Monday, February 16, 2009
Not quite Harmonium
Is Naxos product mediocre? 84% of the Overgrown Path readers who voted in the recent poll (and the response was the biggest ever) said no. Which will come as no surprise to anyone other than John Adams. Talking of which, above is the first recording of John Adams' music that I ever bought. It is the 1984 ECM recording of Harmonium made by Edo de Waart and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Yes, that is a vinyl LP, strange how things go full circle.
The credits for that ECM LP tell an interesting story. The recording was made in Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco. John Newton was the engineer, and mixing and editing is credited to Martin Wieland, Manfred Eicher and John Adams at the Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg. ECM founder Manfred Eicher did not travel from Germany to San Francisco for the sessions, a decision that was not taken well by the ambitious young composer. This precipitated John Adams' move to the American Nonesuch label, where he remains twenty-five years later.
Nonesuch was started in 1964 by Jac Holzman, who had previously founded Elektra Records in 1950. His vision for Nonesuch was to make classical music records available to college students with tight budgets. In the early days this meant licensing recordings from European classical labels and selling them at the budget price of $2.50. This classical repertoire was supplemented by the pioneering Nonesuch Explorer Series of world music in 1967, a series which has recently been re-issued on CD. Jazz was added to the catalogue from 1984. The label had some remarkable successes with niche releases, including George Crumb's Ancient Voices of Children which sold more than 70,000 units, in a performance by the Contemporary Classical Ensemble (CCE) and featured mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani.
Nonesuch was bought by a predecessor of Warner Communications in 1970, and three years later Holzman took on other responsibilities within the group. In 1983 Robert Hurwitz joined Nonesuch from the position of head of ECM America. Nonesuch continues as a label within Time Warner and still carries Hurwitz's imprint. Its artists today include, as well as John Adams (who has an exclusive contract with them), Richard Goode, the Kronos Quartet, Steve Reich (also exclusive), Dawn Upshaw and Brad Mehldau.
At this point the overgrown path crosses the Atlantic. Nonesuch is also the alternative spelling for Nonsuch Palace, the legendary royal residence built by Henry VIII at Ewell in Surrey, England. Glyn County Grammar School in Ewell has two famous alumni with musical connections. One was David Hemmings, with whom Benjamin Britten had a champagne moment. The other was Barry Wordsworth, a (rare) conductor with integrity. One of the school's many other pupils was me. Which takes this overgrown path goes full circle. It has been speculated that Nonsuch Palace was the venue for the first performance of Thomas Tallis’ sublime 40 part motet Spem in alium. Now playing is the Kronos Quartet transcription of that masterpiece, recorded on … Nonesuch.
What do the following posts have in common? Look no hands, This man is dangerous, Dances for peace, and Requiem for Adam? They all feature classic Nonesuch recordings.
Header photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk