Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Rhythm Is It! - the new Fantasia?

A recent New York Times article said it all - "As audiences seem to grow older and the public turns its attention away from concertgoing, orchestras around the country are adopting a wide array of methods, from the trivial to the thoughtful, to bring more people into the concert hall. They are hunting for the neophytes, the dabblers and mainly the ungray."

A great feature film with classical music at its core is a sure-fire way to attract a new generation of concertgoers . Walt Disney and Leopold Stokowski did it with Fantasia. The project started in 1937 when Walt wanted Mickey Mouse to star in a cartoon version of Paul Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Advanced 'specification creep' then set in. The end result was a full-length animated feature with the Philadelphia Orchestra captured in 'Fantasound' by a thirty-three microphone, nine channel, sound system that was years ahead of its time.

Hear Stokowski talking about Walt Disney in this 1971 interview -

Fantasia was released in 1940, and went on to become a classic. Walt Disney produced a masterpeice of the cinema, while Stokowski introduced generations to the riches of classical music with his interpretaions of eight classical works. These famously included his own orchestration of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring which plays against the famous dinasour sequence. (See footnote).

Stravinsky's choreographic masterpiece spans sixty-five years to another project aimed at getting those elusive new audiences dancing into our concert halls.

First take a disused bus depot in a blighted Berlin industrial area.
Then fill it with 250 Berlin teenagers dancing to Stravinsky’s Rite played by the Berliner Philharmoniker under Sir Simon Rattle. Next ask directors Thomas Grube and Enrique Sánchez Lansch to make a pacy film following three of the participants through the three-month rehearsals. Then mix a score which includes the Rite. Add specially commissioned music from composer Karim Sebastian Elias, and combine with a contribution from Berlin underground rock band The Wickeds.

The result is Rhythm Is It!

Could this be the next Fantasia? Filmed in 2003 and released in 2004 the film hasn't yet made too many waves outside the German speaking countries despite some great reviews.

Fantasia was a stroke of genius because it overlayed two media, cartoon animation and classical music, without diluting either. Rhythm Is It! is great viewing. But for me the mix of three musical genres results in a film that won't offend those who don't appreciate classical music, but also won't inspire and extend them in the way Fantasia did so brilliantly.

Make up your own mind by visiting the Rhythm Is It! web site, and watching the trailer. Or buy the DVD online. Or just sample the score with these audio files, and enjoy the first rock music ever on an overgrown path!

The Wickeds, Schiksale -

Karim Sebastian Ellis, The Stranger -

Then tell us, using the comments feature below, whether you think Rhythm Is It! will bring in those "neophytes, the dabblers and the ungray".

Footnote - In 1961 Stravinsky wrote that he received $1,200 (his share of a total $5,000) for the use of his music in the film. He said the music was not covered by copyright in the USA at the time, and he was told it would be used regardless of whether he granted permission. But Disney wanted a formal copyright agreement so the film could be shown in other countries. In typical Stravinsky fashion the composer managed to have his cake and eat it. He took the money, and then went on to describe the use of his music as "execrable", and said the segment as a whole "involved a dangerous misunderstanding." He would have been very much at home in today's music-like-water marketplace.

If you enjoyed this post take an overgrown path to Michel Petrucciani
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Monday, August 29, 2005

Ligeti's Etudes fit the Bill

Milestone Record’s extraordinary 8 CD set Bill Evans Trio the last waltz’ was recorded on eight successive evenings at Keystone Korner in North Beach, San Francisco in September 1980. Just thirty-two different compositions are featured in the nine hours of music, and nine of those are Bill Evans (right) originals.

This is literally music making on the brink. Miles Davis’ Nardis makes five obsessive appearances. Several of these include epic piano solos, and the longest Nardis cut lasts for seven seconds short of twenty minutes. Evans knew he was on the edge, and he wanted to leave his definitive version of Nardis before he went over.

The final Keystone session was on September 8th 1980. Seven days later Evans was dead from the effects of cocaine dependency.

It is a mark of the importance of Bill Evans that Gyorgy Ligeti cited him as one of the influences on his seminal Etudes for solo piano. The other eclectic influences credited by Ligeti are traditional African music, the player-piano studies of Conlon Nancarrow, and the jazz piano writing of Thelonious Monk.

The classical connection comes as no surprise. Recalling his childhood in New Jersey Evans said: “I can remember, for instance, the 78 album of Petruschka which I got early on in high school as a Christmas present – a requested Christmas present. And just about wearing it out, learning it. That was the kind of music that at that time I hadn’t been exposed to, and it was just a tremendous experience to get into that piece. I remember first hearing some of Milhaud’s polytonality and actually a piece that he may not think too much of – it was an early piece called Suite Provençale – which opened me up to certain things.”

Evans went on to a musical scholarship at Southeastern Louisiana College fifty miles outside New Orleans. His studies there included sonatas by Mozart and Beethoven, and works by Debussy, Schumann, Rachmaninov, Ravel Gershwin (the Piano Concerto in F), Milhaud, Khachaturian and Villa-Lobos. His senior recital included a group of Dmitry Kabalevsky’s recently published Preludes. Literature was another passion. He was something of an authority on Thomas Hardy, and his heroes included the visionary18th century artist and poet William Blake.

Bill Evans carried heavy emotional baggage through his 51 years. He played on Miles Davies’ iconoclastic Kind of Blue, and then pretty well defined the jazz trio format. Without a doubt his two greatest trio recordings are Waltz for Debby and Sunday at the Village Vanguard, both recorded live in one day in June 1961 at Seventh Avenue South, New York. These are two of the greatest jazz CD’s ever. No, they are two of the greatest CD’s ever. The trio plays as a totally integrated unit underpinned by the masterly bass playing of Scott LaFaro. Ten days after the recording LaFaro was dead, killed in an automobile smash.

If you don’t know the two Village Vanguard recordings I urge you to buy them. Forget about the fact that this is jazz. This is intimate chamber music making that is up there with the greatest trios like the Beaux Arts and Florestan. These are two recording classics, and they should be in everyone’s collection.

Following LeFaro’s tragically early death Evans spent years trying to put another dream trio together. In those years he produced some fine music, but never attained the heights of his work with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian. The solo recordings from this period are worth exploring, including his pioneering work with over-dubbing.

During the 1970’s Bill Evans creative flame burnt less brightly. Many recordings from these years seem to be no more than re-workings of his own compositions and standards. But towards the end of the 70’s a renewed energy and drive emerged, fuelled by working with the younger bass and drums team of Marc Johnson and Joe LaBarbera.

Those final Keystone sessions revitalise Bill Evans classics like Letter to Evan, Turn Out the Stars, and Waltz for Debby. But that is where we joined this overgrown path…..

Bill Evans would have been seventy-six on August 16th.


Bill Evans' recorded legacy is considerable. The Fantasy catalogue is the best starting point for exploration. The written literature is also comprehensive. Peter Pettinger's 'Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings" is the definitive biography. Keith Shadwick's "Bill Evans, Everything Happens To Me - a musical biography" is more sumptuously produced, but is less scholarly in its approach.

For further exploration of jazz piano as a musical form Robert L. Doerschuk's 'The Giants of Jazz Piano' and Len Lyons' 'The Great Jazz Pianists' are a good starting point.

If you enjoyed this post take an overgrown path to Improvisation

Friday, August 26, 2005

Promenade of Tallis' greatest hits

The big guns really are out at next week's Promenade Concerts. Choose from Verdi's Requiem, Mahler's 3rd and 6th Symphonies, Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra, and Rimsky's Scherezade. New music includes Boulez and an Esa-Peka Salonen world premiere.

My choice of the European Youth Orchestra's Walton 1 as my Prom of the week last week turned out to be a shrewd one. Wow! - didn't those brilliant young musicians play their hearts out? And wasn't John Eliot Gardiner's conducting revelatory in a work miles away from his Baroque roots? The youth orchestras this year have brought a spontaneity and electricity that has made some of the 'London today, Edinburgh tomorrow' visiting orchestras sound positively routine.

Wednesday's Missa Solemnis nearly got my vote for the next Prom of the week. But I'm becoming so used to authentic instrument performances that I reserve judgement on this Cleveland Orchestra concert until I've heard it.

So call me predictable but my Prom of the week is not one of the big guns. It is The Sixteen directed by Harry Christophers with a late night concert on Thursday (photo above). They start with two works by two little known 15th century English composers, Robert Wylkynson and William Cornysh. It's then Tallis all the way. Listen out for the 'Why fum'th in sight' from Tallis' Nine Tunes for Archbishop Parker's Psalter. It's one of the two Tallis works that everyone knows, albeit in the guise of Ralph Vaughan-William's Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. And the last work is the other one everyone knows - Spem in Alium.

Mainstream Highlights:
Verdi Requiem; Italian Gianandera Noseda conducts. Sunday 28th August, 18.30h
Strauss, Also sprach Zarathustra;
David Zinman with Tonhalle Orchestra from Zurich. Monday 29th August, 19.30h
Mahler, Symphony No 3;
Franz Welser-Most conducts Cleveland Orchestra. Tuesday 30th August, 19.00h
Beethoven, Missa solemnis;
Second of two Cleveland blockbuster programmes. Interesting forces these days for this work. Wednesday 31st August, 19.30h
Mahler, Symphony No 6;
Mahler week for the Proms, after No 3 two days ago Mariss Jansons and the Royal Concertgebouw doubles the stakes with No 6. Thursday 1st September, 19.00h
Lutoslawski and Brahms Symphony No 1;
Dutch visitors second programme. Friday 2nd September, 19.30h

New Music:
, everyone can reveal a sigh of relief. EPS has finished his new commission, and an overgrown path can reveal it's called Helix. Will Valery Gergiev will have his head down in the scarcely dry score? Saturday 27th August, 19.30h
Boulez, Messiaen and Stravinsky; includes Boulez’s cummings ist der Dichter. Tuesday 30th August, 22.00h

Early music:
Monteverdi and Carissimi; motets and instrumental works; sung by I Faglioni. Monday 29th August, 13.00h
Tallis, Spem in Alium and more
; Harry Christophers conducts The Sixteen. Thursday 1st September, 22.00h

All the concerts above are being broadcast live by BBC Radio 3, and are available as live web casts. Many of them are also available for seven days after broadcast on the BBC Listen Again service but some aren’t. Check BBC listings for which are available via ‘listen again’ but as a rule of thumb high profile orchestras and artists are usually too expensive for the BBC to buy repeat broadcast rights.

This is a personal, and fallible, selection of the week's concerts. The full weeks programmes are available through this link. Concerts start dates are given in British Summer Time using 24 hour clock (19.00h = 7.00pm) Convert these timings to your local time zone using this link

The Guardian are reviewing every Prom this season. Access their reviews via this link.

This preview of the following week's Proms appears every week on an overgrown path. If you want to share an upcoming concert with a friend email the post to them using the envelope icon at the foot of the post.

If you enjoyed this post follow an overgrown path to New music feast at BBC Proms
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Thursday, August 25, 2005

The real 'Piano Man'

"Here then…are some of the harsh facts behind the words ‘severe mental illness’ and ‘serious nervous breakdown’ which the press has been using about me so often lately. Not that I am complaining about the press! – I was thrilled by the sympathetic and wide spread media interest that came my way both before and after my return to the….concert stage" - these words were written by the real ‘Piano Man’ John Ogdon in 1981.

Ogdon (above) was thrust into the limelight in 1962 when he was joint winner, with his friend Vladimir Ashkenazy, of the Moscow Tchaikovsky Competition. He wowed the Moscow audiences with his performances of Rachmaninov, Balakirev and Scriabin, as well as the Tchaikovsky 1st Piano Concerto which became his signature piece.

Although Ogdon is mainly remembered today for his stunning interpretations of the Russian romantic repertoire he was also a ceaseless performer of modern music. He studied in Manchester at the same time as Peter Maxwell Davies, who wrote his Opus 1 Sonata for Trumpet for Ogdon and Elgar Howarth, and his Opus 2 Five Pieces for Piano for him in 1956. Ogdon became part of what is now known as the ‘Manchester School’ together with Harrison Birtwistle and Alexander Goehr.

John Ogdon’s appetite for new music was insatiable. He gave the first performance in 50 years of Kaikhosru Sorabji’s (1892-1988) four hour epic, Opus Clavicembalisticum, and then offered to repeat the piece as an encore! He went on to record the Sorabji, a recording that is still in the catalogue. (Despite his exotic name Sorabji was born in Essex, England!) Among the other contemporary composers that Ogdon championed and played were Ronald Stevenson, Christopher Headington, David Blake, Malcolm Williamson (who dedicated his Sonata for Two Pianos to him), the American Richard Yardumian, and his long-time friend and supporter Gerard Schurmann.

Somewhat surprisingly Ogdon admired the work of Cornish tonal composer George Lloyd whose piano concerto ‘Scapegoat’ was dedicated to him, and which was described by Ogdon as ‘almost a masterpiece’. He was also a fan of jazz, and as Artistic Director of the Cardiff Festival of Twentieth Century Music he programmed Gershwin and Ellington alongside Boulez and Szymanowski. He was one of the first pianists to tackle Messiaen’s Vingt regards, was a ceaseless champion of Alkan’s oeuvre, and was responsible almost single-handedly for the rehabilitation of Busoni’s Piano Concerto.

As if this wasn’t enough Ogdon was also a prolific composer. His Theme and Variations was written for none other than Vladimir Ashkenazy. He wrote solo sonatas for piano, violin, flute and cello, a string quartet, and a quintet for brass, and left an uncompleted symphony inspired by the writings of Hermann Melville. His most ambitious work was a Piano Concerto, of which he made a long-deleted recording for EMI.

But if Ogdon’s creativity blazed across the heavens like a meteor, sadly his mental health spluttered like a dysfunctional firework. He made three attempts at suicide, one was by cutting his own throat. There were long stays in the specialist psychiatric Maudsley Hospital in London, interspersed by long periods of depression. There was electroshock therapy and lithium treatment. But ironically Ogdon died on August 1st 1989, aged 52, of natural causes connected with undiagnosed diabetes.

John Ogdon’s wife, the pianist Brenda Lucas Ogdon, supported him through illness. She has continued to champion his work long after it dropped out of fashion, and runs the John Ogdon Foundation. In 1981, eight years before his untimely death, she wrote a biography titled Virtuoso. It is John Ogdon’s own words from the Foreword that I used at the start of this article. And I will conclude by quoting his wife's Afterword which is as relevant to the Piano Man in 2005 as it was to John Ogdon twenty-four years ago.

"I have been amazed how many people have confided in me, as if to a comrade in arms, that a spouse, a relative, or a friend – even, on occasion, they themselves – had undergone a comparable ordeal (if not so extreme a one). But why have they hidden that experience from the world? Why, when most of them admit to having been deplorably ignorant when they were first forced to cope, do they not give advice and warnings to others? What is it that they are ashamed of.......?"

For a related story take An Overgrown Path to Music and Alzheimer's.
There is a superb sketch of John Ogdon by Milein Cosman on the National Portrait Gallery web site. Unfortunately this gallery charges for the use of their images on web sites so I haven't linked to it. As the sketch is not currently on public view at the Gallery this seems rather self-defeating. It is worth following the link as there are lovely sketches of other musicians including the Amadeus Quartet there. I fully sympathise with the drive for intellectual property protection. But in this case shouldn't the Gallery be taking the risk of exposing the works under their stewardship to public view?
Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Quiet celebration with friends....

Come in, join us, and have a virtual drink. It’s a quiet celebration with just a few close friends.
Pliable celebrates with Elizabeth Schwarzkopf in 1979. For the full story of this photo see below.

Exactly one year ago today the first post was uploaded on this blog. Now I’m 166 posts further down an overgrown path. I haven’t changed the world, but I never set out to do that. But the blog has found a voice of its own, and more importantly has also found an audience. It has carved out a place in the new fangled blogosphere. Tracking service Technorati currently rates me 35,855 out of out of the 15.5 million blogs it measures. That puts an overgrown path somewhere in the top 0.25% of all blogs, which for a 'serious music' site covering a lot of early and new music, from Filipe de Magalhaes to Odaline de la Martinez, is very pleasing. Around 500 new readers come on board every day, and an impressive number take RSS feeds. And I know from my IP logs that some surprisingly influential organisations are regular readers.

Search engines also like me. Type on an overgrown path into Google, and you will see an amusing example of the child consuming its parent. The first two search results refer to this blog. Quite ridiculously the leading search engine now rates the blog as more important than the sublime piano composition by Janacek that inspired it.

But enough of speeches and self-promotion, you are only as good as your last post in this business. Time though for a quick thanks to my fellow bloggers. I’ve never come across a more co-operative and supportive group. Music bloggers define a community of common interest, long may they prosper. Thanks also to Blogger which powers me. But the biggest thanks to you the readers. Without you none of this would have been possible. Thank you for being one of those close friends over the past year.

Because I blog under the web name of Pliable (which was taken from the character in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress) I receive a lot of emails asking whether I really exist. My wife will confirm that the credit card bills for CDs, books and concert tickets definitely prove I do exist. But just in case there is any doubt, I have included two previously unpublished photos (© 2005 On An Overgrown Path) which portray two remarkable women.

The photo at the head of this post is me talking to Elisabeth Schwarzkopf at the Royal Festival Hall, London in 1979 (you can date it from my hairstyle). Schwarzkopf’s husband, and recording legend, Walter Legge had died the previous month (the lady to the left is Miss Jane Withers, Legge's long-serving secretary). The Philharmonia Orchestra, which Legge created as a vehicle for his recording activities, had asked me to create a tribute exhibition at short notice. Some of the material was taken from my own personal collection. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was delighted with the tribute, but was far less impressed with my description of Legge as an ‘entrepreneur’. (See My first classical record). When the photo was taken I think I was trying to explain to her that ‘entrepreneur’ was a complimentary description. But I am afraid she was not persuaded (or was I distracted by those pearls?).

The photo immediately above was taken in Paris in 1978. Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic were playing two concert in the historic Théâtre des Champs-Elysées (venue for the infamous first performance of the Rite of Spring). Alexis Weissenberg was then Karajan’s ‘court’ pianist rather as Siegfried Lauterwasser was his ‘court’ photographer. (See my post Downfall and the mystery of Karajan’s personal photographer). I was working for EMI/Angel, and we were recording a cycle of the Beethoven concertos with Karajan and Weissenberg. In the photo my long suffering wife Sorojoni (sorry I can’t do the dishes tonight darling, I have to get that Perotin MP3 link working) is talking to Weissenberg. I rather think she is telling Alexis that she prefers her fellow South American Claudio Arrau’s interpretation of the Beethoven….

Many thanks for following my overgrown paths. I haven’t any real regrets. But I do wish I was able to devote more space to my other loves of jazz, architecture, art and poetry (follow the four links for personal favourite posts on those subjects).
So here, in conclusion, is Leonard Cohen's The Only Poem which very neatly sums things up the last twelve months on an overgrown path - cheers!

This is the only poem
I can read
I am the only one
can write it
I didn’t kill myself
when things went wrong
I didn’t turn
to drugs or teaching
I tried to sleep
but when I couldn’t sleep
I learned to write
I learned to write
what might be read
on nights like this
by one like me

If you enjoyed this story follow this link to the very first tentative post on an overgrown path - we've come a long way since then!invisible hit counter

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


Another blog that has appeared on the radar, and is definite worth visiting, is Musicircus.

Tasty morsels on offer there include news that Uri Caine (photo right) is coming to the London Jazz Festival in November. One feature I particularly applaud is a Book of the Month Club. This month it's Richard Powers' novel A Time of Singing. Music blogs, including mine, should give more space to literature and the other arts. My slightly random The bookless Mrs Beckham got a huge response.

Musicircus has some acts from outside the 'serious music' arena, it's worth visiting.

If you enjoyed this post take an overgrown path to Jacques Loussier close up invisible hit counter

Monday, August 22, 2005

Piano Man mystery ends - in mystery

Good news - a relatively happy end to the disturbing 'Piano Man' story.

The so called 'Piano Man' was found wandering in a coastal area of Kent in April. His identity was unknown, and he failed to communicate with any of the officials caring for him. The music community took up the story as he showed some ability as a pianist.

It has now been confirmed that the mystery man was from Bavaria. After breaking his silence the 20 year German flew home on Saturday. The UK health service and German foreign ministry are not naming the man for confidentiality reasons.

So tantalisingly the 'Piano Man' mystery ends in mystery. Can any readers think of any talented young German pianists who have been missing from the concert circuit for the last five months?

If you enjoyed this post follow an overgrown path to Elgar's other Enigma invisible hit counter

Musicians against nuclear weapons

In these days of globalisation and music-like-water it is a delight to write about leading soloists and musicians, including members of the Berlin Philharmonic, working together for a really important cause.

International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) is a non-partisan international grouping of medical organisations dedicated to the abolition of nuclear weapons. They work with the long-term victims of nuclear explosions and accidents from Hiroshima to Chernobyl. Their work has been recognised with the 1984 UNESCO Peace Prize, and 1985 Nobel Peace Prize.

For the last 21 years IPPNW-Concerts has been working from its Berlin office with top musicians world-wide to raise funds for their work. As well as being a fantastic cause there is some music well worth exploring available on IPPNW-Concerts' own CD label, and in co-productions with Swedish label BIS. These are all live recordings of concerts promoted by IPPNW over the years.

There are forty-nine CDs in the catalogue with composers ranging from Monteverdi to Elliot Carter. The nuggets worth mining include Furtwängler's Te Deum coupled with Brahms and Hindemith (CD40). Wort und Musik - 60 Jahre nach Hiroshima couples the aria from Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Shostakovich's String Quartet No 8 and Schubert’s Quartettsatz with texts from an eclectic group of writers including Mohammed El Baradei, Till Bastian, Claus Biegert, Pierre Curie, Enrico Fermi, Albert Einstein, Robert Jungk, Sadako Kurihara, Robert Oppenheimer, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ernest Rutherford, Leo Szilard, Edward Teller. All IPPNW CD’s can be bought from their web site, and the service is fast. My purchase reached the UK in two days.

One of my personal favourites in IPPNW's catalogue is the Berlin Philharmonic Jazz Group (see above) playing live in 2004 in the Philharmonie in Berlin with the world-famous baritone Thomas Quasthoff. This recording was made at a concert for 'The Right Livelihood Award' which is the 'Alternatative' Nobel Prize. Quasthoff who is better known as a classical singer was the recipient of a Grammy Award in 2004. Appropriately the programme opens with Ed Harris’ Freedom Dance. The Berlin Philharmonic Jazz Group also played in the 2001 "IPPNW-Benefit Concert for the Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe" (available on CD 37). It is great to hear top orchestral musicians swinging. Other reader recommendations of jazz groups from the symphonic world are very welcome as comments on this post.

IPPNW co-productions with BIS also contain some real gems. My own favourite is a live Missa Solemnis from the Philharmonie in Berlin with Antal Doráti conducting the European Symphony Orchestra, University of Maryland Chorus, and a distinguished group of soloists. Can any readers post any more information on that concert, particularly the involvement of the US chorus? Also available exclusively from IPPNW is Doráti's posthumously published book "For inner and outer peace." The title of the book (which is dedicated to IPPNW) comes from the words inscribed in Beethoven's own hand in the score of the Missa Solemnis over the line in which the "dona nobis" motif first appears.

The wide-ranging work of AntalDoráti has been featured on an overgrown path recently. Another BIS co-production recorded at the Philharmonie with the New Berlin Chamber Orchestra and members of the Czech Philharmonic and HdK-Chamber Choir conducted by Martin Fischer-Dieskau includes two of Doráti’s own compositions (his Pater Noster, Prayer for Mixed Choir and Jesus oder Barabbas? a melodrama after a story by Karinthy Frigyes for Speaker, Orchestra and Choir) alongside works from Bartok and Martinu. Also on BIS are recordings of Doráti's 1st and 2nd Symphonies, although these are not part of the IPPNW project.

Finally among the BIS co-productions a live Mahler Symphony No 9 with Rudolf Barshai conducting the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra is a rarity well worth investigating.

All proceeds from the sale of these CDs benefit those in dire need as a result of war, industrial and natural catastrophe. Need I say more?

If you enjoyed this post take an overgrown path to Downfall - and the mystery of Karajan's personal photographer

Suite en jaune 1968

The Gallic flair for design and style is unique and irresistible.

A wonderful example is the blog Netlex News which is where Albert Ayme's beautiful 'Suite en jaune, 1968' to the right is linked from. Netlex News' simple, sparse, and brilliantly effective graphic style is something every blogger should aspire to.

The content is excellent as well. Their post Music against Hatred allows me to seque neatly to my next post.........

If you enjoyed this post take an overgrown path to Danish Thread invisible hit counter

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Rare Romantic Requiems in Avignon

In a thoughtful comment on my post about Bernstein's Mass a reader suggests exploring some other 'flawed masterpeices' from the same genre. And here is my own contribution to the hunt for hidden gems.

Robert Schumann is one of my favourite composers. But I have to confess to never having heard a live performance, or owning a CD (although there are several in the catalogue), of either of his Requiems. So when we were in Avignon recently, and found that not just one, but both these works were being programmed in a single concert we leapt at the opportunity to hear them.

Schumann's Requiem Opus 148, scored for SATB, choir and orchestra, was composed in 1852, and follows the conventional liturgical format. The Requiem for Mignon Opus 98b of 1849 is a less conventional work celebrating Mignon from Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre. These works were programmed with Schumann's Nachtlied Opus 108 for choir and orchestra with its pre-echoes of Brahms' Requiem (Brahms dedicated his Requiem to Schumann).

The venue for the concert was the 15th Century Eglise St Pierre in Avignon. The interior is so exquisite that it would have been a pleasure to hear a chorus of frogs croaking in it. But there were no concerns about the performance quality by L'Orchestre Lyrique de Region Avignon-Provence, L'Ensemble Vocal D'Avignon, and the six soloists under the dynamic, and highly musical, direction of Vincent Barthe (this young conductor is a name to look out for based on this performance).

So what of the two Requiem's? Great works from a master, but not masterpieces would be my judgement. They reminded me of Richard Strauss' comment "I am not a first rate composer, but rather a first rate second rate composer." But the two Schumann Requiems really deserve to be programmed instead of the all too frequent repeats of the more popular 'war horses' such as the Verdi. So why aren't they heard more often? There may be a contributory commercial reason. The Requiem Opus 148 requires four soloists but is really a work for chorus and orchestra. More fundamentally, like his Violin Concerto, these works were denounced by Schumann's friends after his death as second rate works composed while the master's mind was disintegrating; and it was also suggested that he had little sympathy for sacred subjects. The Opus 148 was not performed until eight years after the composer's death. The Violin Concerto's time came in the 1930's, perhaps the first decade of the 21st Century will be the time for these other deserving works?

Requiems are a recurring destination on an overgrown path, and the wealth of information on the web never ceases to amaze me.. A very useful resource is the Requiem Survey. It has 2247 classical, vocal requiems in its database from 1550 composers, and includes fragments and unfinished works.

The database contains some good programme notes, and lists recordings. For instance the Messa per Rossini mentioned in my Wiki brings collabarative music full circle post is well documented - worth visiting.

This post is dedicated to Brother Roger Schutz, founder of the Taizé community. Born May 12th 1915, died August 16th 2005

Modest maestro - marvellous journalism

No grandstanding, no false emotions, no veneer of extra-musical pretensions. The music, pure and unadorned, was to be allowed to breathe and speak. In a business where egos can be as inflated as a Bruckner symphony, Mackerras's lack of pretension stands out....

Just a brief taster from a wonderful four page profile of a wonderful musician in this morning's Guardian. Stephen Moss' journalism sets a benchmark mere mortals like me can only dream of reaching. Sir Charles Mackeras sets an example other dotcom maestros can only dream of following.

Read it.

If you enjoyed this post take an overgrown path to Wot no computers
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Friday, August 19, 2005

The bookless Mrs Beckham

Popular culture and aspirations are as closely linked as Rolls and Royce.

A recent BBC survey measured the press coverage devoted to UK public figures in 2004. This was then used to define who the popular culture icons really are in Britain today. Clear winner was England and Real Madrid footballer David Beckham with a whopping three-quarters of a million column inches devote to him. And second at half-a-million inches was his wife, the former pop singer Victoria Beckham (picture above).

The top ten popular culture icons comprised three footballers, three pop singers, three members of the Royal family, and a topless model.

Even more recently pop culture icon number two, Victoria Beckham, revealed in an interview with the Spanish magazine Chic that she has never read a book.

Popular culture is depressing aspirations. A role model is someone that people copy. Victoria Beckham is a role model, and it is a certainty that millions will emulate her bookless life style. And that means they will suffer low levels of literacy.

Reading is the basic literacy skill. In the UK 7 million adults have low literacy skills, and a survey showed that individuals with poor reading ability only have access to 1 in 50 of lower level jobs. Research by the UK Office for National Statistics found a quarter of adults had not read a book in the previous 12 months. This figure rose to almost half among men aged 16 to 24.

While popular culture and the media remain so closely interlinked aspirations can only be raised by changing the behaviour of role models. But clearly there is little scope for Victoria Beckham to extol the virtues of Tolstoy in Eurotrash magazines. And sadly the continuing popularity of reality TV shows like Big Brother shows that the impressionable have an infinite appetite to watch the aspirationally-challenged.

Short term we need a new grassroots layer of role models to demonstate that aspirations are nothing to be ashamed of. These role models need to come from the local community, from business, from sport, and from the creative world. A great example is Harry Potter author JK Rowling (picture to right). Her journey from working as a secretary to fame, money, and literary adulation is truly inspirational. Millions of kids love the books, but more importantly they also love the author.

Another great new role model is the composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. He has worked extensively with schoolchildren at his own St Magnus Festival in the rural Orkney Islands (picture below), and has been successful in making learning about music and the arts ‘cool’. Max, as he is known, is also not afraid to speak his mind, and has been a vociferous critic of the low levels of central funding for music education. And he doesn’t stop there, He is also an entrepreneur - which goes down well with The Apprentice watchers. Max recently started his own record company, called MaxOpus, because he didn’t think the major companies were giving his music the support it deserves.

But grass roots role models only have limited scope for driving change. Popular culture is rigidly controlled by the mass media, including record companies, TV and radio stations, book publishers and the tabloid press. The big opportunity comes when popular culture is separated from the mass media. And this is already starting to happen, driven by an exponentially increasing rate of technology change.

In the old model the big players controlled popular culture because they also controlled the high entry cost media through which it was communicated. This meant Victoria Beckham’s image was defined by mass media players including her record company, Virgin Music, and her book publisher, Penguin Putnam.

But all that is changing. Already we have seen major record companies such as Virgin brought to their knees by the new technologies of file sharing, and internet distribution. Now texting, webcasting, podcasting, blogging, and e-publishing are rapidly undermining the stranglehold that the old media companies have on popular culture. This is opening up enormous opportunities for the visionary to influence aspirations, life skills, and appreciation of the arts.

This is not daydreaming on my part. A revelatory example of technology empowerment is Wikipaedia. This collabarative online encyclopaedia started five years ago. It is now available in 200 languages, contains 1.6 million articles, and receives 60 million hits a day. The organisation that controls it, Wikimedia, has just one employee.

In the education sector the UK Government's Learndirect service uses the Internet and computers to deliver distance learning on subjects ranging from simple maths to advanced German. Learndirect uses computers to bypass the traditional delivery mechanisms of text books and broadcasters.

The new technologies give government and local authorities, educators and arts bodies a limitless opportunity to raise aspirations. Realising these opportunities requires funding and planning, but above all it requires energy and vision. Which is what Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, JK Rowling and Wikipaedia founder Jimmy Wales have in bucketloads.

I want to finish with an illustration of how media and culture barriers are breaking down. Your brief asked for a ten minute oral presentation with no visual aids, which is what I have delivered (see footnote). But I am also giving out a paper copy, so it becomes a written presentation. But that hard copy is not just the text, it is created from an HTML file. And as I am sure you know HTML is the core technology of the internet.

Exactly a year ago today I created a weblog. It was part of an experimental programme to raise adult learners’ aspirations by improving their literacy. It is now rated by monitoring service Technorati as being in the top ½% of weblogs worldwide, and 90% of the large number of readers live outside the UK.

When I finished writing this presentation a few days ago I uploaded it to my web site, which is how it became HTML. It has already been read by thousands of readers around the world, and some of them have commented on it.

Technologies such as blogging offer us all the opportunity to divorce popular culture from the mass media. And that is the crucial ‘tipping point’ where we can start to raise aspirations, and help those marginalised by poor life skills and appreciation of the arts, to realise their full potential.

This post takes on an overgrown path full circle back to its origins 12 months ago as an experiment in teaching adult literacy. It is the text of a presentation I am making to a regional government body here in the UK on Wednesday 24th August on the theme of 'How is popular culture affecting aspirations'. I know many readers are involved in the education sector, music teaching and arts administration, and I would welcome any views using the comments feature below. You can also email the post to a colleague using the envelope icon.

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Thursday, August 18, 2005

European youth orchestra Ravels in Walton

Last night's late Prom was just sensational. From the opening plainchant Te Deum with the singers processing through the promenaders to the closing bars of Arvo Pärt's Dopo la vittoria this was live music making of the highest order. The singing of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir under Paul Hillier and the organ playing of Christopher Bowers-Broadbent in Pärt's wonderful Trivium underlined that Music-like-water, MP3's, CD's and all those other fantastic technologies are just adjuncts. The only way to hear great music is live, and we must fight tooth and nail to make sure that live music is available, and appreciated, by coming generations.

The Estonian choir's concert is going to be a very hard act to follow, but there are lots of tempting things in next week's Proms schedule. Early music gets another welcome hike in profile with William Christie conducting a fine cast and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Glyndebourne Chorus in Handel's Julius Caesar (Tuesday 23rd). New music highlight is the UK premiere of the Boston Symphony's commission from Sofia Gubaidulina (Saturday 20th August).

My Prom of the week though is Sir John Elliot Gardiner conducting the European Union Youth Orchestra on Wednesday 24th August. In the first half Ravel's Sheherazade is sung by my pictured artist the wonderful Argentinian soprano Bernada Fink (just to show no hard feelings after my Musicians and terrorism post). The second half is Walton's red-blooded Symphony No 1. I am really looking forward to hearing the young players getting their teeth into that gutsy work.

Mainstream Highlights:
Beethoven, Symphony No 9; Kurt Masur conducts London Philharmonic. Saturday 20th August, 19.30h
Walton Symphony No 1;
Sir John Elliot Gardiner conducts European Union Youth Orchestra. Wednesday 24th August, 19.00h
Liszt, Faust Symphony; rare occasion to hear this work. Gianandrea Noseda conducts. Friday 26th August, 19.30h

New Music:
Gubaidulina, The Light of the End;
UK premiere of work for large forces. Saturday 20th August, 19.30h
Tippett, Piano Sonata No 3;
Paul Crossley plays. Monday 22nd August, 13.00h
Hayes, Strip; world premiere from young British composer. Thursday 25th August, 19.30h

Early music:
Handel, Julius Caesar; Glyndebourne Opera and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under William Christie. Tuesday 23rd August, 18.00h.

All the concerts above are being broadcast live by BBC Radio 3, and are available as live web casts. Many of them are also available for seven days after broadcast on the BBC Listen Again service but some aren’t. Check BBC listings for which are available via ‘listen again’ but as a rule of thumb high profile orchestras and artists are usually too expensive for the BBC to buy repeat broadcast rights.

This is a personal, and fallible, selection of the week's concerts. The full weeks programmes are available through this link. Concerts start dates are given in British Summer Time using 24 hour clock (19.00h = 7.00pm) Convert these timings to your local time zone using this link

The Guardian are reviewing every Prom this season. Access their reviews via this link.

This preview of the following week's Proms appears every week on an overgrown path. If you want to share an upcoming concert with a friend email the post to them using the envelope icon at the foot of the post.

If you enjoyed this post follow an overgrown path to New music feast at BBC Proms
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Riding the electric highway...up to an overgrown path

Great news for new music. Yesterday on an overgrown path was read by more people than on any day since it started twelve months ago. And what attracted that record number of readers at a time when many are taking a well deserved holiday? - two posts about contemporary composers Odaline de la Martinez and Antony Pitts.

Monday's post on Musicians and terrorism also helped boost readers as it was picked up by a major UK political blog, and good audio clips and some great graphics lifted the two stories yesterday. But Odaline de Martinez and Antony Pitts are hardly household names. And the bottom line is that those two new music posts attracted more readers than Leonard Bernstein, Jacques Loussier, or those BBC Beethoven MP3 files. That's great news for all of us who are rooting for new music.

When I set this blog up I wanted to create a network of overgrown paths that readers could follow. Paths that would lead to new discoveries, as well as rediscovering old treasures. So I was really touched yesterday to read a wonderful piece called Riding the electric highway...up to an overgrown path on the blog Wordsand music describing the writer's first visit here.....

Within twenty minutes or so of clicking on on overgrown path, I had surfed off to several other sites, bookmarked a few pages (to add to the absurdly expanding list which I keep promising to organise but never do) and started to listen to some disparate stuff - everything from Conlon Noncarrow to Schoenberg to Henry Billings! I love the internet! I have long periods where I just take it for granted - then on a random cruise bump into new treasure.

Go and read Wordsandmusic. Not because it says nice things about my blog. But because its author, and musician, Freewheeling writes uncommonly well, and has something worth saying. And it is great that all those overgrown paths are leading somewhere.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Cure for Marin Alsop fatigue

Who was the first woman to conduct at the BBC Proms? No it wasn't the ubiquitous Marin Alsop. It is more than ten years since Odaline de la Martinez made her first Proms appearance, and it doesn't do any harm to shift some of the attention on women conductors over to this very talented lady, especially as she also composes.invisible hit counter

Born in Cuba and raised in the USA Odaline de la Martinez is now based in London. She retains strong links with South America, and was awarded the Villa-Lobos Medal by the Brazillian government. As well as guesting with mainstream orchestras Martinez is also founder and music director of contemporary ensemble Lontano. Her first opera, Sister Aimée was premiered in the US in 1984. She has her own record label Lorelt which specialises in music by women composers, Latin American and contemporary composers.

To give a taste of her composing style here is a short extract from the second movement Song of the rider of her 1983 Canciones for voice, piano and percussion.
This is available on the Lorelt CD British Women Composers Volume 2 together with works by Judith Weir, Melinda Maxwell, Hilary Tann and Eleanor Alberga.

Odaline de la Martinez is very much a lady of many talents, and one whose work is well worth exploring further.

If you enjoyed this post take an overgrown path to First performance - Douglas Weiland's Second Piano Trio, Pavey Ark

XL - On An Overgrown Path

XL is the new choral work by English composer Antony Pitts. It uses the same forces as Tallis' sublime 40 part motet Spem in Alium, and was composed as a companion piece. XL is on a new Harmonia Mundi CD sung by the Rundfunkchor Berlin directed by Simon Halsey. It also includes the Tallis motet, Knut Nystedt's Immortal Bach, and Zoltán Kodaly's substantial Laudes organi.

Other posts linking to the work of Antony Pitts, and well worth reading are Jerry Springer rebel grabs Gramophone accolade and
Raindrops are falling on my chant.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Musicians and terrorism

What is the musician’s role in times of war, or in times of terrorist attacks such as we recently experienced in London?

Is it to perform close to the front line to show that art will win over terror? That was the choice of the young Daniel Barenboim and Jacqueline du Pré when they performed close to the front line shortly after the Six Day War in June 1967. It was also the choice of the BBC Symphony Orchestra from 1939 to 1945 when it continued to perform live concerts in defiance of German air raids on London, Bedford and Bristol. And somewhat less ingeniously it was the choice of Leonard Bernstein who hosted a fund raiser for the Black Panthers from the front line of his Park Avenue apartment in 1970.

Or is the musician’s role to keep his skills safe well away from the front line, and to use them only when things are again settled and calm?

Last night there was a concert in the Church of St Peter and St Paul deep in rural Norfolk. This glorious, and isolated, church can claim to have world famous acoustics as it was the venue for many of the Tallis Scholars best selling recordings. It is 120 miles, several hours difficult travelling, and a few time warps, from central London. The announced artists for the concert were Hungarian flautist Janos Balint and Argentinian pianist Eduardo Hubert. On the evening the performer was Janos Balint with a totally different (and very fine) programme for solo flute. The programme book said…….

"There has been a change in programme in that the distinguished pianist, Eduardo Hubert, currently in Argentina, has felt that he cannot come to England until events here become more settled and calmer. We believe that there will be some understanding and even sympathy for that view."

The BBC Promenade Concerts are currently taking place in the Royal Albert Hall in London. This is the front line. 56 people people were killed and 700 were injured in London one week before the start of the Proms season. One of these bombs exploded one mile north of the hall on a train at Edgware Road station. (See photo above). The UK media predicts that further terrorist attacks in London are inevitable.

The night before Eduardo Hubert played the no-show sonata in Norfolk, the Danish National Girls Choir together with their compatriots in the Danish National Symphony Orchestra (photo to right) courageously decided that staying at home wasn't an option. So they delighted us with the world premiere of Bent Sørensen's The Little Mermaid at the Albert Hall.

Thankfully great musicians like them, from all round the globe, continue to perform every night close to the front line at the BBC Proms, and in other London music venues. Their selfless actions will guarantee that art will win over terror.

If you enjoyed this post take an overgrown path to Dresden 1945 - London 2005

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Uncovered - classical music orgies

Following on from the discovery of the Arnold Schoenberg jukebox comes news from Overgrown Path reader Rodney Lister at Harvard of classical music orgies on the internet.

'I was just looking over your list of classical music on the web and noticed that you don't include WHRB, the Harvard radio station, which is streamed on the web. Not only is this the best classical music on radio in Boston (which I guess is like being world famous in Poland), at the end of each term, for about a month, they do "orgies" long series of complete or almost complete recordings or all kinds of things. In years past these have not only included complete Beethoven, Haydn, Handel, Sibelius, etc., but complete Duke Ellington and Cecil Taylor. The station does lots of other things, too--jazz, hip-hop, country music, and Harvard hockey, but the classical music part is definitely worth noticing.'

WHRB can be found on the web via this link. Here is more information on the 'orgies' (the next one won't be until the fall) from their web site, they make BBC Radio 3's recent Beethoven fest look quite tame.........

Legend has it that the WHRB Orgy® tradition began over fifty-five years ago, in the Spring of 1943. At that time, it is said that one Harvard student, then a staff member of WHRB, returned to the station after a particularly difficult exam and played all of Beethoven's nine symphonies consecutively to celebrate the end of a long, hard term of studying. The idea caught on, and soon the orgy concept was expanded to include live Jazz and Rock Orgies, as well as a wide variety of recorded music. The Orgy® tradition lives on even today at WHRB. Each January and May, during the Reading and Exam Periods of Harvard College, WHRB presents marathon-style musical programs devoted to a single composer, performer, genre, or subject. The New York Times calls them "idealistic and interesting," adding, "the WHRB Orgies represent a triumph of musical research, imagination, and passion."WHRB's Orgy® season this January featured the entire musical output of Johann Sebastian Bach in a broadcast uninterrupted for ten straight days.

That last information about WHRB's JSB marathon is interesting. The BBC has already announced they will be following their Beethoven Experience with a Bach Experience the week before Christmas. The BBC spin-doctors will already be working up the story of how they introduced Bach to millions of listeners, and I am bracing myself for the zillion file downloads of the Passions. Interesting that a very good student station in Boston seems to have beaten them to it by a year.

And that mention of JSB takes me to Millenium of Music. Another reader writes telling me..."this was a Washington DC nationally syndicated radio program every Sunday night at 10 PM. The producer, Robert Aubry Davis, collaborated on the show with radio producers from England and the EU. The show was prized by many many listeners and ran from 1980 until just this year when the public station, WETA-FM, committed intellectual suicide by switching to an almost completely 24/7 news and analysis programming."

Millenium of Music is an exploration into the sources and mainstreams of European music for the thousand years before the birth of Bach and has featured such noted performers as Anonymous Four, The Clerks Group, Tallis Scholars, Jordi Saval, Hesperus and many others. The good news is you can still listen to it via WCLV in North-East Ohio via this link. There is a lot of very worthwhile early music in the programme schedule - definitely well worth exploring.

Meanwhile Dave, another Overgrown Path reader, writes with details of an interesting sounding 'on demand' web radio station which may be worth a try......

I run a streaming classical station called Classical Junk. I call it that since I try to play a lot of the not-so-common music that your typical person wouldn't really care for. I also do my best to fulfill listener requests, although sometimes it takes me a few weeks to track down the obscure ones.To get a wide variety of music, I manually create playlists instead of loading a bunch of music and hitting "random". You will always hear a complete work played (versus just one movement of it). The playlists repeat every two days or so, but I'm constantly changing them. You may end up hearing the same work two or three times before it's removed in the next playlist update, giving you a chance to become familiar with it and like it (or hate it) more.

Although quite well known across the US blogs it is also worth giving a 'heads-up' for our many international readers to the very worthwhile Art of the States service run by WGBH Boston (who also offer some worthwhile classical programming). Art of the States offers on-demand web streaming of classical music by US performers, with a heavy emphasis on modern and lesser known repertoire. There is a lot of added value here. The works are all streamed complete, the sound quality is very good, and many are not available in commercial recordings. A bonus are comprehensive programme notes and some good links. The range of composers is very impressive on this serious music 'juke-box' - from Adams to Zorn. Currently there is a 19th-Century south feature running majoring on musical life of the southern United States during the mid-19th century with lots of music files to support it. If you haven't visited Art of the States you are missing out on one of the most useful serious music resources on the internet.

All these stations have been added to the side-bar listing, any other news of 'lateral thinking' web music stations gratefully received via the comments facility at the end of this post.

If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Elgar's other Enigma

Friday, August 12, 2005

Who am I? - attacca

"Whereas the (Kennedy Center) Opera House only had to exist (there had been nothing like it in Washington before), the Concert Hall had to prove its worth, and its superiority to the former hall. Further, the much belittled, even maligned National Symphony Orchestra had to pass the hard test of being found worthy to become the resident orchestra of the new Center.

I chose a programme that showed the acoustical properties of the hall in as many different ways as it was possible in one single evening, and also the orchestra's prowess by asking it to master some of the most demanding works in the repertory from classical to contemporary.

We performed:

Beethoven's Overture, "Consecration of the House"
Mozart's Violin Concerto in G major (K 216) with Isaac Stern as soloist
Stravinsky's Rite of Spring
William Schuman's American Song for Tenor Solo Chorus and orchestra

Both the orchestra and the concert hall passed their test brilliantly, and it can be truthfully be added that the success of both became permanent."

A well known musical figure wrote this - who am I?

Post your answers using the comments feature below. No prizes for the right answer. But no black marks for the wrong one either. If you don't want to identify yourself you can post your answer anonymously. This is the second part of the text, follow this link to the first part.

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