Tuesday, June 25, 2002


Crumb: Ancient Voices of Children by George Crumb (Composer)

Those who know US composer George Crumb mainly from the terrifying musings of 'Black Angels' (made semi-famous by the Kronos Quartet) will probably be surprised by the haunting beauty of 'Ancient Voices'. Based on texts from Lorca, the rich but sparing instrumentation is complemented by evocative, floating soprano - sometimes sung into the piano to create an eerie, mystical ambient. My first exposure was at London's Roundhouse in 1976, where even the background rumbling of trains couldn't sublimate the extraordinary lure of Crumb's sound world. Truly gorgeous and thoughtfully composed.

A personal selection with one or two twists. Such things are fun but inherently absurd, of course.

Monday, June 24, 2002


Mark Antony Turnage’s timely opera about war, injustice and football makes a welcome return to the English National Opera this month, on 26 and 28 June, and 1, 3 and 6 July 2002. ‘The Silver Tassie’ to a libretto by Amanda Holden, “has been several years in the making .. in the workship environment of the ENO Opera Studio; the result is the most streamlined and cohesive full-length opera to hit the London stage in well over a decade”, according to Richard Whitehouse. He was reviewing the world premier at the London Coliseum in February 2000.

Based on the play by Sean O’Casey, the opera follows the fortunes of a group of young men from Ireland at the time of the First World War. Leaving for the trenches, Harry Heegan and his friends are euphoric: they have won a football cup – the Silver Tassie – and believe themselves invincible. In music at once visceral and tender, Turnage evokes the spectral domain of the battlefield and the shattered lives of the returning men.

Further details on the ENO site.


My home city of Brighton was under siege in Sunday – ‘Party in the Park’ inflicted Blue, Gareth Gates and Hear’say on us, god forbid. Genuine popular music culture was enhanced far more, I’m sure, by the less publicized eighth national air guitar championships. Yes, that’s right: all style, pre-recorded content and no guilt. What a temptation for men of a certain age and inclination. ‘No Stairway To Heaven’ either, according to the legendary notice. Party on, dudes…!


Handel Organ Concertos Opus 4 Nos 1 - 6. Simon Lindley (organ), Northern Sinfonia / Bradley Creswick. Naxos 8.553835, 1997

Though not as popular as his Concerti Grossi, Handel's Organ Concertos have been fair game for recording artists in recent years. They are not terribly well known but they attract readily when heard. As most Handel watchers know, there are three sets of Organ Concertos, only one of which - Opus 4 - was published in the composer's lifetime. It is not unusual for record labels to pick and choose a selection of the most obviously showy or ear-friendly ones. There is nothing wrong with this, since these pieces were produced to act as interludes in Oratorios rather than to be played in sequence. Nevertheless, and not least because this set represents about the only thing that could just about pass muster for 'authenticity' in the genre, it is good to have a 67 minute CD of the six Opus 4 works - in G Minor, B Flat, G minor again, F, F again, and B flat.

These performances by Simon Lindley and the highly competent Northern Sinfonia were recorded at Holy Cross Church, Fentham, England, in 1996. The Concertos are well and faithfully executed. Perhaps because Lindley is better known for his interpretation of French organ music, I wonder whether his playing is not quite in sympathy with their definitely Italianate style. (Having said that, the very best expositor is surely the late Karl Richter, a German, whose Edition is an absolute must if this Naxos taster engages you.) Maybe the problem is not so much in Lindley's playing but in the slightly distant rendering of the organ sound, which tends to lose detail at various key points. In fact the recording level is a little low all round.

But these are details. Given the extraordinarily low price this disc represents undeniably good value and is a worthy introduction to one of the less visible aspects of Handel's considerable output. The Organ Concertos are charming, entertaining and very well crafted. Now make sure you check out the Richter Edition.

