Saturday, October 31, 2009

You have been warned

Holy health and safety at Mount Saint Bernard Abbey, in Charnwood Forest, Leicestershire. The Aeolian String Quartet's recording of the complete Haydn quartets, which featured in Unlocking the Sound Of Vinyl, includes The Seven Last Words interspersed with readings by Peter Pears.

Using spoken texts with The Seven Last Words follows the historical precedent of the first performance in Cádiz Cathedral in 1787. The sources for the readings by Peter Pears are John Donne, George Herbert, Robert Herrick, Edith Sitwell, Edwin Muir and David Gascoyne, and the texts were selected by Reginald Barrett-Ayres. Photo is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Friday, October 30, 2009

Better than working in McDonald's

Vivaldi's Cello Sonatas are among the great Baroque works for the cello. But it is surprising how many CD collections do not include these nine magnificent sonatas. No excuse now though, because Dutch budget specialist have just released two newly recorded CDs of the sonatas played quite winningly by early music specialist Jaap Ter Linden and captured in excellent sound in the warm acoustic of Hervormde Kerk, Rhoon, in the Netherlands. I paid £6.79 delivered for the two CDs from Enough said?

Any opportunity to quote from the irrepressible Ron Butlin must not be missed. So here, from the title story of Vivaldi and the Number 3, is il Prete Rosso in training:
Over the caffè latte and panetto next morning Vivaldi remembered his strange dream, and had a good laugh. After a night like that he deserved a leisurely breakfast. He was late already, but so what? Becoming a junior-priest had never been his first choice - all that kneeling and standing, elevating the host and benedicting. His was a delicate constitution, a full-length mass often had him feeling pretty wrung out by the end, as well as a few kilos lighter from sweating under the holy vestements. But as the eldest son of a poor family - what were his options? He kept reminding himself it was better than working in McDonald's; and, at least, he wasn't expected to smile as he dished out the host and holy wine, or tell them to have a nice day.

Breakfast over, he stood up, brushed off the crumbs, donned the holy overalls, called goodbye to his mum and set off for San Giovanni's.

By the time he arrived, his twenty fellow-apprentices were standing in front of the altar, a chorus-line of swaying robes and bobbing hats, practising the day's routine. A priest was calling out, 'Father-Son-and-Holy-Ghost...Father-Son-and-Holy-Ghost...' Vivaldi slipped to the end of the line and, having caught the beat, joined in at making the sign of the cross.
Bach and modern new technology here, and more Brilliant Baroque bargains here.

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

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Almost the threepenny opera

After paying £4.40 for two cups of coffee in a store in Norwich I walked round the corner to Prelude Records. There I bought the newly re-issued CD of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas recorded by Andrew Parrot and the Taverner Choir and Players in 1999 for the non-discounted price of £4.88. I assume someone at Sony BMG has discovered the formula for turning sausages back into pigs.

Image credit to Photo is by Dora Maar and is part of the Meret Oppenheium collection at Moma. 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

Monday, October 26, 2009

Music does not exist in a vacuum

Benjamin Britten in reflective mood outside the Old Mill at Snape while completing Peter Grimes in 1945. That opera, like all of Britten's output, is a mystical fusion of music and place. We talk of Britten's Aldeburgh, Bach's Leipzig, Elgar's Malvern, and Bernstein's New York, yet the relationship between music and place is only just starting to be explored by pioneering projects such as musicDNA.

That mystical fusion of music and place appeared again a few days ago in an email from Alex Ross -
I first heard that Korngold recording in high school — there was a wonderful art room with a no less wonderful record collection curated by an art teacher who had since passed away. I would play it at maximum volume late at night.
Alex's anecdote resonated with me as I too have an extraordinarily strong recall of music and place, to the point where I can remember where and when I first heard many pieces of music. So strong is the recall that I have sometimes wondered if there is a spatial equivalent of synaesthesia. Support for a link between music and place comes from the influential philosopher and educationist Rudolf Steiner. His living idea concept proposes both that ideas have life of their own, and that living with an idea in one's mind predicates living differently.

Accepting that music and place are living ideas that interact with the listener takes us down some exciting new paths. Already the spatial dimension has provided the only two major music success stories of recent years - multi-channel home cinema systems, with their spatially enhanced sound, and portable media players, which take music to new places. Place is starting to be recognised as an important part of the performace equation and innovative new spaces are being explored. These include live music in a geodesic dome, on a floating stage, on a Cold War bomber base, on a cruise ship, inside a prison, and even in a circus ring.

Classical music desperately needs new audiences. But virtually all efforts to find one have been directed at attracting new listeners to the same music in the same place, which is usually a conventional concert hall complete with all its associated baggage. Is the resistance of new audiences lowered if the music is experienced in a neutral place? Is the key to reaching new audiences location, location and location? Is the concert hall as architectural icon as doomed as the tuxedo? Will traditional concert halls and opera houses be victims of a 'perfect storm' triggered by the collision of economic turbulence, environmental concerns and the demands of new audiences? Is classical music a living idea that can only breathe in the future if it escapes the vacuum of the concert hall?

* Alex Ross also kindly pointed out a book by the American musicologist Denise von Glahn titled The Sounds of Place and provided a link to his own post on the Korngold symphony. From my own bookshelf I have picked out A Musical Gazetteer of Grat Britain & Ireland by Gerald Morris and Musical Landscapes by John Burke, both long out-of-print.

* My headline is provided by Britten's 1964 Aspen Award acceptance speech in which he said -
I also take note of the human circumstances of music, of its environment and conventions ... music does not exist in a vacuum.
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, October 25, 2009

Bus pass music

In November I qualify for a free bus pass and, Insha'Allah, a pension, so here is how we will be celebrating. Dedicated Savall and Sufi watchers will also be interested in another concert in Paris, which will form a yet-to-be-announced Alia Vox combined CD and book release. Blogging will be at a reduced rate for a fair while as I will be in retreat, but not defeated, after Paris. Now take La Route de l'Orient.

All champagne, travel, accomodation and concert tickets in France are being paid for by me, but don't let that deter any Parisian readers who want to buy me a drink. Suggestions for other arts projects worth taking in while we are in Paris at the end of November are welcome. A note on carbon footprints. I have posted quite a few articles about our low budget travels in 2009. The upcoming French trip will bring the total of miles travelled overseas in the year to more than 5000. My return journey by plane in December from Marseille to London will be the only flight I have taken in 2009. All other travel will have been by train, diesel car, ferry boat and bike. 2010 looks more difficult as we are in search of Jimi Hendrix in Africa in March - I am investigating camel hire. Please report errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The art of the CD label

With MP3 downloads you don't have to imagine there's no artwork. This CD by the Tashi Lhunpo monks featured in Wagner and the Tantric orchestra.

Featured CD was purchased by me. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Friday, October 23, 2009

His Strauss is unsurpassed

Many readers have written in praise of Rudolf Kempe after reading my post Great recordings without the spin. Among them is Alex Ross who writes 'His R. Strauss, too, is unsurpassed, perhaps unequaled'. To continue the Kempe thread I am featuring two of his many recordings in my collection. Sleeve's featuring photographs of him are rare. Above is an early CD re-issue of his peerless disc of the Strauss concertos; it does feature an artist photo but is marred by EMI's crassly insensitive typography and logo. Below is my 1973 LP of the Alpine Symphony with its subtle graphics but typical for the period library photo; my 'first edition' disc is, incidentally, encoded in SQ Quadraphonic sound meaning that a multi-channel release (SACD?) would be possible. Unmissable music making as Kempe's blazing interpretation of Strauss' unquiet thoughts melts the hoar frost of musical routine.

Tucked away in the Kempe/Strauss compilations is his recording of the composer's Violin Concerto played by Ulf Hoelscher. The Violin Concerto is often dismissed as juvenilia. But it is worth hearing, and with its appealing melodic line I do not understand why it is not better known. Both discs featured above were, needless to say, bought by me. 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

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Great recordings without the spin

This wonderful Christian Steiner portrait of Charles Gerhardt(1927-99) featured in my 2007 post LPs were like the force of gravity. Gerhardt's important contribution as a conductor, producer and champion of twentieth-century composers such as Howard Hanson, whose Second Symphony is the main work on the disc above, has never been fully recognised. So I was delighted when David Cavlovic sent me a link to a wonderful appreciation of Gerhardt's work. Reading Robert E. Benson's memories of Gerhardt prompted me to dig some of his great recordings out of my collection, and to write my own appreciation below.

Charles Gerhardt was a champion of the music of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and collaborated with the composer's son George on recordings of his film music. One result was the 1972 LP seen above conducted by Charles Gerhardt and produced by George Korngold, which is a true sonic and musical delight. At one time it was available as a Chesky CD transfer, but I can find no trace of it in the catalogue today.

Another result of the Korngold collabaration was the LP seen below of the composer's Symphony in F-Sharp which Charles Gerhardt produced with Rudolf Kempe (another grossly under-rated musician) conducting the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. Again there is a long-deleted CD transfer. This was the first recording of the Korngold Symphony, and it stands head and shoulders above later versions from other conductors. The playing of the Munich brass in the scherzo still makes the hairs on my neck stand on end. There may be more corn than gold in the symphony, but inspired playing like this can still make it sound like great music.

One of the other conductors who subsequently recorded the Korngold Symphony was André Previn, who, to my amusement, has made several Korngold CDs for Deutsche Grammophon in recent years. When I was at EMI in the 1970s I suggested Previn consider a Korngold recording, but was told that, due to the conductor's Hollywood past, he did not want to be linked with composers of film music. Strange how locust years can change musical judgements. And, anyway, didn't Previn staples Shostakovich and Prokofiev also write film music? Just to prove every path has a twist, a few years later Previn took over tinsel town's own Los Angeles Philharmonic. His successor Esa-Pekka Salonen was less leery of film music, and early in his tenure with the orchestra made an excellent recording of Bernard Hermann's film scores.

But back to Korngold. The bust of the composer on the handsome RCA dust jacket is by Anna Mahler, who was married for a short time to Ernst Krenek, the composer of the opera Jonny spielt auf. Anna's mother featured here recently, quite appropriately, in Mrs Mahler - may I take my jacket off?

Charles Gerhardt also worked with Sir John Barbirolli, and their LP of Sibelius' Second Symphony is considered to be one of the great recorded accounts of the work. More Barbirolli in Glorious John in New York.

All LPs and CDs are from my collection. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk. Version 1.2 - 23/10/2009

John, Paul, George and Gustavo

gordon has left a new comment on your post "Gustavo Dudamel - in too much of a hurry":

Gustavo is a Genius!!!

