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Showing posts from July, 2006

Bombing the enemy with culture

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Reports of Condoleezza Rice giving a piano recital on Friday (28 July) at the forum of the Association of South East Asian Nations (left) set me thinking about a couple of incidents in the past when the enemy was quite literally bombed with culture. I wrote here recently about the bizarre story of Hitler's court pianist, Ernst Hanfstaengl, who defected to the US in the Second World War. The US intelligence service arranged for Hanfstaengl to record a piano recital of Debussy and his own works interspersed with appeals for Hitler to sue for peace. CBS pressed thousands of copies of the recital as a single-sided phonograph record. These were then dropped by parachute over Germany addressed to the Nazi leaders, with instructions that the packages be delivered unopened to the addressees, read the full, and truly extraordinary story, here. Somewhat better thought through was the dropping, by the RAF, of texts of Paul Eluard's famous poem Liberté over German occupied France .

Now men will go content with what we spoiled

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Dateline Sunday 30 July 2006 - Hazardous material bound for Israel is believed to have been landed at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, after flights were diverted from Prestwick airport in Scotland in the wake of planned protests. A member of staff at RAF Mildenhall told the Press Association that one plane operated by US cargo firm Atlas Air was on the runway - but they could not say what was inside it. Atlas Air is being used for two hazardous material flights from Texas to Tel Aviv, and planes were due to fly into Prestwick over the weekend - but they were diverted to a military base elsewhere in the UK, according to a source at Preswtick. An official operations spokesman at RAF Mildenhall, which has one of the biggest runways in Europe, later refused to confirm or deny the hazardous material flights had been diverted from Prestwick to Mildenhall. It is not sure exactly what is on board the planes, but their dangerous contents needed a special exemption from the Civil Aviation Author

Abbado on French orchestras

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Daniel Harding walked out of a production of Cosi fan tutte at the Paris Opera last autumn, after one rehearsal, appalled by the orchestra's arrogance. 'Now you know why the French gave me the Legion d'Honneur,' Claudio Abbado (left) told him later, 'I never conducted a French orchestra!' The cheesy headline 'Conducting his life with brio' does not bode well, and the quote above is just about the most illuminating comment in a not very illuminating full page profile of Daniel Harding in today's Observer which draws too heavily on press releases and anecdotes. I have been an admirer of the 32 year old Harding since hearing his revelatory 1999 CD of Beethoven Overtures recorded with the Bremen Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie , and tonight (July 30) he conducts a gala concert in Salzburg's Grosses Festspielhaus , with a roster of top-class singers, including Rene Pape , Anna Netrebko and Thomas Hampson . But he (or his agent, the ubiquitous As

Anniversary for classical music's poster boy

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Robert Schumann died on 29th July 1856. The picture above was taken by On An Overgrown Path in Schumann's birthplace Zwickau earlier this year. For the full story follow An Overgrown Path to Robert Schumann's Zwickau Image copyright On An Overgrown Path. 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 Rare Romantic Requiems in Avignon

BBC Proms – Hans Werner Henze at 80

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The delights in next week's Proms include performances of Hans Werner Henze’s (left) vast song-cycle Voices , Haydn’s Heiligmesse , Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, Poulenc’s Gloria , and Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915. The nuggets are certainly there, but boy, do you have to dig for them among some really muddled programming. Wednesday’s (2 August) is typical of this year’s ‘throw as much mud at the wall and some will stick’ programmes. Have I missed the link between Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, Britten’s Les Illuminations , yet another Elgar/Payne ‘realisation’, a Bach orchestration by Andrew Davis, and Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No 1? And in another example of perverse programming there are two Proms on Saturday 29 July which happens to be the 150th anniversary of Robert Schumann's death , and there is not one note of his music in the four hours of Proms performances. Much that I love Poulenc's Gloria and the Chichester Psalms couldn't we instead have had

BBC Proms - I am a woman, I am a composer

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There has been much quite justified comment about the absence of women composers at this year's BBC Proms, including the following post by Jenny Fowler on the listserv of the International Alliance of Women in Music. Dear All, The BBC Proms in London, is the biggest music festival in the world: 85 concerts, well over 100 composers, over 50 conductors, and so on. Since 1989 I have been doing a survey of women in the Proms. In 2006 there are 105 composers including 27 living composers in the Proms. All men. 52 conductors. All men. Only 14% of instrumental soloists are women. So I wrote an article, published in Classical Music , called "Where are the Women"? However, I would like now to report on the reactions so far. I sent copies of my article to some music journalists and invited them to publicise the issue. And wow, it has taken off! I was whisked to the BBC studios to make a comment on a main early evening news programme on Radio 4. The Director of the Proms, has bee

Anonymous no longer

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Compositions by anonymous composers have an important place in music history. Recently Tonus Peregrinus' recording of the anonymous Mass Of Tournai and St Luke Passion has given me great pleasure. These are the two earliest extant polyphonic settings of the Mass and Passion. Both settings are written in three parts, the 14th-century Mass of Tournai was found in a manuscript from Tournai Cathedral (left) in what is now Belgium, while the source of the English St Luke Passion is an early 15th-century 'Windsor' manuscript. The works are sung by the excellent young ensemble Tonus Peregrinus directed by Antony Pitts , and the CD is unmissable at budget price on Naxos. The Anonymous 4 (right) are another favourite. Their CD la belle marie features conductus and chansons in praise of the Virgin Mary from 13th-century France, and all the compositions are anonymous with the exception of Perotin's sublime Beata Viscera . Anomymous 4 are an American ensemble of four fema

Lebanon - a war of our time

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'Humanity's suffering belongs to everyone ' - Bernard Kouchner , director of Médecins Sans Frontières As world leaders talk a lot and do very little, one team from Médecins Sans Frontières is already in Lebanon, and others are currently arriving there and in the surrounding countries. The teams are assessing the needs of the civilian population and focusing on displaced people in order to organize health relief activities, and essential goods are currently on their way. Médecins Sans Frontières is an independent humanitarian medical aid agency committed to two objectives: providing medical aid wherever needed, regardless of race, religion, politics or sex, and raising awareness of the plight of the people they help. In 1999 Médecins Sans Frontières was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 'in recognition of the organization's pioneering humanitarian work on several continents'. More information on their work in Lebanon, including podcasts, will be available i

Beecham on the BBC

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'To a young friend looking for a BBC job: 'What on earth do you want to join the BBC for? London is divided into two sections musically. One wants to get into the BBC and the other wants to get out, and I find it strangely reminiscent of modern matrimony.' But to show I really love the BBC here is a link to a photograph taken in the BBC's old Langham House training centre in 1972 of nine young people who joined the BBC that year. One went on to make outstanding arts documentaries, one went on to be a Radio 3 producer (I love the comment 'Retired in March 1998 as Senior Producer, Radio 3 Music Department and mightly relieved to do so!') , one worked on the technical side, and one started a blog ... Any copyrighted material on these pages is used in "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 - overgrownpa

It's official - music is good for you

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Listening to music makes us feel better - but many doctors are now beginning to believe that it does much more. There is emerging evidence that it can bring about physical changes to the body that can improve our health. The Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London has regular performances - and has seen impressive results. A scientific study by the hospital has found that patients who listen to live music need less drugs and recover more quickly than those who do not. According to Dr Rosalia Staricoff, who carried out the study, there is growing scientific evidence that music aids physical changes which can help heal the body. She said: "The physiological benefits have been measured. Music reduces blood pressure, the heart rate, and hormones related to stress." Professor Paul Robertson regularly plays violin for patients in various hospitals. He is a scientist as well as an accomplished musician. He is now carrying out clinical trials to see how exactly music affects th

BBC Proms aim for the Mass market

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The first highlight of the coming week’s BBC Proms is shunted away into a late night slot, presumably to avoid challenging the all important mass market too much. But the concert will delight another sort of Mass market as the centrepiece is Monteverdi’s four part Mass setting. You will need to tune in at 10.15pm on Wednesday (26 July) to catch the Monteverdi Choir and Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s (above) programme of Giovanni Gabrielli , Monteverdi and Cavalli. The second highlight also stands a very good chance of challenging, surprising and delighting – attributes that are in desperately short supply in this year’s Proms season. The young British conductor Jonathan Nott has quietly been doing wonderful things with the little known Bamberg Symphony in Germany. He has avoided the fast track route which Gustavo Dudamel and others have skidded off, and instead has built an enviable reputation by working closely with his orchestra in the old kapellmeister tradition. But there is not

Maxwell Davies rages at musical garbage

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What it adds up to is the rampant anti-intellectualism that I found Sir Peter Maxwell Davies (left) raging against, when I visited him at the Royal Academy of Music. The Master of the Queen's Music has just been listening to David Cameron's Desert Island Discs choice on BBC Radio 4, and he's not amused. "In any other European country," he says, "a politician who chose that sort of garbage would be laughed out of court. The anti-artistic stance of our leaders gets up my nose. Their main aim is to turn us all into unquestioning passive consumers who put money into the bosses' pockets. That is now the purpose of education." From an excellent article by Michael Church in The Independent. David Cameron is the leader of the Conservative Party, and here is the music he chose. Max raged about it - do you think it is garbage? 1. Tangled Up In Blue, Bob Dylan, CBS 26334 2. Ernie, Benny Hill, EMI CDGO 2040 3. Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd, EMI 536112

It's a feel good day

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A heads up and a hello - Hello Pliable, I wanted to thank you for your wonderful site. In general, I am not a particularly avid blog reader: I feel to some degree the form facilitates laziness for no matter how great the ideas present many bloggers do not take the time to develop & flesh them out in writing as is necessitated by the best of the more traditional forms of journalism. That said your blog is an excellent exception to that sorry rule, being polished, well thought out & tackling the most interesting subjects. This year I graduated from high school; although I've studied violin for most of my life it is in these last four years that I have really developed a love for classical & experimental music, come to listen to it in a new way and come to appreciate it (more) fully. As an aspiring composer and writer among other things, it has been On An Overgrown Path and Alex Ross' New Yorker articles that have played a particularly important role in this devel

Classical music's new audience?

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Orchestras have long been trying to boost their ageing audiences. Now the London Symphony Orchestra , widely regarded as the most glamorous of Britain's orchestras, is taking the fight to the frontline - by marketing itself to babies. The orchestra has developed a series of DVDs aimed at babies aged above six months, with themes such as "shapes and patterns", "the world around us", and "seasons". Images of swirling paints, cloud-filled skies, wooden animals, and fields of rustling lavender, are accompanied by Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique , or Holst's The Planets Suite. Kathryn McDowell, the LSO's managing director, called it a "cradle-to-grave" audience development idea, put together with a company called Baby IQ. "If you introduce people to music [when they are] toddlers, then perhaps later they come to family concerts or get involved in an LSO education project. Then they know it's the LSO. It's all about brand

BBC Proms - summer in the city

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Hot town, summer in the city Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty Been down, isn't it a pity Doesn't seem to be a shadow in the city All around, people looking half dead Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head Lyrics from Lovin' Spoonful's 1966 song Summer in the City On Friday, as my photos show, there didn't seem to be a shadow in the city as a sweltering London launched into the 112th season of the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts. The concerts are in the Royal Albert Hall , which is located west of the city centre in the university and museum district. The hall is located between two major roads out of London, and the traffic and parking are horrendous. The Albert Hall was opened by Queen Victoria in 1871, but only became the Proms venue in 1941 when the more central, and acoustically far superior, Queen's Hall was destroyed by German bombs. Unique is the only word to describe the Albert Hall; the Grade 1 listed building is oval in shape,

Shostakovich's persecutor finally speaks out

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The purges of the 1920s and 30s had destroyed the writers: Mandelstam, Babel, Yesenin, Mayakovsky, Tsvetaeva, Gumilyov and many others were dead, executed or by their own hand. Then, in 1948, Stalin turned to the composers. The Great Leader and Teacher had heard an opera that displeased him. His anger spread to all avant-garde music, to all music that didn't fit his own taste for old-fashioned, accessible melodies, easily understood by the people, upbeat and celebrating the superiority of all things Soviet. Stalin ordered his commissars to impose socialist realism in music, and to weed out those who had other ideas. The Central Committee drew up a decree condemning composers of music that was "inimical to the people" and "formalist". They handed the task of wiping out formalism to the head of the soviet composers union, Tikhon Khrennikov . At the first congress of the union of composers from April 19-25 1948, Khrennikov listed those who were in the firing lin

The gender bias at the BBC Proms

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Nicholas Kenyon needs to stop being so complacent ( Not enough women? Well ... July 3). Instead, he should apologise and start addressing the gender bias at the Proms. The absence of female composers is indefensible, but the figure of 15% for female instrumentalists featured as soloists is in many ways more shocking. The picture becomes worse if one focuses on British artists. Apart from two recorder players in a chamber-music concert, only one female British instrumentalist features as a soloist in this year's Proms, in 73 concerts. There are almost 20 British men. This is disgraceful; unlike with composers and conductors, it cannot be argued that there are fewer women to choose from. British women have equal representation at all levels of the music business, and most well-known British soloists are women. The two biggest-selling concerto CDs in the UK in 2005 were by British women and the Barbican's Mostly Mozart festival of 18 concerts features six female instrumental sol

In Memoriam Ruth Schonthal

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News has come of the passing of the composer and teacher Ruth Schonthal. She was born in Hamburg in 1924 of Viennese parents, began composing at five and became the youngest student ever accepted at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin where she received piano and theory lessons. In 1935, as a Jew, she was banished from the Conservatory. The persecution of Jews by the Nazi regime in Germany led the family into exile, and they settled in Stockholm. Because of her exceptional talent she was accepted at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm, in spite of not meeting the standard regulations for admission, a fact the Swedish press noted and duly protested. In 1940 her first Piano Sonatina was published. At the Academy Ruth Schonthal studied piano with Olaf Wibergh and composition with Ingemar Liljefors . In 1941 the political situation became too dangerous again, and the family was forced to flee a second time, this time to settle in Mexico City. There Ruth Schonthal continued her studies

BBC Proms - Ligeti remembered

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Another year has passed, and another BBC Proms season kicks off on Friday. The BBC does comes in for criticism here, but the Proms are a wonderful institution that we should all be thankful for. The opening night of the season brings us the BBC Symphony's new Chief Conductor Jiří Bělohlávek (left) conducting Dvorák's Te Deum and Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony, and On An Overgrown Path will be there. This year's programmes suffer from Mozart and Shostakovich overload, and I will be concentrating on some of the other composers to add some variety. Wth two Mozart operas in a week it is difficult to avoid Wolfgang Amadeus, but even though the week is mostly Mozart the opera highlight should be a complete Siegfried on Sunday. I say 'should be' as the conductor is Christoph Eschenbach and the orchestra is the Orchestre de Paris , so the jury is out as to whether they can live up to last year's superlative Walkure from the Royal Opera with Bryn Terfel as Wot