[A review of the Richter edition will follow. Back in 1970 Simon Preston also recorded an interesting selection from all three sets with Yehudi Menuhin and the Bath Festival Orchestra – based on six first violins, woodwind and harpsichord. I haven’t found these on CD yet. Let me know if you spot them. Preston has recorded more Handel Organ Concertos with Trevor Pinnock and the English Consort (Archiv, 1995). ]

Saturday, June 22, 2002


Thanks to Juan Arbore for the tip-off about Patrick Neve’s University of Oregon music log on the strange and interesting collaboration between Ensemble InterContemporain, Frank Zappa and French composer Pierre Boulez (see IRCAM). Between 10-11 January 1984 Boulez agreed to conduct seven ensemble orchestral pieces by Zappa, enfant terrible of avant rock.

The Perfect Stranger was released in August that year. It has some incredibly dense and interesting music on it. Dissociated from the individuals involved it isn’t hard to see why Boulez might have been intrigued. But two more unlikely partners it is hard to imagine: one zany, the other “as serious as cancer” (Thomas Nordeg).

As ‘Andante’ magazine (Dec 2001) commented: "It is a strange image: Frank Zappa seated next to Pierre Boulez. Boulez looks avuncular and charming, Zappa hirsute, gaunt, legs crossed, somewhat terrifying. Appearances aside, these two artists have both everything and nothing in common: Zappa, the angry iconoclast with a guitar, a one-man Brecht/Weill/Spike Jones (the list goes on) simultaneously seeking and disparaging academic acceptance; Boulez, his own brand of iconoclast, with the legendary ear and more legendary aesthetic fury."

Zappa remarked: “I bought my first Boulez album when I was in the twelfth grade: a Columbia recording of 'Le Marteau Sans Maitre' (The Hammer Without A Master) conducted by Robert Craft, with 'Zetmasse' (Time-mass) by Stockhausen on the other side. Within a year or so of that, I managed to get hold of a score. I listened to the record while following the score, and I noticed that the performance was not very accurate. I later acquired a recording of 'Le Marteau' on the Turnabout label, with Boulez conducting, and was surprised to find that he took the first movement much more slowly than the tempo marked in score. I razzed him about it when we met.” (‘The Real Frank Zappa’)

Posterity doesn’t record how Boulez reacted! He was typically cagey about the collaboration at the time. At a press conference in 1990 he was asked if he liked Zappa’s music. His enigmatic reply, according to Ben Watson: "Certainly. I found a kind of vitality and it was very good for our musicians to do that: they were not accustomed at all to it, and that's good to work on."

The album was on Barking Pumpkin and was listed under an EMI Classical subsidiary. It is now on Rykodisc. If anyone reading this has seen further comment from Boulez or his close associates it would be interesting to read. A thread on this topic appeared recently in rec.music.classical.contemporary.


A couple of people have asked for more about Deirdre Cartwright after the ‘Precious Things’ review yesterday. Here’s my Amazon review of her previous album, ‘Play’. There’s also a review of her first, ‘Debut’ here. Best, however, to Buy via the Blow the Fuse site. See the contact details in my links column on the left.

Deirdre Cartwright, ‘Play’, Blow the Fuse Records BTF9703, 1998.

Type ‘play’ in Amazon’s music section and you might just end up with something you weren’t expecting. Moby’s dance album is pleasant enough. Magazine make up for what they lack though raucous energy. And Joanna MacGregor’s collection of twentieth century piano miniatures is exquisite. But what a happy outcome it would be if someone hunting one of these three ‘Play’ albums was also to make a chance discovery of guitarist Deirdre Cartwright.

And play-ful her CD certainly is, in all senses of the word. Cartwright the composer is restless, enthusiastic, considered and broad in her interests and influences. On this 1998 album you have the sense that there are moments when she throws studio calculation to the wind in much the same way her trios do live. She is a natural improviser and ‘Play’ is very natural jazz.