A true 'Maestro" who tugs at your heart with his impassioned cry of "LOVE", not your average run of the mill love. NO this is "TRUE LOVE", with all it's flaws and foibles intact...

The Beatles were right when they penned their famous lyrics..."All you need is Love", only we needed to wait for "EL Maestro".
Now follow the path from Beatlesto Berio and on to Boulez.
Montage is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

We soon forgot we were recording a CD

Avoiding what Wilhelm Furtwängler decried as 'the hoar frost of musical routine' has become something of a personal preoccupation. After Bach, Golijov, Piazzolla and Vivaldi from the Britten Sinfonia in Norwich on Sunday we travelled to London on Monday for a rare opportunity to hear an evening of Gavin Bryars' music in the architecturally and acoustically exquisite late 19th century Union Chapel in Islington. Monday's concert was part of the Marginalised festival to raise funds for the Margins Project which works with London’s homeless.

The centrepiece of Monday's event was the first London performance for fifteen years of Gavin Bryars' influential 1971 Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet for tape loop and instrumental ensemble. Bryars' understated minimalism and innovative tonality have been constants on the contemporary music scene since the late 1960s. He studied briefly with John Cage after reading philosophy and music at university, and was a founding member of the Portsmouth Sinfonia scratch orchestra, together with Brian Eno and Cornlius Cardew - YouTube audio clip here.

Below is the Virgin Classics CD which brought together re-issues of the Brian Eno produced recordings of Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet and Bryars' pioneering 1969 indeterminist The Sinking of the Titanic. The recording of the latter work dates from 1975, and the mix includes the New Music Ensemble of San Francisco Conservatory of Music directed by a youthful John Adams.

Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet constructs an instrumental arch over a repeating 26 second loop of a homeless man singing the religous refrain. Bryars' original recording, which was made for Brian Eno's Obscure label and is re-issued on the Virgin CD seen above, uses an ensemble of just five musicians, which include Michael Nyman on organ. A longer version for larger ensemble was recorded for Point Music in 1993 and is now deleted. This label was Polydor's abortive attempt to 'do an ECM' in collabaration with Philip Glass and Michael Riesman. Releases on Point Music ceased in 2002 when Universal Music realised a quick win was actually proving to be a very long win; an interesting looking compilation of the label's work titled XVI Reflections on Classical Music was announced for September 2009 release but is not to be found on any of the retail databases.

In Monday's concert Gavin Byars directed his expanded ensemble in the later version of Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet. A large, demographically varied, and very appreciative audience in the Union Chapel seemed to agree with the composer's comments in a 1995 interview:
Somehow in the 20th Century an idea has developed that music is an activity or skill which is not comprehensible to the man in the street. This is an arrogant assertion and not necessarily a true one.

Five of Gavin Bryars' Laude were sung in the first half of the concert by the voice they were composed for, tenor John Potter. These compact works, recorded on the CD seen in my header image for the composer's own record label, use sacred 14th century Italian texts. They were originally sung in simple settings by musically untrained 'laudesi' in confraternities that were independent of the established churches. The confraternities, which provided community services such as burials and welfare support, often had meeting rooms where their musically accompanied devotions had a strong ritualistic content.

Rituals and music form the path that takes us to the remarkable new CD seen below. It is only a short musical path, but a huge leap of faith only attempted by polymaths like Thomas Merton, from the laude of the Christian confraternities to the Sufi rituals of mystic Islam. Denis Raisin Dadre and his vocal and diverse instrumental ensemble Doulce Mémoire make the huge leap by combining 16th century Italian laude with three Sufi inspired improvisations which set verses by the incomparable Jalāl ad-Dīn Rūmī. Back in the 13th century Rumi wrote:
'Several paths lead to God; I have chosen that of dance and music.
With Laudes - Confréries D'Orient et d'Occident French independent label Zig-Zag Territoires has done it again. They have triumphantly realised Rumi's vision, and this quote from the sleeve notes of the beautifully recorded and presented Doulce Mémoire CD shows what happens when the hoar frost of musical routine thaws:
... Then both the singers and the instrumentalists of Doulce Mémoire practiced these invocations [of the Muslim orders, the Ṭarīqah,] standing in a circle in the refectory at Fontevraud's abbey, aiming to adopt the appropriate mental and physical attitude. We very soon forgot we were recording a CD, and came under the spell of what musicians of the 16th century called 'l'efficace', that is to say the effect produced by rhythm and headily captivating melodies.

Wilhelm Furtwängler and the forgotten new music here.
Travel, tickets and overnight accomodation for the Gavin Bryars concert were paid for by me, as were all the CDs mentioned in this article. 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

Feeble and belated half-stabs at arts journalism

* Norman Lebrecht to leave London Evening Standard: Arts columnist Lebrecht departs to focus on BBC Radio 3 series - The London Evening Standard arts columnist, Norman Lebrecht, is to leave the paper this week after seven years ... He said today that with a new series on BBC Radio 3 and a novel coming out next month it seemed a good time to leave - Guardian Media June 24, 2009.

* The BBC has just appointed yet another arts 'supremo' to its top-heavy executive layer, but at roots level it has no clue what goes on canvas or on stage, day in, day out. Nor is it in any position to comment on unsubsidised newspapers that are forced to reduce their arts spend. The [BBC's] Culture Show is years behind the real story and the BBC undermines its own future by such feeble and belated half-stabs at arts journalism - Norman Lebrecht, Slipped Disc, October 21, 2009.
Bluster on Norman.
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, October 18, 2009

Music of the sexes

Riveting concert this evening of Bach, Golijov, Piazzolla arr. Desyatnikov and Vivaldi from the Britten Sinfonia. Gratifying to see a good-sized audience for their Norwich gig (and pre-concert talk) despite competition from ECM's Tord Gustavsen Trio and the amazing Kit Downes (a name to watch) just across the road.

It is interesting to speculate why the Britten Sinfonia are making such a name for themselves in such difficult times. Is it because they do not have a jet set music director? Is it because they do not have an expensive conductor? Is it because they are one of the few environmentally responsible bands in classical music? Perhaps it is something to do with the Alexander Technique and that they play standing up - apart from the lower strings and harpsichordist!

Or is the secret of the Britten Sinfonia's success that 80% of the 25 musicians on the platform last night were women? I have already suggested that publicly funded ensembles should reveal the fees they are paying to performers. Yes, I know it is the music that matters. But how about publicly funded groups also being required to report their ratio of female performers, and, an area where the Britten Sinfonia and virtually every other ensemble still has much work to do, ratio of ethnic and other minority players?

I'm leaving on a green train. Back soon.
Header photo shows Britten Sinfonia in action at the Latitude Festival. I received two free tickets for the Britten Sinfonia concert in return for chairing the pre-concert talk. 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

No such thing as a naked lunch

Myriad times a day it is murdered by novice piano students, only to rise up again. Two especially for the contemporary musician: the Classical Music pool and the Experimental Music pool. But it doesn’t seem to be going out on much of a limb to say: this Nadja Michael can’t sing. As my pace begins to pick up for this final stretch I'm finding that the increased focus and time spent working is naturally leading to my becoming a little bored with the sections I'm concentrating on most intently. Just kidding! The bros with the vinyl vision were named Emile and Joseph Berliner.

My header photo shows the torchlit peace sign in Budapest during an anti-Iraq war rally in 2006 have got to see this video! Clues: rollerblading, bottles, Toreador song. A graduate of the Curtis Institute, Alan performs regularly with the Chicago Sinfonietta and Lake Forest Symphony. I'm not complaining, however, because such changes in the season are all strangely comforting to this Midwestern girl's heart. This does not come entirely unsuspected—the orchestra and conductor have been considered a natural and likely fit since the news of Thielemann’s contract not being renewed in Munich first broke.

At the latter, the orchestra around a core of 25 players and music director Alexander Liebreich, proved that they even play with the utmost dedication when they are just ‘hired hands’, performing repertoire not of their choosing. Liz Forgan, chair of the Arts Council, was reported to have vetoed Veronica Wadley as the Mayor of London's arts chief, on the grounds that her nomination was motivated by political preference rather than cultural commitment.
This deconstructionist's delight was inspired by William Burroughs' cut-ups and spun out of my chance music project. It was created by taking the second sentence of each of the current posts in descending order of ranking from's top 12 music blogs. Photo shows the rock group who took their name from Burroughs' book, the 1960s band Soft Machine. They played at the 1970 BBC Proms, a performance described as 'a different experience ... a riot of noise and the smell of illicit substances!' And don't forget Sir Malcolm Arnold and the rock stars. Who mentioned naked?

Photo credit All About Jazz. 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, October 16, 2009

The festival of lights

On October 17th Hindus around the world celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights. My header photo shows the torchlit peace sign in Budapest during an anti-Iraq war rally in 2006. It comes from the recently published Peace - 50 years of protest 1958-2008 by Barry Miles, who has also written biographies of Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs. Peace is both essential reading and a visual delight, and it comes out in paperback in March 2010. Previous guest appearances by Barry Miles on the path here and a different Doctor Atomic here.
An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind ~ Mahatma Gandhi
Header photo is (c) Peter Kollanyi/epa/Corbis via Peace - 50 years of protest 1958-2008 by Barry Miles' ISBN-13: 978-0762108930 . My copy was borrowed from Norwich library. That Corbis ownership worries me, even though the image is being used for review purposes, But, 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

Here come the old generation artists

Interesting to see Simon Rattle's newly released cycle of the Brahms symphonies with the Berlin Philharmonic selling today in leading independent retailer Prelude Records, who are not known for their discounting, for £19.99. Presumably because the recordings were made at live concerts, EMI released the four symphonies on 3 CDs with no fillers, which gives a playing time of just 42 minutes for the CD of the Fourth Symphony on its own, which is short measure even for an LP! At £19.99 the price per Berlin Phil CD is just 80 pence more than a Naxos disc in the same store featuring the Camerata Transylvanica. I am trying to work out whether that is an example of reputation inflation or deflation.

Talking of LPs, my header image is my 3 LP box of Bruno Walter's Brahms stereo cycle from the 1960s (He made an earlier mono cycle with the New York Philharmonic). My set contains Dutch pressings from the early 1980s, and, unlike the American Columbia pressings of the same period, they still sound magnificent today. Both of Walter's cycles are available on CD if you must. Other 'old school' Brahms that I return to often is George Szell's cycle with the Cleveland Orchestra, again from the 1960s but available on silver disc. Karajan should also receive an honourable mention; he was a truly strange individual, but his Brahms was quite superlative.For 'new school' Brahms, it is hard to beat the venerable Charles Mackerras' account of the symphonies with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra on Teldec.

With so many exemplary recordings from 'old generation artists' in the catalogue (and often in outstanding analogue sound to boot) is it surprising that EMI are forced to discount Rattle and the Berlin Phil's interpretations so heavily from day one? - over on the 3 CD set is just £16.98 post free. More on the frustrations of the classical recording industry here.

My headline will probably only be appreciated by those who have to suffer listening to BBC Radio 3. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Let's talk Osvaldo Golijov and climate change

Bach ~ Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G BWV 1048
Osvaldo Golijov ~ Last Round
Vivaldi ~ Four Seasons
Astor Piazzolla arr. Leonid Desyatnikov ~ Four Seasons of Buenos Aires
This programme is being performed by the Britten Sinfonia in Norwich on Sunday (Oct 18). I am giving a pre-concert talk with Thomas Gould who is co-leader of the Britten Sinfonia. Tom is also guest leader of the McGill Chamber Orchestra in Montreal and is something of a contemporary music specialist, working with composers such as Nico Muhly.

Sunday's concert is titled Eight Seasons. Apart from being a cracking band the Britten Sinfonia is one of the few classical ensembles that are environmentally aware. Last December they teamed up with Greenpeace to play at the UN meeting on climate change in Poland, and they travelled there by train and coach, two of the most environmentally friendly methods of transport. By contrast the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington DC has teamed up with Cunard to play on cruise ships, one of the least environmentally friendly methods of transport.

Sadly, environmental concerns do not seem to be a big deal for the classical music industry, unlike the antics of Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna. Back in 2007 I suggested we ask How green was my concert? and no one was terribly interested

* Hear a podcast of this pre-concert talk here.

My photo was taken in late September on the foreshore of the Lac du Der Chantecoq in France when the water in the man-made lake was at a very low level due to the lack of rainfall. We used a diesel car and mountain bikes plus a cross-Channel ferry to reach the photo location. I am receiving two complimentary tickets for the Britten Sinfonia's Eight Seasons concert for presenting the pre-concert talk. Photo is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I have seen the future and it is cardboard

This striking structure is the work of the Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. It houses one of the electric powered tugs that worked on the Burgundy Canal until the 1930s, and is part of the Cap Canal museum at Pouilly-en-Auxois in France which we visited recently. By any criteria this is a remarkable work of art, but it becomes quite exceptional when it is explained that this is one of Shigeru Ban's famous paper tube structures.

Shigeru Ban is famous for his innovative work using paper and cardboard tubing as a material for building construction, and he is particularly known for using recycled cardboard paper tubes to quickly and efficiently house disaster victims. His designs are influenced by the pioneering geodesic domes created by Buckminster Fuller, who made a guest appearance in Karlheinz Stockhausen - part of a dream. Free thinking chamber music ensemble Domus used a geodesic dome when they performed outside the comfort zone, while maverick architect Louis Kahn's went one further and created a floating concert hall.

More stunning contemporary canal architecture here.
I took the photos when we were cycle touring on the Burgundy Canal, and they are (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Classical music on cruise control

* Travel for the Arts and the English Chamber Orchestra are delighted to announce a 7 day Music Cruise, to take place aboard the Msy Wind Star. The musical programme of concerts by the English Chamber Orchestra under the batons of Vladimir Ashkenazy and Paul Watkins feature renowned guest soloists, and are played whilst at sea and in the picturesque ports of call - Deck 2 Per person sharing Double Stateroom $10,750

* Classical Music Cruise for 9 days with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra - aboard MS AIDAdiva From Majorca - Balcony cabin for 2 adults £5499

* Cunard Line is proud to announce a new partnership with the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO), an artistic affiliate of Washington, D.C.’s famed Kennedy Center. A highlight of the new alliance is the organization’s upcoming debut aboard Queen Mary 2 as featured guests of the acclaimed Cunard Insights programme. Six Kennedy Center Chamber Players and Nigel Boon, NSO director of artistic planning, will present programmes (including three performances and three lectures) on the ship’s 6-day Eastbound Transatlantic Voyage - Featuring the National Symphony Orchestra - Cruise From $1,372 per Guest

* Kirker Holidays' musical tour of Britain and Ireland is a nine-night cruise. Guests are treated to an exclusive programme of performances introduced by Petroc Trelawney of BBC Radio 3 - from £2,110 per person

It may be an unfortunate analogy, but classical music cruises are part of that large portion of the classical music iceberg which is under the water and out of sight. As the examples above show it is not just smooth jazz groups that are taking to the waves. The Vienna Philharmonic and National Symphony Orchestras, who both receive a proportion of their funding from public sources, and the English Chamber Orchestra who do not, are all linked with cruise operators at ticket prices that would make even the world's top opera houses blush.

So what to make of classical music's new nautical audiences? Let's start with the music, and the verdict on a Baltic classical music cruise from the Times' Richard Morrison is not encouraging:
But the classical concerts? Ho-hum. I had the distinct impression that some musicians were treating the voyage as a skive in the sun, and performing accordingly. There was certainly an air of complacency in some concerts. The standard hardly rose to the level of a student recital at a London music college.

The American pianist/composer Jake Heggie and the violinist Leila Josefowicz - both big names with, you would have thought, big reputations to protect - admitted in their recital that they had met only the day before.

On the strength of their uncoordinated playthrough of Brahms and Schubert, one had to doubt how much of that meeting included rehearsal time. The veteran mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, one of the greats of the opera world in her heyday, sang with so little projection that when she turned her head it was impossible to hear her on the wrong side of the room.
Not good news: particularly considering the environmental impacts of cruise ships and the fact that a few massive corporations own the majority of the cruise lines, creating a labour market with unique characteristics. For instance Carnival Corporation, the largest cruise operator, includes in its portfolio Cunard (National Symphony Orchestra) and Aida (Vienna Philharmonic) and reported 2008 revenues of $14.7 billion. Then there is the thorny question of industry personalities such as Petroc Trelawny (BBC) and Nigel Boon (National Symphony Orchestra) using their principal employment by publicly funded bodies to promote their connections with for-profit organisations.

But the alternative point of view is that classical music cruises are a harmless way for performers and others to enjoy some sunshine and extra cash while reaching a captive audience, even if the music is on cruise control. Which may be difficult to reconcile with the elitist image, elderly audiences and high ticket cost of these cruises in an age when equality, youth and accessibility are mantras for the performing arts.

Confused? So am I. But one thing is for sure. Like icebergs, a little more visibility of the classical music cruise industry would not be a bad thing.

Now for a delightful piece of music tricia - a legendary recording made on a cruise ship. Jazz saxophonist and composer of 'Take Five' Paul Desmond explains:
Over the years Dave Brubeck and I have started albums in various unlikely places throughout the world, but so far this one is my favourite. We were somewhere in the Atlantic between New York and the Bermuda Triangle, aboard S.S. Rotterdam as part of their semi-annual Jazz Cruises [see photo above, Paul Desmond is second from left, Dave Brubeck is on the right]. The group included Dave, myself and a rhythm section ...
Brubeck & Desmond, 1975: the duets is the album that Paul Desmond is describing. To be completely accurate only one track, You Go To My Head, was recorded at sea. But why let that ruin a great story? This legendary album is still in the catalogue as a download. It opens with a tune that was also a Bill Evans' favourite, Bob Hilliard (lyrics) and Sammy Fain's (music) theme from Disney's Alice in Wonderland. Which is also a great tune to end a post on classical music cruises on.

I doubt if Karlheinz Stockhausen performed on any classical music cruises. But he did share a teacher with Dave Brubeck.
Header image is from the website of Luxury Cruise Counselors who offer the National Symphony Orchestra cruise. S.S. Rotterdam photo is from the liner notes of Brubeck & Desmond. Needless to say I have never been on a classical music cruise, free or paid for. But I did buy the Paul Desmond and Dave Brubeck CD at retail from HMV in 2003. 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

Monday, October 12, 2009

ECM in focus

Just as Decca is known as the label that lost the Beatles, ECM could have been known as the label that lost John Adams. But, other than triggering Adams' defection to Nonesuch, Manfred Eicher's decision not to travel to San Francisco for ECM's pioneering 1984 recording of Harmonium seems to have done his fiercely independent label very little harm.

While other record companies are cutting staff, orchestras are cutting pay, and radio stations are cutting quality, ECM remains in rude health; despite not a single appearance of the highly fashionable word download on its website, and despite not a single appearance by a young female (or male) violinst clad in a wet T-shirt on its sleeve artwork. While others flounder ECM sticks to the knitting, and this autumn the label celebrates its 40th birthday with a range of releases that stand head and shoulders above the musical equivalent of airport fiction that is now the bread and butter of the corporate classical labels.

Keith Jarrett has made a major contribution to ECM's longevity. His best selling 1975 Köln Concert has bankrolled many of Manfred Eicher's more arcane projects, and this debt is recognised by the release of the new 3 CD Testament set which captures Jarrett playing solo in concert in Paris and London in 2008. You either love Keith Jarrett or you hate him. But even those who are in the former category will be sorely tried by Jarrett's self-indulgent sleeve note for Testament.

Also in ECM's autumn schedule is a follow-up to Norwegian lutenist Rolf Lislevand's 2006 Nuove Musiche album. Jordi Savall's very successful Alia Vox label shares ECM's qualities of independence and integrity, and Rolf Lislevand often performs with Jordi Savall. Nuove Musiche was a rare ECM example of 'if you can't beat them, join them' and recognised the Savall phenomena down to including Savall daughter Arianna and longtime Hesperion XX/XI member Pedro Estevan in its line-up. Diminuito follows the same formula without the Savall sidemen (sidepeople?) and a group of leading early musicians are let off the leash to embelish music from the early Italian baroque. But I am afraid those wordless floating soprano lines are just too far the New Age side of Jordi Savall for me.

Staying with the guitar family, Ralph Towner is joined by Paolo Fresu on trumpet and flugelhorn for a new CD titled Chiaroscuro. I have long admired Towner's solo albums for ECM; but so often his collabarations, this one included, come over as not totally successful attempts to relight the fire that blazed on the Oregon albums he made for Vanguard and ECM. Which reminds me I must write about Oregon, the successors to Codona, sometime.

Phantasy of Spring from violinist Carolin Widmann and pianist Simon Lepper perfectly captures the spirit of ECM. An uncompromising programme of Morton Feldman, Bernd Alois Zimmerman, Arnold Schönberg and Iannis Xenakis gets excellent notes by the composer Raiiner Peters and sleeve artwork (below) which is flagrantly out of focus even by ECM's standards. Phantasy of Spring alone will give more musical nourishment than the entire autumn release schedules of some of the larger labels.

Which brings me to three more new ECM releases that fall into the 'worth walking over broken glass for' category. ECM has been a stalwart champion of Valentin Silvestrov's music over the years, and their discs of his Silent Songs and Requiem for Larissa are treasured by those who prefer individual voices to dedicated followers of new music fashion. In November the Kiev Chamber Choir directed by Mykola Hobdych bring us an album of Silvestrov's sacred a-capella works which will delight those who are in-the-know about Silvestrov ('Arvo Pärt’s favourite composer'), and which will surprise those who have not yet discovered Ukraine's best kept secret after their football team.

It is only a short distance south from Ukraine to another former member of the Soviet Union, Armenia. There is a great musical tradition in Armenia, and the 20th century composer Komitas Vardapet (1869-1935) started a musical renaissance which has been carried forward by some outstanding contemporary composers. These include Tigran Mansurian , and the 2004 2 CD set Monodia brought together ECM house artists Jan Garbarek, American/Armenian viola player Kim Kashkashian and the Hilliard Ensemble to showcase his music. Now comes Neharót Neharót which couples two of Mansurian's works with music from Komitas and from the Israeli composers Betty Olivero (Alex Ross approved) and Eitan Steinberg.

It is unfair to select individual highlights from a disc that in its entirety is one of the musical highlights of 2009. But Tigram Mansurian's Tagh for the Funeral of the Lord for viola and percussion is welcome confirmation that new music can still surprise and delight, while the contributions to Neharót Neharót from the two Israeli composers confirm my view that the Near East is musically where things are really happening right now. The accompanying essay from Paul Griffiths, another ECM regular, provides yet more proof that accessibility and quality are not mutually exclusive.

Over the last 40 years ECM has been largely responsible for rendering conventional music categories obsolete. Contempoary music has been reinvented as a Venn diagram where the overlapping circles represent conventional classical, world, jazz, rock, and folk genres. If there is one factor that can explain ECM's success over the last 40 years, it is Manfred Eicher's unique ability to position his projects in unexploited areas of that Venn diagram ahead of other labels.

Tunisian oud player Anouar Brahem's provides a fine example of how ECM artists have moved around the musical Venn diagram like chess pieces controlled by a master player. His debut for ECM, Conte de l'incroyable amour, was very much in the World sector. Since that 1992 disc Brahem has made a succession of acclaimed recordings for the label which have explored different performance styles. He appears in their autumn releases with a new quartet which, with its mix of string bass and clarinet underpinned by a percussion line from darbouka or bendir, repositions the sound towards jazz. I loved Anouar Brahem's The Astounding Eyes of Rita. It sums up everything ECM stands for. But most importantly it shows that Manfred Eicher still has no respect for conventions, even his own conventions. So The Astounding Eyes of Rita features the exquisitely in focus CD artwork seen above. Happy birthday ECM, and here's to another forty years!

* Breaking news - New ECM book:
In 1996, Lars Müller Publishers of Baden,Switzerland, issued “Sleeves of Desire”, the first study of ECM cover art. Now Müller follows up with a new volume, bringing the story of ECM artwork up to date. The 450-page book, to be issued in November, will be available in both English and German editions entitled, respectively, “Windfall Light: The Visual Language of ECM” and “Der Wind, das Licht: ECM und das Bild”. A stunning collection of ECM photography and graphics, with a concluding section featuring all ECM covers from Mal Waldron’s “Free At Last” (1969) to Keith Jarrett’s “Testament” (2009), the book also incorporates texts by Thomas Steinfeld, Geoff Andrew, Katharina Epprecht, Ketil Bjørnstad and Lars Müller.

Autumn 2009 ECM releases mentioned above were supplied by the label's UK distributor, Proper Note, at my request. All other CDs referred to were purchased at retail price. 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, October 10, 2009

The sounds of silence

'Timeless purity, peerless beauty and spiritual ambiance ...'
is a perfect description of the Cistercian L'Abbaye de Boquen in Brittany, which is seen in my photos below. But those words also apply to the riveting archive image above which depicts Dom Alexis Presse (1883-1965) who was responsible for the 20th century restoration of the ancient Abbey.

L'Abbaye de Boquen was founded in 1137, and at its peak housed a community of more than a hundred monks. My photos show the Abbey church which is a classic example of French Romanesqe style with later influences. From the 16th century the Abbey fell into decline and when the French Revolution brought an end to monastic orders only the prior and three monks remained. In 1790 the abbey was sold into private hands. The property then became a stone quarry and great damage was done to the priceless buildings when they were used a source of building stone.

In 1936, after 145 years of neglect, Dom Alexis came to live in the derelict Abbey, and began to restore the buildings and create a new community living to the Cistercian Rule. The miraculous restoration of L'Abbaye de Boquen was literally Dom Alexis' life work. In August 1965 the Abbey, lovingly restored to the condition seen in my photos, was reconsecrated. But Dom Alexis was so exhausted by his labours that he had to be brought to the consecration service on a stretcher, and he died just three months later. Sadly, that was not the end of the struggle for continuity at the Abbey. Without Dom Alexis' inspirational leadership the fragile community disintegrated, and it looked as though Boquen would suffer the fate of so many great sacred buildings in France and simply become a historic building on the tourist trail. But in 1976 a community of nuns of the Order of Bethlehem, the Assumption of the Virgin and Saint Bruno settled at Boquen, and they continue a precarious existence there today. The recently formed order practise an eremitical lifestyle and follow an Eastern-influenced liturgy derived from the Egyptian beginnings of Christiam monasticism.

Timeless purity, peerless beauty, spiritual ambiance and an extraordinary quality of silence were the lasting impressions from our visit to L'Abbaye de Boquen. In keeping with the Cistercian tradition the Abbey was built in a deep and inaccessible forested location, and, fortunately, that magical quality of isolation has remained unsullied after almost 900 years. So, if I am to pursue my thread of music and place, the music of Boquen must be the endlessly changing and inspiring sounds of silence. But as Richard Williams' wrote in his recent book about Miles Davis, The Blue Moment - 'music exists within silence'. One of the seven musicians on Kind of Blue was John Coltrane, and, rather surprisingly, it is a sleeve note by his widow, Alice Coltrane, that provided my opening words. Here is the complete quote:
Timeless purity, peerless beauty, and spiritual ambiance pervade the etheral sounds of John Coltrane's music. The great conductor and composer Igor Stravinsky's music was also timeless, ageless, and ever-new in sound, purity and ambiance. Both men lived in the twentieth century; and yet in this new millenium, their music is more than a recall to memory, because after the passage of many decades it is refreshing to hear their compositions and recorded performance of excellence.
Alice Coltrane wrote those words for the 2001 compilation Spiritual which showcases the increasingly religous direction that John Coltrane's music took. I am ambivalent about compilation discs, but Spiritual does work as an organic whole, and it is a tempting way to avoid some of Coltrane's later improvisatory longueurs. It is still in the catalogue in both in CD and download formats. If the connection between music and place has any validity my first choice for L'Abbaye de Boquen would be the timeless sounds of silence; but as a second choice John Coltrane's Spiritual cannot be bettered.

John Cage meets Trappist nuns here.
The header photo is credited to Les Monastères de Bethléem. The other photos of L'Abbaye de Boquen were taken by me in March 2009 and are (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. John Coltrane's Spiritual was bought at retail price, and all travel expenses to Boquen were paid by me. 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

Adventures with chance music

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my chance music adventure on Future Radio. One of the pilot programmes is now available streamed from the station's website. Open this link and the programme is identified in the list as Chance Music 10 Oct 2009. The next live programme will be broadcast/webcast on Sunday Nov 1. Thanks go to the team at Future Radio for again allowing me to try something different.
Fixed mind is a stiff mind. Stiff mind is a dead mind, like dead wood. Flexible mind is a living mind like a living tree - Satish Kumar
Flexible minds on internet radio here.
Future Radio is Ofcom licensed and covered by an artists royalty agreement. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Friday, October 09, 2009

Coincidence is free

At 16.11h on Oct 6 I uploaded this article.

At 21.30h on Oct 6 the Guardian website published this article.

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

Play it again Sam

"... his campaign had given legitimacy to the cause of peace" - from the notes for Naxos' recording of Arnold Rosner's Fifth Symphony. In his notes the composer was referring to Democrat George McGovern's unsuccessful campaign against Richard Nixon in the 1972 presidential election.

What is it about Fifth Symphonies? Photo shows Senator George McGovern with Fidel Castro in Cuba in 1975. 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 People United Will Never Be Defeated!

Was Das Kapital the reading of choice on this cruise boat spotted when I was cycle touring on the Burgundy Canal in France? No prizes for guessing the nationality of the party that had booked the $50,000 a week hotel barge.

Continuing the theme of music and place, my listening in Burgundy included The People United Will Never Be Defeated! This is an epic set of thirty-six variations for solo piano by the American composer Frederic Rzewski (yes, I know they don't spend all their lives in hot tubs). Rzewski's time at Harvard brought him into contact with Christian Wolff, John Cage, David Tudor and others. He studied in Italy from 1960 to 1962 with Luigi Dallapiccola and formed a performance group for electronic music with Richard Teitelbaum and Alvin Curran, whose Inner Cities I webcast in 2007.

The music of Frederic Rzewski (b.1938), who is seen in the photo above, is noted for its political agendas. The People United Will Never Be Defeated! is based on the song ¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido! by the Chilean composer Sergio Ortega who was aligned with Salvadore Allende's Marxist socialist coalition. This governed Chile from 1970 until Augusto Pinochet's notorious military coup in 1973, which was yet another example of hot tub diplomacy. While In France I listened to Marc-André Hamelin's recording for Hyperion of The People United Will Never Be Defeated! If you like Glenn Gould's humming and Keith Jarrett's groaning you will love Hamelin's whistling on this disc.

I also had some fun with The People United Will Never Be Defeated! back in April 2006.
Header photo was taken when both my camera and the cruise boat were in public areas at the Vandenesse en Auxois lock on the Burgundy Canal, and I used a non-telephoto Casio EX-Z120 pocket camera. My copy of The People United Will Never Be Defeated! was bought from Prelude Records at retail price in December 2005. I paid my own way to Burgundy, but must confess that my trusty Trek 990 mountain bike on which I was touring was supplied at a discount back in 1990 by the wonderful Trek Bicycle Corporation, whose factory in Madison, Wisconsin I have had the pleasure of visiting. Header photo is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk