Saturday, March 31, 2012

Are African American artists stereotyped as tragic?

I am always amazed at these characterizations of Philippa Schuyler and other African American artists who become large, well-known, acknowledged with mastery over their art, etc. They are always characterized in this way of 'tragedy'. Philippa had a pretty incredible life. Her death was a tragedy which many of us don't believe was an accident. She was an acknowledged, accomplished pianist, which was her passion and she achieved a status which few do even in the 30 plus years of her short life. Why does this negativity surround all African American artists? Why such characterizations and so consistent. I could do a language study on what is said about African American artists who are at the top of their fields and it will all read the same.

None of us has a trouble free existence. We all have problems and all of our lives could be called tragic simply because we are human and exist. Report on her accurately and without this drama. She was an infinitely interesting, imaginative, humane, beautiful person, who reached a height with her art that few of us can even dream of reaching. and she had a freedom to practice her art which few of us ever achieve. What a blessed life she lived. And what a gift she gave to us all. I knew Philippa growing up and this exaggeration of her circumstances is not true and biased writing.
A few days back I gave Bill Zick at AfriClassical the heads up on a 2009 Huffington Post piece on Philippa Schuyler following my own posts on her, Bill published the link and his post received the comment above directed at the Huffington Post article. Although the comment came from a commercial site it appears to have been posted by Marceline Donaldson of the Philippa Schuyler Committee. Whatever the source, the comment is thought provoking coming from a writer who seems to have known Philippa. Are African American artists unfairly stereotyped as tragic? Are portrayals of Rudolph Dunbar, Dean Dixon and Everett Lee here and elsewhere too negative?

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

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A portrait of the cellist as a young man


The appropriately young Alart Quartet from Spain has done classical music a big favour by making the first recording of Pablo Casals' early unpublished String Quartet. Composed when the cellist was seventeen, the Quartet has been recorded using a performing edition created from a manuscript in Pau Casals Collection in the National Archive of Catalonia. It comes coupled with Casals' uncompleted Sonata for Violin and Piano played by Josep Colomé and Katia Michel on a CD from Spanish independent label Klassic Cat made under the artistic directorship of North Carolina trained and Barcelona resident Mac McClure. Production values are excellent and the LP quality packaging by Barcelona based Mandaruixa Design deserves a mention, although the transposition of timings for the Quartet and Sonata did slip through unnoticed.

Made for media discoveries of lost masterpieces are currently trending. So let's make one thing quite clear at this point, Pau Casals' String Quartet is not being spun as a newly discovered masterpiece. Which is the way it should be, because it is not a newly discovered masterpiece. The Quartet is a youthful and derivative work which exhibits the musical conservatism that never left Casals, although he was broad minded enough to be a passionate advocate of Ernst Bloch. When Casals wrote his Quartet he had been studying Bach's Cello Suites for four years, yet there is a curious absence of counterpoint in this appealing but unadventurous chamber work. But any fresh light on one of the twentieth centuries great musicians and humanitarians is valuable, and what makes the Quartet of great interest is its context rather than its genius.

In Slaughter House Five Kurt Vonnegut wrote:
"All moments, past present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for existence. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone for ever."
Today genius, whether genuine or contrived, is valued more than context. To avoid becoming just another entertainment medium classical music must develop again the ability to look at any moment that interests it and value its historical context. Equally, classical music must stop ripping every interesting moment out of its context and transporting it screaming and shouting into the age of social media and classical charts. If any proof is needed of the power of historical context consider the unprecedented success of Alex Ross' The Rest is Noise; a book that is refreshingly light on musical analysis but has the telling subtitle Listening to the Twentieth Century. Further proof comes from the infinitely more modest success of On An Overgrown Path, a blog written not by a musician but by a lapsed social scientist.


While the main merit of Pablo Casals' early chamber music is its context, his choral music is of wider appeal. When I started my search for Pablo Casals four years ago I wrote about the deleted and difficult to find 1987 recording of his sacred music from the Escolania Choir from Santa Maria de Monteserrat. I recently tracked down the second hand CD copy seen above in Germany and it was well worth the search. Originally issued by Koch who were subsequently acquired by Universal Music this is a document of real value that demands re-issue.

Casals said "I have this divine strain in myself". His sacred works were composed for the Benedictines at Santa Maria de Monteserrat and include a setting of that peerless Marian staple the Salve Regina, while his oratorio El Pessebre tells the biblical Christmas story. But I recently came across an intriguing aspect of Casals that is missing from his biographies. Mary Lutyens, mother of composer Elisabeth Lutyens, was a follower of the Indian writer and philosopher Krishnamurti and has written several 'authorised' books about him. In her biographical Life and Death of Krishnamurti she recounts how Casals was a friend of the philosopher and played for him in Rome in 1963.

Krishnamurti had links with many musicians in his early years when he was closely associated with the then-fashionable Theosophy movement. But Casals' friendship post-dates by decades Krishnamurti's 1929 split from the Theosophists. It is of particular interest as Krishnamurti described religion "as the frozen thought of man out of which they build temples" and he counselled against the "conditioning" of established religions such as Catholicism. Casals was publicly linked to the musical tradition of the Catholic church, but his friendship with Krishnamurti hints at a more complex and little known private side. It also resonates with the admiration shown by that other great Catalan musician Jordi Savall for the radical theologian Raimon Pannikar. To date I have found no mention of the connection between Krishnamurti and Casals other than in Mary Lutyens' book; corroboration and further information would be welcome.

Billy Pilgrim describes in Slaughter House Five how:
The [Tralfamadorians] were friendly, and they could see in four dimensions. They pitied Earthlings for being able to see only three. They had many wonderful things to teach Earthlings about time.
Time and fashion have not been kind to Pablo Casals and Krishnamurti. But both shared with the Tralfamadorians an ability to see and act in new dimensions, and both have many wonderful things to teach us mere Earthlings. Speaking of which, here is a portrait of the cellist as an old man.


Also on Facebook and Twitter. Pablo Casals' Chamber Music was a chance find in Prelude Records, the other resources were purchased online. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Instant Karma

She was a squat, canny, flat-faced woman, heavily pregnant, from Rebkong, a Tibetan town in northern Amdo known for turning out writers and free-thinkers, most famously the mercurial, opium-smoking monk Gendun Chophel, who was known to have debated publicly with eight different people at the same time, like a grand master playing simultaneous chess. (On being arrested in Lhasa in 1947 he was found to be in possession of a subversive history of Tibet, revolutionary pamphlets and a rubber woman.)
From Patrick French's 'must read' Tibet, Tibet. Soundtrack is Philip Glass' score for Martin Scorsese's Kundun. The film, which Patrick French describes as "a beautifully crafted piece of Dalaidolatory", shares its screenwriter Melissa Mathison with E.T. More on Kundun here.

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

Monday, March 26, 2012

Remember we are only custodians

'Remember we never really own them, we are only custodians until somebody else takes over the job.'
That aphorism has appeared in number of forms and I came across it again reading Bill Rees' newly published The Loneliness of the Long Distance Book Runner. In that context it was referring to books, but it applies equally to music. When it is finally realised that classical music defies ownership and branding, and that we are its custodians not saviours, the world will be a much better place. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Book Runner is a hymn to the trials, joys and tribulations of the second hand book market. It was a recent chance buy in Wolfgang Zuckermann's gem of a bookshop in Avignon and now news comes that Mr Zuckermann has finally taken a well earned retirement at the age of ninety and his shop will soon be reopening under new owners. More on a true legend in his own lifetime here.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Photo is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2012 and there is no significance in the choice of LPs other than visual appeal. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Stockhausen flies a kite


Celebrating the Basant kite flying festival at the University of East Anglia this afternoon. Out of shot to the left is the university's school of music where Paul Hillier's acclaimed recording of Stockhausen's Stimmung was made for Hyperion in 1983. At the end of last year it was announced that the school of music would close in 2014 because, in the words of the university chairman, "the university cannot afford to continue to subsidise a school where the future prospects are so challenging". Being for the Benfit of Mr Kite! is a track on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band which features Stockhausen on its cover. The Wednesday Greeting (Mittwochs-Gruß) that opens Stockhausen's opera Mittwoch aus Licht is based on the music from the fourth scene and the composer instructs that it should be played à la Bayreuth in the foyer, amidst flues, winds, blowers, kites, balloons, and flying doves. There is an insider view of the UEA school of music here.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Photo is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2012. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

How would you fix a classical radio station?

Hi, I saw your blog online and I was wondering if you’d be interested in joining a group of classical music enthusiasts on Friday 13th April at 6pm, to share your expertise, opinions and a glass of wine, followed by attending the performance of Sibelius Symphony No 2 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican.

We are researching classical music on the radio (specifically Radio 3) and we want to hear the views of the experts – you! We would really appreciate your time for a discussion before the concert, which will be held at a venue near the Barbican. We want to explore your thoughts on Radio3 and steal some of your knowledge, in return we will provide the wine and the concert tickets.

We really appreciate your help. We think it will be a really informative and fun evening.

Best,
Lara Bale – Social Media Executive - Initiative
That amiable email arrived on Friday. Good news that the BBC has finally realised that Radio 3 is broken. But bad news that one of the tools they are using to fix it is Initiative, a communications consultancy with a client list including includes Credit Suisse, CNN, HBO, Coca-Cola, Tesco and Ikea - see screen grabs from their website. More not so good news is that none of Initiative's clients seem to have any connection with classical music other than as sponsors, take another bow Credit Suisse. Then there is the question of whether the views of so-called "experts" who are London based and respond both to flattery and to the lure of free wine and a ticket to hear the BBC Symphony Orchestra playing Sibelius' Second Symphony, let's not go there, is in any way a representative sample. But the bottom line is why spend the license fee on an expensive "performance-led" communications agency when the answer is blowin' in the wind?


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

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Countering the charm of tyranny

This notion, that one's 'got it', often stunts any possibility of growth or originality. It's easy to slide from being sure of yourself to being sure that others are wrong (both feed off one another); it's easy to accept that the answer has already been worked out for you well in advance and all you have to do is nod your head, repeat the words, and step into your pre-assigned role.

It could be argued that the various forms of fundamentalism we witness are modern-day reactions to the preponderance of doubt and uncertainty, to the fragmentation of narratives and our inability to turn to Nature, Reason, or God for some coherent picture and our place in it. What is historical here, and what deep, psychological impulse? Conformity, order, the end of the story, there in the beginning all along; the allure of belonging, the 'charm of tyranny' (Buruma).

To talk of individualism today is, the detractors would say, to align oneself with the forces of capitalism. There's a lot of truth to that. But the alternative is surely not to go back to the hierarchies and distinctions of tribe, religion, 'community', the closed, certain world of blood and soil.

The most difficult thing to conceive of: I-We.
That thoughtful response to yesterday's post comes from Billoo writing on his blog Black Sun. Soundtrack is the recently re-issued and quite unmissable Indian Ragas & Medieval Song: Modal Melodies from East to West performed by Dominique Vellard (tenor) and Ken Zuckerman (sarod), seen above, with Anindo Chatterjee (tabla) and Keyvan Chemirani (zarb). And talking of orginality, do check out Ken Zuckerman's automatic tanpura player here; while there is more on rearranging the geometry of heaven here.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Indian Ragas & Medieval Song was bought in 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

Friday, March 23, 2012

Beware of classical music information loops

In recent years, political writers have made note of a phenomenon they call "epistemic closure". The term refers to the ease with which people become caught in an information loop that offers a fully satisfying explanation of the way things are and presents no challenges to that perspective. The great practical advantage of free speech and a robust media, it has been said, lies in the way they enable a continual testing of propositions and ideas. But the Internet and social networking, which some tout as mainly a force for good, also allows people to confine themselves to a Möbius strip of the like-minded. Evangelicals and gay activists, Tea Partiers and jihadists, anarchists and Marines - any group can exist within an information membrane of its own devising, unchallenged by outside sources. The consequences for civility and public discourse are becoming all too clear.
To that list of evangelicals, gay activists, Tea Partiers, jihadists, anarchists and Marines, can be added classical music practicioners. The quote comes from liberal Catholic author Cullen Murphy's newly published book God's Jury which is based on the proposition that the impact of the Catholic Inquisition extends forward from history into contemporary events. Responses from a traditionalist critic of an "unscholarly take on a complex historical subject" and from "America's leading Catholic pastoral magazine" of "shrug instead of buying this book" are evidence of the book's success in challenging current perspectives.

In a recent predictably overlooked think piece about classical music information loops Gavin Plumley asked "Where are the gramophone horns for new thought and criticism?" And staying with heresy, my soundtrack is music for cittern by the 17th century Mexican composer Sebastián de Aguirre played by Los Otros, with a guest appearance by Jordi Savall regular Pedro Estevan. In his CD notes Los Otros founder and born to be wild early musician Lee Santana writes "We should also thank the Spanish Inquisition for keeping such accurate records of all the dances and songs which they forbade for being obscene and heretical".

On An Overgrown Path guests Hans Küng and Monsignor Marcel Lefebvre make cameo appearances in God's Jury. But I do not expect to find it being read aloud in the refectory when next I visit my friends at L'Abbaye Sainte-Madeleine du Barroux. And I do not anticipate many retweets of this post.

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

Thursday, March 22, 2012

From Gaddafi guerrillas to Grammy winners


Despite widespread coverage of the Libyan and Tunisian uprisings, events in North Africa are otherwise neglected by the North American and European media. So, prompted by my recent post about the Berber psychedelic folk band Imanaren, Stephen 'who are the real Master Musicians?' Davis sends an email drawing attention to the uprising by armed Tuaregs in northern Mali. The Tuaregs are nomadic Berbers who are the majority inhabitants of the Saharan interior of North Africa. Colonel Gaddafi's political machinations included fomenting unrest in North African nations to the south of Libya using conscripted Tuaregs. Following the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, rebel Tuaregs armed with sophisticated Libyan weaponry have attacked towns in Mali's northern desert, with a rebel spokesman explaining “Our goal is to liberate our lands from Malian occupation”. And in breaking news, within the last few hours reports have come that an Army coup reacting against the Tuareg rebellion has seized control of Mali and ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure.


There are many music links to this path. Above is the great Malian singer and guitarist Ali Farka Touré who explored the common ground between Malian music and its progeny, the blues of the southern United States. Among Ali Farka Touré's classic albums is In the Heart of the Moon recorded with Kora player Toumani Diabaté in Bamako, Mali. A recent phenomenon has been the emergence of Tuareg rock led by Tinariwen, a Tuareg-Berber band formed in 1979 in a guerrilla training camp in Libya and based in Mali since in the 1990s. Tinariwen sing about the issues facing the Tuareg people and mix desert blues with political activism. There is a video here and the header and footer images are from their 2012 Grammy winning acoustic album Tassili which has spent much time in my CD player recently. The album was recorded in the Tassil N’Ajjer region of southern Algeria, an area which the band is familiar with from its days training with the Gaddafi regime - Algeria is starting to trend in diverse and sometimes dark ways.

Ethical troubadour Titi Robin has spoken out against "the economic, social and cultural order that reigns over the field of ‘world music’" and in comments on my Imanaren post reader mrG condemned how world music is "compartmentalized, shrinkwrapped and packaged for export". The colonisation of world music may be insidious but it seems inevitable. On Tassili, which received its Grammy for 'best world music album', Tinariwen are joined by guitarist Nels Cline of American alternative band Wilco, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band from New Orleans, and New York indie band TV on the Radio. That packaging for export is probably explained by Tinariwen combining their "collective" status and agitprop credentials with a recording contract with V2 Music which is owned by Universal Music, the world's largest record company and home to André Rieu and other globally marketed acts. So this path comes full circle and returns to my Imanaren post, which cautioned against the Arab Spring being followed by an autumn of Western digital culture in which the emergent democracies become no more than technology enabled markets for global brands.


Also on Facebook and Twitter. Tassili was bought online. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

EMI's Reflexe action


The Reflexe early music series from EMI's German subsidiary Electrola acheieved cult status in the 1970s, but since then has been absent from the catalogue. Now that is changing and some of the titles are appearing in EMI's new Electrola Collection series - Camino de Santiago: Musik der Pilgerstraße from Thomas Binkley and his Studio der Frühen Musik is seen above. These notable re-release are something else that has slipped under the radar as classical music focuses on the infinitely more important topics of a conductors's Olympic torch and boosting the profits of Coca-Cola, Lloyds TSB and Samsung. You are only reading this because I noticed the Reflexe releases in independent retailer Prelude Records yesterday. More music and chance here.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Pete Seeger committee revived


News via Alex Ross of an online campaign to put Pete Seeger back on the Billboard chart echoes another campaign fifty years ago that brought together the two musicians seen above. Seeger was convicted of contempt of Congress six years after his 1955 appearance before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. After his conviction and before his successful appeal, Seeger obtained the court’s permission to tour England. In 1961 he played at London's Royal Albert Hall in a concert promoted by the British “Pete Seeger Committee” which had been formed to support the embattled musician; Paul Robeson was president, the great ballad singer Ewan MacColl was chairman, and the sponsors were Doris Lessing, Sean O’Casey and none other than Benjamin Britten.

There is no mention of Britten's support for Seeger in Humphrey Carpenter's definitive Benjamin Britten: A Biography but it is detailed in David Dunaway’s invaluable biography of Pete Seeger. We do not know if Britten attended the London concert and my header image is, of course, a montage. But even though Seeger and Britten seem an unlikely combination there is a music connection: Britten set and Seeger recorded the folk song The Water is Wide, also known as O Waly, Waly. More on that 1961 Pete Seeger committee here and the other Mrs Seeger is here.

Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Now let's spin music sponsorship a different way

London 2012 Festival celebrates global ethics

Opening the London 2012 Festival on June 21 is the UK premiere of Jonathan Harvey's Weltethos performed by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Edward Gardner. Weltethos, which means 'global ethic' in German, pays homage to the radical theologian Hans Küng who believed that international peace can only be achieved by a global ethical consensus, and the work is structured around the teachings of six religious figures on ethical topics. Weltethos was written to a commission by the Global Ethical Foundation (Stiftung Weltethos) and the "premier partner" for the London 2012 Festival performance is multinational oil and gas company BP.

BP's ethical track record includes the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico which resulted in the loss of 11 lives and caused disastrous environmental damage. A US government report into the Deepwater disaster blamed it on poor management by the company and a review of BP's history shows a pattern of ethically questionable behaviour that goes back decades.

Over the past two decades BP subsidiaries have been convicted three times of environmental crimes in Alaska and Texas and the company was placed on probation for two of them. In 2005 an explosion at its refinery in Texas City near Galveston killed 15 workers and injured 180 people. An investigation into the explosion by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board blamed BP for the explosion and offered a scathing assessment of the company. It found "organizational and safety deficiencies at all levels of the BP Corporation" and said management failures could be traced from Texas to London.


BP company eventually pleaded guilty to a felony violation of the Clean Air Act, was fined $50 million and sentenced to three years probation. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration imposed on the company the largest fine in OSHA history — $87 million — after inspectors found 270 safety violations that had been previously cited but not fixed and 439 new violations.

In 2010 the company's chief executive at the time of the Deepwater Horizon disaster stepped down with an exit package of a year's salary, worth $1.61 million, and a $17 million pension fund. In the following year the new BP chief executive Bob Dudley received a total $6.8million remuneration package including shares worth $788,300. The share award was based on BP's performance in 2009-11, despite the Gulf spill that occurred during the period.

Jonathan Harvey's Weltethos sets the following text by Global Ethical Foundation president Hans Küng for children's choir:

Wir haben Zukunft:
Wir Kinder haben Zukunft, wenn wir immer Menschen bleiben.
Menschen mit Vernunft und Herz…


We have a future:
We children have a future, if we always remain human.
Humans with mind and heart…

For more information contact London 2012 Festival and BP.
That press release spun a different way was created by combining Faber Music's synopsis of Jonathan Harvey's Weltethos, a McClatchy summary of BP's legal and ethical violations, and information from the London 2012 Festival website and other sources, with editing, linking passages and hypertext added by me. My interview with Jonathan Harvey is here and there is more on spinning classical music sponsorship a different way here.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Photo credit Oil Spill News. 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). With thanks to Brion Gysin for creating cut-ups and to Philip Amos whose comment about BP sent me down this path. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Saturday, March 17, 2012

He wanted to write Buddhist bubble-gum music

'For this we needed musicians, and Allen [Ginsberg] made contact with a Japanese tantric Buddhist sect, known for their choir and instrumentalists, who lived in San Francisco in an old house at 2362 Pine... They were called Kailas Shugendo (Yamabushi) and practiced fire-walking... The most active was a younger, more energetic cello-playing adept called Jigme, whose real name was Arthur Russell... Jigme... joined Jonathan Richman's proto-punk band the The Modern Lovers. After this he became a central figure in the New York gay disco scene and made a number of disco records under his own name featuring his amplified cello under layers of echo and reverb which revolutionised dance music. Tracks like 'Is It All Over My Face' and 'Go Bang' became great favourites at Studio 54 of composers such as Philip Glass. Allen Ginsberg said, 'He kept saying he wanted to write Buddhist bubble-gum music.' Arthur died of AIDS in 1992.'
From the newly published In the Seventies, Adventures in the Counterculture by Barry Miles. Fellow blogger and KALW Music From Other Minds host Richard Friedman also gets a mention in the book, but not I hasten to add in connection with Jigme. And talking of Budhist bubble-gum music and Philip Glass, the soundtrack for this post is the Nonesuch recording of Glass' Fifth Symphony - Requiem, Bardo and Nirmanakaaya. This symphony hits all the right buttons with its texts from the Rig Veda, Genesis, Qur'an, Rumi and Buddhist sutras. But despite this, I am afraid that for me Glass' symphony lacks both the narrative structure and development needed to sustain its 90 minute length. But no problem at all with this incaranation.

* Header image by Aloka shows Padmasambhava the sage who transmitted Vajrayana Buddhism, which incorporates Tantric practices, to Bhutan and Tibet countries in the 8th century. Padmasambhava taught "Pay urgent attention to impermanence, then strongly turn your mind to Taking Refuge" and impermanence was an important concept for Zen Buddhist practitioner John Cage.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. In the Seventies was borrowed from Norwich Library and Philip Glass' Fifth Symphony was bought online. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Friday, March 16, 2012

I'm picking up good vibrations


Regular readers will know I am a lapsed BBC Radio 3 listener. But yesterday evening's rare concert performance of Holst's Hymn of Jesus coupled with another rarity Strauss' Serenade for wind and that pinnacle of twentieth century music Elgar's Second Symphony, looked too good to miss. So I anxiously scanned the Radio 3 programme page for the usual above the composer billing for the presenter waiting to leap out of the speakers to aurally mug me, and drew a blank. So I tuned in with trepidation to hear an unidentified presenter, who for obvious reasons I can't credit, complementing rather than competing with the music, and, miracle of miracles, avoiding any mention of BBC New Generation Artists. Holst's Hymn was intelligently introduced and, glory be, the back announcement not only did not crash the reverberation of the final bars of Elgar's Symphony, but it also dispensed with the usual tired clichés in favour of simply identifying the music and the performers. And of course the performance of the Hymn and Symphony exhibited the authority we have come to expect from Mark Elder and the Hallé in English music. Can the energy fields of a presenter really have such an impact? Or was it the aura of Holst's heretical Hymn? Or maybe the Hoegaarden wheat beer that came with dinner? More on the good vibrations emanating from Holst's Gnostic Hymn here.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Header image of Gnostic pentagram via Snippets and Snappits. 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, March 15, 2012

I don't want to tweet in my dreams


BBC economics editor Paul Mason's new book about the Arab Spring Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions contains a chapter titled 'I Tweet in My Dreams': The Rise of the Networked Individual. However others who do not share Mason's unreserved enthusiasm for social media are striving to ensure that the Arab Spring is not followed by an autumn of Western digital culture in which the emergent democracies become no more than technology enabled markets for global brands. An example of this thinking is Beyond Digital, a project which is working with young people in Morocco using digital technologies to sustain rather than replace indigenous cultures. For an example see their Sufi plug in project which "creates a space where software design, music tools, encoded spirituality, digital art, and indigenous ontologies overlap". Beyond Digital has already scored a notable success using digital technology to bring a Berber band playing "psychedelic folk" to a worldwide audience.

Imanaren, seen above, is led by Hassan Wargui who comes from the Berber village of Issafen in the Anti-Atlas mountains of southern Morocco. Wargui writes all the band's songs which are in the Berber Tachelhit dialect and are concerned with topical issues including the Arab Spring and human rights - informative video here. The band has been working with Beyond Digital since last summer and one result of their collaboration is an album previously only available on CD-R discs in Moroccan souks being given a global release on iTunes, Amazon, and other platforms.

It is a simple but effective formula that inverts the usual hierarchy: instead of adapting Berber music for the global market, digital technology is used to distribute unadapted indigenous music. And it works - David Maine wrote a review saying "Looking for “authentic” world music? You won’t get much more down-to-earth than Imanaren, a group of Berber musicians from the south of Morocco whose debut record was self-released on a limited scale within the country before being re-released on the Dutty Artz label". I picked up on that accolade via The View from Fez blog, bought the album as a bargain priced download on Amazon and so the viral loop builds without a PR agency in sight.

Personally, I don't want to tweet in my dreams, but if authentic world music is your thing I do recommend giving Imanaren a listen. More on the music of the marginalised Berbers here.


* Extended audio samples from the Imanaren album are available on the Dutty Artz record label website. However Google is showing a 'This site may be compromised' message. I visited the site several times before seeing the message without apparent problems, but malware is a current preoccupation and Morocco is an online can of worms, so please be warned. For those who want to take the risk the audio samples are here. Western digital culture is not without its problems; perhaps Imanaren will avoid them by following the example of is compatriots in Jajouka by issuing their next release on vinyl.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Image credit Beyond Digital. 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, March 14, 2012

Who is oiling the wheels of classical music?


Dow Chemical's sponsorship of the 2012 London Olympics has attracted attention due to the company's links to the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India. But a "premier partner" of the London 2012 Festival, which includes performances of Philip Glass' Einstein on the Beach , Jonathan Harvey's new choral work Weltethos, concerts by Gustavo Dudamel and by the new Aldeburgh World Orchestra, as well as the world premiere of Stockhausen's Mittwoch aus Licht, has attracted less attention. As the header graphic shows, the pole position sponsor of the London 2012 Festival is global oil and gas company BP, the company responsible for the environmentally disastrous 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. No suggestion of boycotts or demonstrations. Just a suggestion that people should be aware of who is oiling the wheels of classical music.

* More on this story here.

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

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Why no excitement about Lou Harrison?


More proof that classical music is excited about the wrong things is provided by the lack of coverage for Eva Soltes' important new film Lou Harrison: A World of Music. Now back to the breaking news about that armless Chinese pianist...

Also on Facebook and Twitter. I have changed the aspect ratio of the film poster as the blog layout does not like extreme portrait format graphics - the original poster can be seen here. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

When ideas fail, words come in very handy


Writing about the forthcoming Birmingham performance of Stockhausen's Mittwoch aus Licht BBC arts correspondent Rebecca Jones tells us:
'The opportunity to see it performed in its entirety for the first time will, therefore, become a significant landmark in the history of opera.'
Leaving aside the tortured syntax, can anyone provide an example of an insignificant landmark? Or is it a case of dream on?

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Monday, March 12, 2012

Awakening the inner analogue

Digital culture's hatred of ambiguity was the theme of a post in March last year and since then the search for my inner analogue has led me to the realm between the known and unknown recognised in Sufism as barzakh or the intermediate world, and on to that celebrated guide to the intermediate states the Bardo Thödol Chenmo, aka the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Trilogie de la Mort (Trilogy of the Dead) is a three part work created by French composer, wife of maverick sculptor Arman and Buddhist practitioner Eliane Radigue, seen above. The trilogy was created between 1985 and 1983 using an analogue ARP 2500 synthesizer. Part one, 'Kyema', is inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead and invokes "the six intermediate states that constitute the existential continuity of the being". This is followed by 'Kailasha' which portrays an imaginary pilgrimage around Mt. Kailash, the sacred mountain in Tibet. The concluding section 'Koumé' evokes reincarnation but extends it beyond Buddhism in an apocalyptic climax akin to Messiaen's L'Ascension without smells and bells.

In a comment on my post 'If you dig Led Zeppelin try this Janáček' music therapist Lyle Sanford recalled the "amazing organ part that was as mind bending as anything in the pop/rock world of the time - or before or after for that matter" of the Glagolitic Mass heard on a 60s LP and the Trilogie de la Mort inhabits the same stomach churning bass registers. With extended drones and pulses this three hour epic is more sonic experience than music - but isn't the ultimate goal of music to be a sonic as well as emotional experience? We are fortunate to have a CD release of the trilogy and a powerful amplifier and extended range speakers produce a truly out of body experience - low frequencies are omnidirectional so the speakers no longer seem to be the sound source, but instead the very walls and ceiling emanate cosmic vibrations. The Arab philosopher and astronomer al-Kindi believed objects and beings in the universe possessed radiations that affected other beings, and before dismissing cosmic vibrations as mystical babbling remember that in empirical science Bell's theorem tells how one subatomic 'object' can instantly affect another particle no matter how physically distant the two particles are.

All credit to independent label Experimental Intermedia for releasing Trilogie de la Mort as a 3 CD set in 1998. The endearingly titled Arcane Candy declared Eliane Radigue's trilogy "a beautiful, moving and perfectly rendered minimal epic" to which I can only say amen, or rather om.

Header photo of show Eliane Radigue at work on her ARP 2500 comes via Zepelim. I bought Trilogie de la Mort online from the States. 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.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

A composer and his guru


Olivier Greif was born in Paris in 1950, his father was a Polish Jew who survived Auschwitz. Greif's musical talent was identified when he was three and he entered the Paris Conservatoire aged ten to study piano and composition. He went on to study composition with Luciano Berio in New York where he moved in the same circles as Salvador Dali, Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol and Leonard Bernstein. All the accompanying photos, with the exception of my header montage, come via the Olivier Greif website and include shots of Greif with Dali and Bernstein.


In 1970 Olivier Greif was appointed Luciano Berio’s assistant at the Santa Fe Opera and started exploring the music of West Coast composers including Terry Riley and La Monte Young. Despite his eclectic musical tastes Greif rejected serialism and electronics and instead developed a unique style influenced by Britten and Shostakovich, and he made a now deleted commercial recording of Britten's piano music. Greif's compositions can be divided into two periods. 1961 to 1981 was the period when he developed his own voice as a composer. Then came a ten year creative hiatus which ended in 1991 with a series of darker and more intense pieces by the experiences of his father and other members of his family in the death camps. In later years his music became more experimental and in 1981 his chamber opera was premiered in the Centre Pompidou in Paris, a performance given in collaboration with IRCAM with Olivier Messiaen, who mentored Greif, and Pierre Boulez in the audience.


After two serious illnesses Olivier Greif was found dead seated at his piano in his apartment in Paris on Friday, May 13, 2000. The autopsy could not identify the cause of death but established that he had been dead for several days when found. He is buried in the Montparnasse Cemetery.


Today Olivier Greif is a forgotten figure, although, fortunately, he remains represented in the CD catalogue. At which point the reader can be forgiven for expecting a plea for Greif's music to be more widely programmed or a heads up for a new recording of his music coupled with a plug for an upcoming concert. But conventional narratives do not interest me, so instead we turn to the little known story of the composer's ten year creative hiatus.


In 1976 Olivier Greif begins a spiritual quest with Sri Chinmoy and two years later he took the new first name Haridas, which means “God’s servant” and my header montage shows the composer on the left with his teacher. Sri Chinmoy was an Indian spiritual teacher, poet, artist and athlete who moved to the U.S. in 1964. He was the founder of the Sri Chinmoy Centre organisation and was a prolific composer of sacred music, mainly songs in Bengali and English. Sri Chimnoy advocated "self-transcendence" by expanding one's consciousness to conquer the mind's perceived limitations. Among his followers were Mikhail Gorbachev, Roberta Flack, Olympic gold-medalist Carl Lewis, John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana. McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra takes its name from the spiritual moniker given to him by Sri Chinmoy. In the photo below a picture of Chinmoy can be seen on Greif's piano.


In April 1970, Sri Chinmoy was invited by UN Secretary-General U Thant to give twice-weekly meditations at the United Nations and in 1994 he received, jointly with Martin Luther King’s wife Coretta Scott King, the ‘Mahatma Gandhi Universal Harmony Award’ from the American branch of an Indian cultural institute. But inevitably Sri Chinmoy's activities generated controversy. In a Rolling Stone interview Carlos Santana said his guru was "vindictive" when they split and also alleges homophobia. In 2009 Jayanti Tamm published her best selling book of life as a Chinmoy disciple 'Cartwheels in a Sari: A Memoir of Growing Up Cult' in which she documents his "masterful tactics of manipulation", and elsewhere there have been allegations of sexual misconduct. Sri Chinmoy died in 2007, the Independent's obituary described him as "spiritual leader and peace activist" and Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar were among those who paid tribute to him.


During the 1980s Olivier Greif, or rather Haridas Greif, became the face of Sri Shinmoy in France. He curated conferences on meditation and opened a book store on the Boulevard Saint-Germain devoted to his guru. In 1979 he premiered his settings of Three poems of Sri Chinmoy for voice and piano and he also appeared on an LP of Chinmoy's music with the New Light Ensemble. The photo above shows Olivier Greif with Sri Chinmoy circa 1995, but during the final years of his life Greif moved away from his spiritual master and reverted to his given first name. Probably his best known work, his Sonate de Requiem (1979-1983) dates from the years of his involvement with Sri Chinmoy. In his own note Greif describes the single movement work as a dedication on death seen from three viewpoints: death as a departure, death as a journey away from the earthly regions through successive planes of consciousness, and death as contemplation as the soul meets with the Source.


Just as empathy with Cardinal Newman is not required to appreciate Elgar's Dream of Gerontius, so empathy with Sri Chinmoy is not required to appreciate Olivier Greif's Sonate de Requiem. The composer's dalliance with celebrities and an Indian mystic is just a fascinating sideshow to the main event - his music. There is a catalogue of Greif's three hundred and thirty one compositions here. It includes an incomplete Symphony No. 1 for solo voice, male chorus and orchestra 'Hiroshima' dating from 1994 which which sets testimonies of survivors of Hiroshima in English and the Bhagavad Gita in Sanskrit, and a Little Black Mass (1980) which combines the sacred liturgy with popular American songs. For those interested in further exploration the Olivier Greif website has a discography. A number of the listed releases are now deleted, but available and recommended are the Sonate de Requiem and Trio on Harmonia Mundi and the Battle of Agincourt for two cellos coupled with his Second String Quartet, which sets Shakespeare sonnets for baritone, on Zig Zag Territoires.


Image credits official Olivier Greif website except header montage. I discovered Olivier Greif's music when I bought the Harmonia Mundi disc of his Sonate de Requiem in an independent book/music store in Cluny when it was first released. This was on my first visit to Taizé and southern Burgundy abounds in thin places - the Temple of a Thousand Buddhas is also nearby. 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.

Help needed to clear an overgrown path


Compiling On An Overgrown Path involves delving into the darker recesses of the web. Recently malware has become a problem and my main computer was offline for some time while the inhouse tech team (aka son) removed a particularly pesky example. McAfee is installed but seems to offer little protection against malware. Malwarebytes trial version is currently being tested and appears to be more effective, giving warnings such as the one seen above . My McAfee subscription is due for renewal shortly, reports and recommendations from readers on anti-virus/malware software would be welcome. No risk incidentally to readers as Blogger acts as a firewall between you and me.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Recorded classical music is a barely alive dinosaur

I used to read Gramophone and subscribed to it for quite some time. I cancelled my subscription 15 years ago and have not missed it. The main reason for the Gramophone's demise is simply that what represents the core of their interests, recorded classical music, is a barely alive dinosaur.

Classical music is better represented these days by live events. What makes the news is not a new recording of Beethoven’s 9 symphonies by Chailly and the Gewandhaus but the fact that these artists are touring in many capitals around the world to perform them. TV with specialized channels like Europe’s mezzo, Radio and Web-based radio, Web concert from concert hall acting as producers have replaced recorded music as the mean by which we discover and hear music. (I hate to quote myself but have a look here and here among many others …). Similarly, every Opera house is following the steps of the Met with their live relays in movie theaters.

Live Music is where things happen and technology has made It accessible and pervasive. Gramophone has not and cannot stay current with these media and is outdated. If you had to publish a magazine on computing, would it be on punched cards computing or on Ipad ?

Live events are much better served by specialized classical music reviews sites. The one where I contribute, Concertonet.com, regularly covers events in Paris, New York, Toronto, Geneva, Zurich, … Our readership is of 25 000 individual visitors every month. Musical coverage can also be found at other sites like this one. Comprehensive reviews are available there and include not only the major most visible events but also modern music, youth ensemble and newcomers and chamber music. What sites like Concertonet provide are reviews which provide in one month a quantity which would match what a major newspaper would publish on classical music for a full year.

Gramophone has attempted to extend its coverage to worldwide live events but in essence, it remains a UK centric reviewer of CDs and is thus destined to follow the path of punched cards computing magazine at the cemetery of dinosaurs.

Best
Antoine
That provocative response to yesterday's post came from fellow blogger and sometime guest contributor Antoine Leboyer. He may well be right that recorded classical music is a barely alive dinosaur. But if that is the case, despite sharing Antoine's preference for live music I have two concerns. Classical music must beware of becoming metro-centric, particularly as financially marginal touring becomes threatened by funding cuts. For those living outside urban areas recorded and broadcast music is a lifeline. As an example Dale added this pertinent comment to my recent post about independent record stores "For some of us, including myself here in rural North Dakota USA, the Amazon click has led to many musical experiences we'd otherwise not have had".

My second concern revolves around Dale's assertion that recorded music leads to many musical experiences we'd otherwise not have had. He is right and thinking back over the years my first experience of a number of artists who have changed my life, including Jordi Savall and Titi Robin, came via recordings, not live performances. Web streaming of live concerts may be a force to be reckoned with, but as yet it does not stray too far from mainstream classical repertoire.

But Antoine Leboyer is always worth listening to because his involvement with classical music comes through passion rather than profession. Which, perhaps not coincidentally, is the case for everyone of the many readers who have responded to yesterday's post. Putting both the Gramophone and BBC Radio 3 in the firing line in one article is clearly too much for those in the profession to handle. And talking of professionals, I generously described those attending Classical NEXT as the "great and good" of classical music. However Philip Amos, via a comment, provides a far more eloquent description:
It seems to me nothing more than a gathering of foxes who want to tell the chickens how to repair the henhouse the foxes wrecked in the first place. Well, the chickens have left and become free-range birds who know the problems that have been foisted on them (including by a certain rogue roosters of their own) and are showing great ingenuity in coming up with their own solutions, as you have recently and eloquently discussed in posts.
* The photo of Conlon Nancarrow in his studio complete with technology dinosaur comes from my 2007 post Best music of any late-20th century composer? When did you last hear Nancarrow's music in the concert hall?

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