Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Shostakovich?


Been there, done that ...

Now try it with candles.

With thanks (again) to blogger sans frontieres Antoine Leboyer. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Music from a war zone


Coverage elsewhere of the interruption of yesterday's Jerusalem Quartet concert at London's Wigmore Hall by pro-Palestinian demonstrators. Not only should the Israelis be asking why such protests happen, they should also be asking why support for the protesters is increasing. Header image is the CD of Palestinian classical music recorded in Gaza in 2006 by Ad Vitam Records, a company that believes in solving problems by working together rather than by disrupting concerts or by targetted assassinations.

In my profile of Ad Vitam last year I quoted the company's credo that their recordings should "build bridges of expectations, hope and trust". 40% of the sales revenue from the Gaza CD goes directly to the musicians in Gaza whose livelihood is threatened by the current political situation there. Unlike the Jerusalem Quartet the Ensemble musical de Palestine does not have an exclusive recording contract with Harmonia Mundi nor did they receive support from the BBC via the BBC New Generation artist scheme. As Ad Vitam say about the Ensemble musical de Palestine:
The best way to get to know a new music is to trust those who play, not to make money. Those musicians seem to play to survive.
And yes, there are two sides to any argument.

My copy of the Gaza CD was bought online. 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

ECM and the art of piracy


As yet another EMI chief executive ends up on the editing room floor the major corporate labels continue to blame piracy for their problems. But illegal copying is an interesting gauge of demand. In many cities in Morocco 100% of the CDs on sale are pirated, and you won't find any copies of the latest offerings from teenage Chinese pianists or barely post-teenage celebrity conductors among them. But significantly there is an awful lot of counterfeit ECM product available. Which, as the CD inlay seen above shows, does bring a different kind of problem.

As books have been devoted to the graphic art of ECM it is worth dwelling for a moment on the graphic art of piracy. It must be assumed that the illegal copy of Ustad Fateh Ali Khan and Jan Garbarek's Ragas and Sagas seen above predated the availability of cheap image scanners as the pirated copy has new artwork replacing the ECM original seen below.


On the pirated version below, Herbert Maeder's typically atmospheric photo, presumably of one of Pakistan's many mountain ranges, has gone. Its replacement mimics the shadows in the foreground and peaks in the background using a fjord backed by mountains. A cheap copy or a flash of creative insight? Well ... saxophonist Jan Garbarek does come from Norway, and the CD was recorded in Rainbow Studios in Oslo, Norway in May 1990. And Norway is of course the country of fjords. The major corporate labels have a lot to learn from the pirates.


I have started a fighting fund which accepts PayPal donations in case the the following lands me in trouble with the RIAA. The pirated version of Ragas and Sagas was bought from the store seen below, the synchronistically named Bob Music in the souk in Essaouira, Morocco. Yes I know piracy is bad. But give me five minutes in Bob Music to five hours in the corporately bland HMV stores in the UK. If you want a kora from Mali or an oud from Morocco Bob's emporium of musical delights is the place to go, and I am quite happy to add his shop to my list of best record stores in the world. I should hasten to add that Bob Music also has some very interesting non-pirated CDs, including Platinium Music transfers of classic 1970s recordings from sufi influenced Moroccan protest band Jil Jilala, more on them soon.


Piracy is not new. Back in 2005 I wrote about early music piracy.
Hear an excerpt from Sagas and Ragas here. Bob Music is at 3, Rue Youssef Ben Tachafine, Essaouira, phone (212) 0668 252695, email bob_music2000 at hotmail.fr With thanks to non-aligned blogger Antoine Leboyer for the EMI story heads up. I was going to say the lower photo is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2010 but I had better keep quiet on that subject. Do please do report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Salzburg Festival - no point in looking back


Beleaguered Salzburg Easter Festival's new supremo Peter Alward reassures Guardian readers that his sponsors have remained "amazingly loyal". Elsewhere Bloomberg reports that "the annual 10-day Easter event is sponsored by Vontobel Holding AG, Audi AG, the Nippon Foundation and Vienna Insurance Group", while the Salzburg Easter Festival website confirms that the Nippon Foundation has made "annual contributions since 1996".

At least one of those loyal sponsors has an interesting history. The Nippon Foundation is a non-profit philanthropic organization doing praiseworthy work in education, social welfare and public health in Japan and many other countries. But that benevolence comes at a cost. Ryoichi Sasakawa who founded the Nippon Foundation in 1962 is seen in a US Army photo above. His obituary in the New York Times obituary in 1995 explains the context of the photo:
Mr. Sasakawa, a native of Osaka, was the last living member of a group accused after World War II of the most serious war crimes. After Japan's surrender in 1945, he was imprisoned for four years by the American occupation forces. But prosecutors failed to prove him guilty of helping finance and wage the war or of profiting from Japan's wartime occupation of Manchuria.

Mr. Sasakawa formed and led the Patriotic Masses Party in 1931 after being discharged from the former Japanese Imperial Army. He supported Japan's war on its Asian neighbors, and even formed his own private air force. In 1939 he flew one of his 20 bombers to Rome to pose for pictures with Mussolini [see photo below]. In 1942 he was elected to the lower house of Parliament.

In 1948 Mr. Sasakawa began expanding his fortune by operating dozens of motorboat race courses throughout Japan. He donated nearly $1.5 billion in proceeds from the legalized gambling operation to scores of people and organizations, and received prizes from the United Nations.

But Mr. Sasakawa's critics have suggested that his charities were part of an elaborate public relations campaign meant to divert attention from other activities. During the cold war, he became an anti-Communist campaigner and was accused of maintaining connections with organized crime groups often associated in Japan with ultranationalist causes.
Elsewhere there are reports of links between Ryoichi Sasakawa and the Unification Church (a.k.a. 'Moonies') and its founder Sun Myung Moon.

By comparison another of the Festival's loyal and longstanding major sponsors, independent Swiss private bank Vontobel, is a real pussycat. In January 2010 a Zurich court acquitted two former Vontobel senior executives accused of forging documents and mismanagement. In 2008 the private bank's shares plunged after reports connecting it with a tax evasion investigation, while back in 2001 three of Vontobel's senior executives were fired for 'not adequately executing their duties'.

The Karajan Foundation retains a 25% stake in the Easter Festival which has an annual budget of $8.1m, and the conductor's widow Eliette von Karajan reportedly inherited a tax-sheltered estate worth $500m. Festival artistic director Simon Rattle joined the Berlin Philharmonic in 2002 on a reported salary of £500k, plus recording and guest conducting income. The Festival's resident orchestra the Berlin Philharmonic enjoys an annual budget of $38m, almost half of which comes from the public purse via the Berlin Senate. Top ticket prices for Rattle and the BPO's Götterdämmerung at this year's Salzburg Easter Festival are $684, with the cheapest going for a bargain basement $255.

As Peter Alward reminds us "we live in difficult economic times". Or as Eliette von Karajan says about the Salzburg Easter Festival "there is no point in looking back and lamenting".


That is Benito Mussolini above with Ryoichi Sasakawa. Another famous Italian was less enamoured with Salzburg's politics.

Photos come via debito.org. 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

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Phantom of the opera


Led Zeppelin, Graham Nash, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Nick Drake (who drove there in a Ford Cortina) are among the rock musicians who have visited Marrakech. But the connections between the Moroccan city and Western art music are more tenuous. In 1986 work started on the Theatre Royal, an ambitious project designed to give Marrakech a world class venue for opera and theatre. My header photo, taken a few days ago, shows the impressive exterior of the new Theatre Royal with the fly tower in the background. Website travel-in-morocco.com explains:
The Marrakech Theatre Royal on Avenue de France is a marvel of architecture, with a 1200-seat open-air theatre and an 800-seat opera house. Inaugurated on 19 September 2001, the Theatre Royal is a creation sure to enhance the red city’s reputation as mediator and focal point for intellectuals the world over. It also constitutes a cultural and artistic centre in the heart of the Pearl of Southern Morocco, with shows, receptions, concerts and exhibitions being held there throughout the year.
All of which made me very keen to sample the prestigious new opera house. But, as with a previous visit two years ago, there did not seem to be any scheduled performances. So instead I managed to gain access behind the facade of the cultural and artistic centre to see the new performing spaces. These are configured as the two circles of a figure of eight with a shared movable stage linking them at the narrow point of the figure. Below is a photo of the 1200 seat open air theatre looking towards the stage area, behind which is the 800 seat opera house.


The open air theatre is clearly in use for performances. But walk through the curtains and it is a different story. Below is a photo I grabbed of the interior of the opera house which twenty-four years after construction started remains an empty concrete shell. There was no sign at all of building activity, which makes the assurances I was given that work would be completed in 2011 seem somewhat optimistic.


Is it just a case of Marrakech-not-so-express, or is the Arab world's love affair with Western art music over before it really started? Support for the latter view comes from reports that the land designated for Dubai's prestigous new opera house has been sold off and used as a car park. All of which simply confirms that in classical music there is no such thing as a free lunch.

All photos (c) On An Overgrown Path 2010. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Friday, March 26, 2010

Just tuning up


L'orchestre by Moroccan artist Uayia, photographed by me at a recent public exhibition in Marrakech. Say good bye to Western art music 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, March 05, 2010

Chance music from Jewish voices


‘Israel’s first lady of song’ was the accolade bestowed on Naomi Shemer (1930-2004), who is seen above. Several of her songs have became popular anthems in her homeland and she created Hebrew versions of many well-known songs including the Beatles ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Let it Be’. Her best-known composition is 'Yerushalayim shel zahav' ('Jerusalem of Gold') which has achieved the status of unofficial Israeli national anthem.

Jerusalem of Gold is the opening track in a Jewish Voices programme I am presenting in my webcast Chance Music series. It is performed by the Israeli singer and guitarist Hezy Levy and is coupled with another Naomi Shemer composition, Song of the Grasses. Both tracks are taken from the Ad Vitam CD Singing Like the Jordan River which featured here last year.


The central work in my Jewish Voices programme is by the Israeli composer Paul Ben-Haim, seen in the photo above. He was born Paul Frankenburger in Munich in 1897 and worked as assistant to the Bruno Walter and Hans Knappertsbusch at the Bavarian State Opera. Following the establishment of the Third Reich in 1933 he left Germany for Palestine where he went on to become a leading figure in twentieth-century Israeli music.

The more progressive trends of late twentieth-century music passed Paul Ben-Haim by. He was influenced by the neo-classicism, of Stravinsky but there are also echoes of the late-Romantics in his compositions. I am presenting his 38 minute setting of the Jewish Friday Evening Service, the Kabbalat Shabbat. It dates from 1966, is scored for cantor, soprano, choir and nine instruments, and is very moving despite not totally meeting with the approval of the contemporary music thought-police. Audio samples can be heard here.

Excerpts from Paul Ben-Haim's Kabbalat Shabbat have been available on a Naxos disc for some time. But I am presenting a new complete recording released by the German NEOS label with baritone Christian Miedl as cantor, Valérie Condoluci singing the soprano role and the Chamber Choir and Orchestra of the Jakobsplatz Munich conducted by Daniel Grossmann. The couplings on the NEOS disc are Ben-Haim's Lift up your Heads for soprano and eight instruments, his 1951 Sonata in G for solo violin composed for Yehudi Menuhin, and his Three Songs Without Words for viola and piano. All captured in excellent sound, with all the works recorded by NEOS in Stephanus Kirche, Munich in 2009 except for the Violin Sonata which dates from Bayerischer Rundfunk sessions in 1972.


My concluding Jewish Voices are the Ensemble Trielen and German soprano Jutta Carstensen, seen above, performing a Yiddish song and Klezmer music, again from a recent release on the adventurous Ad Vitam label. Jewish Voices is an hour of rarely heard music that deserves to reach a wider audience. What is particularly notable is that all the music comes from two relatively new independent European labels. I have already written about Ad Vitam but NEOS may be unfamiliar to many readers. As well as jazz and mainstream classical discs NEOS' outstanding contemporary catalogue includes beautifully presented CDs of music by John Cage, Mauricio Kagel, Jonathan Harvey, Bruno Maderna, Wolfgang Rihm and others. Which is all a long way from Naomi Shemer, Ensemble Trielen and Paul Ben-Haim. But stop worrying about which box the music fits into, it is all about exploring outside the comfort zone.

* Jewish Voices was broadcast/webcast on Future Radio at 3.00pm UK time on Sunday March 7, 2010. Listen to a podcast of the programme here.

* All CDs were purchased by me. I saw the NEOS Paul Ben-Haim disc in FNAC in Lille but baulked at the Euro price. Surprisingly amazon.co.uk do not seem to stock the disc. But no problem, Presto Classical supplied it from the UK with genuine next day delivery.

Chance Music is a 'quick and dirty' radio format created to share music featured On an Overgrown Path with readers. Many thanks to Future Radio for their continuing support. Future Radio is UK government Ofcom regulated and party to a Performing Rights Society royalty agreement. Podcasts of programmes available here. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Path to a forgotten maestro

Wild Somerset Child has left a new comment on your post "Remembering a forgotten maestro":

I know it is a long time since this post appeared - I have only just discovered it when checking the exact date on the internet of when my father died. It was lovely to read what you said about him (Maurice Miles).
Maurice Miles was the first principal conductor of the Ulster Orchestra when it was founded in 1966. He championed the music of Arnold Bax, and Arthur Butterworth and conducted the first performance of Gerald Finzi's Dies Natalis in 1940. That touching email arrived today from his septuagenarian daughter Ms. Ann Somerset Miles who is herself a prolific blogger. Read my 2007 tribute to her father Maurice Miles here.

The quick montage of Maurice Miles against the background of Leith Hill, Dorking was created by me and is (c) On An Overgrown Path. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

We could be looking at thousands of dollars


Yes, that is Glenn Gould. But this path starts with another musician. Steve Reich's Come Out is an electronic composition created from the voice of an African-American youth. No conventional instruments or musical notation are used in the pioneering work. But if I want to broadcast/webcast Come Out there is no problem. Future Radio is party to a performing rights agreement which directs royalty payments to the composers and publishers of music works. Despite not being a conventional music work Come Out is covered by that agreement. So far so good: Come out is broadcast, the listener has access to a seminal 20th century work and the copyright owner is rewarded.

Glenn Gould's Solitude Trilogy is a series of three radio documentaries made for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) between 1967 and 1977. Two of the documentaries use short music excerpts but, like Come Out which dates from the same period, they are voice compositions. But, despite using speech as his raw material, Glenn Gould always considered his contrapuntal radio experiments to be music. He wrote about them in an article titled 'Radio as Music', spoke of his scripts as 'scores' and even referred to the documentaries with opus numbers.

The Solitude Trilogy and other Glenn Gould documentaries are the stuff of legend. But they are rarely heard. So I decided to remedy that with a series of broadcasts/webcasts for Future Radio. As ever the station management were up for the project and I own the commercially released CDs of the programmes from CBC Records. So it all seemed simple, until ...

The CBC Records 5 CD set Glenn Gould - the Radio Artist can be bought in any good record store alongside Steve Reich's Come Out. But the CBC Records CD packaging carries these words:
This recording may not be reproduced in any form, nor may it be used for commercial or broadcast purposes.
To understand what this means I contacted CBC in Toronto and received the following response from their manager, international sales and awards:
We appreciate your interest in the Glenn Gould documentaries. I have been able to confirm the status of the commercial disc for you. The audio disc is for non-broadcast purposes only.

And as much as we'd like to accommodate your request both the recordings and the underlying music publishing rights would have to be cleared. I'm told the we could be looking at potentially thousands of dollars for music clearance costs. Unfortunately, the situation is further complicated as all decisions involve the Glenn Gould Estate, as well.

The same revenue considerations apply for the Petula Clark program. Sorry to disappoint.
I am not an expert on music copyright but I do have a resonable working knowledge of the subject. My interpretation, which has been broadly confirmed by PRS for Music's helpful press office, is the following. Despite being sold as commercial disc the disclaimer on the CBC set excludes them from the usual performing rights agreements. This allows the copyright owners, presumably CBC and the Glenn Gould Estate, to set their own royalty level for each broadcast of the discs, in this case "potentially thousands of dollars". As Future Radio is a not for profit community station it is easy to understand what that means for my (and many other) proposed broadcasts.

Glenn Gould's biographer Kevin Bazzana quotes the Canadian composer István Anhalt as saying that:
Speech compositions [by Schoenberg, Milhaud, Berio, Kagel, Ligeti, Lutoslawski and others are] are one of the significant developments in the recent history of Western music.
Both Steve Reich's Come Out and Glenn Gould's Solitude Trilogy are part of that significant development. But their radically different status for broadcast purposes, a status determined solely by the copyright owners of the respective recordings, raises important questions, particularly in the light of recent extensions of copyright protection for recorded music.

I have already written about the future custody of historic recordings as highlighted by EMI's current problems. In the past discussions of music copyright have made two important assumptions. First, that ownership of the copyright will remain with the work's creator and thereafter with someone sympathetic to the creator's aims, and secondly that the owner will grant reasonable access to the work. But in today's volatile market both assumptions are questionable. This puts at risk access to some important parts of our cultural heritage which listing the physical fabric of Abbey Road Studios is not going to solve.

As ever today, litigation is not far away. More contrapuntal copyright here.


The views expressed in this article are mine alone and do not reflect those of Future Radio. All CDs and books mentioned in the article were bought at retail price. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Wagner Sutra

P. M. Doolan has left a new comment on your post "Wagner and the Tantric Orchestra":

I only came across your blog entry today, but I had posted an article "Wagner and Buddhism, Tristan and Isolde" on my blog two days ago - what a coincidence. It might interest you to know that Wagner first played some chords of Tristan on piano in the Villa Wesendonck in Zurich (where I live) and the Villa Wesendonck today is the home to the biggest collection of Tibetan Buddhist art in all of Europe.
More Buddhism from Jonathan Harvey in Wagner Dream. Then there is the connection between Wagner and the Cathars...

Header image has nothing to do with the Villa Wesendonck. I photographed the Richard Cole print against the background of the book Tibet - Life, Myth, Art by Michael Willis before tweaking the colours. Photo is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2010. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

A few notes are worth a thousand words

It is impossible to categorise a track by John Zorn. You're likely to hear fragments of everything from classical masterpieces to thrash metal, from jazz licks to film music soundscapes. This music is the soundtrack of postmodernism, the aural equivalent of surrealist collage. "I've got an incredibly short attention span," Zorn says. "My music is jam-packed with information that is changing very fast."
That quote is from a Tom Service article and it does make John Zorn's music sound rather daunting. Which is a pity, because like many composers a few notes of John Zorn's music is worth a thousand words. You could do a lot worse than start with Uri Caine plays Zorn's Masada Book Two on the composer's own Tzadik label. Lots of music but few words on the CD which is seen below. It comes with the very post-modern documentation of absolutely no explanatory text, a blank label and the most obscure sleeve typography ever. If you insist on a description of the music on the disc I'll assay abbreviated Keith Jarrett meets mellow Conlon Nanacarrow with Kabbalistic undertones.

But don't take my inadequate words. Buy the CD or download, or if you are lucky enough to live in Ireland get along to hear the equally unclassifiable Uri Caine playing John Zorn on March 5 in a concert promoted by the Louth Contemporary Music Society. They are the freethinkers who prompted me to write If I were CEO of a major record label ... Some very different Jewish influenced piano music here.


Louth Contemporary Music Society's nice poster has been reformatted by me to fit the blog. The Uri Caine CD was bought online. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Monday, March 01, 2010

Don't fence musicians in


Posters on the railing of Market Square in Cambridge show what a rich musical life the city has. The Cambridge University Symphony Orchestra's website says:
Our concert programmes are drawn up by the conductors and committee in consultation with the whole orchestra, with the players themselves able to vote on parts of the programme. The final ballot has now been concluded and the 2009-10 season will be as follows...
York Bowen's Viola Concerto and Gustav Mahler's Fourth Symphony, which is being played by the Orchestra in London on March 5. If that's what democratic programme planning achieves more orchestras should try it. More on York Bowen here.

Photo taken in the glorious spring sunshine today and (c) On An Overgrown Path. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk