In his biographical overview Klaus Schulze: Electronic Music Legend Greg Allen explains that: 'I have long thought that when people in the future look at the 'classical' music of our time (mid-20th century through early 21st century), they would view Klaus Schulze's music as the classical music of this era, just as we view Beethoven, Bach and Stravinsky as the 'classical' musicians of their eras'. Although this can be dismissed as needless hyperbole, the links between Klaus Schulze and classical music cannot be ignored, as this extract from his notes for the album "X" shows. 'Richard Wagner could also have been part of these musical biographies on “X”. Wagner is particularly close to me because for me he was the first to create a synthesis of the arts. For instance he demanded for a composition a separate theatre where the orchestra could disappear in the pit. Therein I see an analogy to the synthesizer. Here the actual instrumen
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Bruno Walter's 1938 Vienna Philharmonic interpretation of Mahler's Ninth Symphony still has the power to move and enlighten, despite the technical limitations of the recording. Similarly Wilhelm Furtwängler's Berlin Philharmonic concert recording from 1949 of Bruckner's Eighth Symphony still reminds us that beauty is more powerful than hatred, again despite considerable technical limitations. Today, blowing 866 million euro on a not quite acoustically perfect concert hall is the go-to solution for saving classical music, which means a celebrity conductor can throw his batons out of the pram when he is not rewarded with a blinged-out new hall. So why, given these contemporary priorities, can great recordings from the past touch us so deeply when heard through the technology equivalent of a tin shed concert hall? The answer lies in the little-understood but vitally important process of listening . There is no such thing as perfect sound , or historic sound, or bad
It is surprising, or perhaps a comment on the current state of classical music , that my most penetrating classical experience in recent weeks came via Netflix. Chaitanya Tamhane 's 2020 Marathi-language film The Disciple portrays the journey of a Khyal singer - played by musician turned actor Aditya Modak who is seen above - through the treacherous waters of commercialised art music. This exquisitely directed and musically very satisfying movie won the Best Screenplay Award at the 2020 Venice Film Festival and also won the International Critics Prize. Some readers will doubtless be enraged that the 'classical music' referred to in my headline originates from the city of Gwalior in central India, and not from Symphony Hall Birmingham or Hamburg's Elbphilharmonie . But these myopists are missing the movie's powerful message that the virus of click bait has morphed into the highly transmissible and dangerous global variant of audience bait . And, incidentall
A quick scan of the online postings from classical music's cultural commentators proves the law of diminishing diversity. This law tells us that a commentator's commitment to true cultural diversity is inversely proportional to their social media presence. In this context cultural diversity does not mean the standard 'Mirga', 'Sheku', 'Brexit doom' and 'woman composer' box-ticking. It means reflecting the truly rich cultural diversity of art music at the expense of the holy grail of audience size. The mechanism propelling the the law of diminishing diversity is easy to understand. Popularity in the form of readership numbers, audience size, site traffic and other social media metrics is now the end game for cultural commentators . So if a topic pulls eyeballs, you provide more of the same to generate more eyeballs, which results in cultural tunnel vision. This dynamic of giving more of the same in the interests of audience size is multipl
Hungarian composer Gyorgy Kurtag is 80 today. The ECM CD Jatekok , (which translates as Games ) is a wonderful introduction to his challenging, but rewarding, music. On Jatekok Kurtag (right) and his wife Marta play the composer’s crystalline piano miniatures interspersed with his own fragmentary Bach transcriptions. Kurtag once said: 'I keep coming back to the realisation that one note is almost enough.' Jatekok are beautifully turned piano haikus , the writing is imbued with wit and undertones of his teacher Milhaud, yet the style is uncompromisingly modern. György Kurtág's musical language is unique, but his homage to Bach is a reflection of the influence of the great masters. Like Schönberg , Boulez and Tippett before him Kurtág has no problems with either ‘downtown music’ , with the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras embracing his work, or with ‘dead guys’ like Bartók , Berg , Beethoven , and Messiaen . The crucible that forged Kurtág music ranges fro
Recently I have found new books far more engrossing than new classical recordings. One of my most rewarding reads has been the first volume of Richard Thompson's autobiography Beeswing . Richard Thompson is best known as co-founder of the legendary folk-rock group Fairport Convention . A few years ago I wrote about his exploration of the Sufi path , and I have also recounted the untold story of the counterculture's Islamic connection in an exclusive interview with Ian Whiteman - aka Abdallateef Whiteman - who with Richard Thompson was a member of the fabled Bristol Gardens Sufi commune in 1970s London. Beeswing is much more than a rock memoir. It name checks, among others, Delius, Bliss, Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Wagner, Satie, Granger and Stockhausen, and includes this John Cage anecdote: "During that tour, our driver, Walter Gundy, needed to pick something up from his house in upstate New York, and I went with him. There were two units in his rental, and he men
Beethoven is fortunate. His anniversary falls in December this year: which means, hopefully, it can be celebrated when a degree of normality has returned. Ravi Shankar is less fortunate. The centenary of his birth fell on April 7th, when the world had more important things to worry about. Which meant the anniversary passed almost unnoticed; with the major celebration at London's South Bank Centre postponed until April 2021 . But it is important that Ravi Shankar's centenary is not lost to lockdown. Not only because he was a master of the sitar, but also because he was a great humanitarian who broke down the barriers dividing music of different cultures. One example is his collaboration with Philip Glass. In 1965 the neophyte American composer was studying in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, and he was hired to notate the film score for Chappaqua composed by Ravi Shankar. In 1989 the head of independent label Private Music Ron Goldstein brought Pandit Shankar and Philip Glass
Back in January there was quite a rumpus when BBC Television screened Jerry Springer – The Opera by Stewart Lee (writer) and Richard Thomas (composer). Almost 50,000 people complained about the 8000 obscenities in the opera, and there were protests by a number of religious groups. Among the objectors was BBC Radio 3 producer Antony Pitts who resigned his job in protest about the alleged blasphemous content in the broadcast. Among the programmes Pitts worked on was the highly acclaimed, and cutting edge, Late Junction . But Antony Pitts didn’t disappear as a footnote in history. He has a flourishing career as a contemporary composer, and the new Hyperion recording of his choral work Seven Letters has been selected as Editor’s Choice in the August edition of the prestigious Gramophone magazine. And the story doesn't end there. The chamber choir, Tonus Peregrinus , that he founded and directs is gaining quite a reputation with its recordings of both new and medieval music.
On June 26th Wayne Marshall conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in a programme of music by Gershwin, Bernstein and John Williams. Back in 1945 Rudolph Dunbar was the orchestra's first - and only to date? - black conductor , so Wayne Marshall's appearance is noteworthy. But on the Berlin orchestra's website seen above the featured musician is percussionist Martin Grubinger who performs John Williams' 'Percussive Planet'. Grubinger is also the lead in the concert summary, with Wayne Marshall consigned to a footnote. Which some marketeers will see as a missed promotional opportunity, or worse. But others may see it as an enlightened strategy of treating a musician of colour not as click bait , but as a hugely talented conductor who does not require a marketing makeover .
One Sunday evening in the spring of his seventh year as king, as his musicians were gathering for the evening concert, a courtier brought Frederick the Great his usual list of arrivals at the town gate. As he looked down the list of names, he gave a start. "Gentlemen," he said, "old Bach is here." Those who heard him said there was "a kind of agitation" in his voice. These are the opening words of James Gaines' new book. Bach's compositions are well documented in a wealth of excellent recordings, and there are many scholarly books on his life and work, starting with Albert Schweitzer's seminal biography which was first published in French in 1905. But to date the Bach literature has lacked a really accessible book that makes the man, as opposed to his music, come to life. Now we have Evening in the Palace of Reason . This follows the lives of J.S.Bach and Frederick the Great in parallel and culminates in their meeting in Potsdam. This