybrid compositions. Among them is his jazz influenced 1959 Concerto for the Violin with Percussion Orchestra with a score that calls for 'found' instruments including brakedrums, flower pots and plumbers pipe. Young composers today are taking the same path as Lou Harrison and the result is a growing number of hybrid musical projects that use 'found' elements to explore new contexts and reach new audiences.


My photos were taken last night at a performance of 'The Body Electric', a new hybrid commission that uses music and light in conjunction with the 'found' element of Norwich's historic Norman Castle. The music is by Mukul Deora who is a multi-disciplinary artist from Mumbai, India. Deora has also performed at the Tate Modern in London and works with experimental sound installations. His musical style is electronica and his 2006 debut album 'Stray' reached number 12 in the Indian charts - his website has audio samples. The visual elements are by Shezad Dawood whose work, like Lou Harrison's, questions traditional assumptions about the role of art in contemporary society.


'The Body Electric' is the latest expression of a hybrid art form that started back in 1952 when, at the invitation of Lou Harrison, a 'concerted action' was staged by John Cage and friends at Black Mountain College, North Carolina. Mukul Deora and Shezad Dawood have shown that in 2008 there is an audience, a performance opportunity, and most importantly funding for this type of project. The Toyota Prius may not be saving the planet, but it has become remarkably popular. As Lou Harrison said - 'Don't put down the hybrids...'

I am sure Lou would be delighted to find more hybrids here, and to read about The Motor Electric here.
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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Pierre Boulez is Mr Cool

'Pierre Boulez is Mr. Cool - I'm surprised this look didn't catch on. It works for me'.
That email came from Sergio Mims. It is a fascinating link, but I have some bad news for Sergio. You will see from the credits that John Drummond directed that wonderful BBC footage. But this passage in Drummond's autobiography Tainted by Experience recounts how the Mr. Cool image did not work for Pierre.
'Boulez was about to begin rehearsing a new production of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck in Frankfurt, to be directed by Wieland Wagner. He asked me to join him there. For a few days I stayed in a preposterous former grand-ducal hunting lodge in the Taunus hills outside Frankfurt, and drove back and forth with Boulez to the daily rehearsals. I cannot claim that Wieland Wagner made a great impression. He was certainly a great director, but not demonstrative. Most of his conversations with the Wozzeck, Walter Berry, were tête à tête and inaudible.

I spent more time watching the Marie, Anja Silja – at that time Wagner’s mistress – who wore thigh-length suede boots, had a mane of tawny hair, and exuded the Germanic sexuality typified by Dietrich or Hildegard Neff. What was unforgettable was the clarity and precision of Boulez’s conducting, and his total control over the orchestra and singers. Wozzeck was the one work of the Second Viennese school that I knew well, and I already rated it above all other twentieth-century operas. But here I felt confronted by the reality of the piece.

Boulez was a delightful companion – easy to be with and full of catty quips, especially about the state of music in France and those who ran it – though I had initially been daunted by merely being with him. As I saw more of him, I was puzzled by the contradictions of his personality. He was totally accessible and charming, but gave a strong sense of intangibility. I knew nothing of his private life, and rather doubted that he had one. He seemed totally dedicated to music, and totally sure of what he wanted to do. Over the years he has mellowed considerably, becoming much warmer and more relaxed, but his sense of focus is still there, and no one I have ever met wastes less time. Every moment has to be grist to the musical mill.'
The cast includes:
* Pierre Boulez - also known as The greatbogeyman of 20th century music.
* Wieland Wagner - who starred in The phantom of the opera.
* John Drummond - former controller of BBC Radio 3 and Proms who was described by Leonard Bernstein as a 'dreary old queen'.
* Sergio Mims does not identify himself further. But his email address suggests he could be the black American film critic and co-founder of the Black Harvest Film Festival of the same name. I do hope he is, as that would be a great way to launch Black History Month here - see comment below.


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Take the "A" Train


Some time back I made the embarrassing mistake of writing about an up-and-coming contemporary composer called 'Tarik O'Reagan'. Since then Tarik O'Regan has appeared several times on the path with his name spelt correctly, and he even scored a post about his new take on Machaut titled Scattered Rhymnes. On BBC Radio 3 today (Sept 28) Tarik O'Regan was Iain Burnside's guest, catch the interview on i-Player until October 4. I'm glad to report that in almost 1700 posts Ronald Reagan has only featured here once. And I'm not the only once to misspell musician's names.

There are audio samples of Tarik O'Regan's music on his website. 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, September 26, 2008

Celebrating the genius of Jacqueline du Pré


BBC4 TV is showing Christopher Nupen's film of Jacqueline du Pré, which includes her performing the Elgar Concerto, tonight (Sept 26) at 7.30 UK time. This means it will be available until October 2 on i-Player. This is the first in a BBC4 series of Nupen's legendary documentaries about musicians. The others portray Itzhak Perlman, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Evgeny Kissin and Nathan Milstein, as well as a film about Amman-born musician Karim Said, a protégé of Daniel Barenboim's. Jackie also made a classic recording of the Beethoven Sonatas with Barenboim, which is a nice cue for Elgar carrying on Beethoven's business.

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The art of typography


1981 LP sleeve of Brahms Double Concerto with Zino Francescatti and Pierre Fournier accompanied by Bruno Walter and the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. The striking cover is by Henrietta Condak who is listed as one of the notable women working in design 1900-1980. I don't believe the graphics ever transferred to the CD jewel box, and strangely the recording itself, which was made in 1960, doesn't seem to have fared too well in the CD catalogue. My copy of the CBS LP has beautifully silent Dutch pressings as opposed to the gritty surfaces of American CBS records of the period. More vinyl heaven here and more art of typography here.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

India through the looking Glass


Readers' erudition never failed me yet. Shimmy very quickly identified the two musicians in the foreground of the session photo above as Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar. The location and date are Madras, 1990,and the recording was the collabaration between Glass and Shankar titled Passages which resulted in the CD seen below.


My opening line is a parody of Gavin Bryar's Jesus' blood never failed me yet. It was Ravi Shankar who featured in my applause in the wrong place story. Philip Glass once said 'World music is the new classical'. Passages proves him right, so does Kundun. Now sample the essence of India in words and images.
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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Taking the spin out of Beethoven's Fifth


Relax everyone. Close down the music blogs, grab back that money from Alex and cancel those new music commissions. The BBC has saved classical music and the Telegraph has the scoop - 'BBC's Maestro sends Beethoven sales soaring ... Symphony No 5 in C minor was first performed by the composer in 1808 but 200 years on it has been revived for a modern audience after rapper Goldie and comedian Sue Perkins took to the stage to conduct the piece. High street music shop HMV said that demand for the classical piece had increased by 295 per cent since the TV show.'

But before I put On An Overgrown Path out to pasture let's drill down a little further. HMV Group are completely independent of EMI and run high street retail stores in the UK and elsewhere. They major on DVD's, computer games and rock music. As I write today the lead items on their UK website are Sex and the City - the Movie and a CD by Pussycat Dolls. With the exception of a handful of city centre outlets HMV carries a very small range of classical titles made up mainly of Naxos best sellers, own brand popular titles and a robust offering of Charlotte Church. I don't know how many versions of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony are stocked in their average store, but I would guess very few. That precise increase of 295% offers all sorts of rich statistical possibilities. One is that before Maestro the total sales of Beethoven's Fifth across all HMV stores were twenty units per week, and that after the programme they were seventy-nine units.

This latest piece of BBC spin reminds me of their much trumpeted success with MP3 downloads of the Beethoven Symphonies. Back in 2006 the BBC achieved an awful lot of column inches with their story of 1.4 million file downloads. But then a leak circulated that a BBC analysis of IP addresses to find out where the files had gone didn't make very happy reading. Unlike the 1.4 million figure the destination of the files was never made public. Soon afterwards came word that the BBC wouldn't be offering any more classical music downloads.

There is another salutary and true story about the use of statistics at the BBC that is worth retelling. From 1950 to 1982 a radio programme called Listen with Mother was broadcast. The fifteen minute programme, which comprised nursery rhymnes and stories for the under-fives and their mothers, was banal. But nobody dared take it off air because the crude audience statistics of the day showed it retained a substantial audience. But then BBC research became more sophisticated and reported not only how many people were tuned to Listen with Mother, but also who the listeners were. This new research showed that the vast majority of listeners for the programme were long-distance truck drivers. It was rapidly dropped from the schedules.

Less maestros and more animateurs please.
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Give us something else - give us something new

That great visionary Carl Nielsen wrote 'even if we reached agreement on the fact that now the best and most beautiful has been achieved, mankind thirsting more for life and adventure than perception, would rise and shout in one voice: give us something else, give us something new'. Today I celebrate two projects that bring something else and something new; both are for the piano and both from across the Atlantic.


First for 'something new', and an uplifting story from blogger Michael Strickland who be more familiar as a serial comment poster on the Path using his sfmike handle. Michael tells us that pianist Sarah Cahill, who is seen above, has commissioned eighteen composers to write music for the piano on the subject of peace. The project is called 'Sweeter Music' and the impressive list of contributors includes a refreshingly large number of women composers: Meredith Monk, Frederic Rzewski, Terry Riley, Yoko Ono, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Pauline Oliveros, Peter Garland, Kyle Gann, Paul Dresher, Carl Stone, Ingram Marshall, Jerome Kitzke, Phil Kline, Mamoru Fujieda, Larry Polansky, Michael Byron, The Residents, and Preben Antonsen. Michael has an interview and more pictures on his excellent website.


Pianist Andrew Rangell contributes the 'something else' with the new CD seen above which ranges from Gibbons and Tomkins to a piano arrangement of the fugue from Beethoven's Op. 131 String Quartet. It was Pablo Casals who said 'the art of interpretation is not to play what is written' and I'm happy to subscribe to that philosophy as well as hugely enjoying authentic instrument performances of early music. There have been many notable examples of early music played on the piano ranging from Glenn Gould's Sweelinck to Angela Hewitt's Couperin and Alexandre Tharaud's Rameau. The received wisdom that early music performed on the piano is a form of blasphemy is just more confirmation of the late Mauriccio Kagel's view that 'the norms of musical life are only social conventions'.

In A Bridge to Bach Andrew Rangell explores the connections between the music of the seventeenth century and that of Bach. Rangell returned to the concert platform in 1999 after a long absence due to a hand injury. He is a musical maverick and this is a wonderfully rewarding CD which comes from the independent Bridge Records. We desperately need more free-thinkers like Sarah Cahill and Andrew Rangell to give us something else - something new.

Read Antal Dorati and Jordi Savall on inner peace here.
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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

More questions than answers

Judging by the site traffic today applause between movements at concerts is a hotter topic than tuxedos. So I thought it would be interesting to have a show of hands on the question. At the top of the right side-bar is one of those deeply trendy voting widgets. Have your say before voting ends next week.

Now for another question. Elsewhere On An Overgrown Path there is a funny story about applause in the wrong place. The subject of that story is the gentleman wearing spectacles in the front row of the session photo below. But identifying him alone is too easy. So who will be the first reader to tell us who he is, and who it is next to him in the front row nearest the camera?


Remember this quiz?
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Monday, September 22, 2008

Classical music virus spreads to Edinburgh


Many of this year's BBC Proms were marred by meaningless dribbles of applause between movements. I know there is no rule saying no applause between movements. But, by the same token, there is no rule saying wind should not be broken by members of the audience during the performance.

The only consolation was that the applause virus was confined to the Proms, meaning that it appeared in just one location for a couple of months a year. But now comes very bad news. Tonights' BBC Radio 3 recording from the Edinburgh Festival with Ivan Fischer conducting the Budapest Festival Orchestra in the Usher Hall featured the dreaded applause between the movements of the Brahms/Schoenberg Piano Quartet in G minor.

Something needs to be done quickly to stop this potentially fatal virus spreading world-wide. The only links between the Proms and the Edinburgh Festival concert were that both were relayed on BBC Radio 3 and both were introduced by Petroc Trelawny. That must mean a lengthy quarantine period for both presenter and radio station.

You can now vote on whether applause between movements is a bad thing in the poll at the top of the right-hand side bar. After which this thread can only lead Into Great Silence.
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Tangled Up In Blue


The graphic art of famous musicians has provided some fascinating posts on the path and we recently travelled to Scotland to add the paintings of none less than Bob Dylan to the thread. While touring in the early 1990s, Dylan created a collection of drawings that were published in a book titled 'Drawn Blank' in 1994. These expressive works capture Dylan's chance encounters and observations and were created to "relax and refocus a restless mind".


Ingrid Mössinger - the curator of the Kunstsammlungen Museum, in Chemnitz, Germany - came across 'Drawn Blank' during a visit to New York in 2006. Instantly excited about Dylan's work, she contacted the artist and arranged for the first public showings of the works. Dylan had made the drawings intending to create paintings based on them at a later date, and he used watercolour and gouache to elaborate them for the exhibition.


We caught up with the exhibition at the Breeze Gallery in Peebles Scotland where I took the photos of Dylan's artwork, you can see more of his paintings here. In an eerie resonance with the message of Bob Dylan's music the town of Chemnitz (Karl-Marx-Stadt from 1953-1990) in Eastern Germany was one of the other targets for the terrible air raids that devastated Dresden in February 1945 and is also very close to Robert Schumann's birthplace of Zwickau. And read more about Dylan in the birth of rock.


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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Who needs a music director?


As Dylan said 'The times they are a-changin''. And it's not just in the financial sector. As one major orchestra allegedly gags the press to protect its music director another ensemble is showing the way with a new programming model that jettisons the role of music director and rethinks the creative process.

Since 1992 the Britten Sinfonia has built an enviable reputation for innovative programmes and high artistic standards and the ensemble has featured on these pages several times. And it has all been done without a music director or principal conductor. The Britten Sinfonia is not positioning itself as a conductor-less orchestra in the style of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra or the post-Toscanini NBC Symphony. In fact far from it; the artists who have conducted, directed or played with the Sinfonia in recent seasons include Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Thomas Adès, Angela Hewitt, Masaaki Suzuki, Pekka Kuusisto, Nitin Sawhney, James MacMillan, Ian Bostridge, Joanna MacGregor, Gil Goldstein, Imogen Cooper, Alina Ibragimova and Stephen Layton. But the Sinfonia refuses to be subservient to a music director, and instead places emphasis on the development of its players and chooses to work on a project basis with a range of collaborators selected for their skills in specific fields.

The creative health and confidence of the Britten Sinfonia is shown by its latest venture. The business case for launching a new record label right now must be about as strong as that for creating a new investment bank. But, as is their style, the Sinfonia are doing it their way. Not for them yet another recording of mainstream repertoire by a music director who has found himself ditched by a major label.

The first three CDs on the Britten Sinfonia's own label are scheduled for launch this autumn. They are seen above and comprise the very repertoire that the big labels are now too frightened to touch. The Sinfonia's investment in commissioning new music is captured in Songs for the Sky which features their commissions from Tarik O'Regan, Huw Watkins, Steve Martland, Jason Yarde and John Tavener. Another CD reflects their commitment to exploring the twentieth-century repertoire with an all-Hindemith disc of Kleine Kammermusik Op. 24 No. 2, Kammermusik No. 7 Op. 46 No.2, and the Sonatas 1 to 3 for organ. Finally there is a live recording from the Britten Sinfonia's 2007 South American tour with Joanna MacGregor directing and playing Bach, Stravinsky, Pärt, Gismonti, Piazzolla and Joanna's own arrangement of Dowland.

While the Britten Sinfonia is busy doing it their way others are complaining about the sponsorship cutbacks that will inevitably follow the financial bloodbath. The Guardian reports that 'the fear is that Lloyds-Halifax will slash its arts funding in parallel with its branches. ''The festival will be concerned because the contribution from both banks is significant," said one senior figure in Edinburgh's arts scene'.'

When the funding crunch comes will some of the big name orchestras have the vision to follow the Britten Sinfonia and ditch their expensive music director in favour of the project approach? Sadly I think not. Celebrity music directors are, like tuxedos, one of the social conventions of orchestra life demanded by subscribers, sponsors, the media and the powerful agents who book festivals and tours. It is difficult to envisage Berlin without Rattle, Los Angeles without Dudamel, Chicago without Muti and London without Gergiev. But then, until last week, it was difficult to envisage the City of London without HBOS or Wall Street without Lehman Brothers. 'The times they are a-changin'' ...

It's just classical recording under different stewardship
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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Youth is a state of mind


I've written here many times that youth is a state of mind, not a time of life. But the sheer vitality of our young people is awesome. This photo was taken yesterday evening in the 1970s segment of a fund-raising fashion show in Norwich. All the costumes were made by students from garments found in a charity shop. The young lady on the left modelling the Vivienne Westwood outfit is our daughter. Photo credit is BBC and there are more images on their website. Of course, the year is 1972.
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Close voices from far-away


'Buddhism teaches that all beings, regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation, have the same spiritual potential; that all can develop greater awareness, kindness, compassion, understanding' - from prospectus of Dhanakosa Buddhist retreat centre in Scotland. My photo was taken close to Dhanakosa on the shore of Loch Voil where it is easy to hear close voices from far-away.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

The new Elizabethan age


This thread takes us from Odaline de la Martinez, who has featured in several recent posts, to the two women composers seen above. Ms. de la Martinez has just released a new CD of Elizabeth Maconchy's music for voices which links nicely to my recent appreciation of Maconchy's string quartets. The Cuban born but UK resident Odaline de la Martinez has been a longtime champion of British women composers whose numbers include Elizabeth Maconchy to the left of my collage and Elisabeth Lutyens to the right. Lutyens' music has also featured on the path recently and it was very rewarding to see the website of Conrad Clark linking to my portrait and podcast of Lutyens and describing them as 'an excellent intro to her'. Clark is a respected sculptor and designer. He is also Elizabeth Lutyens son.

Now hear the podcast of conductor and composer James Weeks discussing Lutyen's music with me.
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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Music has not one history but many


'Kagel was to continue to insist that music has not one history but many, especially since the early twentieth century, and that the norms of musical life are only social conventions. In the particular case of Anagrama he also unloosed sonic possibilities that stimulated many of his contemporaries' - Paul Griffths writes in A Concise History of Western Music about Mauricio Kagel (above) who died today aged 76.

The use of a speaking choir in Anagrama links it with Darius Milhaud's little known music drama Christophe Colomb. Kagel was not among Milhaud's students, but many other important twentieth-century musicians were.

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As banks implode and lives are ruined


When I was in search of Pablo Casals recently I sung the praises of his Salve Montserratina but went on to say - 'Sadly you will have to take my word about the relative merit of Casals' music. With the exception of a few mixed choral programmes it is very poorly represented on the CD ... Pablo Casals' sacred choral music is most definitely worth searching out; but, like us, you may have to travel to France to hear it.'

Well, it is nice to be proved wrong, and even nicer to be proved wrong by the BBC. On 4 October at 4.00pm UK time BBC Radio 3 is broadcasting Choral Vespers for the Feast of St Francis of Assisi in a recording made in Montserrat Abbey, Spain, with the BBC's Pilgrim Consort. And, joy of joy, you can watch a video of the Pilgrim Consort singing Pablo Casal's Salve Montserratina via this link. As banks implode and lives are ruined this is a unique opportunity to experience something timeless and inspirational - don't miss it.

Header photo is by Casals' literary collabarator Albert E. Kahn and shows the Catalan chorus of the Prades Festival singing Casals' O Vos Omnes. The composer is seated in the doorway. Read about a commercial recording of O Vos Omnes here.
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All you need is ...


LOVE

Hey guys, remember that blogging is doing it for our time.
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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More Maestros Myths and Madness


Back in 2006 I received an email from Norman Lebrecht inviting me to share with him some inside stories from my time at EMI, and Norman also asked me to pass the message on to a very good friend who held a key position during EMI's 'Indian summer' of classical recording. At the time Norman was researching his controversial book, 'Maestros, Masterpieces & Madness: The Secret Life and Shameful Death of the Classical Record Industry', and knowing this we decided not to take up his invitation. But some colleagues who had a part in the madness decided to tell all, while others, including my boss at EMI, Peter Andry, chose to publish their own versions of events.

Peter Andry was educated in Australia before joining Decca in England in 1954. He moved to EMI as a producer in 1957 working for David Bicknell who ran HMV while Walter Legge was still managing the Columbia label. Following Legge's departure in 1964 Andry took over the management of all EMI's activities under what was to become the International Classical Division (ICD), a position he held until 1988 when he became president of the newly formed Warner Classics until retiring in 1996.

The artists who worked for EMI during Andry's years with the company comprise a role-call of the famous names of classical recording. Karajan, Callas, Rostropovich, Domingo, Beecham, Muti, Previn, Giulini, du Pré and Klemperer are just some of the greats who appear in the pages of the newly published Inside the Recording Studio. The sub-title is 'Working with the classical elite' and during Andry's tenure many classics of the gramophone appeared on the HMV label, including Karajan's Dresden Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and the Beethoven Triple Concerto recorded in Berlin with Oistrakh, Richter and Rostropovich. A session photograph from the latter recording is on the cover of the book which is seen above, Peter Andry is standing at the back.

I should make my personal involvement clear at this point. In the mid-1970s, in response to the increasing globalisation of the record industry, Peter Andry was sent by EMI on a marketing course at INSEAD, the prestigous French business school. As a result of this course he decided to recruit an International Marketing Manager who would combine marketing experience with the ability to differentiate Boyce from Boulez, although as it turned out neither composer featured prominently in his recording plans. The marketing guru recruited into EMI was me, and although I worked for Andry for a relatively short period of time I was able to observe the maestros, myths and madness as an inmate of the asylum. Many fine people contributed to the achievements of EMI's International Classical Division, but I was not one of them. My main achievement during my time there was to learn that banging your head repeatedly against a brick wall hurts no one except yourself. But at least I was privileged to meet some remarkable musicians, as this memo shows.


Inside the Recording Studio is a strange book. The slim, but well illustrated, £30 ($45US) paperback comes from a small American publisher. It was written by Peter Andry together with EMI historian Tony Locantro and journalist Robin Stringer, although the contributions of the other two authors is not made clear. There is a selective discography of recordings made under the author's management. But the discography does not tell you who was actually inside the recording studio; although session dates and venues are given the producer is not identified, unless it is Peter Andry. And, I'm afraid, the narrative style is wooden; Norman Lebrecht may sometimes miss his target but he can certainly write superbly readable prose.

But followers of the lifestyle of rich and famous recording artists will find much to savour Inside the Recording Studio and there are even cameo roles for members of the royal family. Anecdotes about Callas, Karajan and others abound, although, like their records, many of the stories have been reissued several times. The style may be stiff, but Andry turns name dropping into an Olympic sport as this excerpt shows - '"Stokie" and I once had dinner in Vienna. When the maestro came into the restaurant wearing gray gloves, the resident pianist immediately started playing Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor in tribute, where upon everyone stood up and started clapping.'

The locations of the stories may help to explain the subsequent financial problems of both EMI and Warner Classics - 'On a trip to Barbados, where we used to go for international meetings, I was coming up from the beach late one afternoon with my colleagues ... I saw a large figure with two ladies on either side: it was Pavarotti relaxing against the wall of the Sandy Lane Hotel'. But Peter never was one to hide his light under a bushel, and he is happy to share with us how 'In the autumn of 1968 I was dispatched to repair EMI's failing fortunes in the United States'.

There is much for the serious record buyer to savour Inside the Recording Studio, but there is also much misssing. Peter Andry portrays himself as king of classical recording at EMI and clear successor to the despotic Walter Legge, but we should remember that it is the court that makes the king. The book focuses very much on the king at the expense of his court and its intrigues, despite the fact that the court had an important influence on what actually happened inside the recording studio.

In an attempt to curb Legge's wilder excesses EMI's senior management created the International Classical Recording Committee (ICRC). The ICRC comprised representatives of all EMI's local operating companies, and the staff producers proposed recordings to the committee. The local companies then gave sales estimates which were used to determine the financial viability of the proposals; not enough forecast sales meant no recording. This bureaucratic and byzantine process continued after Legge's departure. But the ICRC does not receive a single mention in the book, even though it, in theory, decided what was actually recorded. I attended ICRC meetings as an observer and was able to see the frequent conflict in priorities between the large-budget Karajan operatic spectaculars backed by Andry and the equally deserving but lower profile proposals from other producers, such as Previn's 1977 Turangalila Symphony.


One of EMI's more notorious projects also fails to merit a mention. In 1978 a recording with the unknown and inaccessible National Iranian Radio & Television Orchestra, featuring Albinoni's misattributed Adagio and other distinctly Western music was fast-tracked through the ICRC. Quite why we never knew, but attempts to specify real gold-foil on the sleeve of Treasures of the Baroque Era,which is seen above, were, thankfully, rejected. Subsequently rumours circulated that the EMI producer and engineer both received a Rolex Oyster from a member of the Shah's entourage when the sessions were finished. A wag suggested the LPs should have been titled In A Persian Market, but that title had already been used.

Sadly this Iranian story does not have a happy ending. The year after the recording was released the Iranian monarchy was overthrown in a revolution. Hardly surprisingly, the incoming Ayatollah Khomeini did not green-light Treasures of the Baroque Era Volume 2 and EMI's Iranian ambitions became an e-Bay oddity. The talented young conductor of the double-LP set was Emil Tchakarov, who was one of the prize winners of the 1971 Karajan International Conducting Competition in Berlin, a contest whose judges included Peter Andry for eight years. Tchakarov died at the tragically young age of 41 in 1991 leaving a small recorded legacy. The inside of the gate-fold sleeve for the LPs produced by the art department under my control is shown below. The photos are of Tchakarov and the Iranian orchestra in front of the Peacock Throne in the Golestan Palace in Tehran.


As well as omitting the story of the ICRC, Inside the Recording Studio also positions the local EMI companies as mere outposts of the Andry empire. In fact these companies delivered important locally funded recording projects which bypassed the ICRC approval process. Among these were Sir Adrian Boult's Vaughan Williams and Elgar cycles, and David Munrow's pioneering records, all from EMI Records in the UK, and the magnificent Reflexe early music series from EMI Electrola in Germany whose discoveries included a young Jordi Savall. Early and contemporary music were not high on the agenda of Andry's International Classical Division, and it was left to the local companies to take the initiative in these growing market segments.

Technology also receives short shrift in the book. There in no coverage of EMI's ill-conceived flirtation with the SQ quadraphonic sound format in the early 1970s (see below) which was forced through against the wishes of the recording producers, and the book contains not a single mention of MP3 or other download technologies, despite a promise on the jacket to do so. There is much reminiscing over the great days of Callas and Karajan but no mention of the carnage that followed at Decca, Warner and EMI as the twenty-first century arrived. The gossip around Karajan's table at the Tessinerstuben in Berlin was so absorbing that no one saw the coming twilight of the gods. There is not a single mention of the new independent labels such as Naxos and Hyperion who chose economy instead of business class and thrived as EMI and Warner floundered. But a full chapter is devoted to the Testament label who recently re-issued the 1955 stereo Bayreuth Ring conducted by Joseph Keilberth with Hans Hotter, Astrid Varnay and Wolfgang Windgassen, a recording originally produced for Decca by Peter Andry.


Much else has been left out including the regular leaks, allegedly from a staff member, to the satirical magazine Private Eye's Lunchtime O'Boulez column. There is one other story that didn't make it Inside the Recording Studio, and I end with it simply to show that there was more to life with Peter Andry than networking on the beach in Barbados.

In 1978 I travelled to Mexico City with Peter to work on the project that resulted in the Music of Mexico recordings that I wrote about in 2007. I had travelled alone from London to the East Coast where I attended Riccardo Muti's first EMI sessions with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Next stop was Los Angeles where I heard Carlo Maria Giulini conduct the LA Philharmonic in the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion. Peter Andry then arrived in LA and we flew together to Mexico where we spent a week with the local company. As I had been away from home for some time I had accumulated a fair amount of dirty laundry which I was not prepared to take home to my long-suffering wife. Peter and I were both were staying in the Camino Royale in Mexico City, one of many hotels hastily built for the 1968 Olympics. Room service was terrible, and only after repeated requests was my laundry finally collected.

Peter Andry and I were checking out at different times. I was returning direct to London, he was going back to the States. Hours before I was due to leave my laundry still had not been returned. After several angry phone-calls a pile of freshly-washed clothes was delivered to my room minutes before I left. My own laundry was all there, but so was a considerable mount of underwear that was not mine (bright blue is not my colour). In desperation I threw the surplus briefs in the garbage bin and dashed to pay my bill. When we both finally returned to London I happened to say to Peter that the hotel in Mexico City was a bit strange. 'Yes, it was rather,' he replied 'Do you know they lost all my underwear'.


Photo above shows Peter Andry with Herbert von Karajan and is from another tale of Maestros, Myths & Madness.
Inside the Recording Studio by Peter Andry with Robin Stringer and Tony Locantro is published by Scarecrow Press (ISBN 0810860260). The review copy was provided by the publisher. 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, September 16, 2008

Straight from the conductor's mouth ...


Which year did a woman first conduct at the BBC Proms? Not an easy question to answer, as I explained here recently. So I went to the lady herself, and here is the answer straight from the conductor's mouth:

Dear Mr Shingleton. Many thanks for your message. I visited your site and it looks truly interesting. Thank you so much for including me in it. The date you're looking for is 1984, when I was the first woman to conduct a BBC Prom at the Royal Albert Hall.

May I also interest you in my latest series/festival? It's a festival of American music and since 60% of your visitors are American, they might want to know about it. I'm enclosing a PDF of the Festival Leaflet. (Seen above)

With thanks and best wishes,
Odaline de la Martinez FRAM


Strange to think it took until 1984 for a woman to conduct at the BBC Proms. Fifty-four years earlier the first woman had conducted the Berlin Philharmonic, and she was American.
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

Are segues the next big thing?


When I was being trained as a BBC studio manager I was taught how to segue seamlessly from one 78 grams deck to another, mainly to provide sound effects for drama productions. A few years ago Classic FM started segueing between CD tracks and, predictably, BBC Radio 3 copied them. Now it has spread to the concert hall; at the penultimate BBC Prom concert the BBC Philharmonic segued from Penderecki Threnody 'For the Victims of Hiroshima' to Beethoven's Elegischer Gesang, Op.118; which at least stopped the audience applauding in the wrong place.

Are seques the next big thing? Or rather are they the next old thing? After all the Beatles did it on Sgt. Pepper (see above) and Mahler used it in the form of attacca in his symphonies.

Now read about some Magnificent Mahler-lite from Manchester.
Image of Beatles on Segways from Vehow.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, September 15, 2008

Bernstein creates a Mass of interest


Email received - Bob: I've read your postings regarding Bernstein's Mass and thought this might interest you. NYC students are writing their own choral anthems inspired by Mass and will be performing them (with select excerpts from Mass) at a Carnegie Hall concert in October. Additionally, later that month, "[a] massive choir of five hundred young people performs the Bernstein Mass with Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony at the United Palace Theater." I think Bernstein would approve! Sorry if this is old news. Keep up the good work. Kind regards, Tim

My photo shows Lennie with Robert Corff in rehearsal for Mass. And here is another reader saying Mass is not a dishonest piece.
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

Making music in his own voice


It's interesting to look at the reader stats to find which posts hit the hot buttons. John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen always do the numbers, but Pablo Casals (above) was a real surprise. Here is just one of a number of interesting responses to my recent post on the great Catalan cellist. It comes from Erich Edberg's fine blog:

'Casals made music in his own voice, in his own style, and did so with the greatest of love and respect for the composers and music he loved. The 20th-century modernist movement, of which Stravinsky was such an important part, was obsessed with the fantasy that musical works, including pieces written before 1900, could somehow stand on their own, were in essence fixed and permanent, and that the personality and voice of performers should, in effect, be obliterated or at least avoided. This caused much frustration, since a piece is inevitably reborn and to some degree or another transformed with each performance. When you write a piece for other people to play, you write a piece for other people to play. They are going to play it like themselves.'

After publishing my post about Casals' sacred choral music I found that I had a recording of his exquisite O vos omnes in my collection. It is on a Berlin Classics CD titled Romantic Choral Music with the Dresdner Kreuzchor directed by Gothart Stier. The disc also contains two works by one of the Kreuzchor's most celebrated cantors, Rudolf Mauersberger. Read more about Mauersberger's moving Dresden Requiem here.
Photo credit Albert E. Kahn. 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, September 14, 2008

None of the tricks of modern music


How mighty they are, those hymns and those antiphons of the Easter office! Gregorian chant that should, by rights, be monotonous, because it has absolutely none of the tricks of modern music, is full of a variety infinitely rich because it is subtle and spiritual and deep... Those Easter "alleluias", without leaving the narrow range prescribed by the eight Gregorian modes, have discovered color and warmth and meaning and gladness that no other music possesses - Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain.

But Thomas Merton was no reactionary. In 1966 Joan Baez visited him at his Trappist monastery at Gethsemani, Kentucky and they drunk beer together (Trappist I hope) and discussed sixties music. He was also a great fan of Bob Dylan and played Dylan's records in his hermitage (the Trappists are a silent order!), while Merton's poetry was influenced by the folksingers' lyrics. Thomas Merton shared many of the values of the sixties counterculture, particularly non-violence and opposition to the Vietnam War. My header photo shows David Begbie's thoroughly modern Crucifixion, and I took it in the Barn Chapel at the Anglican Shrine, Walsingham, Norfolk.

Now read about new music with a Benedictine habit.
Photo (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

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Taking Stockhausen


Good to see the Guardian waxing lyrically about the London Southbank Centre's forthcoming tribute to Karlheinz Stockhausen. But it wasn't always so. In 2001 the Barbican presented a Stockhausen mini-festival. Writing in the Guardian in the same year Andrew Clements found the event "too depressing for words" while over on the Observer his colleague Sean O'Hagan concluded that Stockhausen was "someone who is constantly referred to, but seldom listened to. On this hearing it is not difficult to see why."

More Andrew Clements invective here, here and here. Perhaps Stockhausen's posthumous popularity is just part of a dream?
Is Pierre explaining to Karlheinz that he should never believe the critics? Photo shows Stockhausen left with Boulez in 1963 at Donaueschingen, credit G. W. Baruch. Source of quotes is The Life and Music of Sir Malcolm Arnold by Paul R.W. Jackson (ISBN 189283810) page 216/7. 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, September 12, 2008

Britons never, never, never shall be slaves


Rather than joining in with Rule Britannia at Saturday's Last Night of the BBC Proms I will be listening to Vernon Handley's recording of Malcolm Arnold's Fourth Symphony. There has not been a performance of an Arnold symphony at the Proms since 1994, but his Fourth has a certain relevance to the Last Night 'celebrations'. Here is Sir Malcolm writing in a 1971 article:

The year of my Fourth Symphony, 1960 was also the year of the Notting Hill race riots*, and I was appalled that such a thing could happen in this country. The fact that racial ideas have become increasingly strong in this country dismays me even more. In my Fourth Symphony I have used very obvious West Indian and African percussion instruments and rhythms, in the hope, first, that it sounds well, and second, that it might help to spread the idea of racial integration.
* Sir Malcolm has confused his dates. The Fourth was premiered in 1960, the riots were in 1958.


Notting Hall is more than a slushy film starring Hugh Grant. The race riots took place there almost exactly fifty years ago, from 30th August to 5th September, 1958. Here is the story as told in Andrew Marr's excellent A History of Modern Britain:

Into (Notting Hill) poured a crowd first of tens, and then of hundreds of white men, armed first with sticks, knives, iron railings and bicycle chains, and soon with petrol-bombs too. They were overwhelmingly young, mostly from nearby areas of London, and looking for trouble. They began by picking on small groups of blacks caught out on the streets, beating them and chasing them. They then moved to black-occupied houses and began smashing windows.

The crowds swelled until they were estimated at more than 700 strong, whipped up by the occasional fascist agitator, but much more directed by local whites. Racists songs and chants of 'Niggers Out', the smash of windows - though some local whites protected and even fought for their black neighbours, this was mob violence of a kind Britain thought it had long left behind. It shrunk away again partly as a result of black men making a stand, and fighting back with petrol bombs.

There were 140 arrests, mainly of white youths, and though far-right parties continued to organize in the area, there was no discernible electoral impact, or indeed any more serious trouble. The huge press coverage ensured, however, that Britain when through its first orgy of nation introspection about its liberalism and its immigration policy, while overseas racists regimes such as those of South Africa and Rhodesia mocked the hand-wringing British.



Now read about the Berlin Philharmonic's first black conductor.
Photos are from Crying all the way to the fish shop which also has downloads of related rock music. Note that the photo locations are not identified and may not be of the Notting Hill Riots, they are however of race riots in Britain in the same period. Quotes from The Life and Music of Sir Malcolm Arnold by Paul R.W. Jackson (ISBN 189283810) and A History of Modern Britain by Andrew Marr (ISBN 9780330439831). 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