Tuesday, February 28, 2006

BBC comes full circle with Wagner downloads ...

And in today's Guardian coverage of the BBC's one day Ring marathon there is this ominous little sentence: 'CD label Warner is working with Radio 3 to provide free downloads of Ring excerpts.' I guess one way for the BBC to avoid rubbing the record companies up the wrong way with free MP3 downloads is to cut them in on the deal. The article also confirms my assumption that this latest musical gem in the BBC's crown is a fifteen year old commercial recording recently reissued at mid-price on CD.

Image credit - Canadian opera
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BBC to broadcast Wagner's Ring - in one day

Richard Wagner's 15-hour Ring Cycle will be broadcast in its entirety on one day over Easter on BBC Radio 3. The performance, conducted by Daniel Barenboim in Bayreuth, Germany in the early 1990s, will be aired on 17 April, a UK bank holiday. Yet another example of media- friendly programming from Radio 3. But, though the BBC press release doesn't say so, I assume the broadcast is from the commercial recording made of the 1991 Bayreuth Ring. Sorry to be a licence paying party-pooper, but broadcasting a very fine, but fifteen year old, commercial recording non-stop is more a PR event than artistic coup. It is also cheap air-time that doesn't make any use of the five fine orchestras employed by the BBC.

The day-long event, part of Radio 3's 60th birthday celebrations, will include just four 15-minute breaks. The Ring Cycle features Anne Evans as Brünnhilde, Siegfried Jerusalem as Siegfried and John Tomlinson as Wotan. A BBC presenter will guide listeners through the day from 0800 GMT, with synopses and beginners' guides available online. Another Macleod on the horizon is the presenter is classical music 'populariser' Donald Macleod. I just hope the continuity links aren't as banal and intrusive as they were for the BBC's Bach Christmas.

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Allen Ginsberg live via streamed audio

Philip Glass' Symphony No. 6 - Plutonian Ode was co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall and Brucknerhaus Linz to celebrate the composer's 65th birthday. The work's libretto was written by his late friend, Allen Ginsberg, and Glass takes up the story: 'During the last ten years of Allen's life we had performed frequently together in poetry/music collaborations. Allen was a superb reader of his own work and I was often inspired to compose new piano music for these occasional collaborations. In the case of Hydrogen Jukebox, we developed an evening length opera which was designed by Jerome Sirlin and directed by Ann Carlson. We presented that work in over 30 cities as part of an international tour. It had been our plan to make a new, major collaboration based on his epic poem Plutonium Ode (1978). Before he died in 1997, Allen had made several recordings for me of the poem in preparation for the new work. At that time I had in mind simply an extended piano work to accompany Allen in live performance. I put aside the project in 1997, feeling that I wouldn't want to go ahead without Allen. '

But the opportunity then came to make the present recording as Philip Glass explains: 'A few years passed and the commission of a new symphony from Carnegie Hall and the Brucknerhaus Linz reawakened my interest in the project. I felt, then, that Plutonium Ode was unfinished business between Allen and myself and this would be the opportunity to complete it. By then, the piano music I had originally imagined had grown to a full orchestra and Allen's resonant speaking voice to a lyric soprano. The three movements of the symphony follow the three parts of the poem, and follow, also, the passage of the poem -- the first movement is a passionate outcry against nuclear contamination and pollution, the second a turn towards healing, and the final movement an epiphany arrived at through personal transformation.'

The new world-premiere recording from Orange Mountain (photo below), performed by soprano Lauren Flanigan accompanied by the Bruckner Orchester Linz conducted by Dennis Russell Davies, brings this powerful work to life. The set includes a disc of Allen Ginsberg reading the original poem. Here to complement this excellent new release is Ginsberg's poem America (with parental warning on lyrics). But the words are only part of the story, for the full impact follow this link to hear Allen Ginsberg himself reciting the complete poem in nine minutes of streamed audio. Do listen to it, it is the most powerful performance you will hear for years. Just one of the free streamed recordings available on the wonderful new Poetry Archive web site which celebrates the music of words.

America I've given you all and now I'm nothing.
America two dollars and twenty-seven cents January 17, 1956.
I can't stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb
I don't feel good don't bother me.
I won't write my poem till I'm in my right mind.
America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?
America why are your libraries full of tears?
America when will you send your eggs to India?
I'm sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?
America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world.
Your machinery is too much for me.
You made me want to be a saint.
There must be some other way to settle this argument.
Burroughs is in Tangiers I don't think he'll come back it's sinister.
Are you being sinister or is this some form of practical joke?
I'm trying to come to the point.
I refuse to give up my obsession.
America stop pushing I know what I'm doing.
America the plum blossoms are falling.
I haven't read the newspapers for months, everyday somebody goes on trial for murder.
America I feel sentimental about the Wobblies.
America I used to be a communist when I was a kid and I'm not sorry.
I smoke marijuana every chance I get.
I sit in my house for days on end and stare at the roses in the closet.
When I go to Chinatown I get drunk and never get laid.
My mind is made up there's going to be trouble.
You should have seen me reading Marx.
My psychoanalyst thinks I'm perfectly right.
I won't say the Lord's Prayer.
I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations.
America I still haven't told you what you did to Uncle Max after he came over from Russia.

I'm addressing you.
Are you going to let our emotional life be run by Time Magazine?
I'm obsessed by Time Magazine.
I read it every week.
Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candystore.
I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.
It's always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious. Movie producers are serious. Everybody's serious but me.
It occurs to me that I am America.
I am talking to myself again.

Asia is rising against me.
I haven't got a chinaman's chance.
I'd better consider my national resources.
My national resources consist of two joints of marijuana millions of genitals an unpublishable private literature that goes 1400 miles and hour and twentyfive thousand mental institutions.
I say nothing about my prisons nor the millions of underpriviliged who live in my flowerpots under the light of five hundred suns.
I have abolished the whorehouses of France, Tangiers is the next to go.
My ambition is to be President despite the fact that I'm a Catholic.

America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?
I will continue like Henry Ford my strophes are as individual as his automobiles more so they're all different sexes
America I will sell you strophes $2500 apiece $500 down on your old strophe
America free Tom Mooney
America save the Spanish Loyalists
America Sacco & Vanzetti must not die
America I am the Scottsboro boys.
America when I was seven momma took me to Communist Cell meetings they sold us garbanzos a handful per ticket a ticket costs a nickel and the speeches were free everybody was angelic and sentimental about the workers it was all so sincere you have no idea what a good thing the party was in 1935 Scott Nearing was a grand old man a real mensch Mother
Bloor made me cry I once saw Israel Amter plain. Everybody must have been a spy.
America you don're really want to go to war.
America it's them bad Russians.
Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Russians.
The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia's power mad. She wants to take our cars from out our garages.
Her wants to grab Chicago. Her needs a Red Reader's Digest. her wants our auto plants in Siberia. Him big bureaucracy running our fillingstations. That no good. Ugh. Him makes Indians learn read. Him need big black niggers.
Hah. Her make us all work sixteen hours a day. Help.
America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.
America is this correct?
I'd better get right down to the job.
It's true I don't want to join the Army or turn lathes in precision parts factories, I'm nearsighted and psychopathic anyway.
America I'm putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.

America is published in Collected Poems 1947-1980 (Harper & Row, 1984), and the version here is taken from the web site Modern & Contemporary American Poetry

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, and 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. The organisation is run by medical practitioner Dr Peter Hauber and his wife.

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. Of particular relevance to this article is Wort und Musik - 60 Jahre nach Hiroshima. This is a live recording made at the March 2005 'Nuclear Weapons Inheritance Project' which mixes readings in German from a range of authors including Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, Albert Einstein and Sadako Kurihara with relevent music including the aria from Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Shostakovich's String Quartet No 8 and Schubert’s Quartettsatz. On 24th April IPPNW have a fund raising concert in the Philharmonie Berlin with the Grammy winning baritone Thomas Quasthoff singing Mahler's Kindertotenlieder. All proceeds from this concert and the sale of their CDs benefit those in dire need as a result of war, industrial and natural catastrophe. Need I say more?

Text on Glass' Sixth Symphony and cover shot from
Orange Mountain. Image credits - Allen Ginsberg Trust. Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post follow An Overgrown Path to The Winter's Tale * For unto us a child is born * Farewell to Stromness *
'Tis the gift to be free * The radiance of a thousand suns *

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Paul Sacher - patron of 20th Century music

On Sunday 26th February on BBC Radio 3 Richard Morrison profiled one of the most powerful names in music in the last century. Paul Sacher (left) was named the third richest man in the world in the 1990s having married the heiress of the pharmaceutical company, Hoffmann-La Roche. He used his wealth to commission over 300 pieces from composers and conduct many of the premieres - including Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste.

Sacher's passion for new music led him to found an orchestra in his native Basle and transform musical life there so that it became a magnet for leading musicians and composers. In the centenary of Sacher's birth, Richard Morrison travelled to Basle to explore the many sides of Sacher - as a conductor, patron, businessman and lover - and delved into the Sacher Foundation where manuscripts of the leading composers keep his legacy alive.

With contributions from Pierre Boulez, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Heinz Holliger, Elliott Carter, Harrison Birtwistle, Sacher's biographers Lesley Stephenson and Harry Halbreich and musicians from the Basle Chamber Orchestra.

Available via BBC Radio 3 'listen again' until 4th March - don't miss.

Lesley Stephenson's biography of Paul Sacher Symphony of Dreams is published by Ruffer & Rub, ISBN 3907625102

Image and text credit - BBC Radio 3. - do you think Rostropovich is asking to go to the boy's room in the photo? Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
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New BBC conductor brings European balance

The future is looking very exciting for the BBC Symphony Orchestra under their new Chief Conductor, Jiri Belohlavek (left), who officially takes up his position in July this year. The orchestra recently had a somewhat acrimonious divorce from its previous Chief Conductor American Leonard Slatkin. Speaking about his departure the BBC Orchestra's General Manager Paul Hughes said diplomatically: " Leonard has many strengths which haven't been fully developed here. The chemistry didn't always make for the kind of music-making that we and Leonard would have liked."

Slatkin was more bellicose in an interview in the London Evening Standard saying: "The difference between running an orchestra in America and here is that in America you are totally in charge. I'm used to taking responsibility. Here, I was not responsible for choosing guest conductors and soloists, even for some of my own programmes. Did I really want to conduct a whole weekend of Schnittke?" I wonder what another former BBC Symphony Chief Conductor, Pierre Boulez, would have said about conducting a whole weekend of Schnittke? - but I digress.

Jiří Bělohlávek should provide a very welcome counterbalance to the increasingly influential Anglo/American orchestral axis with its penchant for the latest avant-garde tricks. As well as bringing real strength in the core symphonic repertoire he is also a specialist in the better known composers, such as Dvorak, Martinu and Janacek, from his native Czechoslovakia. The even better news is that Bělohlávek is also promising to programme contemporary Czech music, and his repertoire includes Milan Slavicky's Requiem which he premiered with the Czech Philharmonic.

If you want to find out how good Bělohlávek is in the core symphonic repertoire, listen to his interpretation of Mahler's Ninth Symphony with the BBC Symphony Orchestra on Monday evening (27th Feb) on BBC Radio 3 at 7.30pm GMT (convert programme time to your local time zone via this link), or via 'listen again'. Those who were there when the recording was made reported a very special experience indeed, saying: "Gustav Mahler wrote his great 9th Symphony in 1909 with his marriage and his health failing, and there is little room for comfort or solace in the music. Yet at the end of this visionary account of the symphony at the Barbican in December, there was a feeling of hope, a glimpse of heaven."

Web resources: Jiří Bělohlávek biography
* Belohlavek's orchestral rhapsody in Norwich ... * BBC orchestra's problem with accents ... * BBC Symphony Orchestra * Pierre Boulez *
Photo of Jiří Bělohlávek from IMG Artists
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The power of music blogs - and poetry

Path finder - One of my regular ports of call is An Overgrown Path. If you want to see why, click here. One recent Overgrown Path post really caught my eye: Eric Whitacre outsells Mozart Lots of stuff about Mr Whitacre. Apparently, he is quite famous. I had never heard of him. Which says something about me, I suppose. Anyway, it's a good read. Toward the end of Overgrown Path's post, there is a link to an mp3 download. So, I downloaded. And listened. Nice. Go down the path some more? The CD is called Cloudburst. It's on the UK's Hyperion label.Hyperion: Cloudburst Fourteen poems set to music.Choral works. Choral, works.What works opens with a poem by E. E. Cummings: Posted on Mister Bijou from South China:

Serendipity, Connections and Trends - Visiting On An Overgrown Path, I was introduced to contemporary classical music composer Eric Whitacre. (Just a few days ago I ‘discovered’ classical violinist Christian Tetzlaff, and classical music critic Jeremy Eichler — classical is on the brain.) Pliable mentions that Whitacre graduated from the Juilliard School of Music (as did Luther Henderson, but back then it was called the Insitute of Musical Art). The clip I heard online from Whitacre’s Hyperion recording, Cloudburst is beautiful and the choral works listed piqued my curiosity and lead me to wonder if a new trend is afoot. I haven’t researched this yet, but I suspect that it is not a new trend at all, rather one that is newly come into focus on my personal radar screen and/or one that comes and goes over time. The trend (if it is that) to which I refer is the blending and cross-pollenation of poetry and music: Posted on DevraDoWrite from Los Angeles:

My Eric Whitacre article generated an amazing response. I was delighted, and really humbled, to introduce so many people to a new composer. It meant that this morning I was genuinely able to say i thank You God for this most amazing day.
There is not enough poetry On An Overgrown Path, so here is the poem by e e cummings' (photo below, and I leave it to others decide whether it is upper or lower case) which is set by Eric Whitacre on Cloudburst's first track:

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
wich is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any - lifted from the no
of all nothing - human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Please also explore these other contemporary composers featured On An Overgrown Path * Jane O'Leary * Vanessa Lann * Odaline de la Martinez * Judith Weir * Antony Pitts * Douglas Weiland * James Wood *
And return here soon for another musical discovery - About me in the right-hand side-bar gives a clue.

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Eric Whitacre outsells Mozart

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Shostakovich - bereft of discernible logic

When a symphony by a famous composer is never played there is usually a good reason. I think we spotted at least three when the Hallé Orchestra, Hallé Choir, RNCM Chorus and Mark Elder bravely tackled Shostakovich’s Third on Thursday.

First, there’s the bombastic choral finale, conjuring the spectacle of proud proletariats uniting on May Day. It’s, well, very Soviet — “The first of May is the tread of miners clutching rifles. Revolution!” — without any of the redeeming irony that the older Shostakovich might have surreptitiously laced into this gaudy patriotic banner.

Then there’s the ferocious technical demands. In 1929 Shostakovich was a young man aiming for maximum shock impact. It’s hard to know which is the more hazardous for the first fiddles: the helter-skelter passage where they have to pump out about a hundred notes a second, or the anguished, Mahlerian line that sends them on a weird chromatic journey into the stratosphere.

And lastly, there’s the music itself: noisily entertaining, but bereft of discernible logic. Just before the chorus enters, for instance, there are massive unison declamations for full orchestra over a mighty drum-roll, followed by a macabre recitative for trombones. What’s that about? All credit to the Hallé and Elder for putting it across with such pulsating vigour. But I won’t be petitioning the gods of concert programming for more performances.

From Richard Morrison's Times review of the Hallé Orchestra performing Shostakovich's Third Symphony under Mark Elder in the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester. Good to see that the word critic still has some meaning.

Image credit: Shostakovich from VU-Kamerorchest. He is not looking puzzled because of Richard Morrison's review. He is wondering why his watch is on the wrong hand - I 'mirrored' the image to vary the page format.
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Friday, February 24, 2006

A Passion for Bach

It may surprise the readers of some music blogs but Osvaldo Golijov was not the only composer to set the Passion story to music. With round-trip fares from New York to London going for less than $200 can you afford not to be in Norwich on Saturday 1st April? The venue is the great Norman cathedral with its 14th and 15th century stained glass. The work is the more tender and intimate of Bach's two surviving Passion settings, his St John. The chorus is the highly acclaimed Keswick Hall Choir, the instrumentalists are the award winning (and all girl) Brooke Street Band who specialise in baroque music, and the top soloists include Andrew Mackenzie-Wicks as the Evangelist and Colin Campbell as Christus.

With such sublime music, such a glorious setting, and such a stellar line-up of performers why let 3500 miles of water stop you from enjoying one of the musical events of the year? Tickets are available from the ever-helpful Prelude Records in Norwich, and I will be delighted to provide any more help to anyone wanting to attend via the email address in the side-bar. I would suggest making a two week vacation of it and taking in the Hilliard Ensemble singing the Gesualdo Tenebrae Responsories on Good Friday in Blythburgh Church as well, but I'm told that has already sold out. So hurry before the tickets for the St John Passion go as well.

The genius of Bach has been expressed no better than by author, cyclist and fellow pilgrim Anne Mustoe (see my post Lux Aeterna and not Ligetti) in her wonderful book Amber, Furs and Cockleshells ......"For me, there is music, and then there is Bach. Bach is transcedent. He is the sun, whose light blots out the feeble rays of other composers. There are many whose music I enjoy, but I would throw their entire opus on the bonfire to save one fugue of the divine Bach."

The two photos are of the powerful wire-mesh sculpture of the Crucifixion by David Begbie. I wrote about it in my article Pilgrimage, and you can see it installed in the Anglican shrine at Walsingham here in Norfolk. Images from David Begbie's web site.

Now playing - Benjamin Britten's recording of Bach's St John Passion made in the Snape Maltings with Peter Pears as the Evangelist. It is sung in the English translation by Pears and Imogen Holst, and is suffused with the same humanity that fills every bar of Britten's own compositions .

If despite my advocacy a transatlantic trip is still out of the question Music of the Baroque is also performing the St John Passion in the Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest, Chicago at 8.00pm on 27th February, more details via this link.
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Teach our children to play music

With the enthusiastic celebrations of Mozart's 250th birthday taking place this year, recent reports suggesting that the future of music education in the UK is hanging in the balance are particularly poignant. It seems that a pending decision to turn £26m ($47m) directly over to schools, rather than to local-authority music services, could deny thousands of children the chance to learn a musical instrument.

As a violinist I know that playing a musical instrument can provide an invaluable channel for self-expression. Just as one of the larger functions of artistic endeavour is to challenge societal taboos, art for the individual can provide a means to say the unsayable. And for the countless young people in this country who feel unheard, the acquisition and mastery of such a voice can prove nothing short of a lifeline.

If music-making in this country is to maintain its previously high standards, then money needs to be given where it is needed - towards the promotion of music in schools and free instrumental tuition for all, and to the hard-pressed local-authority music services. Sophisticated artistry is impossible without the requisite sophistication of skills. The nourishment and future development of our children matters - it is not just at lunchtimes that our children deserve better quality.

Freelance violinist Philippa Ibbotson in today's Guardian - hear, hear!

Image credit - St Francis Music Center
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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Eric Whitacre outsells Mozart

How to reach new audiences is a continuing preoccupation of the 'serious music' community. Yet just this week a surprise classical best-seller has shown how to do it. You don't need dumbing-down, the latest avant-garde tricks, classical music night-clubs or free Beethoven MP3s. What you need is great contemporary music which is innovative, honest and accessible. It needs to be recorded by an enterprising label, with top-class performers and engineering. It also needs to feature a marketable personality and be supported by the media. Cloudburst, a CD of Eric Whitacre's choral works sung by Polyphony, is currently the surprise UK classical best seller. It hit all the hot buttons, and proves that a full price CD of music written in the last fifteen years can outsell the TV promoted greatest hits of a dead guy from Salzburg.

Andrew Cane of leading UK independent classical store Prelude Records explained to An Overgrown Path yesterday: "Cloudburst had been out for two weeks when BBC Radio 3's CD Review gave it an outstanding review. Then the rush started, and we took more than ten orders just on Saturday. That was double our next best seller - a TV advertised 'Best of Mozart' compilation. Sales of Cloudburst have also been very strong this week, easily outselling the big January release of the 2006 New Year's Day Concert conducted by Mariss Jansons. We are delighted, but it is really quite surprising as Eric Whitacre is almost unknown here." The success of Cloudburst has been reflected in the US where within a day of being released it entered the Amazon top ten classical best seller list.

Eric Whitacre was born in Nevada in 1970, and played synthesizers in a teenage techno-pop band before graduating from the Juilliard School of Music where he studied with John Corigliano and David Diamond. His musical voice is unique but fundamentally conservative, and he has been described as the 'anti-Tavener' because of his disregard for fashions such as the so-called 'holy minimalism', although the setting of the biblical text When David heard does pay homage to Arvo Pärt. It is no bad thing, but I do also clearly hear the influence of another unique voice in the form of Peter Maxwell Davies (right), particularly Max's 1981 Lullabye for Lucy. (Opening the link launches an audio file of this sublime work). Whitacre is a master of harmony, but is a million miles away from the 'comfort music' of John Rutter and others. Despite Eric Whitacre's popular appeal there is no complacency in his writing, and he keeps the listener on the edge of their seat with shifting chords and startling harmonies that confirm his pop/rock roots. Above all it is his ability to make music the servant of words that distinguishes his vocal works, and this is reflected in his eclectic choice of texts.

Whitacre's choral works, which include Water Night, Cloudburst, Sleep, Lux Aurumque and A Boy and a Girl, are hugely popular in the US, and his compositions for symphonic winds are also frequently programmed, particularly Ghost Train which has had over a thousand performances and forty recordings. One of his most recent compositions is Paradise Lost (production shot right). He describes this, his first work for stage, as an 'opera electronica', and it combines trance, ambient, and techno electronics in a genre crossing combination of choral, cinematic and operatic forms.

Cloudburst was recorded by Hyperion, and takes it name from one of Eric Whitacre's best known choral works which sets a poem by Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz. The CD features fourteen settings of poets as diverse as Dickinson, Lorca, Cummings and a 13th Century Persian Sufi mystic. It was recorded in just three days with Stephen Layton directing the vocal ensemble Polyphony who do not include Whitacre in their core repertoire. Polyphony are outstanding in any music, and they rise magnificently to the new challenges set by Eric Whitacre. The lines are exposed and there is no vibrato to hide behind, yet the result is one of the best choral releases I have heard for years. All credit to Hyperion for this innovative release, and to Simon Eadon’s superb engineering in London’s Temple Church (where Stephen Layton was Director of Music). The sound is demonstration quality, particularly in the title track which features piano, percussion, handbells, thunder sheet, wind chimes, a suspended cymbal and, shades of Max, a children's choir.

To remind us all how to reach new audiences here is no less than five minutes of glorious choral singing from Cloudburst in the form of Eric Whitacre's Water Night -

Web resources: * Eric Whitacre * Polyphony * Stephen Layton * Prelude Records * Hyperion * Peter Maxwell Davies *
Audio file from Hyperion. Image credits: Eric Whitacre - Ericwhitacre.com; Paradise Lost - Luxious ; Peter Maxwell Davies - Mander Organs. Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Mozart MP3 download fatigue cured

Lots of coverage On An Overgrown Path for Gyorgy Kurtag's 80th birthday, but there are still many people who don't know his music. So here as a break from all that Mozart are two free Kurtag MP3 downloads that are long enough to give a real taster, but short enough to mean you still have to buy a CD to fairly reward the composer and performers.

Kurtág - Kafka Fragments op. 24 for Soprano and violin with Patricia Kopatchinskaja (photo above) violin and Anna Maria Pammer. Recorded in the Semper-Aula of the Federal Institute of Technology, Zürich by Leonhard Lenz 3.2.2004. Nr. 1 "Die Guten gehn im gleichen Schritt. Ohne von ihnen zu wissen tanzen, tanzen die anderen die Tänze der Zeit", Nr.2 "Wie ein Weg im Herbst: Kaum ist er reingekehrt, bedeckt er sich wieder mit den trockenen Blättern", Nr.3 "Verstecke sind unzählige, Rettung nur eine, aber Möglichkeiten der Rettung wieder so viele wie Verstecke", Nr.4 "Ruhelos, ruhelos"... Data rate 128 KBit/s, file size 2.9MB. Extract - timing 3' 10" -

Kurtág - Eight pieces for violin and cymbalom op.4, with Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Viktor Kopatchinsky (Cymbalom). Murten-Classics Festival 31.8.2003, recorded by Swiss Radio DRS2. Data rate 128KBit/s, file size 8.3MB. Complete - timing 9' 3" -

Both samples are linked from the excellent website of Patricia Kopatchinskaja (photo above) who is the violinist in the recordings. There are many other audio samples on the site, the contemporary composers represented include John Cage, Takuya Imahori, Gija Kantsceli, Thomas Larcher, Kumiko Omura, Alan Ridout and Otto Zykan. CDs can also be purchased, these include contemporary compositions by Johanna Doderer, Nikolai Korndorf, Dmitri Smirnov and Boris Yoffe.

If you arrived On An Overgrown Path looking for free Mozart MP3 downloads please don't feel cheated. Patricia Kopatchinskaja's web site has a download of the complete Mozart Sinfonia Concertante in E flat major with American Odin Rathnam playing viola with her. It is a big (25MB) file with 30 minutes of music, read a review here in German, and this is the file -

Audio samples are not hosted by On An Overgrown Path, and are Patricia Kopatchinskaja's copyright. They are strictly for non-commercial, personal and private use. Any other use needs permission, particularly multiple copying, use in other media, broadcasting, television or any commercial purposes.

Image credit - Patricia Kopatchinskaja. Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Miniature celebration for Gyorgy Kurtag

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Hidden's director on productive frustration

Do you enjoy deliberately frustrating people? 'I look at it as productive frustration. Films that are entertainments give simple answers but I think that's ultimately more cynical, as it denies the viewer room to think. If there are more answers at the end, then surely it is a richer experience.'

Michael Haneke, director of the 'water cooler film of the year' Hidden (Caché) in Sunday's Observer. Applies to music as well as the cinema doesn't it?

Image credit - Timeout.com
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Monday, February 20, 2006

Gyorgy Kurtag as webcast composer of the week

There is a classical radio station on the web that has all the musical riches of BBC Radio 3 without the banal chat in between. As a bonus it currently has György Kurtág (right) as composer of the week at 7.30pm European time - which is more than BBC Radio 3 has. As I write Radio 3 is broadcasting a two hour retrospective on that seminal contemporary composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Sounds too good to be true? Follow this link to Dutch NOS Radio 4 and click on 'luister listen' to find out for yourself. There are even live relays from the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam in the evenings.

Click here or on the Programmagids button on the right of the home page for daily programme listings in Dutch. Convert programme times to your local time zone using this link.

Image credit - Klassika.com . Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Miniature celebration for Gyorgy Kurtag

Hungarian composer Gyorgy Kurtag is 80 today. The ECM CD Jatekok , (which translates as Games) is a wonderful introduction to his challenging, but rewarding, music. On Jatekok Kurtag (right) and his wife Marta play the composer’s crystalline piano miniatures interspersed with his own fragmentary Bach transcriptions. Kurtag once said: 'I keep coming back to the realisation that one note is almost enough.' Jatekok are beautifully turned piano haikus, the writing is imbued with wit and undertones of his teacher Milhaud, yet the style is uncompromisingly modern.

György Kurtág's musical language is unique, but his homage to Bach is a reflection of the influence of the great masters. Like Schönberg, Boulez and Tippett before him Kurtág has no problems with either ‘downtown music’, with the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras embracing his work, or with ‘dead guys’ like Bartók, Berg, Beethoven, and Messiaen. The crucible that forged Kurtág music ranges from Guillaume de Machaut, whose music he transcribed for piano, through French Gothic architecture to the plays of Samuel Beckett, the novels of Dostoevsky and the writings of Goethe. Kurtág is a true polymath. He speaks Romanian, Hungarian, German, French Russian, Ancient Greek and English, and his linguist skills are evident in the texts he has set, which include Blok, Sappho, Hölderlin, and of course Kafka.

György Kurtág was born on 19th February 1926 at Lugos in Romania, close to the birthplace of fellow Hungarian György Ligeti. Both young composers hoped to study with Bartok in Budapest in 1945. But Bartók died in America, and Kurtág went on to study piano, composition and chamber music with other teachers at the Budapest Academy. Among his early works was a Korean Cantata which expressed solidarity with the Koreans in their war with the US, but he reached the age of thirty-three before he was willing to give any of his works opus numbers.

During the early 1950s the Stalinist regime in Hungary proscribed Bartók's later works, and immediately his music became a rallying call for artists taking a stand against authoritarianism. Also banned in Hungary until the mid-1950s was the music of Schönberg, and middle and late-period Stravinsky. To escape this creative straitjacket Kurtág moved to Paris in 1957 to study music with Olivier Messiaen (right) and Darius Milhaud, and also with the Hungarian art psychologist Marianne Stein. It was in Paris he wrote his Op 1 String Quartet. He returned to Budapest in 1959 and was appointed Professor of piano and chamber music before retiring in 1986. His pupils included András Schiff and Zoltán Kocsis. Between 1993 and 1995 Kurtág was composer-in-residence at the Berlin Philharmonic, and his Op 33 “Stele” was written for the orchestra.

Many of Kurtág's compositions are for chamber groups. 'Messages of the late Miss R.V. Troussova' Op. 17 for soprano and chamber ensemble was premiered in Paris in 1981 and established his reputation, while the earlier chamber concerto for soprano and piano 'Sayings of Péter Bornemisza' is also frequently performed. His 'quasi una fantasia…' (Op 27 No 1), first performed in 1988, was the first of several works which exploited spatial effects. More recently Kurtág has written for symphonic forces, and among the champions of his larger works is Simon Rattle (right) who programmed 'Gravestone in Memory of Stephan Stein', which surrounds the audience with instruments, with Mahler’s Second Symphony in a widely acclaimed Vienna Philharmonic concert at the 1999 Salzburg Festival. This twelve minute work is an elegy for the singer husband of Kurtag’s psychology teacher Marianne Stein.

György Kurtág’s achievement is remarkable. He is one of our foremost living composers, and his music is truly inclusive. His compositions are in the vanguard of modern music, yet he is embraced by the mainstream.

Happy 8oth birthday maestro Kurtág! Shame that your anniversary hasn't received a fraction of the attention currently being given to Dmitri Shostakovich and Osvaldo Golijov.

Now playing: György Kurtág's Musik für Streichinstrumente performed by the Keller Quartet on ECM. Both Officium breve and the Twelve Microludes are amongst the finest of post-war quartets. Also noteworthy is ECM's release this month of Kurtág's Kafka Fragments. The hour long work dates from 1986 and comprises forty tiny movements scored for soprano and violin. Julianse Banse is the soprano with violinist Andras Keller.

* The best internet resource on Kurtág is an article written in 2000 by his pupil Rachel Beckles Willson in Central European Review - follow this link for the text. As a small birthday present to György Kurtág I have uploaded an edited version of this article as his Wikipedia entry, amendments and additions can be made by anyone to this Wikipedia contribution.
* I apologise for rudely omitting the accents on György Kurtág and Játékok in the headline and first paragraph. But as I have explained elsewhere these accents play havoc with some news aggregators.
* Image credit - György Kurtág
Ensemble Modern, Olivier Messiaen Ircam, and Simon Rattle BCMG. Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to György Ligeti's Private Passions

The Observer misses Craigslist's eBait

Today's Observer trumpets a full page profile of Craigslist founder Craig Newmark (right). The profile writer Paul Harris is a big fan, and says lots of nice things like ...

'But what makes Newmark different from other dotcom success stories is not his ineptness but, rather, his different attitude to business. He has chosen not to make hundreds of millions of dollars. He keeps the adverts free (the only ones that pay are a handful in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles) and has steadfastly refused to float on the stock exchange.

One study estimated Craigslist could earn $550m a year if it made the most of its huge readership and potential revenues. But Newmark refuses to take the bait.'

Pity Paul Harris didn't point out that the Craigslist web site says that in August 2004 eBay acquired 25% of Craigslist from a former employee.

Pliable's note - the wording of this post has been amended since original publication. See Comments below.
Craig Newmark blogs here.
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BBC orchestra's problem with accents ...

It is wonderful news that the Czech maestro Jiri Belohlavek (right) has been appointed Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra from July 2006. But there is one small problem that the internet driven BBC may not have thought of.

I wrote recently about the problem news feeds such as Topix.net's very useful Symphony News have handling accented characters. Well, as is obvious, Jiří Bělohlávek has a lot of accents in his name if you write it correctly. Now I always try to use accents as they are an integral part of language. But I have just uploaded an article about Bělohlávek and the headline Bělohlávek's orchestral rhapsody in Norwich was parsed by Topix.net as BA - which is at least appropriate!

The obvious answer is to leave out the accents. This is what Bělohlávek's agents, IMG Artists, do on their web site, but puzzlingly the BBC retain the accents with the exception of ě. To avoid the problem I have compromised and republished the article without accents in the headline but retaining them in the body text, and have also omitted them from the first paragraph above. My György Kurtág which will be uploaded in a few hours will also be accent less for the same reason. It just seems a shame that the diversity and richness of language, and the aesthetic appeal of the words, should be dumbed-down because of this. Shouldn't we instead be trying to dumb-up our internet software to handle accents?

Photo of Jiří Bělohlávek from Edinburgh Festival

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If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Bělohlávek's orchestral rhapsody in Norwich

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Belohlavek's orchestral rhapsody in Norwich ...

Guest blogger Alex Noel-Tod reports that on Saturday 18th February there was a rare opportunity in Norwich to sit in on the rehearsal of a Janáček orchestral work, Taras Bulba: rhapsody for orchestra (1915), under the baton of Jiří Bělohlávek (left) who will be the Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra from July 2006.

Maestro Bĕlohlávek was rehearsing the work with students from the University of East Anglia Symphony Orchestra and the Chamber Orchestra Anglia together with other young musicians from the area. The rehearsal was at the OPEN Norwich Youth Venue and was a joint venture between the Chamber Orchestra Anglia and the UEA School of Music. The UEA Symphony Orchestra will be performing the work as part of a concert in St Andrew's Hall, Norwich, on 1st April, when the conductor will be Sharon Choa.

Janáček and Norwich have a significant connection, as the UK premiere of his Glagolitic Mass (1926) was given at the 1930 Norfolk and Norwich Triennial Festival, with Sir Henry Wood conducting the Festival Chorus and the Queen's Hall Orchestra. On that occasion Janáček's music, received a lukewarm reception, mainly due to the lack of preparedness by the chorus and orchestra, together with the use of an awkward English translation.

Maestro Bĕlohlávek gave detailed attention and energy to the extraordinary mixture of rhythms, melodies, and dynamics that uniquely define his compatriot's music. This valuable opportunity for young players to work with a world-class conductor should ensure that Janáček receives a more glorious performance in Norwich this April.

With apologies for lack of accents in headline, but some software can't handle them - see my story
BBC orchestra's problem with accents ...
Photo of Jiří Bělohlávek from IMG Artists
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If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Marvellous Má Vlast - Czech it out

Friday, February 17, 2006

Maestro Krio in line for top Chicago post?

Although as reported exclusively here today Japanese conducting sensation Maestro Krio (right) missed out on a guest slot in Baltimore he may just be a candidate for one of the top music directorships in North America that falls vacant soon.

From my server logs on the Maestro Krio exclusive a few minutes ago:
* Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Illinois, Chicago, United States, 5 returning visits
17th February 2006 19:22:20 visited theovergrownpath.blogspot.com/2006/02/latest-avant-garde-tricks.html *

Photo credit Rai.it

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Rostropovich on Shostakovich ...

Dmitri Shostakovich dedicated both his cello concertos to Mstislav Rostropovich. Listen, and see, Rostropovich talking about Shostakovich and the composition of Cello Concerto No 1 via these BBC Radio 3 online resources.
Rostropovich on the Cello Concerto no. 1
Rostropovich on playing to Shostakovich
Media clips from BBC Radi0 3

Image credit: Rostropovich from Reppublica.it
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If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Shostakovich and candles and Recycling Shostakovich and Beethoven.

The latest avant-garde tricks ...

'A multimedia event with music by Philip Glass, a huge work for amplified violin and orchestra by John Adams, a concerto for tap dance by Michael Torke, and Marin Alsop will lead the East Coast premiere of Life: Journey Through Time by Baltimore native Philip Glass, a work incorporating the projection of photography by the National Geographic's Frans Lanting.' The Baltimore Sun on the lineup for the 2006/7 Baltimore Symphony Orchestra season.

'There are many dangers which hedge round the unfortunate composer: pressure groups which demand true proletarian music, snobs who demand the latest avant-garde tricks; critics who are already trying to document today for tomorrow, to be the first to find the correct pigeon-hole definition. These people are dangerous - not because they are necessarily of any importance in themselves, but because they may make the composer, above all the young composer, self-conscious, and instead of writing his own music, music which springs naturally from his gift and personality, he may be frightened into writing pretentious nonsense or deliberate obscurity. He may find himself writing more and more for machines, in conditions dictated by machines, and not by humanity: or of course he may end by creating grandiose clap-trap when his real talent is for dance tunes or children's piano pieces.' From Benjamin Britten's 1964 acceptance speech for the first Aspen Award.

You are not going to believe this but the photo really is of Maestro Krio, a Sony robot who conducted a Japanese student orchestra in a performance of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony in 2004. I understand the critics found his rhythms rather mechanical. So he didn't get a Baltimore booking, but a Naxos contract is rumoured. Follow this link for the story in Italian (see first comment below for a rough machine translation). Photo credit Rai.it

Now playing: György Kurtág's
Musik für Streichinstrumente performed by the Keller Quartet on ECM. Both Officium breve and the Twelve Microludes extend the concept of the quartet beyond Britten's three masterpieces for the genre. This is music which springs naturally from Kurtág's own gift and personality. The only machines involved are the recording equipment, and these works are about as far from grandiose clap-trap as you can get. (Shame though about ECM's design, or should that be non-design? for the CD inlay. It looks like a black and white blur in the image above because it is a black and white blur. I am sure Britten would have had some thoughts on it.)

Britten's On Receiving the First Aspen Award speech was published by Faber, ISBN 071100236.

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If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Baltimore Symphony chief quits and Music will rise from the wreckage.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Wikipedia - separating baby from bathwater

A week ago I wrote an article that was critical of the Wikipedia entry on David Munrow, and that also questioned whether the collaborative ethos behind Wikipedia could survive the increasingly biased entries that were appearing.

The following email appeared in my inbox tonight.

* From : S. de Silva
To : 0vergrownpath

Subject : [On An Overgrown Path] 2/16/2006 09:27:23 PM

I'm grateful that you brought this problem with Wikipedia to our attention. Still, in my opinion it's too soon to give up on the Wikipedia concept.

Here is a possibility that the managers of Wikipedia should consider: If a contribution appears to cross the line between analysis and prejudice, the comment could remain, but be identified as opinion, and labeled with the name of the author. Of course, there has to be a mechanism for accomplishing this.

Many of the articles in encyclopedias have been highly biased in the past; if they had not been signed by an "authority", they would have been considered highly prejudiced. (Consider articles on Germany in Britannica during and immediately after WW2.) Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

The problem I see with this suggestion is that Wikipedia will simply become a repository for rants, with a few factual entries mixed in. Surely it has to be fact or fiction, not a mix of the two? 'Drama-documentaries' have been the ruin of intelligent TV, please don't let Wikipedia go the same way. And I am not too sure that the defence that bias is OK because encyclopedias have always been biased holds much water. So the jury is still very much out on whether collaborative working can survive the gerrymandering of US Senators and others. But is great to know that the Wiki guys read the right blogs, and are taking notice.

Image credit - Babycentre.co.uk
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