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Music is not a matter of notes, it's a matter of sounds

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In this age of supposed diversity the Egyptian composer, ethnomusicologist and electronic music pioneer Halim El-Dabh is overlooked. While still a student in the 1940s Halim El-Dabh experimented with composing using wire recorders. In 1944 he created one of the earliest known examples of electronic musique concrète . The Expression of Zaar manipulated field recordings of a traditional zaar exorcism ceremony, and predated Pierre Schaeffer's work by four years. In 1950 Halim El-Dabh received a Fulbright Scholarship and moved to the United States, becoming a US citizen in 1961. His composition teachers included Ernst Krenek , Aaron Copland and Luigi Dallapiccola . In New York his circle included Henry Cowell , John Cage , and Peggy Glanville-Hicks , and he composed four ballet scores for Martha Graham  and was an influential figure in the early days of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center .  Halim El-Dabh came from a Coptic-Christian family with ancestral roots in Uppe

Conductors who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones

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In the photo above Simon Rattle is being interviewed by LÜ Jia, Music Director of the Chinese government funded National Centre for the Performing Arts in Bejiing. Below Rattle is seen while on tour at a press conference in the Chinese city of Guangzhou. The Chinese government is guilty of the mass genocide against 1.2 million people  in Tibet and continues with its policy of eradicating the priceless Tibetan culture by Sinicization , while Guangzhou has been singled out as a centre of human rights abuses . In January 2018, the authorities in Guangzhou forcibly disappeared the wife of a US-based journalist. This forced disappearance came shortly after the journalist interviewed a Chinese billionaire fugitive who exposed corruption among China’s ruling elite. Rattle is also a repeat visitor to Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates. In their 2020 report Amnesty International reports that "Over two dozen prisoners of conscience continued to be detained in the United A

If this had been a Deutsche Grammophon session.....

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Riccardo Muti is 80 and I am adding my birthday wishes to the fulsome tributes elsewhere. As balance is an essential skill of great maestros, I am contributing a little balance by republishing this little vignette which first appeared here in 2019. Back in the 1970s and 80s when sleeve design and liner notes came within my remit at EMI's International Classical Division , all the top artists had the right of artwork approval written into their contracts. Above is the sleeve for Riccardo Muti's 1979 debut recording with the Philadelphia Orchestra which was created on my watch. The venue for the photo shoot, the Philadelphia Museum of Art , was relevant, and in recognition of Muti's already super-sized ego we made sure not a hair was out of place. But the maestro ran true to form and hated the cover with a passion, and it took considerable persuasion and a very thick skin on my part before his approval was given. The recording venue was the old and decrepit Met Church b

Missing so much and so much.........

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Clickbait correctness - if ain't clickable, don't hype it  - means much great music is consigned to the virtual void . Chandos' traverse of Hamilton Harty's orchestral music gave me much pleasure when released on vinyl in the 1970s, and the label's 3 CD bundle  of those recordings continues to give me pleasure. Technology and the pandemic mean that today virtual listening - recordings delivered by streaming - is the predominant way music is consumed . This technologically enabled level playing field provides an ideal opportunity for the classical industry to exploit its rich recorded legacy. But that exploitation simply isn't happening. Instead our social media culture means great music can only see the light of day when given an outing by a 'hot' young conductor - just imagine the Twitter meltdown if John Wilson recorded Harty's Irish Symphony . While dipping into the virtual void and listening to the much-missed Bryden Thomson 's Chandos rec

Four great albums that are victims of clickbait correctness

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Clickbait correctness - if ain't clickable, don't hype it on social media - means some great albums are not receiving the attention they deserve. My recent rewarding listening has included the new Alice Coltrane release Kirtan: Turiya Sings . Kirtans are sacred Vedic chants, and  Turiya Sings  was originally released exclusively on cassette in 1982 for the students of Alice Coltrane's ashram at the The Vedantic Center, northwest of Los Angeles. For this cassette release synthesizers, strings, and sound effects were added to Alice Coltrane’s voice and organ. Although this mix was never commercially released, it achieved cult status as a bootleg recording. The reason for the absence of a commercial release remains unclear, but the most plausible explanation is that the complete master tapes were not retained, making quality remastering impossible. But in 2004 Ravi Coltrane , who is Alice’s son by John Coltrane and producer of this new release, discovered tapes of just Ali

Less Mahler is better Mahler

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In 1980 I was fortunate  to be peripherally involved in Simon Rattle's 1980 recording of Deryck Cooke's performing version of Mahler's uncompleted Tenth Symphony. There was much to admire both in Deryck Cooke's scholarship and Simon Rattle's performance. But, for me, the various interpretations of  that particular reconstruction never reached the emotional depths of the transcendental Ninth Symphony . So it came as something of a shock when I was bowled over by another completion of the Tenth, bowled over to the extent that I found myself comparing the performance to Bruno Maderna and John Barbirolli's sublime accounts of the Ninth. BIS' recording of John Storgårds conducting the Lapland Chamber Orchestra in the completion and arrangement of Mahler's sketches for his Tenth Symphony by the Maltese musicologist, conductor and singer Dr. Michelle Castelletti  was responsible for my epiphany. This completion is scored for single woodwind (flute doubling

Zorba the musician

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Born in Kings Lynn, England and raised on both sides of the Atlantic, Ross Daly studied the sitar in India and rabab in Afghanistan. He settled in Crete in 1974, and in 1982 he established the Labyrinth Musical Workshop in the Cretan village of Houdetsi as a loosely structured collective exploring the modal music of different cultures . In 2016 my wife and I were privileged to spend time with Ross and his wife and fellow lyra virtuoso Kelly Thoma on Crete. Ross is a polymath, and his very wise worldview is summed up in the sleeve essay he wrote for his and Kelly's 2017 masterpiece Luna . 'All music pre-exists in a non-manifest realm of possibility and it is only through our perception of those possibilities that it comes to realisation in the world as we know it. The process is in many ways reminiscent of that that of reflected light. Only if we can serve as a clear surface on which it can "shine" can we hope to be worthy servants of the grand art of music, t