Monday, October 31, 2016

Stokowski - magician or charlatan?

Two low-priced multi-CD reissues of Leopold Stokowski conducting from Sony and RCA have provided food for thought. Much has been made of Stokowski's wayward and willful interpretations; however gems from his Indian summer such as a magical Brahms Second Symphony recorded four months before his death in 1977 paint a very different picture. Stokowski is judged harshly for his sometimes wayward interpretations, but is given little credit for his ability to reach new audiences. Which is puzzling given classical music's current obsession with reaching new audiences. Today we demand that a conductor adheres slavishly to the score of a symphony. But there is no problem when that scrupulous interpretation is subject to furtive texting, grazing while the band plays on, dribbles of inter-movement applause, and much else in the name of attracting a new audience. For me audience anarchy versus wayward Stokowski is no contest.

No review samples used in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

India beyond the Turangalila

Today is Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights that is celebrated in India and around the world. Next year there will be an even bigger celebrations on the Indian sub-continent and elsewhere as August 2017 is the 70th anniversary of the partition of India. Music will play an important part in next year's celebration as on the Indian sub-continent music is not an art, but life itself. Hopefully musical commemorations will not be limited to the classical traditions of India, because the Western classical tradition has absorbed many Indian influences. Messiaen famously appropriated rhythms from the classical Indian tala system in his Turangalîla Symphony - the title is a compound of the Sanskrit words turanga and lîla which roughly translate as 'love song'. Other composers who have absorbed Indian influences include Philip Glass (Satyagraha), John Tavener (The Veil of the Temple and Requiem), Karlheinz Stockhausen (Licht), Jonathan Harvey (White as Jasmine and Bhakti), and the neglected John Foulds (Song of Ram Dass), while the many links between India, Theosophy and the Western classical tradition provide a rich vein of music to mine.

It is inevitable and right that the 2017 anniversary events will remember the humanitarian tragedy of Partition. This fatally flawed but convenient exit strategy for colonial Britain uprooted more than fifteen million people. Conservative estimates put the death toll from the resulting sectarian strife at more than one million, and the aftershocks of Partition continue to be felt in tension and violence between Hindu and Muslim communities.

But hopefully commemorations will also counterpoint this tragedy with remembrances of earlier more tolerant time. In the 13th century the early sultans of Delhi resisted the demands of Islamic ulamas - scholars - that Hindus should be forcibly converted. Instead, guided by the Chishti Sufis, a more tolerant approach allowed Hindustani culture to develop as a composite of Muslim and Hindu societies. This overlooked interlude ranks alongside the contemporaneous al-Andalus on the Iberian Peninsula as a fertile multi-cultural and multi-religious era. One of the many products of the pluralism of the early Sultans of Delhi was qawwali music, which sprang from the poetry of the 13th century Indian Sufi scholar Amir Khusrau. In the 20th century the teacher and musician Hazrat Inayat Khan perpetuated the Sufi Chishti lineage, and his words say it all:
To say that the whole world must belong to one church, one religion, is as absurd as for all people to wear one kind of dress... Let the people have different conceptions of things as long as they are brought closer to the realisation of Truth.
Also on Facebook and Twitter. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Friday, October 28, 2016

And now for something completely heretical...

Crossover projects usually leave me cold. The French producer Hughes de Courson had considerable success in the Francophone world with his Bach and Mozart crossover albums, but I would not grieve if I never heard any of them again. Except that is for one track from his 1997 album Mozart in Egypt. My involvement with Sufism may explain why the Dhikr Requiem Golgotha strikes a chord with me. Listen to it with no preconceptions while pondering on this wisdom from the early Persian Sufi Junaaid of Baghdad: "None achieves that Degree of Truth, until a thousand honest people have testified that he is a heretic".

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Much more than 'The Leek Ascending'

A recent post touched on the symphonies of William Mathias and today's features those of another composer from the 'Land of My Fathers'. It is all too easy to dismiss the Welsh symphonists as Vaughan Williams with slag heaps. In fact they have little in common with their pastoral colleagues across the border, and much more in common with the music of mainland Europe. Bartók's influence can be heard in William Mathias' music, and his contemporary Daniel Jones was influenced by. but not wedded to, European serialism.

As a close friend of Dylan Thomas, Daniel Jones was an early editor of Thomas' poetry and his Fourth Symphony was composed in memory of the poet. He was one of a small group of composers that included Peter Racine Fricker, Benjamin Frankel and Bernard Stevens who developed a hybrid style that experimented with elements of serialism while remaining rooted in tonality. As a result Daniel Jones' symphonies have the merit of combining progressivism with accessibility. But his auspiciously hybrid style has not found favour with dedicated followers of music fashion, and as a result his meritorious symphonies linger in obscurity*.

Daniel Jones' biggest problem was being Welsh and having a very common Welsh name. It is no coincidence that Hans Keller chose the Central European name Piotr Zak for the fictitious composer in his legendary Third Programme spoof on music fashion. If a Daniel Jones symphony was programmed in a BBC Prom and credited to Dorjan Juhász (1912-1993) it would doubtless reach a much wider audience.

* Lyrita's CD of Daniel Jones' Symphonies 4, 7 & 8 is highly recommended. Both Sir Charles Groves and Bryden Thomson are persuasive advocates of Jones' music, and Symphonies 4 and 7 (Groves/RPO) were recorded for EMI in Studio Abbey Road by legendary staff producer Christopher Bishop and issued on an ASD LP before being sub-licensed to Lyrita. lso recommended is the Lyrita CD of Symphonies 6 and 9, and the choral The Country Beyond the Stars. A number of samples of Jones' symphonies can be found on the copyright penumbra that is YouTube. No review samples used in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Czech these forgotten composers out

Warner are releasing a set of Bach's complete keyboard works played by Zuzana Růžičková to mark the harpsichordist's 90th birthday. Zuzana Růžičkováwas was married to the composer Viktor Kalabis (1923-2006), and in a 2013 post about Kabalis I said that the standout on a new 3 CD Supraphon anthology of Kalabis' concertos and symphonies was his Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings conducted by the composer with his wife as soloist. Zuzana Růžičková's advocacy of new music needs recognition. As well as performing her husband's works she collaborated with pioneering figures including Maurice Ohana and Iannis Xenakis. Moroccan-born Maurice Ohana in particularly remains a puzzlingly neglected composer; he was profiled here in a 2008 post which highlighted Zuzana Růžičková's advocacy. Let's hope that the well-deserved birthday accolades for Zuzana Růžičková draw some attention to these forgotten late 20th-century composers.

No review samples or other comps used in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

An Indian Bob Dylan?

In a Guardian article Amit Chaudhuri argues that Bob Dylan is not the first songwriter to win the Nobel Prize for literature and makes the case for the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore who won the Nobel Prize in 1913. In support of Amit Chaudhuri I would cite Alexander von Zemlinsky's neo-Mahlerian Lyric Symphony which sets Tagore's The Gardener, and Jonathan Harvey's Song Offerings which sets the sensuous Gitanjali

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Don't let me be misunderstood

A Facebook comment on yesterday's post about the impending demise of BBC Radio 3 leads to the music of the Welsh composer William Mathias (1934-1992). His choral music is often performed, but his instrumental music deserves to be better known. Mathias composed three symphonies - a fourth was not completed - and three string quartets. The three symphonies have been recorded for Nimbus and the quartets by the Medea Quartet for Metier. William Mathias swum against the musical and cultural tide by valuing creativity more than conformity, as David Wright explains in an appreciation of this underestimated composer:
Mathias was often misunderstood. He developed an original idea of what some have termed 'recessional music' which, put simply, means that instead of music heading towards a climax or resolution it recedes from that expected point. It was part of his quest for originality to de-conventionalise tradition and, in that, one can but admire him.
Also on Facebook and Twitter. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Monday, October 24, 2016

BBC Radio 3's demise is on the cards

In his Guardian review of Jeremy Paxman's memoir, Will Self points out that the TV presenter is wrong to attribute the decline of the BBC's flagship Newsnight current affairs programme to demographic rather than technological changes. Will Self's observations on the "balkanisation of the media" are very relevant to the recent myopic soul searching about the future of BBC Radio 3 which coincided with the station's 70th anniversary. Technological change is the reason why the media landscape has changed so dramatically in the last decade. Yet, in her 1200 word exposition of how "BBC Radio 3 needs a rethink" Guardian cultural commentator and BBC biographer Charlotte Higgins does not use the word 'technology' once.

Like Charlotte Higgins and others who wrote panegyrics at the time of the anniversary, I am indebted to Radio 3 for its past role of illuminating and educating. But times have changed, and, as we are told so often, classical music must also change. New technology means the supply of classical music has increased exponentially, personalisation is now a listener 'must have', and classical music is available anywhere anytime from multiple sources. As an illustration, my relatively modest car's standard audio system not only has a radio tuner. In addition it has an iPod socket, Bluetooth connectivity, and an SDHC memory card slot. The latter gives me literally fingertip access to 32GB - more than 400 hours - of the music that has featured on this blog over the years. So it is goodbye to Petroc Trelawny, Katie Derham and all those Mahler symphonies, and hello to Bax, Glazunov, Simpson et al interspersed by blessed silence.

The core problem is that the fragmentation of the music market means that the the only homogeneous market left that is big enough to justify Radio 3's existence is that for high class background music. Which is why it has locked horns so disastrously with Classic FM. Yes, Charlotte Higgins is quite right in saying that Radio 3 used to be the envy of the world; but those days have gone and never will return. The BBC's penchant for serial self-harm combined with a death wish strategy of aping commercial stations make fundamental changes in the license fee model inevitable. The impact of those changes, which will shift funding towards a commercial model, will hurt. Because the BBC has been allowed, without appropriate checks or balances, to become a near monopolistic supplier of classical music in the UK. In a 2011 post I summarised that near monopolistic position as follows:

1. The biggest classical music festival in the world which receives a public subsidy of £62,000 per concert.
2. Five leading orchestras and a choir.
3. A year round programme of live concerts and music events.
4. Artist bookings and payments for all the above.
5. A substantial collateral promotional support programme including extensive TV coverage and social media activity.
6. A powerful young artist development programme that also co-produces commercial recordings.
7. A media partnership with a prestigous industry award scheme.
8. The largest new music commissioning budget in the world which awards more than £350,000 to composers annually.
9. Access to exclusive state of the art MP3 download and stream on demand technologies.
10. An online classical music presence that is part of a website ranked in the fifty most visited internet destinations worldwide.
11. Commissioning contributions from influential journalists.
12. Links to a co-branded print magazine with a monthly readership of more than 200,000.
13. A classical radio station with more than 2 million national listeners plus global reach via the internet and satellite
14. A guaranteed annual classical music budget of £50 million.

Such largesse is wonderful, until it stops. And in the near future the funding brakes are almost certainly going to be applied by fundamental changes as the license fee system is progressively dismantled. The classical music industry, and particularly the BBC Radio 3 apologists, need to wake up and smell the coffee. Radio 3 needs a rethink; but that rethink must be far more dramatic than taking the station back to a time when the cat's whisker was the new technology. Radical rethinking is needed to ensure that the priceless contribution made by Radio 3 in the past continues, albeit in a different form.

Let's assume that the license fee - which is effectively a form of poll tax - is abolished and the BBC is put on a commercial footing. The BBC performing ensembles and Proms should be set up as independent trusts*. Current funding levels for these independent trusts would be maintained for a five year transition period through regional arts funding bodies. The required increase in arts funding would be paid for by an increase in overall taxation. This increase would be very small, and can be sold to the electorate as a saving, as there will be significant central costs savings by the closure of BBC Radio 3. In addition funding would be provided for a New Music Centre internet radio station streaming content on demand. This station would be a co-operative managed by the liberated BBC performing ensembles; its funding would be conditional on 10% of its output being live music, 25% of its music coming from the managing ensembles, and 20% being new music or works meeting an agreed criteria of underexposure. After the five year transition available funding would be maintained, but would need to be bid for in the usual way.

My proposal is offered in the spirit of brainstorming. BBC Radio 3's demise is on the cards, and the driver is technology, not demographics or changing tastes. The classical music industry needs to stop burying its head in the old technology sand. What is now needed is a radical reshaping of the music supply chain.

* My 2009 article What price the BBC Proms contained a proposal as to how such a trust would work for a post-BBC Proms series. Also on Facebook and Twitter. 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 22, 2016

I was made to love magic

Some mon just deal wit' information. An' some mon, him deal wit' the concept of truth. An' den some mon deal wit' magic. Information flow aroun' ya, an' truth flow right at ya. But magic, it flows t'rough ya.
That wisdom comes from Nernelly, a Jamaican bush doctor, and it comes via Timothy White's biography of Bob Marley. In Essaouira, Morocco the serendipitously titled Bob's Music store is named after Bob Marley and the acrylic is by Essaouiran gnawa artist Mohamed Tabal*. Nick Drake was signed to Island Records, as was Bob Marley. Nick visited Morocco in 1967 and I Was Made To Love Magic is the title of one of his songs. My encounter with the magic of the Gnawa in Essaouira is documented in Music should be dangerous.

* Red Lion by Mohamed Tabal (acrylic on masonite) is via The Richard M. Edson Collection of Contemporary Folk & Outsider Art. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Friday, October 21, 2016

Bring on the long tail of women musicians

It  is quite right that women musicians are now receiving the attention and status that is rightly theirs. But it is wrong that so much of the attention is being lavished on a few women who are prominent on the classical celebrity circuit. Bring on Alice Coltrane, Philippa Schuyler and others in the long tail of women musicians.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Early music from Russia with love

New to me, but certainly not new to the catalogue are recordings by the Pratum Integrum Orchestra on the Caro Mitis label. Caro Mitis is the premium classical label of the Russian Essential Music record company, and their catalogue ranges from early music to Britten, Prokofiev, Hindemith and Schnittke. The Pratum Integrum Orchestra is Russia's only early music ensemble with the forces to tackle the orchestral repertoire. Their award-winning recordings of the Telemann orchestral suites have provided me with much rewarding listening. Spirited and persuasive playing is coupled with excellent if slightly dry SACD sound captured in Studio 5 of RTR in Moscow. Recording and post-production is outsourced to Polyhymnia International, an independent Dutch production facility specialising in SACD format recordings that rose from the ashes of the Philips Classics recording centre in Baarn. All the hardware in the recording chain is configured to Polyhymnia International's specification, and the equipment is detailed in the recording documentation. As well as being notable for their outstanding musical and technical standards, the Caro Mitis CDs are noteworthy for their high standard of presentation. As well as an erudite essay on the music, there is detailed information on the performers, their instruments and the provenance of the scores. Caro Mitis translates from the Latin as 'succulent fruit'. These CDs from an enterprising Russian label are indeed succulent fruit compared with the desiccated offerings that have become the norm in the era of digital accessibility.

No review samples used in this post. Also on Facebook and Twitter. 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).

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Another day and another crowdfunding appeal

Yet another crowdfunding request has appeared in my inbox, this time for an ensemble I have considerable respect for. Which prompts some thoughts from me about crowdfunding. Seismic shifts in the media industry mean that traditional funding from record companies and book publishers for new projects is as scarce as the proverbial hens' teeth. To help fill the funding gap crowdfunding - raising finance from the audience - has stepped in. Without crowdfunding some important and successful projects would never have come to fruition. But that still does not mean that the process should not be subject to scrutiny and debate.

Crowdfunding in its present guise is a child of the internet, but the principle has a distinguished history. One of the earliest examples in the record industry was the 1931 subscription edition of Hugo Wolf lieder masterminded by Walter Legge and HMV, while in the book industry during the previous century Charles Dickens often sold his novels in monthly magazine serialisations before publishing them in book form. In the second half of the 20th century corporate record companies and publishing houses rose to power, and they took over the essential function of providing advance funding for new recordings and books. When these corporate powerhouses were at their peak they funded high risk projects that otherwise would never have seen the light of day: just one example is Decca's recording of the complete Ring with Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic. But as the Millennium approached the internet, shifting demographics and management incompetence undermined the corporate players, and as a result the primary source of risk funding started to dry up. With advance funding from corporate sources very limited, artists turned once again to their audience for funding, and powered by the new technology crowdfunding was born. There are now around 100 crowdfunding platforms and it is estimated that £2.7bn was raised through crowdfunding in 2015.

Any arts project involves both creative and financial risk, so the advent of crowdfunding is a positive development. But like all products of new technologies there are downsides, and as is so often the case those downsides are being overlooked in the rush to embrace the new and the empowering. Flaunting credentials is not something I am keen on. But at this point to deflect accusations of a luddite position on new delivery platforms I will put on brief record my personal involvement. In the early 1990s I ran a pioneering and ultimately unsuccessful business that delivered software on demand,and ten years later I was a member of the project team that researched bringing print on demand technology to the UK. In addition I held board level positions in music and book distributors. Some remnants from those days remain online.

Concerns over the potential downsides of crowdfunding can be grouped under the broad headings of quality controls and financial controls. Corporate record companies and publishing houses have been vilified with considerable justification. But they do provide an essential quality control function through editors and producers with years of experience. One only needs to look at what has happened to editorial standards in the brave new world of music blogging to understand the perils of dispensing with editorial quality controls. Crowdfunding and self-publishing are close cousins, and too many self-published books contain errors that would never have got past the most junior sub-editor. Just to give one example, a self-published book I read recently referred to "rights of passage" three times in one chapter. Editors and producers provide a guarantee of production if not creative quality. The removal of that guarantee puts the purchasers at risk, and they are the very people that crowdfunding depends on.

Financial controls, or the lack thereof, are the second area of concern. Again the corporate players have been accused with justification of profligacy, and I can show the scars having been responsible while at EMI for the budget of a minder and German office devoted exclusively and expensively to keeping Herbert von Karajan onside. But the accounting systems of the corporates did provide checks and balances, and those checks are an optional extra in crowdfunding. Many valuable creative projects have been made possible through crowdfunding without any evidence of malfeasance. But loan-based crowdfunding - where investors lend money to consumers or businesses and get their money back in monthly instalments - has attracted the attention of the UK Financial Conduct Authority. The high profile collapse this year of Lending Club, one of the largest crowdfunding platforms in the US, showed that those concerns are not without foundation. A typical crowdfunded creative project does not use the loan model. Instead it offers a book/CD/download and other privileges in return for a pledge; however the dispersal of funds is still an opaque area. And it is not widely known that crowdfunding platforms take around 8% of the funds raised as a management fee.

In recognition of the quality problem a new breed of intermediary has emerged of which Unbound is the leading example. To quote the Unbound website " Unbound is both a funding platform and a publisher, fulfilling all the normal publishing functions but also splitting a book's net profit 50/50 with the author". Acclaimed books have been brought to market by Unbound and the company is respected within the publishing industry. Unbound is both a funding platform and a publisher, and their executive team undoubtedly has a wealth of experience. However, although there are many free lunches in publishing, there is no free experience. Unbound is privately held and is backed by three venture capital funds. All of which is perfectly in order and in the public domain. But it does mean that 50% of net profits generated by an Unbound crowdfunded book go to a privately held media company whose backers include a group of high-net worth investors.

The latest crowdfunding appeal to reach me came from Ali Keeler who is raising funds to record his Firdaus Ensemble's second album. I hope that having read this far Ali is not regretting asking me to give his appeal a heads up. Let me say I have huge admiration for Ali's work - see my interview with him - and his project avoids the less attractive aspects of crowdfunding that I have discussed here. And it is noteworthy that the funding platform is LaunchGood which targets the Muslim community worldwide. But On An Overgrown Path doesn't do PR, so I have given a personal perspective. I hope that my thoughts bring a little balance to the crowdfunding euphoria, and I also hope that readers will consider Ali Keeler's deserving appeal.

Header image from SlideShare. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Where have all the songs of conscience and concern gone?

If you don't like the news ... go out and make some of your own.
That was the catchphrase of Wes ("Scoop") Nisker on San Francisco alternative radio station KFOG. Among his other KFOG pearls of wisdom that are uncomfortably relevant to our current predicament is the traffic bulletin "People are driving to work to earn the money to pay for the cars they're driving to work in. Back to you". Where have all the songs of conscience and concern gone? Gone to social media everyone.

It seems there may not be many more songs of conscience and concern on KFOG. More on that Peter, Paul & Mary album via this link. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Saturday, October 15, 2016

What we want and need is ours already

My  wife took these photos during our recent visit to Crete. Like many countries Greece has a large feral cat population. In the grounds of our rented apartment in Sitia a feral cat had given birth to a litter of six beautiful kittens. The mother had found a safe cavity in a rocky bank for her litter, and she fed and cared for them with total dedication. I confess to being a cat person, but I am also aware that photos of kittens have become a benign form of click bait. These two photos are undoubtedly visually arresting, but there is another reason for posting them. My visit to Crete was a rich experience. I hiked in remote eastern Crete, had the inspiring company of Kelly Thoma and Ross Daly, swam in the warm and crystal clear Libyan sea, and heard uplifting music. All of those memories will stay with me, but so will the memory of that mother cat and her offspring. It is not just classical music that is obsessed with the next big thing, the whole of society has the same obsession. But as the Zen Buddhist teacher Steve Hagen tells us*:
If we could put aside our petty wants and examine our actual needs, we might discover what we truly need and want. We might also see that these real needs are easy to satisfy. We'd see that we, too, like animals, are self-contained, There's nothing "out there" we need to acquire. The world is always here. Reality is forever at hand. What we want and need is ours already.
Life for feral cats in Crete and elsewhere is brutal. We provided the mother and her kittens with food and water - there had been no significant rainfall in eastern Crete for seven months - but the chances of many of them surviving are slim. As we departed from our apartment we said to our very hospitable landlady that we hoped someone else would help them after we had gone. She shrugged her shoulders and said "God will provide".

* Quote is from Buddhism is not what you think by Steve Hagen. No review sample used in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Record companies and crowdfunders are you listening?

In 2011 I collaborated with John McLaughlin Williams on a two part feature about the composer and pianist Philippa Schuyler, who is seen above on the cover of a 1962 edition of Sepia magazine. The first Overgrown Path article Philippa Schuyler - genius or genetic experiment? told her life story, while in A Philippa Schuyler Moment her Nine Little Pieces for piano were analysed by John using a recording he very generously made especially for the blog - listen via YouTube below.

Philippa Schuyler was the scion of an interracial marriage. Her father, George Schuyler, was a renowned and controversial black journalist, and her mother, Josephine Cogdell, was a blond, blue-eyed Texan heiress. Philippa rose to prominence as both a composer and pianist, and her compositions were performed by the Chicago and San Francisco Symphony Orchestras and the New York Philharmonic. But in the early 1960s her career stalled and she died in 1967 at the age of 36 when the US military helicopter in which she was a passenger inexplicably crashed in Vietnam. As a result of our articles the BBC broadcast a radio programme about Philippa titled The Colour of Genius in which John participated and which used his piano recordings.

In the five years that have passed since the two Overgrown Path features and the BBC programme appeared great strides have been made towards giving women musicians the equality that is rightly due to them. But that equality has brought a new inequality, with women musicians of colour still not being given their fair share of opportunities and critical attention. It is no credit to classical music that the appointment of a few white women to prestigious positions in a repressive music establishment has been hailed as the end of decades of institutionalised, deep-rooted and continuing discrimination.

Recently John McLaughlin Williams revisited our collaboration on Facebook, and this prompted a response from the black American composer and conductor Kevin Scott which is published below. In 2011 I wrote that the apparently insurmountable problem to assessing Philippa Schuyler's merit as a musician is that there are no commercial recordings of her as pianist or composer, and there are no published scores of her orchestral works. Kevin Scott's assessment of her orchestral music is an important step towards making the commercial recording which will finally bring her music to the audience it doubtless deserves. The Overgrown Path articles about Philippa continue to attract a very large readership, and they are one of the projects that I am most proud of. If Kevin's advocacy results in a recording, I will at last be able to carry out my oft-repeated threat to retire the blog with my work done. Here is Kevin Scott's commentary on Philippa Schuyler's music. Record companies and crowdfunders are you listening?
I am one of the few musicians who has reviewed most of Philippa Duke Schuyler's orchestral music. Suffice it to say, it would fill one CD comfortably. What is the music like? In her brief lifespan she composed a significant number of works, all of which were heard during her lifetime. All of the compositions, save Manhattan Nocturne, reside in the Arthur Schomburg branch of the New York Public Library in Harlem. The works are:

Three Short Pieces (ca. 1939 - one movement for brass, one for strings and one for chamber orchestra)

Manhattan Nocturne (1942; orchestrated from her piano piece - the score resides at Syracuse University)

Rumpelstiltskin (Scherzo for Orchestra)(1944)

Sleepy Hollow Sketches (Two pieces for Orchestra)(1946)

The Nile Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra (Two versions: first version a one-movement concert piece, date unknown and never performed, second version an expanded four-movement concerto premiered in Egypt around 1965)

The CD could feature both versions of the Nile Fantasy (1st version ca. 15 minutes, 2nd version ca. 22-25 minutes) in addition to all the other works whose total time is approximately 33-35 minutes.

With the exception of her setting of excerpts from T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom for recitant and piano (Similar to Strauss' Enoch Arden), all works between 1946 and the mid-1960s are unfinished and in such a state that they can't be reconstructed (Example - her setting of T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock for chorus and orchestra barely lasts some thirteen to twenty measures in full score, unless complete sketches abound in another box of her music either at NYPL Schomburg or Syracuse University).

"Seven Pillars of Wisdom", on the other hand, can be orchestrated, although the music serves more as an atmospheric accompaniment to Lawrence's prose, as one critic likened the music to Bartok, so anyone who attempts to orchestrate Schuyler's setting would have to take many things into consideration. One of the works that fascinated Philippa the pianist was Charles Tomlinson Griffes' thorny, expressionistic piano sonata which may play a significant role in her later compositions, both finished and incomplete.

It was my goal back in the 1980s, and again around the late 1990s or early part of this century, to record the entire corpus of Schuyler's completed orchestral works. I had tried to interest Naxos to include her in their American Classics series, and almost had a deal to record the music in Belarus which fell through. To date I have not returned to this music, so when John McLaughlin Williams took an interest in it, I informed him of what the music is like and figured, since his connections are far more solid than mine are at present, that he could get a hold of the music and record it himself. I should note that I believe Schuyler's executrix is no longer with us, and that John or myself should contact Kathy Talalay, who has seen all of Schuyler's music at Schomburg.

Header image from Alchetron. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Classical music's social media conundrum

Why are classical musicians and journalists so good at promoting themselves on social media, but so bad at promoting deserving and little-known music? That question is prompted by listening to Lyrita's new budget-priced 4 CD anthology of British Symphonies. Since 1959 Lyrita have worked tirelessly to showcase the treasures of British music, and they have been almost a lone voice in their advocacy of music beyond the warhorses of Elgar, Vaughan Williams, and Holst. The lamentable neglect of so much fine music is highlighted by an analysis of the number of performances of the symphonies on this new release. The Proms are recognised worldwide as a great British institution, and the archive of Proms performances provides an invaluable barometer of music fashions. Of the thirteen symphonic works showcased by Lyrita just under half - six to be precise - have never received Proms performances. (Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, one of those works is Malcolm Arnold's Sinfonietta No. 1.) And of the thirteen composers showcased, one - John Joubert - has never had any of his music performed at a Prom. Which is particularly ironic as Joubert is the only living composer among the thirteen. Another composer - William Wordsworth - has only had one Proms performance of his music, and another three - Cyril Rootham, Grace Williams and Humphrey Searle - have had less than ten performances.

By comparison the 2016 Proms season alone included five Mahler performances. Which is exactly the same number as Grace Williams' music has ever received at the Proms. That observation inevitably leads on to the argument that the neglect of so many composers simply reflects their failure to compose masterpieces. But does that highly subjective measure really matter? Quite rightly the commissioning of new music is seen as an essential function of the Proms? But how many masterpieces are produced as a result of Proms commissions? Very few; but again, does that really matter?

Championing new music is, thankfully, still seen as an essential function of the Proms and other major festivals. But, perversely, with a few notable exceptions championing neglected music is not. The lack of box office appeal is usually cited as the reason for excluding composers such as Cyril Rootham. He is one of the twelve of the composers featured by Lyrita who are sadly no longer with us, as are many other neglected composers from Britain and beyond. One of the many inequalities of social media is that the dead cannot promote themselves. Whether we like it or not social media is a powerful tool, and classical musicians and journalists have leveraged social media very successfully to promote themselves. This despite much of their work being, just like that of neglected composers, somewhat short of masterly. If just part of this very effective self-promotion was switched to promoting neglected music a virtuous circle of mutual benefit would be triggered. If classical music really wants to change it must stop thinking 'me' and start thinking 'us'. And if you don't believe me please buy Lyrita's British Symphonies anthology.

A requested review sample of Lyrita's British Symphonies was used in writing this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

After the high energy music this snail needed a drink

post last year described how Crete is a place of primal energy due to its proximity to the fault line between the European and African tectonic plates. A few weeks ago I was at a concert by the Ross Daly Quartet on Crete and the energy was certainly flowing then. In fact when the ubiquitous raki was passed round by the musicians after the concert, the snail seen in my photo was energised to sample this Cretan version of firewater. Energy lines shaping music should not be dismissed as hocus-pocus. Music is vibrations, and vibrations are energy. Sufi master musician Hazrat Inayat Khan's teachings on the centrality of energy and vibrations have influenced generations of musicians from Scriabin, who met Inayat Khan in Moscow in 1913, to Stockhausen, whose Atmen gibt das Leben has its genesis in a text by Inayat Khan.

There can be little doubt that energy lines run through musically auspicious locations such as Bayreuth, Tanglewood and Aldeburgh, and Alexander Scriabin intended his uncompleted magnum opus Mysterium to be performed in the foothills of the Himalayas where primal energy abounds. And why is believing that music is subliminally moulded by energy lines any more ridiculous than believing that music is moulded by the number of Facebook 'likes' or what the musicians wear? Brilliance and craziness often go together. So don't dismiss Rama-Dr Frederic Lenz's theory that:
Did you know that there are specific energy lines running through the earth that open up to artistic and musical dimensions? If a composer or an artist lives and works in a place that has those types of lines running through it, then it will be much easier for him to create great works of art or music. If the same composer or artist lived and worked in a place without those lines, his work would be much harder, and he probably wouldn't create much great art at all.
Also on Facebook and Twitter. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

This lady is for turning

In  her resignation speech the outgoing BBC Radio Director Helen Boaden makes the case for "slow radio" and expresses the view that "it seems to me that the media can sometimes rush very fast in order to stand still". Could this be the same Helen Boaden who last year lectured* the Association of British Orchestras on how "the creation of snackable access to classical content is the key to audience engagement"?

* Intriguingly, online references to Ms Boaden's snackable content soundbite have been deleted. But here in the interest of rigorous journalism - a subject close to Ms Boaden's heart - is a link to Mark Berry's Twitter feed to corroborate the soundbite. Photo via Irish Times. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Success story of musician who thinks global but acts local

Ross Daly's worldview that: "There’s a way to belong but not to be a native... I live outside a national identity and that’s always been a great advantage... I can feel at home anywhere” is reflected in his music. Born in Kings Lynn, England and raised on both sides of the Atlantic, Ross studied the sitar in India and rabab in Afghanistan. He settled in Crete in 1974 because, to quote him: "Some things in life grab you; Crete and its music did that for me”. In 1982 he established the Labyrinth Musical Workshop in the Cretan village of Houdetsi as a loosely structured collective exploring the modal music of different cultures. He explains that he chose Houdetsi because "A village is better than a city for this, everything’s in walking distance. We began with one-week seminars, everyone living together.” Every summer the Labyrinth Workshops draw students from around the world to seminars and masterclasses taught by celebrated musicians from the modal traditions. In recognition of its contribution to European values including democracy, social justice and universal access to rights the Labyrinth Musical Workshop was given a European Citizenship Award in 2012.

Modal music is based on tones or modes rather than Western scales, and over the years Labyrinth has evolved into an wide-ranging educational institution dedicated to the study of the modal forms found between the north-west of Africa and west China. However the new modal music from Crete is not constrained by historic conventions, but instead provides a dynamic and evolving mileu in which musical orthodoxies are challenged and reshaped. As part of this evolutionary process Ross Daly has developed with his pupil Stelios Petrakis a contemporary version of the Cretan lyra which adds eighteen sympathetic (resonating) strings to the three bowed strings to strength the instrument's traditional sound.

Despite global recognition as a lyra virtuoso, Ross Daly sees himself not as virtuoso instrumentalist, but as a composer working with a wide geographic spread of modal source material. He explains that: "For me music is music and my interest in it has to do essentially with esoteric spiritual dimension and hardly at all with its exterior formal aspects. This interest in the more esoteric aspects of music eventually led me to the vast and timeless domain of modal musical traditions". Another felicitous product of the Labyrinth co-operative are the concerts that Ross gives with his fellow musicians, and in the photos which I took recently at a concert in Piskopiano on Crete he is playing with his wife and fellow lyra player Kelly Thoma, Yiorgis Manolakis (lute) and Yiannis Papatzanis (percussion).

Ethnic instruments are the tool that Ross Daly uses to shape his modal compositions, and I was privileged to see the collection of more than 250 string instruments from around the world that is housed in his home. This is a working collection and not a museum: on his 2008 abstract masterpiece Ελεύθερο Σημείο (Still Point) he plays Cretan lyra, kemençe, rebab, tanbur, laouto, yayli tanbur, gabak kemane, bulgari, kemencello, bouzouki, cura, sordina, oud, sarangi, double bass and synthesizer. (Download the album legally for free via this link.) Ross' commitment to modal music without frontiers means that he has collaborated with musicians from a wide range of cultures including members of the celebrated Chemirani dynasty of Iranian percussionists and the Tuvan throat singing ensemble Huun Huur Tu.

Ross Daly is a serial iconoclast: he dismisses world music as “an offshoot of the pop music industry with an emphasis on party music”, and his website carries this provocative message:
Whoever so wishes can download any or even all of my music completely free of charge (the only exception is my most recent recording “The Other Side” which is available from CD Baby). I have decided to do this because I would like my music to be easily available to anyone who wishes to listen without any financial dimension whatsoever. After so many years, I’m really really fed up with the financial side of the recording industry but I still love sharing my recordings with other people. This is the only thing that I could do in order to be able to continue enjoying that, and sharing my music is more important to me than any amount of money.
The Western classical music industry can learn from the success story of Ross Daly and his fellow musicians. Their music respects its roots and eschews dumbing down, while at the same time refusing to become a folkloric museum of sound. And they take their audience with them on their never-ending journey of discovery: Ross Daly is a folk hero in Crete and the capacity audience at the Piskopiano concert was comprised almost entirely of local villagers of all ages who listened attentively for 90 minutes.

Sharing is at the centre of the Labyrinth ethos, and despite Ross Daly's global profile - he played at Carnegie Hall in December - there is a total absence of celebrity posturing. I first made contact with Ross and Kelly after I wrote about their new modal music last year. Months later I contacted them again to say I was coming to Crete with my wife in September 2016 and could they suggest any concerts we should attend. On the basis of that perfunctory contact from someone they hardly knew they went out of their way - literally many miles out of their way - to provide hospitality and assistance when we visited the island. This despite a punishing schedule: they jetted off to Cyprus for a concert while we lazed on the beach, and were preparing to travel to India to play at the Jodhpur RIFF Festival. Can you imagine a celebrity classical musician providing similar hospitality if I pitched up in their home city? Coming to that can you imagine a celebrity classical musician playing a fundraiser for street dogs? Thank you Kelly and Ross for your kindness and your music. You are an inspiration; in fact you remind me of these words from that very wise Greek Plato:

It is not he who produces a beautiful harmony in playing the lyre or other instruments whom one should consider as the true musician, but he who knows how to make of his own life a perfect harmony in establishing an accord between his feelings, his words, and his acts.

My thanks also go to Panos whose online Greek Music Shop is based in Agios Nikolaos for his exemplary service and excellent ice cream. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Will colouring book concerts be the next big thing?

Last year 12 million adult colouring books were sold in the US and recently I suggested that the classical music industry could learn from the colouring phenomenom. In an example of a great and not so great mind thinking alike, violin virtuoso and founder of Audax Records Johannes Pramsohler is releasing a CD of Baroque music coupled with a Baroque-themed colouring book for children. Dubbed 'A creative doodle book for musical kids' the beautifully packed CD and book urges the youngsters to 'Open your ears and get out your crayons.' Typically it is a smart independent label that has spotted the market opportunity. When independent thinkers lead, establishment dinosaurs follow. The fad for live tweeting in concerts has passed. Will colouring book concerts for adults be the next big thing?

My thanks go to Johannes Pramsohler for the sample colouring book - I am really enjoying my doodling. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Ordinary music can be the most extraordinary

Everybody wants to be extraordinary, that is very ordinary. But to be ordinary and just relax in being ordinary, that is superbly extraordinary. One who cannot accept his ordinariness without any grudge, any grumbling - with joy, because this is how the whole existence is - then nobody can destroy his bliss. Nobody can steal it, nobody can take it away. Then wherever you are you will be in bliss.

I was in New Delhi, and after I had spoken a man stood up and asked me, 'What do you think about yourself? Will you be going to heaven or hell?

I said, 'As far as I know, there is no such thing. But if by chance they are there, I can only hope for hell.'

He said, 'What!'

I said, 'In hell you will find all the colourful people - ordinary people, but all colourful. In heaven you will find great scholars, theologians, saints, philosophers - but all serious, all quarreling, all against each other, disputing continuously. It must be a quarrelsome place, where you cannot find a moment of silence. As far as I understand, if God had any intelligence, he must have escaped to hell, because this is the only place where nobody is going to argue about stupid, silly things, where people will be simply enjoying, dancing, singing, eating, sleeping, working.'

I said to him, 'To me, the ordinary is the most extraordinary phenomenon in existence'.
That quote comes from Osho (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh)*. Like Wagner and many other seminal free thinkers, Osho carried a lot of baggage. But for those who can see beyond the baggage there is much wisdom. I suspect that the soundtrack in hell includes ordinary but extraordinary music such as Howard Hanson's Second Symphony 'The Romantic'. And I also suspect that hell has no internet connection.

* Source of quote is Osho: Living Dangerously. No review samples used. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

For those suffering from Mahler and Shostakovich fatigue

All you can do now is point out that giving up medicine was my greatest gift to the human race, if one considers the number of people who are walking around now who wouldn't be if I'd been a doctor. On the other hand, if I'd been Margaret Thatcher's doctor, I might have been able to save my compatriots a lot of misery by the administration of certain drugs or insisting that she needed drastic brain surgery. .
That is Robert Simpson writing about his aborted medical training in a 1991 letter*, and his wry concluding comment has a topical relevance to politicians on both sides of the Atlantic. A recent Overgrown Path thread extolled the virtues of mono sound, and the CD transfer of Robert Simpson's First Symphony on Warner's 10 CD overview of Sir Adrian Boult recordings confirms that when it comes to technology less is more. On the LP above the coupling is Peter Racine Fricker's Second Symphony. The neglect of Fricker's music - which by contrast with other British composers of his generation was influenced far more by the central European musical zeitgeist - is even more scandalous than the neglect of Robert Simpson's. In Contemporary British Composers Francis Routh writes that "Few composers have experienced quite such a cruel reversal of fortune as Peter Racine Fricker. Fashion, it would seem, has used him almost as her plaything, to take up or discard at whim". For those suffering from Mahler and Shostakovich fatigue, Warner's reissue of the Sir Adrian's 1952 mono recording of Simpson's First Symphony - the producer incidentally was Lawrence Collingwood - and Lyrita's stereo CD of Colin Davis conducting Fricker's Fifth Symphony - what is it about Fifth Symphonies? - are perfect restoratives.

* Quotation is from Donald Macauley's self-published The Power of Robert Simpson: A Biography. No review materials used in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

May I ask what your religion is?

After a moment's silence she said: "You're a nice boy. May I ask what your religion is?" I looked at her and told her, "I'm forty years old, Grandma. I have lived a very difficult life. I have known many nice people in my life and my best friends have different religions and when I'm with one of them I feel I share with them the same religion".
That extract is from Samuel Shimon's autobiographical novel An Iraqi In Paris. The sentiment it expresses is shared by John Tavener's syncretic Requiem which uses texts from 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". Writing about the Requiem in 2011 I described 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, as a thing of both great beauty and truth. John Tavener was a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the photo of the Church of Agios Andonis at Kato Zakros in eastern Crete was taken by me a few days ago.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).