Sunday, February 28, 2010

Unpublished memories of young Mahler


An Israeli website is directing an awful lot of traffic to my 2008 post Young Mahler - encouragement worthwhile? As this is Mahler anniversary year and the little story is only available On An Overgrown Path I thought it worth sharing with everyone.

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

The first cut is the deepest


A critic writing a savage review of a concert is considered to be doing his job, not being anti-classical music. But a commentator writing critically of the BBC's output is considered to be an anti-BBC heretic. Which suggests parallels between the BBC and the established Church. Both have been flattered for decades by unquestioning believers. Both are now in terminal decline. And the loss of both will be a great tragedy.

A regular reader from the States writes asking for comment on the latest reports of cuts at the BBC, a subject I have hesitated to cover for the reasons set out above. But, using the justification so often cited by the BBC - 'it's what the audience wants', here goes.

There is currently so much bad news about the BBC it is difficult to know where to start. Within the last few days two major stories have broken. First came a damning report from the National Audit Office on the £100 million overspend on the rebuilding of Broadcasting House, which included £25,000 for a two minute flight by a remote control toy helicopter to record the work for posterity. The National Audit Office report concluded that the renovation project suffered from 'weak governance', which prompted a BBC trustee to admit license payers had been 'let down', surely the understatement of the year? Close on the heels of this fiasco came a leak reported in the Times of possible £600 million cuts, including the closing of two national radio stations.

The National Union of Journalists said yesterday it had "received a detailed briefing" from the BBC about the cuts which confirmed "media reports as largely correct". The need for multi-milion pound cost savings must be read in conjunction with disclosures about executive salaries and expenses, including BBC Radio 3 controller Roger Wright spending £7000 on taxi fares and £4 on Underground (subway) transport over a 12 month period.

An addiction to taxi rides summarises today's BBC. A recent Freedom of Information disclosure reveals that in 12 months the BBC spent £13.8 million on taxi fares, of which £4.5 million was on 'taxis for staff on routine BBC business where permitted by BBC expenses policy'. After costs for guests and other non-BBC personnel are removed I calculate the average annual spend on taxis by each of the BBC's 23,000 employees as £370.

Although BBC Music Magazine is reported to be a candidate for disposal there is no indication yet as to whether the cuts will affect Radio 3. In fact there is an argument that the network could benefit as the leaked report contains the usual corporate crapola about focussing on '... inspiring music ... and events of universal resonance'. An end of term spirit prevails at Radio 3 with staff rushing round the world in a desperate attempt to spend before the gravy train is derailed. If the music is from Uganda and there is a choice between working from a studio in London or sending the presenter to Uganda (by taxi?) there is absolutely no contest.

If all this makes sad reading, it makes even sadder writing for someone who joined the BBC from university and later had the privilege of learning at Pierre Boulez's feet in the Roundhouse. In 1996 the late and much missed Humphrey Carpenter wrote in his history of the network:
To lose Radio 3's direct dissemination of the arts, its constant promotion and relays of live music around the country, and its discussions of vital issues in intellectual life, would be a real blow to Britain.
Repeated own goals by BBC senior management are being exploited by the anti-BBC media and have handed almost certain victory to those who stand to gain from the weakening of the Corporation, notably Rupert Murdoch and the Conservative Party. Cuts at the BBC seem inevitable. The tragedy is they will not be caused by market pressures. They will be caused by what the National Audit Office disguised under the euphemism of 'weak governance', but which is better described in the words used here recently in a not unrelated context - attaining wealth and power.

* It may not always be apparent, but I try to make every post 'add value'. So here are some suggestions on taking this thread further. The Envy of the World: Fifty Years of the Third Programme and Radio Three by Humphrey Carpenter is essential reading; not just as a history of the network but also as an insight into the tensions that underlie public service arts broadcasting. It is long out of print, but cheap copies are available for those who move quickly.

* Also still available is one of the great aural documents created by BBC Radio 3. I heard the terminally ill Bruno Maderna conduct Mahler's valedictory Ninth Symphony at the Proms with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1972 and it was undoubtedly one of the most devastating musical experiences of my life. The BBC recording of Maderna's searing interpretation of the symphony with the same orchestra at the Festival Hall a year earlier is still available on the CD seen below. If you only buy three Mahler discs this anniversary year this must be one of them. Another is Jascha Horenstein's Fourth Symphony: the third (well Fifth actually) will be the subject of a future post, although I am sure regular readers will guess who the conductor is. But hurry for that Maderna CD, because, like a lot of things mentioned in this post, I suspect it will not be around for much longer. And it is a short path from Bruno Maderna to the days when the BBC Symphony Orchestra excelled in more than Martinů.


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Friday, February 26, 2010

Sorabji on programme music

I well remember my own flattered astonishment when some good simple soul told me, after listening to my own Jardin Parfumé, of the various rustic sounds he said he heard therein; the brook, the bees, the birds doing all the things you expect birds, bees and brooks to do in their punishable moments. I would not forebear to ask the good soul if he also heard the rich purée d'epinard plop of the cows emptying their bowels, those least - so admirably least - costive of creatures, whose evacuations, performed with such nonchalance and brio, and full-bowelled ease, are such a shining example to the constipated idiots who live on and by them.
Kaikhosru Sorabji writing in his 1947 book Mi contra fa: The Immoralisings of a Machievellian Musician. Geoffrey Douglas Madge's recording of Sorabji's Opus Clavicembalisticum is available as a download for £13.98 from amazon.co.uk, which is quite a bargain for 5 hours 43 minutes and 23 seconds of music. My John Ogden post is the obvious link. But why be obvious? - so instead I'm suggesting visiting another Jardin Parfumé.

Sorabji photo via bach-cantatas.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 broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Face to face with jazz legends


We Want Miles at La Cité de la Musique in Paris was packed when we visited it recently. Those are some of the graphics above and the multimedia Miles memorobilia was certainly stunning, but the average age of those packing into the exhibition was even more stunning. There are not many countries where you see young people paying 8 euros (11 US dollars) to queue for a celebration of a jazz musician who died before some of them were born.


That is French bebop pianist René Urtreger above, and I was particularly pleased to find an extended video interview with him as one of the We Want Miles exhibits. René Urtreger studied classical piano before making his reputation in the famous Club Saint-Germain on Paris' Left Bank with his Bud Powell influenced style. He has played with many jazz greats including Miles Davis, and recorded the the soundtrack to Louis Malle's film Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows) with Miles' band in 1957.

René Urtreger has also worked with many great French jazz musicans, usually as a trio. We saw him do an open-air set at the 2001 Bergerac Music Festival in the Dordogne, that is the ticket below. At the same Festival Kenneth Weiss played the Goldbergs en plein air accompanied by dusk birdsong - I am sure the ghost of Messiaen was lurking in the shadows somewhere.


You will see from the ticket that René Urtreger was playing with Pierre Michelot, sadly no longer with us, on bass and Daniel Humair, no mean visual artist, on drums. These three consumate musicians comprised the legendary Trio Hum - Humair/Urtreger/Michelot. Below is the beautifully packaged 1999 Sketch triple CD set which brought together Trio Hum's 1960 album recorded live in the Club Saint-Germain and their 1979 and 1999 studio albums complete with original sleeve covers and session photos. Now deleted this HUM tribute is fetching good prices among collectors but mine is not for sale!


René Urtreger is living proof that youth is a state of mind, not a time of life. Born in 1934 he is still bebopping and in recent years has released two excellent solo albums. His 2001 album Onirica, seen below, is one of my favourite 'feel good' CDs - superb uplifting jazz piano with no hidden agendas and guaranteed to bring a smile to the face at any time. It was another Sketch release, but is again deleted. Although the Sketch catalogue seems to be decimated René Urtreger is still well represented by Editions Carlyne Music, a French Warner sub-label. If you want to sample some superb jazz piano try their René Urtreger - Jazzman album which is available from Amazon France for 12.45 euros as a disc or 9.99 euros as a download.


But the music is a far better advocate than my words. This video from René Urtreger's 75th birthday gig at the Duc des Lombards club in Paris brings you face to face with a true jazz legend.



Miles more Miles here.
All CDs were bought by me at retail as were the We Want Miles tickets. René Urtreger photo is from the Onirica booklet. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

No listing of EMI's great recordings


Someone clearly misread my post. I did not mean list the building. I meant list the great EMI recordings made there.

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Reich on Reich

“If you looked at the tax returns of every composer in America, somewhere between 90 and 95% would be at universities. And I’m not looking down on those – it’s merely the job that’s most open to you. But people say you teach during the day and you’re free at so-and-so, but there’s a certain energy that goes into teaching people, it seems to me…and if you don’t give them that energy, then you’re immoral. And if you do give them that energy, then you’re wiped out. Because there’s only so much energy anyone has.
From Steve Reich talking at the Red Bull Music Academy. With thanks to Future Radio Station Manager Tom Buckham for the heads-up. As well as being the boss Tom spins the discs in the station's electronica, downbeat, electro and electronic music programme. That interview links nicely to my recent Contemporary music at the Reich price post.

Photo credit FactMag. 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, February 24, 2010

Against the monoculture of modernity

The terrible amnesia to which humankind is prey is undoubtedly one of the principal causes of our inability to learn from history. The invasion of Occitania and particularly the massacre on 22nd July, 1209, of the 20,000 inhabitants of Béziers on the pretext that the town harboured 230 heretics whom the town council refused to hand over to the Crusaders, dramatically recalls similar events in modern times, such as the Spanish Civil War triggered in 1936 by Franco's army with the excuse of the Communist threat and the division of Spain, the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939 with the excuse of the Sudetenland, and the invasion of Poland by Hitler's German troops, in September 1939, over the question of Gdansk.

More recently, we remember the wars in Vietnam (1958-1975), Afghanistan (2001), those launched in retaliation against the terrorist attacks of 11th September, and the Iraq war (2003) with the excuse of that country's supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction. Just as the laws promulgated by Pope Innocent IV in his Bull on torture, Ad Exstirpanda of 1252, contemplated all the methods of accusation with no possible defence (still in place today at Guantanamo) and authorized torture as a means of extracting information from heretics, so do countries ruled by dictatorial and unscrupulous regimes today still deny the rights of those they accuse. Punishment was meted out not just to those convicted of heresy, but also to those accused without being sentenced, by the demolition and the very destruction of the foundations of their houses, a procedure still used today against the houses of Palestinian terrorists.

Absolute evil is always the evil inflicted by man on man. That is why, in common with François Cheng, we believe that "it is our urgent and permanent task to unveil the two mysteries which constitute the extremes of the living world: on the one hand, evil, and on the other, beauty. For what is at stake is no less than the truth of human destiny, a destiny which involves the very foundations of our freedom."

Eight centuries have passed, and yet the memory of the crusade against the Albigensians has not been erased. Even today, it evokes sorrow and pity. Leaving myth and legend aside, the destruction of the memory of that remarkable civilisation which was the "land of Oc", destined to become a truly forgotten kingdom, and the terrible tragedy of the Cathars or "Good Men" and their witness to their faith, deserve our unreserved respect and determined effort to preserve their historical memory.
Frankly I find it very difficult to add anything to that extract from Jordi Savall's introductory essay to his latest project The Forgotten Kingdom - The Albigensian Crusade, but I will try.


