Posts

A Negro in front of a white symphony group? No - I'm sorry

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It is reported that Everett Lee has died at the grand old age of 105. Everett Lee was an early victim of the institutionalised racism that still pervades classical music, and he deserves far more than to be lauded in a trite obituary and then forgotten again. My Overgrown Path articles about him ten years ago were in the vanguard of the movement to give musicians of colour the recognition they deserve. So here again are three of those articles: 'I don't believe in Negro symphony conductors': July 25th 2011 'Oh, come in, young man. I'm reading these reviews. They are out of this world. You really have something. But I might as well tell you, right now, I don't believe in Negro symphony conductors. No, you may play solo with our symphonies, all over this country. You can dance with them, sing with them. But a Negro, standing in front of a white symphony group? No. I'm sorry.' That is the impresario Arthur Judson discussing career opportunities with

...and the musicians were paid £800

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Back in 2008 I curated what was probably the first and only broadcast of a complete lilal  night healing ritual performed by the sub-Saharan musicians known as Gnawa. As a result of that broadcast, eight years later I was invited to a Gnawa trance ritual in Essaouira on Morocco's Atlantic coast. That  lilal was a private devotional event which I was privileged to attend with a Moroccan Sufi friend. But like all musicians, the Gnawa rely on commercial performances for their income. That source of income was abruptly terminated by the Covid pandemic. Which has left many Gnawa musicians facing extreme hardship in a country where fiscal safety-nets are much more fallible than in the West, and as a result  a priceless cultural tradition is at risk. Now there has been a heartwarming attempt to alleviate, at least in part, the musicians' hardship. A UNESCO intiative led to 75 gnawan master musicians gathering in Essaouira in December for the filming of a two hour TV special

New classical audiences need new music

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A reader's  perceptive comment  explained that to reach a new audience classical music must help listeners across the classical/non-classical divide.  Electronic Dance Music  (EDM) is the immensely popular staple fare of classical's elusive new young audience, and EDM lacks any narrative progression. Classical music can also be non-linear: one example is John Luther Adams' Become Desert , a seamless 40 minute sonic mirage which   abandons the horizontal narrative structures of works such as Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony  with its 'Awakening of cheerful feelings on arrival in the countryside'.  Become Desert sits comfortably in the concert hall, yet it would not be out of place in a sunset session at Ibiza's Café Del Mar or a full moon trance party on Koh Pha Ngan . As John Luther Adams described in a New York Times essay ,  Become Desert  literally entrances its audience - "You find yourself listening in ways you never have before. The scale of yo

A powerful New Year's message

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These photos was taken by me at a music workshop for local women run by  Sufi adept Ahmed Abdelhak Kaâb in Essaouira on Morocco's Atlantic coast. Long-standing readers will know of my love for Morocco and the ageless wisdom  of its generous people . Recently TIME Magazine selected Elon Musk as its “Person of the Year” . Morocco World News put this gesture of vacuous sycophancy firmly in its place with a coruscating op-ed . Below is the conclusion from that exemplary piece of journalism which contains a powerful message not just for the classical music industry , but for all humanity.  'In the end, perhaps Elon Musk does deserve to be “Person of the Year.” He deserves it not for any contributions he has made to humanity, he deserves it as it serves as an apt example of our current world. Indeed, Musk's brazen adulation and celebration perfectly captures a culture where pandemic responses are limited by profit-making, where business booms amid economic crisis, where v

Who is this Worgan Williams?

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During my time at EMI commissioning power was split between the central International Classical Division - where I worked - and local operating companies. The International Classical Division  (ICD) controlled the big budgets needed for the international stars such as Herbert von Karajan, Mstislav Rostropovich, André Previn and Riccardo Muti. While the local companies had smaller budgets for recording projects with local musicians: for instance EMI UK commissioned Sir Adrian Boult's recordings from their local budget. The ICD had to propose a major recording projects to the local operating companies around the world who would give their sales estimate. Only if the global sales forecasts recovered the cost of the proposed project would it be green-lighted.  This democratic but flawed A & R approval process was originally put in place by EMI's senior management to curb Walter Legge's penchant for recording music he was passionate about but which the record buying publ

All we are saying is give convergence a chance

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Wenatchee the Hatchet has left the comment below on my post ' Have all the really great musicians come and gone? ' For those with a maximum attention span of 280 characters the money quote is "I think working across all the musical genre boundaries to sustain a synergistic theoretical and practical cross-genre collaboration among musicians and composers could help people across the pop/classical divides... but music journalism and scholarship too often seems set on antagonizing the scene rather than exploring possible convergences". I suggest those words of wisdom should be the New Year's resolution for the classical industry. The accompanying graphics are from the predictably ignored  The Arabian Passion according to J.S Bach from the genre-defying early music ensemble Sarband : music samples here and here . Now this is Wenatchee the Hatchet's quote: 'I know Doug Shadle is working hard to get [Florence] Price heard more but what I've heard is &q

Have all the really great musicians come and gone?

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Bernard Haitink's 2016 recording of Mahler's Third Symphony is arguably the greatest interpretation of that towering work committed to record. It is also one of the last testaments from a conductor who together with Georg Solti, Herbert von Karajan, Sir Adrian Boult, Colin Davis and others defined a golden age of classical music. In response to my post ' Classical music's biggest problem is that no one cares ' reader David has posted a comment that starts by asking "...have all the really great performances, recordings indeed all the greatest musicians come and gone?" He then goes on to observe that  "I haven't heard anything in the last twenty or more years that compares with previous generations". The classical industry has spent much time agonising over its failed attempts to reach a new audience. But an even bigger problem has received little attention. Not only is the new young audience remaining elusive, but the older lon