Wednesday, May 23, 2018

When will we hear the song of Ram Dass?


The lineage of John Fould's orchestral Song of Ram Dass is unclear. As discussed in my earlier article the published score for Song of Ram Dass explains the title as a reference to Swami Ramdas, a revered Hindu teacher who lived from 1884 to 1963.However Adrian Corleonis gives a conflicting interpretation of the title, explaining that: "The title refers to a 16th century Sikh guru." The accompanying photos were taken by me recently in the holy city of Varanasi. Although John Foulds was born in Manchester in 1880 he was influenced by Indian mysticism from an early age. In 1935 moved to India and became director of European music for All-India Radio in Delhi where he founded an Indian European Orchestra; however, sadly, he succumbed to cholera in Calcutta in 1939.


Sakari Oramo championed the forgotten John Foulds in his time as music director at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra from 1998 to 2008. During that period Oramo recorded Fould's Indian-influenced Song of Ram Dass and Three Mantras from Avatara. Since 2013 Oramo has been the chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, but he has not conducted any of Fould's music at the Proms. The Three Mantras have had two performances under other conductors, however the Song Of Ram Dass has never had a Proms performance.

Sakari Oramo's tenure at the BBCSO has just been extended until 2020. He has been active in giving audiences permission to like unfamiliar music, notably a 2014 Proms outing for William Alwyn's unjustly overlooked First Symphony. Despite this it would be good to see Oramo conducting far more adventurous programmes to supplement the audience whoring pot boilers that are now the staple diet of Proms' audiences..



I make no claim that John Foulds is a neglected genius. But in its early days digital technology was acclaimed as a great democratiser that would abolish hierarchies and establish a level creative playing field. We should now be living in a post-ranking age of digitally empowered plenitude where both Beethoven and Foulds should be readily available for appreciation. Instead hierarchies are the new black, winners are king and losers are consigned to algorithmic oblivion. Indian tabla maestro Zakir Hussain summed it up perfectly in a recent interview:
There is this need for human beings to establish the number one. And it cannot be - music is not sports. It's not boxing where you become the number one ranking boxer. It does not mean you are the best boxer around, it just means you are ranked number one at that point in time because you happen to have won a few more fights than someone else.
John Foulds is one of many composers who for years have been conspicuous by their absence from the BBC Proms. We are repeatedly told that Proms audiences are the best in the world. Do the best really need spoon-feeding? The root of the problem is that Sakari Oramo's role is chief conductor of the BBCSO, while artistic decisions are taken by an administrator, Proms director David Pickard, together with former civil servant Radio 3 controller Alan 'mixtape' Davey. Oramo did exciting things at the CBSO. Crazy wisdom in the form of the counter-intuitive smartness of the Glock/Boulez era is sadly lacking at the Proms today. If Birmingham can do it, and if other BBC orchestras - notably the BBC Scottish under Ilan Volkov can do it, why not Oramo and the BBCSO at the Proms?


On An Overgrown Path is no longer linked on social media. New posts are available via RSS/email by entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. Other blogs ask for crowdfunding or payment for an RSS feed. On An Overgrown Path asks for no payment at all. But I do ask readers to do one thing. Please register for email updates; it takes seconds and costs nothing. But it will help the blog survive by building a critical mass of readers.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Proof there is life after Facebook


Drawing attention to that link may be hubris, but it is hubris with a message. My post How we killed the art of long-form thinking was launched into virtual space without the booster rocket of social media. Despite this it was linked on the Financial Times' Alphaville daily news and commentary service for financial professionals. That service significantly is - as the pint-sized Overgrown Path has now become - an email newsletter and blog. Which resonates with my recent post about the rise of curated music newsletters. One swallow does not make a spring, but it is good to see that every bird in the sky is not twittering. An interview with tech guru and social media hawk Jaron Lanier in the Sunday Times lurks, like an increasing amount of worthwhile content, behind a paywall. But the headline 'Ten reasons why you should delete your social media accounts' says it all. The article explains that Lainier's advice is blissfully straightforward: 'If we are all "well-trained dogs" in this grand social media manipulation, as he suggests, then "your immediate goal is to be a cat". He's serious, Lanier is...a cat person... Unlike dogs, which can be trained, cats exist in our world, but are impervious to instruction or control. Lanier writes "Your immediate goal is to be a cat"'. Cats have nine lives, and in fourteen years of blogging the feline-influenced On An Overgrown Path has now used two of its lives and survived. Read about its first near-death experience in Is there life after The Huffington Post?

Other blogs ask for crowdfunding or payment for an RSS feed. On An Overgrown Path asks for no payment at all. But I do ask readers to do one thing. Please register for email updates of posts on the right-hand sidebar. It takes seconds and costs nothing. But it will help the blog survive by building a critical mass of readers. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Monday, May 21, 2018

How we killed the art of long-form thinking


In 2015 Mathias Enard's novel Compass [Boussole] won the prestigious Prix Goncourt in France and it was shortlisted in 2017 for the UK's Booker Prize. The novel's central character is a Viennese musicologist, and its epigraph quotes Wilhelm Müller as set by Schubert. In the first two pages Britten and Debussy are mentioned and the CD seen above of Rumi settings sung by Kurdish Iranian tenor Shahram Nazeri is cited with these words:
...the swirling melisma of the Iranian singer, whose power and timbre could make many of our tenors blush with shame... What strength in this piece of Nazeri's. What magical, mystical simplicity, this architecture of percussion that supports the slow pulsation of the song, the distant rhythms of the ectasy to be attained, a hypnotic zikr that sticks in your ears and stays with you for hours on end.
All of which makes it puzzling that Compass is off the radar of the classical taste makers. Or perhaps not so puzzling when it is realised that the novel ventures beyond the ubiquitous Mahlerian existential angst which defines the stereotype of fin de siècle Vienna, to explore the fault line where Friedrich Rückert and others rubbed up against Orientalism. That creative friction produced, inter alia Goethe's West–östlicher Divan, a collection of lyrical verse inspired by the Persian Sufi poet Hafez. Despite this, the lineage of Daniel Barenboim's West–Eastern Divan Orchestra remains obfuscated: in fact the first result returned by a Google search for 'West–Eastern Divan Orchestra Sufism' is my 2014 Salzburg Summer Festival essay Listening with the ear of the heart. At a time when precisely defined congeniality prevails, West-East harmony spins well but mystical Islam does not.

Aleppo, Damascus and Tehran are among the unexpected locations for this novel about a Viennese musicologist. Mathias Enard's 2010 novel Zone - hailed as one of the most significant novels of the century so far - comprises one single 500-page sentence. The eloquent and similarly long-form prose in the masterly English translation of Compass by Charlotte Mandell is a salutary reminder of the damage inflicted by online journalism and self-publishing. But it is not just writing skills that have been irreparably eroded by our online culture. As Compass reminds us, we have also lost the art of long-form thinking. Here is Mathias Enard on the Kindertotenlieder:
... as a teenager, it was the only piece by Mahler I could bear, and even more, it was one of the rare pieces that was capable of moving me to tears, the cry of the oboe, that terrifying song, I hid this passion like a slightly shameful defect and today it is very sad to see Mahler so debased, swallowed up by cinema and advertising, his handsome thin face so overused to sell God knows what, you have to keep from detesting his music that encumbers orchestra programmes, the bins of record dealers, radio stations, and last year, during the centenary of his death, you had to block your ears because Vienna oozed Mahler even through the most unexpected cracks, there were tourists wearing T-shirts with Gustav's effigy, buying posters, magnets for their fridges, and of course in Klagenfurt there was a crowd to visit his cabin by the Wörthersee...
Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). On An Overgrown Path is no longer linked on social media. But new posts can be received by RSS/email by simply entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Royal wedding trivia


In his sermon at yesterday's royal wedding the Most Reverend Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, quoted the French philosopher and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955). Following his conversion to Roman Catholicism, Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986) was heavily influenced by Teilhard; in his definitive biography of the composer Leo Black describes how "Once converted to Roman Catholicism, Rubbra studied and accepted Teilhard's optimistic and positive reconciliation of biblical narrative with evolutionary theory". This adulation was reflected in Rubbra's Eighth Symphony which is subtitled 'Hommage à Teilhard de Chardin'. Of course Rubbra's magnificent and ludicrously overlooked symphony did not feature in the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. But it could have done: at 24 minutes it is just 10 minutes longer than Bishop Curry's sermon.

Lyrita CD transfer of Rubbra's Symphony No.6, Symphony No.8, and Soliloquy for cello and orchestra provides header graphic. Buy, or forever live in ignorance. On An Overgrown Path is no longer linked on social media. But new posts can be received by RSS/email by simply entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. No reveiw samples used in this post

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The shock of the true


Performers must have a certain ego - have that confidence to get onto the stage and strut their stuff. In a negative form, the ego creates fiction. We are fallible as human beings. Our greatness, if we are in any way great, is only as musicians. These are two different things. So that's why some of the old masters, outside of their music, were not necessarily good husbands, good parents, or even of great value to the community. This is not meant as a criticism; it's just that their commitment to their art was total.
That is Zakir Hussain, who is seen above, speaking to Nasreen Munni Kabir in the volume of interviews with the tabla virtuoso recently published by Random House, India. Read, or forever live in darkness.

Zakar Hussain: A Life in Music, was bought in Harmony Books at Assi Ghat, Varanasi, one of the great independent bookshops of the world. On An Overgrown Path is no longer linked on social media. New posts can be received by RSS/email by simply entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Thursday, May 17, 2018

India beyond the sitar


Among Indian musical instruments the short-necked fiddle known as a sarangi is the Cinderella. Because it was closely associated with popular folk music the sarangi fell out of favour at the turn of the last century, and the harmonium and violin began to replace it in classical performances. Later, the flowering of Indian music in the West was led by the sitar, which shares with the now-ubiquitous Malian kora a beguiling mellifluousness. By contrast the sarangi closely approximates the Indian classical vocal style, and is therefore more challenging to Western ears.

Despite its eclipse and relative inaccessibility to Western ears there are many distinguished sarangi masters, and my recent listening has included Indian recordings of ragas played by Ustad Sultan Khan with his longtime accompanist tabla virtuoso sans frontières Zakir Hussain. Overgrown paths converge here as Zakir Hussain was a member of John McLaughlin's Shakti, a band featured in another post sparked by recent travels in India. My photos were taken in the Patanjali district of Delhi - yes, that magnificent creature below is a champion fighting gamecock - and while in Varanasi I bought in Harmony Books at Assi Ghat, one of the great independent bookshops of the world, the new Zakar Hussain: A Life in Music, based on Nasreen Munni Kabir's interviews with the tabla master.



A just-released album is notable for, among other things, porting the sarangi into contemporary Western music. The acoustic exploits of the French gypsy-influenced composer and guitarist Titi Robin have featured many times here over the years, including his notable Les Rives [River Banks] project which featured the scion of a celebrated sarangi dynasty Murad Ali Khan. Now, more than half a century after Dylan, in a radical stylistic departure Titi Robin has gone electric with his trans-cultural homage to desert blues Rebel Diwana, again with Murad Ali Khan contributing on sarangi. In yet another post sparked by my Indian travels I described the rise of curated newsletters that share music discoveries that have moved and inspired their writers. Which is precisely what this post is trying to do. Primum Vivere [Prelude], the opening track from Titi Robin's Rebel Diwana, can be seen and heard via this link.


On An Overgrown Path is no longer linked on social media. But new posts can be received by RSS/email by simply entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. No reveiw samples used in this post.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Spare us this feel-good social media nonsense


Regular readers will know I am a passionate advocate of Malcolm Arnold's music, and I was part of his circle in the last few years of his life in the role of web master for his personal website. Sir Malcolm was an inspirational example of how a genius can swim against the tide of fashion without drowning. But portraying him as a feel-good role model does him a grave disservice. In his masterful music darkness too often blocks out the light. He suffered from alcoholism, self-harm, broken marriages, and an acrimonious dispute with his children that lingered after his death. That quote, which is bandied around all over the internet and is, horror of horrors, perpetuated on a fridge magnet, comes from a 1991 BBC Omnibus interview. During it Sir Malcolm also explains "all of my music is biographical". Then in a 1995 interview with Andrew Penny for Naxos's recording of his Ninth Symphony this exchange took place:
Andrew Penny: "Did you think as you began to write the Ninth Symphony that it would be the last thing you wrote?"

Sir Malcolm Arnold: "I was rather hoping it would be....(pause)...the piece is an amalgam of all my knowledge of humanity."

AP: "It is a huge, bleak, finale isn't it?"

SMA: (long pause) "....Yes...I wanted it to die away into infinity....."
Presumably this quote is not the stuff of which fridge magnets and feel-good tweets are made.

On An Overgrown Path is no longer linked on social media. New posts are available via RSS/email by entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Leaders destroy followers and followers destroy leaders

'I struggle to appreciate the undoubted huge talents of Simon Rattle, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla and Sheku Kanneh-Mason, because when I hear their music making I also hear the remorseless noise made by their online boosters' - Overgrown Path 13/05/2018, headline is from the very wise Jiddu Krishnamurti
This blog is no longer linked on social media. New posts can be received via RSS/email by entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Monday, May 14, 2018

Portrait of a blogger as an old man


When travelling I listen to high energy music on headphones as more nuanced repertoire suffers from masking by ambient noise. High on my playlist during recent extensive travels in India were John McLaughlin's Shakti recordings. John McLaughlin was a follower of the charismatic and controversial guru Sri Chinmoy, as was Carlos Santana and the undeservedly overlooked Olivier Greif; see my post A composer and his guru. In his invaluable The Dawn of Indian Music in the West Peter Lavezzoli describes how when asked by McLaughlin about the connection between music and higher consciousness, Chimnoy - who was an accomplished musician himself - replied that a person's own state of mind, even in the most mundane activity, is more important than what one does. Which resonates with my recent post about the importance of both 'set' - the score and how it is played - and 'setting' - the environment in which the music is performed, and also with Benjamin Britten's assertion that "Music demands ... some preparation, some effort, a journey to a special place..." I took the header photo well off the tourist track in the special place of Orchha.

On An Overgrown Path is no longer linked on social media. But new posts can be received by RSS/email by simply entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Streaming is damaging more than the music


That article in the current edition of Rolling Stone India reports on the rise of curated music newsletters, a trend which shows that streaming services are not the only place to discover new music. These email newsletters share music discoveries, and are used by their curators as a listening discipline and to create digital memories of the music that moved and inspired them. All of which resonated powerfully with my own decision to stop using social media to promote On An Overgrown Path and to rely instead on a committed RSS readership.

The many social media addicts will doubtless point out that the readership of these newsletters is small, and my own RSS following is indeed tiny compared to that fancifully claimed by click bait meister Norman Lebrecht. But increasing concern is being expressed about the creative damage inflicted by streamed music and video content. Yet surprisingly little attention is being paid to the damage inflicted by on demand services such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that stream highly subjective opinions and gossip packaged as informed commentary. The modest but significant rise of curated music newsletters - which is effectively what On An Overgrown Path has become - is clear evidence of a growing resistance to the hegemony of streamed click bait. Unlike the many who live their lives on social media, I am a paying consumer of music, not a gravy train-riding cultural commentator - anyone remember Sinfini Music? So it may be worth those who agonise over the decline of classical music reflecting on the following.

Appreciating classical music depends on, to use Timothy Leary's paradigm, both 'set' - the score and how it is performed - and 'setting' - the environment in which it is performed. An adverse setting can nullify the most sublime set. Which is why I now attend very few classical concerts, as the glow of mobile phones and the mindless dribbles of applause between movements destroy the setting for me. Similarly I no longer listen to BBC Radio 3 because the egregious contributions of Petroc Trelawny and his peers destroy the setting. And it explains why I struggle to appreciate the undoubted huge talents of Simon Rattle, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla and Sheku Kanneh-Mason, because when I hear their music making I also hear the remorseless noise made by their online boosters. Which means that when I do listen to recorded classical music it is invariably from maestros of the past such as Bruno Walter, Sir Adrian Boult, and Vernon Handley, whose performances can be enjoyed without intrusive background noise from the twitterati. My sensitivity to both set and setting means I am now much more selective with my advocacy of women musicians. And it also explains why I spend an increasing amount of time exploring the margins of art music.

The solution to Western classical music's current stasis does not lie with more free real time concerts streamed on Facebook or more Twitter followers, or any other social media snake oil. But hints of the solution may be found by reading that Rolling Stone India article with an open mind.

As above, On An Overgrown Path is no longer linked on social media. But new posts can be received by RSS/email by simply entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Friday, May 11, 2018

Music for airports


International departure lounge Indira Gandhi Airport, Delhi, yesterday.

Heathrow has Jeffrey Archer, Delhi has inspiring music and Sadhguru.

On An Overgrown Path is no longer linked on social media. But new posts can be received by RSS/email by simply entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

You are the music while the music lasts


There are beguiling parallels between Britten's 'holy triangle' of listener, composer, performer and the Hindu philosophy of Vedanta. As can be inferred from this extract from Brian Hodgkinson's The Essence of Vedanta:
Vedanta, however, does not totally abandon the lower knowledge in claiming that only higher knowledge is real. Its method of solving the problem is broadly to subsume the lower knowledge into the higher. This can be seen in two ways. Firstly, in the case of, for example, empirical knowledge by means of sense perception, there are three principal elements or constituents: the knower (or subject), the act of knowing (such as seeing), and the thing known (or object). To the ordinary mind, all three have to be present distinctly for knowledge to occur. In other words, take any one of the three away and we do not know anything. To the mind fully trained in Vedanta, however, even this threefold situation of knowing becomes subsumed in the unity of knowledge itself, as an aspect of self. Subject, act and object become one. There is knowledge, but not a separate knower, nor a separate object, nor an act between. It is like the experience people sometimes have, when listening to music and nothing else, no listener and no listening.
'...or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts.'
(T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, 'The Dry Salvages', V)
Vedanta is considered by many to be the most explicit articulation of metaphysical truth. The parallels between it and Britten's holy triangle may have substance. Britten proposed his threefold model in his 1964 Aspen Award acceptance speech. Christopher Isherwood and Britten were close friends, with the composer writing of Isherwood in 1937: "He is an awful dear & I am terribly tempted to make him into a father confessor." Britten and Isherwood were in New York together in the early 1940s. When Isherwood moved to California he became deeply involved with Vedanta and was managing editor of the Vedanta Society of Southern California from 1943 until 1945. He went on to publish several books on Vedanta including a biography of the Bengali saint and Vedantist Sri Ramakrishna. In 1955 Britten visited India and spent time in Bali, a majority Hindu island, and the 1958 Aldeburgh Festival featured Ustad Vilayat Khan (sitar), Nikhil Ghosh (tabla) and Ayana Deva Angadi (tamboura) in a programme of ragas and traditional Indian dance by Srimati Rita. And this exploration of musical and metaphysical truths can be extended from Britten's concept of the interdependancy of listener, composer, performer and the Vedanta tinged 'you are the music while the music lasts' into Sufi philosopher Ibn Arabi's teaching of waḥdat al-wujūd - oneness of being.

Thanks go to all my readers who have elected to follow my post-social media paths by RSS/email. It is humbling that so many have chosen to take the road less travelled. We haven't quite reached Norman Lebrecht's purported 1.5 million readers, but as an earlier post asked, do the arts need wide or deep audiences? On An Overgrown Path will now take an extended break while I explore Vedanta at source. Please make sure the music lasts while I am away.

The header image is from from Amelia Cuni and Ars Choralis Coeln's CD Raga Virga - a disc that for me was 'lust at first listen' . Amelia Cuni, seen in the foreground, trained in the North Indian Dhrupad vocal tradition and has recorded her own realisation of John Cage's eighteen microtonal ragas from 'Solos for Voice 3–58' in his 'Song Books'. As above, On An Overgrown Path is no longer linked on social media. But new posts can be received by RSS/email by simply entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).