Jordi Savall is seen above, photographed during my just-in-time interview with him in 2008. Scholarship, musicianship and production excellence are givens for any of his projects and this new release, which documents in music and texts the Albigensian Crusade of the 13th century, is no exception. Three CDs come in a sumptuous 560 page book and in addition to the constant of Hespèrion XXI there are guest musicians from Armenia, Turkey, Bulgaria and Morocco. But there is something else that makes the The Forgotten Kingdom exceptional.

The Albigensian Crusade was the established Church's reaction to the supposedly heretical Cathar Christians of south-western France who were virulent critics of the Catholic Church and its hierarchy. In one of the illuminating essays that accompanies The Forgotten Kingdom David Renaker of San Francisco State University gives the first English translation of Pope Innocent IV's infamous Ad Exstirpanda, a papal license to torture. David Renaker concludes his illuminating essay by saying:
One only needs to read the Ad Exstirpanda to discover that the inquisition [against the Cathars] was not about faith and not even about heresy, but about wealth and power, and the crudest method of attaining these - terror.
In the Middle Ages multinational armies, the Crusaders, were used to attain wealth and power. It is not difficult to see similarities between those armies of long ago and today's multinational media conglomerates, who seek wealth and power by restricting choice and establishing a monoculture of modernity. Free thinking is today's heresy, and it will surely not be long before those who swim against the tide meet the same fate as the Cathars of Béziers.

The Forgotten Kingdom is an important reminder, in both historical and contemporary contexts, of the importance of protecting the foundations of our freedom. Through music and texts documenting the tragedy of the Cathars, a group who dared to swim against the tide, we are reminded how wealth and power corrupts. And through the singular commitment of a group of artists working outside the media controlled celebrity circuit with a musician owned independent record label we are reminded of the true price of today's monoculture of modernity.

Swimming against the tide has always been deeply unfashionable. But is that tide turning? The Norfolk & Norwich Festival has a long and distinguished history, and its commissions include works from free thinkers such as Benjamin Britten (Our Hunting Fathers), Ralph Vaughan Williams (Five Tudor Portraits) and William Alwyn's (Fifth Symphony). In recent years the Festival's headline acts have included, as reported here, others who swim against the tide, including Jacques Loussier, the Hilliard Ensemble and last year Philip Glass.

In 2010 the closing concert of the Festival is not EMI's latest Chinese pianist or Sting's latest supermarket merchandised blockbuster. In another blow against the monoculture of modernity the closing concert is the UK premiere of Jordi Savall's Jerusalem, and the volume of early ticket sales suggests that swimming against the tide may just be coming back into fashion.


* In another of the excellent essays in The Forgotten Kingdom Antoni Dalmau reviews how history has treated the Cathars and cautions against some recent fictional treatments. But the National Socialism's fascination with the Albigensian movement cannot pass unremarked, read more here.

* This blog is also guilty of capitulating to the monoculture of modernity, which means Amazon is usually cited as the default source for CDs. So it is worth noting that I bought The Forgotten Kingdom from Prelude Records for £27.99, the amazon.co.uk price is £36.89. That is Jordi Savall in Prelude Records in the photo above which comes from my post The tills are alive with the sound of early music.

* The terrible Albigensian Crusade started from Nîmes, which featured in one of my road trip posts.

Our tickets for his Jerusalem project at the Norwich & Norfolk Festival were bought at the box office. Other performers at the Festival include John McLaughlin. Photos of Jordi Savall are (c) On An Overgrown Path 2010. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Violin, 12 brakedrums, 6 flowerpots ...

Instrumentation: violin, 12 brakedrums, 6 flowerpots, plumbers pipe, damped plumbers pipe, wind chimes (glass & metal), 2 sistra, temple blocks, dustbins, spring coils, cymbals, congas, gongs, double bass laid on its back and struck with sticks, snare drum, tom toms, maracas, 2 triangles, tin cans.
Lou Harrison's Concerto for the Violin with Percussion Orchestra calls for these instruments. A wonderful and genuinely accessible work from a composer who should be much better known. Below is the recommended recording from Madeleine Mitchell violin, Ensemble Bash and Karen Hutt percussion.


Lou Harrison's Fifth Simfony (yes really) is here.

Header photo was taken by me at Wisques, France on my recent road trip, but I couldn't see the violin. Image is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2010. Fiddlesticks was bought at retail price. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Monday, February 22, 2010

Heard in the clouds


No apologies for another post about the UK radio station of the year. A few months ago Petroc Trelawny, whose day job is being BBC Radio 3's star presenter, was complaining on the Telegraph website about what his headline described as 'the misery of British Airways'. The hapless BBC presenter spent four hours on a British Airways flight from Istanbul to London, and was moved to share with Telegraph readers just 'how long and unpleasant those hours seemed'.

Many of us know just how long and unpleasant those hours must have seemed. Because, as the British Airways website proudly proclaims, their inflight entertainment 'features radio channels hosted exclusively for British Airways by ... Petroc Trelawny'.

And it's no better on a cruise ship.
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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Right symphony - wrong studio


So Abbey Road studios are not for sale. EMI's owners say there will be a 'revitalisation project' instead. Just like the record label I guess. But the myth continue to grow. Doug Ramsey, a writer I admire and who invariably gets his facts right, tells us:
Sir John Barbirolli conducted the premiere performance of Vaughan Williams' Symphony No. 5 at Abbey Road.
In fact Ralph Vaughan Williams himself conducted the premiere performance of his Fifth Symphony at a Promenade Concert on 24 June, 1943 in the Royal Albert Hall. Sir John Barbirolli's classic EMI recording of RVW's Fifth, one of the great achievements of the gramophone capturing one of the great achievements of twentieth century symphonic writing, also happened elsewhere. It was made in May 1962 in the Kingsway Hall.

My header photo shows Glorious John in the Kingsway Hall control room marking his score at the final climax of the Passacaglia of the symphony during the sessions. Searches indicate that his account of the symphony has been deleted by EMI (not so, see comments below): is it just Abbey Road that is at risk? And talking of risk, read about what happened to the Kingsway Hall.

Header photo by Godfrey MacDominic comes from the booklet of EMI's now apparently deleted CD transfer of Sir John Barbirolli conducting VW 5 coupled with Bax's Tintagel. If you ever find a copy don't hesitate. 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

Now we rise and are everywhere


King's College Chapel, Cambridge is famous around the world. Evensong sung by the college choir in the 15th century chapel is one of the great free experiences of the Western world, but King's is best known for its annual carol service. Some time ago the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols became a property of 'Big Music' and, despite the continuing inclusion of new commissions, has crossed that crucial dividing line between art and entertainment. But, like nearby Aldeburgh, Cambridge has always been about the new. As is confirmed by this email from the city that has brought us pivotal musical figures ranging from Nick Drake, whose last album provides my headline, to David Munrow:
I thought you would be interested in a concert the Cambridge University New Music Ensemble are doing in King's Chapel on the 24th of February. They're performing Claude Vivier's amazing 'Lonely Child' (of which there is a video here if you don't know it... having just searched for it on your blog, I've just learnt that it was one of Ligeti's Desert Island Discs!), Takemitsu's Requiem and Hindemith's Viola Sonata, alongside three new student commissions from Kate Whitley, Tom Kimber and myself. There's a little more information here. My piece is a short work for soprano and chamber orchestra to a text by David Troupes who writes the wonderful webcomic Buttercup Festival as well as being a fine poet.

All the best,
Joel Rust
Header image is my own variation on David Troupe's webcomic which in turn resonates (unwittingly?) with Nick Drake's Pink Moon. More celebration of music in Cambridge here.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Something to harp on about


How many classical scores call for a Jew's (or mouth) harp? Charles Ives' Holidays Symphony features a brief solo for the instrument in the 'Washington's Birthday' movement, and, apparently, Beethoven's teacher Johann Georg Albrechtsberger composed seven concerti for the Jew's harp. Which exhausts my list of classical works using it, although readers will doubtless add more. Of course there are more examples in rock, including John Lennon's contribution on mouth harp to The Fool on the Hill.

My question is prompted by listening to French flautist Pierre Hamon's album Hypnos which features a guimbarde (French Jew's harp) on four of the tracks, and some other pretty exotic sounds on others including the duduki played by the Armenian master of that exotic wind instrument M. Malkhassian. Pierre Hamon is a formidable flautist in his own right , but he is probably best known to readers for his appearances on many Jordi Savall discs including Diaspora Sefardi. And staying with the Jewish thread, Hypnos includes a bewitching improvisation on the Sephardic song Las estrellas de los cielos which is also on Diaspora Sefardi.

Hypnos, which mixes Pierre Hamon's own compositions with arrangements of traditional music and works from established composers ranging from Guillaume de Machaut to Mario Lavista, is on the independent and innovative French Zig-Zag Territoires label. I bought it when it was first released in 2006, but rediscovered it through my adventures with chance radio.

There are some interesting points here. How many CDs are there ripe for rediscovery already in your collection? Randomly selecting albums for reappraisal can be very rewarding, not to mention money saving. But beyond that, we are all obsessed either with new releases or the great recordings of the past. Which ignores some wonderful music that has slipped unoticed into the catalogue in the last few years, like Hypnos.

If you are interested in the early music meets world music meets improvisation meets jazz space to the left of Jordi Savall, and I know many readers are, Hypnos is well worth exploring.

Another album of flute music ripe for rediscovery here.
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Friday, February 19, 2010

Who needs Rob Cowan's bloody rucksack?


Within minutes of uploading WFMT Chicago shows the Brits a thing or two I received the first email of support. It came from Graham Hardwick, a reader who, like me, says he pays his BBC license fee "through gritted teeth". Before dismissing my criticism of BBC Radio 3 as a lone voice two points are worth considering. First independent analysis shows On An Overgrown Path is the most widely read UK classical music blog. And secondly, I am the only prominent UK classical music blogger who does not take paid work from the BBC. Now read Graham Hardwick's email:
I was interested to read your comments on WFMT Chicago. Thoroughly fed up with BBC Radio 3, I recently bought an internet radio - swiftly followed by a iPod Touch - and it's been a real ear opener to explore some other stations. On WFMT I have been particularly enjoying Andrew Patner and his Critical Thinking programme - also available as a podcast. Hard to describe, usually conversation-based and Chicago-centric, not always music, quite eclectic which is always good, and well worth trying. One difference from Radio 3 seems to be that this is a programme with some integrity. Patner apparently operates without a script on subject matter of his own choice and there is real depth and experience here - he appears to know whereof he speaks, if you like.

I've also been noticing some good stuff from ABC National and ABC Classic FM. The former, for example, has a 40 minute book programme every weeknight, again on podcast, as is a weekly philosophy programme. ABC Classic FM has a weekly two-hour religious programme - For the God who Sings (brilliant title) tied to the Christian liturgical calendar, wonderfully presented and containing some glorious music. Unfortunately that's not podcast. There's also a thread on contemporary Australian music.

Who needs Petroc Trelawny, Rob Cowan's bloody rucksack and all the other patronising BBC Radio 3 presenters?!
'One difference from Radio 3 seems to be that this is a programme with some integrity' ... the long tail of radio is here.

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WFMT Chicago shows the Brits a thing or two


Many, including this writer, have in the past blamed 'Americanisation of the media' for the remorseless decline in the quality of BBC broadcasting. But this week came startling evidence that the BBC has surpassed its transatlantic cousins to become the new gold standard for international radio awfulness.

BBC Radio 3 has been broadcasting recordings of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival made by Chicago's only classical music station WFMT. Presumably the tapes (audio files?) of the excellent Santa Fe concerts came with the WFMT presenter's voice inextricably mixed with the concert ambience, so Radio 3 had no choice but to broadcast them complete with American continuity announcements. And what a revelation they were.

Gone were the self-regarding BBC classical jocks elongating their vowels in a futile attempt to make the trite sound important, gone were the endless plugs for BBC house brands such as the 'new generation artists scheme', and gone thank heavens, but alas only temporarily, was Petroc Trelawny. And I am not even going to start on about Rob Cowan and colleagues daily pleadings for Radio 3 listeners to text in with details of their pet goldfish's breakfast.

Instead we had WFMT presenter Kerry Frumkin giving informative and low key continuity links which made the Santa Fe concerts a real pleasure to listen to. I suspect that, like me, the presentation team at WFMT revere Glenn Gould's radio documentaries, and in particular the opening line which should be a model for anyone privileged to sit in front of a microphone:
I am Glenn Gould and this programme is about Leopold Stokowski.
More on this story here. Are words the new music?
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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Let it be


Other UK classical music blogs and Sir Paul McCartney are having a Diana moment over the reported closure of EMI's Abbey Road studios. Demands are being made to turn the studios into a museum and performance space, mourning fans are reportedly gathering outside the famous venue, and floral tributes on the railings must follow shortly.

All of which is of course errant nonsense. I have already commented here that it is sad to see the inevitable happening. But have my fellow bloggers and Sir Paul failed to notice that things are changing in the music industry? Virtual spaces - performing, recording, and retailing - are rapidly replacing physical spaces. No point in debating whether it is good or bad, it is happening.

Another music venue is the last thing London needs. On any one night many of the current classical music venues are dark, and most of the rest are hosting performances of Tchaik 5. Last week it was record shops closing, this week it is recording studios, next week it will be concert halls.

The thought of turning Abbey Road into a Beatles theme park for Japanese tourists is infinitely worse than letting a wrecking ball loose on it. Look what happened to the National Centre for Popular Music. EMI's present owners failed to understand that physical music spaces are a thing of the past, and they don't seem to be the only ones. As I have already said, safeguarding for the brave new virtual world the great recordings created at Abbey Road is far more important than saving bricks and mortar.

Header image shows the soon to be released Abbey Road protection society's fund raising CD. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

And he died singing


This thought provoking coda to my recent post about Olivier Messiaen's Saint François d'Assise comes from the Indian mystic Osho's unique interpretation of the Buddhist Diamond Sutra.
'Just the other night I came across a very beautiful story about Saint Francis, a Buddha.

Saint Francis of Assisi lay on his deathbed. He was singing, and singing so loudly that the whole neighbourhood was aware. Brother Elias,a pompous but prominent member of the Franciscan order, came close to Saint Francis and said, "Father, there are people standing in the street outside your window." Many had come. Fearing that the last moment of Francis' life had come, many who loved him had gathered together around the house.

Said this Brother Elias, "I am afraid nothing we might do could prevent them from hearing you singing. The lack of restraint at so grave an hour might embarrass the order, Father. It might lower the esteem in which you yourself are so justly held. Perhaps in your extremity you have lost sight of your obligation to the many who have come to regard you as a saint. Would it not be more edifying if you would, er, die with more Christian dignity?

"Please excuse me, Brother," Saint Francis said, "but I feel so much joy in my heart that I really can't help myself. I must sing!"


And he died singing. In the whole Christian history, he's the only one who has died singing. Many Zen people have died singing, but they don't belong to Christianity. He is the only Zen master among Christian saints. He didn't care a bit about Christian dignity.'
Yes, I know Osho has been called the 'sex guru' (hold on, I'll explain the header image in a moment) while novelist Tom Robbins described him as the most dangerous man since Jesus Christ. But then Monsignor Marcel Lefevbre has also received a justifiably bad press.

An awful lot of paths meet here. My header image is taken from the poster for Franco Zeffirelli's 1973 biopic about Saint Francis, Brother Sun, Sister Moon. Franco Zeffirelli's first choice to score the film was the unlikely partnership of Leonard Bernstein and Leonard Cohen. Cohen, a sometime Zen Buddhist monk, was influenced by Jacques Brel, who collabarated with Paul Touvier who in turn was protected by Monsignor Marcel Lefebvre. While Bernstein conducted the 1949 Boston premiere of devout Catholic Messiaen's erotic Eastern influenced Turangalîla-Symphonie.


But back to Rome and 1969, where the two Leonards met at Zeffirelli's villa and travelled to Saint Francis' tomb to progress their musical collabaration. Sadly, for reasons that aren't documented but can be imagined neither Bernstein nor Cohen contributed any music to the film: Cohen's biographer Ira B. Nadel says enigmatically that Cohen was "unhappy with the scene". Zeffirelli replaced Cohen and Bernstein with, of all people, the English folk singer Donovan who provided a forgettable score for an equally forgettable film.

The movie may have been forgettable, but the path does not end there. Some of the preliminary sketches produced by Bernstein for the film were used in another of his works. Above is the 1973 poster for Zeffirelli's Brother Sun, Sister Moon. Below is the 1972 LP cover of Bernstein's Mass, a visionary work that has been criticised for lacking Christian dignity. Mass was the work that Bernstein reused his Saint Francis sketches in. Are the graphic similarities a total coincidence?


The Diamond Sutra - the Buddha also said ... by Osho was borrowed from Norwich library. Brother Sun, Sister Moon has recently been released on DVD. Worth seeing as a reminder of how even great artists sometimes get it badly wrong. 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, February 17, 2010

Pure Gould

"I suppose it can be said that I'm an absent-minded driver," Glenn Gould [seen above] once said. "It's true that I've driven through a number of red lights on occasion, but on the other hand, I've stopped at a lot of green ones but never gotten credit for it".
We seem to have a Glenn Gould riff going right now and I am not complaining. A regular reader has written asking -
Having recently bought the Arabian Passion on your "recommendation", I now find myself awaiting delivery of Glenn Gould's Byrd, Gibbons and Sweelinck disc, having followed an Overgrown Path last night. What other Gould recordings do you think I should not be living without? I currently only have the Bach recordings?
Glenn Gould's 'contrapuntal radio' documentaries made for CBC are really a special case, and I will return to them in another post. But it is worth pointing out that the CBC Records CD release Glenn Gould the Radio Artist includes his Stokowski and Casals documentaries as well as the Solitude Trilogy. Worth buying just for the tantalising snatches of Casals oratorio El Pessebre, a work that is inexplicably absent from the CD catalogue. The CBC set does not include Gould's profile of the pop singer Petula Clark, but I am trying to rectify that and am making tentative enquiries about a legal webcast of that legendary programme.

But back to Glenn Gould the pianist (contrapuntal blogging?) and a CD that drives through a number of musicological red lights, but which I certainly could not live without. Gould once described piano transcriptions of orchestral works as typically being 'glorious mud', something he tried to rectify with his own transcriptions of Wagner. In 1973 Gould recorded his piano versions of the Mastersingers Prelude, Dawn and Siegfried's Rhine Journey and the Siegfried Idyll. Instead of 'glorious mud' there are crystal clear textures which underline the contrapuntal elements in Wagner's scores, in fact the transcriptions almost sound as though they were created for the harpsichord.

The piano arrangement of the Siegfried Idyll is beguilingly beautiful, but Gould had not finished with that particular work and we will return to it below. One of many red lights Gould drove through in his piano transcriptions was the taboo on multi-tracking in classical recordings, and for the Mastersingers Prelude he overdubbed a second piano in the last section to allow the different orchestral voices to sound through.

These piano transcriptions were originally issued on a Columbia LP in 1973. But for the Sony CD release seen below Gould's notorious orchestral recording of the Siegfried Idyll was added as the opening work, with, it must be said, lamentably short breaks between the following tracks. The Siegfried Idyll was recorded with members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in September 1982 when Gould was contemplating a conducting career. His reading is almost certainly the slowest ever at 24 minutes 29 seconds. It was not intended for commercial release, and when it was made available after his death it generated a notably hostile reaction, with Gunther Schuller giving it this accolade:
Probably the most inept, amateurish, wrong-headed rendition of a major classic ever put to vinyl.
Each to their own: personally I find Gould's orchestral Siegfried Idyll idiosyncratic but deeply moving. There have also been wrong-headed attempts to brand it as some kind of artistic last will and testament because Gould died just weeks after the sessions. All of which is nonsense as he died suddenly from a blood clot on the brain of which he had no advance knowledge. His speeds may be agonisingly slow, but there should be room in any CD collection for more than one view of the Siegfried Idyll. Sony's CD release gives you two Idyll's for the price of one, and that price is currently the ridiculously low $3.99 for the complete album as a download from amazon.com. And of course there should be room in any CD collection for more than one Goldberg Variations.


Also impossible to live without is Kevin Bazzana's biography of Glenn Gould Wondrous Strange which supplies two of my quotes. Credit for my header photo is Sony Classical. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

His maestro's voice


I don't know what was going on in the studio, but that is producer Michel Glotz apparently doing what other people have only dreamed of doing behind Herbert von Karajan's back. Today the sad news comes of the death of the French recording producer aged 79. Glotz is best known for his work with Karajan and he won several Grammys including one for producing HvK's 1978 Beethoven symphony cycle for Deutsche Grammophon. He was part of the non-negotiable 'Karajan package' that came with the conductor's recordings, irrespective of the label they were to be issued on. Unfortunately for that reason he was not a popular figure with EMI's staff producers who had to step aside for Glotz on classic Karajan recordings such as Pelléas et Méliande.

Image credit is Siegfried Lauterwasser Archive, Überlingen: did I say 'Karajan package'? 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

His master's studios

It was Christopher Bishop with whom Sir John Barbirolli was working at the Abbey Road Studios on a day at the height of the Beatle's popularity. As John arrived he saw the famous four and their retinue. 'Is that the Fuzzy Wuzzies?' he asked Christopher, 'because we'd better close the door in case they charge.
That anecdote from my post David Munrow on the record reminds us of just what a musical melting pot EMI's Abbey Road Studios were in their heyday. Today comes the not unsurprising news that the iconic studios are for sale. Spot the link?

Image is Studio 1 Abbey Road from music-dna.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 broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

On the road with Olivier Messiaen


Judging by the number of price cuts I found in the Harmonia Mundi boutique in Lille on my recent road trip, the French record industry is in real problems. Among several half-price bargains I picked up was German label Orfeo's release of four of the tableau from Olivier Messiaen's only opera Saint François d'Assise with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in the title role.


I was on the road for nine day exploring overgrown paths in northern France. As the US East Coast was sharing its extreme weather with Europe I stopped overnight in Canterbury en route to France, and the inclement weather was to provide a basso profundo for the entire trip. Photo 2 above was taken in sub-zero temperatures after attending Evensong in Canterbury Cathedral. Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in the cathedral in 1170, since when it has attracted thousands of pilgrims. Which fitted neatly with this road trip as my early web name of Pliable (created to avoid conflicts of interest with my then day job) was taken from the character in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress.


Moving from the Anglican to the Roman rite, the two CD set of Saint François d'Assise that I bought in Lille has an interesting history. It is an Austrian Radio live recording of the concert performance of the four tableau given at the 1985 Salzburg Festival with Lothar Zagrosek conducting the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. Saint François d'Assise was premiered in Paris in 1983, and the 1985 concert performance preceded the first fully staged Salzburg performance by seven years. Messiaen attended the 1985 concert and approved of the extraction of the four central scenes which reduce the opera from six hours in length to little more than two hours. This solution to the opera's unwieldly length was greeted with enthusiasm and similar concert performances followed in several major cities around the world.


The lack of conventional operatic narrative in Saint François means it can be performed in the abbreviated Salzburg version, which uses less than half of the original material taken from four non-sequential scenes, while still retaining dramatic integrity. You certainly can't do that with many operas and Messiaen himself viewed Saint François as more mystery play than opera. This 1985 Salzburg Festival recording, which is technically and musically very good, provides an interesting perspective on the thorny subject of classical music 'sampling'. How about a similar 'fan edit' of In C? It was Glenn Gould, who we meet again later, who quipped when introducing an excerpt from Terry Riley's seminal work on Canadian radio "And you thought Carl Orff had found an easy way to make a living?"


Glenn Gould would doubtless have been more approving of the outstanding recital of Mahler and Schumann Lieder that I heard in Lille sung by bass-baritone Konstantin Wolff accompanied by Trung Sam . The venue for the recital was the city's ornate Louis XVI style opera house and my photo below shows the ceiling of the grand foyer where the recital took place.


As I returned to my chambres d'hôtes in Lille through pouring rain after the recital I walked into the demonstration seen below in support of equal rights for workers without residence papers. I have mused here before on the tensions within France that gives the country its creative singularity. These tensions helped mould Messiaen: he was a devout Catholic who worked for the cultural arm of the retrogressive and collabarationist Vichy government for several months while composing a now lost patriotic cantata for schoolchildren, yet he went on to become a major agent of change in 20th century music and numbered that darling of the avant-garde and enfant terrible Pierre Boulez among his pupils. In Saint François d'Assise a truly innovative score that calls for five different keyboards (xylophone, xylorimba, marimba, glockenspiel, vibraphone and three Ondes Martenot) plus five percussionists is combined with Messian's own traditionalist libretto which in places has unfortunate echoes of the Vichy slogan of 'Travail, famille, patrie'.


With thoughts turning to Catholicism and Vichy it was time to get back on the road again. From Lille I drove to the Benedictine L'Abbaye Saint Paul at Wisque which had featured in New York Times coverage of l'affaire Paul Touvier in 1989. In fact the French war criminal was not sheltered in the then traditionalist monastery, but the article started the path which led to my article Love, life and crimes against humanity.


The poignant photo below shows the monk's cemetery at L'Abbaye Saint Paul. Since 1989 there has been a regime change at the monastery and its aging community of fifteen monks has long since put its links with right-wing cleric Monsignor Marcel Lefebvre behind it and Mass is now celebrated in the politically correct vernacular. Informal and amicable discussions about l'affaire Touvier during my stay simply confirmed H.L. Mencken's view that "For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple - and wrong".


On a happier subject L'Abbaye Saint Paul keeps music at the centre of the liturgy. Gregorian chant is still used for the Divine Offices and while eating in the refectory we were serenaded with Zelenka trio sonatas and Hélène Grimaud playing Rachmaninov via an excellent sound system. The musical driving force at Wisques is Père Yves Dissaux who is seen below. Père Yves, who has been a monk for forty-four years, is also Père Hôtelier, a member of the village council and does outreach work with schoolchildren and the local community. The musical loves of this charismatic cleric include jazz and the cinema organ, with Reginald Dixon's recordings being a particular passion. I lent him the CDs of Saint François d'Assise: he returned them with a twinkle in his eye saying they were tres excellent, but he did not think them quite suitable for playing in the refectory!


After nine days on the road with Messiaen's Saint François d'Assise it was quite appropriate that nature had the last word and I woke up at 5.15am for my return journey to find the French countryside blanketed in snow. The journey from hell followed with a drive to Dunkirk in pitch darkness through a blizzard with Polish articulated lorries sitting three feet from my rear bumper. Below is the trusty Skoda (114k miles and going better than ever) safely arrived on the quayside at Dunkirk. As I waited to load I reflected on yet another fascinating road trip. As well as Messiaen the sountrack had included Glenn Gould's three visionary CBC radio documentaries, particularly The Quiet in the Land which portrays the Mennonites of southern Manitoba. Like Gould's Solitude Trilogy, but in a more modest way, my journey had explored the margins of geography and culture and the singularity found therein. Carl Morey got it absolutely right in his notes for the CD release of the Glenn Gould programmes when he observed -
In ... each part of the trilogy, it is not simply the isolation of the society that is disclosed, but also its singularity and the question of the value of that singularity.

More celebration of singularity in On the road with Lutoslawski.
All photos taken by me and (c) On An Overgrown Path 2010 except photo 10 which is credited to La Voix du Nord. With thanks to Jean-Jacques in Lille, the community at L'Abbaye Saint Paul, Wisques, the staff of Norfolk Line at Dunkirk for putting me on an early return ferry at no charge thereby avoiding some very hazardous driving conditions, and to Jan Jedlička's A Winter's Journey To The Sea for the inspiration. All costs were paid by me, the total budget for the trip was less than the taxi fare from Stratford to London. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A passionate but antisensual composer

The ideal realization of Sibelius as a passionate but antisensual composer.
Glenn Gould on Herbert von Karajan's 1965 recording of Sibelius' Fifth Symphony, the finale of which Gould used in the epilogue of his 1967 'contrapuntal radio' documentary The Idea of North.

The best damned record Glenn Gould ever made is 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 broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

I believe ...

I believe in a world community. I believe in the mystery of life of which each religion reveals one facet. I believe that words are symbols, counters of common coinage used to express the meaning which lies behind, and to worship the symbol is idolatory. I believe in working where there is need - differences of race, colour, religion are incidental.
Those words were written by Doris Murray, a Quaker volunteer working with Tibetan refugee children in Dharamsala in 1963. She was described as possessing "a combination of qualities which in another age might well have caused her to be revered as a saint".

The quotes come from Dervla Murphy's long out of print but well worth seeking out Tibetan Foothold as do my photos, which also date from 1963. The refugee children in the header photo are not being prepared for the Buddhist novitiate: their heads are shaved as protection against lice infestation. In the lower photo Tibetan refugees working building roads in northern India are bringing their children to a relief agency's nursery.

Today, February 14, is the Tibetan New Year. Sadly, almost 50 years after these photos were taken the Tibetan tragedy continues.


Igor Stravinsky and Ernst Ansermet's little known Tibetan connections are uncovered 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 broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Friday, February 12, 2010

Making waves


When you are paying your own way in the arts world you are forced to be ingenious. On our recent visit to Stratford-upon-Avon for the Royal Shakespeare Company's excellent Arabian Nights we stayed in in a perfectly acceptable en suite double room in Stratford Youth Hostel (remember youth is not a time of life but a state of mind) for less than £30 per night for two including breakfast. The night before, for the Oxford Improvisers concert, we stayed in the Campanile Hotel in Swindon on a special deal costing precisely £1 a night.

If you are not paying your own way things are slightly different. As this story from the Sunday Times tells:
Arts supremo Dame Liz Forgan takes £431 taxi ride home

A former BBC boss who now chairs the Arts Council enjoyed a taxpayer-funded £431 taxi ride home from a night celebrating Shakespeare’s birthday.

Dame Liz Forgan was driven back from the performance at Stratford-upon-Avon to her London home at a cost of more than £4 a mile to the arts quango, which received £436m of government funding last year.

The cab ride is one of dozens of expense claims made at the council by Forgan and her predecessor, Sir Christopher Frayling, in 2008-9, a period when the council was slashing funding, or removing it altogether from more than 200 arts organisations.

Details of claims made public under the Freedom of Information Act show that Frayling also requested reimbursement of £500 for his own leaving present, a framed print by Tracey Emin, plus a further £115 for his farewell drinks.
Arts Council England is our primary source of national arts funding. In between taking taxi rides across the country their management has been busy recruiting 300 'artistic assesors' . These 'assesors' are paid a £1000 a year plus expenses (taxis and leaving presents included presumably) and free tickets "to write assessments on the artistic work of its regularly funded organisations". The CVs of the first 152 assesors appointed suggest that among the great and good of the arts world multi-dipping is quickly replacing the double dipping of the last decade. Talking of which there are some who will be chuckling at another topical news story.

The tragedy of Liz Forgan's taxi ride, BBC Radio 3 controller Roger Wright's expenses and similar foolishness is not the sums of money involved, but rather the damage done to the credibility of the organisations they represent. Arts Council England support invaluable work, with Aldeburgh Music for instance receiving around a third of their funding from them, while the BBC controls one of the largest new music commissioning budgets in the world. It is a true tragedy that this power to do good for so many is being put at risk by the actions of a few.


The moral high ground is as dangerous a place to be these days as in a taxi from Stratford to London. So I will own up immediately to receiving my featured CD free as a requested review sample. Dutch based Ensemble Klang appeared last year in my post Klang - but not Stockhausen, and as a result of that article their artistic director Pete Harden emailed asking if I would be interested in listening to their new album of music by Peter Adriaansz.

Born in Seattle in 1966, Peter Adriaansz now works mainly in Europe. His own website, which also includes audio samples, gives a fair description of his music:
Adriaansz’ music is characterized by a formalist stance and a high degree of conceptualism, in which sound, structure and audible mathematics are the main ingredients. In recent years an increasing interest in flexibility and variable forms can also be observed in his work. In numerous reviews his music has alternately – and often for the same piece - been dubbed everything from sadistic, brutal and extremely boring, to poetic, touching, ingenious and impressive.
Above is a graphic from the score of Waves 3. The excellent sleeve notes for the album which complement refreshingly stylish packaging include an extended interview with the composer. The notes explain that:
On the surface this is music that moves very slowly; it is mostly composed of long tones that either do not change at all, or change only in our perception because of incidents in the sonic ecology that surrounds them.
Waves is most certainly not an easy listen. But in my book that is no bad thing. I have written previously about the crucial need to listen outside our comfort zones and about the merits of 'ear-candling music'. Which is precisely what, for me, Peter Adriaansz's music is. And if you are wondering what the link is between Waves and the peccadilloes of Arts Council executives the answer lies in the small print on the CD sleeve.
This CD was made possible with financial support from Société Gavigniés. All works written with financial support from the Nederlands Fonds voor Podiumkunsten.
Funding from the Arts Council, the BBC, Société Gavigniés, Nederlands Fonds voor Podiumkunsten and many others is the lifeblood of classical music around the world. How sad that it being put at risk by £431 taxi rides.


* Waves is the first release on Ensemble Klang's own label. Albums of music by Tom Johnson and Oscar Bettison will follow. It can be bought as a CD or download from the band's website.

The story of a contemporary composer's Dutch courage is here.
Waves was received as a requested review sample. 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