Thursday, October 30, 2014

Jordi Savall's bold gesture leaves me puzzled

Jordi Savall has refused Spain's national music award the prestigious Premio Nacional de Música - which is worth 30,000 euros - because of his objections to the Spanish government's arts policies. Readers will know that I am a huge fan of Jordi Savall, both as a musician and a humanitarian. But his refusal of the Premio Nacional de Música leaves me puzzled as well as pleased. In a few weeks time - as seen above - Jordi Savall and Hespèrion XXI present a specially commissioned musical tribute to the 14th century traveller and diarist - "voyager of Islam" - Ibn Battuta in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi. Jordi's concert is promoted by Abu Dhabi Classics, and his musical depiction of Ibn Battuta's from Morocco (where the traveller was born) to Afghanistan is being given just one gala performance at the Emirates Palace on November 20th. There appears to be an exclusivity agreement with Abu Dhabi Classics as Hespèrion XXI's schedule shows no further performances of the Ibn Battuta project elsewhere. But in 2015 a second concert of specially commissioned music will be given by Jordi Savall in Abu Dhabi depicting Ibn Battuta's further travels from Afghanistan to the Far East.

Readers will know that as well as praising Jordi Savall, I have, on more than one occasion, drawn attention to the unacceptable human rights record of the United Arab Emirates, and the following assessment from Human Rights Watch was quoted here last year:

The human rights situation in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) worsened in 2012 as authorities arbitrarily detained and deported civil society activists, and harassed and intimidated their lawyers. In September, an independent monitor found significant problems in the treatment of migrant workers on the high-profile Saadiyat Island project in Abu Dhabi, identifying the payment of illegal recruitment fees as a key concern.
My same post also drew attention to the repressive treatment of gays in the Gulf States, and to the inhuman conditions endured by the foreign underclass workers who built the Emirates Palace where the concert is being given. Prior to the performance on November 20th, Jordi is participating in a conference at Abu Dhabi's Zayed University, from where an American academic who called for greater press freedom and protection for journalists in the Gulf States, was recently dismissed. Jordi Savall is just the latest in a succession of high profile musicians who have been tempted to the United Arab Emirates. However, I am puzzled as to how he finds the Spanish government's money unacceptable, but the Abu Dhabi government's money acceptable.

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Listening with the ear of the heart

Mysticism is older than religion; in fact it is as old as mankind. Listening to music can provide a range of experiences from the entertaining to the ineffable, and at the highest level listening to music can be a mystical - which is very different to religious - experience. There are many great traditions of mystical music, and the music performed at Sufi rituals is one of those great traditions. In recent years there has been a revival of interest in mystical art music, possibly as a reaction against the attempted annexation of Western classical music by the entertainment industry. Sufi music ranging from the chants of brotherhoods from al-Ándalus, through electro-Rumi in Istanbul and esoterically inspired jazz in Aleppo, to Qawwali at the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia in Delhi has featured On An Overgrown Path over the years. I was therefore delighted to be commissioned to write the programme essay accompanying two performances of Sufi chants by an Egyptian brotherhood at the Ouverture Spirituelle sacred music festival that formed part of the 2014 Salzburg Summer Festival. The accompanying photos show the Sufi brotherhood Al-Tarīqah al Gazoulia led by Sheikh Salem Algazouly in the Catholic Kollegienkirche during their Salzburg performances. My essay is reproduced below and the companion piece written for the premiere of a work by the Palestinian-Israeli composer Samir Odeh-Tamimi celebrating the 9th century Sufi martyr Manṣūr Al-Ḥallāǵ can be read here.

Listening with the ear of the heart

Bob Shingleton

The Ouverture spirituelle at this year’s Salzburg Festival celebrates the sacred music of Islam, including two evenings of Sufi chants by Al-Tarīqah al Gazoulia. Yet resonances of the universal tradition of Sufism can also be found in several other concerts within the Festival. Daniel Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra perform Act II of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and while the influence of the Eastern esoteric tradition of Buddhism on Wagner is now acknowledged, less attention is paid to the echoes of Sufism also present in his music dramas. In 1921 the Sufi master and musician Hazrat Inayat Khan wrote that ‘Wagner did but repeat the teachings of the mystics of the East when he said that he who knows the law of vibrations knows the whole secret of life’. Another notable concert this summer features Pierre-Laurent Aimard playing the first book of Bach’s Das wohltemperierte Klavier and both Bach’s music and Sufism are notable for challenging fixed and widely accepted propositions.

The two performances by Al-Tarīqah al Gazoulia of Sufi chants within the Ouverture spirituelle are evidence of the rejuvenation of a spiritual tradition that dates back to the ninth century. In recent years Western interest in Sufism has focussed primarily on the founder of the Mevlana Brotherhood, Jalaluddin Rūmī. Members of the Mevlana Brotherhood from Konya in Turkey are famous as the Whirling Dervishes and the popularity of Rūmī’s vibrant poetry has propelled him to the unlikely position of America’s bestselling poet. But Rūmī and the Whirling Dervishes are just one aspect of a multifaceted tradition that the West still struggles to define and understand. In fact Sufism transcends Western mindsets and the Syrian poet and essayist Adonis has expressed the view that the movement towards Sufism came about because religious orthodoxy and science were unable to answer many of the profound questions posed by man. Sufism rejects the notion of God as a separate entity, instead seeing Him as a presence in every human heart. The goal of Sufism is to make its followers absent from themselves and present with the Infinite, with music and ritual playing an important role in this transformation.

The enigmatic nature of the tradition is illustrated by the Sufi saying, ‘in the beginning Sufism was a reality without a name; today it is a name without a reality’. Western scholars have long pondered over the name Sufi. They have suggested several possible meanings based on the corruption of various words: these include the Arab for wool, ṣūf, in a reference to the white woollen cloaks worn by early adepts; the Greek, sophia, referring to the adept’s wisdom; and the Hebrew, ein sof, suggesting the adept’s path ‘without end’. But it has to be accepted that there is no neat definition of Sufism to suit empirical Western outlooks and, equally problematically, it must be accepted that there is no definitive source for the Sufi vision.

Uniquely for a religion, Sufism lacks both founder and dogma, allowing for widely varying interpretations of the tradition. The Sufi vision is not definitively articulated in the Qur’an or in the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. However Sufism is most widely known as a mystical form of Islam with its roots in an esoteric interpretation of the Qur’an, with Islam and Sufism being inextricably linked in the many brotherhoods that are active from Morocco to Indonesia. Sufism – or Taṣawwuf as it is known in the Muslim world – is seen as a liberal expression of Islam and this has resulted in the persecution of its adepts by fundamentalist factions over the centuries. In 922CE the Sufi mystic and teacher Mansur al-Hallaj was publicly executed in Baghdad for his heretical beliefs; his martyrdom is commemorated in two works performed as part of this year’s Ouverture spirituelle. Conversely, Turkish Sufis, including members of the Mevlana Order, were persecuted by Kemal Atatürk’s secular regime.

Although Sufism is usually linked with Islam, there are also more unconventional interpretations of the tradition. These include the ecumenical strand founded in the West in the early 20th century by Hazrat Inayat Khan, known as Universal Sufism. This has its roots in the traditional Chishti Sufi order, but is now a separate tradition noted for its inclusive approach to other religions. Sufism’s preference for process over doctrine and dogma means the tradition has a history of attracting believers from other faiths. One of the most notable of these was the Trappist monk, Catholic author and peace activist Thomas Merton, who wrote that ‘Sufis are after what we’re after: the dissolution of one’s present status in order to be reintegrated on a new level.’

Central to the wide appeal of Sufism are its rich cultural traditions, notably in the areas of literature and music. Rūmī is the best-known Sufi poet, but the poetry of Farid-ud-Din Attar, Saadi, Hafiz and Omar Khayyám has also reached wide audiences in the West. Islamic orthodoxy preaches that music has no place in its liturgy and some branches of the Naqshbandi and Qadiri Sufi orders frown upon music. But, as Hazrat Inayat Khan, who was an expert player of the Indian stringed instrument known as the vina, explains: ‘of all the arts, music has a particular spiritual value and meaning [...] this is why music has always played an important role in Sufism.’

To understand the spiritual link between Sufism and music it is necessary to understand the structure of a Sufi ritual. The journey from the visible material world to the divine and invisible inner world takes place during a ceremony known as a zikr, which translates as ‘remembrance of God’. The zikr generates the state of spiritual ecstasy or trance known as wajd, with fanā being the ultimate goal. Fanā literally means to be dissolved or annihilated and it refers to the negation of the self that is required to achieve union with the Infinite. The form of the zikr varies between brotherhoods, but in most, including the performances by Al-Tarīqah al Gazoulia, both chanted and instrumental music play an important role. Just as there are many definitions of Sufism, so there are many types of Sufi music. Most familiar to Western audiences are the sounds of the ney, tanbur, kemenche, oud and qanun that accompany the Turkish Whirling Dervishes, as well as the ecstatic singing of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and other great qawwali singers from Pakistan. Less familiar is the more nuanced music found in the rituals such as those of Al-Tarīqah al Gazoulia. In these, the order (tariqa) is led by a spiritually empowered master (sheikh) in a rhythmic sequence of chants of increasing intensity that build towards the spiritual ecstasy of wajd. Rūmī summed up this Sufi goal when he declared ‘be drunk on love, for love is all that exists’.

The zawiya or Sufi lodge of Al-Tarīqah al Gazoulia is in Cairo. Sufism has been practised in Egypt since the earliest days of the tradition and the Sufi saint Dhu’l-Nun al-Misri (796–859CE) from Upper Egypt is credited with creating the first maqāmāt and ahwal; these are the intermediate states that Sufis pass through on their journey along the tariqa to achieve unity with the Divine. Sufi orders are found today in both rural and urban Egypt; it is claimed that 20% of Egyptians practise Sufism and there are more than seventy brotherhoods across the country, with the majority in the metropolitan areas of Cairo and Alexandria. There is a strong tradition of Sufi music in Egypt, including the great exponent of munshidin (sacred song) Saykh Ahmad Al-Tuni and the Nubian oud player, singer and composer Hamza El Din. The latter performed with the Grateful Dead and his iconic 1971 album Escalay (The Water Wheel), recorded for the Nonesuch label, is reputed to have influenced contemporary American minimalist composers.

Sufis have traditionally been tolerant and apolitical, though the Egyptian founder of the revivalist Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna, had links with Sufism in his youth and the current turmoil in Egypt has inevitably drawn Sufis into the political arena. However the Sufi order of Al-Tarīqah al Gazoulia affirm that they are committed to love, understanding and tolerance; when approached, their sheikh Salem Algazouly spontaneously agreed to perform zikr in public for the first time at the Salzburg Festival and the ritual is being celebrated during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Joining Al-Tarīqah al Gazoulia for the second of their appearances is the celebrated violinist Frank Stadler, who will improvise on Sufi themes, thereby building a bridge between the brotherhood’s chants and Bach’s music for solo violin. Like Sufism, Bach’s music offers a universal tradition, but it has other links to the path that leads from the visible to the invisible. Recent research by musicologist Helga Thoene suggests that the score of the Chaconne from Bach’s D minor Partita for solo violin (BWV 1004) contains hidden chorale quotations and a recording revealing the quotations proved an unlikely bestseller on the ECM label in 2001. In Sufism sama means listening with the ear of the heart and the audiences at this year’s Festival will be participating, consciously or unconsciously, in a great and universal tradition.

After graduating, Bob Shingleton worked for the BBC and EMI Records. During the 1970s he was professionally involved with the Salzburg Festival where his responsibilities included ensuring that photos of Herbert von Karajan were displayed prominently throughout the city. Since retiring Bob has pursued his interest in the more esoteric aspects of music and he writes the arts and music blog On An Overgrown Path.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

How long can classical music ignore the glaringly obvious?

Celebrated Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csiszentmihalyi argues that flow is a mental state of immersive and exclusive concentration that at the highest level can trigger mystical experiences - the state where nothing else seems to matter. Mihaly Csiszentmihalyi explains that music reduces psychic entropy by organising the mind of the listener, and he defines psychic entropy as the disorder generated by information that conflicts with and distracts from the carrying out of priority intentions. Extending his theory of how music reduces psychic entropy, Csiszentmihalyi proposes that greater rewards are open to those who learn to make music, and that even greater rewards can accrue to the great musicians who extend the harmony they create in sound to "the more general and abstract harmony that underlies the kind of social order we call civilisation".

One of my own modest priority intentions was fulfilled recently when I heard one of the Chemiriani dynasty of Persian musicians live in concert. I took the header photo of Bijan Chemirani during his concert with guitarist Kevin Seddiki at the Conservatoire Olivier Messiaen in Avignon. Bijan's father Djamchid Chemirani learnt to play in Iran with the zarb master Hossein Tehrani before emigrating from Tehran to France in 1961, and later formed the legendary Trio Chemirani with his two sons Keyvan and Bijan. The percussion playing of Bijan Chemirani is an example of how mystical states can be experienced by both performer and listener through immersive and exclusive concentration. But despite Mihaly Csiszentmihalyi citing music in his research, there have been only a few notable attempts to apply the flow theory to Western classical music. In fact the strategies adopted to win new audiences are diametrically opposed to the flow theory, and that paradox demands closer examination.

Immersive and exclusive concentration by both performers and audience - Britten spoke of how music "demands as much effort on the listener's part" - has been central to the development of Western classical music. Mihaly Csiszentmihalyi's flow theory, which has widespread acceptance and support in academic circles, explains, to paraphrase the title of his seminal book, how flow contributes to the psychology of optimal experience. Yet almost every strategy to win new audiences involves interrupting the immersive flow and sub-optimising the experience, with no attention at all paid to reviving the lost art of listening. The disruptive initiatives include dismantling concert hall convention, with the latest proposal being to encourage drinking and mobile phone use during concerts. This love affair with the disruptive extends beyond the concert hall to personal listening; with 'classical music to go' via streaming services - the Matthew Passion in an airport departure lounge - and intrusive linking announcements by radio presenters being prime examples.

Classical music is obsessed with, to use the tacky jargon, optimising the listener experience. The widely referenced theory advanced by a respected academic proposes that a mental state of immersive and exclusive concentration is vital to the psychology of optimal experience. Yet all the fashionable audience development initiatives use contra-flow tactics that generate distractions and sub-optimises the listening experience. How long can classical music ignore the glaringly obvious?

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Monday, October 27, 2014

We all make mistakes

Norman Lebrecht recently asked* whether Forbes is aware that Barrett Wissman, who is writing arts reviews for the magazine, has a fraud conviction. Which prompts me to ask if Sinfini Music (aka Universal Music), to which Norman Lebrecht contributes reviews and interviews, is aware that subsequent to a civil action being brought in London's High Court of Justice in 2007 alleging "inaccuracies" in the text, Lebrecht's publisher agreed to recall and destroy all copies of his book "Maestros, Masterpieces & Madness"? Here are extracts from the New York Times report:
The book, “Maestros, Masterpieces & Madness: The Secret Life and Shameful Death of the Classical Record Industry,” was released in Britain in July. [Naxos founder Klaus Heymann] sued the publisher, Penguin Books, in the High Court of Justice, saying the book wrongly accused him of “serious business malpractices” based on false statements. He cited at least 15 statements he called inaccurate. In a settlement with Mr. Heymann, Penguin issued a statement in court saying it apologized for “the hurt and damage which he has suffered.” It agreed to pay an undisclosed sum for legal fees and to a charity. “Penguin Books has also undertaken not to repeat these allegations and to seek the return of all unsold copies of the book,” the statement said.

In a telephone interview from Hong Kong, where he lives, Mr. Heymann said: “For me it’s beyond belief how any journalist in five pages can make so many factual mistakes. It’s shocking. Also, he really doesn’t understand the record business.” ... Reviewers have cited inaccuracies in previous books by Mr. Lebrecht, who is a columnist for The Evening Standard of London and has a BBC radio program. In his 1997 book, “Who Killed Classical Music?,” Mr. Lebrecht said 750,000 people had heard Plácido Domingo sing in Central Park when the number was closer to 100,000, and called the Metropolitan Opera’s general manager Rudolf Bing a public servant.
We all make mistakes, and it is understandable that both Barrett Wissman and Norman Lebrecht have made differing errors of judgement in the past. But blatant hypocrisy is less understandable.

* All links to 'Slipped Disc' are indirect to avoid page rank inflation; the reference sited should appear at the top of the Google search results. Header photo was taken by my friend and Moroccan resident Brendan Hynes. - we rented one of Brendan excellent apartments in Tamraght a few years back. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Saturday, October 25, 2014

What music was broadcast on the day you were born?

That is Edmund Rubbra at the piano in the photo above. Mark Berry, who writes the authoritative Boulezian blog, has added a comment to my post about the first interview with designate BBC Radio 3 controller Alan Davey. In his comment Mark strongly disagrees with Alan Davey's view that the Third Programme - the predecessor of Radio 3 - had brought no 'context' to works. Coincidentally, I have been playing recently with the beta release of the addictive BBC Genome which lists the programmes for every day of broadcasting on the Third Programme/Radio 3 and all other BBC radio and TV channels. The game of choice on BBC Genome is to find out what was broadcast on your birthday; with auspicious synchronicity the Third Programme opened at 6.00 pm on the day I was born with a programme of unspecified new music played by the Rubbra-Gruenberg-Pleeth Trio comprising Rubbra with William Pleeth (cello) and Erich Gruenberg (violin). The main works of the evening were Purcell's Te Deum and Ode on St. Cecilia's Day (1692) - I was born on St Cecilia's day - with the The Boyd Neel Orchestra conducted by Boris Ord with Thurston Dart (harpsichord) and counter tenor Alfred Deller. The Purcell was followed by a live debate from the Cambridge Union on the motion 'That military conscription should now cease', and the evening ended with Michelangeli playing Scarlatti, Albeniz and Mompou. Just a few minutes searching the BBC Genome shows that both content and context abounded in the past - check out the Hans Keller listing for instance - and I would be a lot more confident about the future of Radio 3 if its new controller aspired to reaching the quality of the Third Programme, instead of denigrating it. Auspiciously synchronous birthday music found by readers on the BBC Genome is welcome as comments.

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Friday, October 24, 2014

New BBC Radio 3 supremo is off to a bad start

The first public statement by BBC Radio 3's new controller Alan Davey - seen above - offers little hope for the classical station's future. In an interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme Davey dismissed the station's poor Q2 2014 listening figures saying: "It's one quarter's listening figures we are talking about". Which was a very unwise thing to say: as just hours after saying that the Q3 2014 figures were published and were even worse. Total listener hours for Radio 3 were down year-on-year in Q3 by a disastrous 9.2%, while benchmark station Radio 6 Music increased its listener hours in the same period by 15.5%. Alan Davey's faux pas is particularly surprising as his Today appearance was stage-managed by the BBC PR department, and the BBC would have been aware of the appalling Q3 Radio 3 performance before the interview, as they are briefed by RAJAR - who compile the audience data - ahead of its public release. Davey's statement that the RAJAR figures do not represent "a trend" is also wrong. As regular readers will know, there has been a long term trend of poor audience figures for Radio 3. The equally important trend of a slump in the total audience for classical radio in the UK (Radio 3 plus Classic FM) was also overlooked by Davey, showing that he has no comprehension of the seismic shifts in radio listening.

Leading with a "not dumbing down" message also shows how Alan Davey is out of touch with reality. The rapid and inexorable rise of streaming and other on demand platforms makes the 'dumbing down' versus 'wising up' debate increasingly irrelevant, with 'personalisation' and 'customisation' replacing 'wising up' as listener priorities. In the interview Davey name-dropped Stockhausen's Mittwoch aus Licht to establish his culture cred. But suggesting that the solution to Radio 3's woes is to broadcast Stockhausen and "provide audiences with the context that will help them understand it" is woefully misguided, and shows that the new controller is wedded to the erroneous doctrine of one-size-fits-all radio. There is no mass market for classical music, but there is a large market comprised of discrete and sometime overlapping niches. The audience for Mittwoch aus Licht is totally different to that for My Fair Lady, and Lerner and Loewe fans are not going to stay tuned to Mittwoch aus Licht even if it is embellished with egregious context by Petroc Trelawny or Katie Derham. Classical music's many diverse niche audiences need to be treated with respect, not context.

It is surprising that the designate Radio 3 controller - who has no broadcasting experience at all - has made pronouncements about the station's future three months before he starts work. There is not one shred of evidence in the interview that Davey has any understanding of the deep malaise that is afflicting BBC Radio 3 in particular and classical radio in general. And there is not one shred of evidence that he has any idea of how classical radio can reinvent itself and survive in a content on demand environment. My advice to Alan Davey is to shut up, get his feet under the desk at Radio 3 for an extended period, and only open his mouth again in public when he knows what he is talking about.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Did he jump or was he paid to jump?

The charm offensive by BBC Radio 3's new controller Alan Davey has started with the full support of the mighty BBC PR machine. But there are still important unanswered questions about the departure of his predecessor Roger Wright, who is seen above. Something was not right about Roger Wright's move from the BBC to Aldeburgh Music. The BBC press release gave no reasons for his departure; however by omission it gave the clear impression that the Radio 3 controller had found a better job and would be following the standard procedure of working his notice and departing. But much that I admire Aldeburgh Music it does not make sense: Roger Wright is an ambitious guy and his dual BBC role of controller Radio 3 and director Proms was far more powerful and prestigious than ceo Aldeburgh Music; in fact at the BBC he probably had the most important job in classical music. It was also difficult to understand the financials: Aldeburgh is one of the better funded classical institutions, but Roger Wright's total BBC remuneration of £227,450 is equivalent to around 20% of the total salaries of Aldeburgh Music's sixty staff.

Then there was the problem of employment law. Following his departure, the dual roles held by Roger Wright of controller BBC Radio 3 and director BBC Proms have been split between two people. Was this fundamental change an opportunist move by BBC management following his departure? Or was the splitting of the roles part of a planned 'divide and conquer' corporate restructuring following the appointment of the entertainment-oriented Bob Shennan in the new overarching role of BBC director of music? If the latter was the case - which seems more probable - and Roger Wright had remained in post, he would have had a very strong case for a substantial constructive dismissal award on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

So did Roger Wright jump? Or was he paid to jump? Those are important questions. Because BBC Radio 3 is one of the most powerful forces in global classical music; because the BBC has an impressive track record of playing fast and loose with money; because BBC director general Tony Hall has pledged to curb executive payoffs; because financial savings are high on the agenda of the new Radio 3 controller Alan Davey; and because stakeholders in the form of BBC license fee payers deserve to know.

To try to find out what actually happened, I submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the BBC. My initial request was for details of exceptional termination payments made to Roger Wright. This request was speedily rejected as personal information about identifiable living individuals can be exempt from a FOI disclosure if it is deemed to be potentially unfair. Which may be technically correct but is also perverse, as details of Roger Wright's salary and itemised personal expenses are disclosed by the BBC in the interests of information transparency. How can it be 'fair' to disclose specific personal information about his salary and expenses, but 'unfair' to disclose personal information about his exit package?

But I was not going to be put off that easily. So to avoid making my request for information relate to identifiable individuals, I submitted a general request covering exceptional termination payments made to all Radio 3 staff - there are eighty - over a twelve month period. This caused the BBC more of a problem: the deadline for FOI requests to be answered is twenty working days and just two hours before that deadline expired I received a reply telling me that the BBC's lips were remaining tightly sealed on the matter. My request had been made as general as possible; but despite this the BBC rejected my FOI request on the grounds that it "relates to a small number of staff [eighty!], this could lead to individuals being identified" - the full text of their reply is below. (Note that the BBC reply is dated 22 September. This is an error, it was sent on 22 October - a case of freedom of wrong information)

My FOI requests related solely to exceptional termination payments. If there were no such payments, this matter could have been resolved easily by the BBC saying this was the case. The fact that information on termination payments is being withheld - the word withheld is actually used in the BBC reply - because "this could lead to individuals being identified" I interpret as a tacit admission that there were material payments. In my view the BBC's determination to withhold this information is motivated more by their corporate agenda than the need to comply with section 40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act. But the truth remains shielded behind the BBC's ambiguous definition of freedom of information. Which means we can only speculate as to whether Roger Wright jumped on his own initiative, or whether he was paid handsomely to jump.


British Broadcasting Corporation Room BC2 B6 Broadcast Centre White City Wood Lane London W12 7TP Telephone 020 8008 2882 Email

Information Policy & Compliance

Bob Shingleton Via e-mail:

22 September 2014
Dear Mr Shingleton

Freedom of Information Request - RFI20141570

Thank you for your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act) received on 24 September, seeking the following information:

Please provide the single total value of payments, if any, to BBC Radio 3 staff for redundancy, termination of employment and other ex gratia payments relating to termination of employment in the last twelve months. Please also provide the single total value of payments for the same period of any ex gratia/additional contributions by the BBC to pension arrangements of leaving BBC Radio 3 staff, and the total value of any exceptional payments to Radio 3 leaving staff to cover legal and PR costs.
Note itemised - i.e. per employee - information is not required. An aggregate, and therefore anonymous, single total for each category is all that is being requested.

We are withholding the information requested under section 40(2) (personal information) of the Act. As the request relates to a small number of staff, this could lead to individuals being identified. Under section 40(2) of the Act, personal information about identifiable living individuals is exempt if disclosure to a third party would breach one or more principles in the Data Protection Act 1998. The individuals concerned would not expect details of any termination payments to be disclosed to a third party. To do so would be unfair; therefore, disclosure would breach the First Data Protection Principle (fair and lawful processing).

Yours sincerely
James Hacker
BBC People

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How many protests against the death of an orchestra?

I find protests against the Metropolitan Opera's production of The Death of Klinghoffer disturbing. I also find the threatened closure of the Ulster Orchestra - an invaluable ensemble praised in posts including What price the Simon Bolivar roadshow?- disturbing. And I find the imbalance between the abundant coverage in both the music and mainstream media of classical music's problems in New York, Atlanta, Minneapolis etc and the sparse reporting of the looming tragedy in Belfast disturbing.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Borrowed landscapes and borrowed music

'Borrowed Landscape' (shakkei) is the Japanese garden design discipline that imports 'foreign' landscapes into local environments, and the borrowed landscape of Les Jardins du Loriot at Venansault in France featured in my 2012 post The sound of 4' 33". Shakkei is also practised by architects to import landscapes that are foreign in geographic or temporal terms. My photos show the Medina in Agadir, southern Morocco created by the architect Coco Polizzi in the early 1990s to provide the city with a traditional artisan's quarter after the original kasbah was destroyed in the disastrous 1960 earthquake. Composers also utilise borrowed landscapes, among many notable examples are Britten whose Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra borrowed Purcell, and Stravinsky who borrowed music wrongly attributed at the time to Pergolesi for his ballet Pulcinella.

Stravinsky's chamber concerto Dumbarton Oaks is an example of the neo-baroque, a style that fuses the baroque and contemporary. A variation on this is currently emerging which is identified by its practitioners as neo-baroque, but which is really mock-baroque as it uses strict classical forms without contemporary additions. A leading figure in the mock-baroque movement is the Spanish composer Pablo Queipo de Llano (b. 1971) who is an authority on Vivaldi. The Enchiriadis label has recently released a second volume of Queipo de Llano's music comprising concertos, fugues and two symphonies which, to quote the composer, "could well be the works of an 18th century composer were he still alive today" - audio sample here. There are parallels between the mock-baroque movement and the Perennialist school of philosophy: both reject modernism in favour of traditional values, both contain elements of eternal wisdom, and both see progress as a mixed blessing. Which is very unfashionable thinking and unlikely to set pulses racing over on Sequenza21. But, before dismissing Pablo Queipo de Llano's borrowed landscapes as third-pressing Vivaldi, remember that Vivaldi, like Mahler sells in large numbers, and Pierre Boulez famously described Shostakovich's symphonies, which also sell in very large numbers, as "third-pressing Mahler". At present mock-baroque languishes with an enterprising but obscure independent Spanish record label. But that could change if a major label realises that there is a large reserve of newly pressed, albeit non-virgin, Vivaldi waiting to be tapped.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Pablo Queipo de Llano's Concerti was supplied as a requested review sample. All photos are (c) On An Overgrown Path 2014.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Change the celebrity musicians, not the audience

Elsewhere the dead horse of changing concert hall conventions is being given another futile flogging. Has it not occurred to anyone else that concertgoers applaud between movements to add some spontaneity to the perfectly manicured and totally lifeless performances that are the stock-in-trade of the new generation of youthful maestros? Has it not occurred to anyone else that audiences bring drinks into concert halls because today's unadventurous and uninspired concerts are best experienced through an alcoholic haze?

The sociologist Emile Durkheim posited that to redefine a convention you must first break that convention. Classical music revisionists preach that to attract new audiences, concert hall conventions must be broken. This doctrine may, or may not, contain some truth. But what is certain is that breaking existing concert hall conventions is simply part of Emile Durkheim’s process of redefinition, from which a new set of conventions - which coincidentally often serve the commercial interests of the revisionists - emerge.

In the past leading musicians – the magnets that attract audiences old and new – were by convention resolutely individualistic. Herbert von Karajan was an autocrat egomaniac who left an enduring recorded legacy. Bruno Walter’s breadth of vision meant he could coax sublime Mozart and Mahler from the same orchestra. Sir Thomas Beecham combined undisguised misogynism with a compelling passion for the neglected music of Frederic Delius. Leonard Bernstein contributed to the Mahler revival while writing one of Broadway’s greatest musicals. Sergiu Celibidache delivered definitive interpretations while shunning the recording studio. Arturo Toscanini’s temper tantrums were as legendary as his Beethoven, Leopold Stokowski was a serial womaniser who revealed Bach to millions, while Wilhelm Furtwängler's breathtaking political naivety contrasted with the diverse new music that he explored in 1930s Berlin.

This convention of resolute if flawed individualism has been broken and redefined by today’s revisionist culture. To become an ‘A list’ conductor the new conventions stipulate that the following boxes must be ticked. Specialise in Mahler, Shostakovich and whichever late-Romantics are celebrating an anniversary. Steer well clear of Bach, Haydn, and Mozart. Record for a Universal Music label, maintain a high profile on Sinfini Music, keep Norman Lebrecht on side, and agree to demeaning photo shoots such as the one above. Sign with one of the power broker management agencies, and have a birth date after 1974. Be conciliatory on matters Middle Eastern, and liberal - but not too liberal - on other matters of the moment. Profess a passion for new music, but confine it to pieces de garage - works of less than ten minutes duration played at the start of a concert while subscribers are parking their cars. And, above all, assert your celebrity by continuing to demand fees guaranteed to hasten the demise of our many financially challenged orchestras and opera houses.

These new conventions extend beyond conductors to soloists. Is it surprising that mind-numbingly boring concerts by box-ticked celebrity musicians playing the same box-ticked repertoire* are turning audiences - both young and old - off? Trading one set of silly conventions for another set of silly conventions will not attract new audiences. Boozing during Brahms and tweeting during Tippett is not the answer. If classical music really wants to revitalise itself, it should stop banging on about changing the audience, and start changing today’s colourless celebrity musicians. As Leonard Bernstein told a colleague when discussing whether he should conduct Mahler’s reconstituted Tenth Symphony: “I have one question, will it give me an orgasm?”

* This post was triggered by listening to a new CD that defies all the box-ticking conventions. La Camera delle Lacrime is a French ensemble committed to revitalising early music. One of their founders is the Cambodian visionary and film producer Khai-dong Luong who specialises in challenging normative behaviour. In 2013 La Camera delle Lacrime worked with the Dordogne Youth Choir, a respected group that combines artistic excellence with innovation, in a concert performance of the medieval Le Livre Vermeil de Montserrat, and the newly released CD on the Paraty label transcribes the Radio France recording of the concert. Le Livre Vermeil de Montserrat is a fusion of sacred and secular celebration, and the performance by La Camera delle Lacrime and the Dordogne Youth Choir endows it with a convention-busting Sufic ecstasy, particularly in the Qawali-like declamatory style of tenor Bruno Bonhoure. Also provoking my thoughts was Embattled Saints: My Year with the Sufis of Afganistan by Kenneth P. Lizzio, and, particularly, the book’s description of the tension between the sober (baga) Sufism of Abu al-Qasim al-Junayd (d. 910) and the ecstatic Sufism (fana) of the martyred saint Mansur al-Hallaj (d. 922). Forget about disco lighting; to attract new audiences classical music needs more ecstasy and less sobriety in the performances. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use", for the purpose of critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Keeping my head in the clouds

Shall I share with the world the ten pieces of music I'd rather not hear again, or the ten pieces I'd like to hear more often? Should I widen my horizons by reading about the ten pieces a celebrity maestro won't conduct again? Perhaps I should boost On An Overgrown Path's readership by starting a new thread about the ten most stupid things to do on social media? Or should I continue to sit here on a remote hillside drinking in the view of Mont Ventoux seen above - it has been a vintage year for mountains - while reading Satish Kumar's autobiographical You Are Therefore I Am. It's no contest: because as Satish Kumar, who was a Jain monk for nine years, explains:
Most religions believe there is one truth, and the wise speak it in different ways. But the Jain perception is that reality is multi-centred. Each person, each tree, each flower, is a centre in an infinite universe. There can be neither one centre nor one truth. No monism.
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Friday, October 10, 2014

Noise kills thought

'Don't crack your whip so terribly. Noise kills thought' - Nietzsche in Also Sprach Zarathustra

My photos show Rudy Ricciotti's new Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations (MuCEM) in Marseille, which is where this post was written. Coincidentally, or maybe not, the museum, with its mix of Eurupean and Mediterranean visual cues, stands on the waterfront from where that great transcultural traveller Isabelle Eberhardt departed for Algeria. Travelling is currently taking precedence over blogging; so I won't be cracking my whip for a while. Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Technology reveals information but annuls perception

No iPod and no headphones in that photo, instead I am listening to what Mahatma Gandhi so eloquently described as the Divine Radio. The photo was taken this morning and I am walking on the GR 4 hiking trail near Beaumes de Venise. Of course the scenery is breathtaking; but so is what R. Murray Schafer termed the soundscape - the sounds of the immersive environment. The very low ambient noise level in this unspoilt region means that sound carries for miles, and a distant dog barking becomes an aural event. Today we found ourselves on a ridge midway between Sainte-Madeleine and Notre Dame de l'Annonciation as the bells at both monasteries announced Sexte; the result was the camponological equivalent of the timpani duel in Nielsen's Fourth Symphony. No iPod and no music streaming is no problem at such a time, because as composer, educator and visionary R. Murray-Schafer tells us: "technology annuls perception as much as it reveals information". In 1973 Murray-Schafer, who was leading the World Sounscape Project at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, was invited by CBC to create a series of radio programmes on the theme of 'Soundscapes of Canada'. The following is an extract from the briefing note he sent to the students that worked with him on the project. I suggest that the new controller of BBC Radio 3 Alan Davey uses it as a template when he tells his inherited production team what he expects of them.
I want you, therefore, to begin considering ways to make our work the subject of household conversations across the country. These programmes must be radically inventive - unlike anything you have ever heard from a loudspeaker before. they must be rich, informative, shocking, bold, sweet, sad, urgent...
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