Thursday, April 30, 2009

Minimalism's poster boy


Theatre Street, Norwich today. Now see romanticism's poster boy.
Photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. Report errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Travel & accommodation provided by the BBC


Re: BBC Radio 3 - Exclusive Content‏
From: Nadia Ruggiero
Sent: 29 April 2009 13:28:23
To: Bob Shingleton

Dear Bob,

BBC Radio 3 would like to invite you to become an exclusive partner of their Mendelssohn season. We would like to offer you access to a range of events and content in return for support on On An Over Grown Path
.

For example, the opportunity to attend the rehearsal for A Midsummer Night's Dream complete with Mendelssohn's incidental music at Middle Temple Hall this Saturday 2 May (timings tbc today).

Or a live broadcast of the drive-time show "In Tune" presented by Sean Rafferty, taking place at the Birmingham Town Hall on Friday 8th May (travel & accommodation provided).

We are happy to approach artists and contributors for interview if you'd be interested in talking to any of them.

I would be grateful if you could indicate asap whether you would like to attend either of the above events at your earliest opportunity. I'm also happy to discuss alternative opportunities should these not fit with your diary/interests.

We look forward to hearing back,

Nadia Ruggiero

On Behalf of the Radio 3 Team
___________________
Nadia Ruggiero
Internal Operations Manager Interaction London

This email arrived yesterday. Interaction London is an agency specialising in "social media intelligence and online communications". They are retained by major organisations such as Microsoft, Audi and the BBC to influence how 'social media', which is another name for Facebook, MySpace, and blogs, portrays their clients. Anybody who has read On An Overgrown Path at least once might have guessed that Interaction London's email wasn't exactly going to get me jumping for joy, and they might also have noted the clear warning below my email address on the right-hand sidebar. But let's move on to some other important points.

BBC Radio 3 is the 800 pound gorilla in UK classical music. Virtually everyone of any note in classical music works for Radio 3 in some way. And if you work for them you have to be nice to them, whether you like it or not. That doesn't just apply to musicians, it also applies to journalists. The BBC has been very clever at getting the mainstream media on side by using journalists such as Tom Service of the Guardian, Norman Lebrecht of the Evening Standard and James Jolly of the Gramophone as presenters. Which leaves that bolshie bunch, the independent bloggers.

The bloggers have proved more difficult to bring on side. So BBC Radio 3 came up with the inspired idea of appointing 'official' (i.e. paid) bloggers. This has proved to be disastrous, as the following statistics show. The standard measure of a blog's importance is the number of links to it; these are measured by independent monitoring company Technorai as 'blog impressions'. The official Radio 3 Mendelssohn blog scores 18 blog impressions, On An Overgrown Path scores 1,183.

After that debacle it seems that Plan B was developed by Interaction London - let's offer blogs like On An Overgrown Path a jolly to Birmingham at the license payers expense. Now at this point I will deal with the standard defence of jollies for journalists, namely that enjoying travel and accomodation arranged by a PR agency still means I can write what I want. Sorry it doesn't, as this story shows.

Two weeks ago I received a totally unsolicited email and press release from Valerie Barber PR, another agency with some heavyweight music clients. Instead of doing what the mainstream media does, which is publishing the press release unedited, I had the temerity both to ask questions and to publish the answers. There wasn't even a night in the Birmingham Travelodge involved, and I wasn't rude about Valerie Barber's client, Archive Classics.

But bloggers aren't meant to ask questions and publish the answers, or, even worse, mention the bit of the classical music iceberg that is hidden under the water, the PR agency. Bloggers are simply meant to regurgitate press releases, as James Jolly obligingly did with the Archive Classics story in the Gramophone. But then, James Jolly's daily Radio 3 Classical Collection programme is outsourced by the BBC to an independent production company called Classic Arts, which is another name for Archive Classics.

But back to the blog. To say the folks at Valerie Barber PR were not happy about my Archive Classics post would be a considerable understatement - they demanded in writing that I withdraw it; which I declined to do. So much for being free to write what I want. Those words in Interaction London's email - 'in return for support On An Overgrown Path' - say it all.

I do not enjoy writing posts like this, and I am not expecting a crate of champagne from Interaction London. But I also believe it is important to show what goes on under the PR polished surface of classical music. The BBC, Interaction London, and Valerie Barber PR have all failed to grasp that blogs like mine don't behave like mainstream media. People read On An Overgrown Path because I write what I think, not what PR agencies want me to think. Which is why I am writing this article. And it is why trading becoming 'an exclusive partner of the Radio 3 Mendelssohn season' for 'support On An Overgrown Path' doesn't do it for me. Instead, it simply confirms what I have been saying for a long time, that the BBC has got it badly wrong with Radio 3.

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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

So it's not just listening ...


Over time classical music has shifted from being a lean forward activity, where the emphasis is on participation, to a lean back activity, where the audience are passive observers.

Music originated as a lean forward activity in churches. The chorales in the Bach Passions are a brilliant use of lean forward music, and Britten followed Bach's example with the congregational singing in Noye's Fludde and Saint Nicholas. The flourishing community choir movement in France is a testament to the power of lean forward music. Music lessons in schools, now fast disappearing, are lean forward music pure and simple. John Cage wrote his A House Full of Music (described by him as 'A Musicircus of non-professional music') for 800 music-school pupils in Bremen, Germany, and his 4' 33", where ambient sound becomes the performance, is the ultimate lean forward music.

But lean back music, where the focus is on celebrity performers, is the darling of the media driven 21st century. Even outstanding lean forward projects such as Gustavo Dudamel's Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra and the YouTube Symphony Orchestra are in danger of being subverted into just more lean back music by the agents, PR hacks, broadcasters, record companies and other middle-feeders in the music food chain. It is all about stardom, as this verdict on the YouTube Symphony Orchestra by the Washington Post's Anne Midgette shows:
Whatever else the YouTube Symphony was, it was fantastically exciting for its performers, who were plucked from their daily lives and treated like star musicians for a few days.
We don't need more star musicians. In fact the star system, with its barely concealed commercial agendas, is at the root of classical music's current woes. We need more lean forward music where there are no celebrities, just amateur performers discovering the joys of live music making. This quote from Anne Midgette's article says it all:
Clive Gillinson, Carnegie Hall's Executive Director, put it well at a press conference on Tuesday, saying that today the level of music-making is higher than it's ever been, but that classical music itself is less important to most people's lives. "We have to invert that pyramid," he said - speaking, rather poignantly, to a group of journalists who, to judge by their questions, did indeed see classical music as an exotic phenomenon.
An important new example of 'inverting the pyramid' is seen in my header photo. The Mantra Mountain Project is making CDs of popular Tibetan mantras available so that Westerners can learn them and chant them. The chants are led by a former chant master of the famous Drepung Loseling Monastery in south India. Accompanying him are flute, cello and other Western instruments and a choir of Tibetan and western voices singing antiphonally. The first beautifully packaged CD comes with an explanation and translation of the chants, together with large format sheet music for voice, piano and guitar, as seen below.


There are clear precedents for transcribing the chants for Western notation and instruments. Tibetan Buddhist chants originated in India, and have already been modified as they have spread geographically. Lama Tashi, who now heads the Siddhartha Foundation which aims to reinvigorate Tibetan culture, has created the Mantra Mountain Project. He is a persuasive advocate of lean forward music in the CD's accompanying notes:
When we listen to chanting, we receive the blessings or commit good karma. However, if we, ourself, join into it, it will be more helpful and beneficial. So it's not just listening, but you can chant with it. So that's why we have the music notation. So you can look at the notation, read it, and then play the music or chant with it.
The first Mantra Mountain CD has been realised by Lyle Sanford, who as a registered music therapist working in rural Virginia knows a thing or two about the power of lean forward music. Lyle has done a superb job of arranging and producing the CD, and also contributes to the exemplary documentation. Further CDs and scores offering various transpositions of the chants are planned. Mantra Mountain, complete with sheet music, is available from CD Baby. And before dismissing this project as a whacky post-hippie indulgence remember that Lama Tashi's Tibetan Master Chants CD was, as reported here, short-listed for a Grammy in 2006. The YouTube Symphony Orchestra has a way to go yet.


More on the musical middle way here.
A review copy of Mantra Mountain was supplied FOC at my request. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Vision de L' Amen


From Brain music to more Brain music to Acid Dreams - which tells the story of the links between the CIA and LSD. A lot of names from the music industry appear in the book, and they are not all the usual suspects. It includes the story of how André Previn took part in a study of the effect of LSD in the late 1950s carried out by Dr Oscar Janiger, a Los Angeles psychiatrist. Acid Dreams was a chance find a few years back in the gem of a bookstore in Avignon, France, run by Wolfgang Zuckermann, who was, also by chance, supplier of harpsichords to John Cage in an earlier life. I last met Wolfgang Zuckermann when I was in Avignon in December 2008 in search of Olivier Messiaen. And, also by chance, Messiaen died on 27th April, 1992, which is seventeen years ago today. You can relax, Messiaen is not in Acid Dreams. But that didn't stop him thinking outside the box.

Brain music thread via Alex Ross and Sounds & Fury. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Monday, April 27, 2009

A sound is born


The photo above shows music history being made. It was taken yesterday at the acoustic test for the new Britten Studio at Snape, and shows the new hall filled with the invited audience who were about to hear the first ever live music in the new auditorium. Leading young musicians performed a range of chamber and vocal works, including pieces by Haydn, Debussy, Vaughan Williams and Rebecca Clarke. The music was specially selected to allow acoustic experts to assess the sound of the hall with an audience in situ.

The Britten Studio is at the centre of the Snape creative campus development that I previewed here in 2006. It is a stone's throw from the legendary Snape Maltings Concert Hall, which for four decades has been the gold-standard for concert hall acoustics. When Snape Maltings was created from disused industrial buildings in 1967 the new concert hall was acclaimed for its 'radical traditionalism' as well as its superlative sound. Over the years the surface textures of Britten's iconic hall have mellowed, leaving the music to perpetuate his radical tradition.

But the mellow concert hall now has a radical sibling. Following in Britten's footsteps another derelict maltings has been reclaimed to provide the shell for a new creative centre. Frank Gehry style signature flourishes are conspicuous by their absence. Instead local materials, green thinking and respect for the rural context and vernacular have guided the sensitive conversion by architects Haworth Tompkins. Reclaimed wood from the original maltings forms part of the ceiling, and elsewhere 'found' materials give a wholly appropriate improvisatory feel to the new building.

Design flourishes may be absent, but tangible evidence of the over-riding importance of acoustics is very much present in the new Britten Studio. Arup Acoustics, who were responsible for the peerless sound of the main concert hall, were retained for the new development. Lead acoustician Raf Orlowski is a protegé of the legendary Derek Sugden who worked with Britten on the 1967 hall, and Sugden himself was in the Britten Studio yesterday for the acoustic test.


Above is a comparison by me of the two halls at Snape, and the photographs show the remarkable 'family' resemblance of the radical sibling to its older parent. The masterstroke is that the new Britten Studio is smaller and more intimate than the main concert hall, yet the reverberation time - the key metric in determining the sonic signature of a hall - is only slightly shorter. This has been achieved by maximising vertical volume, and by the inspired use of reflective surfaces. Flexibility is a central feature of the the new hall. The concert style seating can be retracted to create a completely open floor space, the acoustics can be fine tuned using movable drapes, and data quality wiring links the new performing spaces for multi-media projects.

Yesterday's acoustic test confirmed that the Britten Studio has the legendary Snape sound. The first impression on entering the hall is the astonishingly low ambient noise level. A contributory factor is the absence of conventional air-conditioning, instead an environmentally-friendly heat exchange system uses groundwater from a nearby borehole. But when the music starts, what is most astonishing is the warmth and clarity of the sound, which achieves a near-perfect balance between the dryness of modern halls and the sonic soup of more resonant buildings.

The Britten Studio and the adjacent Kiln Studio are extraodinary creative spaces that combine the working traditions of an old industrial building with state of the art technology and superlative acoustics. It was the dearest wish of Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears that one day an inspirational arts centre should be created at Snape. Yesterday that wish became a reality.

* Radical traditionalism abounds at the official opening of the Britten Studio and the other new performing spaces on 9 - 10 May. The line up include Malian music, Schoenberg's monologue Erwartung, the world premiere of a quartet by Salvatore Sciarrino, and Roland Olbeter's musical mechanical quartet Robots. And then there is the 2009 Aldeburgh Festival ...


Photo credits Malcolm Watson. Comparison table (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. Tickets for yesterday's acoustic test at Snape were free. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Canned music


A then unknown Andy Warhol drew this Blue Note album cover in the late 1950s. More on Warhol's cover art in Friday's New York Times. See the music here.

With thanks to Vanessa Lann for the link. Image credit rhapsody.com. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Copyright - common sense prevails?


A couple of weeks ago I ran a piece on Archive Classics, a new website specialising in making out-of-copyright recordings available as podcasts. When I queried Archive Classics' on their position regarding proposed changes in EU copyright law I received this ambiguous response:
With regard to existing copyright laws, naturally we hope that common sense prevails when the EU vote on the proposed extension later this year.
On Thursday the European Parliament voted in favour of extending copyright protection on music recordings from 50 to 70 years, which is still considerably more lenient than US copyright law. This EU ruling will affect labels such as Naxos Historical as well as Archive Classics. But the fat lady in Brussels hasn't sung yet. Once the law is agreed by member states, they will have two years to put it into place. Which should put the European copyright watershed at around 1942.

There was a great resurgence of recording activity after World War Two, so that twenty year shift will put a lot of important recordings, including Karajan's 1953 Hänsel und Gretel (seen above) back into copyright in Europe. But, in continuing defiance of common sense, other great recordings will remain out-of-copyright, including Casals' late 1930s' Bach.

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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Friday, April 24, 2009

How enduring is your music?


Scott has left a new comment on your post "Schoenberg and stomach cramps":
On a mildly related topic which would have fit better a few topics back, I've never really come to grips with what "world music" is. Specifically, why are Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan (to mention a personal favourite) often mentioned as world music? Surely they are classical music (or art music) as much as is Schoenberg.

Sometimes I think that world music is anything that the writer thinks is more lasting than "popular music" but which doesn't fit within the boundaries of western art music or jazz.
Thanks Scott, as ever a perceptive comment. As it's Friday and the sun is shining I am going to freewheel down the path you sent us on with those important words 'more lasting'. Back in 2006, when I was writing on Arvo Pärt's Passio, I quoted Mark Van Doren (from the introduction to Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain incidentally) as saying:
'A classic is a book that remains in print'.
The test as to whether a piece of music (of any category) remains in performance (live or recorded) is a telling one. 'Enduring music' is not the same as good music. A lot of bad music remains in performance, and, conversely, some very good music is rarely performed. But, as the search for the musical viagra that will rejuvenate the classical format continues, there are some interesting lessons to be learnt from 'enduring music'.

Shakti's 1975 LP, which is seen as a CD re-issue above, links to Scott's comment in three ways. First, Shakti do not fit into any convenient marketing category. Secondly after almost 25 years the album is stil in the catalogue. And thirdly, one of the musicians is a Shankar, albeit no relation to Ravi. Here is the reverse of the album cover:


On the left is the great Tamil violinist Lakshminarayanan Shankar, usually known as L. Shankar, or just plain Shankar. He has worked with many great names including Frank Zappa, Eric Clapton, Charly García, Van Morrison and Yoko Ono. Shankar's extraordinary and essential 1981 CD Who's To Know (subtitled Indian Classical Music) for ECM used a custom made 10-string double violin with an equivalent range of string bass to conventional violin.

While studying at Wesleyan University in 1975 Shankar met John McLaughlin (next to Shankar in photo above) to form the pioneering but short-lived acoustic East-meets-West band Shakti. It would take several posts to do justice to the work of John McLaughlin. He played on four of Miles Davis' albums, was a session musician with the Rolling Stones, and from Shakti McLaughlin went on to form the influential Mahavishnu Orchestra, which deserves at least a post to itself. But it is another John McLaughlin project that I want to follow in this 'enduring music' path.

In 1981, the then director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra Ernest Fleischman asked John McLaughlin to play Rodrigo's Concerto de Aranjuez with the orchestra. The guitarist jokingly agreed on the condition that the orchestra commissioned a concerto from him, and so his concerto for guitar and orchestra 'The Mediterranean' was born. The concerto was premiered in LA in 1984 and was recorded by McLaughlin with the London Symphony Orchestra and Michael Tilson Thomas in 1990 for CBS.

Yes, the concerto is a derivative potpourri linked to Rodrigo's masterpiece by more than the Ernest Fleischman anectdote. But that is not the point of my post. Almost twenty years after its first release John McLaughlin's concerto remains in the catalogue in its original release format. Surely there must be a lesson in that?

Now sample this 'enduring music' for yourself:



More 'enduring music' beyond categorisation here and here.
Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The protecting male


In the centre of this 1978 magazine cover is the unmistakable figure of John Tavener. But who is the lady towering above him?

And there is another mystery lady here.
Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Schoenberg and stomach cramps

Within the classical framework, I find it difficult to appreciate fully more recent music, beginning from Schoenberg and atonal music, through avant-garde, musique concrète and electronic music. Strange enough I have great trouble with anything discordant. In Darmstadt, Germany, there is a regular festival of modern music featuring pieces by all the famous modern composers, and I have twice been invited to give sitar recitals there. If I arrive at such a venue one day before my performance, I always make a point of listening to what is going on. On those two occasions in Darmstadt, and at least two other times since, I have noticed that I develop a peculiar problem.

It is mystifying how it happens, but I find that when I start hearing those strange sounds or discordant combinations, within a few minutes I feel a stomach cramp, and from stomach cramp I develop a terrible headache and nausea. At first I thought these physical effects were coincidental, and that my suffering was due to some bad food I must have eaten; but it has happened again and again, right up to this day! I feel ashamed of myself, because thousands of people rave about this music. Though I am sure most of them are sincere in their appreciation, one has to wonder whether some are just behaving in a trendy manner, motivated by snobbery. Sometimes I can intellectually appreciate the intelligent combinations used, yet the whole gamut of this modern music, I am embarrassed to admit, is a physical problem to me. I have to try harder, maybe!
From Raga Mala, Ravi Shankar's autobiography (ISBN 1566491045 OP). Other musicians suffer worse than stomach cramps.
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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bach - an intimate portrait


This postcard arrived from Hedgehog in Berlin, where he has been attending Barenboim's Festtage 2009. Hedgehog's message says:
Centuries of Bach research have revealed the minutiae of his domestic life. That he was a prolific father of numerous children is a well-known fact. This intimate portrait reveals his lesser-known penchant for 'Das washing-up'. Remarkable!
Read about Bach and modern technology here.
The Bach Privat poster was for actually for a chamber music series by members of the Berlin Philharmonic. See other posters in the series here. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

More flute - less magic


When will opera directors learn that less is invariably more? In the 1950s the actor-manager Brian Rix developed a genre of comedy known as Whitehall farce. The main characteristic of this peculiarly English art form was frantic stage business involving a lot of doors. And judging by the six doors and endless comings and goings in English Touring Opera's new production of Mozart's The Magic Flute, which played at Snape yesterday, we may be about to experience a revival of the Whitehall farce.

This new Magic Flute is directed by, and I quote English Touring Opera's website, "phyical theatre specialist Liam Steel". So it was hardly surprising that the production was more theatre music than music theatre. But this meant that fleeting moments of magic battled against a noisy set that was part lighting showroom (see header photo) and part TV game show. Musically, things under conductor Paul McGrath were equally patchy, despite an outstanding Queen of the Night from Laure Meloy. And was an electronic keyboard in a Mozart opera at Snape a sound of the times, or just a sound of the technology?

English Touring Opera work on restricted budgets, and do a fantastic job of taking English language opera to the places that more prestigous companies do not reach. For this reason they invariably receive a positive press. But, I am afraid, this time I am putting the final score at Physical Theatre 5 - Mozart 1.

Photo credit Neil Libbert. Our tickets for English Touring Opera's The Magic Flute were purchased at Aldeburgh's box office. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Small is beautiful


Let's hear it for independent record stores.
Photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. Report errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Friday, April 17, 2009

Randomness is a very precious thing

In 1972 I was in the south of France. I had eaten some bad fish and was in consequence rather ill. As I lay in bed I had a strange recurring vision, there, before me, was a concrete building like a hotel or council block. I could see into the rooms, each of which was continually scanned by an electronic eye. In the rooms were people, everyone of them preoccupied. In one room a person was looking into a mirror and in another a couple were making love but lovelessly, in a third a composer was listening to music through earphones. Around him there were banks of electronic equipment. But all was silence. Like everyone in his place he had been neutralized, made grey and anonymous. The scene was for me one of ordered desolation. It was as if I were looking into a place which had no heart. Next day when I felt better, I was on the beach sunbathing and suddenly a poem popped into my head. It started out 'I am the proprietor of the Penguin Cafe, I will tell you things at random' and it went on about how the quality of randomness, spontaneity, surprise, unexpectedness and irrationality in our lives is a very precious thing. And if you suppress that to have a nice orderly life, you kill off what's most important. Whereas in the Penguin Cafe your unconscious can just be. It's acceptable there, and that's how everybody is. There is an acceptance there that has to do with living the present with no fear in ourselves.
Penguin Cafe Orchestra founder Simon Jeffes describes how the idea of the band came to him. They were supported by Brian Eno, appeared with Kraftwerk, and their music has been linked with that of Philip Glass. Ten albums were released by the PCO between 1976 and 1997. Simon Jeffes died from a brain tumour in 1997. The Penguin Cafe Orchestra - A Brief History, seen in my header image, is currently available on CD. The Orchestra's official website is here.

Random patterns that confirm our own prejudices?
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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Another day - another press release

Dear Bob, I hope you are really well! I work for Valerie Barber PR and we are responsible for the PR of Archive Classics, which launched on 3rd April (www.archiveclassics.com). This site was launched by Classics Arts with the aim of making great recordings from the past more accessible to both collectors and to a new generation audience. Broadcaster Stephen Johnson presents a weekly podcast centred around an archive recording, and takes the listener on a journey through this recording in an enjoyable and informative style. The podcast is available for download from the website and the recording itself is available for download by subscribers. Please find attached the press release and if you would like any further information please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Many thanks and best wishes
Iain Handyside
Account Executive

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Iain, thanks for that. I'm interested in running a piece about Archive Classics. To help me understand where Archive Classics are coming from can you explain their position re. copyright?

Are all the podcasts out-of-copyright recordings? Is the Elly Ney podcast produced with HMV's approval? I note the partner labels are mainly small re-issue specialists - what is the relationship with the major labels? Will there be any contemporary material on Archive Classics? If the business model is the use of out-of-copyright material what are the implications for American downloaders where copyright law is different, and what is the Archive Classics view on the proposed EU extension of recorded copyright?

Any other background would be of help. As you probably know I don't 'do press releases', but I'm keen to give Archive Classics some coverage as the subject matter is on message for my readership.

Thanks, Bob

>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Hi Bob, Many thanks for your patience on this. Below is an answer from Classic Arts:

All the recordings featured in Archive Classics are indeed out of copyright. All our partner labels specialise in restoring recordings that are in the public domain, and they have given us their permission to use their re-masters in our weekly podcasts. What their individual relationships are with the major labels I couldn't say I'm afraid.

With regard to contemporary material in Archive Classics, we will indeed feature some pieces from the 20th century. However, due to the terms of the MCPS/PRS license we have in place, these pieces will feature more occasionally than the main canon of composers from the classical and romantic eras.

With regard to existing copyright laws, naturally we hope that common sense prevails when the EU vote on the proposed extension later this year.


I hope this helps, but do let me know if you need anything else.
Many thanks and best wishes,
Iain.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>


Copyright or copywrong?

Image credit iCopyright. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Thursday, April 16, 2009

More music for less lute

Hodja wanted to learn how to play the lute. So he approached a music teacher and asked him, "How much do you charge for private lute lessons?"

"Three silver pieces for the first month; then after that, one silver piece a month."

"Oh, that's very fair," exclaimed Hodja. "I'll start with the second month."
From Essential Sufism. Header image is peerless Moroccan oud player Said Chraibi's CD for an Arab record label with a secret life. Read more here.

Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Close encounters of the discount kind


A close encounter of the discount kind in HMV's Oxford Street store leads the path back to Convivencia, the CD of music from Moorish Spain seen above. (That artwork incidentally is on my shortlist of best cover art of all time). In November 2006 I wrote an article contrasting Convivencia, which features soprano Catherine Bott accompanied by various permutations of lute, vihuela, guitar, oud, tar, tablah, tbilat and douf, with a new CD of Dowland lute songs performed by rock star Sting. Recently I noticed the Deutsche Grammophon Sting CD in a deletions bin in HMV Oxford Street. So I checked with Chris Marr at leading independent retailer Prelude Records (how many online retailers have an up-and-coming composer on their staff?) for an update. He told me the original CD of Sting's Songs from the Labyrinth was deleted last autumn. There is now a 'Special Edition' CD released in November 2008 which has a three extra tracks. And there is a 2 CD edition consisting of the CD, a bonus disc of some live performances and also a DVD of Sting talking about why he recorded them and the background to the project. Confused? Well, so is amazon.co.uk. Meanwhile Convivencia sails serenely on in its original release format. Read my original post about different approaches to the lute here.

Convivencia was bought from Prelude Records. I'm afraid i haven't bought the Sting CD. 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, April 15, 2009

In an English country garden

At no time in his life after the age of about fifteen did Grainger abandon his sadistic and masochistic pleasure-seeking. Blood-letting was often part of his activities and he nearly always laundered his own shirts because of the telltale bloodstains. With the possible exception of Mimi Kwast, all his girlfriends were to be drawn into his particular form of lovemaking and there is ample photographic evidence of this. Several photographs exist which he took himself after one of his bouts of auto-flagellation. An indication of his extraordinary mentality can be detected from the fact that as he stood before the camera lens with bleeding wounds he also held up a notice which gave details not only of the exact time of day, location of session and number of lashes with what kind of whip, but also the type of film used in the camera and the exposure and aperture. Whenever he went on tour he took a selection of several dozen whips with him.
From Percy Grainger by John Bird (ISBN 0571117171 - OP). Photo is my European LP pressing of the classic 1959 recording by Frederick Fennell and the Eastman-Rochester "Pops" Orchestra of Grainger's music. It still is available as a CD transfer coupled with a 1965 recording by Fennell of Eric Coates' The Three Elizabeths. It is worth noting that the stunning sound on the 1959 Grainger sessions was produced by a woman, Mercury's legendary Wilma Cozart Fine. She also produced Antal Dorati's still-unbeatable Firebird for Mercury; more on that here.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Handel keeps on running


A wonderful email story from a reader in Spain to end the Handel anniversary day.
When the city of Madrid organised the first Marathon race back in 1978, an anoymous neighbour who lived near the 41th kilometre milestone placed the loudspeakers of his sound system in his balcony facing the street and playing Handel's Hallelujah chorus at full volume in an endless loop while runners passed by. This became a custom that was even announced by the organisation in later editions.

In 1999 the race had to change its course in the last kilometres in order to accomodate the growing number of participants. This would have deprived them from their Handel when they approached the last kilometre. But the association of Handel to the race was so entrenched that the organisation set up a booth at the 41th kilometre milestone with a powerful sound system playing Handel's Hallelujah chorus "as usual". I can confess that its effect on the runners is really uplifting.
More on the Hallelujah chorus here.
The Handel anniverary has been the most glorious Spring day here in England, and the email above was waiting for me when I returned from my afternoon run! Quick and dirty collage, is, of course, by me. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Handel with care


It can hardly have escaped readers in the UK that George Frederic Handel died on 14th April, 1759. There is no doubt Handel is a composer of true genius. But, unfortunately, BBC Radio 3 has turned a notable music anniversary into a media event as tasteless, in its own way, as the coverage of the death of Jade Goody. If you have listened to BBC Radio 3 in the last few days I quite understand why you may never want to hear a note of Handel's music again. But here, in the hope of reviving jaded palates, are four suitably overgrown Handel paths.

The perfect antidote to Handel overload is The Cleveland Symphonic Winds recording of The Music for the Royal Fireworks under Frederick Fennell. This was originally issued as an audiophile LP in 1978, and the header photo shows my copy of the original Telarc vinyl release. Handel's Royal Fireworks Music (in an edition prepared by Charles Mackerras and Anthony Baines) is coupled with Holst's Suites for Military Band, and a 'naughty but nice' wind band version of Bach's Fantasia in G major. This LP was a very early Soundstream digital recording made in Severance Hall, Cleveland using just three Schoepps/Studer microphones with no equalisation, and the LP was half-speed mastered. My vinyl pressing still sounds sensational. This quite outstanding example of audio engineering and musical virtuosity deservedly lives on as a very affordable CD.

Naughty but nice Handel also comes in the form of the speculative, but quite gorgeous, reconstruction by Andrew Parrot of the Carmelite Vespers that the composer contributed to when he visited Rome in 1707. The sleeve of the budget priced double CD is seen below, read more here.

There is more authentically inauthentic Handel in the transcriptions of his recorder sonatas for cello and harpsichord played by two members of the Brooke Street Band. But is the sound on the CD inauthentic as well?

Philip Glass and Händel? For the links between Handel and new music try Paul Griffiths' brief but perfectly formed 1997 New York Times review, Minimalism as an 18th-Century Idea.

Handel and the Star Spangled Banner? Well, yes actually. Did you know Jimmy Hendrix was a neighbour of Handel's in London?


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Monday, April 13, 2009

Music 2 - Technology 1


Risk-taking is in very short supply in classical music today. Except at Snape. There, the latest avant-garde tricks, writing for machines, and, yes, the occasional grandiose clap-trap are embraced by Aldeburgh Music as they continue to dare to be different. In his 1964 Aspen Award acceptance speech Britten warned of the dangers facing contemporary music -
There are many dangers which hedge around the unfortunate composer: pressure groups which demand true proletarian music, snobs who demand the latest avant-garde tricks ... He may find himself writing more and more for machines, in conditions dictated by machines, and not for humanity: or of course he may end by creating grandiose clap-trap when his real talent is for dance tunes or children's piano pieces.
But Britten would never have wanted Aldeburgh to become a stuffy museum for his art, and, thankfully, today the Snape creative campus is much more about the future than the past. On Easter Saturday daring to be different came in the form of Tallis in Wonderland, I Fagiolini's deconstruction and reconstruction of polyphonic masterpieces from Tallis and his contemporaries, developed during one of the admirable Aldeburgh Residencies.

The relaxed workshop style presentation, complete with performers in jeans and mobile phones on stage - all shouting accessibility, has become more cliché than innovation. But, when I saw seventy near-field loudspeakers located among the audience, six PA speakers around the periphery and a mixing desk in the middle of the Snape Maltings auditorium, I swear I also heard a groan from the darkened box where Britten and Pears observed performances from.

Latest avant-garde tricks were in plentiful supply in Tallis in Wonderland. Auditorium loudspeakers annotated the polyphony with erotic references, live voices sung alongside recordings, and I Fagiolini confronted the tyrrany of the concert platform by using the whole of the Maltings auditorium to explain why polyphony really means 'many voices'. But it was all saved from being 'grandiose clap-trap' by the total respect for the music shown by the extraordinarily energetic performers.

It is no criticism of the multi-talented I Fagiolini if I put the final score at Music 2 - Technology 1. Tallis In Wonderland did give me a new insight into the textures of polyphony. And it did make me want to listen again to those soaring masterpieces. But without the assistance of a personal loudspeaker, thanks very much. I am sure Britten would have been delighted with the final score.

Tallis in Wonderland is also being performed at the Spitalfields Festival in June. Header photo was taken at Snape on Saturday before the concert 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

The meaning of music


The best possible response, however, to the question 'What are your songs about?' was vintage 60s Bob Dylan: 'Oh, some are about four minutes, some are about five, and some, believe it or not, are about eleven or twelve,' he replied.
Quote is from Karen O'Brien's biography of Joni Mitchell. Read about the birth of rock here.
Dylan photo from Mood Swing. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The joyful power of music


'Our highest business is our daily life' - John Cage
He may have been a student of Zen Buddhist and a self-proclaimed anarchist. But the thinking behind John Cage's words applies across all faiths and philosophies. In Christian monastic orders the business of daily life is defined by the Opus Dei. These are the Holy Offices during which all the Psalms are sung in rotation in a never ending affirmation of faith. Music is central to the liturgy. Again John Cage is surprisingly in tune with the contemplative life. He was famously influenced by the Indian musician Gita Sarabhai whose definition of the purpose of music explains why singing is central to monastic worship:
'The purpose of music is to sober and quiet the mind, thus making it susceptible to divine influences.'
Probably the most moving of the Divine Offices is Compline. This is the last of the daily cycle and it celebrates the completion of the day. Compline is sung in darkness, and ends joyfully with the singing of that most moving of Marian antiphons, the Salve Regina. As the reverberation from the final O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria dies away the monastic community is transported into the Great Silence, which will be broken by the bell calling the faithful to Matins the following morning.

Attending Compline is a life-affirming experience, whether as a guest of a monastic community or as a visitor. When travelling we always try to visit nearby monasteries, and a couple of weeks ago we were able to attend Compline at L'abbaye Notre-Dame de Belval near Arras in northern France. The visit was particularly poignant as next year this community of Trappist Cistercean nuns will leave the monastery that has been their home since 1893. Decreasing numbers of postulants means the ageing community cannot continue to live in their present large monastery.

In 2010 the Sisters are moving 120 miles to L'Abbaye Notre-Dame d' Igny near Reims where they will also be joined by nuns from L'Abbaye Notre-Dame de la Grace Dieu from the Doubs region near the Swiss border. There will be around 70 Sisters in the combined community at Igny, and this number should make the continuation of their contemplative life possible. Accompanying this article are three photographs which show the nuns in their current monastery at Belval. The Abbey is famous for its cheese which can be seen being made in the photograph below. Harrods is among the famous stores that sell Belval cheese, and one of the varieties is flavoured with Trappist beer.


We drove to the rural monastery for Compline at 8.15pm on a dark and wet March Thursday evening. The visitors entrance to the monastery was in complete darkness, and in the Abbey Church we joined just two others in the congregation. The community at Belval has dwindled to just twelve ageing Sisters. Compline was sung in French in line with Vatican Two, and there was a judicous use of the organ to reinforce the voices. This is one occasion when I am not going to complain about the use of subtle amplification which allowed the fragile but beautiful singing of the twelve Sisters to fill the cavernous Abbey. As the concluding Salve Regina was intoned in the darkened church there was no doubt that Gita Sarabhai was right, and music does indeed makes us susceptible to divine influences.


As we walked through the darkness back to our car I felt that I had just witnessed something very special. The commitment of the Sisters to continue the celebration of the Divine Offices while handling the complex practicalities of relocation to a new monastery is quite remarkable. But equally as special is the role that music has played in maintaining the vigour of the community. If faith is the bricks from which the community at Belval is built, music is the mortar that cements it together. These words by the neurologist Oliver Sachs were written in 1985. But, oh, how they apply in 2009:
'The power of music ... is one of the greatest practical and theoretical importance ... What we see, fundamentally, is the power of music to organise - and to do this efficaceously (as well as joyfully!), when abstract or scematic forms of organisations fail ..'.
I have described how the Sisters from L'Abbaye Notre-Dame de la Grace Dieu will join the monastery at Indry. While at Belval I bought a 1995 CD from Art & Musique, a label which has featured here before. Recorded by the nuns of L'Abbaye Notre-Dame de la Grace Dieu, the disc of Easter music (sleeve below, but now deleted) is notable for its settings by Jacques Berthier (1923-94), who is best known for his music for the Taizé Community.

Brother Roger of Taizé shared with Saint Gregory an understanding of the power of music, and Jacques Berthier's chants played a vital role in creating the beacon of hope that Taizé is today. From the evidence on this CD there is no doubt that the nuns of L'Abbaye Notre-Dame de la Grace Dieu also understand how music how can, to quote Oliver Sachs, 'efficaceously and joyfully organise'. Let us hope that the new combined monastic community at Indry prospers. For, as the Hindu saying tells us ~ 'Nada Brahma' - Sound is God. Which is where this post started.


Related resources:

* The Benedictine Guide to Music by Katharine Le Mée (ISBN 0809141787). An excellent introduction. But Katharine Le Mée has disappointingly negative views on John Cage and other contemporary composers, and she is not completely objective on the work of French physician Alfred Tomatis and 'Mozart effect' champion Don Campbell.

* Christian Music by Andrew Wilson-Dickson (ISBN 0745951198). Very useful survey of the whole body of Christian music including monastic and Taizé liturgy.

* A Time to Keep Silence by Patrick Leigh Fermor (ISBN 978159017244-5) Quite the best book on monastic orders, and also a classic of English literature.

More on the music of Taizé here.
The three photographs of Belval are by Jean-Pierre Lagarde. They were created by scanning postcards purchased from the monastery. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Thinking is the best way to travel

Whoever travels without a guide
needs two hundred years for a two-day journey

Rumi
Forget about the Rough Guide. Thinking is the best way to travel, and the very affordable (less than £9 in the UK) compendium of Sufi wisdom seen above is the perfect companion. One in a series from HarperOne that also includes Essential Zen and Essential Tibetan Buddhism. Below is Thames & Hudson's lavish visual guide to Islamic mysticism, which is an even bigger bargain at, again, less than £9. Contemporary music and Sufism here.


I have distorted the Essential Sufism cover to fit the blog format. Both books featured in this post were bought at retail price. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Whatever happened to the HPSCHD?


Definitely something not to be missed. Although at a UK retail price of around £20 for 2 CDs of an amateur mono recording that is more than half-a-century old, hardly a bargain. Vaughan Williams' 1958 performance of the St. Matthew Passion cuts twelve numbers including four arias, is sung in English with a large chorus, and uses a piano and organ instead of harpsichord for the keyboard continuo. 'It is our privilege and duty to use all the improved mechanism invented by our instrument-makers to do full justice to this immortal work' - Vaughan Williams explained.

It would be difficult to find two greater musical opposites than Vaughan Williams and John Cage. But they do have something in common. Cage said 'I hate the harpsichord, it reminds me of a sewing machine'. Despite that Cage went on to compose HPSCHD for up to 7 harpsichords and 51 electronic tapes. Memories from John Cage's HPSCHD supplier here. VW's Matthew Passion was recorded in the Dorking Halls. Personal memories of Dorking here.

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Music exists only in constant flow and flux


A comment on When styles collide raises the interesting question of when was the Matthew Passion composed? Was it when Bach started writing the work, when he finished it, or when he produced his final performing version? It is much more than a semantic point. Behind it lies the question, what is the Matthew Passion, or any other piece of music?

Is the Matthew Passion the notes printed in the score? But there are diffferent performing editions, and Bach himself directed several versions. Is the Matthew Passion the music Bach heard in his head when he was writing it? But his conception of the work continued to evolve and he was still revising it nine years after the first performance. Is the Matthew Passion the music we hear in performance or from a recording? But performing styles, musical competencies, acoustics, recording technology and our own auditory and receptor systems are constantly changing.

The answer must be that the Matthew Passion, or any composition, is simply the music we hear in our head at any one moment in time - whether the source be a score, a live performance, a recording, a memory, or our imagination. As Steve Hagen explains:
Most of us see ourselves as corks floating in a stream, persisting things moving along in the stream of time ... The fact is, however, that there are no corks in the stream. There is only one stream. What we conceptualize as "cork" is also stream. We are like music. Music, after all, is a type of stream. Music exists only in constant flow and flux and change. Once the movement stops, the music is no more. It exists not as a particular thing, but as pure coming and going with no thing that comes and goes.

Or, as René Char (whose poetry Pierre Boulez has set) put it:
Each movement is virgin, even the repeated one - you can't repeat anything exactly - even yourself!
Which means none of us hear the Matthew Passion the same way, and none of us hear the same Matthew Passion twice. Most importantly, it means there is no permanence in music. Comparisons require permanence. So our endless search for the newest, most authentic, best performed, award winning and best recorded version of a work is meaningless. The only Matthew Passion is the one you are hearing right now. Savour it, because it will never sound the same again.


Header image is a CD of contemporary music by John Palmer who spent time in a Zen monastery in Kyoto. Lower two photos are of Daisen-in, the Great Hermit Temple in Kyoto, which I visited during my first trip to Japan in 1983. Read more about John Palmer's music, and about koans, here.

Photos 2 & 3 are from the highly recommended and truly beautiful Taschen volume Japanese Gardens. Currently selling for around £6 in the UK, a real bargain. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Spin Symphony


Maximum spin for the appearance of Sir Malcolm Arnold's A Grand, Grand Overture at the last night of the 2009 BBC Proms.

Minimum spin for the continuing absence of Sir Malcolm Arnold's symphonies from the BBC Proms. The last time one was performed was 1994. It was his Second Symphony. But the appearance in the 2009 season of E. J. Moerans Symphony in G minor does compensate in a small way.

Details of the 2009 BBC Proms here. The story of Sir Malcolm Arnold's neglected symphony here.

Portrait of Sir Malcolm by June Mendoza. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Passage to India


My post earlier today featured Ravi Shankar, who was born on April 7, 1920. The photo above shows Ravi Shankar on the right, with next to him Marian Anderson, the American contralto. Marian Anderson died on April 8, 1993. Alex Ross has an appreciation. Sample the essence of India here.

Undated photo taken at house of the Indian painter K. S. Kulkarni, who is on the left, is from Ravi Shankar's personal archive. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Yogic maestro to premiere Shankar symphony


Ravi Shankar (above) was 89 on April 7. As well as being the leading exponent of the sitar Shankar has a long history of collaborations with Western musicians. His project with Philip Glass, Passages, featured here recently. He worked extensively with George Harrison, and it is quite scandalous that their Chants of India CD is no longer available. Shankar covered new ground with his duets with Yehudi Menuhin, and in 1971 recorded his First Concerto for Sitar & Orchestra with André Previn. A double CD of the Concerto and some Menuhin duets coupled with traditional ragas is a current EMI bargain and is also available as a download. Shankar's Third Sitar Concerto was premiered by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and the composer's daughter Anoushka in January 2009.

Ravi Shankar's creative progress from raga through rock to concerto reaches its logical (if, some would claim, moribund) conclusion in his ninetieth birthday year with the world premiere of his new Symphony on July 1, 2010. This first performance is being given by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by the 'yogic maestro' Welshman David Murphy, who has worked with the sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. The new work promises to be a truly cross-cultural creation with Indian musicians joining the LPO on the Royal Festival Hall stage. Shankar's new Symphony is coupled in the concert with John Adams' Shaker Loops and Philip Glass' Violin Concerto. Those purists who find these East/West fusions not to their tastes would do well to reflect on John Cage's words:
If you ask yourself why I am turning off, rather than being pleased with turning off, then you may learn something.
But, I agree, Eastern tunings can be problematic.
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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk