Monday, August 31, 2009

Chance music on internet radio

For some time I have I have been pondering on how to share with readers some of the huge selection of music that features here. My Overgrown Path programme on Future Radio, which ran for fifteen months, gained a good following and podcasts from some of the programmes are available on the right-hand side bar. But I felt the format was too rigid and production of the precisely timed programmes was very time consuming. So, as you can see from the header photo, I was back in the Future Radio studio last week preparing a pilot of a very different new programme.

When I was writing about Mario Formenti's superb linked piano cycle Kurtag's Ghosts in April I admitted:
I have always opposed the practice of breaking down complete works (e.g. Holst's The Planets) into audience-friendly samples (Jupiter). But Kurtág’s Ghosts has made me realise that, in the right context, the sum of the parts can be greater than the whole. This thought-provoking double CD has led me to question my own preconceptions, and a webcast project inspired by Marino Formenti's shuffling is under discussion. Watch this path.
Chance Music is the result of those discussions. I wanted a format that was not dictated by thematic or track timing constraints. So Chance Music is a 60 minute sequence of music and brief links determined by the 21st century equivalent of the I Ching, the iPod shuffle. Programme content is dictated 100% by the shuffle mode on my personal iPod which contains much of the music featured On An Overgrown Path. The many record company executives among my readers can relax, Future Radio is fully Ofcom licensed and is covered by a royalty agreement.

Playing truly Chance Music does bring some challenges for the presenter, such as key, tempi and level conflicts, works such as Stimmung and In C where the track bands are not linked to pauses in the music, not to mention that the shuffle mode of the iPod shuffle mode does not seem to be truly random. But there is some logic in the chance. The most substantial work in the pilot is the 13 minute Sacra d'llx by Maurice Ohana. He is a composer who desperately deserves airplay, and the random selection alighted on a self-contained work rather than a single movement. Also chanced on were works by Lou Harrison and Anouar Brahem, exactly the kind of music that I hoped the format would give exposure to. As Buddhists say 'All decisions are right'.

If the programme finds a regular slot in Future Radio's schedules I will not be listing the music in advance, because that spoils the chance element. But the pilot being aired next Sunday is a pre-record as I will have fled the country in advance of the Last Night of the BBC Proms on September 12th. So, here is the first programme of 100% Chance Music with some links to the paths the music featured in:

1. Penguin Café Orchestra - Steady State [CDV 2954]
2. J.S. Bach: Viola Da Gamba Sonata #1 In G, BWV 1027, Allegro Moderato - Jamie Laredo & Glenn Gould [SM2K 52615]
3. The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy) - Simon and Garfunkel [MOOD CD21]
4. J.S. Bach: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 - Aria Da Capo - Glenn Gould 1955 recording [S3K 87703]
5. J.S. Bach: Viola Da Gamba Sonata #2 In D, BWV 1028, Andante - Leonard Rose & Glenn Gould [SM2K 52615]
6. Lou Harrison: Suite for Percussion, Slow movement - Maelstrom Percussion Ensemble [ART 105]
7. Diego Pisador, La Manana De San Juan - Catherine Bott (soprano) & Abdul Salam Kheir (oud) [FREDCD1]
8. Maurice Ohana, Sacral d'llx - Elisabeth Chojnacka (harpsichord) & Béatrice Daudin (oboe) [1C1161]
9. Conte de l'incroyable amour - Anouar Brahem (oud), Barbaros Erköse (clarinet), Kudsi Erguner (nai) & Lassad Hosni (bendir & darbouka) [ECM 1457]
10. Here's that rainy day - Oscar Peterson Trio [557 462-2]

My Chance Music pilot on Future Radio will be webcast (and broadcast on 96.9FM locally in Norwich, UK) at 3.00pm UK time on Sunday September 6th (time zone converter here), listen online here. There should be a same day transatlantic friendly repeat plus 'listen again' facility. I will add details of the repeat time when it is confirmed. My thanks go to station manager Tom Buckham's team at Future Radio for once again supporting lean forward radio. Can you imagine BBC Radio 3 backing this?

Photo is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Finding a different way for the next generation

My two articles about the reincarnation of the Buddhist Lama Yeshe created an unprecedented amount of interest. Lost in Meditation described the background to the identification of the young Spaniard Osel Hita Torres as the reincarnation, and ended on a somewhat equivocal note. Found in Meditation was written a few days later after a reader supplied an update explaining that Osel was studying cinematography at the University of Madrid.

What I thought was an arcane but interesting story suddenly went global in June when the young reincarnation hit the headlines and my two Buddhist stories attracted the biggest ever readership for On An Overgrown Path, with more than ten thousand readers accessing the posts in a single day. Elsewhere big media had sensed a nice negative story, and the Guardian coverage with its punchy soundbites was typical:
'... the boy chosen by the Dalai Lama as a reincarnation of a spiritual leader has caused consternation – and some embarrassment – for Tibetan Buddhists by turning his back on the order that had such high hopes for him. Instead of leading a monastic life, Osel Hita Torres now sports baggy trousers and long hair, and is more likely to quote Jimi Hendrix than Buddha. Yesterday he bemoaned the misery of a youth deprived of television, football and girls.'
It was a great story for the Guardian: the only problem was it did not reflect the facts. Late in June an article by Justin McElroy in the Canadian McLean's OnCampus magazine put the Guardian's journalism to shame; which, let's face it, is not difficult to do. Here is a key passage from the article:
Osel's position can't be explained in a soundbite. Parts of him have been pulled by the strands of destiny and reality, the past and modernity, for as long as he has lived. Yet another part of him is just another twenty-something, looking for a good job in a bad economy and figuring out what to do with his life. "I'm working on a masters degree in documentaries, afterwards maybe next year I'll do some course on cooking, become a cook, and then maybe I'll start doing something (with the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition), you know, but I'm taking it slow.
Osel himself explains more in an open letter on the FPMT website:
There is no separation between myself and FPMT - we are all working together in so many aspects and terrains. Humanity is our office. Besides, I don’t really qualify very much in Buddhist studies, because I didn’t finish them, so working together is the clue. So I’m trying to find a different way for this future generation. One of the ways is through music, movies and audio-visual techniques. (That is Osel in the header photo) In a movie you can condense so many different stories. You can put in music, you can put in different situations and messages. Even just the sunset can be enough to give you peace to find a moment of meditation in yourself. There are so many different millions of possibilities in movies.
So Osel Hitta Tores is neither lost nor found in meditation. Rather, like many far older than him, he is still searching. These closing words in my original post proved to be uncannily prescient:
We must respect the privacy of Osel Hita Torres and hope that he finds his own personal path. But as Western interest in Buddhism increases, I can't help thinking there is another fascinating film waiting to be made with the title Lost in Meditation.
Eight months later it looks as though that film may be made by the young reincarnated lama himself.

Philip Glass, who scored Kundun, Martin Scorcese's classic film about the Dalai Lama, talks about Buddhism here.
Photo credit Matteo Passigato via FPMT. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Saturday, August 29, 2009

He died much too young

When I was about 10 years old, around 1947, I attended a series of music appreciation classes given by Dean Dixon in a private home in Queens, NY. It was a wonderful experience. It was in conjunction with those classes that I probably attended my first live orchestral concert (at Needletrades High School, in NY?) conducted by Mr. Dixon.

The last time I saw him was one summer when he conducted the NY Philharmonic in Central Park.

A wonderful man. Died much too young.
Some comments posted to archived articles need to be shared. This one was added by a reader a couple of days ago to Dean Dixon - I owe him a huge debt.

The photo is, of course, of Dean Dixon (1915-76) and is by Wolfgang Sievers from the National Library of Australia. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

The gold standard of TV arts programming

'The traditionalists won't like it, but Strictly [Come Dancing] is the new gold standard of what makes a very, very successful arts programme on mainstream TV'.
Two views on what constitues a successful arts programme on TV. Christopher Nupen's 1967 film Jacqueline du Pré supplies the image. Will Gompertz's January 2008 Guardian article supplies the quote. Yesterday BBC News appointed Will Gompertz to the newly-created role of Arts Editor. Read about Christopher Nupen's film in The Innocent Ear.

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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Friday, August 28, 2009

The art of improvisation

Joglaresa perform most of the songs here with only one pitched instrument (vielle or oud) and add only voices or percussion. With this instrumentation, we not only get as close as possible to the descriptions of professional slave-girl performers, but also achieve the improvisational spontaneity so crucial to music of this period. Music performed with large ensembles of pitched instruments requires an 'arrangement' that Joglaresa feels contradicts all that we know about the improvisational spirit of medieval and traditional music.
Belinda Sykes, who directs medieval band Joglaresa (photo below), and is professor of medieval song at Trinity College London, issues a challenge to string-centric early music ensembles in the sleeve notes of her new CD.

Dreams of Andalusia is a programme of the Jewish, Arabic and Christian songs that were performed by the professional singinging girls known as joglaresas or qaynay in Muslim Spain between the 8th and 15th centuries. Accompanying the voices of Belinda Sykes and Naziha Azzouz are oud, tar, vielle, bendir, Andalusian tar, darabuka, shawm and bagpipes. Joglaresa may be musicological purists, but they also describe themselves as 'sounding more like a street carnival band than a solemn early music group' and Dreams of Andalusia explains why. Early music with a strong percussive content always sounds well on disc, and this excellent recording, which was made in the splendid acoustics of East Woodhay Church, Berkshire, is no exception. There are MP3 samples here.

But there is one mystery: the otherwise very informative sleeve notes do not explain why the recording was made in January 2000 but has only just been released on the independent Metronome label, or why it is missing from the label's website. I suppose with music that old another nine years doesn't make much difference. So both sides of the debate get an airing, here is a disc of arrangements of music from Arab-Andalusia, which I have to admit to also enjoying greatly.

Dreams of Andalusia was bought from Prelude Records in Norwich. I notice that Joglaresa are performing at the ever-innovative venue of the King of Hearts in Norwich on 18th December. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

BBC Proms - a job for life

Let us hope that Roger Wright, director of the BBC Proms, makes a success of programming the annual concert series. Because a BBC Freedom of Information response has revealed that he could be doing the job until he retires in 2021. As part of my research for What price the BBC Proms? I filed an FOI question about the terms of tenure of the director of BBC Proms. Here is the BBC's reply:
'As confirmed in our previous response (RFI20091032), Roger Wright is contracted to undertake the combined role of 'Controller, R3 & Director BBC Proms'; therefore, each role is not treated separately in terms of length of the contract/conditions of service. I can conform that Roger Wright is currently on a permanent standard Senior Manager contract with the BBC in the above role; there is no fixed tenure associated with this role'.
The combined post of 'Controller, R3 & Director BBC Proms', which has a 'permanent standard Senior Manager contract' controls:

1. An annual Proms budget of £.8.8 million. Presumably the largest budget for a classical music festival in the world.

2. An annual budget of £36.6 million for BBC Radio 3. Presumably the largest budget for a classical music broadcaster in the world.

3. An annual new music commissioning budget of £350,000, which is included in 2. above. Presumably the largest classical music commissioning budget in the world.

4. The New Generation Artist scheme, budget unknown, with its "co-produced" commercial recordings. The BBC says 'the scheme has already acquired the reputation of being a world-leading scheme for young artists.'

Is it appropriate for one individual, no matter how talented he or she is, to exercise this degree of control over classical music? If so, are there sufficient checks, balances and visibility in place for the role? I guess it all depends on how much you trust the BBC.

Photo of Henry Wood conducting a 1922 Promenade Concert was used in my post Before there were mobile phones. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk. V1.1 28/08.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

EMI - it's a dog's life

First the bad news. The fluctuating prospects of my EMI pension have been the subject of two previous posts. Now comes the news that Guy Hands, the new owner of ailing EMI, has removed the chairman of the company's pension fund and appointed his own nominee to the post. This is Money comments:
The move was unusual since chairmen of pension fund trustees must be seen to be able to represent the interests of pensioners without fear of censure from the company financing the fund.
Fortunately we still have many principled small businesses in the UK. But then there is the BBC and EMI; not to mention HBOS, the bank that cost us, and many others, a serious amount of money.

But now for the good news. The fine drawing above depicts that great conductor Sir John Barbirolli, who made many fine recordings for EMI. His masterly accounts of Elgar's First and Second Symphonies, recorded for HMV with the Philharmonia and Hallé Orchestras respectively, have been absent from their catalogue for too long. On August 31st they are being released in a 2CD set coupled with In the South and the Serenade for Strings. This important re-issue can be pre-ordered for just £6.98 UK postage paid from It is a pity though that EMI's lavish website does not explain who conducts what; Barbirolli conducts the symphonies and Norman del Mar takes over the baton for the Serenade for Strings. But neither of the two conductors listed on EMI's website conduct In the South.

If you look very carefully at the image of the CD box you will see that the conductor of In The South (which, erroneously is given a lower case 'i' on the website) is the Romanian Constantin Silvestri (1913-1969) This is the scintillating and unmissable recording of the Elgar work made with him directing the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Silvestri's uncle was the Austro/Czech composer Emil von Reznicek of Donna Diana fame, and the sparkling style of that piece seems to infect Silvestri's conducting. Constantin Silvestri also composed, and there is a rare video of the third movement of his Rhapsody for Piano here.

Just to complete the catalogue of EMI website howlers, the Philharmonia Orchestra, who play one of the Elgar Symphonies on the new release, is also overlooked. But under £7 for these truly great recordings (and compositions) is very good news for CD collectors. Even if you need to do some research to find out who is actually conducting what on the discs. But, is this really the best way for EMI's new owners to exploit their massive intellectual property assets?

'Glorious John' is in New York here. Mahler with such human warmth and soul is below, read about that great recording here.

* There is another later, and arguably better, recording of Sir John Barbirolli conducting the Hallé Orchestra in Elgar's First Symphony. This is a live concert recording made by the BBC at the King's Lynn Festival here in Norfolk shortly before Barbirolli died in 1970. It was available on BBC legends, now deleted.

* Constantin Silvestri was a very fine Elgar conductor. EMI planned to record both of the Elgar symphonies and Gerontius with him, but his premature death in 1969 prevented this. There is a BBC Legends mono release of Silvestri conducting Elgar's First. Still available and worth buying as these historic BBC CD transfers, which were marketed by IMG artists, are being culled at a frightening rate.

* There are used copies of the essential BBC CD of Barbirolli conducting Elgar's First Symphony at the King's Lynn Festival available from American resellers via But English customers are blocked by Amazon from buying this English recording of an Englishman conducting English music in England. So much for the frontierless internet.

I am afraid I cannot answer the question everyone will ask. The print seen in my header image hangs on my study wall, which is where I photographed it. But, to my chagrin, I do not know who the artist is. It was bought from a shop in King's Parade, Cambridge some years ago, that is all I can tell you. If anyone knows who the artist is or where copies can be bought I will happily publish the information - update 27/08, see comments below. Meanwhile, apologies for this unattributed image. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Opera tribute to minimalist pioneer

A new opera by Evan Ziporyn based on Colin McPhee's memoir A House in Bali is being premiered on September 26 & 27th at the University of California, Berkeley. Richard Friedman has more details. You can read about McPhee, who was an early pioneer of minimalism and who recorded piano transciption of Balinese ceremonial music with Benjamin Britten, in my 2007 article Colin McPhee - East meets West.

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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What price the BBC Proms?

My life was changed by a Henry Wood Promenade Concert on 4th August, 1975. In the second half Sir Adrian Boult gave us Vaughan William's Fifth Symphony, and the blazing intensity of that performance remains unmatched, in my experience, in the concert hall or on record. Sir Adrian's 86 years had no relevance to his music making. Music, not age, was what mattered then.

In the summer of 1975 punk was at its peak and the Vietnam War had ended after Communist forces took Saigon in the spring. Back with classical music, Pierre Boulez was in his last season as principal conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, which was at the top of its game, while William Glock's golden period as BBC controller of music and Proms administrator still informed music making in London. Your life could be changed for £1.30, which was the price of a balcony seat in the Albert Hall. All of which set me thinking, what price today's BBC Proms?

In 2009 Promenade Concerts are one of few remaining great British institutions. The Empire and Princess Diana have gone. But the Proms, with their signature Last Night, live on. And, just as with the Royal family, it is still considered ungentlemanly to question their role. But On An Overgrown Path was born for opposition. So the following is a rare attempt to discuss the role and price of the BBC Proms.

This article has been prepared from information in the public domain, supplemented by a small amount obtained by me via BBC Freedom of Information Requests. My sources are identified below. If errors have been made in my calculations I apologise, and corrections will be acknowledged. But, some time back, based on the surprisingly extensive readership of On An Overgrown Path, I requested via the correct channels access to BBC Radio 3 controller and Proms director Roger Wright for an interview. My request did not even receive the courtesy of a rejection. That is the price, I assume, for not posting the Wright stuff.

In an April 2009 article (source 1) Roger Wright explained that 'of the £8.8m budget for the [Proms] festival, approximately £6m comes from BBC subsidy'. In 2009 there are 95 ticketed Prom concerts, of which 19 are for chamber music. Dividing the BBC subsidy by the number of concerts gives an average subsidy of £63,158 per concert. That word average is important; 20% of the concerts are for small forces so the subsidy for the larger performances will be considerably higher, and probably in excess of £75,000 per concert.

What do the words 'BBC subsidy' mean? Quite simply £6m from the BBC TV license fee, which is currently a £142.50 annual poll tax on every UK household with a TV receiver, is used to pay for the Proms. Now, not even I would dispute that £6m of license fee revenue is better spent on classical music than on more episodes of Holby City. But that is not my point, even though an average £63,158 subsidy per concert makes those infamous BBC expenses look like small change. My concerns revolve around why the BBC is so generously subsidising the Proms, and what transparency and controls operate over that subsidy.

For the reason why the BBC subsidise the Proms look no further than my header montage. In 1975 it was 'The BBC presents the 81st season of HENRY WOOD PROMENADE CONCERTS', their capitals not mine. In 2009 it is simply the 'BBC PROMS'.

During the 2009 Proms season there will be 25 TV broadcasts on either BBC TV Two or Four, that is more than a quarter of all concerts. So why are the Proms so appealing to the TV planners? The reason can be found in a document in the BBC Governor's archives (source 2). This shows that in 2005/6 the average cost per hour of BBC Two TV programming was £99,300. My calculations above, assuming two hour concerts, show an average cost per hour of £31,579 for televising the Proms. That is less than one third of the average network programming cost before a proportion of the charge is allocated against BBC Radio 3.

The Proms are a low cost source of programming, both for TV and radio, during the summer months when broadcast audiences are small and repeats dominate the schedules. This is the main reason why the BBC Proms have been expanded to almost 100 concerts with more than 25% of these televised. An additional benefit is that cultural content helps the BBC to justify its never ending requests for increases in the TV license fee. Plus there is the old chestnut that televising classical music creates new audiences for live music. Sadly, there is no evidence to support that. Today's televised classical music simply produces an audience for more of the same, arguably at the expense of live performances.

The lie to the cultural content argument is also given by the fact that the recent commendable Indian Voices Day at the Proms was denied either a live or recorded TV broadcast, unlike the MGM Film Musicals concert. Cultural content is only champion until it meets ratings. And that is my key concern about the BBC Proms. They have moved from being an independent music festival with its own unique DNA to just another programme source, with all the attendant pressures related to audience size and ratings.

Further proof of this is provided by the role of the director of the BBC Proms. If you can actually pin that role down. An FOI request (source 3) to give the salary band for the director of the Proms, to compare it with similar positions, received this response:
I can confirm that Roger Wright holds the combined role of Controller R3 and Director BBC Promenade Concerts, for which he receives a salary in the band disclosed in the previous response. There is no separate salary band for the role of Director BBC Promenade Concerts.
A subsequent FOI request for the terms of tenure of the director BBC Proms post has so far been met with an extended silence - update 27/08, see comment below. The BBC are doubtless puzzling over how to explain the contract terms of a post that scarcely exists on paper, yet alone in practice.

To all intents and purposes the BBC Proms are run by the executives responsible for radio and TV scheduling. Missing from today's Proms is the passion and vision brought by a daring artistic director which is the hallmark of other distinctive and successful music festivals. For what drives the BBC Proms look no further than BBC Radio 3's service license issued in 2008 (source 4). The first, and longest, parameter in the network's performance measurement framework is:
Reach: Radio 3 should contribute towards the maintenance of combined BBC weekly reach at over 90% by aiming to maintain its own weekly reach. It should contribute towards on-demand consumption of content. This will be measured by weekly reach of non-DRM audio downoads over the internet.
I am a huge fan of the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts, and, as described above, they have changed my life. But I have very considerable concerns about the BBC Promenade Concerts and in particular their transformation into a programming strand of BBC broadcast and internet networks. My concerns extend to the lack of accountability and tangibility of the role of the director of the BBC Proms.

This article is an expanded version of the notes I prepared when invited recently to take part in a BBC Radio Five live discussion about the Proms. Unfortunately I was not allowed to air these views because, as the programme presenter explained, Roger Wright was not on the programme to answer my points. The BBC's unique dual position of both making and controlling the news about the Proms allows them to implement a policy of if you publish the Wright stuff you get your interview. Not to mention the dual roles played by a number of leading music journalists.

It would require another extended article to suggest how the future of the Proms and the BBC can be untangled without jeopardising the many invaluable benefits brought by the annual Albert Hall concerts. But here are some bullet points:

- Separate the Promenade concerts from the BBC and establish them as a stand-alone non-profit organisation.
- Negotiate a 5 year contracted annual fee for broadcast rights with the BBC or another broadcaster, including minimum coverage and publicity clauses.
- Appoint an independent and innovative Proms artistic director answerable to a board of trustees on a fixed term contract.
- The BBC, or other appointed broadcaster, to have one seat on the board of trustees, but no other control over concert content.
- Contract a London orchestra and principal conductor to provide a minimum quota of concerts, and reduce the appearances by touring orchestras.
- Forge partnerships between the Proms and other arts festivals, including the visual arts.
- Publish artists' fees for concerts using banded scales.
- Sell the rights to Last Night name and format to Victor Hochhauser for a very large sum. Use money raised for endowment fund for new music commissions.
- Question all other current assumptions about the Proms, including the use of the Royal Albert Hall as principal venue.

These changes would almost certainly mean less Proms concerts. But that is a fair price to pay to create an independent future and identity for the Promenade Concerts. Which is what is missing today, despite the BBC's spin. For when the fickle TV audience tires of Clive Anderson's vacuous chatter and the maestro cam what will the BBC move on to? What guarantee is there that the BBC Proms will not then be consigned to the ever expanding graveyard of intelligent broadcast arts coverage?

1. Guardian article 8 April 2009.
2. BBC Governor's Archives, Broadcasting Facts and Figures 2006.
3. BBC FOI RFI20091032
4. BBC Radio 3 service license 2008.

All photos were taken by me at the first night of the 2006 BBC Proms season. Yes, I do still sometimes go. Read my article here.
All photos (c) On An Overgrown path 2009. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk. V1.2, last modified 27/8/2009.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Music as the last bulwark against barbarity

The desire to bring People's, cultures and religions together and especially to draw East and West closer, such is the inspiration behind the production of Ad Vitam Records. The collections under the label comprise vocal and instrumental, classical or traditional music. All the recordings bear witness to the real power of Music, not only as the last bulwark against barbarity, but also as the ultimate expression of the sensitivity of the heart. These are records "For Life". They build bridges of expectation, hope and trust.
These wise words are carried on every CD released by a remarkable new record label. I stumbled across Ad Vitam Records by accident recently while browsing in the pilgrim's bookshop at Le Mont Saint Michel in Normandy. Ad Vitam could only be French; it positions itself as 'a label to bring peoples, cultures and religions together' and has been described by the influential Haute Fidélité magazine as 'an extreme audiophile label'.

Ad Vitam is the brainchild of Anne Dieumegard and Jean-Yves Labat de Rossi. Producer and sound engineer Jean-Yves Labat de Rossi, who is seen below, has a chequered musical history. Born in and educated in France, his first musical love was the organ. But in 1967 he formed the Anglo-French psychedelic band Baba Scholae, whose members included guitarist John Holbrook, before moving to Woodstock in upstate New York in 1970.

In Woodstock in 1971 Jean-Yves Labat de Rossi started experimenting with a Synthi-A portable synthesizer produced by EMS. A chance meeting with Bob Dylan's manager Albert Grossman (who also managed Peter, Paul and Mary, the Band and Janis Joplin) led to the release of the young Frenchman's first album in 1973. Grossam decided the name Jean-Yves Labat de Rossi would not play well with non-cheese eating, non-surrendering audiences and suggested the more punchy Maestro Frog, this was humourously abbreviated by Labat de Rossi to M. Frog, and became the title of his first album. Below is the sleeve of the LP which uses the synthesizer notations for the graphic design.

M. Frog was later remixed into discrete four channel sound and became one of Warner Brothers first releases in the short-lived quadraphonic format. In the 1970s Labat de Rossi played synthesizer in Todd Rundgren's prog-rock ensemble Utopia which also included multiple keyboards and brass, and went on to release several solo electronic albums made with leading Woodstock area session musicians. Labat de Rossi worked as a record producer in America in the 1980s and recorded his last electronic album, En Voyage, in 1987.

His work as a record producer brought Labat de Rossi into close contact with recording technologies, and at the end of the 1980s, in partnership with former Baba Scholae guitarist John Holbrook, he created HDRS (High Definition Recording System), one of the first portable digital recording systems. HDRS was used to make several pioneering organ recordings and was used for location recordings in Sarajevo and Azerbaijan in 1995 and 1997. Components of the portable HDRS system are seen below.

In 2003 HDRS was used to record the first release for the new Ad Vitam label. The album's title D'une seule voix - Juifs, Chrétiens, Musulmans, says it all - With One Voice - Jews, Christians, Muslims. This remarkable disc, which is seen below, brings together vocal music from the three great monotheist religions, and all the tracks were recorded either in Israel or Palestine. On the CD Jews, Israeli Arabs, Palestinian Moslems and Christians, Roman Catholics, Greek Melkites and Armenians perform music which comes from very different cultures, but which is linked by the shared desire for peaceful co-existence.

As mentioned earlier I came across D'une seule voix quite by chance in the excellent pilgrim bookshop at Mont Saint Michel in France. Never having heard of Ad Vitam records, being sceptical about the current vogue for East/West musical collabarations, and being mindful of the daunting 23.70 euro price I hesitated before making the random purchase.

Oh, randomness is a very precious thing! Just a few minutes listening told me that something very special had been captured on this disc. The programme does not try to force diffferent cultures into the paradigm of Western art music. Instead it is a celebration of differing musical styles united by a common humanitarian vision. I played the CD before I read the sleeve notes and was completely unprepared for the demonstration quality of the sound. Location recording usually means sonic compromises, but the HDRS technology perfectly captures the spirit of place as well as the spirit of the music. Some of the magic of D'une seul voix is captured in the video of the project.

It is invidious to highlight individual performers on what is a singularly outstanding disc. But the tracks by Israeli born Hezy Levy, pictured above, whose songs for voice and guitar combine Western elements with Jewish Ladino and Yemenite styles, led me to his solo album Singing Like the Jordan River, which is seen below. On this haunting disc, which has made many return visits to my CD player, Jean-Yves Labat de Rossi captures beautifully the solo voice of Hezy Levy in the resonant acoustics of the Abbey Church of the Resurrection of Abu-Gosh in Israel. Singing Like the Jordan River will undoubtedly be one of my CDs of 2009.

Rather different, but no less powerful, is the CD of Sufi inspired improvisations by the three musicians seen below. The jazz influenced Bab Assalam brings together clarinetist Frenchman Raphaël Vuillard, who normally plays in early music ensembles, and the Syrian brothers Khaled Al Jaramani and Mohannad Al Jaramani on oud, percussion and vocals. Recorded by Jean-Yves Labat de Rossi in the ancient city of Aleppo in northern Syria in 2008 this CD is important as a musical exploration. But it should also serve a model for aspiring recording engineers; very few recordings these days place the performers securely and believably in an arc between the speakers. There is also a noteworthy CD by the Ensemble musical de Palestine on Ad Vitam, but I will unpack that delicate delight in a separate post.

This article was written over a weekend dominated by the shrill media coverage of the BBC Proms appearances of Daniel Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. I do not dispute that the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, whose programmes ranged from Beethoven to Boulez, is a wonderful achievement, both in musical and humanitarian terms. But their remorselessly hyped Proms became, for me anyway, yet another case of 'You are shouting so loudly I cannot hear what you are trying to say'.

Ad Vitam Records will never achieve the profile or importance of Barenboim and his cross-cultural band. But remarkable things are happening on this fledgling independent record label with its committment to bringing 'peoples, cultures and religions together'. Hopefully, this article will help bring some of the attention this project so richly deserves.

1. Excellent Haute Fidélité article on Ad Vitam. Unfortunately in French and resists machine translation.
2. Background to 1973 album M. Frog.
3. Todd Rundgren biography.

1. As recounted above, this post originated with a chance purchase of D'une seule voix in France. All the other Ad Vitam CDs mentioned were bought by me online. They are available via Amazon France (resellers have some bargains) or from the Ad Vitam website either as CDs or as downloads. The website also offers excellent quality audio samples. Distribution to retailers is handled by Harmonia Mundi Distribution. I have had no contact or review discs from Ad Vitam Records, but a link to this article has been sent to them for information.

2. The header and footer images have no direct connection with Ad Vitam Records, although they would make rather fine CD sleeves. They are acrylics by the Iraqi artist Sadiq Toma, who moved to London in 1978. I came across his work on the same French trip that I discovered the Ad Vitam CDs. Sadiq Toma was one of the artists whose work was displayed in an excellent exhibition Artistes en exil - Irak (Artists in exile - Iraq) in the public library (Médiathèque) of the small French seaside town of Saint Hilaire de Riez. The population of Saint Hilaire is just 8,767 and it is located 300 miles from Paris. Bearing this in mind try searching their online CD database for, say, John Cage. You can certainly tell the state of a nation by the quality of its bookshops and libraries.

3. I see from their address that Ad Vitam operate out of a restored priory in Saint-Avit-de-Tardes in the beautiful and undeveloped Limousin region of central France. There is a photo of their offices here. I can think of worse places to work.

Now read about the secret life of an Arab record label.
Photo credits, 1 and 10 Sadiq Toma, 2 and 4 Haute Fidélite, 3 Head Heritage, all others Ad Vitam Records. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A treasure in the heart of every man

The ethos of the whole exercise is that every work of art is an individual achievement. Achievement develops self-esteem. Self-esteem is a vital ingredient of rehabilitation and the ability to lead a useful and law-abiding life. Therefore, because they are a means to that vital end, which amounts to protecting the public, the arts are, or should be, a compulsory ingredient in the programmes available in every prison. Armed with new skills and burgeoning self-esteem, offenders may go on to engage with the work, education or training that are essential for successful rehabilitation.

I was therefore delighted when, in 2002, I learned that Aldeburgh had embarked on a most imaginative venture, involving the boys of Carlford Unit at the nearby Her Majesty's Prison and Young Offenders Institute Warren Hill and the children of Debenham High School under the guidance of Phillipa Reive. Those who came to the Aldeburgh Festival that year may remember the remarkable video made by the two groups in which they declare their hopes, fears and apirations to a background of music they had written themselves. It marked the beginning of an ongoing relationship between Aldeburgh Music and the Unit, to the credit of both and the benefit of many.

Carlford Unit contains young people serving long sentences for very serious offences, many of whom have lived Dickensian lives in conditions that the press love to sensationalise. Winston Churchill once said that those involved in the criminal justice system must be aware that 'there is a treasure in the heart of every man, if only you can find it'. The media's curent vogue for demonising young people suggests otherwise, but the programmes that Aldeburgh has initiated and run are living proof to its validity. The enthusiasm of the staff of the unit for the benefit to those taking part in the Aldeburgh ventures is a testament to their value.
David Ramsbotham, former Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons writes in the recently published New Aldeburgh Anthology, edited by Ariane Bankes and Jonathan Reekie. A less enlightened approach is the prison for the end of time.

Image credit, Fidelio prisoner's chorus from 2008 production at Palais Garnier, Paris, director Johan Simons. A review copy of the New Aldeburgh Anthology was supplied at my request by Boydell & Brewer. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Back to touchy-feely music

Is there a swing away from the anonymity of digital files and back to the touchy-feely music formats of the past? This Wednesday (Aug. 26) sees the release of a 4CD definitive edition of Woody Guthrie's mid-1940s recordings. The discs come packaged in the replica vintage suitcase seen below, complete with handle and latches. Inside is a full-color 68 page book and there are also facsimiles of Woody's business card, a postcard sent from Florida to his wife, and a booking card from the 1940s, as seen above.

And yes, the sound did matter then, so the CD transfers are made from newly discovered original metal masters. This touchy feely release comes from Rounder Records and retails for $75.99.

Could touchy-feely be the salvation of the ailing record industry? Will we see LSO Live releasing a definitive Valery Gergiev edition packaged in a carry-on flight bag complete with Lonely Planet Guide to Ossetia and facsimile frequent flyer card? Watch this space while reading more on Woody Guthrie here.

Valery Gergiev conducts the London Symphony Orchestra in a programme of Schnittke and Shostakovich at the BBC Proms on Monday (Aug. 22). Unless he misses his flight.
With thanks to reader Tim McCarthy for the heads up on the Woody Guthrie box. No review sample has changed hands, so I am putting it on my Amazon wish list. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Friday, August 21, 2009

Lament for Lockerbie

Lament for Lockerbie - Threnody, December '88 was conceived by the Scottish composer Gordon Lawson as a spontaneous reaction to the disaster which destroyed both the small Scottish town and Pan Am flight 103. Scored for strings and based on the hymn Dundee by Charles Wesley, Lament for Lockerbie was premiered in its final form in 1991. The ten minute tonal Threnody is both accessible and very moving with its hints of English pastoralism and early Tippett, and the arch-like structure of the work is reminiscent of that greatest of twentieth-century laments, Richard Strauss' Metamorphosen.

As I write Lament for Lockerbie plays on the CD seen above, which was released in 2000 by the composer. Sadly the disc seems to have disappeared completely from the catalogue, and there is little biographical information on Gordon Lawson available other than in the CD booklet. As the furore over the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi resounds on both sides of the Atlantic, Gordon Lawson's sleeve note from nine years ago is strangely prophetic.
As the soloist's melismas descend, the tension slackens, but the resignation hoped for in the final D major chord is influenced by some added notes, as if to suggest that the tragedy will never really be obliterated from the memory.
A requiem for eleven victims of a different tragedy here.
A personal connection. When the Lockerbie tragedy happened we were living in Scotland 75 miles north of where the Pan Am jet crashed. The 21st December 1988 was a wild, wet and windy night and I was actually driving north of the crash site returning from a business function when the disaster occured. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Is it me or is it the music ?

I am taking the summer off music ... Salzburg has the worst offering since I can remember, Bayreuth is its usual self, I have no trips planned to London and do not held the BBC Proms in the same respect as you because of the very poor acoustics. I am basically relaxing and much to my surprise am not missing music. Is it me or is it the music ?
Emails a regular reader, occasional Overgrown Path contibutor and veteran festival goer Antoine Leboyer. Antoine also writes for the French classical music site ConcertoNet where his review for a Gustavo Dudamel Prom was memorably headlined Faut-il fermer le Royal Albert Hall - Should they close the Royal Albert Hall?

Last night a sold-out Snape Maltings rocked to Music from the Penguin Café, Arthur Jeffes' tribute to the famous Penguin Café Orchestra. This influential band was founded by his father Simon Jeffes in the 1970s and featured here earlier this year in Randomness is a very special thing. As we drove home last night after seeing young, and not so young concert goers dancing in the aisles of the Maltings to Simon Jeffes hypnotic rhythms, I reflected on my own very special summer of lean forward festivals and unfamiliar and random music.

What is interesting is that festivals like the Snape Proms and Les Orientales in France, and new CDs such as the Kronos Quartets Floodplain, seen below, have not only introduced me to new sounds, they have also made me hear familiar music in a new way. After listening to, for instance, Serbian composer Aleksandra Vrebalov's ...hold me, neighbour, in this storm... from Floodplain, with its taped church bells from an Orthodox monastery and Muslim call to prayer, a familiar work such as a Beethoven symphony appears in a completely new light. Hearing the Beethoven again is like viewing a familiar painting after years of grime have been removed by an expert restorer.

While in Snape for the Tashi Lhunpo Monks residency last week I bought a copy of Faces of Findhorn in a charity bookshop in nearby Woodbridge. The Findhorn Community in Scotland has been exploring alternative approaches to the familiar since the 1960s and music making is part of life in the community, as seen in the header photo. Findhorn is a controversial experiment and some view it as a little more than a new age joke, including the supposedly liberal Independent which ran this headline in 2001 - 'Findhorn, the hippie home of huge cabbages, faces cash crisis'.

But the home of the hippes and giant cabbages has some interesting thoughts on alternative approaches to the familiar, which may help answer Antoine Leboyer's question of 'Is it me or the music?' Here, from Faces of Findhorn, are the words of one of the founders of the community, Sir George Trevelyan:
'Our greatest truths are but half-truths. Think not to settle down forever in any truth; use it as a tent in which to to pass a summer night, but build no house of it, or it will become your tomb. When you first become aware of its insufficiency, and see some counter-truths looming up in the distance, then weep not but rejoice: it is still the Lord's voice saying, "Take up your bed and walk".'

If Findhorn and giant cabbages interest you it is worth visiting Auroville and Arcosanti. Which neatly brings us to one of the Kronos's collaborations with Terry Riley.
Floodplain was bought retail at La Roche-sur-Yonne in France. Our tickets for Music from the Penguin Café and all other summer events were bought at box office prices. The ECM-like header image is from Faces of Findhorn, ISBN 0905249461 and long out-of-print. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Memorable and disturbing opera

The sad news comes of the death of the soprano Hildegard Behrens aged 72. She recorded Salome with Herbert von Karajan during my time with EMI, and I was fortunate to hear her sing the role with Karajan conducting the Vienna Philharmonic at the 1977 Salzburg Festival, which was where the header photo was taken. In January 2008 I described that performance as "one of my most memorable, and disturbing, evenings in the opera house".

Image credit Salzburg Festival. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Unlocking the sound of vinyl

A recent New Yorker article by Alex Ross suggested that the resurgence of interest in vinyl LPs is simply 'a modest rebellion against the tyranny of instant access' among younger listeners. Maybe; or perhaps the pin-sharp hearing of those younger listers has identified what many older ears have known for a long time, namely that something important was lost when the musicality of the vinyl disc was traded for the portability of digital files.

Whatever the reason, vinyl is certainly bouncing back. The photos above and below were taken by me recently in a large hypermarket outside Caen in northern France. The E.Leclerc chain of hypermarkets is opening Espace Culturelle - cultural spaces - in its major stores. These offer a mouth-watering range of music, video and book merchandise, the like of which would never be seen in a UK supermarket. Pride of place in the new Espace Culturelle are gondolas of 180gm vinyl pressings of rock music selling at a premium over the CD equivalent. Above is the turntable available for auditioning in-store, complete with padlock; below is a general view of the vinyl display.

We visited the hypermarket in Caen on the last day of our six week trip to France. My music budget was already well over-spent, and we were only there for a baquette and coffee lunch before catching the cross-Channel ferry home. So I avoided the tempting vinyl, but ended up buying 23 CDs, all with vinyl connections. One was the Classic Labor Songs disc that featured in a recent post, found in a discount bin for 2 euros. The other 22 were the 'limited edition' Decca re-issue of the complete Haydn String Quartets played by the Aeolian Quartet seen below, which was discounted to 49 euros. Listening to this wonderfully inventive and forward-looking music really shows how wrong we are to categorise Hayn as a 'safe' composer. Joseph Haydn may not be neglected today, but he is certainly misunderstood.

The Aeolian's Haydn Quartet cycle was recorded in analogue sound between 1973 and 1976. Back then vinyl was still the pre-eminent playback format, and the Compact Cassette (remember that?) was merely a low-fi option for sound on the move, rather like MP3 today. The sound from the CD transfers of the Haydn is truly astonishing; there is an immediacy and body to the string sound that is rarely heard in more recent recordings, even when SACD and other miraculous technology is invoked. For similar affordable examples of revelatory string sound try the augmented Grumiaux Trio's complete Mozart String Quintets and the complete Mozart String Trios and Duos from the same period.

Why is the string sound from those 1960s and 70s recording so vivid? Is it because, as a violinist friend suggests, string playing techniques have changed over the last three decades, resulting in today's leaner sound? Maybe, but I have a theory that changes in the microphones used for the recordings over the years account for much of the difference between the sound of 'great' records of the past, and today's more analytical but thinner sounding offerings. Microphones such as the classic Neumann U-47 and U-48 starting disappearing from studios in the late 1960s when the valves (vaccum tubes) they used stopped being manufactured. The solid state microphones that replaced them were more durable and easier to set up. So who worried about what they sounded like?

As invariably happens paths now converge, and there is a fascinating connection between the Aeolian Quartet's Haydn recording, the Neumann U-47 microphone, and the vinyl rock classic seen above. A connection which, I hasten to add, is not discussed in the rather po-faced notes in the Decca Haydn box.

Derek Simpson was the long-standing cellist of the Aeolian Quartet. In 1966 he was one of the session players who made up the string octet on the Beatle's groundbreaking Eleanor Rigby. Among the other players were Jurgen Hess, leader of the English Chamber Orchestra, Steven Shingles, who played viola in the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, and Sidney Sax, who co-founded the National Philharmonic Orchestra whose recording of Howard Hanson's Second Symphony featured here in 2005. The crucial string backing for Eleanor Rigby played by this distinguished group of session musicians was not written by the Beatles, but instead was scored by the 'fifth Beatle' George Martin. And producer George Martin's favourite microphone, which he used on many Beatle's recordings, was the Neumann U-47.

Can you tell the state of a nation by the quality of its bookshops?
Photos 1 and 2 are (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Russian choir that worked with Karajan

Dutch budget re-issue label Brilliant Classics has released a double CD of Russian Orthodox liturgies and folksongs sung by the famous Don Cossack Choir and Jaroff Women's Choir conducted by their founder Serge Jaroff, and it is available in the UK for less than £6. As David Cavlovic reminded us in a recent comment, the Don Cossack Choir, seen above, sung on Herbert von Karajan's 1967 recording of the choral version of Tchikovsky's 1812 Overture.

This remarkable choir was formed by exiled Cossacks in a Turkish internment camp in 1921 under the direction of Serge Jaroff, who had been a lieutenant in the army of Tsar Nicholas II. As their fame increased the choir were based in Bulgaria, France, Austria and then America, where they were managed by the impresario Sol Hurok. Serge Jaroff conducted the choir for sixty years, became an American citizen and died in New Jersey in 1985. Below is a a YouTube video of the Don Cossack Choir directed by Serge Jaroff singing in Germany in the 1930s.

More Brilliant Russian sacred choral music here.
I have not heard the Brilliant Classics Don Cossack Choir re-issue, this post was written after I noticed the CD on the label's website. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sophisticated Lady

It reminds me of the story about what Duke Ellington said to Clive Davis, the president of Columbia Records, when Clive was letting the Duke go from Columbia twenty-two years ago.

"We can't keep you here. You don't sell records," said Clive. Tony Bennett was there as well, and Duke Ellington looked from Tony to Clive in wonder. Then he said, "It is our job to make records. It is your job to sell them".
From Judy Collins 1987 autobiography Trust Your Heart. As a teenager Judy Collins was taught classical piano by the American conductor and teacher Antonia Brico. Judy Collins went on to make an Oscar-nominated film about the conductor, who was the first woman to conduct the New York Philharmonic and Los Angeles Philharmonic .

In 1930 Antonia Brico also became the first woman to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the photo below shows her in the Philharmonie Hall in Berlin. Does the German caption for the photo suggest Brico was also the first American, regardless of gender, to conduct the Berlin orchestra? That is not something I have come across before, and can presumably only be verified by checking the orchestra's archives. I am sure U.S. readers will suggest Americans who may have conducted the Berlin orchestra before 1930, Walter Damrosch perhaps?

This path now comes full circle as Antonia Brico recorded for Columbia Records. Thankfully, and despite the 77 year old Clive Davis still being with Sony BMG, a few of her records are still available on that label. The disc of Mozart overtures and divertimenti, where she shares the conducting with Bruno Walter and George Szell among others, shows the level she reached decades ago in a profession that is still, today, notoriously male dominated. Here is what the critic of the influential Allgemeine Zeitung wrote after her 1930 debut with the Berlin Philharmonic:
(She) possesses more ability, cleverness and musicianship than certain of her male colleagues who bore us in Berlin."
This month, the twentieth anniversary of the death of Antonia Brico passed shamefully unnoticed. But you can read the story of a remarkable woman here.

Photo of Antonia Brico in Berlin 1930 is Bundesarchiv via Wikipedia. What a pity the equally important photo of the first black conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, Rudolph Dunbar, is not similarly available for reproduction. Header image is the 1999 compilation Portrait of Duke Ellington, which includes the track Sophisticated Lady. 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 errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk