Saturday, December 31, 2011

Shostakovich and Bartok tempo accelerando

'Phil Hill, on the other hand, was just as happy to retire to his hotel room after dinner and soothe his nerves with Bártok's string quartets or Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony played on a Concertone reel-to-reel stereo that he travelled with.'
Those are 1961 Formula One world champion Phil Hill's tastes in music described in Michael Cannell's newly published The Limit. A fascinating glimpse of a celebrity's pre-iPod playlist - or is it? New Yorker contributor Michael Cannell candidly acknowledges his book's debt to what is known in publishing as "novelistic nonfiction", a genre famously pioneered by Norman Lebrecht. Which means Cannell sometimes plays fast and loose with his motor racing facts, if not with his celebrity playlists. Header image is Phil Hill in a Ferrari Dino 246 at Monaco in 1959. Footer photo shows a car that I saw Phil Hill racing against a few years later, Jim Clark's Lotus 25. And no prizes for identifying who is wondering where the wheels have gone.

Astronaut Neil Armstrong's lunar playlist is here.

Header image credit Lower image is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2011. The Limit was borrowed from Norwich library. 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 Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, December 30, 2011

How classical music ignored the breaking news

While researching donors to the Royal Opera House for a recent post I was reminded of John Cage's observation that "The opera in society, is an ornament of the lives of the people who have". In his New Yorker review of 2011 Alex Ross picks up on my fiscal theme and eloquently describes the funding sources of major classical institutions as resembling "a rogues’ gallery of international financial malfeasance". Impending global economic meltdown and the Arab Spring dominated the news in 2011, yet classical music's response was an introspective debate on how to support its serious money habit. Despite this, like Alex, I continued to be moved and inspired by music. My header photo shows troubadour éthique Titi Robin who premiered his River Banks project in Paris in November and proved that outstanding music making and alternative business models are not mutually exclusive. If I may be excused one solipsism, John McLaughlin Williams' advocacy of Philippa Schuyler, which progressed from blog to BBC, showed how selfless commitment can transform the marginal into the mainstream. This message was reinforced by the irreplaceable Montserrat Figueras and Jordi Savall whose cross-cultural Mare Nostrum showed us once again how commercially successful music can remain principled and engaged. Let us hope more follow these examples in 2012.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

No crack in a fortress can be accounted small

Baroque runs riot in the chapel of the Penitent Blacks (Chapelle des Pénitents Noirs) in Avignon, as seen in my photos. Dating from the 18th century, the chapel was built by the co-fraternity of the Black Penitents of Mercy who tended to the material and spiritual welfare of prisoners in the city. Recently renovated by Avignon city council, the chapel is now the home of a contemporary co-fraternity of the Black Penitents. This was formed in 1983 to "pray for the souls of Purgatory and to be guardians of the traditional Catholic liturgy". Posters and flyers from the Fraternité Saint Pie X are prominently displayed in the chapel, promoting among other events a retreat to study "The spirituality of Monsignor Lefebvre".

The Fraternité Saint Pie X (Society of Saint Pius X) was founded in 1970 by the right-wing cleric Monsignor Marcel Lefebvre in opposition to changes introduced by the Second Vatican Council and among its aims is the retention of the traditional Catholic Mass. The Society gained notoriety for sheltering French war criminal Paul Touvier for sixteen years and when Touvier was finally arrested by police in 1989 he was staying in a seminary run by Lefebvre's followers. A priest from the Society of Saint Pius X sat beside Touvier throughout the 1994 trial at which he was found guilty of crimes against humanity.

Paul Touvier had served under infamous Lyon Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie and the crimes for which he was convicted included involvement in the massacre of seven Jews at Rillieux-la-Pape in 1944 and in the murder of the human rights activist Victor Basch and his wife. In the 1890s Basch had led the defence of Alfred Dreyfus, the Jewish French army captain falsely accused of treason. When Touvier died in 1996 a traditional Tridentine Requiem Mass for the repose of his soul was offered in St Nicolas du Chardonnet, the Society of St. Pius X's chapel in Paris.

After taking the header and footer photos in Avignon a few weeks ago I walked the short distance to the Lycée Theodore Aubanel where the plaque seen below is displayed.

Here is my translation:

Traditionalist Catholicism flourishes in the Avignon region today and is supported by the staunchly conservative archbishop of the Vaucluse Jean-Pierre Cattenoz who featured in the recent 'Piss Christ' controversy. Close to Avignon is the Benedictine monastery of Sainte-Madeleine at Le Barroux, and earlier posts have recounted how the monks at Le Barroux were aligned with Monsignor Lefebvre until 1988 and have also described the links between Paul Touvier and Lefebvre in more detail. In 2010 Decca released a best selling CD of Gregorian chant performed by the nuns of l'Abbaye de Notre-Dame de l'Annonciation, the sister house of Le Barroux.

The religious community at Le Barroux remains staunchly traditionalist, but still has much to offer those who can see the wood for the trees. Chance discoveries from their excellent shop have already featured here, and my recent trip uncovered another gem. André Raison (1640s-1719) is almost forgotten today: but he was one of the leading organists in the reign of the Sun King Louis XIV and Bach must have studied Raison's Premier Livre d'orgue (1688) as he incorporated one of its themes into his Passacaglia in C Minor. In a recently released 2 CD set André Raison's Masses for Organ in the third and eighth modes played by Jean-Patrice Brosse are interleaved with plainsong sung by Ensemble Vox Cantoris. Excellent sound from the Psalmus label, which featured in a recent post with a disc of pre-Gregorian chant.

On my iPod during my French travels was a CD of arrangements of Jewish themes played by pianist Sonia Wieder-Atherton with cellist and arranger Daria Hovora. This little known release on the independent Naïve label also includes Maurice Ravel's Chanson hébraïque and five of Ernst Bloch's compositions on Jewish themes. As Arthur Miller wrote in The Crucible "Theology, sir, is a fortress; no crack in a fortress may be accounted small".

* Jewish music under the sheltering sky is here.

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Major opera house and singers take tobacco money

Tosca trends on Twitter as a result of BBC TV's Christmas Eve screening from the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. But the Royal Opera's funding from a cigarette company does not trend. As well as receiving £26 million in public funding from the Arts Council, the Royal Opera takes money from "Gold Patron" British American Tobacco. With brands including Dunhill, Kent, Lucky Strike and Pall Mall, British American Tobacco is the world’s second largest quoted tobacco company.

Cigarette sponsorship is alive and well in opera and an earlier post revealed that Japan Tobacco International, which is the third largest tobacco company in the world, is a corporate sponsor of Glyndebourne, the Mariinsky Theatre and Salzburg Whitsun Festival, while tobacco money also goes to the London Philharmonic and Ulster Orchestras.

Even more surprising is the number of individual singers jointly sponsored by British American Tobacco and the Friends of Covent Garden. These include bass Jimmie Holliday, soprano Aoife O' Sullivan and mezzo Doreen Curran. It may be argued that classical music needs whatever money it can find. But it can also be stated categorically that smoking is the major cause of cancers of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, pharynx, larynx, tongue, lips and salivary glands.

So we have an orchestra receiving an award for a partnership with a manufacturer of the leading cause of preventable death and we have opera singers taking money from a major purveyor of throat and larynx cancer. What exactly must happen before classical music says no to ethically compromised funding?

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Suicide is painless...

...when committed to the sublime sounds of Tomás Luis de Victoria. Ninety of Victoria's sacred works in acclaimed recordings by Ensemble Plus Ultra directed by Michael Noone can currently be bought in a 10 CD Archiv box for the suicidal price of £27 in beleaguered HMV stores in the UK. Suicide is Painless aka Song from M*A*S*H is a personal favourite on Bill Evan's album You Must Believe in Spring. And that mention of Bill Evans takes us from Tomás Luis de Victoria to György Ligeti.

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

A very happy Christmas to all my readers

This is the Christmas Eve scene at the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh in northern Iraq. Many Iraqi Christians have taken refuge in Qaraqosh from Islamic fundamentalists in the south of the country and the Church of the Immaculate Conception is the largest church in Iraq. Since Saddam Hussein's arrest in 2003 the population of Qaraqosh has doubled and the town is now home to more than 10,000 refugees. My music for Christmas was recorded in Qaraqosh and comes from a newly released CD from French independent label Ad Vitam. On the disc denominations including Catholic and Orthodox Syriacs and Chaldaeans celebrate the Christian liturgy in the Arabic, Chaldaean, Syriac and Soureth languages, the latter being derived from the Aramaic that Christ spoke. A beautiful and deeply moving disc that bears witness to the healing power of music. There is an Aramaic Passion here and more on Ad Vitam, the label that build bridges of hope and trust, here.

* 40% of the proceeds of the CD Qaraqosh are donated to L’Oeuvre d’Orient, a Catholic charity that assists the Christians of Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries.

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Technology must be imbued with the human spirit

'From 1976 to 1980 my son Dominic was a chorister at Winchester Cathedral. During that period and ever since, I have written a number of works associated with that wonderful building and choir. Listening to the choir rehearse, as I often did, with the bells simultaneously ringing above, was one of the mingled impressions which started me on this work: it is entirely based on the boy's voice and that of the largest bell...

In 1980 the sounds were recorded and then taken to IRCAM, the sound research institute in Paris who commissioned the work. Then they were manipulated by computer and cross-bred with synthetic simulations of the same sounds. These latter, being purely digital creations, could be internally transformed to an amazing degree. One could, for instance, move seamlessly from a vowel sung by the boy to the complex bell spectrum consisting of thirty-three partials. The entire pitch structure is based on these partials with their curious, haunting intervals: the harmonies are selected from them, and one transposed selection glissandoes to another.

In entering the rather intimidating world of the machine I was determined not to produce a dehumanised work if I could help it, and so kept fairly closely to the world of the original sounds. The territory that the new computer technology opens up is so unprecedently vast: one is humbly aware that it will only be conquered by the penetration of the human spirit, however beguiling the exhibits of technical wizardry; and that penetration will be neither rapid nor easy.'
Jonathan Harvey writes presciently in the sleeve note for the 1999 Sargasso recording of his Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco for 8 channel tape. Other Jonathan Harvey resources here include visual reflections on his String Quartets, and both a downloadable iTunes podcast and streamed file of my 2010 radio interview with him. On the streamed file only the composer's introduction to his 2008 composition Speakings for large orchestra and electronics is followed by a complete recorded performance. More on that interview here.

Mystical traditions as well as new technology inform Jonathan Harvey's music and the Chinese Buddha from the 10th-13th centuries was photographed by me in the Musée Guimet, Paris; the image is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2011. Any other 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 Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Try some tasty free range Mozart this Christmas

Classical music is becoming more and more like factory farming. An intensive and industrialised process financed by global corporations rears consumer friendly products in confined spaces with the sole intention of bringing the bland results to market as quickly as possible . But there are alternatives, such as Bruno Walter's deliciously tasty Mozart. I paid just 14 euros (18 US dollars) in FNAC in Avignon for the new 6CD Sony set seen above which re-issues recordings made in perfectly acceptable sound between 1954 and 1960. Current pricing on Amazon UK is £13.50, which makes this almost free range Mozart.

Thoroughly recommended despite the cost of the bargain price being no documentation at all other than recording venues and dates. Which means no mention that Bruno Walter was a disciple of the Austrian philosopher and educationist Rudolf Steiner. Steiner was a founding figure in the Theosophy movement who influenced a diverse group of musicians including Alexander Scriabin, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Dane Rudhyar and Jonathan Harvey. In 1907 Steiner split with mainstream Theosophy and went on to found Anthroposophy, a spiritual path that cherishes and respects the freedom of the individual. Bruno Walter followed Steiner and contributed a chapter titled My way to Anthroposophy to an authoritative book on the subject.

All of which is fascinating but peripheral to recommending some really tasty free range Mozart. Read Arturo Toscanini's cable to Bruno Walter in The conductor who hated compromise.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Who needs a tune?

Toynbee deconstructionist David Derrick has a noteworthy post developing the idea that, in David's own words -"there were two great ages of the tune. The first was in the sixteenth century. It produced the greatest and most elemental tunes. Think of the Old 100th (sixteenth-century French and still sung every year at Concord, Massachusetts), Es ist ein Ros entsprungen (German, circa 1600), Vom Himmel hoch (Luther), many others... The second age was after 1800, and especially after 1850, and it produced a kind of apotheosis of the tune, especially in Tchaikovsky and Puccini. In the great age of counterpoint and in the classical era that followed it the tune was, relatively speaking, in abeyance". All of which chimes with a disc that has been a frequent visitor to my CD player recently.

Ochion Jewell's new CD First Suite for Quartet is an iconoclastic essay in what Free Jazz magazine describes as "melody free" music. Ochion is a tenor saxophonist and his quartet of piano, string bass and drums is drawn from his contemporaries on a masters course at CalArts. The through composed Suite is an exploration of traditional jazz, contemporary classical harmonies, west African rhythmic structures, American folk melodies, Coltrane like mysticism and rock grooves which is not afraid to flaunt its eclecticism by ending with a beguiling piano trio take on You are my sunshine.

Free Jazz links Keith Jarrett, Ochion Jewell and Dawn of Midi as pioneers of a proto-melody free movement. At which point convergence comes into play as Dawn of Midi featured here in a recent post on the subject of Classical music and the mass market fallacy. Ochion Jewell's Suite has a seven movement through composed structure. But despite this it lies outside the accepted definition of classical music and is part of an accerlerating trend towards granularity. Which means all the exciting things are happening in niches, leaving mainstream classical beached in the shallows of the mass market. So who needs a tune?

Ochion Jewell's First Suite for Quartet is released on by independent label Mythology Records and my copy was supplied as a requested review sample. 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 Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Is concert programming too monochrome?

My pre-concert talk with conductor David Hill before last Sunday's scintillating Britten Sinfonia Messiah wandered off down a diverting overgrown path. In response to one of my questions David recounted how he recently conducted a concert in Liverpool with the following programme:
Elgar - Wand of Youth Suite No. 2
Coleridge-Taylor - The Song of Hiawatha, Hiawatha's Wedding Feast
Fauré - Requiem
At first this programme, which David Hill described as "one wedding and a funeral", seems bizarre. But is it? Dwindling and ageing audiences suggest classical musical took a wrong turning somewhere down the line. Now spend a few minutes browsing the programmes for the 1896 season of Henry Wood Proms on the invaluable Proms archive. Look at the sheer variety of music in each concert and contrast it with today's austere diet of single Mahler symphonies. Is contemporary concert programming too monochrome and is that one of the reasons why classical music is failing to attract a wider audience?

Header photo was taken in Montmartre Paris and is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2011. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Classical music makes the visual connection

Still on a high from last night's Messiah with the Britten Sinfonia and David Hill in Norwich. Readers in Holland can catch a repeat performance at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam tomorrow (Dec 20) evening; but hurry as a quick check of the Concertgebouw's website indicates that, hardly suprisingly, the performance is almost sold out. At a time when classical music is desperately short of smart moves the Britten Sinfonia has scored yet another home run by forming a new professional choir, the Britten Sinfonia Voices, that matches their instrumental ensemble for sheer élan and virtuosity. But don't take my word, read Edward Seckerson's 5 star Independent review for their recent L'enfance du Christ .

A lot of very special things were happening in the Theatre Royal Norwich yesterday. One of them was the visual signing for the Messiah by Paul Whittaker - that is Paul signing for The Sixteen in my header image. Paul Whittaker's miraculous facility for turning sounds into images does more than provide an invaluable service for the hearing impaired: it is also an important pointer towards how classical music can engage with new audiences, whatever their hearing hearing capabilities, by making the visual connection. More on Paul Whittaker in this essential video, and more on seeing the music here.

I presented the pre-concert talk with David Hill at the Britten Sinfonia Messiah and received compensation in kind. 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 Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Where have all the Requiems gone?

While I was away in November Jessica Duchen lamented the lack of post-9/11 Requiems in an article for the Independent. John Tavener's Requiem did not make the cut for Jessica's piece but instead gets the consolation prize of a post here. Commissioned for Liverpool's 2008 tenure as European City of Culture, Tavener's Requiem is a truly syncretic work. It uses texts from sources including the Catholic Mass, the Qur'an, Sufi poetry and the Hindu epics to extol the gnostic viewpoint that, to quote the composer, although "the different religious traditions are often in conflict with each other... inwardly every religion is the doctrine of the self and its earthly manifestations". The final movement Ananda, which is a pulsating arch built around the words "I am that - I am God" sung in Sanskrit, Hebrew, Greek and Arabic, is a thing of both great beauty and truth.

EMI's release of John Tavener's Requiem was one of the more memorable achievements of a label in its death throes, despite the above the composer billing for EMI's now departed vice president A & R on the company's website. The excellent sound quality of the CD, which is mastered from Radio 3's recording of the Requiem's premiere given in the acoustically challenging Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral - see above, is a useful reminder that the BBC can still do good things when Petroc Trelawny is not around. Current Amazon price is £6.99 for the 63 minute CD, need I say more? More on John Tavener and Gnosticism here, and, although, not a post 9/11 work I cannot pass up the opportunity to also advocate Rudolf Mauesberger's Dresden Requiem.

* No commercial recording is available of John Tavener's setting of the 99 Names for Allah from the Qu’ran The Beautiful Names, and I am told there are no plans to issue one. BBC Radio 3 broadcast the premiere from Westminster Abbey so a high quality recording exists. Surely an enterprising record company (are there any left?) can license the BBC master just as EMI did with his Requiem? It would make a welcome change from yet another Mahler symphony.

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Paz, Salam and Shalom for Montserrat

In Marseille last week I stumbled across an intriguing new CD in a store. Paz, Salam & Shalom is, as the title suggests, an exploration of medieval songs from the Sephardic, Muslim and Christian traditions. Part of the appeal of the new release is the accompaniment that subscribes to the view that authentic performances are a somewhat silly tradition by including Tibetan bowls and seed pods from the flamboyant among the percussion. Compellingly performed by Canticum Novum and directed by Emmanuel Bardon, the CD is beautifully recorded in the church of Pommiers in France and released on the small independent label Ambronay. It is a delightful disc which I thoroughly recommend to readers, but that is not the reason for writing today.

When I was in Paris two weeks before travelling south, news had come of the death of Montserrat Figueras. She was, of course, the wife of Jordi Savall and the star of so many great recordings. But Montserrat Figueras, who is seen above, was so much more than a great voice and a great recording artist. She was a central figure in a movement that made classical music more inclusive and more human. She forged a path that Emmanuel Bardon, who studied and recorded with her, and many others have followed. Montserrat Figueras' legacy is not just the memory of her live performances and the solace of her recorded testament: her legacy is also that she made the world a better place.

