Saturday, January 31, 2009

Indivisible art

If a thing is worth doing once, it is worth doing over and over again - exploring it, probing it, demanding by its repetition that the public look at it ~ Mark Rothko
Triumph is the only word I can use to describe Tate Modern's Mark Rothko exhibition, which closes tomorrow (Feb 1) after a four month run. The centrepiece is the huge space in which hang for the first time in one room, eleven of the massive murals that Rothko created in 1958/9. These were commissioned for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York's Seagram's Building, but Rothko withdrew from the commission and they were never hung in the restaurant. Less well-known, but equally if not more impressive in the flesh, are the Black-Form paintings in Room 6. Pre-booking has been the order of the day at this Tate Modern exhibition. We were there on a wet January weekday afternoon and it was packed and buzzing. Most of that is down to Mark Rothko's genius. But, as classical music agonises over how to reach new audiences, there are also important lessons to be learnt from the way that Rothko's art was presented at the Tate Modern.

I am quite sure that the visual arts have their equivalent of the consultants, commentators, music directors, PR experts, festival directors, talent agents, marketing people, and yes, bloggers, that infest classical music today. But, at the Tate Modern, Rothko's art was allowed to shine without passing through the distorting prisms currently so fashionable in the music world. As I wandered awestruck through the Tate I wondered what would have happened if BBC Radio 3 had mounted the exhibition. There would have be a week long Rothko Experience, Mark Rothko would be a BBC painter of the year, official Rothko BBC bloggers would be appointed, Rothko in the Park events would be mounted, frenzied presenters would ask listeners to text in whether they prefer Rothko to Pollock, there would be Rothko internet message boards, BBC new generations artists would be in there somewhere, and the Seagram murals would be divided into easily digested chunks. And the talking, oh the talking! Never mind the art, just broadcast inane chatter about it - I fully expect the 2009 BBC Proms to include a two hour concert of Petroc Trelawny talking linked by short pieces music.

Instead the Tate Modern took the work of a twentieth-century genius. They hung it on white walls with very small explanatory panels. They did nothing to detract from its impact. And the public flocked to see it. Surely music can learn from this triumph?

* The title of this post was sparked by the engaging Indivisible by Four : A String Quartet in Pursuit Of Harmony by Guarneri String Quartet member Arnold Steinhardt. There are, of course, many musical connections with Mark Rothko. The Tate Modern presented a concert Music of the New York School 1951-65 in November with works by Morton Feldman and Earle Brown. There was also a commission for a new work from composer Jim Aitchison for performance in the gallery. Last year we travelled to Bruges to hear Feldman's Rothko Chapel at the John Cage Happening. But the music I turned to on CD when I got home from the Rothko exhibition was George Crumb's Ancient Voices of Children in the Nonesuch recording. I do not know of any direct links between Crumb's 1970 work and Mark Rothko. But, with its resonances of the Round House in the Boulez years, Ancient Voices powerfully evokes a time when hope was in the air and marketing consultants were unknown.

Taschen's book Rothko is recommended, I paid £6 for my copy. Header image is Sketch for Mural No. 1 (Seagram Mural Sketch) 1958, and comes via LondonSketchbook.com with colour adjustments by me to try to better capture the dark quality of Rothko's original. 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, January 30, 2009

Best and worse covers please

John has left a new comment on "China gates":- This is not - for once - one of my 'fantastically tenuous links', and I must declare an interest as a director of The Sixteen Productions, which produces the CORO CDs. I am glad to see the debate about cover designs (I am, of course, very glad also to see the positive comments about the contents of our Acoustic World series!): it seems to me to be such a subjective issue (look at the changing trends in book covers). If one could identify the perfect cover to shift the maximum number of CDs, well, how cool would that be? It would be great to see people's suggestions of the best and worst covers in their collections, with an honest appraisal of whether they affected their purchasing decisions.
Come on readers, the best and worst covers in your collections, and do they affect your purchasing decisions? Here's a starter for ten. Early last year regular reader David Cavlovic wrote that 'Some of the best cover art ever was on the EMI Reflexe series'. I'll second that, one outstanding example is above. To counterbalance it there a real dog below, although it was a close call between that and some of ECM's fuzzier efforts. Yes, cover art still affects my purchase decisions, except whan it is ECM. And I still close my eyes when buying some Naxos releases. But then I'm probably the only person in the world who still buys CDs. Now read more about that best cover art ever.

* I have added a poll to the sidebar where readers can vote on 'Does cover art affect your decision to purchase a recording?'


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Berio - exactly what it says on the label


Luciano Berio's Sinfonia blends Mahler. Pierre Boulez made a definitive recording of the Sinfonia. He also warned of the dangers of third-pressing Mahler.

That was the meant to be the end of a brief Friday afternoon post. But the trouble with these pieces is that they take on a life of their own. My Google research not only uncovered the Berio olive oil TV commercial seen below. It also uncovered that Malcolm Bruce was the composer of the music used in the commercial.

Malcolm Bruce's CV lists three composition teachers. A few minutes more research uncovered yet more Berio synchronicity. One of Malcolm Bruce's teachers was Francis Shaw, who was taught by Goffredo Petrassi, whose composing style showed similarities to Berio's. Another teacher was Simon Bainbridge, who has performed the music of Berio with the Manson Ensemble. And the third teacher was Robert Saxton, who studied with Berio.



At least Malcolm Bruce didn't study with Oliver Knussen. Yet more Friday afternoon Berio connections here.

My wife tells me that our Filippo Berio olive oil was bought from Tesco. 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

Can you feel the draft?


George Gershwin's World War 1 draft card. From the US National Archives, Atlanta. John Ogdon programmed Gershwin alongside Boulez and Szymanowski. Read more in The Real Piano Man.

With thanks to Bernard Tuyttens in Brussels for the heads up. 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, January 29, 2009

China gates


Thomas Tallis' Spem in Alium to a contemporary Chinese composer's improvisation inspired by a leading English football player is a pretty brave leap to make. At a time when being sensible is the new fashion, independent record label Coro are venturing well off the beaten path. Coro was founded in 2001 by choral ensemble The Sixteen and their founder Harry Christophers to re-issue the ensemble's back-catalaogue and release their new recordings, including a new version of Tallis' celebrated 40-part motet in surround sound. But last year Coro demonstrated their independent way of thinking by also launching a new world music label.

One of the first releases on the new label, Acoustic World China, combines top musicians, outstanding sound (all instruments are acoustic), and music ranging from traditional to contemporary. The programme is built around four exponents of different living Chinese music traditions. Lin Youren plays the contemplative qin zither in traditional tunes and in his Improvisation for Michael Owen. The latter piece was inspired by the singing in the pub where the composer watched England play Argentina in the 1998 World Cup. Best know among the four musicians is pipa player Wu Man who featured here recently on a new Terry Riley CD. A former Buddhist monk, Li Jinwen , leads the Tianjin Buddhist Music Ensemble in 'sheng-guan' temple and folk music for wind and percussion forces. And Xuan Ke and the Dayan Ancient Music Association play ritual religous music.

Tallis to Tianjin is a pretty bold step. So I asked Cath Edwards, label manager at The Sixteen about the thinking behind Acoustic World in an exclusive Overgrown Path interview:

OAOP - Coro is seen as a 'western classical' label - why the move into world music?

CE- We have been gradually expanding the scope of the recordings available on CORO within the classical/choral field for a little while now and have released discs with the likes of Sarah Connolly, Elin Manahan Thomas, Le Jardin Secret and the Hilliard Ensemble in recent years. The majority of the recordings we release are still by The Sixteen, but we wanted to expand our repertoire to attract new and different audiences to CORO and in turn to the work of The Sixteen.

OAOP - The first Acoustic World releases are reissues of excellent Nimbus recordings. Will the series be licensing its releases from other labels, or will their be new recordings?

CE - We discovered these Nimbus discs some time ago now and felt that they were the perfect complement to the music already on the CORO label. The music featured epitomizes CORO’s values of excellence of performance, authentic instruments, brilliance of sound and world class musicians and we wanted to get these wonderful recordings back out into the public eye. We have six releases planned at the moment (four already available and two in early 2009) but the Nimbus catalogue of world music is so extensive that we may release more titles depending on how our initial six are received. So far the response has been pretty positive. We don’t have any plans at present to licence tracks from other labels for this series and there are no plans for new recordings at the moment.

OAOP - Philip Glass said 'world music is the new classical'. Any plans for world music projects involving The Sixteen?

CE - Philip Glass’s comment is interesting indeed, and we hope there might be some crossover within our current audience for our world music series (and vice versa). The Sixteen has done a bit of crossover work in the past working with the likes of Damon Albarn and Sigur Rós, so who knows what the future holds. But at present The Sixteen is concentrating on it’s 30th Anniversary year in 2009, and new recordings of Handel’s Coronation Anthems due for release in February, a new disc of Purcell and MacMillan which will be out in April, and a new recording of Handel’s Dixit Dominus and Steffani’s Stabat Mater which will be released in late 2009.

OAOP - Can you give Overgrown Path readers details of the Acoustic World titles, what are the release dates and the pricing?

CE - So far there are four titles: Brazil (May 2008), China (June 2008), Ireland and Persia (both October 2008). In 2009 we plan to release Flamenco (March) and India (May). UK retail price is around £10.50, and the discs are available from the usual stores, or direct from us.
The Acoustic World series is yet another example of an independent label showing the corporate majors how it should be done. The series avoids any new age trappings, and presents imaginative and challenging music. The programmes are compiled by Robin Tyson at Podium Music, and are remastered in outstanding sound by Floating Earth. Particular praise is due for Robin Tyson's exemplary sleeve notes. But I am not sure if the slick sleeve designs, see below, do this excellent series justice. Musically Acoustic World is streets ahead of the Rough Guide world music series, so why use Rough Guide look-alike graphics? But it is the music that really matters, and Coro has got that exactly right with Acoustic World. Visit their website for samples.


China Gates by John Adams is in the essential Minimal Piano Collection. As I write details of Image China: Chinese New Year Concert 2009 at the Kennedy Center, Washington arrive from renaissance man Garth Trinkl. More music beyond borders here.

A copy of Acoustic World China was supplied free of charge by Coro at my request. Header photo taken by me in Chinatown London yesterday and is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. 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, January 26, 2009

High school of cello playing


Pablo Casals championed David Popper's music. My recent post about Popper attracted a lot of readers. Naxos has just released this double CD of the forty Études that make up Popper's Hohe Schule des Violoncello-Spiels (High School of Cello Playing).
High school cello -> old school cello -> new school cello.

I have not bought, received or heard a copy of the David Popper CD. I saw it on display in the priceless Prelude Records, Norwich, but the Overgrown Path CD buying budget for January is overspent. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

No rediscovered Renaissance masterpieces here


Chance, yes honestly, there was a John Cage connection, uncovered this long-forgotten 3 LP set in my collection. The recordings from the French Forlane label date from 1981. Three English composers from the early 20th century are featured, and the main works are John Foulds' Pasquinade Symphonique No 1, Hubert Parry's Symphony No 3 (The English), and Havergal Brian's complete Symphonic Movements from The Tigers. The sound on my LPs from the Luxembourg Radio Symphony Orchestra under Leopold Hager is surprisingly good, and the recording survives in the catalogue as 2 CDs. I'm not going to start all that nonsense about rediscovered masterpieces. But if English music of this period floats your boat this is worth worth exploring. These works are on a par with much of the orchestral music in the Naxos American Classics series. But the premium price is hardly an incentive to explore. Sir Adrian Boult recorded Parry's much superior Fifth Symphony. What is it about ... ?

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Duende - a journey in search of radio


There have been some thoughtful comments on Old is New from Adam Solomon who is an undergraduate at Yale. I followed the links on his email and found that Adam presents a monthly programme called Flamenco + Arabic Pop on WYBC Yale Radio. I'm listening to the stream of the November 2nd 2008 programme as I write, and one of the family has just come in to ask what the good music is. Student radio has a fairly impressive pedigree in the States. I think I am right in saying that the presenters on WHRB Harvard have included Marion Lignana Rosenberg, Vanessa Lann, John Rockwell, and Alex Ross. Read more on the Harvard classical music orgies here.

Duende: A journey in Search of Flamenco by Jason Webster is published in the UK by Black Swan. 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

Everything is in the music

In a lecture given in Tokyo in 1984 Takemitsu pointed out that programme notes were unnecessary, since a listener should hear everything in the music.
Naxos do quite wonderful things. But it is also fair to say that some of their recordings, particularly older ones, make understandable compromises in performance and technical quality. Not so this highly recommended 1997 disc. Conductor Okko Kamu, soloist Petri Alanko, orchestra Tapiola Sinfonietta, and recording venue Tapiola Concert Hall in Espoo (feel that bass!) are all out of the top drawer. Nice programme notes as well. But more words are unnecessary. Everything is in the music.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Old is new


Why is the masterpiece phenomenon so specific to classical music? Could you imagine how foolish someone would sound if they said the following:

"Angels in America has some topical interest, but it's no Hamlet" ... "Vladimir Nabokov's novels are somewhat interesting but a bit on the modern side--I much prefer the novels of Sir Walter Scott" ... "I don't know what all the fuss is about this Picasso. Why can't people enjoy proper artists like Rembrandt?" ... "Schindler's List has a message but it's much too revolutionary for me. Why don't they make films the way they used to, like Gone With The Wind?"

Comparing the new music directly to works written several hundred years ago is a fruitless proposition. Yet in the opera world, people diss perfectly good operas all the time in stating their preference for operas out of a completely different time, place, and tradition.

Why can't the classical music world (most specifically the traditional opera lover) celebrate new work the way that the film, literary, art, and theater world celebrate new work: as works that exist alongside those of the traditions that came before them, but need to be appreciated on their own merits?
Comments Chris Foley on No more masterpieces please. Chris makes a very good point. But I do think the problem is partly of our own making. Surely, the current obsession among certain movers and shakers with all things new, creates resistance, rather than acceptance, among some audiences? The obsession is not just with new music, it is also with new artists and new recordings.

But is the tide turning? In all the excitement in Washington on Tuesday, some people overlooked that those four commendably multi-cultural and multi-gender musicians were miming to a very old tune reworked by a 77 year old white man who is more familiar with Hollywood than Darmstadt. There was an interesting article in yesterday's Guardian by Simon Jenkins inspired by Barack Obama's Inaugaration, which opined:

I am more convinced than ever that old is new. Neophilia was the raging obsession of the boom years. It threw out the good (such as responsible banking) with the bad, and ignored any emotional attachment to the familiar. It was for wimps. Now the storm clouds of recession gather and there is a rush for the security of the past, for custom and practice. The results are often bizarre. Open any newspaper, turn on any broadcast, and you will be inundated with throwbacks. In vogue are Karl Marx, Nazi movies, Afghan wars, the class struggle, James Bond, nationalisation, Pooh Bear, ballroom dancing and Kenneth Clarke. Vests, Woodbines and Ovaltine cannot be far behind. An increasingly deranged Gordon Brown may even wake up one morning and declare war on Germany.
John Cage once observed, 'I'm afraid I'm more traditional than all those traditionalists'. Duality is the real enemy. We do not need to choose between old and new, masterpiece and repertoire piece, black and white, or female and male. Chris Foley is quite right. They should all be appreciated on their own merits.

Header image is Roy Lichtenstein's 1962 print Masterpiece. 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, January 23, 2009

In retrospect ...


The sad case of the jailing of early music specialist Robert King for indecently assaulting young men featured here in 2007 several times. With King in prison the King's Consort has been directed by Matthew Halls. The trustees of the ensemble have now decided it is time to change its name, and have chosen Retrospect Ensemble. Hardly a title given by the gods.

Header image is In Retrospect by Bojana Randall. 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

True simplicity

When true simplicity is gained
To bow and to bend we
shan't be ashamed
Simple, unplugged and live (the last track anyway) here.
Header image is of little-known Shaker graphic design. Follow this link for more. See the similarities? 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 day Martha Argerich was locked up


The Rostropovich concert was of special interest to me, since it was very hard to get him to the Proms: as his fee had become so enormous, it was only within the planning of a very clever operation like the European Community Youth Orchestra tour that it could be made to work. But I was alarmed when Mrs Bryer suggested that Martha Argerich might be the soloist. I was assured that, given her close relationship with Rostropovich, she would certainly turn up. When the day came, I was telephoned to say she had at least played in Brussels the previous night, and had arrived in London. She did not, however, attend the rehearsal in the afternoon, deciding instead to go for a walk in the park. When I arrived at the hall as usual at about 6.30, I heard the piano in the Artist’s Room being put through its paces with unmistakable effect. I heaved a sigh of relief, and quietly let myself into the room.

I had not seen Martha for several years, but she greeted me as an old friend and asked what time the concert began. I told her it was 7.30. ‘No,’ she said, ’I am absolutely certain it is eight o’clock. I am very hungry; I need to go and eat something.’ I pointed out that by eight o’clock she would have played the concerto and would be free to eat for the rest of the evening. 'I don’t believe you,’ she said - ’I know it doesn’t start till eight.’ I excused myself, found two security guards, locked the door to the Artists’ Room, and said, ‘In no circumstances whatsoever is she to be allowed to leave the room.’ She banged on the door for a bit, but at 7.30 sharp she went out and gave one of the most brilliant performances of the Prokofiev Third Concerto I had ever heard. Such genius, and such a lack of professional discipline!
From John Drummond’s autobiography Tainted By Experience (Faber ISBN 0571200540). Cancellations are the concert promoters nightmare, read more here.

Header image comes via Robert Parson at University of Colorado, who has a computer called Argerich. I hope he keeps it locked up. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included for "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

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Music of the other Germany


Paul Dessau and Hanns Eisler have appeared on the path several times, notably in my article about classical music as seen through the prism of East Germany. But you rarely find their names appearing on concert programmes. So a big heads-up for Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra who are presenting “Music of the Other Germany” on Sunday, Jan 25th at Lincoln Center, New York. A great example of adventurous programming and stylish promotional material. Here is the music:

* Hanns Eisler (1898-1962): Auferstanden aus Ruinen, Hymne der DDR (1949)
* Paul Dessau (1894-1979): In memoriam Bertolt Brecht (1957) – US premiere
* Rudolf Wagner-Régeny (1903-69): Mythological Figures (1951) – US premiere
* Udo Zimmermann (born 1943): Sinfonia come un grande lamento, in memory of F. García Lorca (1977) – US premiere
* Hanns Eisler: Goethe Rhapsody (1949) – US premiere
* Siegfried Matthus (b. 1934): Responso (1977) – NY premiere
A sobering, and topical, linkage. It was Aaron Copland's support for a 1948 New York benefit concert for Hanns Eisler that put Copland in front of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee. Read the full story and hearing transcript here.

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No more masterpieces please


The Royal Opera, Covent Garden is giving the UK premiere of Erich Korngold's Die tote Stadt on Tuesday January 27th. This is wonderful music that richly deserves this London staging. Die tote Stadt is certainly in a very different league to John Foulds' World Requiem. But I just hope that the opera doesn't fall victim to promotional overkill in the way that Foulds' minorpiece did. The Covent Garden website is billing the opera as a 'rediscovered masterpiece'. This theme has been breathlessly taken up by BBC Radio 3, who, coincidentally, has the broadcast rights. I'll overlook the 'rediscovered' being applied in 2009 to a work that has been in and out of the record catalogue and opera houses over the years. But do you remember the days when geniuses like Bach, Beethoven and Mozart wrote masterpieces, and there was also a lot of other good (and not so good) music? Good music is no longer enough for today's hyperbole hungry media. Masterpiece is now the lowest common denominator. Recently I heard a BBC Radio 3 presenter describe the Brahms German Requiem as a 'major masterpiece'. I hold my hands up as guilty of over-using the word 'masterpiece' in the past. But, from now on, I will try to avoid the word unless it is describing the work of a true genius. Otherwise let's enjoy the good music, including Korngold's ravishing opera. My header is a reworking of an image from my 2008 article, which gives the background to Die tote Stadt.

Image (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. 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

Charting twentieth century music


Music and mysticism, my post on Dane Rudhyar, attracted a lot of readers back in 2007. Below is a recommended introduction to Rudhyar's music. The CD of his piano music comes from the enterprising Swiss Hat Hut label. Excellent sleeve notes are from the absolutely present Kyle Gann. (There is a virtual prize for anyone who reads to the end of that link - whatever happened to minimalism?) I notice that Boydell & Brewer has just published Dane Rudhyar, His Music, Thought, and Art by Deniz Ertan. The publisher says it 'is enriched with numerous color illustrations of Rudhyar's paintings'. Which takes us down a familiar path. My header image shows one of Rudhyar's natal charts. Dane Rudhyar was a member of the influential Halycon Theosophical Community in California. Theosophy attracted many musicians. Among them was Ruth Crawford Seeger. Who, most definitely, was not a Male American Pioneer.


Mystical astronomy takes us here.
I have not seen a copy of Dane Rudhyar, His Music, Thought, and Art. My comments on the book are written from web research only. I distorted the CD sleeve to pick up the circular theme from the natal chart. CD was bought in the Harmonia Mundi boutique in Avignon. Header image credit Expanding Chiron. 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, January 21, 2009

Simple gifts - the CD


A real, and topical, discovery that was first featured here in 2006 to share with you again today. Despite widespread interest in their culture, Shaker song remains virtually unknown with one glaring exception - Simple Gifts. This song has been reworked by Aaron Copland and so many others to the point that it is generally assumed that Simple Gifts and Shaker song are one and the same. This is both wrong and a great pity as there a lot more very fine music that deserves to reach a much wider audience.

My discovery may help to do that. The library of the Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake, Maine has valuable music archives, including important manuscripts by Elder Otis Sawyer who was an important figure and musician in the Shaker movement. In 1994 a number of songs were transcribed from the Sabbathday Lake archive by Joel Cohen, who then recorded them directing an ensemble made up of singers from the Sabbathday Lake community, Boston Camerata and Schola Cantorum of Boston. The result was a CD titled Simple Gifts - Shaker chants and spirituals.

These songs on this CD are wonderful discoveries, and they really are discoveries as they were previously truly unknown. With links to folksong and Gregorian chant (the Shaker song In Yonder Valley bears an uncanny resemblance to the plainsong Salve, Regina as it is sung in the ton simple) this is simple, fine and moving music. The singing is exemplary, the recording is demonstration class, and the CD comes with a twenty-two page booklet with notes by Joel Cohen and complete texts. If all this sounds too good to miss here is the clincher. Simple Gifts has been reissued on Warner Classics' Apex super-budget label, and I paid just £5 ($9) for it.

If the other tracks weren't superlative as well the price would be justified by the last of the thirty-four tracks alone - a heart-stopping sixty-four second long 'unreconstructed' rendition of Simple Gifts. And in conclusion it is worth reflecting on Shaker Sister Frances Carr's thoughtful note on this song:
Although the World has made the song famous, we feel troubled that, in its fame, it is taken so lightly. To Believers it holds a real message reminding us that we do have to come down to 'the place just right' in order to live out Mother's Gospel.
Amen to that. More simple gifts here and here.
Reblogged from 22 Jan, 2006. Image credit Fruitland Museum. 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

Look no hands


The French have an amazing propensity for producing talented young keyboard players. A major contributory factors must be the numerous church organist posts that provide such an excellent training ground. This is coupled with a commendable willingness on the part of the French to invest in new church organs of outstanding quality and specification; music education is of little use without instruments to play. Last summer we were lucky to attend two recitals by the, then, 23 year old Benjamin Alard in the exquisite church of Saint-Aignan-de-Grand-Lieu outside Nantes in western France. The church, which dates from the 16th to 18th century, is seen in my three photos below.


I first came across Benjamin Alard when I bought the CD seen above in FNAC in Avignon in 2007. This disc, made for the maveric French independent label Editions Hortus, is of music from the notebook compiled by J.S. Bach's elder brother Johann Christoph. The title Andreas Bach Book comes from the name of Johann Christoph's son, which is written on the cover of the notebook. A varied selection of composers feature on the disc. The mix of Buxtehude, JS Bach, Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer, Christian Ritter, Carlo Francesco Pollarolo, Marin Marais and Johann Adam Reincken avoids the repetition that can make discs by single composers of this period difficult to listen to at one sitting. Lovely sound captured in 2005 by Roger Lenoir in the church of Saint-Étienne-de-Baïgorry using the new organ by Rémy Mahler and a 2001 clavichord by Philippe Humeau.


The recitals of music by the Bach family we attended in Saint-Aignan-de-Grand-Lieu spanned the organ and harpsichord in one marathon, but highly satisfying, evening. The first recital on the harpsichord was scheduled to start at 7.00pm (except, being France, it didn't) and ended with JS Bach's Partita No 4 BWV 828. There was then an hour's interval, and the organ recital started at 9.00pm. The new organ by Charles Beaurain, unusually located in the centre of the church, can be seen in two of my photos. Benjamin Alard's marathon recital ended just before 11.00pm with the mighty Prelude in E-flat major (St. Anne) BWV 552 which I have also been privileged to hear in Bach's own Thomaskirche in Leipzig. Hearing that Prelude played by a great organist on a fine instrument truly makes the world seem a better place.


But Benjamin Alard is not just a great organist. He also has a very cool head on his young shoulders. There was no page turner for the harpsichord recital. (Why do harpsichordists invariably turn their own pages? The size of the keyboard? Or are they just naturally modest?) During the sonata BWV 964 the next page of the loose-leaf score fell to the floor as Alard turned the page. He calmly continued to play from memory while manoeuvering the errant page with his foot to a position where he could read it, and then kept playing Bach's masterpiece from the page on the floor. We sat on the edge our seats wondering how he was going to turn the page over with his shoe. But it was not to be. A quick-thinking member of the audience in the front row leaped to his feet and replaced the page on the music stand just in time. Benjamin Alard also learns from his errors. For the following organ recital he had a page turner, who looked very much like his younger brother. There must be something in the water in France.

* An article about Bach notebooks really must mention the Anna Magdalena Bach notebook. For my money this is a perfect evening's listening. Many times I have played the 2 CDs straight through at one sitting. No problems with repetition here. There are several versions available. My choice is the splendid Nonesuch recording with Igor Kipnis at the harpsichord seen below. An absolute essential for any CD collection, despite the minute type in the notes which was lazily reduced from the LP version by Warner without resetting. But do also try the uncharted territory of the Andreas Bach book.


More from the maverick Editions Hortus here, here and here.
Benjamin Alard on MySpace here. Photos of the church of the church of Saint-Aignan-de-Grand-Lieu (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Simple gifts?



Light at the end of the tunnel? Or a train coming the other way?

Something rather more chewy here.
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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Instrument of the moment


More on the kora here
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Monday, January 19, 2009

Tallis in Wonderland


My post about Vaughan Williams' Tallis Fantasia attracted a record number of readers. Now for something completely different. We have just bought tickets for Tallis in Wonderland with I Fagiolini at the Snape Easter Festival. Should be more fun than the Tenebrae Responsories. And strange but true. Hanns Eisler wrote a score for a Hollywood film of Alice in Wonderland.

April 13 - Review of Tallis in Wonderland here.

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Found in meditation


Some pretty extraordinary things happen On An Overgrown Path. Here is one of the more extraordinary:

Jamyang Los Masos Study Group has left a new comment on "Lost in meditation":

Thank you for this interesting article. I was particularly happy to see the news of Osel Hita Torres and can add a few more details. I understand from another Tibetan Buddhist lama incarnation by the name of Gomo Tulku, now 20 years old (he was born, BTW, at 8 minutes past 8 on the 8th of the 8th, 1988!), that Osel (who prefers to be called simply "Oz") completed a 3-year course in cinematography at the University of Madrid last year, and being best friends the two of them hope to embark on careers as hip-hop megastars, promoting the Buddha's message on a vast scale through this medium in the language of young people nowadays.

Gomo Tulku who said at the time that he fancied using the soubriquet "El Gomo" (it was last April when he had just arrived in France from Spain where he had met Osel and made these plans, and was publicly announcing all that I have written here before a large audience) appears on Facebook where he has already posted a hip-hop number. (The photo above of Gomo Tulku is taken from Facebook - Pliable). It might be that Osel will be working with him on production, promotion and content.

Let us hope that they are wonderfully successful in this project. Osel is apparently incredibly creative, intelligent and unconventional (just like his previous incarnation, Lama Thubten Yeshe, founder of FPMT) and his visit to Aptos in 2007 mentioned in the article followed his attendance of The Burning Man festival in Arizona, an avante-garde film, multi media and "happening" festival that originally began on the beach at San Francisco.

Sean Jones
Jamyang Los Masos Study Group

Update 30 August 2009 - latest news on Osel Hita Torres

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Stravinsky's rite action


Lost in meditation is creating some fantastically tenuous links, and here is another one. The Joffrey Ballet's 1987 production of Vaslav Nijinsky and Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring used the original sets, costumes, and choreography from the 1913 production. In the image above I've used electronic trickery to turn the Joffrey production into an ersatz mandala. Because Nicholas Roerich, who co-wrote the scenario of The Rite with Stravinsky and also designed the sets and costumes for that first production, was a celebrated Tibetan scholar. And there are more fantastically tenuous Buddhist links to Stravinsky. The wife and daughter of Ernest Ansermet, who was a celebrated conductor of Stravinsky's music, were both ordained as Buddhist nuns. Read the whole story in an Overgrown Path exclusive.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

I am a camera - Berlin 1973

I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording not thinking.
Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair.
Some day, all all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.

Those three sentences make up the second paragraph of Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Diary, which is dated autumn 1930. The four photographs were taken by me during my first visit to Berlin in 1973, at the height of the cold war - see Final approach to Berlin. They were taken on black & white film using an Olympus Pen S 35mm camera. They were then developed, carefully printed, fixed and mislaid during one of our numerous house moves. I found them a few weeks ago at the bottom of a drawer, and they have never been published before.

The header photo was taken close to the notorious Spree River crossing point. It shows the memorials to those who were shot while attempting to swim the river and escape to the West. The two memorials on the right are dated 1973, the year of my visit. This point on the Spree can be seen in very different times in picture three of my 2005 photo essay on Berlin. There is more on the dreaded East German Vopos (Volkspolizei) who shot the escapers, together with another exclusive photo, in my 2007 article. The second and third photos were taken from viewing platforms on the west side of the wall looking across the death strip. The third photo shows Potsdamer Platz. The showpiece TV tower built by the GDR in the centre of East Berlin can be seen in the distance. Propoganda was all part of the game in those days.

The old Philharmonie, home of the Berlin Philharmonic, was in Bernburger Straße close to Potsdamer Platz. It was bombed in 1943; read the story in Furtwängler and the forgotten new music, and in the Berlin Philharmonic's darkest hour. Close by is Karl Freidrich Schinkel's Konzerthaus which was built in 1821, but was a gutted shell as a result of wartime bombing during my first visit. It was rebuilt in 1979. Read about how, during the rebuilding, the GDR rewrote music history. And staying with photography, don't miss the disturbing images in the Siegfried Lauterwaser collection.

All photos (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Friday, January 16, 2009

Blowing away the recession


And I thought I had problems. The Metropolitan Opera is down to its last $200 million. Everywhere there are reports of artistic gloom, yet there is very little news of anything being done about it. But here's some. Live music at a top music venue for just £4, or £2 if you are under 27. Aldeburgh Music are running open sessions of chamber music, drama and jazz as extensions of their artistic residencies at Snape. We've bought tickets for saxophonist Andy Sheppard's Open Sesssion on February 6th and will keep you posted. Andy has a new recording contract for ECM and some of the music from his residency may find its way on to a future release. Deep River by Joanna MacGregor and Andy Sheppard on Joanna's own SoundCircus label is a gorgeous disc. Listen via that previous link while you read more about Deep River here.

Deep River was bought from Borders Norwich outlet before it changed hands and went to the dogs. 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

Bowled over by Buddhism


John has left a new comment on "Lost in meditation:

Fantastically tenuous link, but see the connection between Buddist monks, Britten Sinfonia, Aldeburgh Music and cricket here:
John, I just love fantastically tenuous links. The world would be a better place if the New York Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera were occasionally more fantastically tenuous.

Photo credit Britten Sinfonia. 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

Lost in meditation

Philip Glass' score for Kundun is the realization of a long-cherished dream. For years I had hoped to work with Glass, and in Kundun we found the ideal subject for a special collabaration. His Buddhist faith and deep understanding of Tibetan culture combine with the sublety of his compositions to play an essential role in our movie on the life of the Dalai Lama.
Martin Scorsese writes about his 1997 film Kundun. It tells the true story of the search in Tibet for the fourteenth reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, and the subsequent flight of the young reincarnation into exile in India. The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is believed to be the latest incarnation, or tulku, in the lineage. A tulku is a Tibetan Buddhist lama who has consciously determined to be reborn, often many times. This allows him to return to continue his work in the material world, rather than remaining in Nirvana.

Reincarnation is one of the most difficult Buddhist concepts for Western minds to grasp. Almost immediately after the death of a Buddhist holy person (lama), a search begins for a reincarnation following cryptic clues left in the previous lifetime. When the reincarnation is found tests, including the identification of objects from the tulkus previous life, are used to verify the reincarnation. Little Buddha is another film based on the search for a tulku. Made in 1993, it was written and directed by Bernardo Bertolucci (famous for Last Tango in Paris) with a score by the Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. Little Buddha featured appearances by Sogyal Rinpoche (author of the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying) and Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, both Tibetan teachers identified as reincarnated lamas.

The fictional storyline of Little Buddha tells how the search for the reincarnation of a Tibetan teacher leads to a boy living in Seattle. Parallels have been drawn between this fictitious plot and the true story of one of the most recent and high profile discoveries of a reincarnation, which took place eight years before Little Buddha was made.

Osel Hita Torres was born in Granada, Spain in 1985. Fourteen months later the Dalai Lama confirmed that he was the tulku of Lama Thubten Yeshe, founder of the FPMT, Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. The young tulku was given the name Tenzin Ösel Rinpoche, and as a teenager studied at Sera Monastery in India. The identification of the reincarnation of Lama Yeshe attracted considerable media interest, and was the subject of a best selling book published in 1988. The young reincarnation is seen with the Dalai Lama in the photo below:


At this point the story becomes even more interesting. Many Tibetan Buddhist websites carry the standard biographies of Tenzin Ösel Rinpoche giving the information I have summarised above. But after studying at Sera Monastery he went on to the private St Michael's University School in Victoria, British Columbia, where he progressed to grade 12 before going on to an unidentified university in Europe. The photo below is one of the most recent available of Tenzin Ösel Rinpoche.


The website of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition takes up the story in 2004:
Osel expressed great appreciation and thanks for all that everyone has done to ensure that his Tibetan and Western education has to date been the best possible. At this time, Osel feels it vitally important for him to spend more time pursuing his western education. However since for the time being that means he is not in Sera, Osel feels it is not appropriate that financial support be raised in the same way as previously. Fortunately, funding for this stage of Lama Osel's continuing education has already been secured. For the time being therefore, we have decided that until Lama returns to Sera to continue Tibetan studies, we will suspend the Lama Osel Education Fund. Thank you to everyone for your support and generosity and for all you have done to date - it really has been so helpful.
The most recent update was posted two years later:
In September 2006, we had a surprise visit from Lama Osel (Lama insisted he be called, simply, "Osel"). He suddenly appeared in Aptos, California at Rinpoche's house - actually, he was on summer vacation. We spent a few days together, and Osel spent a lot of time talking with Rinpoche about Dharma and his experiences of the last few years ... Osel was very happy with the visit, and so were we, especially Rinpoche; we all felt we connected again. Osel's parting advice to me with a hug was "No matter what bad things people say or do to you... just give love!"
We must respect the privacy of Osel Hita and hope that he finds his own personal path. But as Western interest in Buddhism increases, I can't help thinking there is another fascinating film waiting to be made with the title Lost in Meditation.

* Update 19 Jan, 2009 - more on Osel Hita Torres
* Update 30 August 2009 -latest news on Osel.

In another meeting of Eastern and Western faiths people said - this man is dangerous
Photo credits: Tenzin Ösel Rinpoche with Dalai Lama from FPMT, recent photo from Quang Duc. 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, January 15, 2009

Provincial beyond criticism

'Vulgar, self-indulgent and provincial beyond criticism'
Virgil Thomson describes Sibelius' Second Symphony. Quoted from Barbirolli the authorised biography by Michael Kennedy. But other critics thought Sibelius' genius remains unrecognised.

Photo shows Sibelius at Villa Ainola aged seventy-nine. 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, January 14, 2009

Classical music is the hot investment tip


Brian Rossmann has left a new comment on "Label me obsessed":
I have the CD re-issue and agree that this is a very special performance. But, sadly an original LP has so far eluded me. This recording has often been promoted by Art Dudley and others in the American audio press as not only a brilliant recording and performance, but an ideal introduction to classical music for the uninitiated. Consequently originals have become even more collectible and difficult to find. It was released in the US as Ang. S 36101. I'd settle for either but would dearly love to add the EMI to my collection. If anybody has a lead on a clean copy please get in touch. bwr000 at gmail.com
This email prompted me to search the auctions sites. It appears my mint copy of the original LP issue of Barbirolli conducting English string music (ASD 521 in the UK) is worth upwards of 50 pounds sterling. I wonder how many MP3 files will be worth that in 45 years time? Brian, perhaps it is worth looking here? And what a comment on the mess that the financial wizards have got us into. My EMI LPs may be worth more than my EMI pension.

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Breaking the silence of Jarvenpaa


The silence of Järvenpää was not absolute. Although Sibelius wrote no major works between 1927 and his death thirty years later, he did produce some music. One of the last creative tasks he completed was the 1948 orchestration for strings and harp of Ett Ensamt Skidspår (Lonely Ski-Trail) which was originally written for piano and narrator in 1924.

Ett Ensamt Skidspår was first recorded in 1993 by the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra conducted by Juha Kangas for the Finlandia label. My copy of the original CD, which was released in 1996, is seen above. The Finlandia release of Works for String Orchestra by Sibelius has now transferred to Warner's budget Apex label in different packaging, and it is quite a bargain. As well as Lonely Ski-Trail there is another Sibelius premiere recording on the disc, Grevinnans konterfej (The Countess's Portrait). The programme also includes Rakastava, Andante Festivo, and other more familiar works.

The Finnish narrations on the two short first recordings should not put purchasers off. They are more an additional instrumental line than a vocal intrusion. All the performances are truly authentic, and the sound engineered by Bertil Alving in Kaustinen Church, northern Finland, has a bloom that is missing from most studio acoustics. One very minor gripe; the narrations for the two premieres were over-dubbed a year later in Finnvox Studios, Helsinki rather than being recorded in the same ambience.

But let's be quite clear. If this disc contained mainstream repertoire it would be a strong recommendation. Those two Sibelius premieres make it unmissable. In the current economic climate of 'here today, credit-crunched tomorrow' it is best to snap it up today. Because the excellent Finnish Music Information website is predicting a new silence of Järvenpää.
The first Finlandia albums came out in 1979 and the company’s original raison d’etre was to concentrate on old and new local music. But in the 1990’s the label began releasing works by non-Finnish composers as well. Finlandia has released landmark recordings by composers such as Joonas Kokkonen, Aulis Sallinen, Magnus Lindberg, and of course, Jean Sibelius. As part of the Warner/Bros, the future of the label remains to be seen: the activities have stopped in Finland, and the headquarters are in Stockholm. The promotion of Warner-Finlandia classical catalogue and releases is non-existent in Finland, and seems to operate mainly abroad. It seems the history of the legendary Finlandia is about to vanish from the map of the Finnish recording companies.
The Finns are also smart with technology. Read how an internet archive combines contemporary music with new technology.
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