Thursday, December 31, 2015

Why do we still not believe in Negro symphony conductors?


Four years ago an Overgrown Path post recounted how in the 1950s classical music super-agent Arthur Judson told the African American conductor Everett Lee "I don't believe in Negro symphony conductors", and another post described how Rudolph Dunbar died in 1988 a forgotten and marginalised figure, despite becoming the first black conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. That is Rudolph Dunbar in the photo; the Guyanese musician - who was a friend of the controversial child prodigy Philippa Schuyler - was a talented conductor and an outstanding clarinetist, who in 1939 wrote the standard work on the instrument, the 'Treatise on the clarinet (Boehm system)'. Despite achieving considerable success on the podium, Rudolph Dunbar's career faltered and stalled, and another post discussed allegations that a senior figure in the BBC had derailed his career, allegations that were subsequently supported by an authoritative source.

Arthur Judson stigmatized Negro symphony conductors more than fifty years ago, while allegations that Rudolph Dunbar's career suffered because he was one of a group of West Indians in the UK who campaigned openly against racism and colonialism relate to the 1980s, and, of course, times have changed. Or have they? The BBC Proms are a microcosm of the classical music establishment, and in a 2011 post I asked - How many black conductors at the BBC Proms? The answer is that in more than 2500 concerts over the 120 year history of the Proms there have been just three black conductors; Isaiah Jackson in 1987, Wayne Marshall in 1998, and Bobby McFerrin in 2003. Less than 0.002% minority representation is unacceptable by any standards, and what is more serious is there is no evidence of improvement: during the last ten years of our supposedly multicultural society there has been not one black conductors on the podium in the Royal Albert Hall. There is disturbing evidence that the nuanced racism of Arthur Judson lingers on in classical music, as the black American conductor and composer Kevin Scott explained recently on Facebook:
Now many of you will say, "it should be talent, not color" that is the requisite to perform just about anywhere, and you are right - talent and vision are indeed the key requisites to be taken seriously and nurtured. But for some reason or another, there are those that hold the power of position that looks at a black man or woman who can conduct a symphony orchestra and wonders why are they in a field that is Euro-centered and not devoting themselves to their musical roots.
The BBC Proms provide a convenient measure of inclusivity, but it is unfair to demonise just one concert series: because the same picture will be found at other prestigious concert series around the world. Quite rightly there has been much criticism of the underrepresentation of women in classical music, but much less about the even more acute underrepresentation of musicians of colour. Very good work has been done in improving the representation of women; one of the results is that the iconic Last Night of the Proms has been conducted twice by Marin Alsop in recent years, and commendably one of these concerts featured a commission by the Jamaican composer Eleanor Alberga. But I have a dream that one day we will see a black conductor wielding the baton for Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory at the Proms. So let's make 2016 and the years that follow the decade when musicians of colour take their rightful place on the podium.

My thanks go to Kevin Scott and John McLaughlin Williams, whose tireless advocacy of musicians of colour inspired this post, and to my Guyanese wife Sorojini, who encouraged me to follow the path of Rudolph Dunbar. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

That’s the state of the record business


And as Norman Lebrecht tells us in another post, that’s the state of the record business, end of 2015.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Classical music and the catastrophe of abundance


Examples of what Andrew Keen in The Internet is Not the Answer terms 'the catastrophe of abundance' abound in classical music. Incontrovertible statistics show that demand for classical music is declining. Despite this, supply continues to increase - orchestras and record labels offer more and more free music via downloads and streaming, London wants to build a new concert hall a few hundred metres from a perfectly serviceable hall built in 1982, and anniversary composers are programmed in catastrophic abundance. The problem is obvious - there is too much classical music*. Yet there is not the slightest recognition within the classical industry that increasing supply in a declining market is a recipe for disaster. If any more evidence is needed of this lemming-like march to the abyss, it is the agenda of the forthcoming Association of British Orchestras' conference. Not a single mention of oversupply or excess capacity in the supply chain, but a presentation by the chief executive of England Hockey. So, while British orchestras play hockey in the abandoned Barbican Hall, the music industry will continue to implode, as Andrew Keen explains:
Over the last twenty-five years, the Internet has indeed sucked much of the musical creativity out of the world. In 2008 alone, there were 39,000 jobs lost in the British creative economy. Today, in 2014, the prospects of young musicians or entrepreneurs breaking into the industry are dramatically worse than they were twenty-five years ago. Back in 1989, we all wanted to work in the music industry; but today, in 2014, the new new thing is multibillion-dollar companies like Spotify and Pandora that are destroying the livelihoods of independent musicians. Yes, the Internet did change everything in the music industry. Music is, indeed, abundant. And that's been the catastrophe of the last quarter.
* There is also too much of the wrong kind of music; but that's another story. No review samples used in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Reddit before going to bed


In a crowning irony, what should have been the first day of unremarked hibernation for On An Overgrown Path turned out be by far the biggest readership day in the eleven year history of the blog. Reddit - which promotes itself as 'The front page of the internet' - is an entertainment, social networking, and news website curated by its readers. On Christmas Day my post from January 2006 about - of all things - the concert given by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra on 28th March 1945 in beleaguered Berlin was featured in 'Today I Learned' on Reddit. The result was truly spectacular - in 24 hours that single article was read almost 11,000 times. Above is the header image from the featured article showing Berlin in 1945, below is the blog's readership graph.


Those 24 hours of social media fame should have me chaffing at the bit to repeat my triumph; but I am afraid that isn't the case. In Web 2.0 the network rules; which means the network judges. Rereading my piece about that Berlin concert confirms it is an acceptable piece of online writing; nothing more and nothing less. It certainly is no more deserving of such a large audience than many other pieces among the 3704 published posts On An Overgrown path. In fact I believe it is less deserving than stories about - to name just a few - Philippa Schuyler, the Master Musician of Jajouka, the Guyanese conductor Rudolph Dunbar (who conducted the Berlin Philharmonic), Jonathan Harvey, Jordi Savall, Ali Keeler, and David Munrow. But an arbitrary judgement by someone on the network caused the spotlight to fall on Berlin in 1945; which meant the forgotten figures of conductor Robert Heger and violinist Gerhard Taschner shared my 24 hours of fame.

One of the most thought- provoking books that I read in 2015 was Andrew Keen's The Internet Is Not The Answer. I omitted it from my recent review of music books for the simple reason that it not a music book per se. In retrospect that omission was a mistake, because The Internet Is Not The Answer is required reading for anyone who cherishes our music culture. In it Andrew Keen comes up with the astonishing statistics that, and I quote, "every minute of every day in 2014... the 3 billion Internet users in the world sent 204 million emails*, uploaded 72 hours of new YouTube videos, made over 4 million Google searches, shared 2,460,000 pieces of Facebook content, downloaded 48,000 Apple apps, spent $83,000 on Amazon, tweeted 277,000 messages, and posted 216,000 new Instagram photos".

Many have lamented the descent of music journalism into music churnalism, and I plead guilty to being a cheerleader for that lament. But churnlaism with its detestable clickbait headlines is just part of a much greater malaise. Quality was an early victim of the online deluge of content, and clickbait headlines are just a short term fix to make content stand out in the deluge, regardless of quality. But the sheer volume of activity is rapidly swamping those disingenuous clickbait headlines. So arbitrary selection by user curated sites such as Reddit now determines what is read, and, more importantly, what is not read. Which means welcome to the brave new world of chance journalism. It is another irony that the largest investor in Reddit is Advance Publications, which is also the home of The New Yorker, for which the acknowledged exemplar of quality music journalism Alex Ross writes. Let me leave the last words to Andrew Keen:
The pace of this change in our libertarian age is bewilderingly fast - so fast, indeed, that most of us, while enjoying the Internet's convenience, remain nervous about this "belief system's" violent impact on society. "Without permission," entrepreneurs like [Reddit co-founder] Alexis Ohanian crow about a disruptive economy in which a couple of smart kids in a dorm room can wreck an entire industry employing hundreds of thousands of people. With our permission, I say. As we all step into this brave new digital world, our challenge is to shape our networking tools before they shape us.
* It is worth noting that Andrew Keen points out that 78% of the 204 million emails sent every minute are spam. No review samples used in this post. Header image source is Global Security website. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Roll up! Roll up for the magical mystery tour!


The first regular coach service from Europe to Asia started in 1957. For almost a decade the ‘Indiaman’ made the 10,000-kilometre journey from King’s Cross in London to Bombay and Calcutta. It was soon joined by the legendary ‘Magic Bus’, leaving from Dam Square in Amsterdam, and by other coaches running from the Porte d’Italie in Paris via Frankfurt, Munich and Salzburg and across the Middle East to India. In the 1960s and 70s these transcontinental coaches provided the route to the Orient for a new generation of independent travellers who were variously called the Beats, Intrepids and Hippies. There were two main motivations for these 20th-century Intrepids to undertake the long and sometimes hazardous overland journey to India: the first was a growing disenchantment with Western values; the second was a fascination with the spiritual traditions of the East. One of the legacies that the Intrepids left was musical, with Bob Dylan, the Byrds, the Beatles and the Grateful Dead among those providing the soundtrack for their journey. Four centuries earlier another traveller had journeyed East, and at the 2015 Salzburg Summer Festival Jordi Savall and his fellow musicians are recreated the soundtrack of that 16th-century Intrepid’s route to the Orient.

Francis Xavier was born in 1506 to an aristocratic family in the Basque Kingdom of Navarre. At the age of 19 he went to Paris to study and, four years later, met Ignatius Loyola at the Collège Sainte-Barbe, the theological institute where both men were studying. This was a time of religious upheaval in Europe. Eight years earlier Martin Luther had triggered the Reformation by nailing his 95 theses to the door of the Schloßkirche in Wittenberg. When he met Francis Xavier, Ignatius Loyola was working towards founding the Society of Jesus. Following their meeting, Ignatius Loyola, who was 15 years older than Francis Xavier, tried to persuade his young friend to become a priest and work for the salvation of souls. But Francis Xavier resisted and in 1530 graduated as a master of arts and went on to teach Aristotelian philosophy at Beauvais College. In 1534, however, he joined with Ignatius Loyola and five others in taking a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience to the Pope, committing his life to the spread of Christianity. In the same year Francis Xavier began his theological studies and he was ordained in 1537. As one of their vows the Jesuit founders committed to missionary work in Jerusalem. So Francis Xavier travelled to Venice en route to the Holy Land. But fighting between the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire prevented his onward journey and instead he and his fellow evangelists returned to Rome to offer their services to the Pope.

In 1539 Ignatius Loyola, Francis Xavier and their five companions formalized the constitution of the Society of Jesus, which was approved in 1540 by Pope Paul III in the papal bull, Regimini militantis Ecclesiae, translated as ‘by the authority of the embattled church’. The Jesuits were not founded as a contemplative monastic order; instead their purpose was to be what the Portuguese musicologist Rui Vieira Nery has described as ‘a well trained religious militia’. Ignatius Loyola’s main purpose in establishing the Society was to fight the spiritual forces of the Reformation, but the Jesuits also became a force of change within the Catholic church and a vehicle for bringing Christianity to the newly discovered continents of Asia, Africa and the Americas.



In the same year, King John III of Portugal asked the Pope for assistance in spreading Christianity within Portugal’s new possessions in India. The zeal of the young Jesuits had impressed senior figures in the church and the Society of Jesus was chosen to undertake the missionary work in India. Francis Xavier was not originally among those chosen, but a fellow priest fell ill and, as a result, he set sail from Lisbon in April 1541, travelling via the Portuguese enclaves of Mozambique and Melinde to Goa. He spent seven months in Mozambique and a short time in the city of Melinde (now Malindi) on the coast of present-day Kenya. In Melinde he came into contact with the Islamic faith for the first time when he met the Arab merchants who controlled trade through the port and who had converted many of the indigenous Africans to Islam.

In May 1542 Francis Xavier arrived in the capital of Portuguese India, Goa, where his primary task, as instructed by King John III, was to reaffirm the Christian faith of the Portuguese settlers. The Portuguese had first settled in Goa 30 years earlier and many of these early settlers had strayed from the church in the intervening years. But Francis Xavier looked beyond the Portuguese community and for almost three years he proselytized in southern India, concentrating particularly on the Hindus in the pearl fishing communities clustered around the southern tip of the subcontinent. The Jesuit missionary ventured as far as Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and built more than 30 churches along the coast.

Between 1545 and 1548 Francis Xavier evangelized in the Portuguese territory of Malacca on the coast of what is now Malaysia. From there he travelled to the Muslim Maluku Islands, a sub-archipelago within Indonesia, before returning to Goa for 15 months. The Jesuit missionary had for some time harboured ambitions to take the Christian message to Japan and, encouraged by positive reports, he travelled to Kagoshima on the island of Kyushu, where he landed in August 1549. Francis Xavier stayed in Japan for two years. He met with initial resistance as the ruler of Kyushu forbade the conversion of his subjects to Christianity under penalty of death and Francis Xavier struggled to communicate in the alien language. However, his efforts eventually bore fruit and he established Christian congregations in three cities, with fellow Jesuits remaining in Japan to carry on his missionary work after he left.

Having returned to Goa in early 1552, Francis Xavier’s sights turned to China. In August 1552 he sailed to the Chinese island of Shangchuan, 14km off the mainland, though was unable to proceed further as mainland China was closed to foreigners. While attempting to find a way through this impasse, Francis Xavier was taken ill with a severe fever and died on 3 December 1552, aged 46. His body was taken first to Malacca for burial, but was eventually interred in Goa at the Basilica of Bom Jesús. In 1622 Pope Gregory XV canonized Francis Xavier, together with Ignatius Loyola.

Although Saint Francis Xavier also took the Christian message to Japan, Malacca and the Maluku Islands, he is most closely associated with India. His work in bringing the Christian message to the subcontinent continues today and one of the central figures in Hindu-Christian dialogue has a connection to today’s concert. In 1950 Swami Abhishiktananda, a French Benedictine monk previously known as Henri Le Saux, founded the ashram of Shantivanam in Tamil Nadu State. Swami Abhishiktananda was a close friend and associate of Raimon Panikkar. An authority on comparative religion and an advocate of inter-religious dialogue, Raimon Panikkar (1918–2010) was born in Spain to an Indian Hindu father and a Spanish Catholic mother. Panikkar’s views on comparative religion influenced several of the multicultural projects created by Jordi Savall and Montserrat Figueras including Route to the Orient and Panikkar provided an accompanying essay for their 2007 recording of Haydn’s Die sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze.



The Society of Jesus was born of a disenchantment with changing Western values, just as the journey by the 20th-century Intrepids to the Orient was fuelled by disenchantment. Their respective encounters with Eastern spirituality, however, had a very different impact. The exposure of 20th-century Intrepids to Eastern spiritual traditions resulted in one of their most valuable legacies, the building of bridges between Eastern and Western religions. Sadly, despite the saint-like efforts of Ramon Panikkar and Swami Abhishiktananda, the Catholic church has been less welcoming to Eastern spiritual traditions. For this reason we must beware of viewing Francis Xavier’s journey to the Orient through rose-tinted glasses. The missionary refers to ‘pagan Hindus’ in his journal and, in an otherwise admiring biography, Jesuit Father James Broderick laments Francis Xavier’s ‘woefully inadequate views about Indian religion and civilization’. The role of Francis Xavier in precipitating the Goa Inquisition, which was enforced by the Portuguese eight years after he died, is still debated. But there is evidence that he was aware of the brutality of the Inquisition, which started on the Iberian Peninsula some years before he sailed for Goa, and it is known that he encouraged the King of Portugal to impose the Inquisition in Goa. The Inquisition punished apostate New Christians, the Hindus and Muslims who had converted to Catholicism and were suspected of secretly practising their ancestral religions, and it also punished lapsed Portuguese settlers who were cradle Catholics. More than 16,000 people were tried by the Inquisition in Goa; it is known that 57 were put to death, while others were burned in effigy.

The Jesuits played a key role in the Counter-Reformation, a period of strict conformity from which came the Roman Inquisition and the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Forbidden Books). Today Francis Xavier is canonized, however troubling evidence of anti-Hindu sentiment lingers into the 21st century. In a recent biography, Jesuit Father Philip Fogarty calls the Jesuit missionary ‘a Christian among Pagan tribes’ while a fundamentalist Catholic website representing ‘a family apostolate […] established solely for the glory of God and the salvation of souls’ describes modern India in the following words: ‘today this vast country is still in the same darkness. It has, on the whole, fallen even deeper into the same idolatrous wretchedness that permeated it before the “man from Heaven” arrived in 1542 to liberate them.’

But tonight it is the spiritual and human dimension of the 16th-century Intrepid that Jordi Savall, Hespèrion XXI, the Capella Reial de Catalunya and guest musicians from India and Japan celebrate in their musical depiction of Saint Francis Xavier’s route to the Orient. This project originated as a transcultural event featuring Spanish and Japanese musicians to celebrate the missionary’s arrival in Japan and it was expanded to its current dimensions in 2006 for concerts and a recording to mark the 500th anniversary of the birth of the saint. The Jesuits were formed to defend an embattled Catholic church and the liturgical tradition of that church provides the leitmotif for Francis Xavier’s musical journey in the form of the Marian hymn, ‘O gloriosa Domina’. This is first heard in its original plainchant form and then, reflecting the need to adapt the litany to local conditions, in a duet for Indian instruments and, finally, in improvisations for Oriental forces. Francis Xavier spent nine months in Mozambique en route to India and the music of Mozambique is underpinned by the rhythm of the drum known as the ngoma. This tradition of drumming inspires a duet in tonight’s concert between percussion and the African oud. Speaking of his journey, Saint Francis Xavier said that ‘it is not the actual physical exertion that counts towards one’s progress, nor the nature of the task, but by the spirit of faith with which it is undertaken’. The spirit of faith of Francis Xavier and the early Jesuits, celebrated in tonight’s concert, was acknowledged in 2013 when Pope Francis became the first-ever Jesuit pontiff.



That text is a slightly amended version of the essay I contributed to the programme book for Jordi Savall's performance of his Francisco Xavier project at the 2015 Salzburg Summer Festival. My essay was accompanied by the following footnote: 'Author Bob Shingleton has retired from a career with the BBC, EMI and other media companies. He now spends his time pursuing his interest in music and comparative religion. In 1976 he married his wife Sorojini in accordance with Hindu rites.'

If I have achieved nothing else with On An Overgrown Path, writing a programme essay for the Salzburg Festival that mentions Bob Dylan, the Byrds, the Beatles and the Grateful Dead must rank as a small achievement. Text is (C) On An Overgrown Path 2015. Header image via Genius. Image 2 of Francis Xavier is via the Catholic Catalogue, and image 3 via Xaverian Missionaries USA. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Mawlid at Abbey Road


This year Mawlid - the Muslim festival celebrating the birth of the Prophet Muhammad - falls just before Christmas*. It is a Muslim tradition to perform nasheeds - sacred vocal music - at Mawlid. In 2004 the British nasheed group Shaam recorded the album seen above in the famous Studio 2, Abbey Road, which was the venue for historic recordings by The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Kate Bush and many others. Other nasheed albums in my library include Chants du Mawlid by the Sufi group Taybah from a city close to my heart, Avignon. Both albums are notably well presented: Taybah's Chants du Mawlid has extensive French documentation which includes exquisite Arabic calligraphy - see artwork below - while Shaam's Mawlid at Abbey Road is accompanied by an erudite essay by the British Muslim Timothy Winter (Shaykh Abd’ al-Hakim Murad), who is dean of the Cambridge Muslim College, and director of studies, Wolfson College, Cambridge.

In his essay Timothy Winter draws parallels between Gregorian Chant and the art of the nasheed - samples via this link. Yet there is a real risk of nasheeds being condemned as contemporary Entartete Musik (Forbidden Music) because of recent appalling outrages committed by ISIS/Daesh terrorists. A 2010 interview with Timothy Winter in the Independent is essential reading for anyone who really wants to understand the current global predicament; while the following extract from his essay for the Mawlid at Abbey Road album provides a valuable perspective on an important and overlooked difference between Islam and its Abrahamic cousin Christianity, with which this year it shares a festive season:

A striking feature of this music is that it is sung a capella, with only a vigorous beat from the Arab drum, the daff, to contrast with the versatility of the voices. This immediately invites a comparison with Gregorian chant, whose richness has been rediscovered of late by many Western listeners. The resemblance seems strengthened by the almost complete absence of polyphony. In keeping with the almost universal tradition in Islamic music, the voices soar and descend on a single line, the unison receiving only occasional complexity from a deliberate inconsistency in the duration of some of the notes. But here the resemblance to plainchant ends abruptly. The sound of the monks is redolent of shadowy Gothic spaces, and, like the Gothic style which it inhabits, proposes a world of darkness to which the sacraments alone can bring light. There is a mysterious quality to Gregorian chant which is profoundly foreign to these Muslim Syrian sounds, with their insistent, often exuberant syncopations. The root of the difference is, in the last analysis, theological: Islam has no doctrine of original sin, and its arts and music do not emerge de profundis, but form part of the larger song of creation. ‘Have you not seen,’ says the Koran, ‘that God is hymned with praise by all who are in the heavens and the earth, and the birds in their flight? Each knows its prayer and its form of praise.’ The Muslim believer is invited not to set creation behind him, but to join it, and therefore to experience something of its beauty and joy. ‘I rejoice in the world,’ says one Muslim poet, ‘because the world rejoices in Him.’

* Mawlid falls on the 12th of Rabi' al-awwal in the Islamic lunar calendar. As the moon sighting varies in different countries Mawlid may be celebrated on different days in different countries - December 23rd or 24th this year. Because the Islamic calendar is lunar, the date of Mawlid moves against the Gregorian calendar. No review samples used in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A synthesiser orchestra of Wagnerian scale


Because On An Overgrown Path is not a slave to the review copy treadmill, my listening and reading is not fixated on new releases*. However, several books that I read this year were new publications. Given Philip Glass' high profile, it is surprising that his autobiography Words Without Music has not received more attention. Glass writes very well, and his syncretic take on art music with its memories of Ravi Shankar and other cross-tradition musicians is refreshing. However, I found the later chapters like much of Glass' later music - too repetitive and predictable to hold my attention. Unlike several other commentators, I found the anthology The Other Classical Musics edited by Michael Church disappointing. Its attempt to cover all the world's music in one book using different authors is worthy; but, like a taster menu in a Michelin restaurant, it tantalises but frustrates in equal measure. Why an overview of the other classical musics should devote a chapter to European classical music, which is the classical music as opposed to one of the other classical musics, eludes me. It may be comprehensive, but this anthology fails to communicate passion for the other classical musics, and the inclusion of the biographies of contributors as part of the foreword rather than afterword smacks of the new narcissism that pervades music writing. By contrast, the anthology Nick Drake: Remebered for a While edited by Nick's sister Gabriella is a treasure trove that I will keep returning to. And another 2015 highlight for me was the publication of an English translation of Pierre Alain Baud's biography of qawwali legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, titled Nusrat: The Voice of Faith.

Golden oldies provided much reading pleasure in 2015. Peter Lavazzoli's The Dawn of Indian Music in the West delivered pleasure and enlightenment beyond measure; if you read only one music book in 2016 make it this one. Two volumes by Earle H. Waugh, The Munshidīn of Egypt: Their World and Their Song and Memory, Music, and Religion Morocco's Mystical Chanters provided readable but scholarly views on the performing traditions of mystical Islam. Equally illuminating were Global Beat Fusion: The History of the Future of Music by Derek Beres and Rebel Music: Race, Empire, and the New Muslim Youth Culture by Hisham Aidi. A substantial writing commission from the Salzburg Festival immersed me in the Hindu performing arts early in the year; a recent edition of Hindu Music - an anthology edited by Sourindro Mohun Tagore and originally published in 1875 - was a fascinating find, while revisiting Chant and be Happy: the Power of Mantra Meditation was a timely reminder of what music is really about.

But I have saved the best to last. Fathomless Riches by the Reverend Richard Coles was, for me, an unlikely chance find on the shelf of our local library. Richard Coles was one half of the British duo the Communards; they were prominent in the emerging gay scene in the 1980s and had top 40 hits in the UK and US, most notably with the chart-topping Don't Leave Me This Way. But Richard Coles also has serious music credentials including being head chorister at his public school, and in a remarkable change of career direction he was ordained as an Anglican vicar in 2005. He is now a parish priest in Northampton, a presenter on BBC Radio 4, and, inevitably, a Twitter star. Fathomless Riches - see header image - is a no punches pulled autobiographical journey through music and life; unlike so many music writers today, Richard Coles has something pertinent to say and he says it very well. Here he is writing about the Synclavier, a instrument that changed the sound of contemporary music:
Bronski Beat's single 'Why?' was an example of [the Synclavier's] virtues, sounding like a synthesiser orchestra of Wagnerian scale sending in the Valkyries to tackle homophobia.
* All books discussed in this post were bought or borrowed from libraries. The only exception is The Other Classical Musics edited by Michael Church; sorry about that Boydell & Brewer. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Why you should never believe music industry experts


Writing my recent post about David Munrow brought back amusing memories of the Indian summer of analogue sound. When I was at EMI in the late 1970s a respected critic repeatedly criticised the sound balance of new classical releases that we knew were sonically top-notch. So an engineer was despatched from Abbey Road Studios to check out the critic's system. When he arrived at the hack's house he found two long speaker leads from the stereo amplifier. One loudspeaker was in the study, the other in the adjacent living room, so the journalist "could write reviews in either room". Critics were not the only culprits: a senior figure in EMI's classical division complained of distortion on white label pressings. When an engineer checked out the home system of the senior executive - who wielded a lot of power in the classical industry - he found a large lump of plasticine stuck to the tone arm headshell "to keep the needle in the groove".

Then there was the Canadian journalist who asked Sir Adrian Boult to recount how Gustav Mahler invited him to conduct the first performance of the Planets. And later there was the British journalist whose 'authoritative' book on the classical music industry was pulped following the out of court settlement of a High Court action - the action alleged that the book contained more than fifteen errors, of which four were considered to be libellous. That journalist was subsequently awarded a prestigious music industry prize recognising "the commitment and work of artists and journalists who provided a real contribution to the ever increasing role of music in the culture of entire populations and individuals". (It is a conveniently overlooked anomaly that music journalists - who practice music criticism - are themselves subject to so little critical appraisal. If a professional musician performed in the same slipshod self-serving way as some music journalists, the musician would be laughed off the concert platform). And another expert commentator has been doing the rounds of swanky music industry conferences for years, after having been in the driving seat of the leading classical music magazine during the period its circulation - i.e. audience - crashed by more than 50%.

But plus ça change. An independent label celebrated for its sound quality recently sent a new release into the market with prominent non-musical electrical transients in the SACD layer on the multi-format disc. At first the label pleaded that the noise was chairs creaking when the chorus sat down. When I asked if the chorus sat on electric chairs, the producer finally conceded that the intrusive sounds were due to computer instability in the SACD mastering process. As I write, the faulty discs remain in the market ten months after release. However I make no claim to being a music industry expert, nor do I claim infallibility. When I bought John Luther Adams' Become Ocean I returned the two disc set because one of the discs failed to load in my CD system: I had not realised the two discs contained the same music, one in CD format and one in DVD.

Like papal infallibility, industry expert infallibility is a myth. In 1971 the senior music critic of the New York Times Harold C. Schonberg became the first music critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. The Pulitzer Prize website explains that the award was for Schonberg's music criticism during 1970. His The Lives of the Great Composers had been published in that year, and in the book he passed the following judgement*:

Sibelius composed only a handful of works that have any chance of survival. Yet even that is a better average than many composers can show, and in years to come the chances are that the music of Sibelius will occupy a more prominent place than it currently does. At the time of his death he was suffering from a bad name and an aesthetic that ran counter to the age. If a new age does produce a resurgentromanticiam or neoromanticism, Sibelius could come back with it. He did, after all, talk with an individual voice when he was at his best, and he deserves to occupy an honorable place among the minor composers.
There is a serious moral behind these jocular anecdotes. New technologies have greatly increased the power of industry experts. The advent of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other platforms means experts now dictate what music is liked and what is disliked. This has produced a musical monoculture controlled by prescriptive intermediaries who display lack of judgement and excess of self-interest in equal measures. Which means Marius Constantin, Walter Braunfels and Philippa Schuyler - to name three examples featured here recently - are forbidden by the taste makers, while Sibelius, Mahler and Shostakovich are rammed down our throats in the same way that corn is force-fed to geese to produce foie gras. An industry expert is just someone who earns a living from making the same mistakes as amateurs like you and me. The only real experts are the two ears on your head. Research has shown that audiences become what they listen to. So don't believe industry experts; instead let your ears tell you which music you like. As with the search for new audiences, new technologies and new saviours of classical music, the answer isn't somewhere over the rainbow: the answer is here now. The great Sufi poet Attar of Nishapur explained it so well in The Conference of the Birds; here is the irreplaceable Bernard Levin’s précis of the fable from his book Conducted Tour:
The birds go to seek their mysterious king, the Simorg. Their journey is beset by terrible hardship, amid which some die, some desert, some turn back, some lose heart. When the survivors reach their goal, it is to learn the world’s most profound and vital truth. They are told that they have carried the Simorg with them all the time, and they realise that the treasures which we believe lies across cruel wastes, boundless oceans, towering mountains and dreadful valleys really lies within our own hearts.
* Harold C. Schonberg quote appears on page 387 of my 1981 hardback fifth edition of The Lives of the Great Composers. Photo of solitary loudspeaker (the other was in the study) was photographed by me at a caravanserai on the old road between Marrakech and Essaouira in Morocco. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

The unacceptable and arbitrary control exercised by Google


Yesterday's post about the removal from YouTube of John McLaughlin Williams playing Philippa Schuyler's music lamented the totally unacceptable and arbitrary control that Google exercises over our lives. My online protest against the removal of the video - which was accompanied by a formal appeal to YouTube - quickly received significant support. Within twelve hours of the protest going online the message above was received from YouTube. No apology or explanation has been offered by YouTube for what John McLaughlin Williams described on Facebook as "an embarrassingly craven and undeserved act of censorship". In one of the supportive comments added to my protest, composer Kevin Scott describes Philippa Schuyler as "a complex and intriguing American woman". The frightening thing is that John McLaughlin Williams' important contribution to the study of Philippa would have remained arbitrarily censored if On An Overgrown Path - and that includes its readers who are as important to the blog as me - had not robustly confronted YouTube and its parent Goggle. What other material arbitrarily deemed inappropriate has been more successfully censored by Google? The now uncensored performance of Philippa Schuyler's music is embedded below. John McLaughlin Williams' invaluable and eloquent analysis of her music can be read via this link.




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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Young, gifted, black and inappropriate


Since 2011 two posts about Philippa Schuyler On An Overgrown Path have reached a very wide audience. One is a portrait by me of the controversial child prodigy, pianist and composer and the equally controversial treatment of her by the American establishment. The other post featured an embedded audio file of a performance of Philippa Schuyler's Nine Little Pieces for piano recorded specially for the blog by John McLaughlin Williams, together with a written analysis of the pieces by John. Unfortunately the hosting service used for the audio file has become defunct. So yesterday I uploaded the nineteen minute audio file to YouTube, together with the image seen above, an edited version of the introductory paragraph to my biographical article, and links to the two posts.

Within an hour I received an officious email telling me that the YouTube community had flagged the video as inappropriate, and, after reviewing the content, they had determined that it violated their Community Guidelines, and, as a result, Philippa Schuyler's Nine Little Pieces played by John McLaughlin Williams had been removed from YouTube. (See below.) Traffic blogs for the blog showed that just before the removal of the file, a visitor from Google's IP address had followed the links to my two articles (Google owns YouTube), and a non-Google visitor from the U.S. (one of the community vigilantes?) had followed the link from my biographical article to a graphic showing the cover of the December 1962 edition of 'Jet - the Weekly Negro News Magazine' featuring Philippa. This cover carrys the headline 'What happens to Negro child geniuses?'

No explanation was given as to why content which had been hosted on Google's Blogger platform for four years and read/listened to by more than 50,000 people without any adverse comment, was deemed inappropriate for YouTube. In the absence of any explanation I have to conclude that the totally unacceptable and arbitrary control that Google exercises over our lives (search engine, operating system, email, video sharing, mapping etc) means that a small but, I believe, valuable musical document has been censored.

Update - twelve hours later the video is reinstated.



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Saturday, December 19, 2015

What makes a good performer?

'A bad performer wants people to say how good he is. Good performers want people to say how good people are' - Robert Lax
Kurt Masur, who said “I don’t want to be called a ‘wonder', the wonder is the music” died on December 19th 2015 aged 88. The quote comes from Robert Lax's introduction to his poetry cycle The Circus of the Sun.

Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Is this Mahler's Eleventh Symphony?


Back in 2005 a post here looked at the 20th century music that Wilhelm Furtwängler conducted with the Berlin Philharmonic. Among the forgotten composers that Furtwängler programmed was Walter Braunfels, whose music featured in two Berlin Philharmonic concerts in the pre-National Socialism years of 1924 and 1925. Walter Braunfels was born in Frankfurt am Main in 1882. He studied music in Vienna and Munich, and converted to Catholicism in 1918. In the 1920s he achieved considerable success both as a pianist and composer; with the opera Die Vögel (1920) among his early successes, followed by a Te Deum in 1922. His Grosse Messe, modelled on Beethhoven's Missa Solemnis, followed in 1927, and received frenzied applause and lengthy ovation at its premiere in Cologne.

But Braunfel was soon to fall from favour: his half-Jewish bloodline marked him out when Hitler became Chancellor, and in 1933 he was dismissed from all official offices and denounced as a composer of Entartete Musik. Following the Second World War his late Romantic style failed to find favour and he died virtually forgotten in 1954. However recent years have seen a minor revival of interest in his music. and a noteworthy recording of Braunfels Grosse Messa was made in 2010 at a concert by the Staatsopernchor Stuttgart conducted by Manfred Honek*. Critics at the 1927 premiere of the Grosse Messe commented on its indebtedness to Bruckner and particularly Mahler, and the finales of Mahler's Second and Eighth Symphonies clearly influenced Braunfels. But is that a problem? In my book first rate derivative music is preferable to second rate original music, and there is too much of the latter in today's concert programmes.

* Unusually I can find no audio sample of Braunfels Grosse Messa to share with readers. Could a YouTube Law be merging? - the merit of a work is inversely proportional to the number of clips on YouTube. Despite this, details of samples so that other readers can sample the little-known delights of the Grosse Messa would be appreciated. No review CDs used in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Another composer from the twilight zone


Any Bernstein performance from the archives is noteworthy. But what makes this 2008 double CD from Radio France's Ocora label particularly noteworthy is the coupling of the premiere of '24 Préludes pour Orchestre' by the Romanian composer Marius Constant (1925-2004). Olivier Messiaen, Arthur Honegger and Nadia Boulanger were among his teachers, and he was a member of Pierre Schaeffer's Groupe de Recherche de Musique Concrète. Today, Marius Constant is remembered, if at all, for the title theme for the TV series 'Twilight Zone'. Audiences need permission to like unfamiliar music and classical's twitterati should be playing a much more proactive role in granting that permission for composers such as Marius Constant. Those who have hijacked social media for self-promotion should note Leonard Bernstein's wise words* that: "We don't sell music, we share it". Audition Marius Constant's '24 Préludes pour Orchestre' via this link.

* Is that Bernstein quote apocryphal? It is in wide circulation, but I cannot identify where, or indeed if, he said it. No review samples used in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Sinfini Music and collateral damage


Seen above is an August 2013 post On An Overgrown Path. Now comes the following news from Norman Lebrecht*: "[Sinfini Music] has told contributors it will cease commissioning new material from the end of this month. Past material will remain online, but we understand from sources within Universal that the site will migrate to Berlin in the New Year to become the English-language component of the Deutsch Grammophon [Lebrecht's misspelling] site. The idea of an independent online classical magazine hosted by Universal [Lebrecht's oxymoron] quietly expired".

Sinfini Music brought native advertising - removal of the crucial Chinese wall between editorial content and advertising - to music journalism. It gave journalists permission to remorselessly promote both corporate and personal interests under the cover of independent writing. And it was a major force in turning music journalism into a cesspit reeking of self-interest. Unlike Sinfini contributors Norman Lebrecht, Jessica Duchen, Paul Morley and others, I was no friend of the website. But I feel no schadenfreude at its demise. Because the collateral damage Sinfini has inflicted on the ethics and standards of music journalism is irreversible.

* This post is based on a single source, Norman Lebrecht's Slipped Disc blog. To maintain some semblance of standards I have made it a rule over the years not to run a story unless it has been corroborated from at least two independent sources. Which is not the case with this post, and so I have compromised my standards. But those standards had to be compromised because a music journalist has become the de facto mouthpiece of Universal Music - Lebrecht's breaking of Sinfini's closure is billed as 'exclusive'. Which is just part of the irreversible collateral damage inflicted by Universal Music on the ethics and standards of music journalism.

Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Early musician who could have become a great conductor


Hopefully at least a little of the content from eleven years of On An Overgrown Path transcends the virtual noise that is the staple fare of online music journalism today. For me the most rewarding projects have been the Philippa Schuyler and Master Musician of Jajouka doubleheaders, the profile of Guyanese conductor Rudolph Dunbar, the exploration of contemporary modal music, and interviews with Jonathan Harvey, Jordi Savall, Ali Keeler, and with David Munrow's recording producer Christopher Bishop. Although the latter interview has been available as a sound file it has not to date been transcribed as text. So while tidying up loose ends I have transcribed the interview below. (The photo at the foot of the article was taken during the radio interview and shows me with Christopher Bishop).

Although David Munrow is best known as an early music authority the interview ranges widely. Christopher Bishop mentored both Riccardo Muti and Andre Previn early in their careers, and his view that had David Munrow not died tragically young, he could have become a great conductor is intriguing. Also interesting is the discussion about Munrow's use of improvisation and jazzy rhythms. This chimes with the view expressed by Western classically trained Sufi musician Ali Keeler in my recent interview that improvisation could play an important role in broadening the appeal of Western classical music. Auspicious convergence of cultural paths has always been a feature here, and that convergence is evidenced in the music of the troubadors championed by David Munrow. The troubadors' music, which helped shape the Western classical tradition, was probably influenced by itinerant Sufi musicians from Andalusia, which is where Ali Keeler is based. Another meme On An Overgrown Path has been disdain for musical anniversaries. But I hope that making this interview available will be a worthwhile contribution to the anniversary next year of David Munrow's untimely death in May 1976. Ironically, next year is also the anniversary of the death of American early music pioneer Noah Greenberg, who died too young in January 1966.



Bob Shingleton: In the early 1970s the scores for the BBC TV series The Six Wives of Henry VIII and Elisabeth R brought David Munrow’s music to millions. His Pied Piper radio programme was broadcast four times a week for five years, he presented a successful TV series, and wrote music for several major feature films including Ken Russell's The Devils - together with Peter Maxwell Davies - and Henry VIII & his Six Wives directed by Waris Hussein. David Munrow's interest in early music started when he taught in Peru before going up to Cambridge. He combined reading English at Pembroke College with independent studies of Renaissance and medieval music, and went on to form his famous Early Music Consort of London. Under his leadership the Early Music Consort became best-selling recording artists, and David Munrow’s records were considered so important that copies of them were sent to Saturn on board two NASA spacecraft in 1976.

Today David Munrow is remembered by the records he made for EMI that started in 1971 with the LP Two Renaissance Dance Bands. He was brought to EMI by their double Grammy winning recording producer Christopher Bishop who produced Munrow's first records for the famous dog and trumpet label. Christopher who also worked with Carlo Maria Giulini, Charles Mackerras, André Previn, Yehudi Menuhin, Riccardo Muti, Sir Adrian Boult and many other great musicians, and I am delighted to welcome him to the Overgrown Path today. Welcome Christopher, and can you start by telling us how you first met David Munrow?

CB: It was rather strange, it wasn't as obvious or direct as you might think. I used to conduct a madrigal group. We'd done lots of different broadcasts of straightforward madrigals, and the producer Basil Lam said to me it would be very interesting to try doing some madrigals with instruments, and I thought oh... He suggested viols and other stringed instruments, and also recorders. And I thought "oh no" - I used to be a school master, and the word recorder has a horrifying significance for me. So I asked "must we?", and Basil Lam said there is this young man called David Munrow who is an incredibly good player - come and hear him. So I went along to a concert he was doing, and, of course, it was fantastic; so I said that would be great. So the first time I met David Munrow was at the BBC recording sessions. We did some madrigals with viols, and some without any instruments, and we got on very welll indeed. He mucked about all the time; - he was great fun - and he also mucked about musically. One of the madrigals we did was 'Hark All Ye Lovely Saints' by Weelkes, where the choir sings the verse and fah lahs at the end - which are really instrumental in a way - were played by David and his group. We let him do that, and in the second verse he really goes to town and decorates it in a way that I am quite sure no singer would ever have done.

That BBC session was a very important occasion both for me and in a way for David, because he asked for a lift afterwards to the station. We were chatting about his programme and I said how much I enjoyed his playing. I think I took him about a mile and a half, and in that very short distance he managed to convince me that it would be a very good idea if EMI, where I was then a producer, made a record of his group, and I agreed. He had another record he had already made - I can't remember if it was released commercially - and I took that record around the company and persuaded people that it would be a good idea to use him. A year later we did actually make the first record; he was tremendous fun to work with, and, surprisingly, the record became extremely popular.



BS: At that time there wasn't a great market for early music; in fact there was hardly a market at all. What convinced you to record what at that time must have been a very minority market?

CB: I think it was just that it was so very jolly and clever, and full of life. You know, it just had it; in a way I suppose we looked at in a way that pop producers do. They don't ask 'is there a market for this?'; they say 'that's good, so we'll do it', and then the market is made. I don't suppose anyone thought there was a market for the Beatles when they first started; they just thought this is a great band and it took off. In a way David was like that: he was his own advertiser he did these broadcasts called Pied Piper that you mentioned, and he also went round performing all the time. He was never not working, and that sort of energy committed itself.

BS: That level of risk taking is something that is really disappearing now from the classical music scene. There is virtually no backing of hunched and those golden days of risk taking have gone presumably.

CB: Yes, that was the late 1960s and early 70s when we did that. It was a very different world indeed, and people don't dare do anything like that now, particularly in the large companies. I think all the adventurousness now tends to be in the smaller companies, but EMI in those days was a very adventurous company indeed. It made the first recording of the Elgar oratorios and that sort of thing, which, of course, have also been recorded by other companies since then. It was a very, very great company.

BS: Did you have a job of selling the concept of David Munrow to the powers that be at EMI? It was EMI UK that recorded him for presumably?

CB: Yes, it was the British company, a man called John Whittle who was a tremendous enthusiast. It was quite easy to make John enthuse; if you enthused to him he would pick it up, as would another chap called Douglas Pudney who worked very hard in the same way. I just played the record to him and he said "wow!" The record I played had on it the first piece we did for the 'Two Renaissance Dance Bands' album. It was called La Mourisque; it's a very noisy piece and I always think of David red faced and puffing away when I hear it

BS: Christopher, in the studio you had been dealing with the conventional symphony orchestra and conventional chamber music and suddenly you were confronted with these extraordinary instruments that David Munrow suddenly introduced. Wasn't this all a bit of a culture shock?

CB: It was indeed; it was such a culture shock that at one stage in the game I said wouldn't it be a good idea if you did a record (in due course it turned out to be two) with samples of all these peculiar instruments - things like nakers for example which are a percussion instrument, and various kinds of string instruments, and regals and crumhorns. I knew what a crumhorn was, but before working with David I had never seen one actually being played. One got quite used to all these things, and I used to say I can't quite hear the second crumhorn, can you just play it a little louder or move the mic and that sort of thing. It became a completely different world and eventually David did do a wonderful box set called Instruments of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, which is a very po-faced title. I wanted to call it 'A Young Person's Guide to Old Instruments' but they thought that a little too populist. Nowadays I am sure they would have used that title; but remember, this was a long time ago when we were much more po-faced really. It was terrfific fun working with David, you can tell from the enthusiasm you can hear on his recordings.



BS: What was David Munrow like in the studio? Did you have to restrain him? - I always get the impression of someone running away with all these weird and wild instruments and wanting to do extraordinary things. Did you give him his head in the recording studio, and what was the chemistry like?

CB: No, he wasn't like that at all in the studio. He was full of enthusiasm and so on, but he was so professional - he could never have done all he did if he hadn't been absolutely disciplined. He used to do ridiculous things like staying up all night writing out parts, and he wouldn't really trust anyone else to do his work for him. He did all the copying; think of nowadays what you can do so easily with Sibelius (the music writing software), he used to do all that by hand, there were no mechanical aids at all. Nothing was printed; it was all written out by him and it really was an amazing experience working with him because he was so full of energy. It was terrifying, he used to put the music stands out, he'd appear early and put out all the music and the music stands, and he'd suddenly think he had got them in the wrong place and rush out and move them all again. Then we might ask him if he wouldn't mind moving a seat because, you know, we wanted to get nearer to a certain instrument which might be quiet, and he'd have to go out and reorganise it himself.

BS: Listening to your recordings of the Early Music Consort I am struck by the freshness and spontaneity of it all. They sound almost improvised in fact. Did David Munrow come into the studio with a clear plan for the record? Did you know what he was going to record?

CB: Oh, absolutely. Everything was completely organised - totally. But what you say about improvisation is actually true, because in some pieces he used to decorate. He and John Turner (the second recorder player), they used to fiddle around and decorate in the most delightful way. Whether they rehearsed the basic idea, or whether it was second nature to them I just don't know really, but it was extremely free. Some of the improvisation was very jazzy, I can't really believe some of the improvised rhythms were used in the 16th century. His music was improvised, because if you did two takes the second would be different to the first. Now that posed slight problems for us sometimes if we tried to edit between them, and it wasn't always easy. But as all the pieces were very short, if it went wrong he did it again.

BS: So there was very little editing. We hear so many stories today about very short takes and it all been spliced together - was there very much editing required after those David Munrow sessions?

CB: No there wasn't - very little indeed. Because we really didn't need to: because they were so good and you could redo the whole piece if it only lasted two or three minutes. It's not like a symphony where you have to slice in a chunk.

BS: There is this stereotype of David Munrow as being an early music specialist. But in fact this is not true at all. He was involved in modern music and he was involved in film scores. He was a much broader musician than this early music category wasn't he?

CB: He started with early music and moved on from there. In the same way I suppose that Neville Marriner started with 18th century music and moved on from there, and Raymond Leppard the same. But the fact that he was able to change his interest and his concept was fascinating.

BS: How important were the film scores?

CB: Well, the only one that I had anything to do with was Henry VIII. That consisted almost entirely of old music except for one piece, which is the music for the joust where Henry VIII is sitting there looking jealous; there is sort of tortured music, he is sitting there looking at Anne Boleyn flirting with young courtiers. Then, eventually, that music is used on his deathbed. It is very effective; he says that it is aleatoric, which means it has been done by the throw of the dice. But I don't believe that is true at all: I don't believe he made it up, I believe he wrote it - but it is extremely effective.



BS: That is very interesting. I hadn't heard he claimed it was aleatoric music; obviously there are connections there with John Cage and other contemporary composers like Alvin Curran, whose Inner Cities piano cycle I broadcast on Future Radio recently. It's amazing how all these threads come together; we are not talking here just about early and medieval music, it's much broader than that.

CB: Well I think it would have been. I think it had only just started, I'm not sure how much he would have known about John Cage in those days to be quite fair. But I think he had begun to develop into a different kind of musician from just the recorder player. Because he was so intelligent and had such a lot of energy, and the Pied Piper programmes were amazingly broad - he was quite happy to talk about Mahler and Wagner and so on - he was by no means narrow. Was he frantic to deal with?

BS: Tell us about more about working with him in the recording studio. We get the impression of someone who was incredibly driven: you say he was working all night, he was working across radio and television and cinema, he was recording LPs, and, of course, performing in the concert hall. That was very unusual in the 1970s, he was a true multi-media artist.

CB: Well he was pretty terrifying to deal with, because he got himself into a pretty high-pressured state - I think his blood pressure must have been horrendous. But his face - partly because he played a wind instrument and of course he was puffing all the time - his face was usually a sort of red colour. He was very, very driven, that is a very good word for him. He was totally driven; he spent all his time working at music. I don't know what he did to relax; one never saw him relax; but then I only saw him in the studio and doing concerts

BS: Some of the music David Munrow composed is quite extraordinary. If you played a piece like his music for the jousting scene from Henry VIII that we talked about earlier to someone without telling them who the composer was, I suspect they would never suggest it was by him.

CB: Well you are used to David Munrow the performer, and, of course, he wouldn't have performed that sort of music in his early music concerts. I produced the music for the film and I think the music was composed - by chance or otherwise - for the film and not the BBC programme, although I can't quite recall. I can remember the film appearing on the screen in the recording studio as it does, and you see little bits the wrong way round and think who on earth is that? - it is someone who has come in at the beginning and you hardly see again. It all had to be done in that highly complicated way, but he was completely on the ball about it and knew exactly what he was doing.

BS: We are starting to move away from David Munrow as an early music performer. One of the interesting things is that he worked with such a wide range of musicians. He worked for instance with Sir Adrian Boult - David Munrow and Sir Adrian Boult is not a combination you would expect. How did that come about?

CB: Well it came about through me I suppose. Because Adrian Boult was one of my artists and I thought what a wonderful thing it would be for him and John Turner to do the Brandenburg Concerto recorder parts - because they are really recorder parts and not flute - and I suggested it to Sir Adrian. I think I must have played a record to him and he said 'this is fantastic'. When David and John Turner came into the studio Sir Adrian was wonderful with them; he treated them perfectly normally, as if they were great artists, which of course they were. There was no patronisation at all, and John Turner said he was always terribly amused by the fact that Boult always said to him [imitates Sir Adrian] "Well, we will try that again and I am sure it will be even better", and the result is a wonderful performance.

BS: The classical music scene today is divided very sharply between period and modern instrument performances. It must seem surprising to the younger generation that David Munrow, who in some ways was a pioneer of period instruments, performed Bach with a modern symphony orchestra. Were there any obstacles to that?

CB: No, it is strange now, but I think the thing was Boult was doing a set of Brandenburg Concertos, and therefore we had to have a recorder or flautist for numbers 2 and 4. I think that Boult was amazingly adventurous to accept the idea of doing it. But he immediately said 'that's a wonderful idea'. I think these days it would have been recorded by a tiny 'Bachy' type orchestra with Harnoncourt or someone. In those days symphony orchestras did still play Bach, and jolly well too.



BS: Tragically David Munrow took his own life in May 1976. Presumably this came as a terrible shock to his fiends and colleagues.

CB: It did; but in a way, when you think about it afterwards, he drove himself so terribly that any emotional problem would have had a much greater impact on him than for someone who was on a more even keel. We were all absolutely devastated by it, particularly the peformers he worked with who saw him as a life force, and if a life force dies or kills himself it is simply terrible - it couldn't be worse. I know that it knocked some of them - the countertenor James Bowman for instance - absolutely for six. He couldn't sing for quite a long time afterwards; he was absolutely devastated by it, and i am not surprised.

BS: And the news of his death came totally out of the blue.

CB: Completely, one day I had a phone call from John Willan who had taken over producing his recordings towards the end of his time, and John said: "You will never guess what has happened, the little blighter has killed himself" and I knew exactly who he meant. I said "you mean David" and he said "yes". It was really absolutely frightful.

BS: He was just thirty-three when he died. If that tragedy hadn't happened what do you think he would have gone on to do?

CB: Now that is a very interesting question. I think he would have become a very, very distinguished educator,and also conducting full-size orchestras. It is almost impossible to imagine, but his agent and I agreed always, if about nothing else, about the fact that he had definitely got the potential to be something more even than someone like André Previn. Previn was a great populariser and I think Munrow would have gone slightly deeper than that. I am not sure what repertoire he would have done, certainly opera and things like that, he would have loved anything that could have broadened his musical outlook.

BS: We can only speculate, but as a conductor, do you think he would have had a career across all categories and across all ages of repertoire. Would he have moved out of the early music and baroque category?

CB: Yes, I think he probably would. You think of Daniel Barenboim, but his career followed a fairly straightforward path: he started off as a pianist - a great Beethoven and Mozart pianist - and he then went on to conduct - a not unusual course. But Munrow's world was absolutely different; I don't think I have ever come across anyone like that. Neville Marriner is a sort of parallel, someone who in early music, although obviously he was an orchestral player who played everything when he was at the London Symphony Orchestra; Neville's conducting career began with early music and gradually went into the modern era. I think David Munrow would have become a very great conductor and also a great populariser.

BS: Christopher, we've heard how David Munrow was an extraordinary talent and extraordinary person to work with. How would you like to remember this extraordinary talent? What would be your abiding memory and the piece of music to remember him by?

CB: Well my abiding memory really is, of course, of him in the studio. I can remember him so well coming rushing in to listen to takes, and on one occasion something wasn't very good. I said to him "David that's not really up to standard", and he said [angry voice]: "What do you mean, what do you mean not up to standard. What standard is it not up to, EMI's?" And I said: "No, it isn't actually. It's not up to your standard either". He said "Oh balls!" and went back into the studio and immediately played the whole thing perfectly.To rile him and to get him angry was a pretty sure way of getting him to perform perfectly. He was so proud; he was a very, very proud person oddly enough of his ability and of his standards. The music which makes me remember him most was La Mourisque from 'Two Renaissance Dance bands". I can see his red face puffing away at the crumhorn or recorder - I can't remember which - and that music captures him perfectly.



This article is a transcription of my 2007 Future Radio interview with Christopher Bishop. However, the text has been judiciously edited to enable it to work in a text format; the original audio interview is available at the time of writing on Soundcloud. All text is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2015. Header photo credit DavidMunrow dot org. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.