Since returning from France I have been spending time with the newly released Mare Nostrum, Orient-Occident Dialogues. This was recorded by Montserrat Figueras, Jordi Savall, Hesperion XXI and guest musicians from Armenia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Israel, Greece, Morocco and Palestine between December 2009 and July 2011. In typically elegant Alia Vox style the two CDs come in a lavishly produced book which includes many session photos and a powerful essay on the Arab Spring by Tahar Ben Jelloun. Mare Nostrum returns to the cultural and musical themes that have occupied Montserrat Figueras and Jordi Savall over the past four decades; but there is a new quality of reflection and transcedence in the interpretations that makes this one of the most moving recordings I have ever had the privilege of listening to. Mare Nostrum is playing on my audio system and I find it too difficult to write anything more.

* Mare Nostrum is being performed at the 2012 Aldeburgh Festival without voices. More here.

Header photo was taken on my French trip at L'Abbaye de l'Annonciation at Le Barroux. and is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2011. All featured recordings were bought at retail. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Symphony orchestra's king size connections

Continuing my tobacco sponsorship thread James Curran points out in a message via Facebook that in the past Naxos recordings of the Ulster Orchestra have been cigarette sponsored. This indeed was the case and my 1997 Naxos CD of James MacMillan's Veni Veni Emmanuel has a sizeable text block explaining that it is part of the Gallaher Group PLC twentieth century music series. As James also points out Gallaher, who are now part of Japan Tobacco International, are a major employer in Northern Ireland. The header image is a scan of the back of the sleeve of my 1982 Chandos recording of Bax Tone Poems which was one of many LPs carrying the legend "Produced by Chandos Records in association with Gallaher Ltd".

James Curran explains he complained to Klaus Heymann about the tobacco sponsorship and was assured this would not be continued. There is no evidence that Naxos or Chandos now receive any cigarette money although the MacMillan sleeve artwork still carries the Gallaher logo. It is not my intention to demonise the Ulster Orchestra, an ensemble that I admire considerably, and, as pointed out in earlier posts, the much higher profile London Philharmonic Orchestra also continues to receive tobacco money. There has been a long history of cigarette sponsorship in classical music with Imperial Tobacco (now British American Tobacco) in particular playing an active role in the 1960 and 70s via their W.D. & H.O. Wills, John Player and du Maurier brands. But medical research has changed all that, or perhaps I should say has changed most of that.

In January 2011 the Ulster Orchestra and Japan Tobacco International won the Allianz Arts and Business award for their "creative partnership and commitment to bringing classical music to communities across Northern Ireland". Allianz is the world's 12th-largest financial services group and 23rd-largest company and as part of the prizewinning partnership the Ulster Orchestra travelled to Ballymena, where Japan Tobacco International has a major factory supplying the UK cigarette market, to give a Christmas concert. So we have a leading health and life insurance company awarding a prize to an orchestra for promoting cigarettes in the community; as my American friends say, go figure. A more positive perspective on the Ulster Orchestra here and listen to me talking to James MacMillan about his new oboe concerto here.

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Whose bread I eat, his song I sing

Yesterday's post started out investigating classical music's dependancy on funding from the banking and financial services industries. But it uncovered the for me surprising fact that sponsorship by tobacco companies is still widespread in classical music. In the post I identified the London Philharmonic and Ulster Orchestras and Salzburg Whitsun Festivals as receiving money from Japan Tobacco International, who are the world's third largest cigarette company. Now I have found that the legendary Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg has been a long-term recipient of Japan Tobacco International money. In their 2009 annual report (page 54) the cigarette company explains:
'Our financial commitment has enabled the complete [Mariinsky] orchestra and soloists to travel to the UK to perform concerts at the Barbican theatre, enabling the world-renowned performances to reach an international audience.'
Content remaining on the Barbican website relating to the 2009 performances does not identify Japan Tobacco International's funding of the Mariinsky tour. But this path leads further. For instance the 2009 Glyndebourne Festival annual report lists under corporate supporters 'JTI'. Possibly not coincidentally a newspaper recently reported that the UK parliamentary register of members’ interests shows Japan Tobacco International spent £23,000 entertaining 20 MPs in the past six months.

I suspect this is not the end of the path and more information from readers on tobacco funding for classical music would be appreciated. In the meantime I offer this quote from Cancer Research UK:
It is estimated that one in two regular cigarette smokers will eventually be killed by their tobacco habit, half of these in middle age. Over the last 50 years, six million Britons have died from tobacco-related diseases, three million of whom died in middle age (15-69) losing on average 20 years of life.
You say Mariinsky - I say Mravinsky.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Classical music's ethically compromised funders

Despite the economic turmoil classical music remains financially dependant on the banking and financial services sector. Exclusive Overgrown Path research shows that 45% of corporate sponsorship for ten leading orchestras in Europe and North America comes from the banking and financial services sector. This is more than five times greater than from any other corporate funding source.

A second funding tier comprises companies from the automotive and media industries, with each sector accounting for around 8% of sponsorship. Below that a third tier is made up of companies from the aerospace & defence, pharmaceutical, retail, utility and law sectors. As the research analyses source rather than revenue (see explanatory note below) it is likely that the fiscal contribution of the banking and financial services corporations is considerably greater than 50%.

A number of the corporate funders, both in the banking sector and elsewhere, have been linked to ethical issues, some of which are noted in the supporting material below. This raises the important but little-explored question of what price classical music is prepared to pay for funding. One example of this dilemna is Deutsche Bank, which is exclusive sponsor of the Berlin Philharmonic until 2015, see header image, and also a corporate sponsor of the London Philharmonic.

In 2010 an internal investigation revealed that Deutsche Bank spied on several of its management board and supervisory board members, and on at least one shareholder. One year later the United States government filed suit against Deutsche Bank AG and its wholly owned subsidiary, MortgageIT, Inc. The exact wording of the complaint filed by the US government is that "Deutsche Bank and MortgageIT repeatedly lied to be included in a Government program to select mortgages for insurance by the Government. Once in that program, they recklessly selected mortgages that violated program rules in blatant disregard of whether borrowers could make mortgage payments."

The London Philharmonic also lists JTI as a corporate sponsor without explaining the acronym or linking to the funder's website. JTI is in fact Japan Tobacco International, the world's third largest cigarette company. Their brands include Winston, Mild Seven, Camel, Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut as well as Hamlet cigars. Japan Tobacco International's sponsorship of the London Philharmonic is a five year 'partnership' running until 2013. So cigarette sponsorship is alive and well in classical music, and not just in London. Other organisations receiving funding from JTI include the Salzburg Whitsun Festival and the Ulster Orchestra.

This article sets out to inform rather than condemn. With public funding coming under increasing pressure it is unrealistic to suggest that in the short term orchestras refuse funding from ethically compromised sources. Moreover it can be argued with some truth that it is difficult to find any large corporation that is not in some way ethically compromised. However the acceptance of tobacco money and associated lack of transparency does, in my view, need to be addressed. If this research together with my earlier post Are top musicians sharing the pain? contributes in some small way to the debate on how classical music should be financed it will have achieved its objective.

More on classical music's ethically compromised funders in:
* Whose bread I eat, his song I sing
* Symphony orchestra's king size connections
* Major opera house and singers take tobacco money
* Classical music ignores the breaking news

Research methodology and limitations:
1. Funding sources listed on the websites of the ten orchestras listed below were used giving a sample size of forty sponsors. As absolute revenue amounts are not available there is no weighting by value: for instance the Deutsche Bank contribution to the Berlin Philharmonic will be considerably greater than Smuckers' contribution to the Cleveland Orchestra, yet in the calculation of contribution by source both have equal weight. Despite this it is likely that the results are meaningful in order of magnitude term.
2. The analysis is only for corporate sponsorship and takes no account of public funding. As a guide, in a 2007 interview here Jonathan Reekie of Aldeburgh Music explained that Aldeburgh's funding split was one third comes from box office income, one third from fundraising, and one third from public funding.
3. Sponsors funding more than one orchestra are multiple counted.
4. Choice of orchestras is my own. Orchestras with minimal corporate funding (broadcast and state funded) are not included.
5. I have used best endeavours in compiling this research. Links are provided to all orchestra and corporate sponsor websites and to sources on ethical issues. Collaborative amendment is, as always, welcome.

Supporting Material detailing corporate sponsors by orchestra:
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Aviva - global insurance company based in London.
Deutsche Bank - Germany's largest bank. In 2010 an investigation commissioned by Deutsche Bank revealed that it spied on several of its management board members, supervisory board members and on at least one shareholder. In 2011 the United States government filed suit in federal court against the bank and its wholly owned subsidiary, MortgageIT, Inc for alleged misrepresentations relating to mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration.
Faraday- Lloyd's reinsurance syndicate
Fortis - European bank bailed out and nationalised by Dutch government during 2008 banking crisis
JTI - international tobacco division of Japan Tobacco Inc., the world's third largest tobacco company.
Macquarie - provider of banking, financial, advisory, investment and funds management services based in Australia.
Thomson Reuters - leading provider of business intelligence, being investigated by EU for anti-competitive activities.

London Symphony Orchestra
Rolls Royce - provider of integrated transport power systems and the world's twenty-third largest defence contractor.
Takeda - Japanese based global pharmaceutical company. In 1999 pleaded guilty to vitamin price fixing in US.
UBS - investment bank which was bailed out by the Swiss government in 2008, has recently been in the news because of a fraud scandal, and has been described by the Guardian as "the big bank that cannot stay out of trouble".

Berlin Philharmonic
Deutsche Bank - see London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
ING - largest banking/financial services & insurance conglomerate in the world. Was bailed-out to tune of €10bn by Dutch government in 2008.
Unilever - British-Dutch multinational fast moving consumer goods company which has attracted a number of criticisms for its activities from political, environmental and human rights activists.

Dresden Staatskapelle
Volkswagen - car manufacturer, involved in 2005 sex, bribes and corruption scandal.

New York Philharmonic Orchestra
Credit Suisse - multi-national providing private banking and corporate financial services, subject of a 2011 tax evasion enquiry in the US.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Bank of America - multinational banking and financial services corporation which is the second largest bank holding company in the United States. In 2009 agreed to pay a $33 million fine, without admission or denial of charges, to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission over the non-disclosure of an agreement to pay up to $5.8 billion of bonuses at subsidiary Merrill Lynch. In 2010 agreed $150m (£96.9m) settlement with the US financial watchdog following civil charges it misled shareholders about Merrill's financial position prior to takeover.
ComEd - utility provider owned by Exelon which has received several fines for pollution and security infringements.
BMO Harris Bank - Chicago based retail and corporate bank.
United Airlines - world's largest airline, received Chapter 11 protection from 2002 to 2005.

Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra
Accura - Honda luxury car brand
Rolex - luxury wristwatch manufacturer
Amgen - international biotechnolgy company, Amgen CEO Kevin Sharer received compensation package totalling $21.1 million.
Edison International - utility company
Fidelity Investments - American multi-national financial services corporation. In 2007 U.S. brokerages regulator NASD fined four Fidelity-affiliated broker-dealers $3.75 million for alleged registration, supervision and e-mail retention violations.
JP Morgan Chase - American multinational banking corporation.
Northrop Grumman - American global aerospace and defense technology company. Subject of a number of controversies including agreeing to pay a $15 million fine for 110 violations, occurring between September 1998 and November 1998, of the Arms Export Control Act and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations
Pasadena Showcase House for the Arts - all-volunteer garden and house fundraising organisation donating to LA Phil.
Target - retail chain, in 2010 gave $150,000 donation to Minnesota Forward, which used the funds to back Republican state gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who is against gay marriage and has voted against other gay rights initiatives.
The Walt Disney Company - world's largest media conglomerate.
Toyota - world's largest automobile manufacturer.
US Bank - diversified financial services holding company. In 2008, U.S. Bancorp received $6,599,000,000 from the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act.

Cleveland Orchestra
Baker Hostetler - global law firm based in Cleveland, among the top 10 U.S. law firms for merger and acquisition deals in the oil, gas and oilfield service industries.
Forest City - national real estate management
Smuckers - gift retail chain.
Jones Day - international law firm. Involved in 2008 law suit with BlockShopper over links to partner profiles on company's website.
KeyBank - regional bank based in Cleveland, in 2008 received approximately $2.5 billion in Troubled Asset Relief Program funds.
Medical Mutual - mutual health care insurance
The Plain Dealer - largest circulation Ohio newspaper. Famously removed longstanding music critic after unfavourable review's of orchestra's concerts.
PNC - sixth largest bank by deposits in the United States

Boston Symphony Orchestra
UBS - see London Symphony Orchestra.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Classical music's own version of assisted suicide

Next spring the flood of Mahler releases and re-releases is joined by a new symphony cycle from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. I am sure the Concertgebouw has done its own market research, but my own survey reveals that the cheapest price on Amazon UK for an 11 CD Maher symphony cycle is £16.99 for Gary Bertini's well reviewed interpretations on EMI. Has it occured to anyone else that the death of classical music may in fact be a case of assisted suicide?

* Header image features my original 1972 vinyl release of Georg Solti conducting Mahler's Sympony No 8 as the sleeve design of the new Concertgebouw cycle is simply too ghastly to feature here. Solti's definitive Mahler 8 is, incidentally, currently selling for £5.24.

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Monday, December 12, 2011

Simon Rattle to leave EMI for Alia Vox?

Over the years I have both worked for and despaired at EMI, and have also praised the work of French independent label Zig-Zag Territoires. In classical music what goes around comes around and now comes the news that high profile EMI artists the Belcea Quartet are leaving the label to return to Zig-Zag Territoires where they cut their first CD. My prediction is that the next EMI departure will be Simon Rattle who will move to Alia Vox. Header image is the Zig-Zag Territoires Bach meets Coltrane disc which in 2008 I featured under the currently topical headline of Recommended for Coltrane loving Democrats.

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

World music - cultural exploration or exploitation?

The old concierge in an apartment building where an American writer and his wife lived had said it best. "That type, they want everything, men and women from the common people, young ones, healthy, preferably from the countryside, who can't read or write, serving them all day, then servicing them at night. A package deal, and between two pokes, tokes on a nicely packed pipe of kif to help the American write! Tell me your story, he says to them. I'll make a novel out of it, you'll even have your name on the cover: you won't be able to read it but no matter, you're a writer like me, except that you're an illiterate writer, that's exotic - what I mean is, unusual, my friend! That's what he tells them, without ever mentioning money, because you don't talk about that, not when you're working for a writer, after all! They aren't obliged to accept, but I know that poverty - our friend poverty - can lead us to some very sad places..."

That extract is from Leaving Tangier, a powerful and angry novel by the Moroccan-born Tahar Ben Jelloun and the swipe at long-time Tangier resident Paul Bowles is barely disguised. Bowles is widely lauded for exploring the culture of Morocco and I have written here praising his field recordings of Jewish music in Essaouira and his role in bringing the Master Musicians of Jajouka to an international. But Tahar Ben Jelloun raises the uncomfortable but important question of whether cultural exploration is really commercial exploitation by another name.

Exploitation dressed as exploration is widespread in the arts and Western classical music has a long and distinguished history of plundering Oriental creativity to service Occidental audiences, ranging from Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail through Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade to Colin McPhee's proto-minimalist Tabu-Tabuhan and Britten's Prince of the Pagodas. Recent years have seen massive growth in the world music market and there are some who view world music as just another example of commercial exploitation disguised as cultural exploration.

French guitarist, oud player and composer Titi Robin is one of those questionning the ethics of the record industry and his thesis that world music should embrace commercial as well as creative fusion has already featured here. His River Banks project is an attempt to share commercial and creative rewards by recording CDs in Morocco, Turkey and India using local musicians and production facilities and releasing the results on local labels before marketing them in Europe via French independent label Naïve. But the project is more than an exercise in levelling the commercial playing field as it also rejects musical fusion of ethnic themes in favour of original compositions created for the musicians of each of the three countries.

River Banks will be released in Europe in January 2012 and I have not yet heard the albums. But I travelled to Paris at the end of November to hear the premiere concert performance at the Institut du Monde Arabe, which is where the accompanying photos were taken. Practicalities precluded bringing all the musicians involved to Europe so the live performance used Titi Robin's own trio augmented by one musician from India, Turkey and Morocco respectively. Titi's regular band comprises accordionist Francis Varis and Brazilian percussionist extraordinaire Zé Luis Nascimento, who played incidentally in a 2008 BBC Prom. Joining the Trio in Paris were Indian sarangi player Murad Ali Khan, Turkish kaval flautist Sinan Celik and Moroccan guembri player Mehdi Nassouli.

Many will dismiss Titi Robin's vision as hopeless idealism flying in the face of commercial reality. But something very special happened in the Institut du Monde Arabe on November 26th and it was not just the audience stomping and calling for more after a two and a quarter hour set played by the sextet without an interval. We had a glimpse of a new future - not just a new and exciting musique sans frontières but also a new and more equitable way of doing the business of music. Hopeless idealism perhaps, but please give me that rather than the greedy self-interest that is now the defining feature of the music industry.

* Extended samples from River Banks can be heard here.
* French interview with Titi Robin 'troubadour éthique' on the Three Rivers project here. His views (in English) on the expulsion of Roma from France are essential reading, particularly for those in the classical community who limit their activism to the self-interested topic of arts funding.
* All photos are from Le Cargo musical webzine.
* Hat tip to the translator of Leaving Tangier Linda Coverdale. The UK edition received financial assistance from the admirable English PEN which upholds writer's freedom and challenges political and cultural limits on free expression.

My visit to Paris for the Titi Robin concert was entirely self-funded. 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 Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, December 09, 2011

The message of the symphonies of Beethoven

'The most tweeted event of the year was Beyoncé's pregnancy announcement at the MTV awards, which generated 8,868 tweets per second (TPS)' - from yesterday's Independent

'Man lives and evolves by 'eating' significance, as a child eats food. The deeper his sense of wonder, the wider his curiosity, the stronger his vitality becomes, and the more powerful his grip on his existence' - from Colin Wison's The Occult

'The message of the symphonies of Beethoven could be summarised: 'Man is not small; he is just bloody lazy'' - also from Colin Wison's The Occult .
No Beyoncé, but more wonder, vitality and Beethoven here.

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