Along for the ride this time are regular accompanists Alison Rayner (double / fretless bass), Louise Elliott (tenor sax, flute), Steve Lodder (keys) and Gary Hammond (percussion). Simon Pearson joins them on drums. The additional guests are Annie Whitehead (trombone), a stalwart of the burgeoning British jazz scene; alto and soprano saxophonist Co Streiff (known for her work with the Vienna Art Orchestra); and soprano saxophonist Diane McLoughlin (who worked with Rayner in Giant Steppes and has performed with Martha Lewis of Martha and Eve fame).

My memories of this album are its straight-ahead moments. This is possibly because several of the more energetic numbers are regulars in Deirdre Cartwright’s live set lists, along with reworked standards and compositions by the musicians she plays with. All the pieces on ‘Play’ are self-penned and enormously enjoyable, but the twists, nuances and calming interludes are as much part of the picture as the swing. Generally Cartwright grooves more on tour than on her albums, but there are moments here that capture both the intensity and the joyfulness of her craft.

‘Got My Modem Working’ begins with a deft reggae shuffle before settling into one of Rayner’s persistent, infective bass rhythms. Elliott and Cartwright proceed to weave melodic lines over the medium paced swing. On ‘Some Folks Tune’ there is a more spacious feel, with changes of tempo in the guitarist’s legato style and a sweet-timbred bass solo. ‘Strange But True’ eschews percussion for a harmonically fascinating saxophone duet with trombone elaborations and rounded guitar musings of great clarity. This is music of real depth and feeling.

‘Flamengo’ has Latin inflections, but it doesn’t wear them too obviously. McLoughlin’s beautiful ballad eventually gives way to a Barbara Thompson-style workout, complete with touches of flute. ‘Warm Front’ cooks pretty hot for most of six minutes, with Lodder’s pianism urgent and lyrical. ‘View From A Mountain’ builds from a haunting sax melody into a triumphant (but nicely understated) diatonic denouement. ‘Voluble’ then lets some hair down with its irrepressible, funky percussive drive. The album ends on a fitting note with ‘You Wish’. A languorous theme is given the big band treatment just short of swagger.

This album is most definitely worth a play – along with its predecessor ‘Debut’ (1994) and new successor ‘Precious Things’ (2002).


The University of Sheffield music department has been hosting a conference on Olivier Messiaen from 20-23 June 2002 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the great composer’s death. It was intended to be a celebration of the maitre and an opportunity for scholars interested in his music to share their knowledge and deepen their understanding of all aspects of Messiaen, his work and his influence.

In addition to papers, round table events and presentations, the conference featured two concerts of music by Messiaen, not least the UK premières of ‘Prélude for piano’ (1964) and ‘Feuillets inedits’ for piano and onde Martenot. There was the first concert performance of a short piano piece written for the École Normale in the 1930s. As well as these, and other rarely heard works, the concerts included ‘Visions de l’Amen’, ‘La fauvette des jardins’ and extracts from ‘Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus’. Performers included Madeleine Forte, Peter Hill, Matthew Schellhorn and Jacques Tchamkerten.

For further information about papers etc., write to: Messiaen@sheffield.ac.uk


‘La Folia’ is an excellent free online music review featuring a selection of articles and abstracts on classical and contemporary music, recording and related issues. It has a fine index and is brought to us by Madrigal. The eight offerings for June 2002 include pieces on ‘recordings alone’ and ‘Modern, Nasty Recordings: or Why Did Everyone Go So Terribly Wrong?’ by W A Greive-Smith. That ought to get you going! This news was brought to me by the ever-useful newsgroup rec.music.classical contemporary. If you follow the link (or the one at the side) you’ll get to it via GoogleGroups.

Deirdre Cartwright Group, 'Precious Things', Blow the Fuse Records BTF204CD, June 2002.

I was fortunate enough to catch Cartwright's Trio at a rainy open-air gig at Embankment Gardens in London on 6 June. Deirdre kindly let me have acopy of her new album, though it was officially released on 17 June - and launched with a concert at the Jazz Cafe, Camden, on 19 June. A tour is in tow. Check the Blow the Fuse website for details.

Diversity, depth and delight: precious things indeed

‘Precious Things’, the third album from the Deirdre Cartwright Group, is an infectious, adventurous celebration of music and life. The nine tunes included here were recorded in North London during April 2001. However the emergence of the CD also tragically coincided with the death of guitarist Cartwright’s sister, Bernice, at the age of just 43. The end result is, fittingly enough, a musical triumph – a collection that is at once playful, thoughtful and exploratory.

This time the cast involves three collaborators: long-time sparring partner Alison Rayner (electric and acoustic basses), Carola Grey (drums), and Janette Mason (Hammond organ, piano, synths). Rayner and Cartwright were part of ’80s headliners The Guest Stars. They are now leading lights in the ‘Blow The Fuse’ jazz project, which has its own web presence. Mason worked with a prestigious line-up (Annie Whitehead, Julie Tippetts and many more) on the ‘Soupsongs’ tribute to Robert Wyatt in 2000. She has toured with Carol Grimes and she recorded ‘Live At The Purcell Room’ with her own band in 1995. Grey’s career in the US, Germany, Britain and South East Asia has involved playing with the likes of Mike Stern and Ravi Coltrane. Altogether this is a considerable array of talent, and they certainly deliver.

Those familiar with the laid-back style of Deirdre Cartwright’s ‘Debut’ (1994) or the slightly more assertive guitar grooves on ‘Play’ (1999) might initially find themselves a bit taken aback by ‘Precious Things’. It is more eclectic in its references, but also somehow more organic in its sound. A good trick if you can pull it off. First we have the burbling drum and bass riffs of ‘Hyperbubble’, one of two tracks written and arranged by Rayner. Then on the equally danceable ‘Cold War’ the Hammond’s roomy acoustic conjures up the ghost of a rider on the storm. This sets the scene for some marvellous guitar organ/duetting throughout the album.

The title track bends a couple of memorable melodic riffs through some metrical, harmonic and key-shifting hoops. Tricky playing, but not at all self-conscious or showy. ‘Wonderwall’ follows – a jaunty instrumental version of the famous Oasis tune. Good to see Noel Gallagher in decent company for a change. ‘X Factor’ swings willingly and allows Grey room for a few pleasantly un-egotistical drum exercises.

‘Urban Reshuffle’, the other Rayner piece, begins by creating a bass, snare and breathy organ texture upon which Cartwright and Mason double a melody before heading off in their own directions. Towards the end the guitarist hints at Bill Frisell in her use of effects. Elsewhere you might pick up shapes of Green, Montgomery, Abercrombie. But Cartwright’s inventive phrasing and bell-like clarity of tone is distinctively her own. The last three tracks feature the gentle grooving of ‘No Nylon’, harder-edged lines on ‘N. 16 (Stoke Newington, home of the fated Vortex club), and rippling slabs of guitar set against cymbals and airy organ interludes on ‘Smells Like Jazz’.

Deirdre Cartwright is a rare talent indeed; the sort of musician you would actively wish commercial success upon precisely because you know she has the integrity to resist its blandishments. On ‘Precious Things’ she demonstrates considerable instrumental and compositional prowess. But she does not do this by hogging the limelight or by cramming in solos. Rather she generates a refreshing sense of musical space with a group of fine players who really seem to enjoy bringing the best out of each other. The result is an album of depth and quality as well as much surface attraction. Wholeheartedly recommended.

(c) Simon Barrow, 17 June 2002


When composer Harrison Birtwistle was interviewed some time ago for BBC Radio 4's 'Desert Island Discs', a slightly pleading Sue Lawley asked 'Sir Harry' what he would say to the many people who find his music too difficult to bear. 'I'd say listen to something else', he responded, in typical Lancastrian fashion. He also surprised some in the audience by not opting for much contemporary music, by selecting a bubblegum hit from Frankie Vallie and the Four Seasons, and by trying to make his island luxury a chainsaw, as I recall. How could anyone not love the guy?


Rudolph Bubalo, Various, Cleveland Chamber Symphony / Edwin London, New World NW80446, 1997.

Adventurous, energising music
8 June, 2002

This fine collection of chamber pieces by contemporary US composer Rudolph Bubalo (b. 1927) was one of those happy chance finds that makes life especially worthwhile for the restless music lover. Bubalo began his career as a jazz pianist and arranger and ended up switching streams into what gets awkwardly called 'classical'. He is now both professor of composition and director of the electronic and computer music studios at Cleveland State University. This is a joint production of CSU and New World Records in New York.

The four pieces represented on the CD illustrate different facets of the composer's varied interests - from the integration of orchestra and synthesisers on 'Concertino' and 'Offset 1' (where the electronics are mainly used to enhance colour and texture), through to the vibrantly serialist 'Concerto for Cello and Orchestra' and woodwind multiphonics of 'Valence II'.

Bubalo explains: "In all my work I am concerned with the expressive content of sound... sound that engages and stimulates the consciousness of the listener." In these aims he certainly succeeds. These pieces are among the most energising, adventurous, timbrely full-bodied and rhythmically packed I have heard for a long time. They combine formal musical interest with a real visceral punch, revealing their originator's intellectual rigour but also his delight in musics outside the canonical high art tradition. Synaesthetically speaking, his sound palettes are full of deep reds and blues contrasting with lighter hues and some surprising splashes of colour. This is a superb collection by a relatively little-known composer. Thoroughly recommended.


'Symbiosis’ (G.M. Recordings 007) is a collection of occasional instrumental pieces by Thomas Oboe Lee and Gunther Schuller. Lee’s ‘Mad Frog’ for oboe, bass clarinet and harp is especially diverting and intriguing. The Kronos Quartet give a strong performance of the same composer’s Third String Quartet, “Child of Uranus, Father of Zeus”. The Schuller contribution is the atmospheric chamber work for violin, percussion and piano from which the whole collection takes its name. American composed music continues to be a vibrant source of new delights often hidden from European ears. Schuller’s is a relatively well-known name, Lees less so. He is from China via Brazil and studied under Schuller and George Russell among others. If you like variety, colour and challenging a/tonality in your music you will not be disappointed. There are three one minute sound snatches at Amazon.com for those who want an aural clue.

On the prosaically entitled ‘Handel Arias’ (ABC Classics 472 151-2 ) acclaimed Australian tenor David Hobson sings exactly that: 17 songs from 12 operas, an oratorio and the ‘Ode for St Cecelia’ – the latter particularly beloved for me. I confess that I’ve only heard seven minutes of this fine collection, and that on a less than worthy sound system. Even so, Hobson’s voice shines through with the warmth, roundedness and clarity for which it is renowned. In fact I had better be complementary, since my friend Priscilla Abbott is a huge devotee of the man’s vocal chords. When I finally lay my hands on the CD itself I think I shall see (hear!) why. At the moment this seems to be an Australia-only release, but if I track it in the US or Europe I’ll add a note on this log. Still, this is the age of the credit card and online ordering. You can hear snatches at cdcollector. Irritatingly they refuse to let you leave their site, so you have to type in another URL. The best place to purchase would seem to be the ABC shop. Tajima’s Hobson page provides more artist links.


(1) Andrew Clements of The Guardian newspaper, commenting on the imminent end (in July 2002) of Bernard Haitink’s tenure as music director of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. He described the man as an undeniably great musician, but then went on to point out:

“The only unexpected work in his CV is Tippett’s ‘The Midsummer Marriage’. For a conductor charged with shaping and driving forward the whole musical profile of this country’s most prestigious company, this has been a desperately narrow repertoire at atime when the horizons of opera companies and opera audiences have become wider than ever before. It also comes as a shock rather than a surprise to discover that during the 15 seasons that Haitink has been at the helm, there have been only two new operas premiered in the House – Birtwistle’s ‘Gawain’ and Goehr’s ‘Arianna’ – neither of them, it almost goes without saying, conducted by its music director. That is a record the Royal Opera should regard with considerable shame and embarrassment.”

Too right, but don’t hold your breath. Meanwhile, check out Mark Antony Turnage’s fine ‘The Silver Tassie’ at English National Opera (the Coliseum).

(2) Aki Nawaz, founder of Fun’Da’Mental and Nation Records:

“Our philosophy with Nation Records was to give anyone – be it Asian Dub Foundation, Talvin Singh, Transglobal Underground, Jah Wobble – the freedom to express themselves. We don’t have immigration controls.. [but] radio stations won’t go near global fusion music.. Multicultural Britain? Islam messes up the band… But I don’t care. I won’t compromise my beliefs.”


A small selection on Amazon I have called Eclectic Guitars. For that is indeed what they are, in many contexts and across a number of (often boundary-defying) genres.


Birtwistle the surprise lyrical purist

Refrains and Choruses: Deux-Elles DXL1019, July 2001.

For the faint-hearted Harrison Birtwistle is a daunting prospect. In the interview with Colin Anderson that accompanies this fine recording he confesses, in a distinctly unapologetic way, that he does not begin to know how to write music 'for' an audience. Rather, (as I would put it) he writes out of his own intrinsic musical fascination; and in so doing invites the listener to accompany him on an adventure. As this collection amply illustrates, it is an adventure well worth joining.

'Refrains And Choruses' takes its title from Birtwistle's first acknowledged work (1957), a beguiling play on opposites and continuities. It is a collection of what he chooses to call 'occasional' rather than 'chamber' music. Perhaps the latter sounds too trivial or functional. More to the point, these compositions, though valuable in their own right, are not simply ends in themselves. Birtwistle frequently uses small ensemble pieces to explore ideas that crop up in, inform, or parallel more complex themes in orchestral or theatre works.

Among the goods on offer in this imaginatively organised compilation are several pieces for piano, including 'Hector's Dream' with its differing chordal patterns. This is about as near as we are ever likely to get to a 'beginner piece' from Birtwistle. The notes are possible, but the inner challenge is in the timing. Similarly, the flute 'Duet For Storab' in six short episodes has a disarmingly simple texture but is fiendishly difficult to perform. Two of its movements ('White Pastoral' and 'From The Church Of Lies') shock with their sweetness and lyricism. Those who stereotype Birtwistle as a monster of the inaccessible are confounded here.

It would of course be quite wrong to imply that Birtwistle in any way compromises his formal musical concerns in these pieces - even the most direct ones. But they are, nonetheless, a very profitable place to start for anyone seeking a way into his aural universe. Whether it is the hocketting on 'Hoquetus Petrus' or the intricate instrumental contrasts on 'Five Distances', there is a good deal to learn about Birtwistle's technique here. But there is also insight into his deep love of music as a means of expression and exploration.

For those already attracted to Birtwistle this material, excellently performed by the Galliard Ensemble and soloists, draws attention to some of the main building blocks of his work. For those who remain daunted or sceptical - but who are willing at least to try - it constitutes a more comprehensible (though no less profound) set of surfaces to contemplate. Thoroughly recommended for all concerned.

(c) Simon Barrow, 6 June 2002.

Thursday, June 20, 2002


Links in this initial entry are to composer sites, information sites and Amazon files on suitable recordings - though you may find better and cheaper ways to make your purchases.

The story so far... My love of music began when I fell under the spell of a family-owned recording. It was Handel's 'Ode to Saint Cecilia'. (1) Then I received, as a birthday present, my first LP: Karl Richter and the Munich Chamber Orchestra performing Handel's Organ Concertos (Opus 4 and Opus 7). I was about eleven. I almost wore the vinyl out! My parents were slightly less enamoured with the Baroque era - it was mainly the sounds of Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Mozart and Mendelssohn that filled our home. I appreciated them, though I sometimes resented the reverential nature of our listening sessions. Naturally I rebelled as soon as possible.

It happened at the age of twelve or thirteen. A visit to a record store brought me face-to-face with a violent modern painting adorning a recording of Bartok's Second Violin Concerto. I had never heard of Bartok. My parents advised me that it would probably be a bit noisy. That was enough for me. I invested my pocket money immediately. I took it home, played it - and couldn't fathom it at all. But so determined was I not to waste my money, and not to allow my parents to prove me wrong, that I played it over and over again. After about a dozen spins those grooves started to reveal the magic of the sounds embedded in them. First it was the rhythm and energy, then the contrasts of light and dark. Then the atonal melodic and harmonic qualities started to seep into my soul. I began to like it. A lot. I learned the all-important lesson that good music takes time and effort. You must enter its world, not always expecting it to reveal itself instantly or obviously.

By now the muse of music had worked her wonders on me. I was spellbound. I spent time pondering record sleeves by composers I had never heard of in the now-defunct 'Fine Records' store in Worthing. I came across Ravel's Piano Concerto in G, which I later realised had introduced me to jazz; though that bug didn't formally bite for another fifteen years or more. Meanwhile, as I entered my late teens, serious young men were being influenced by something rather dubious called 'progressive rock'. Popular music had largely passed me by. I'd barely heard the Beatles, though I do recall horrifying my parents some years earlier by listening enthusiastically to Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames ('Yeah, Yeah') on Top of the Pops. I liked the energy of rock, but its lyrical and melodic content seemed obvious and boring. The singers were often not my cup of tea, either. And I could do without twangy electric guitars. Oh, and that 4/4 drum drop was deadly.

At this point I was leaned upon by peers brandishing a copy of the first Emerson Lake and Palmer album. The band would later go on to earn its reputation for tasteless bombast, but on this LP they were genuinely interesting. All the usual rock rules did not apply and they were recognisably good musicians within my listening universe. There was Bartok again ('The Barbarian' was a Hammond heavy version of his Allegro Barbaro), and Janacek ('Knife Edge'). Keith Emerson's long jazz piano break in the middle of 'Take A Pebble' was heaven to my ears. So, as well as pursuing my classical interests, Baroque and twentieth century mostly, I started surreptitiously tuning in to a late night programme on Radio 3 called 'Sounds Interesting'. It was hosted by Derek Jewell, then popular music and jazz correspondent for the Sunday Times in London. His enthusiastic and rather earnest take on new trends in rock appealed to me, and via his programme I came across Yes's sprawling, eighty-minute, four movement epic 'Tales From Topographic Oceans'. Then came the frightening electricity of 'Relayer' and the measured glories of 'Close To The Edge'. It began an unlikely lifelong love affair with that particular band, cemented by a magical evening at the Empire Pool Wembley on 28 October 1977.

In my school music classes I had by now been introduced to the wilds of experimental music - John Cage, Feldman, Subotnik and the muso-Dadaists. It didn't grip me straight away, but it left an impression. I admired their sense of adventure and their conviction that music could and should press every boundary, aesthetic and conceptual. I discovered that liking music and finding it interesting or valuable was not exactly the same thing. That realisation has, of course, enabled me to infuriate many an interrogator when I have been asked for an instant opinion on a new piece! Always restless for a new angle, I simultaneously traipsed the streets of Worthing and Brighton with my friend Stuart. He introduced me to proto-punk band Tonge, who later became The Depressions. My attempts to persuade Cathy to like twentieth century classical music failed, however. But then she went on to study it at Oxford and got hooked. Heady days.

Round and round I went on the musical kaleidoscope. At the Roundhouse in London I heard George Crumb's eerie 'Ancient Voices of Children', competing with the rumble of rail trains nearby. Poulenc, Messiaen ('Vignt Regards', 'Le Banquet Celeste'), Debussy, Faure and Frank Martin made it into my collection. A little Bruckner and Mahler, too. But it was the French who seemed especially to grip my soul. Mostly it was instrumental material, here and there choral and vocal. With the late David Munrow I found Machaut and the joys of Early Music. I can't remember when I discovered Tippett, but I know what first inflamed my passion for his strange and demanding sound world. It was the 'Ritual Dances' from his early opera 'The Midsummer Marriage'. I also became a Proms devotee. Copland (I saw him conduct), Ives and Ruggles chanced upon me that way. Britten's 'War Requiem' too. Messiaen's 'Turangalila Symphony' literally transfixed me in the fifth row of the stalls at the Albert Hall one night. It was as if something had arrived from another world.

In the 1980s I lived in London and enrolled for an extramural sight-reading and theory course at Morley College. I didn't make massive progress, to be honest, but I borrowed an awful lot of records from the library! Webern, Henze, Ligeti and Varese come to mind. Also around that time I discovered jazz, particularly through a friend in Leeds who was devoted to Art Pepper. He introduced me to the fledgling pianist Jason Rebello and the legendary sax giant John Coltrane. The extraordinary Miles Davis thus came late - I had already encountered the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report and Soft Machine during my prog days, so the connections flowed naturally into the burgeoning fusion scene. Bill Bruford's Earthworks, of course, and the unfathomable harmonic flights of guitarist Alan Holdsworth. Then back to King Crimson. Inter alia I should offer a quick prayer of thanks for the South Bank Centre, the Contemporary Music Network, Serious/Speakout , the Society for the Promotion of New Music, and the CD-zine ‘Unknown Public’.

While I shared a semi-communal pad in Brixton the 'house band' was women's jazz combo The Guest Stars. An Australian flatmate then introduced me to The Smiths (I still rate Morrissey as one of the great songwriters), New Order and Talking Heads. The intelligent folk of Suzanne Vega blew through open windows during that period, and Asian and African music too. I remember a mesmerising set from Hugh Masakela at a jazz club in East London. In the nineties I began listening to Turnage, Birtwistle, Bill Frisell and Zappa. I found myself reading The Wire (for adventures in the more obscure environs of recorded and live sound). When I married Carla I discovered the gentle country-jazz of Montreux and Barbara Higbie. I also enjoyed a powerful re-awakening to Monteverdi's 'Vespers' at Union Chapel. I heard Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard live in church and concert hall. An electrifying chance meeting on a plane introduced me to a new friend from the US, Priscilla. She loves opera and has more traditional classical tastes - a reminder for me of those all-important roots. I love the Beethoven late String Quartets. I may yet listen to the Symphonies from end to end. I might even soften to Mozart.

So onward goes the unchartable adventure that is music. At the moment I am returning to Handel's Organ Concertos after a thirty year gap and enjoying the legato jazz guitar of Deirdre Cartwright who I came across in the '80s. At the same time I've discovered Elizabeth Maconchy's String Quartets, the sonic mind warp of Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Goldie's drum'n'bass anthem 'Timeless', Evan Parker's freeform soundscapes (not before time) and a host of hidden contemporary classical voices via MP3.

This weblog is called 'NewFrontEars' because, poor pun though it might be, that's exactly what we need every day to refresh our acquaintance with the wonders of music. When all else in the world seems dark and fitful, the muse of music continues to weave a spell, open better vistas, enrich the spirit, enchant the past, and invite us ever forwards. Each musical journey is different. But if mine can enrich yours and vice versa all shall be well in the end.

NOTE: (1) The actual recording was: Handel Ode for St Cecilia: final recit. & chorus. April Cantelo and Choir of King's College Cambridge/Willcocks. Decca 436-259-2. LP. Get the vinyl if you can track it.