Friday, July 31, 2009

Lutoslawski on wheels


Julio Cortázar's novel Autonauts of the Cosmoroute, which tells the story of a road trip across France in a Volkswagen motor home, featured in my recent post On the road with Lutoslawski. And in a neat piece of synchronicity our recent road trip across France took us to a campsite where we found these two wonderful examples of Lutoslawski on wheels. A couple of years back we discovered Robert Schumann on wheels in Germany. While you can read aboout the Majic Bus here.


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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Story with a familiar ring


Valery Gergiev's London Ring isn't exactly resounding. Don't say you weren't warned.

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Glass on guitar


Philip Glass is seen above with the Dublin Guitar Quartet in St. Patrick's, Dundalk in July 2008. The quartet performed Brian Bolger's transcriptions of two of the composer's string quartets with the man himself present. Downloads of Philip Glass introducing the concert and excerpts from the performance can be heard on the quartet's MySpace site. In response to my recent Gorecki on guitar post Brian Bolger asked me to tell readers about the availability of the Philip Glass files, and also pointed out that the Dublin Guitar Quartets Deleted Pieces CD being is not deleted (go figure!). It is available via iTunes, the quartets MySpace site, from Road Records and from several portal download sites.

Paths intersect here. Louth Contemporary Music Society's gorgeous CD A Place Between, which includes two works by Valentin Silvestrov, led me to the Dublin Guitar Quartet. From the LCMS' website I notice they have commissioned Silvestrov to write Five Sacred Songs for choir. The world premiere of the commission will be given St. Peter’s Church of Ireland, Drogheda on 24 Sept 2009. Silvestrov's Fifth Symphony featured here.

A week later on October 1, the Hilliard Ensemble give a concert in St Patrick's, Dundalk which includes several traditional Armenian hymns. There was a lot of interest in my recent path about discovering a CD of sacred Armenian music. The Hilliards have already recorded the music of contemporary Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian for ECM - Mansurian's Ragtime can be heard here. Will the rich traditional music of Armenia be the Hilliard's next recording project? Is lean forward County Louth, Ireland, the new world capital of contemporary music? How many holes does it take to fill the Albert Hall?


If there is one constant On An Overgrown Path it is the music of Bach. Transcriptions of his music for guitar are quite common, but today I am featuring two more unusual arrangements. Above is my 1985 LP of the Amsterdam Guitar Trio's arrangements of Brandenburg Concertos no. 2, 3, 5 & 6. This wonderfully exuberant and satisfying disc did make it briefly into RCA's CD catalogue with a nasty out-of-focus ECM style cover. That version has now disappeared, but an on-demand CD with the original artwork is available from ArchivMusic. Which is good news as the performance and sound from the Alt Katholische Kirche in Utrecht are both excellent. The transcription of the fifth Brandenburg retains the Ligeti-like harpsichord part. This is played by Tini Mathot, who also is credited with recording supervision, and who is also Mrs. Ton Koopman.

Below is an unusual arrangement of Bach's Four Suites for Orchestra BWV 1066~1069 made by the Brazilian Guitar Quartet. This disc, which was recorded in the First Congregational Church, Los Angeles for Delos, is still in the catalogue. Worth hunting out, although it lacks the sheer vitality of the Amsterdam Trio's Bach. At the time of the recording Paul Galbraith was a member of the Brazilian Quartet. His CD of Haydn keyboard sonatas arranged for 8-string guitar, also on Delius, is another transcription disc worth hunting out. But, be warned. If Glenn Gould's humming annoys you, Paul Galbraith's snuffling on the Haydn disc will drive you up the wall. Noises off? Plenty of those when John Cage is transcribed for guitar. And it's only a short path from Glass on guitar to Xenakis on glass.


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Sounds and silence from ECM


July 20 , 2009 - “sounds and silence” at Locarno

Over a period of five years, Swiss filmmakers Norbert Wiedmer and Peter Guyer followed producer Manfred Eicher and the artists of ECM around the world. In footage from Estonia, Tunisia, Germany, France, Denmark, Greece, Argentina and elsewhere, their documentary movie “Sounds and Silence”, captures aspects of the music-making process at ECM, and gives glimpses of unique players and composers at work. Amongst them: Arvo Pärt, Eleni Karaindrou, Dino Saluzzi and Anja Lechner, Anouar Brahem, Gianluigi Trovesi, Marilyn Mazur, Nik Bärtsch, Kim Kashkashian, Jan Garbarek and many others.

“sounds and silence” has been selected for the Locarno International Film Festival, and will have its world premiere at Locarno’s Piazza Grande on Saturday, August 8, 2009.
From ECM website. Horizons touched by ECM here.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Here is one I bought earlier


Judging by the emails offering free CDs, the major classical labels have finally realised that people buy music after reading about it here and on other leading music blogs. Elsewhere BBC Radio 3 famously offer bloggers a little bit on the side from their inexhaustible expenses account to write about their programmes, while others have received this message from Amazon:
'As a top reviewer, we would like to invite you to join Amazon Vine. Open to a limited number of customers, Vine members receive pre-release and new products--free of charge--in exchange for customer reviews'.
I do not have a problem with free CDs, books or concert tickets per se and they sometimes feature here, although I do have a problem with the BBC's barely coded offer of accomodation and travel "in return for support". But would I be writing about Letting Go of the Glitz - the true story of one woman's struggle to live the simple life in Chelsea if Amazon Vine had not offered me a free copy? I think not, which is why bloggers and reviewers should tell their readers if they receive free merchandise, or, indeed, a free trip to Rome. It costs nothing to provide this information, and it does help the reader understand the context of the review. Which is why, for some time, I have been saying whether or not I paid for the CDs, books and concerts that appear here. All of which has nothing to do with having pots of money, as my bank manager will readily confirm.

If my idiosyncratic little blog has any model it is architect Richard Roger's 1976 Centre Pompidou in Paris, which, incidentally, is the home of IRCAM. The Centre Pompidou is a wonderfully functional building that has become a design icon. It achieved this by turning the traditional building inside out and putting all the services on the outside as a design feature, as can be seen from this photo.


Traditionally, the nasty bits of a building, like the power and communication cables and ventilation ducts seen above, were, and still are in many cases, hidden away behind a building's glossy public facade. Similarly, today's classical music media, with just a few exceptions, continues to present a glossy facade behind which are hidden the power sources, communication channels, and yes, the sewers, which actually drive the industry.

So welcome back to France, where my credit card took another dent recently buying the CD seen at the head and foot of this photo article. It was a chance find, together with two other very rewarding CDs, in a bookshop in La Roche-sur-Yon. Regular readers will already have seen my previous articles about the Moroccan born composer Maurice Ohana (1913-1992), and Erato's 4 CD box of his music gives an excellent overview. But, despite having a fair idea what to expect, I was quite blown away by French label Timpani's disc of his works for harpsichord.

Contemporary music champion Elisabeth Chojnacka (seen below), who also appears on the Erato recordings, is the constant on harpsichord for all the tracks. For the opening work, Miroir de Célestine, she is joined by Béatrice Daudin in a suite for harpsichord and percussion extracted from Ohana's 1987 opera Célestine. This is a real discovery, and from the evidence of the six movement suite the opera itself deserves reappraisal. In a disc that is full of delights the concluding seven minute Sarabande for harpshichord and orchestra is another revelatory discovery. The excellent accompaniment is provided by Timpani's house band of Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg under Arturo Tamayo - who conducted Stockhausen here.


Quite exceptional and vivid sound is captured in the Luxembourg Conservatoire in 2002 by the Timpani engineers. With the exception of the orchestral work the recording is quite closely miked, but there is just enough background rumble from the air-conditioning to set the music in a real space by making the services audible, if not visible. This CD is one of a series of five from Timpani of the music of Maurice Ohana. Timpani are a little-known label with some very interesting music. Their website says they will be re-packaging a 5 CD series of Xenakis' music in the autumn, also with Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg conducted by Arturo Tamayo.

With Iannis Xenakis' star in the ascendant (two works at the 2009 BBC Proms) it is difficult to understand why Maurice Ohana remains a very well kept secret. There are some parallels between the two composers and Elisabeth Chojnacka is a passionate advocate of both. While still uncompromisingly modern, Ohana's music is more accessible than Xenakis', possibly because Ohana's Sephardic Jewish background remained an influence throughout his career. This historical context gives his music the unique quality of looking both forward and back, and it may be this which makes it so approachable. For instance, the three minute So Tango on the Timpani disc is a tribute to the Argentinian master of that dance, Carlos Gardel.

So buying CDs, as opposed to accepting free review copies, does have its advantages. If I hadn't splashed out 19.70 euros on Maurice Ohana's works for harpsichord you would probably be reading just another article about Nonesuch's new release of John Adams' Doctor Atomic Symphony. Thanks Warner, but I will pass on the offer of a free Doctor Atomic CD. Watch this space instead for a piece on the Kronos Quartet's quite excepional new CD Floodplain, It's also from Warner, and was among the CDs I recently bought in France. Meanwhile, read about unlocking the music of Maurice Ohana here.


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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What counts in a life


'Ce qui compte dans une vie, c'est l'intensité d'une vie, pas la dureé d'une vie.'
The photo shows what Jacques Brel meant when he said 'What counts in a life is its intensity, not its duration'. It comes from the sleeve of the CD compilation Brel infiniment. 2009 is the 80th anniversary of Jacques Brel's birth. He died in 1978 aged 49, and is buried on the French Polynesian island of Hiva Oa close to the grave of Paul Gauguin.

Jacques Brel's songs have been performed by an astonishing range of artists from Dave van Ronk through Frank Sinatra and The Kingston Trio to contemporary rock band Beirut. There is even a CD titled Classic French Songs that puts him alongside Debussy, Duparc, and Fauré and the lesser known but very interesting Jean Ferrat. More on Jacques Brel here.

Brel infinement was bought from Leclerc in St Gilles-Croix-de-Vie, France. 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, July 27, 2009

Walkaround Time


The dance piece Walkaround Time was created by John Cage and Merce Cunningham in 1968. Merce Cunningham died on July 26 aged 90. Read about John Cage and Merce Cunningham at Black Mountain College here.

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Mixing music and politics


Second from right on the CD sleeve above is Helmut Schmidt, who was the Social Democratic chancellor of West Germany from 1974 to 1982. He was the fourth pianist on a 1985 Deutsche Grammophon recording of J.S. Bach's Concerto in A minor BWV 1065. Christoph Eschenbach (a personal friend of Helmut Schmidt), Justus Franz and Gerhard Oppitz were the other pianists. It was not the German politician's first visit to the recording studio. In 1982, while still chancellor, he recorded Mozart's Concerto in F major for three pianos and orchestra, K242, also with Eschenbach and Franz, but with the London Philharmonic rather than the Hamburg orchestra, and for EMI instead of DG.

Then on course there is Condoleezza Rice. While secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration she practiced keyboard diplomacy in between hunting for weapons of mass destruction. Staying in America, when Leonard Bernstein tried to mix politics and music he more than met his match in the form of 'new journalism' pioneer Tom Wolfe, whose devastating Radical Chic article was published in New York Magazine in 1970. The following year British Conservative prime minister Edward Heath chose the Helmut Schmidt way, rather than Lennie way, of mixing music with politics, and recorded Elgar with the London Symphony Orchestra for EMI; but I am afraid that one did not make it into my record collection.

There is a story about Edward Heath, the conductor, which goes as follows. A professional orchestra agreed to be conducted by him in Salisbury Cathedral. Heath was never quite as good a conductor as he imagined himself to be. During rehearsals, the prime minister was growing more and more curt in his comments. Eventually, the leader of the orchestra, growing increasingly exasperated, butted in: "If you don't stop being so rude to us, Sir Edward," he said, "We may start obeying your instructions."

Ted Heath may not have been a great conductor. But he did stay in office as prime minister from 1970 to 1974. The Polish pianist and composer Ignacy Paderewski (1860-1941) had a somewhat shorter innings. Appointed prime minister of Poland in January 1919, he resigned in December of the same year and returned to his career as a musician.

The recordings by Helmut Schmidt and Edward Heath have long disapperared from the catalogue. But the newly released CD below contains a little known example of mixing music and politics.


Track 20 of Smithsonian Folkways' archive compilation of classic protest songs is Gone, Gone, Gone by a group called Red Shadow. The excellent documentation with the CD tells how on the original LP release of Gone, Gone, Gone the members of Red Shadow were unidentified, but were described as a group consisting of "three Ph.D. economists and their friends from M.I.T.-land". The Smithsonian notes then reveal that one of the members of Red Shadow was Ev Ehrlich, who went on to be under secretary of commerce during the Clinton administration.

The lyrics to Red Shadow's Gone, Gone, Gone, which is played to the tune of the Beach Boy's Fun, Fun, Fun, are interesting. Here is my transcription, remember they were written in 1973.
When the crisis rocks the system,
You can see them come to patch up the holes now,
They are always pushing policies that work out right for ruling class goals now,
When the panic comes to Wall Street you can hear them stress the need for controls now,
But they'll be gone, gone, gone, when the people take their power away.
After leaving the Clinton administration Ev Ehrlich founded ESC Company, a Washington, D.C.-based consultancy advising on economic and business problems. He was also chief economist and head of strategic planning for IT giant Unisys Corporation, and is a member of the U.S. Census Monitoring Board.

Which must raise a smile, as the 1973 lyrics for Gone, Gone, Gone, continue with -
Working out of Washington they're drawing up a Federal plan now,
Then it's off to Santa Monica to spend some time consulting for Rand now ...

* I cannot recommend Smithsonian Folkways' Classic Protest Songs, and the companion volume Classic Labor Songs seen above, highly enough. Artists on the protest song disc include Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Phil Ochs, Pete Seeger, Peggy Seeger, Larry Estridge and Guy Carawan. Strange Fruit, as sung by Brother John Sellers, is one of the most convincing examples of the power of music to move that I have heard for a long time. Downloads of Smithsonian Folkways' CDs are available from their website. Individual tracks cost $0.99; download Strange Fruit and change your life - the fruit in question are the swinging bodies of lynched blacks, and download Gone, Gone, Gone and ask - when will they ever learn? Both CDs should be part of the citizenship curriculum for all schools. More examples of mixing music and politics are very welcome. Read about the first twelve tone protest song here.

Both discs were a chance discovery for me. I came across Classic Protest Songs in a wonderful book and music shop in La Roche-sur-Yonne, France and bought the CD for the penal price of 17 euros. But I was rewarded shortly after by finding Classic Labor Songs for just 2 euros in the bargain bin of a French supermarket. Help fund these CDs, at no cost to you, by clicking on the Goggle ads in the right-hand side-bar. I notice that I bought the Helmut Schmidt Bach CD for £9.95 in January 1985. That is a very vivid illustration of price deflation in the music market, that £9.95 must be the equivalent of more than £20 in today's money. 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, July 26, 2009

The summer of lean forward festivals


If 1967 was the 'The Summer of Love', 2009 is turning into 'The Summer of Lean Forward Festivals'.


The lean forward further Les Orientales in France in June was a hard act to follow. But Contemporary Art Norwich 09 has picked up the theme magnificently with its mixture of visual and performance art. Last night we were at CAN 09's first (and free) UK showing of Argentian-born Mariano Pensotti's La Marea (The Tide) in Norwich, which is where all my photos were taken.


Linking threads through Mariano Pensotti's work are the expressive use of video as a narrative element, juxtaposed with live performances and site specific events. These work as urban interventions where fictional scenes are played in a real context.


La Marea is the ultimate street theatre. It takes place in a shopping street late in the evening. The performance consists of nine scenes, some inside shops and others directly on the street, as above. The scenes are played simultaneously and last ten minutes each, with a two minute pause in between. There is no particular order to watch them, you choose your own path.


Narratives for each scene are provided by text on a video screen. La Marea is a technical as well as creative tour de force, with the nine discrete scenes synchronised centrally. Projected surtitles are visible in most of my photos and can be seen projected onto a storefront in the photo above.


This part of Norwich city centre is normally deserted at 11.00pm on a Saturday night. Look at the crowds in my photo above, look at the faces, and look at the spread of ages. The summer of lean forward festivals is showing there are many different ways to reach new audiences. Read about lean forward music here. Capture the spirit of La Marea, as performed in Buenos Aires, in the video below.




There is one more performance of La Marea tonight (July 26) at 9.00pm in Norwich. Well worth leaning forward to. All photos are (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. Report errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

The Perfect Wagnerite

The qualities in him that specially appealed to youth were his irreverence for tradition and office, his indifference to vested interests and inflated reputations, his contempt for current morality, his championship of unpopular causes and persecuted people, his vitality and humour, and above all his inability to take solemn people seriously.
Hesketh Pearson on George Bernard Shaw (above), who was born on July 26, 1856. GBS trivia -he is the only person to have been awarded both the Nobel Prize for Literature (1925) and an Oscar (1938). These were for his contributions to literature and for his work on the film Pygmalion, respectively. Shaw on Elgar here.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn

Paradoxically, the work's deliberate archaisms now seem to strike a notably contemporary resonance in the context of the current popularity of the music of religous composers such as Pärt and Górecki.
John Pickard writes about Edmund Rubbra's Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn in a perceptive sleeve note for the CD seen above. Rubbra composed his Meditations for solo viola in 1962 and later made the two viola arrangement recorded by members of the Dante Quartet. Rubbra's string quartets, which are the main works on the disc, are well worth investigating, particularly the taut Fourth from 1977, which is dedicated to Robert Simpson. Wonderfully committed playing from the Dante Quartet and glorious Snape Maltings sound engineered by Tony Faulkner in 2001 for Dutton. I paid £10 delivered from an online seller.

Rubbra dedicated his Sinfonia Concertante for Piano and Orchestra (1934) to his teacher Gustav Holst. The photo below shows Rubbra (left) with Holst and students. The photo was taken at the then University College, Reading where Holst was professor of music from 1919. Rubbra studied at Reading on a scholarship from 1920. (Coincidentally I studied at what became Reading University from the annus horribilis 1968 to 1971).


Leo Black's book Edmund Rubbra - Symphonist tells how -
Part of Holst's familiarisation process with a new pupil was to go on long walks together and discuss the world, so that in his student years Rubbra was introduced by his teacher not only to Joseph Conrad but also to political thinking and socialist ideas, in books such as Benjamin Kidd's Social Evolution.
A neat coda to this story is supplied by the news this week that archive footage from the 1970s has been discovered showing Edmund Rubbra, Imogen Holst and Herbert Howells talking about Gustav Holst. There is a clip on the BBC website that includes fascinating and very rare footage of Rubbra. More variations on an Orthodox theme here.

Rubbra/Holst photo credit is Cheltenham Art Galleries and 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Gorecki on guitar


My recent post about Louth Contemporary Music Society's new CD of Tavener, Pärt, Knaifel, Silvestrov, Cage and Górecki attracted a lot of attention. One of the founders of LCMS, Eamonn Quinn, noticed that my Jordi Savall podcast uses Steve Reich's Nagoya Guitars as a signature tune; so he sent me an interesting CD of contemporary guitar music from Ireland.

The Dublin Guitar Quartet, seen in my lower photo, play eight-string and eleven string guitars. The extended range of these instruments allows them to specialise in arrangements of contemporary music, and their repertoire includes transcriptions of Philip Glass' First and Third String Quartets. Their CD Deleted Pieces , which Eamonn Quinn sent me, includes a very striking arrangement by quartet member Brian Bolger of the second movement of Henryk Górecki's Quasi Una Fantasia String Quartet No. 2, a work originally commissioned by the Kronos Quartet.

Other composers on the CD are Kevin Volans, Dublin rock band Redneck Manifesto, Brian Bolger and Leo Brouwer. Deleted Pieces was originally released in 2005 by Greyslate Records and my header image is the cover artwork for the disc. This, I think, shows the recording venue of the Church of ss. Cuan and Brogán, Clonea Co. Waterford, but don't ask about the beds. And yes, the album title and artists are missing. They were added via a self-adhesive sticker on the jewel box. Deleted pieces somewhere in the production process perhaps. Deleted Pieces is now available via iTunes, the quartets MySpace site, from Road Records and from a number of aggregate down loadsites.

* Henryk Górecki's Symphony No. 4 is being given its world premiere by Marin Alsop and the London Philharmonic Orchestra on April 17, 2010 in the Royal Festival Hall, London. The programme also includes the European premiere of Philip Glass' The Four Seasons and a first performance of a new work by Marc-Anthony Turnage. Back in 1993 Nonesuch's recording of Gorecki's Third Symphony entered the top ten of the British pop charts and was a classical bestseller. So who will record this new symphony?


That mention of Gorecki's Third Symphony can only point to Is classical music too fast?
Deleted Pieces was provided free for reviewing purposes. 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, July 22, 2009

Because every hair is different

Because Every Hair Is Different by Marlene Haring; billboard, St George's Street.

Dream - Spontaneous Combustion by Olaf Brzeski,Resin and Soot, 2008.

Monitored Landscape No. 12 by Robin Tarbet, Live Installation, 2009


William Goldman wrote that 'art tells you uncomfortable things that you perhaps don't want to hear, truths that you may not be comfortable to hear'. My photos were taken at Contemporary Art Norwich 09, a bi-annual event that uses the visual arts to demolish comfort zones with devastating effect. Contemporary Art Norwich 09 runs until 31 August, and also includes the work of Polish performance artist Tadeusz Kantor, whose Sea Symphony featured here recently. Highlights from CAN 07 here.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Radio for insomniacs


Jonathan Lennie of Time Out and myself are discussing the BBC Proms on BBC Radio 5 Live at 12.00 (midnight) tonight, July 21/22. Webstream here, programme should be available on BBC iPlayer for seven days.

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Playlist for intelligent extraterrestrial life


A gold-plated copper gramophone record is carried on the two Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977. The Voyager Golden Records include music selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth. The recordings are intended for any intelligent extraterrestrial life form, or far future humans, that may find them. The Voyager spacecraft do not have a specific destination, and will not come close to any identified star for 40,000 years. NASA's playlist for intelligent extraterrestial life is here, Neil Armstrong's Apollo mission playlist is here.

Photo taken at Saint Jean de Monts, France and is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. Research source Wikipedia. Report errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Moon music


Everyone knows that on July 21, 1969 Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin became the first men to walk on the moon, during the Apollo 11 mission. But do you know what music Neil Armstrong listened to during the Apollo mission? The clue is the photo above, the answer is here.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Free festival downloads from 'La radio curieuse'

My recent article on Les Orientales, a multi-cultural music festival that understands the difference between art and entertainment, attracted a lot of interest. I promised to return to Les Orientales with further posts, and today I am looking at recordings of music from Saint-Florent-le-Vieil.


There is no better starting point than the CD seen above and below, which was released by the festival organisers last year to celebrate ten years of Les Orientales. Twelve tracks recorded at the festival by French radio station Jet FM convey the unique atmosphere of the festival and really show what Philip Glass meant when he said:
'By the early 1960’s, the world of new concert music had reached a virtual dead end. By that I mean there were more and more composers writing for fewer and fewer people. That door turned out to be much bigger that I thought,I thought it would lead to Indian music. Actually, it led to World Music – and that continues to this day.'
The bad news is that the Les Orientales CD only appears to be available at the Festival, which is where I bought it. But the very good news is that French radio station Jet FM, which bills itself as La radio curieuse - we need more stations like that, currently has MP3 downloads of concerts from this year's festival. These downloads deliver twenty hours of Petroc Trelawny-free music. Like the Les Orientales CD, the sound quality of the MP3s is excellent. These free and legal downloads are the next best thing to being at Les Orientales. Download this absolutely essential listening by following this link to Jet FM. The top right side-bar lists five programmes from the festival. Clicking on these opens a new page, the MP3s are at the bottom of each page.


The highlight of our visit to Les Orientales was the concert of improvisations by Moroccan oud viruoso Driss el Maloumi and Indian slide-guitar master Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya. Their concert is not among the Jet FM downloads, presumably for contractual reasons. But their music can be sampled on commercial CDs. L'âme Dansée (The Dancing Soul) is a suite of original music by Driss el Maloumi based on traditional Moroccan themes. He is partnered by Lahoucine Baquir on percussion in a recording made in Agadir, Morocco by the Buda Musique world music label. I paid 17 euros for L'âme Dansée at the excellent CD stall in the festival's Eastern market.


By a strange coincidence I had bought the CD below by Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya in France last year. The fretless slide guitar (or bottle-neck guitar), which is ideally suited to Indian micro-tonal music, was imported into the sub-continent from Hawaii in the 1920s, and was later enhanced by adding resonating and drone strings. In Calcutta Chronicles Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya plays the slide guitar in ragas inspired by sources including gypsy, Indian Sufi and Bengali music. The CD, which was recorded in Kolkata, India, is on Riverboat Records, I paid 20.06 euros in Espace Mediastore in La Roche-sur-Yonne last year, but it can now be downloaded from the Riverboat website for £8.99.


Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya was accompanied at Les Orientales by Prahbou Edouart on tabla. When I first heard Jordi Savall's Francisco Javier project last year I thought that the 10 minute raga inspired by the Marian hymn O Gloriosa Domina was some of the most sublime music making I had heard for a long time. Ken Zuckerman played the sarod on that track and Prahbou Edouart played tabla. Lots of paths cross on that Jordi Savall project, with Driss el Maloumi and Lahoucine Baquir among the other guest musicians. The sleeve of Francisco Javier is below, and you can read my post about it here.


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How many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall


A day in the life of the future of classical music.
A CD of Paul Hindemith's wind quintet and complete solo organ music has just been released on the Britten Sinfonia's own label. Image credit BBC. 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, July 19, 2009

Salade a la Boulez


Yesterday's post reflected on the visual similarities, as captured by photographer Alexander Lauterwasser, between Stockhausen's music and a jellyfish. The image above comes from the same sequence of photos by Alexander Lauterwasser, and shows the pattern created by one of Pierre Boulez's compositions.

Below is a pattern created by using Paint Shop Pro to modify the colours in a photo of a particularly delicous salad we enjoyed at a waterside restaurant while cycling around the island of Noirmoutier in France. A Google search returned no connections between Boulez and salad. But it did remind me that the expression 'salad days' is one of countless added to the English language by Shakespeare.


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Saturday, July 18, 2009

BBC Proms - for your eyes only


The BBC's latest Freedom of Information disclosure, which itemises the expenses of senior staff, makes interesting reading. BBC Proms director and Radio 3 controller Roger Wright, whose salary is over £190,000, spent £1308.83 last September on 'internal hospitality' for 'staff entertainment/annual event'. That must have been quite a party, but not enough it seems. Soon afterwards another £1032.85 went on 'Internal hospitality, Staff Entertainment, Annual Event - Radio 3, Perf Groups, Proms Awayday'.

It is not all bad news though, and I do draw some consolation from the £38 spent in February this year on '4 CDs featuring Arnold, Stanford, Villa Lobos'. But does this mean the the BBC record library has been closed? - presumably to save costs.

But all these are small change compared with the £6083.24 which Roger Wright claimed for 'Hotels - Room' on his personal expenses across twelve separate claims, the majority of which fall within the 2008 Proms season. The reason for these expenses is not given, with Section 38 of the Freedom of Information Act being invoked to justify non-disclosure. The BBC's website explains:
Section 38 - Health and safety
This exemption is about protecting the health or safety of any person (not just BBC staff).
Perhaps the Proms director read my post on Léon Theremin?
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Stockhausen and jellyfish


Karlheinz Stockhausen's music created the pattern above; Alexander Lauterwasser captured it by transferring the sound waves from a Stockhausen composition into water, and photographing the results using reflected light. Below is an image of a jellyfish photographed by me on the beach in western France and colour adjusted using Paint Shop Pro. I Googled to check whether anyone else had spotted the links between Stockhausen and jellyfish, and yes, they have. More on Alexander Lauterwasser's fascinating sound patterns here.


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Friday, July 17, 2009

Not to build on a virtuoso basis


It is a point worth remembering that the Proms were originally launched as a private venture. For the first thirty-two years of their run there was no public endowment of any kind. This was a stalwart achievement. Yet there was no lack of enterprise. Before the year 1900 well over a hundred works had received their first London performance at the Proms. The total, incidentally, now stands at between eight hundred and nine hundred, of which approximately one-third have been by British composers.

Beyond all doubt, the long run of the concerts is largely due to those who in the early days (aided and abetted by Sir Henry) possessed the foresight and the good sense not to build on a 'virtuoso' basis in respect of either artists or composers. The first consideration was, in the beginning as it is now, to present all that is great in the world of orchestral music, whether new or old, classical or modern; and a particular style of concert was thus established from the start. Artist and composer alike have benefitted incalculably as a result.
- from W.W. Thompson's introduction to the 1944 book Sir Henry Wood, Fifty Years of the Proms, cover seen above. Below is E.X. Kapp's 1914 portrait of Sir Henry. Tonight (July 17) is the opening night of the 2009 season of the now renamed BBC Proms.


Quote is from Sir Henry Wood, Fifty Years of the Proms published in 1944 by the then British Broadcasting Corporation. A copy of the book is in my library. W.W. Thompson was BBC Concerts Manager and Assistant Manager to the first manager of the Proms, Robert Newman. 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, July 16, 2009

The only limits are those set by the musicians

But the worst consequence of computer-assisted composing is that it is dehumanizing music. With the human touch inherent in any performance autocorrected digitally, we lose much of the element that gives music its emotive contours. Sometimes, playing slightly behind the beat or slightly below the correct pitch is what makes a piece inspiring. And as we continue to formulaically fit compositions into the strict guidelines that computers give us, musicians will cease trying to innovate and taking risks. They become stymied in their exploration of an art whose beauty fundamentally stems from its limitlessness. Although computers must be given credit for a spectrum of art that would have otherwise been inexpressible, this trend could very well change an art form into Paint by Numbers.
This quote from an article titled How Pro Tools is destroying music raises many interesting points for classical music, despite its origins in the world of rock. Production software such as Pro Tools has brought major productivity benefits to the recording industry by giving a high degree of control over the creative process. But, as author Scott Oranburg points out in his article, there are costs; most notably innovation and risk taking are discouraged, and the music's emotive contours are eroded.


The Pro Tools mindset has spread far beyond the recording studio. Nowhere is this more evident than in the major music festivals such as the BBC Proms, which open their 2009 season on Friday. Today's touring orchestras and celebrity performers view risk as an insurable hazard of the international festival circuit. Innovation is only allowed within the creative equivalent of Health and Safety regulations, and new commissions favour composers whose music fits neatly into the Pro Tools mindset. Global multi-media access is the holy grail, and the live audience at the festival venue are relegated to the role of just another channel in the software, to be faded up and down at will. The search for the global severs the connection with the local, and the music is dehumanized. Which is why I now spend much of my time escaping Pro Tools style music making by finding festivals where the only limits are those set by the musicians themselves.


In June the search for music making free of the Pro Tools mindset took my wife and myself to the Les Orientales Festival at Saint-Florent-le-Viel in France, where all the photos accompanying this article were taken by me. Saint-Florent is a town of just 2800 inhabitants on the River Loire downstream from Anjou. Dominating the town from a bluff high above the Loire is the Abbey church, from which the photo below was taken. The church dates from the 13th century, although much if the structure was remodeled in the early 18th century.

The Abbey church, seen below, is at the centre of Les Orientales Festival which is now in its eleventh year. Festival director Alain Weber is an authority on Eastern music and he works both at Saint-Florent and at the prestigous Cité de la Musique in Paris, which has commissioned many groundbreaking projects including Jordi Savall's Jerusalem, which featured here recently. A small team of just six salaried employees work on six month contracts to present the annual Saint-Florent festival. Over the past decade the truly multicultural Les Orientales has been a beneficiary of the high levels of arts funding (generated by commensurately high taxes) available in France from regional and central government, with only 20% of the festival's funding coming from ticket sales. However the arrival of the centre-right Nicolas Sarkozy as President has sent a chill wind blowing through the French arts world, and there are concerns for the viability of Les Orientales in Sarkozy's brave new free market world.


Les Orientales is used by Alain Weber as a creative 'sand box' for experimental projects exploring the rich territory that lies to the east of Western art music. The Saint-Florent event works in partnership with the Festival Évora Clássica which takes place in Portugal in the first week of July. Much of the programme is shared by both festivals, and the creative team are keen to share their unique programmes with other festivals in a similar way.


The sold-out Saturday evening concert in the Abbey Church was typical of the innovative projects that Alain Weber and his team bring to Saint-Florent. 'Naghma' was developed at a residency at the Cité de la Musique by four musicians led by Moroccan oud virtuoso Driss el Maloumi, who featured here in my post on Jordi Savall's superb Orient-Occident album, and Indian slide guitar master Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya (above), sometime member of John McLaughlin's East-West fusion group Shakti. The programme featured improvisations that mixed North African maqâms with ragas from northern India. Supporting the principal musicians were Said el Maloumi on percussion, brother of Driss and quite the happiest musician I've seen for years, and Prabhu Edouard, who plays on Jordi Savall's Francisco Javier double CD, on tabla. My photo below was taken during the concert.


'Naghma' was about as far from Pro Tools music as you can get. Risk, innovation, emotive contours and humanity were all there in shedloads. As we strolled out of the Abbey Church into the warm French night both my wife and I agreed that this was the most exhilirating music making we had been privileged to sit in on since Jordi Savall's concert in Saint Peter Mancroft, Norwich last year. It is probably no coincidence that Driss el Maloumi was playing in that Norwich concert as well. To my knowledge there are, as yet, no plans to record 'Nahma' . What an opportunity for a quick-thinking record company - are you out there ECM?


After 'Naghma' there was a late night performance by a Javanese shadow puppet ensemble and musicians of Dewa Ruci, a Javanese take on the Mahabharata. The accompanying generously amplified metallic percussion made a Xenakis score sound positively Pro Tools and took me back to Soft Machine playing in another tent at Saint Tropez in 1967. With no pesky broadcast slots to fit into the two and a half hour performance in the Café Orient big top, seen above, went on to well after midnight. It must have been audible for many miles around, if not in distant Paris. Only in France ...


Sunday morning took us across the Loire for a concert in the privately owned 19th century Palais Briau (do check that link), which is seen in the photo above. Tibetan sacred music is rare, but not unknown in the West. But Les Orientales took us into unknown territiory with a performance of Tibetan secular music and dance by Lobsang Chonzor, who is captured by me in the photo below. A spellbinding recital in magical surroundings, and, as with the Café Oriental, the majority of the audience sat happily on cushions on the floor.


Les Orientales Festival extends far beyond music. The undercroft of the Abbey contained a cinema showing Indian films and an art exhibition, and the Abbey grounds hosted an Oriental market including the stall selling musical instruments seen below.


The on-site restaurant, seen in my next photo, offered only Indian food and drink, and made no concessions to corporate hospitality and its demands for cocktails and canapés.


Free events included Eastern conjurors, puppets and other entertainment in the courtyard setting seen below. The festival grounds conveniently included the municipal swimming pool, which the 38 degrees centigrade heat made very appealing.


In today's age of Pro Tools and market research the audience has become just another set of numbers. If only statistics could measure the looks on the faces below.


Our decision to visit the festival at Saint-Florient was pure serendipity. There was no approach from the festival organisers, no press credentials, and all our tickets were purchased at the box office. If I sound very enthusiastic about the festival it is simply because it was one of the most rewarding musical experiences we have had for a long time. Les Orientales is a refreshing and much needed reminder that music really is an art whose beauty stems from its limitlessness. There was too much happening to cover in even this typically epic post. Watch out for more coverage in the coming weeks - including free music downloads. Meanwhile here is a photo of my wife and myself taken at the festival.


Another French musical road trip here.
* Visiting festivals such Les Orientales in Saint-Florent-le-Vieil does not require a toxic mortgage. We drove from England and, as detailed in an earlier post, used Saint Jean de Monts as a longterm base in France. For Les Orientales we stayed at L'Auberge de la Loire in nearby Montjean-sur-Loire where we splurged on a double room with a view across the Loire for 75 Euros for a night including breakfast, we could certainly have paid less in a more mundane location. Tickets for 'Haghma' were 17 Euros for the choir (where we sat) or 14 Euros for the nave. Prices for other events were in the 13-15 Euros band. All tickets were bought by us at the box office. But I am grateful to Edith Nicol, assistant to Alain Weber, for finding some time in her hectic schedule to talk to me.
Also on Facebook and Twitter. All photos taken on a Casio EX-Z120 pocket camera and (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk