Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pushing the classical music envelope

'In his short life and his art, the French Canadian composer Claude Vivier was a man diving, often recklessly, into the ultimate…. And from the edge of experience, he began to bring back, in the years leading up to his death in 1983, a new sound.' – Paul Griffiths, The New York Times
I recently asked Who is pushing the classical envelope? My header photo shows a little-known figure who certainly pushed the classical music envelope and in the process created a new sound world that is ripe for rediscovery.

Claude Vivier, was born to unknown parents in Montreal in 1948. After adoption his education prepare him for the priesthood until he was expelled from his seminary for "immature behaviour". But his religious training had awakened another vocation and he went on to study music, first in Montreal and then in Europe where his teachers included Karlheinz Stockhausen. In 1976 Vivier visited Japan, Bali and other Eastern countries and their musical traditions influenced his composing style. He wrote his first opera Kopernikus, which he described as "a ritual opera of death" in Canada in 1980. After this he came under the influence of the French spectralist composers whose computer techniques have been developed more recently by Jonathan Harvey.

In 1982 Claude Vivier moved to Paris. The biography on his publisher's website says "Vivier was open about his homosexuality" and on the night of March 12 1983 he was murdered by a male prostitute he had met in a bar earlier that evening. His last work, the unfinished Glaubst du an die Unsterblichkeit der Seele for voices, narrator, two synthesizers, three percussionists and electronics, is notorious for containing a prophecy of his death.

Although Vivier's music is influenced by the French spectralists it is a mistake to categorise him into a particular stylistic school. His composing style is unique and identifying him with the esoteric and electronic world of the spectralists may be one explanation for the puzzling neglect of his music. The introductory quote from Paul Griffiths is very revealing. Paul writes that Vivier "began to bring back... a new sound". At first "to bring back" something "new" sounds contradictory. But it is a perfect description of Vivier's special sound world which explores the edge of experience while still sounding disconcertingly familiar.

The CD seen below provides an excellent introduction to Claude Vivier's music. It is recorded by the Radio Symphony Orchestra of the WDR (West German Radio) conducted by Peter Rundel and percussionist Christian Dierstein for the Kairos label* and captures three of Vivier's later non-electronic compositions. It is a measure of the neglect of his music that these are the first recordings of two of the works. Orion from 1979 is the only work by Vivier to have been performed at the BBC Proms, it was given its UK premiere during last season by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Charles Dutoit. It is also the first of Vivier's works to use the layered overtones associated with the spectralist school.

The second work by Claude Vivier on the disc is Siddhartha for orchestra in eight groups. This is inspired by Hermann Hesse's Buddhist novella of the same title and hints at other Teutonic influences in its German title Siddhartha, für Orchester in acht Gruppen. Composed in 1976 to a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation commission, Siddhartha is considered by some to be Vivier's finest composition. Which makes its virtual absence from the performed repertoire and CD catalogue a complete mystery. The third work on the CD, Cinq chansons pour percussion, is exactly what the title says, five orchestral 'songs' (in the Asian meaning of the word) for percussion. This late work should be in the repertoire alongside the 20th century percussion masterpieces of Steve Reich, Edgard Varèse, John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Carlos Chavez and Lou Harrison.

In a nicely considered response to my post on pushing the classical music envelope Antoine Leboyer reminded us the priority was 'art not enjoyment'. Claude Vivier lived his all too brief life to the full. But he did not seek approval, and that is the drug that is today sapping the life force out of classical music. Instead he applied his energies to creating a new sound while staying true to his art. For tangible evidence look no further than the excellent Kairos CD from Peter Rundel, Christian Dierstein and the Radio Symphony Orchestra of the WDR.

'The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!' - Jack Kerouac 'On the road'.

* The innovative and independent Kairos label also brought us Kurtág's Ghosts.

Also available via Facebook and Twitter. Header photo of Claude Vivier is credited to La Ligue canadienne des compositeurs and was taken at their meeting in Windsor in 1981. The Kairos CD of Claude Vivier's music was bought at retail. 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, August 30, 2010

Music they will like tomorrow

Manifesto - The origin of this collection lies in a statement of fact, the evidence of a refusal. No Format. You can't be more explicit.

For the very simple reason that, either too fragile, too radical, too singular, too typecast, too elitist, too popular, too adult, too puerile, too mature, too immature, too crossbred, too recognition-demanding, too melodic, too improvised, too modern or too timeless - all the kinds of music published here would never have found room in the false musicscape manufactured by the taste-formatting logic today reigning over the record-industry. Too much, too much, too much - the average is out of scope ! Where is it, then? For, finally, it exists : that luxuriant diversity brimming over from its categories, exploding all systems.

And at the other end of the chain, you exist also, as "short-cut" music-lovers - all of you different in your confused desires for the unheard-of and the unexpected, and all similar, too, when the unknown asserts itself and, as if by magic, reveals itself the object of your most deeply-embedded fantasies...

It is precisely because you never know what you desire in advance that No Format exists today.

With no precise aesthetic orientation, but with true artistic demands; without ideological racism, but against all forms of uniformity - in an authentic spirit of curiosity with regard to others, open to all visions of the world, all poetries, all experiences and all musical expressions, No Format, a genuine breath of fresh air, does not so much fill a void as it opens a breach.

Let it carry you away !
That manifesto is a refreshing contrast to the usual music industry PR crapola that arrives in my inbox every day, even if it has lost a little in translation. No Format is a new French label; I don't need to tell you much more about it as their own words coupled with one of the slickest music websites I've seen for some time say it all.

No Format came to my attention via their CD Chamber Music featuring kora player Ballaké Sissoko and cellist Vincent Segal. Recorded in Bamako, Mali this mellow disc manages to avoid the usual over-sweetness and lack of variety that dog many kora releases. Chamber Music does exactly what is says in the manifesto, plus it comes with some very interesting 'no format' documentation.

William Glock, that champion of Pierre Boulez and new music in general, was also a disciple of the 'no format' approach during his time at the BBC in the early 1960s and he described his programming philosophy as follows:

'In this respect I have remained an enthusiastic disciple of [Lord] Reith, and can remember very early on an occasion at Broadcasting House when, to Lord Pilkington's sudden enquiry as to what I wanted to offer BBC listeners, I said without hesitation: 'What they will like tomorrow.''
When will they ever learn?

Now on Facebook and Twitter. William Glock quote is from Notes in Advance: An Autobiography in Music. Chamber Music was bought at retail from Prelude Records. 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

From Sufi to Mahler


That headline comes from here and sums up my idiosyncratic little blog perfectly. From Sufi to Mahler, and much in between.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Blame me for the header collage. 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

Sunday, August 29, 2010

There should be no dividing line

There was no aspect of human existence which did not exercise some fascination for him and around which he did not allow his mind and fertile imagination to play; and where, as a young man, I had been brought up in a world in which the secular and religous were separate, he insisted that in poetry, music, art and life they were one, and that there should be no dividing line.
That is Leonard Elmhirst writing about the Bengali poet, composer and educationalist Rabindranath Tagore. With his American wife Dorothy, Leonard Elmhirst founded Dartington School which was modelled on Tagore's educational experiment at Santiniketan in Bengal. The summer school at Dartington has made a major contribution to contemporary music; the musicians who have participated in it include Peter Maxwell Davies, Igor Stravinsky, Maderna Boulez, Luciano Berio and Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Sir William Glock presided over the summer school for some years.

In 1913 Rabindranath Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his collection of poems Gitanjali (Song Offerings). A number of composers have set Tagore's poetry including Frank Bridge, Rued Langgaard, Manuel Ponce, Jonathan Harvey and, most famously, Alexander Zemlinsky in his Lyric Symphony.

Rabindranath Tagore championed the culture of his native Bengal and considered the lyrics of the Bauls, the mystic minstrels of the region, to be one of the glories of Indian civilisation. The Bauls practise a syncretic religion and syncretic forms of worship, which reconcile disparate and sometimes contrary beliefs, hold a particular fascination for musicians. Theosophy is a syncretic religion and this synthesis of Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism attracted in varying degrees Alexander Scriabin, Gustav Holst, Edmund Rubbra, Dane Rudhyar, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Cyril Scott, and John Foulds.

Elements of Tantra, Sufi Islam, Vaishnava Hinduism and Buddhism are incorporated into the Bauls tradition which draws its adherents mainly from Sufi Muslims and Vaishnava Hindus. The definining feature of Bauls, whose name means 'madcap', is that, unlike the Sufis, they are not seekers who mourn their separation from God. Instead they decry organised religion and believe that the divine exists within and can be released by joyful celebration.

Music plays a central role in this joyful celebration and the Bauls are known by their songs and by their living example, rather than for their doctrine or secret practices. The music of the Bauls is derived from Indian ragas but uses its own structures and forms. An important role is played by the ektara, this is a single-stringed instrument descended from the gopiyantra said to have been played by Krishna's cowherd maidens. My header image is one of a number of CDs of music from the Bauls of Bengal; this one is an excellent compilation titled A Man of Heart on the Italian label Amiata Records.

Allen Ginsberg, sometime lyricist for Philip Glass, travelled to Santiniketan in 1962 after reading Rabindrath Tagore's translation of Baul lyrics. Later the great Baul singers Purna Das and Lakhan Das Baul met Mick Jagger in France and recorded at his studio there, travelled to New York, were taken up by Bob Dylan's manager Albert Grossman and worked in Dylan's studio near Woodstock. Purna Das and Lakhan Das Paul appeared alongside Dylan on the cover of John Wesley Harding which can be seen below. Which takes me back to the start of this post, there should be no dividing line.


* More Dylan artwork here.

** Bede Griffiths, who
once met Cornelius Cardew, developed his own syncretic blend of Hinduism and Christianity. Read more in This man is dangerous.

*** My header quote is from
The Elmhirsts of Dartington, the Creation of a Utopian Community by Michael Young. Still available from Dartington via that link and well worth seeking out for, among other things, the story of Dartington's little known American connection.

**** The recently published
The Honey Gatherers by Mimlu Sen is about the Bauls and their musical tradition and is recommended. There is a linked CD which I have not hear.

Also on Twitter and Facebook. The Honey Gatherers by Mimlu Sen was borrowed from Norwich Millenium Library. The CD A Man of Heart and The Elmhirsts of Dartington by Michael Young were bought at retail. 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

Your predictable diatribe

JB has left a new comment on your post "Scarcely better than a first run-through":

Your comments on the performance of Sibelius 5 [sic] seem correct to me. From the opening bars to less than impressive conclusion it was obvious that Robertson had not grasped the epic nature of this work. But why link it to your predictable diatribe against the BBC etc. ? The problem certainly wasn't the quality of the playing of the orchestra but the uninspired direction.When did you last hear the orchestra live? You do them an injustice.
I think it would be useful to respond to the email above in some detail. On Aug 26 I watched the BBC Symphony Orchestra Prom on television. It was immediately apparent that the performance of Sibelius' Second Symphony (not Fifth as stated in the email) was particularly poor, both in interpretation and playing. But at that point I decided not to write about it because I knew it would inevitably produce reactions like the one above. But on Aug 28 I read Geoffrey Norris' Telegraph review and this prompted me to post because "such a level of invective from an established critic is rare". However, before writing the piece I listened to the symphony again via iPlayer to confirm my impressions.

To offset allegations of bias I based the post on the views of an established critic rather than my own. I opened with a long quote from Geoffrey Norris, emphasised the words were his and not mine and I restated some key criticisms he made which apply to the playing as well as the conducting. I also stated that David Robertson "is a fine conductor of contemporary music" and as a contribution to balance highlighted the excellent performance of the Turnage piece in the first half and stated that all musicians have bad days. Additionally, to add balance I said "Others may have a different view" and linked to a far more positive Guardian review of the concert.

My post actually only contains two criticism of the BBC. The first is to ask whether the poor performance could have been avoided if the BBC Proms planner had programmed a work other than the Sibelius symphony. The second was to ask when the decline in playing quality of the BBC Symphony Orchestra would be reversed. The latter question is based on a subjective view, the former is not and is ignored in the email above.

As I state in my post I watched the Prom on BBC 4 TV, the sound came via a very high quality audio system which has been documented here previously. I last heard the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the concert hall in July 2006 and last heard the Berlin Philharmonic and Vienna Philharmonic live in the 1980s. Does this debar me from writing about these orchestras? Of course On An Overgrown Path has themes which may irritate some readers. But so does BBC Radio 3. The difference is the UK public pays for one via a mandatory tax and not the other.

Following the link in the first line of the email above reveals that 'JB' hides behind anonymity. This is entirely predictable and in line with similar responses to previous articles about BBC Radio 3. I am quite happy to debate future posts, but only in response to readers who put their full identity where their mouth is.

* My 2009 post 'No such thing as a bad review' is not entirely irrelevant.

Also available via Facebook and Twitter. Header image is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2010. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Scarcely better than a first run-through

The second half of the concert was given over to a truly dire performance of Sibelius’s Second Symphony. Generally speaking, even boring performances can be interesting from the point of view of divining why they are so dull, but this one charted new realms of ennui. Tension was slack, phrasing unrefined, atmosphere negligible. Degrees of light and shade, together with other subtle details of harmony and emphasis that give the score life, went for nought. Key points of emotional frisson were missed. Moments of crucial structural significance were glossed over, the build-up of excitement towards the finale coming across as distinctly matter-of-fact. Lacking as it did any assertive or communicative ideas on interpretative strategy, the performance was scarcely better than a first run-through.
Geoffrey Norris tells it like it is in his Telegraph review of David Robertson's Aug 26 Prom with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Quite rightly Norris praises the performance of Mark-Anthony Turnage's glittering but unmemorable 'Hammered Out' and Gil Shaham's exquisite interpretation of Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto in the first half of the Prom. But the worst was certainly left to last. Please note the following are Geoffrey Norris' words, not mine - phrasing unrefined... distinctly matter-of-fact... scarcely better than a first run-through...

Of course musicians, like everyone else, have bad days in the office. But such a level of invective from an established critic is rare. Others may have a different view, but having watched the Prom on BBC 4 TV I can only agree with Geoffrey Norris' review. Could the "dire performance" have been avoided if David Robertson, who is a fine conductor of contemporary music, had been given a more suitable work to conduct? When will the inexorable sad decline of the BBC Symphony Orchestra under its absentee chief conductor Jirí Belohlávek be reversed? And have the omnipresent applause between movements and final ovation ever been less appropriate than at this Prom?

It is embarrassing to compare the once-great BBC Symphony Orchestra playing Sibelius with a youth orchestra playing a not dissimilar Rachmaninov symphony. But nevertheless I will, because the comparison is quite simple. Just reverse virtually every pejorative term used by Geoffrey Norris in the review above and you will know how the Suffolk Youth Orchestra played in their recent Snape Prom. Roll on the unblocking of classical music's arteries.

Also available via Twitter and Facebook. Photo of David Robertson via Alex Conway. 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, August 27, 2010

May I say a word about André Rieu?

May I say a word about André Rieu? It is easy to look down at him and his style of presentation, to sneer at it as schlager or easy listening or glorified elevator muzak or whatever. I've done it myself.

But, to my own considerable surprise, I find myself less and less sympathetic with such criticisms, and more and more embarrassed to have indulged in it myself. He is providing -- dare I say it? -- innocent, wholesome pleasure to millions of people, many of whom have never been afforded the opportunity to develop sophisticated classical music tastes. My mother-in-law, who grew up in a poor neighborhood near the Chicago stockyards and certainly never had exposure to classical music growing up, enjoys her Rieu CD and video very much.

And the more I think about it, the more I can't find anything wrong with that. For it seems to me that to find fault with someone else's musical pleasure is at best presumptuous and at worst just rank snobbism.

As much as I admire artists of uncompromising ideals, I can no longer be in sympathy with them when they tear down somebody else's aesthetic, howsoever "cowpat" they think it may be.

By all means let's encourage active and critical listening. But let's also acknowledge, without condescension, that some people's personal level of active listening will be satisfied by musicians like André Rieu. If they never develop an appreciation for Elliott Carter ... so what?

Dave Harmon
This persuasive comment was added to Who is pushing the classical envelope?. I cannot disagree with Dave's reality check. But I would say that my post was about reaching young audiences and that the the point of juxtaposing Lady Gaga with André Rieu in the header image was not to take a swipe at him, but to suggest that classical music needs to come up with something much more radical than André Rieu if it is to break into the youth market. Yes, he sells shed loads of records, gives people pleasure and stays at the top of the classical charts. But André Rieu is simply extending classical music's traditional middle aged audience. Who is going to take it to the elusive younger audience?

Available on Twitter and Facebook. Image credit Reader's Digest. 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

Speakers' corner


Travelling with music is in the news. Next week On An Overgrown Path takes off by plane to Languedoc for a few bars rest. We are travelling light so I am experimenting with the XMI X-mini II speaker for use with my iPod nano, see the photo above. Initial results have been very impressive. The mini speaker weighs just 400 gramms, plays for eleven hours using an internal battery charged via the supplied USB lead, gives very acceptable sound aided by the vacuum behind the miniature drive unit and costs just £12.99 delivered. Of course it does not compare with full-sized speakers. But the XMI X-mini II does exactly what it says on the packet and is a very sociable supplement to the trusty Sennheiser PX 200 headphones I travel with.

We are flying to Perpignan with Ryanair. I have used this airline many times because they fly from London Stansted, which is our nearest major airport. No, they do not win prizes for courtesy, but nor do they claim to. But last December I returned from Marseilles to Stansted with Ryanair for just 14 euros including all taxes and the flight arrived early. With Ryanair, as with the XMI X-mini II speaker, you get what it says on the packet. Which means I strongly advise anyone using Ryanair to read very carefully what it says on the packet, particularly about cabin baggage. And don't believe anything anyone tells you on the phone.

There are always two sides to a story. Many people who have had different experiences have become friends of a Facebook page called Musicians Against Ryanair and I hope the airline takes notice of their complaints. I have not trawled through the 12,928 musicians currently "against Ryanair" on Facebook. But I cannot help wondering if any of them are among the many who are, "off the record", also against what is happening at BBC Radio 3. If so, would they put their name on a Facebook page called Musicians againt BBC Radio 3?

Yes, label me obsessed.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Photo is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2010. XMI X-mini II mini speaker was bought on Amazon. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Who is pushing the classical envelope?

We all think of Lady Gaga as a real envelope pusher: she's doing new things in music, performance, and with videos right now; her costumes are otherworldly; and she refuses to be tagged as any kind of "type" at all. Whether or not you like her music, she's a good inspiration for anyone who's feeling frustrated by conventions or who just needs a pick-me-up after a tough day at school or work. But she's not the only eccentric in music history.
Reaching new audiences remains a preoccupation for classical music. Which means the quote above, from a website targeted at college age readers, makes interesting reading. The article showcases videos of ten entertainers who paved the way for Lady Gaga's liberating style and, unsurprisingly, not one of them is a classical musician. Which raises some interesting questions.

Who is pushing the classical envelope? Is classical music frustrated by conventions? Should it be making better use of the new digital tools? Does classical music have enough eccentrics? Videos and costumes are powerful words in the copy above, so does theatre have a role in the concert hall? Should audiences be able to see the music? Ravi Shankar played at Woodstock, Morton Feldman didn't; is world music popular with young people because it follows rock rather than classical performance conventions? Should classical music be performing outside the comfort zone? Was the great artist seen below, who combined exemplary musicianship with a love of music from the non-formal scene, the kind of eccentric classical music needs?

More questions than answers. But there is another important question, does the classical envelope actually need pushing? All the links above point to articles on this blog about envelope pushing; but it is also true to say that I have taken a dovish position regarding new methods of presenting classical music. But just recently I have had cause to question that position.

On Sept 5 Future Radio is broadcasting an exclusive interview I have just recorded with a senior musician who I have tremendous respect for. And in that interview, in answer to a question about the future of classical music, my guest says "Nobody should be deprived of classical music, least of all by silly conventions". Watch this space, meanwhile here is the link to Lady Gaga.


Now on Facebook and Twitter @overgrownpath. Image background FanPop, centre image is, of course, the classical chart topping André Rieiu. 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, August 25, 2010

How social is your media?


No apologies for returning again to the vexed question of the BBC. Five orchestras, the BBC Singers, the Proms, the biggest new music commissioning programme in the world and a total classical music budget £51.6m are all controlled by the BBC. Which means that everyone involved in, or listening to, classical music in the UK is affected by the BBC, as are many others around the world.

The uncovering here this week that the BBC was using beta software to monitor blogs, Twitter and other social media could have been embarassing for the corporation. But it was handled in exemplary fashion by the BBC's online and technology team who quickly and honestly responded to my story and explained what was going on. This response is consistent with my previous experience of the BBC technology staff; they work in an open and collaborative manner that contrasts sharply with some of their colleagues in programme making areas. It is probably not a coincidence that the video about this blog and my adventures in internet radio made for the 2007 Cambridge International Radio Conference was commissioned via Nick Reynolds who is a part of the BBC technology team and edits the BBC internet blog.

Nick has recently commissioned an independent report on the BBC's approach to accountability in its use of social media and an executive summary of that report can be read here. Blogs are one of the most important manifestations of social media, and a quick review of Radio 3's activities in this area is illuminating. Their website offers a blog which is described as follows:
The Radio 3 blog is a place where the Controller of Radio 3 and Director of BBC Proms Roger Wright and some of his colleagues and guests will discuss Radio 3, the Proms, the BBC performing groups.
If that description doesn't say it all, the fawning posts and lifeless comments on the blog do. Then there were last year's paid 'official Radio 3 bloggers', who were no more than carefully vetted Radio 3 fellow travellers. That one quietly fizzled out when their few readers realised the official blogs were just another PR platform for the station. Which leaves the Radio 3 messageboards; the posts on these rarely rise above the usual online nose picking so it is probably best they are hidden behind a 2 point type link at the foot of the Radio 3 homepage.

BBC Radio 3's use of social media reflects the 'control freak' mentality currently prevailing at the station. Regular readers will be familiar with my account of the station's clumsy attempt to influence bloggers. Also documented here was my truncated appearance on a BBC Radio Five Live discussion of the Proms during which I was told that negative comments were not allowed as Proms director Roger Wright was not on the programme to answer them. (In which case why was I invited onto the programme?) Meanwhile the full agenda of Radio 3's new generation artist scheme and world routes academy are hidden from public scrutiny courtesy of the Freedom of Information Act exemption for information held by the BBC for purposes of journalism, art or literature.

BBC Radio 3's senior management could learn an awful lot about openness and accountability from their colleagues in the online and technology departments. For their first case study they should read Roo Reynolds' disarming and winning response to my typically acerbic story about BBC Buzz. Then they should read the response channeled through a talking head to my similarly acerbic 2006 post which revealed a Radio 3 choral evensong broadcast as a fraud.

Header image was taken by me at the opening concert of the 2006 BBC Proms season. It appeared previously in BBC Proms- summer in the city and is (c) On An Overgown Path 2010. This post is, of course, also available via the social media of Facebook and Twitter. 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, August 24, 2010

Why Malicious?

'Mahler Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor. John Barbirolli made this recording over three days in July 1969 at Watford Town Hall, near London, while fighting depression and alcohol addiction...' - Why Mahler? by Norman Lebrecht
'But in spite of the refuge of hard work the effect of depression in his last years was that his life-tempo slowed down notwithstanding drugs. It was no wonder that by taking these 'pills to purge melancholy' he gave uncharitable, malicous people the impression that he was drunk, an impression fostered by the knowledge that he always carried a flask of whisky and a bottle of soda water with him (also by his indistinct speech caused by his stubborn refusal to wear his dentures, and perhaps, too, by his tremulous hands - in fact a herditary Barbirolli trait.)' - Barbirolli, Conductor Laureate by Michael Kennedy.
I can't wait for Why Stockhausen?

Now on Facebook and Twitter @overgrownpath. Photo shows John Barbirolli conducting the New York Philharmonic and is credited to the Barbirolli Society. Why Mahler by Norman Lebrecht (ISBN 9780571260782)was borrowed from Norwich Millenium Library. Barbirolli by Michael Kennedy was bought at retail. 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 want my work to scare me

Since leaving Hollywood, I have had the healthy and sobering experience of constantly working with music that is invariably better than any performance of it can be. It keeps final goals always out of reach and it means that boredom is a very rare occurence. I have always found it necessary for my work to scare me. It doesn't do any good to be totally secure in the knowledge that tomorrow's effors will not be too difficult, and that they will, with rare exception, be accepted with praise. Nowadays, worry and self-doubt are room-mates of mine. I'm frightened by the glory of the music I have to work with, and plagued by personal inadequacies. In my profession, triumphs and failures are allowed to be more private, and mass opinions neither make nor break a lifetime career.
Thought for the day from André Previn writing in his 1992 memoir of the movie industry No Minor Chords. What a pity that in 2010 extravagant praise, in the form of self-serving 'sticky buns', has become the currency of classical music and that mass opinions now make and break careers.

My header image is the LP release of a Previn recording that can be categorised as a 'classic' by dint of still being the best recorded version and remaining in the EMI catalogue more than a quarter of a century after its first release. André Previn's complete Prokofiev 'Romeo and Juliet' ballet dates from 1973. Producer Christopher Bishop, the engineer Christopher Parker and all involved share the credit for this classic of the gramophone, as does the incomparable acoustic of the Kingsway Hall.

There is rather a delightful irony to this post. As recounted here before, after switching from the movies to the classics Previn was keen to distance himself from Hollywood. Yet the cover art for the LP release of this classic recording of his was actually created in Hollywood. It is the work of the Native American artist Dick Ellescas who worked extensively in the movie industry and who, strangely, had a predilection for the jugendstil style seen in the Prokofiev cover.

During the 1970s EMI's classical empire was managed by the International Classical Division in London while the cover art was produced by the graphic studios of Angel Records on Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles. For a while I had the task of trying to manage the infernal triangle of the West Coast of America, the West End of London and self-opinionated musicians. My work certainly scared me, but, sadly, my failures were not so private.

Now on Facebook and Twitter @overgrownpath. André Previn's No Minor Chords was bought at retail, his Romeo and Juliet LP set was an EMI factory 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

Monday, August 23, 2010

BBC Buzz uncovered

Roo Reynolds - BBC has left a new comment on your post "Mysterious BBC Buzz":

I wondered when someone would notice. Congratulations for being the first.

As you've spotted, we've been developing a tool that finds where people are discussing BBC programmes so we can link back to them from the relevant programme page. It shows where the 'buzz' is around our programmes, and helps people find relevant and interesting blog posts about that programme. As you've also seen, there was previously a prototype of this same idea called Shownar, which BERG built for us at http://shownar.com/. That prototype has closed down now, but we've been busy taking what we learned from it and building something which integrates directly with our programme pages.

Although the new system it still not quite live yet, we recently started using it to find some relevant blog posts that refer to BBC Radio and TV programmes. While we're ironing out the last few wrinkles, it's useful to test out the processes and get some links in the system ready for when we launch. That's why you've spotted a visit from our moderation tool but the link back to your site hasn't (yet) appeared on the programme page. Sorry for any confusion.

Thanks for being interested, and I hope you'll like the system when it does launch in a few weeks.

Roo Reynolds - BBC
As Norman Lebrecht famously wrote:
Classical blogs are spreading but their nutritional value is lower than a bag of crisps. Unlike financial blogs, which yield powerful and profitable secrets, classical web-chat is opinion-rich and info-poor.
This bag of crisps starts its seventh year of blogging tomorrow. More on the power of blogs here.

Also on Facebook and Twitter @overgrownpath. Photo is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2010. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Last fight of the Proms?


A possible strike by BBC staff over pay and pensions threatens the Prom on Sept 9. To counter the threat the BBC senior management trots out its talking heads. Which means BBC Radio 3 controller and Proms director Roger Wright is taken for a quick canter through the standard defence of his annual £215,322 salary and £16,405 personal expenses in today's Guardian.

The Guardian is, of course, resolutely pro-BBC management. As one would expect from a paper whose classical music critic splits his time between the paper and Radio 3. When the Guardian gave Roger Wright a platform to set out the party line in July a BBC staff member emailed me describing the station controller as an apparatchik. That is just one of many similar emails I have received from within the BBC. They all express support for the views on Radio 3 published here and confirm what the RAJAR figures and listeners are saying; there is something rotten in the state of Langham Place.

But the dissenting emails also all ask for the views of the BBC staff who write them to be 'off the record' and I, of course, respect those requests. But now that the discontent of rank and file BBC staff over pay and pensions is out in the open, isn't it time that internal discontent over creative policies is made public in the same way?

* Header photo shows classical musicians making a very public statement of discontent. It was taken on the picket line at the time of the 1980 dispute between the BBC management and Musicians Union over plans to disband the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra; a dispute which, thankfully, the musicians won. Read the full story here.

Also on Facebook and Twitter @overgrownpath. 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

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mysterious BBC Buzz


When I post here about a BBC programme my traffic logs show a visitor with this URL prefix arriving on my site -
www.live.bbc.co.uk/buzztracker/buzz/moderation/.... Tracing that link back leads me to the BBC Buzz website, which I must confess I have not heard of and which doesn't appear on search engine results, although an earlier similar service (which also monitored this blog) does. But once you have found BBC Buzz there is this quite clear explanation of its purpose, although there is no mention as to whether the service has links to the oddly similarly named Google Buzz:
Buzz is what's being said about a programme. We've built a tool that finds where on blogs, Twitter and other online communities people are discussing BBC programmes, and presents links to them on the relevant programme page. If people are talking about a programme, a section called 'Buzz about this programme' appears on its programme page. Clicking on the links in that section will take you to online conversations about that programme. If you want to see more buzz about that programme, you can do so by visiting the programme's dedicated buzz page by clicking on the 'See all buzz for this programme' link in the buzz section.
The BBC Buzz website also clearly explains:
These pages aren't about creating hype around BBC programmes, however; they're about reflecting what people are already saying. We don't even mind if they don't like our programmes; both positive and negative views will appear on these pages ... Are the links moderated? Yes, all blogs and messageboards are checked against our guidelines before they appear on bbc.co.uk. We're just checking for unsuitable content though; most sites are fine and pass our criteria easily.
Which all sounds like a very good idea to someone who blogs and uses Twitter and Facebook. But one thing puzzles me. Last week I published a post quoting an email from a reader pointing out a factual error by presenter Rob Cowan on BBC Radio 3's Breakfast programme on Aug 18, an error which was repeated on the station's website; the reader's email, coincidentally, also referred to Radio 3 as "a simpering, dumbed down station."

Here is the link to the programme page and, despite On An Overgrown Path being tracked, I can't see a 'Buzz about the programme' section. Have I missed something? Or is BBC Buzz not yet operational (and if not why is it tracking my blog?)? Or....?

Explanations are very welcome - and have now been received.

Also on Facebook and Twitter @overgrownpath, but perhaps not BBC Buzz. 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 V1.1 23/08

Stifling the voice of knowledge

Throughout human history, believers have waged war against one another. Gnostics and mystics have not. People are only too prepared to kill on behalf of a theology or faith. They are less disposed to do so on behalf of knowledge. Those prepared to kill for faith will have a vested interest in stifling the voice of knowledge.
Topical food for thought from The Inquisition by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh who are best known for being the co-authors, together with Henry Lincoln, of the controversial The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. There has been considerable criticism of both these books and of the role assigned to Saint Dominic in the Albiginsian Crusade and the subsequent Inquisition.

A far more scholarly approach is found in the meticulously researched documentation accompanying Jordi Savall's 3 CD set The Forgotten Kingdom - The Tragedy of the Cathars which warns that many of the novels about the Albigensian Crusade "substantially distort the historical facts". In his impressive introduction to The Forgotten Kingdom Jordi Savall laments "the destruction of that remarkable civilisation which was "the land of Oc" and reminds us that, literary mistreatments notwithstanding, the Albigensian crusade stands alongside other historical genocides as proof that "absolute evil is always the evil inflicted by man on man". Which returns this post to its topical starting point.

* More on The Forgotten Kingdom here. The land of Oc, or Occitania, was the home of the troubadors who practised the art of courtly love celebrated in David Munrow's eponymous album which features here.

Now on Facebook and Twitter @overgrownpath. Header photo taken by me in Morocco and (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

Saturday, August 21, 2010

They have no time for childishness

When the Europeans introduced electric lighting into newly occupied Tangier, a shaykh remarked: 'If these people were obliged to pray five times a day, they would have no time for childishness!' There is more in this observation than meets the eye.
That pithy observation comes from Titus Burckhardt's inspirational book Fez, City of Islam. Among the works performed in recent years at the Fez sacred music festival have been Jordi Savall's Jerusalem and Abed Azrié's Gospel of John. I took the photo above in Morocco, but not in Tangier or Fez; it is the souk in Essaouira at the time of jum'ah, the Friday midday prayer that is obligatory for all male adult Muslims. French gypsy musician Titi Robin, 'among us there are no castes', played at the 2010 Essaouira Gnawa festival to rave reviews. The adhān, the Islamic call to prayer, features in Serbian composer Aleksandra Vrebalov's ...hold me, neighbour, in this storm... on the Kronos Quatet's Floodplain CD which received a heads up in Is it me or the music? On the same disc is Israeli composer Betty Olivero's Neharót Neharót which I wrote about in ECM in focus and which is performed in by the Britten Sinfonia in today's (Aug 21) midday (shame it is not Friday) BBC Prom. Ney player Ercan Irmak performance of the tekbir, the Turkish call to prayer, received an honourable mention in Searching for the Sufi soul. And staying with Sufism in Avoid three kinds of master I wrote that Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens, who guested with Jimi Hendrix in Castles made of sand,) miraculously captures the mystery of Islam in his setting of the adhān on his Footsteps in the Light CD and went on to link Stockhausen to Sufism via trumpeter Markus Stockhausen (son of Karlheinz) who plays on Dhafer Youssef's genre-bending Electric Sufi album. You can also hear the adhān on another genre bending album, Mercan Dede's Seyahatname, which mixes Sufi sounds with dance beats and ambient electronic music. Titi Robin, Markus Stockhausen and others appear in my wide ranging Sounds of Sufism podcast which you can read about here and listen to here.

Now on Facebook and Twitter @overgrownpath. Photo is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2010. Titus Burckhardt's Fez, City of Islam (ISBN 0946621179) was bought at retail. 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, August 20, 2010

Different gestures from different conductors

During 1968 Barbirolli acceded to a plea to musicians by Rafael Kubelík not to conduct in countries which supported the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia. By this splendid gesture he deprived himself of the chance to conduct the recording of Die Meistersinger which EMI had hoped to make with the Dresden company in East Germany.
Quote is from Barbirolli by Michael Kennedy. Header photo shows Herbert von Karajan signing autographs outside Dresden's Lukaskirche. It was taken in November 1970 during a break from recording sessions for EMI's Die Meistersinger. Karajan was recording the opera with the Dresden State Orchestra and Opera Chorus.

1968 will be remembered as a political annus horribilis rather than the centenary of the first performance of Die Meistersinger. But a centenary production of the opera in London made the reputation of another great Wagnerian whose music also sounds better than his politics.

Others made different gestures. Rafael Kubelík had left Czechoslovakia following the Communist coup in 1948 vowing never to return until the country was liberated. He kept this promise and finally returned to conduct Smetana's Má Vlast at the Prague Spring Festival in 1990 following the overthrow of Communism. Read the story here.

I was hoping that moving 1990 performance would be on YouTube, but my search has drawn a blank. Instead here is Kubelík conducting the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Moldau from Má vlast in 1984.



Now on Facebook and available via Twitter @overgrownpath. Barbirolli by Michael Kennedy was bought at retail price. Photo credit EMI. 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, August 19, 2010

Sticky buns from that bloody rucksack

... it avoids today's ever-increasing trend to cocky knowingness, memorably summed up long ago by [BBC Radio 3 controller] Ian McIntyre in the phrase "handing out sticky buns". 'Editorializing' of any kind was strictly forbidden under the BBC's charter, so producers were not allowed to express opinions or comment on the music in their programmes, nor even to refer to performers as 'distinguished' (they were that by definition if they broadcast for us): they were there to deliver facts.
That quote about broadcasting in the 1970s is from Leo Black's ever-illuminating BBC Music in the Glock Era and Beyond.
Just before 10 this morning [Aug 18] on BBC Radio 3, Rob Cowan introduces Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 4, conducted by Karajan. After it finished he says "That was Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2....although it says no. 4 on the CD for some reason". The latter said in a very confused voice, as if the error is the CD's not his. You don't have to be a Liszt scholar to know that the orchestrations of the rhapsodies are a different beast, have different numbers and that No. 2 (piano) becomes No. 4 in the orchestral version.

More ammo for your valiant criticism of this simpering, dumbed down station, I hope.
That email is from one of my ever-illuminating readers. The BBC Radio 3 website also incorrectly identifies the orchestral Liszt Rhapsody as No. 2. Header image is the cover of a 1981 report published by the BBC and prepared at the request of, among others, Ian McIntyre. The report was prompted by an article in the late lamented Listener magazine by the senior BBC announcer Alvar Lidell in which he claimed the news on BBC radio was no longer read in an undistorted manner, but was subject to 'widespread distortion, an endemic disease arising from insinuation and implication'. And, talking of widespread distortion, Alvar Lidell unknowingly introduced Hans Keller's Piotr Zak hoax on Radio 3. More on that here.

New Facebook page here and this post is also available via Twitter @overgrownpath. The book BBC Music in the Glock Era and After by Leo Black ISBN 9780955608742 is published by Plumbago Books. Distribution is by Boydell & Brewer who supplied a review sample at my request. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Monday, August 16, 2010

Klinghoffer's Syrian connection


Arabic is the sixth most widely spoken language in the world and is the last surviving semitic language descending from the Aramaic spoken at the time of Christ. As an Arab proverb says:
'Wisdom reveals herself in the dialectic of the Greeks, the craftsmanship of the Chinese, and the language of the Arab.'
All of which makes the music media's neglect of a setting in Arabic of one of the treasures of Christendom, the Gospel of John, disappointing but predictable. And the disappointment becomes greater when the setting is revealed as by a composer whose influence has been acknowledged by none other than John Adams.

Syrian born composer Abed Azrié uses his own translation for his L'Évangile selon Jean (The Gospel of John). Abed Azrié has lived in Paris for more than thirty years and has released a succession of successful albums setting traditional and modern Arab texts to an updated style of Arab classical music that mixes ethnic instruments with synthesizers. His 1991 album Aromates was released by Nonesuch and John Adams has said that the Act 1 scene with Mamoud in The Death of Klinghoffer was influenced by Abed Azrié's music, which he was listening to while composing the scene. The subject of John Adams' opera, Leon Klinghoffer, was murdered on the cruise liner Achille Lauro by Palestinian terrorists off the coast of Syria.

Abed Azrié is humanist rather than religious and he treats John's Gospel as a literary rather than sacred treasure. L'Évangile selon Jean is scored for soloists and mixed voices with the composer singing the role of Jesus, together with an ensemble of traditional Arab instruments and a Western chamber orchestra which includes an accordion. It has been performed in Damascus, in France and at the prestigous Festival of Sacred Music in Fes, Morocco and has just been released as a 2 CD set plus DVD on Abed Azrié's own label Doutak. Below is a visually beguiling image of the text from the CD booklet.


When I came across L'Évangile selon Jean my initial reaction was scepticism, simply because so many musicians today are rolling out East meets West meets Islam meets Christianity projects with one eye on current political events and the other on the box office. But I quickly realised that L'Évangile selon Jean is different. It makes no religious or political statement other than that the Gospels are great works of literature; as indeed are the other revealed books of the monotheistic religions, the Qur'an and the Torah and the canonic texts of Hinduism and Buddhism.

L'Évangile selon Jean does not attempt any great musical statement. Traditional Arabic maqāmāt structures and scales blend seamlessly with Western sounds, just as Arabic loanwords such as alcohol, candy and guitar blend effortlessly into the English language. Similarly, the musical structure makes no great statement; instead it is fragmented and the instrumental writing is subordinated to the eloquence of the text, as Abed Azrié describes:
Over and above the two instrumental preludes there are forty four sung scenes, all short like miniatures, fragments of a far-off dream, a suite of episodes from life transcribed into music.
Credit for the success of the project must be shared by all the musicians involved. These are the young French conductor Alain Joutard who directs the French based l'Orchestre des Jeunes de la Méditerranée (Youth Orchestra of the Mediterranean) and the traditional musicans, soloists and choir from Damascus. Some of the currently fashionable world orchestras for peace could do well to study the 2010 programmes (and playing) of l'Orchestre des Jeunes de la Méditerranée which include Maurice Ohana's oratorio Llanto por Ignacio Sanchez Mejias and Steve Reich's Drumming as well as Britten and Stravinsky.

L'Évangile selon Jean is musique sans frontières par excellence as well as an invaluable celebration of the Arabic language and of the great oral tradition of the Arab world. But Abed Azrié's most remarkable achievement is that by declining to make any great statements he has made a very great statement indeed.


* Buyer be aware: Yes, I am enthusiastic about this project. Abed Azrié has lived in France since 1967 and seems to be devoid of any political motivations other than the purely humanitarian (see this English interview), and who can do anything but admire the wonderful work of l'Orchestre des Jeunes de la Méditerranée who also commissioned this setting of the Gospel of John ? But I must give a health warning. L'Évangile selon Jean is sponsored by the petroleum company Total E & P Syrie while the Syrian Ministry of Culture has an unspecified but credited involvement. This quote from a Guardian report in July 2010 sadly says it all:
Syria's record on freedom and human rights has failed to improve in the 10 years since President Bashar al-Assad came to power, according to Human Rights Watch. The agency delivered what it called a "bleak" verdict on Assad's record on political and human rights activity, freedom of expression, torture and the treatment of the country's Kurdish minority. Virtually nothing has been done in the last decade, the report concludes.
** L'Évangile selon Jean is released on Doutak (audio samples via that link) as a 2 CD set with a bonus DVD of a full length performance with English, French, German and Arabic subtitles. The slightly dry and close miced sound of the live recording from L'Opéra de Marseille used for the audio discs favours the voices but is more than acceptable. Strangely the DVD recording was made in a different location, the opera house in Damascus. I paid the price of a single full price CD (21 euros) for this wonderfully rewarding set in the Harmonia Mundi boutique in Nantes, France. Online prices are higher but should not deter those who refuse to let the mainstream media limit their musical horizons.

New Facebook page here and this post is also available via Twitter @overgrownpath. 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

It's not about what happens


Just watched Anders Østergaard's independently produced film Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country which documents how video journalists made images of the violent protests in Rangoon in 2007 available worldwide via Norwegian based Democratic Voice of Burma. The independently produced film is a very powerful case study of how quick and dirty media is working where mainstream media is failing.

Just read Hello Everybody (title People Like Us in the US) which is an insider's account of how mainstream media gives a filtered and manipulated version of reality in the Middle East. The book's author is Dutch reporter Joris Luyendijk who was awarded the journalist of the year prize in Holland in 2006. His message is clear; mainstream media is failing because it does nothing more than reflect the views of established politicians. Or as an Israeli government media manager says in the book:
'It's not about what happens, but how it is presented on CNN.'
Talking of alternatives to mainstream media Burma VJ uses a track from Egberto Gismonti's eponymously titled 1978 solo album for ECM. On another ECM album, Sol Do Meio Dia, Egberto Gismonti played in a quartet which included percussionist Collin Walcott who was a member of the influential band Condona and Gismonti's music has been programmed by the Britten Sinfonia. Burmese opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi featured in my post Forget about heroes and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans Frontières) in Radio and re-education.

New Facebook page here and this post also is available via Twitter @overgrownpath. Burma VJ and Hello Everybody were borrowed from Norwich Millenium Library. 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. Corrected 16/10

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The music had slipped out

'The form was so open that the music had slipped out.'
That is Leo Black writing in BBC Music in the Glock Era and After about an unidentified work at the Kranichsteiner Musiktage at Darmstadt in the 1960s. Image is of a 1964 performance by Ben Vautier and Alison Knowles as part of the Fluxus Festival in New York City. Photograph is by Fluxus founder George Maciunas. Performance of Maciunas' Piano #13 (for Nam Juin Panik) here.

John Cage's experimental composition classes at the New York's New School for Social Research (topical link here) in the late 1950s contributed to the early development of Fluxus and he was later a neighbour of Fluxus founder Yoko Ono. This has meant that Cage's reputation is linked to the concept of 'anti-art' and his music is unfairly pigeon-holed as a 'difficult listen'. Which does not sit well at a time when 'easy listening' has moved from being a derided musical category to the turnkey solution to all classical music's problems.

Anyone who still needs convincing that John Cage's music is bigger than the meaningless pigeon-holes it is so often forced into should buy Brilliant Classic's new 3 CD set of his music for piano and cello. This starts with Cage's aptly titled Three Easy Pieces from 1933, progresses through his two piano transcription of Erik Satie's monodrama for voice and piano Socrates, and ends with his delightfully chewy 1978 Etudes Boreales. Incidentally, the sleeve notes say that Socrates, which lasts for just under 30 minutes, is Satie's longest work. But what is a 'work'? Is not Vexations, played as the composer instructed in its cycle of 840 repeats, a 'work'?

This new recording by pianist Giancarlo Simonacci and cellist Marco Simonacci received an advance notice here recently. Now, having heard the discs, I can only echo what I said in my previous post; this three disc set is a no brainer at around £8.99.

Forget all the divisive nonsense about difficult and easy listens. The music has not slipped out; it's simply a question of cleaning the ears of the musically educated.


* John Cage's First Construction (in Metal) is being performed at the late night BBC Prom on August 20 together with works by Cornelius Cardew, Howard Skempton and Morton Feldman.

New Facebook page here. This post is available via Twitter @overgrownpath. Photo via It's A Revolution. John Cage, music for piano and cello was bought online. BBC Music in the Glock Era and After by Leo Black ISBN 9780955608742 is published by Plumbago Books. Distribution is by Boydell & Brewer who supplied a review sample at my request. Boydell & Brewer also publish CageTalk, Dialogues with & about John Cage edited by Peter Dickinson. 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