Thursday, June 30, 2011

Who needs self-righteous bullshit artists?

'I do not know if you are aware of this, Pl, but in Gaelic Bono means "self-righteous bullshit artist"...is there anything more lame then white guys ripping off black musicians,poorly? Yes, multi-millionaires telling me I need to give money for starving kids.I remember when musicians had a conscience. It seems an eternity ago...'
That pithy comment, which was added to my recent post about U2's Glastonbury Festival gig, leads to the CD seen above, which is one of several I brought back from my recent trip to France.

Aziz Sahmaoui grew up in Marrakech, Morocco where he absorbed a range of musical influences including the healing sounds of the Gnawa masters. After studying literature he moved to France in the late 1980s and became one of the founders of the very successful Orchestre National de Barbès which combines North African rhythms with jazz and fusion. In 2005 he played on Joe Zawinul's live double album 'Vienna Nights' and went on to become a permanent member of the Zawinul Syndicate.

Sahmaoui's first solo album is titled Aziz Sahmaoui & University of Gnawa and on it he is backed by a new five piece band which mixes traditional and contemporary instruments. Martin Meissonnier is the producer and his long list of credits includes working with Don Cherry, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. The album is rooted in the Gnawa tradition but blends Moroccan and Black African sounds thanks to the three Senegalese musicians in the University of Gnawa backing band.


Yes, this is fusion music, and I wrote recently about the diluting effect of border-transcending projects such as this. But what makes Aziz Sahmaoui's new album particularly noteworthy is the message behind the music. Here is my English translation of some of the lyrics:
Is it a miracle or a new religion?
We have become the servants of the corporations
And of bad TV programmes
And scheming and colluding accountants:
In the past people were what mattered
Today it is technology
So they worship in front of computer monitors
It is a universal problem
Now books are forgotten at home
Injustice is on the horizon
As the right and left jostle for position
The good news is that some musicians do still have a conscience, you just have to look beyond the celebrity circus to find them. French independent label specialist Socadisc handles the distribution of Aziz Sahmaoui & University of Gnawa. Which is interesting because U2 record for the same corporate label as the nuns of l'Abbaye de Notre-Dame de l'Annonciation at Le Barroux in France, and their 2010 bestseller prompted me to write A musician is also a person.



* Music samples and a valuable sub-titled interview with Aziz Sahmaoui that picks up on the recurring theme of transmission in the video above:

** The outstanding sleeve art for Aziz Sahmaoui & University of Gnawa was photographed at l'Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris which featured in a 2008 post. This inspirational building is the venue for the first concert performance of Titi Robin's bullshit -free Les Rives project on November 25 2011.

Aziz Sahmaoui & University of Gnawa was bought in FNAC in Perpignan. 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 Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Who needs the complete works?


All around the world orchestras are presenting Mahler cycles, including the complete symphonies in twelve days. BBC Radio 3 has just finished grinding its way through two and a half days of British light music. In January the same station cleared its schedules for twelve days to air the complete works of Mozart. All of which makes the following comment by the Hungarian composer Sándor Balassa particularly piquant:
'To my mind Bach would be angry if he knew that the first volume of the Wohltemperiertes Klavier is performed nowadays in a single concert. The twenty-four preludes and fugues were not meant as a recital program. Or, just imagine a huge concert with 300 concerti grossi by Vivaldi played one after the other. I think, if he had to listen to it, the composer himself would have a breakdown.

A composer does not work for a complete edition of his music. He strews his pieces in time and space. If a Vivaldi concerto is programmed next to Mozart or Bruckner, nobody would be thinking the other 299 were composed in the same spirit'
What we need instead is more of the uncertainty principle.

Quote is from Three Questions for Sixty-Five Musicians by Bálint András Varga. Image credit Garden Theatre, Winter Garden, Florida. 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
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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Light, white and right is trending



Prince Charles would doubtless approve. Light, white and right - 1 is here.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

It's official - Tchaikovsky is cool


Gidon Kremer and friends play Tchaikovsky's Trio in a-minor
on the new ECM CD seen above. Do correct me if I am wrong, but I believe this is the first music by Tchaikovsky released by ECM in the label's forty-two year history. And staying on this path, which great composer and conductor declared "I hate Tchaikovsky"?

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Did John Cage write a Second Piano Concerto?


In the introduction to his book Three Questions for Sixty-Five composers Bálint András Varga refers to "John Cage's Second Piano Concerto." When I quoted this in a recent post composer and blogger Daniel Wolf took Varga to task in a comment saying:
'Cage did not write a Second Piano Concerto. He wrote one Concerto for Prepared Piano and Chamber Orchestra and a Concert for Piano and Orchestra (note that that's a Concert and not a Concerto), but no work of the title Varga mentions.'
Now in response to Daniel's comment I have received the following spirited defence of Varga's appellation from his editor at the University of Rochester Press Ralph P. Locke:
'I am the founding (and current) editor of the series in which Balint Varga's book appeared (Eastman Studies in Music, published by University of Rochester Press). It was my decision, and I stand by it, to allow Balint to refer casually to Cage's "Second Piano Concerto" in the first of his three questions to the 65 composers. We could hardly change the wording of that question, which he had asked dozens of composers over the course of several decades. I figured he had used the phrase in order to quickly distinguish the Concert for Piano and Orchestra from the Concerto for Prepared Piano and Chamber Orchestra. Nonetheless, Balint and I made sure that, in the book's index, the correct name of the work would be given in parentheses. The prepared-piano concerto has its own index entry, clearly distinguished from the "second" concerto (or non-concerto). Thus there is no problem "knowing precisely which work of Cage's was the point of reference" (to quote Daniel Wolf's objection).

A nickname or casual reference is not an error: it's simply another kind of usage that has developed (as Pliable notes in referring to a CD of "the Piano Concertos" of Cage [see image above]). Beethoven didn't write a Moonlight Sonata or Chopin a Raindrop Prelude. But musicians and concert programmers develop their own shorthand--however inauthentic or inaccurate--in order to make sure everybody knows which piece they have in mind when they're talking about it or planning on performing it.'
So did Beethoven write a Moonlight Sonata? Did Chopin write a Raindrop Prelude and John Cage a Second Piano Concerto? Well, one thing is certain, Concert for Piano and Orchestra is not a title given by the gods. But here is one that is.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Link to featured Cage Piano Concerto CD 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, June 24, 2011

Light, white and right


In April 2007 BBC Radio broadcast a profile of the black Guyanese conductor Rudolph Dunbar. Last Sunday (June 19) the BBC rebroadcast a programme about the Moroccan Master Musicians of Jajouka. Both these programmes have strong classical music connections; Rudolph Dunbar was the first black conductor of the Berlin Pilharmonic Orchestra and the 1995 rerelease of the Master Musicians' iconic first album had Philip Glass as executive producer. Yet neither of the programmes was broadcast on BBC Radio 3, instead they were both aired on Radio 4.

BBC Radio 3's love affair with the ratings honeypot of Middle England is reflected in a schedule which is increasingly light, white and right. At the 2011 BBC Proms world music is relegated to one late night concert plus two others which are transparent plugs for a BBC TV series. Of course I realise the BBC Proms is not a world music festival. But neither is it a festival of film or children's music, yet alone comedy. Which does not stop all three categories featuring prominently in the 2011 Proms season.

This weekend BBC Radio 3 is turning its schedules over to Light Fantastic, a festival of light music. There is some quite wonderful music in this genre and just a few months ago I wrote enthusiastically about Sir Adrian Boult's recording of the music of Eric Coates and other light music composers. But two and a half days of Merrie England is just too much of a good thing for this particular listener, and it is also a pity that the BBC does not realise that light music exists beyond this sceptered isle.

Can we now look forward to Colour Fantastic, a weekend-long celebration of classical musicians of colour? And will it be on BBC Radio 3 or 4?

* My in depth features about Rudolph Dunbar and the Master Musicians of Jajouka appeared here some months ahead of the BBC broadcasts. Follow the links to The Berlin Philharmonic's first black conductor and Discord among the Master Musicians.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

If it is good enough for Gustavo Dudamel...



In 117 years of Promenade Concerts at the Royal Albert Hall there have been no performances of Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar's two Piano Concertos and just a single performance of one of his two Symphonies. But interestingly the Interlude from Stenhammar's cantata The Song [Sången] Op 44 was performed by none other than Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra in 2008 and the YouTube clip above shows Dudamel rehearsing the composer's masterpiece, the Second Symphony, with the same orchestra.

Both the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra and the Interlude from The Song feature in a new 3 CD set from Dutch super-budget label Brilliant Classics, albeit without Dudamel. The new multibox makes available at a very low price BIS's pioneering vinyl releases of Stenhammar orchestral music which included the LP seen below. In these much praised recordings, which span the years 1982 to 1992, Neeme Järvi conducts the Gothenburg band in the two Symphonies and the Second Piano Concerto with Cristina Ortiz as soloist. His son Paave conducts the Malmö Symphony Orchestra and Love Derwinger in the First Piano Concerto, and the generously filled discs include five other Stenhammar works.


Stenhammar's First Piano Concerto (1893) and First Symphony (1903) are both derivative and lean heavily on Bruckner and Brahms/Tchaikovsky respectively, and the composer later distanced himself from them. After the initial success of the First Piano Concerto, which was championed by Richard Strauss and Hans Richter, Stenhammar, who also was an accomplished pianist, declined to perform the work again, while the Symphony was withdrawn without being assigned an opus number. But at a time when accessibility trumps originality it is difficult to understand why these two early works have failed to find a place on the BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM playlists.

By contrast Stenhammar's Second Symphony (1915) and one movement Second Piano Concerto (1907) are startlingly original works, but despite this they remain neglected both in the concert hall and recording studio. But is that about to change? Deutsche Grammophon have a new multi-CD box featuring Gustavo Dudamel and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra scheduled for autumn 2011 release. Repertoire is not yet confirmed, could it include Stenhammar's Second Symphony?

But back to the Brilliant Classics multibox. BIS recordings are famous for their sound quality and you only need to listen to the new transfers to understand why. Both the Symphonies are concert recordings and are none the worst for that. They are enhanced by retaining the hall ambiance betwen movements and also the final applause, as does another concert recording that I have been enjoying recently, Klaus Tennstedt's Mahler 1 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Which makes me question again whether LSO Live and other labels are doing the right thing topping and tailing concert recordings to make them sound like studio productions.

At £9.98 from Amazon for three glorious sounding CDs of Dudamel approved music the Brilliant Classics Stenhammar set is a no brainer. There is more background to the composer and the BIS recordings in my 2007 post Wilhelm Stenhammar - Excelsior!


Also on Facebook and Twitter. I bought the Brilliant Classics Stenhammar set online. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The art of the CD sleeve

Pascal Monteilhet is the unfortunate musician and the label making a rare error of judgement is Zig Zag Territoires. But don't let the sleeve put you off, Monteilhet's transcription of two of Bach's Cello Suites for the theorbo is well worth searching out. Sadly there are no posts about Shostakovich's opera The Nose, so instead let's see what an art director can do with Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. The Zig Zag Territoires disc was bought by me. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Have you had a similar experience to Lutoslawski?


The presenter of KALW 91.7 San Francisco's Music from Other Minds Richard Friedman has posted a perceptive comment on my post about Seda Röder's new CD of contemporary Turkish piano music. In it Richard asks how is it possible for deserving music such as this to reach an audience today? Which chimes with the view expressed by Bálint András Varga in his introduction to Three Questions for Sixty-Five Composers:
In addition, the interviews highlight...the tremendous significance of the radio as a provider of inspiration. Nowadays when radio stations are starved of financial resources and tend to ignore minority interests (which contemporary music no doubt represents), the statements of many composers regarding the fundamental role music broadcasts have played in their lives ought to make editors stop to ponder whether they are doing the right thing.
The first of the three questions which Bálint András Varga directs to sixty-five leading contemporary composers is:
Have you had an experience similar to Witold Lutoslawski's? He heard John Cage's Second Piano Concerto on the radio - an encounter which changed his musical thinking and ushered in a new creative period, the first result of which was his Jeux vénitiens.
Instead of making this post yet another lament for the good old days of radio let's turn it into a celebration of the power of the medium. Lutoslawski heard Cage on the radio and the direction of contemporary music changed. Are any readers prepared to share similar but more modest encounters that changed their musical thinking? Here is my starter for ten - driving to work in 1975 I was knocked sideways by the music that was being played on BBC Radio 3. It was Edmund Rubbra's Fifth Symphony. That chance encounter with a composer I was not familiar with took me down a musical path that has resonated far beyond this little blog. Have you had a similar experience?

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Three Questions for Sixty-Five Composers was provided 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

Monday, June 20, 2011

It is time to start respecting musical boundaries


Visiting the ECM website is rather like attending a Salvation Army service. You know there are worthy and wonderful things happening. But there is also a feeling of stasis. Take for instance this description of a new release:
Moroccan-born singer Amina Alaoui presents her own border-transcending project. When Alaoui sings there is “no need to discuss the origins of fado, flamenco or Al Andalusi” for the music itself explores the common crucible of the styles, and Amina’s delivery makes the interconnections impossible to miss.
The third question asked by Bálint András Varga in his invaluable book Three Questions for Sixty-Five Composers is "How far can one speak of a personal style and where does self-repetition begin?" Now I will be the first to acknowledge that in the past On An Overgrown Path has featured more than its fair share of border-transcending projects. But that it not going to stop me saying that in world music, which Philip Glass famously described as the new classical, self-repetition has not only begun but is now in a pretty advanced state. Do we really need yet another border-transcending CD featuring this week's permutation of oud, clarinet, sitar, violin, daph, saxophone, and tabla? Well, I suspect the answer is the record companies need it more than their customers. For as Virgil Thomson famously told us:
Never underestimate the public's intelligence, baby, and never overestimate its information.
Today's audience for art music certainly should not be underestimated. It has developed a healthy taste for non-Western sounds via rock music and has created a thriving market for authentic performances via early music. So why does so much non-Western music have to be drowned in a fusion sauce before it can be served up? Titi Robin recently wrote about colonial attitudes within Western music and surely it is time to stop transcending musical boundaries and instead start respecting them. Which also means respecting those traditional non-Western musicians who have worked within perfectly valid stylistic boundaries for centuries. What would be the reaction if Copland could only be played in Scotland with an improvised part for bagpipes or Elgar in China with pipa obligato?


But there is more to this than a lack of respect. Through its obsession with fusion projects the music industry has missed two important sales opportunities. The first is the demand for authentic performances of traditional non-Western music; for instance the musicologically correct Master Musicians of Jajouka's (seen above) Apocalypse Across the Sky reached the top ten of Billboard's world music chart and was chosen by two influential critics as their record of the year in 1992. The second missed opportunity is the market for the exciting fusion-free new music that is being created outside Europe and North America, and there is no better example of this genre than a remarkable new CD from Turkish pianist Seda Röder who is seen below.


Listening to Istanbul aims to introduce the unexplored world of Turkish contemporary music to an international audience. Harvard Associate Seda Röder has commissioned six works for solo piano from leading contemporary composers from Istanbul. These have been recorded on the new CD and are being performed in a series of concerts around the world. Recording venue was the Fraser Studio at WGBH Boston and the producer is Harvard Fellow and husband of the pianist Matthias Röder.

Musically the CD is a triumph. But the importance of Listening to Istanbul transcends the music. The disc showcases a new generation of Turkish composers, yet the influences on them are truly cosmopolitan and include Brian Ferneyhough, Tristan Murail, Wolfgang Rihm, Lukas Foss and Haci Arif Bey. There is not a quotation from Rumi or a mystical sounding ney to be heard on this outstanding new release, yet by respecting musical boundaries Seda Röder has created a genuinely border-transcending project. Listening to Istanbul comes from a musician owned record label and this kind of deserving low budget disc relies on classical music's viral loop to achieve any market traction. So here's hoping.


Also on Facebook and Twitter. Listening to Istanbul and Three Questions for Sixty-Five Composers were supplied as requested review samples. 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, June 19, 2011

Strike while the music is hot


Treating the arts and healthcare as purely commercial properties is certain to lead to disaster. And it is surprising just how quickly that disaster can happen. Last week I described the privately owned Clinique Médipôle Saint-Roch à Cabestany - Perpignan in France, where I recently underwent surgery, as "a disturbing mix of Gallic arrogance and ineptitude overlaid with American-style corporate crapola". Now comes the news that my poor opinion of the clinic's management is shared by more than 300 of its staff who have gone on strike in a dispute over pay and contracts, see image above from French TV news.

This industrial action means the clinic is effectively closed and most of the patients have been transferred to other hospitals in the region. All of which can be dismissed as a storm in a coffee cup in far away French Catalonia. Except that the hospital is owned by international private equity group Bridgepoint (formerly Nat West Equity Partners) which also owns a leading independent provider of health care services to the UK National Health Service and has a portfolio of other investments in Europe including the Pret a Manger sandwich chain and Leeds Bradford International Airport.

Appropriately hot music comes from the Spanish Catalan singer and composer Mayte Martin. Her album Al cantar a Manuel, see below, was on my iPod while I was in Catalonia following a recommendation by an Australian reader. Now find out what happens when market forces and music collide.


A French newspaper report of the Cabestany clinic strike is here with an English machine translation here and TV news coverage here. Still no response to my written complaints about the clinic which were directed several weeks ago to two members of the quality and patient care commission, M. Philippe Aulombard (Directeur) and Mme. Christine Pascot (Surveillant générale de l'établissement). However the elusive M. Aulombard does make an appearance in the French TV report. Overgrown Path is also on Facebook and Twitter. I bought Mayte Martin's album Al cantar a Manuel online. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Into great noise

'I am accustomed to having to compose under a strained variety of practical conditions, but the different external noises of those ambiences have had no discernible influence. I prefer to compose in a room whose quiet is disturbed only by the, relatively, nonmusical noises of a game, preferably football, on the television.'
That is Milton Babbitt, who is seen above, quoted in Three Questions for Sixty-Five Composers by Bálint András Varga. The newly published English translation of this book is essential reading for anyone interested in contemporary music and looks set to become a fixture On An Overgrown Path for quite a while. Into Great Silence is here and Jonathan Harvey on Milton Babbitt is here.

Three Questions for Sixty-Five Composers was supplied as a requested review sample by Boydell & Brewer. Also on 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

Friday, June 17, 2011

High Mass in C minor with the choir boys nude

'I want the works, long and continuous, with subtle and brazen variations in minor and major keys, ending with a shower of roses and a display of Roman candles, and possibly a High Mass in C minor with all the Priests in embroidered vestements and the choir boys nude.'
No, that is not a BBC executive envisioning classical music's contribution to the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. It is in fact Carl van Vechten writing to Brion Gysin in 1950 about the art of performance. Carl van Vechten, seen above in a self-portrait, was the American writer and photographer who famously wrote a first-hand account of the audience reaction at the 1913 premiere of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Brion Gysin was the performance artist whose patronage launched the international career of the Master Musicians of Jajouka.

Quote is from include Nothing is True but Everything is Permitted - The Life of Brion Gysin by John Geiger. Photo source is Wikipedia. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk. Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Every picture tells a story


No comment from me about that extract from Overgrown Path's traffic logs. Except to say that if enlightened of Bromley had tried the correct spelling of Petroc Trelawny even more dreadful things would have been returned.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Another pianist with a religious habit



Yesterday I pointed out that Norman Lebrecht was wrong in saying that French pianist Jean-Rodolphe Kars had entered a monastery in 1981 and had not been heard of since. But in a fascinating twist reader Leo Carey, who sparked my recent Hans Schmidt Isserstedt post, has reminded me of another French pianist who did indeed disappear into a Benedictine monastery.

Thierry de Brunhoff was born in 1933. His father was the writer and illustrator Jean de Brunhoff (1899-1937) who was famous for creating the Babar the Elephant books. When he was nine years old Thierry de Brunhoff became a pupil of Alfred Cortot at l'Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris. Brunhoff's father had died when he was just three and he was encouraged as a pianist by his mother who had also been a pupil of Cortot's. He was a favourite pupil of Cortot and his career developed in the early 1960s to include acclaimed recitals and records, notably of Schumann. Some of his recordings from this period remain available and, as seen above, YouTube offers several extracts. In the mid-1960s Brunhoff was involved in a serious car accident and, although he returned to the recording studio, his performing career was curtailed and he turned to teaching.

After a career spanning 30 years Thierry de Brunhoff entered the Benedictine monastery of En Calcat near Toulouse in 1974 as Frère Thierry-Jean. At that point the trail goes cold, other than confirmation in Feb 2011 that Brunhoff was still a member of the religious community at En Calcat. I make no claim to be an authority on Thierry de Brunhoff and the profile above is drawn from my own limited knowledge and desk research. As ever, corrections and additions from readers are very welcome.

* There is a useful article about music in the service of vocations to the priesthood which features both Jean Rodolphe Kars and Thierry de Brunhoff. The Italian original is here, an English machine translation is here.

* John Cage and a Catholic monastery may seem an unlikely combination. But I linked them in a 2009 post titled The joyful power of music.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Slipped facts

'Jean-Rodolphe Kars was born in India to Austrian-Jewish refugees and was building quite a career, in the 1970s when, under the influence of Olivier Messiaen, he retired from playing in 1981 and, like Liszt, entered holy orders. Kars went one further than Liszt: he joined a monastery and was never heard from again.'
That is Norman Lebrecht reviewing a new Deutsche Grammophon release of Liszt's piano music and, of course, he has his facts wrong. If we overlook the fast and loose use of dates the statement that "Jean-Rodolphe Kars... joined a monastery and was never heard from again" is quite simply untrue. As my 2009 profile of Kars explained, having taken Holy Orders he continues to give occasional lecture recitals on Messiaen and in 2005 released the CD seen above of Hassidic Jewish piano music on the French Editions de l'Emmanuel label. Read the facts, as opposed to the fiction, about Jean-Rodolphe Kars here.

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A scholar and a gentleman


Decca's 2 CD Davy Graham retrospective A Scholar and a Gentleman offers a remarkable opportunity to explore the music of an influential guitarist who blended traditional themes with blues, jazz, Indian and Arabic influences.

Davy Graham was born in Leicestershre in 1940. His father was a Gaelic teacher from the Isle of Skye and his mother came from Guyana, as did the Berlin Philharmonic's first black conductor Rudolph Dunbar. Having left school Davy Graham's music education came from busking in Paris, Greece and Morocco. After establishing his reputation in London folk clubs and playing with Alexis Korner and John Mayall he appeared in Ken Russell's prescient 1959 TV documentary Hound Dogs and Bach Addicts: The Guitar Craze and in Ken Losey's iconic film The Servant.

In 1963 Davy Graham's made his recording debut, which was captured on a hired tape recorder in his mother's basement flat in London, with his composition Angi. This went on to become a guitar classic and was covered by Paul Simon on Sounds of Silence. The DADGAD guitar tuning was created by Davy to allow him to play tunes he had heard in Morocco played on the oud. His open tunings inspired many guitarists including Nick Drake, and his style influenced a generation of musicians including Pentangle and Fairport Convention and contributed to the early development of world music.


The standard superstar trajectory was not for Davy Graham and he once failed to show for a Sydney Opera House concert because he left his plane during a stopover in India, having decided on the spur of the moment to visit his sister in Goa. A strong preference for live as opposed to studio recordings is reflected in his 1967 cult album After Hours: Live at Hull University. This was recorded using a handheld microphone in a friend's room in a student residence; but don't let that put you off as the technical quality is perfectly acceptable and the music, which ranges from folk to a Hindustani raga and Bach, is awesome.

Davy Graham died in 2008 and his funeral was attended by many leading guitarists including Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, and a tribute was delivered by counter culture figure Michael Horovitz. If you need any more persuading, Decca's double CD Davy Graham a Scholar and a Gentleman is currently available from Amazon UK for just £5.48 and includes his arrangement of Purcell titled Hornpipe for Harpsichord Played upon Guitar.


* Malcolm Arnold's 1959 Guitar Concerto uses blues based harmonies. More on Sir Malcolm here and on the Concerto's dedicatee Julian Bream here.

With acknowledgement to David Suff's excellent sleeve note for Davy Graham, a Scholar and a Gentleman which this post draws on. I bought the CD online. Images are scanned from the disc's artwork. 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
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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Miracle cure for concert coughs?


Could the following information help eliminate the maddening problem of serial coughers during concerts? In the recovery period immediately after stomach surgery coughing is exceedingly painful and possibly dangerous. During my recent stay in hospital a helpful nurse told me that coughs can be suppressed by gently pinching the windpipe at the base of the neck. I can confirm it works, apparently because it derails the small spasms in the windpipe that cause the cough. Surely worth including in concert programmes? Now perhaps someone can tell us how to pinch a mobile phone's windpipe?

Photo is of a 1922 Promenade Concert. Follow this link to find out what the sign to the left of the stage says. Also on Facebook and Twitter. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

A PR consultants wet dream


Yet more evidence that the spin doctors are taking over. A two hour forty minute mix of the sound of eight washing machines has been created for a project about listening in time and space for Impactsessions at the Sint-Lukas academy for art in Brussels. Listen online here, and remember that, as Scott Ross reminded us, anyone who has a touch of madness has a touch of genius.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Surrealism through the keyhole

'The days of the great journeys, like those taken across the Sahara with Paul Bowles, had passed, but Brion Gysin began to travel more frequently, to Amsterdam, Tangier briefly, and later to Cadaqués where he saw Salvador Dalí, who was consumed with his forthcoming induction to the Académie Française and was planning to embroider the green habit and solder a likeness of the head of Gala onto the sword which he planned to wear at the ceremony.'
In 1979 performance artist Brion Gysin visited Salvador Dalí at his home in Portlligat near Cadaqués in Spanish Catalonia. Dalí lived and worked in his house in Portlligat from 1930 until his wife and muse Gala died in 1982 - photo 8 shows the conjugal bedroom. A limited number of visitors are admitted into the Dalí House-Museum and I took all the accompanying photos there a few weeks ago. Quotation is from Nothing is True but Everything is Permitted - The Life of Brion Gysin by John Geiger and surrealism meets music in the stories of Brion Gysin and the Master Musicians of Jajouka and of Salvador Dalí's lost opera.


Photos are (c) On An Overgrown Path 2011. Any other 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
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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Talk radio


During my recent reading I came across the following words of a Buddhist sage and I offer them here in the hope that BBC Radio 3 presenters and those at other stations may meditate on them:
'Do not speak unless you can improve upon the silence.'
Artwork was photographed with permission in a gallery in Ceret, France. But I must offer my apologies as I did not note the name of the artist. Source of quote is Alone in Community by William Claassen. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
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Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Time of Gifts


Like many of us Patrick Leigh Fermor was a seeker. But what made him unique was that his starting point was far beyond where mere mortals were ever likely to reach with their own humble searches. He was a traveller, maverick, scholar, war hero and Hellenophile; but above all he was one of the great masters of English prose of his generation. A Time of Gifts, which chronicles his youthful walk across Europe in the 1930s, is recognised as his masterpiece. But for me A Time to Keep Silence, his journal of retreats at the Benedictine Abbey of St Wandrille, the Abbey of Solemnes, the Cistercian Monastery of La Grande Trappe, and the rock monasteries of Cappadocia, will always be very special. Such a long and rich life was indeed a time of gifts - adieu Paddy.


* Sample Patrick Leigh Fermor's peerless prose here.

Header image is my first edition of A Time of Gifts. The artwork is by John Craxton who designed the 1951 Royal Ballet production of Ravel's Daphnis and Chloë. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
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Friday, June 10, 2011

Clown imperial


While otherwise engaged in France I missed Prince Charles' debut as a BBC classical jock. Our heir to the throne is, of course, noted for his wide ranging musical tastes.

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The anatomy lesson


Among those in Amsterdam in 1651 watching the public dissection of a corpse captured in Rembrandt's The Anatomy Lesson was thought to be the Norwich based writer, philosopher and physician Sir Thomas Browne. My thanks go to the many kind readers who sent messages following my recent somewhat less public surgery. On Monday evening I flew back to the UK and my appreciation goes to Ryanair whose treatment of me as a wheelchair passenger was exemplary. Appreciation also goes to the medics at La clinique Médipôle Saint-Roch à Cabestany - Perpignan in France for their speedy intervention. I wish I could also praise the post-operative care I received at this clinic, but sadly I cannot. At this private hospital I experienced a disturbing mix of Gallic arrogance and ineptitude overlaid with American-style corporate crapola. La clinique Médipôle Saint-Roch à Cabestany - Perpignan is owned by international private equity group Bridgepoint which also owns a leading independent provider of health care services to the UK's National Health Service. Before David Cameron proceeds with his plans to publicly dissect the NHS I recommend he undergoes a complex appendectomy at La clinique Médipôle Saint-Roch à Cabestany - Perpignan. W.G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn is a profoundly moving meditation on surgery, Sir Thomas Browne and things we have lost. William Alwyn's magnificent Fifth Symphony is dedicated to Sir Thomas Browne.

Doubtless Bridgepoint, or more probably their PR consultants, will pick this article up via Google alerts. Before they contact me I would ask them to speak to two members of the quality and patient care commission at La Cinique Médipôle Saint-Roch à Cabestany-Perpignan. Both M. Philippe Aulombard (Directeur) and Mme. Christine Pascot (Surveillant générale de l'établissement) were sent by hand prior to my departure from France hard copies of a detailed report of my experiences, complete with photos. To date neither has had the courtesy to even acknowledge receiving my complaints. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Requiem for a record label

Although not billed as a limited edition the fate of the newly released 'Klaus Tennstedt: the great EMI recordings' must surely be a racing certainty. There can be no reason not to buy it today for around £25 unless every one of the fourteen CDs, which includes Ein deutsches Requiem, is already in your collection. While in France I read the recently published 'Nick Drake: the Pink Moon Files', a compendium of writing about Nick edited by Jason Creed. The subject of the 1975 obituary by David Sandison quoted below may have been an English folk rock singer, however the message is both timeless and universal.
But in a world full of bullshit, hype, and glittery horrors with the talent of dead oxen and the integrity of starving rats, Nick Drake was a man of sincerity, an artist of tremendous calibre and one of the few entitled to be called unique. But what the hell do they care?
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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Joining up the dots


Yes, I know the teaching of selflessness is the most distinctive feature of Buddhism. But I still cannot resist featuring this link.

Artwork is by Barry Blend who retains the copyright, I photographed it with permission in his gallery at Collioure, France. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
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Sunday, June 05, 2011

Beethoven pure and simple


We have Toscanini's Beethoven, Furtwängler's Beethoven, Karajan's Beethoven, Kleiber's Beethoven, and, if you must, Norrington's Beethoven. But where is Beethoven's Beethoven?

My nomination for Beethoven pure and simple would be the LP of the Seventh Symphony seen above, recorded by Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt. This great German conductor, who was born in 1900, was a product of the kapellmeister system. After studying at Berlin University he held a series of posts at German opera houses before being chief conductor of the Deutsche Oper, Berlin from 1943 to 1944. Despite holding such a prominent position under the Third Reich, Schmidt-Isserstedt was not a member of the Nazi party. This perceived political "neutrality" counted in Schmidt-Isserstedt's favour with the occupying forces at the end of the war and he was invited to form the Symphony Orchestra of North German Radio (NDRSO) in 1945, a position he held until two years before his death in 1973.

Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt made many great recordings with the NDRSO of the mainstream repertoire, and at the same time championed contemporary music by Stravinsky, Bartók and Hindemith. He also composed, and his opera Hassan gewinnt was premiered in Wuppertal in 1928, while his son Erik Smith went on to become a respected Decca recording producer. Away from the NDRSO in Hamburg Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt recorded Mozart and Schubert with the London Symphony Orchestra for Mercury, and Berwald for Tono in Denmark. But, arguably, his finest recordings were the cycle of Beethoven Symphonies he made with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

I bought the vinyl LP of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony seen in the photo above in 1974. When I play it on my Thorens TD125 seen below I hear Beethoven pure and simple. It is Beethoven without the refractive prism of a celebrity interpreter, but it is most definitely not Beethoven-lite. This is red-blooded Beethoven and if you want to understand what Wagner really meant when he famously described the Seventh Symphony as 'the apotheosis of the dance' look no further than Schmidt-Isserstedt. And the sound of the Vienna orchestra captured by the Decca engineers in this 1970 recording is a pure and undigitised delight.

To my ears the sum of the parts becomes even greater when they remain in the analogue domain without the parsing that is integral to digital encoding. Yes, my 1970s LP pressing suffers from the notorious Decca clicks of the time. But the breadth and width of the soundstage still put the digital equivalents to shame. Why do we accept that a Stradivarius can defy science and logic by sounding better than a 21st violin, yet still deny that a 1970 LP can sound better than the 2011 digital equivalent?


Sadly Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt's recordings have not fared well in the age of the celebrity interpreter. His Vienna Philharmonic Beethoven recordings did appear on Decca mid-price CDs, but they all now appear to be deleted. A slew of very fine opera archive recordings from his time in Hamburg comprise this great conductor's CD legacy. Unless you go hunting on eBay.

But, happily, there is an alternative. In 1982 another great German conductor took over the orchestra that Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt created in Hamburg. The critic Wolf Eberhard von Lewinski description of Günter Wand applies equally to the founder of the NDRSO, Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt.
'Wand adheres strictly to the score without losing sight of the decisive factor, namely what lies behind the notes.'
In the 1980s Günter Wand recorded a cycle of the Beethoven Symphonies with the NDRSO. They may not quite reach the same giddy heights of Schmidt-Isserstedt's Vienna cycle, but this is still Beethoven pure, simple, and unmissable; yet these recordings, which are captured in excellent sound, are virtually unknown today. I paid a bargain £30.99 for the 5 CD RCA set (seen below) in September 1995, and it is still available for around that price. Beethoven, pure and simple, has never been cheaper.


* With thanks to Leo Carey who took us down this path. Leo actually asked me two years ago to write another piece about favourite record stores, and that is how this article started. But, like many paths it went of at a tangent. To keep the record (pun intended) straight, my copy of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, was bought in 1974 from a small independent record store in Ewell, Surrey called Lesley Bond Music. It was one of those long-departed shops where teenagers listened to 45 rpm singles in listening booths lined with acoustic tiles - 1974 was the year of Abba's Waterloo but I won't go there! Having seen John Bormann's film Zardoz, which uses the Allegretto second movement during the closing scene, I was looking for an LP of Beethoven 7 and Mr Bond recommended the Schmidt-Isserstedt interpretation. At which point another path emerges, because the main music credit for Zardoz, which is available on DVD for less than a CD, went to David Munrow.

Posted from Hotel Les II Mas, Cabestany, France. Photo 2 is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Friday, June 03, 2011

Sufi bridge to the soul


Inspiration for Norman Foster's design for the supporting pillars of the Millau viaduct in France, the world's highest bridge, came from the human form with arms outstretched. Genius transcends cultures and my photograph below shows how his solution gives the illusion of seven Sufi dervishes of the Mevlana order whirling in the French countryside. Reading on my recent medically interrupted road trip, which crossed the Millau viaduct, included Robert Irwin's newly published Memoirs of a Dervish. I will doubtless be returning to this book in a future post; so just let me say for the moment that if the paths here resonate with you, it is not to be missed. Rumi Bridge to the Soul is the title of a volume of Rumi's verse translated by Coleman Barks. Soundtrack for this post is Songs of Rebirth, Homage to Rumi sung by Ali Reza Ghorban, the songs that defied the mullahs.


With thanks to Jean-Charles at Les Caselles at Millau. Photo credits are actually to my wife and they are (c) On An Overgrown Path 2011. I am mobile posting from a recently purchased Dell Inspiron Mini 10 netbook, which is a very sweet piece of kit. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk