Saturday, May 31, 2003


In the category of 'discovered because it kindly linked to NFE' is the weblog 'Reflections in D', which is about life as much as music. Not that the two are always unrelated... Lynn Sislo has recently written a piece in response to the thoughts of A. C. Douglas on contemporary art music. Her own experience is, of course, part of the wider conversation about why people with adventurous artistic tastes in other fields struggle with 'modern' music. In Lynn's instance, Elliott Carter and Alfred Schnittke pushed some buttons. I enjoyed her comment that "I've been told that Schnittke's music is tonal, but ... I can't always tell just by listening" -- resonances of the famous "Wagner's music is better than it sounds"! She is also a good trawler. I'm currently looking at material on the ("gives me the creeps" -- LS) Institute for Music and Brain Science. And the title? "Many of my favorite musical compositions are in d minor. As all music lovers know, minor keys tend to be "dark." D minor has always seemed to me somewhat ambiguous. Is it tragic, melancholy, depressed, lonely, disturbed, anxious, somber or merely playfully dark and spooky? In various works it is all of these things. I don't intend for my "Reflections" to be generally dark but I rather like the idea of ambiguity. "

[161.1] QUOTA BENE

(c) J Wolf 2003

"[His] music [was of] unarguable intergrity; emotion informed and achieved through intellectual rigour and curiosity... [He] marched joyously in his own direction." Composer Michael Berkeley pays tribute to Luciano Berio (1926 - 2003)

Obituaries: International Herald Tribune (Paul Griffiths); Guardian (Ivan Hewlett).

Thursday, May 29, 2003


NFE has had cause to comment recently on the prodigious (and relatively overlooked) modal and improvisational piano talents of veteran jazzman Andrew Hill. At 23:30 tonight (Friday), 'Jazz on 3' broadcasts the whole of his recent Barbican concert, through to 01:00 on Saturday. Definitely worth catching on the net -- or, if you are so inclined, pick it up later on the BBC Radio 3 playback site. Similarly, 'Jazz Legends' (from 16:00 - 17:00) features excerpts from a recently unearthed recording of a legendary gig featuring Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach... from 50 years ago this month. The programme is introduced by classically-trained jazz polymath, Julian Joseph. Coming up in June on 'Jazz on 3' - the live and contrasting saxophonic delights of Peter Brotzmann (free and wild) and Jan Garbarek (cool and calculating). BBC Radio 4, a quality talk station, pulls in over 17 million listeners weekly, according to the latest electronic research. Radio 3 is, by such standards, the merest blip of the airwaves... but what tremendous quality it exhibits in classical, jazz, new and world music.


While reading through the initial Luciano Berio obituaries, I came across this touching Berio story from Lynn David Newton's website. Read it for yourself...

He also includes a section called 'Selah' (Hebrew for 'pause for thought', and employed as a metrical reading device in Psalmody) which details his musical autobiography. It is an enquiring and enthusiastic journey across the traditions of the sort that music education at all levels should be encouraging right now.

Good to note, inter alia, that the UK government seems now to be recognising the deleterious impact of its cuts in schools-based music education, and is showing signs of restoring that balance within the national curriculum. There's a long way to go, however. Meanwhile, ISME does an important job at the international level.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003


Very sad news just in (via Charles Imperatori, the BBC Radio 3 bulletin board classical section, and an article USA Today) - Luciano Berio died late yesterday, ostensibly from post operational complications after having undergone surgery on his spine at the Gemelli hospital in Rome. Berio was undoubtedly the greatest living Italian composer, and one of the true greats of the twentieth century. He will be sorely missed.

Berio, who was also a conductor, was particularly noted for innovations in electronic music. He taught courses on electronic music at Columbia University in New York. He was a co-founder of the Musical Phonology Studio at RAI state television in Milan in 1955, at a time of significant electro-acoustical exploration. Berio was in the news last month about Myung-Whun Chung's decision not to renew his contract at principal conductor at St. Cecilia when his contract runs out in 2005. Other top posts for Berio included director of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. See also the Daily Telegraph.


The London Underground, one of the busiest metros in the world, is auditioning buskers for 200 'legal' slots at tube stations across the capital. Priority is being given to 'old hands'. LU previously tried to outlaw 'the independent music sector', but surveys have shown that 8 out of 10 passengers are in favour street music -- provided the quality is sufficient, and they do not feel harassed.

Among those who will benefit are hard-up students from London's music colleges, who help pay their tuition and residence fees by busking a few pennies of tourists and commuters in high season. Charing Cross is a favourite site for string ensembles, it seems. In the classical field, excerpts from Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons' are, unsurprisingly, among the favourite lollipops -- the equivalent of song staples like 'Yesterday' and (shudder) 'Streets of London'.

One practiced busker -- whose current day job includes mastering composition classes -- told NFE that there was now a definite Vivaldi downswing, however. "People frustrated at being 'put on hold' by phone management systems and call centres have started to develop a definite aversion," she explained. "I do hope LU continue and extend this licensing system," she added. "Live music is infinitely preferable to the mind-numbing musak that gets pumped into many public places these days."

But what about the less commercial street sound stream? While songs by the Davids Gray and Bowie are the proven kind of thing to attract loose change into the ubiquitous busking hat, some musical surprises can be forthcoming, too... like the guitarist picking out a theme from Michael Nyman's 'Piano Concerto', and the bass player who was recently heard ripping shards off a terrifying Godspeed! You Black Emperor cut. For such daring visionaries mindless populism just isn't worth an easier price for a cuppa. So please be extra generous to them.

Meanwhile, rumours that Brian Fernheyhough is carting his flute down to Notting Hill Gate were unconfirmed when NFE went to press. Or was that to bed...?

Tuesday, May 27, 2003


I still have my (now rather ‘period’ gauche-looking) sweatshirt from the first ever Meltdown festival on the South Bank. It was way back in 1993, and the concept was both simple and revolutionary: a truly diverse, eclectic modern music event curated by a single composer or performer/artist. The main idea – or was it simply an easy-going opportunity - was to make demanding, modern music accessible; to clothe artistic commitment in multi-media, multi-perspectival limelight; to widen perceptions, tastes and critical faculties among audience, performers and critics alike. In short, to redefine what we mean by ‘serious’ in music.

The climate was absolutely right. The austerity of early modernism was passed, but its benefits had seeped into the bloodstream. Post-minimalism was breaking out. It felt OK to like Boulez and Faust, Miles Davis and the London Musicians’ Collective. The old maps no longer worked. It wasn’t that ‘anything goes’ thing alone, but an awareness that some surprising things could be, endure even.

For the record, the previous Meltdown Directors are David Bowie (2002), Robert Wyatt (2001), Scott Walker (2000), Nick Cave (1999), John Peel (1998), Laurie Anderson (1997), Magnus Lindberg (1996), Elvis Costello (1995), Louis Andriessen (1994) and George Benjamin (1993). That tells an interesting story in itself. Three out of the first four were what would be called (badly, wrongly even) ‘classical’ composers. None of the last six (seven if you include 2003) have been. All are experimenters, sure, but latterly in fields that overlap prominently into the mainstream. Not a single jazzer, outright free-form extemporiser or techno warrior in sight – in ten years. Something starts to feel a little lopsided…

Then again, Meltdown 2003 is not without appeal. Running (as usual) at London’s South Bank Centre concert halls and platforms from 10 to 29 June 2003, the animateur this time is dub doyen Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, a musician, songwriter, reggae legend and producer of such artists as The Clash and Bob Marley and the Wailers. He has assembled a suitably quixotic array of performers and some extraordinary confrontations. Tortoise, Public Enemy, and the legendary Arkestra (minus their late demi-god, Sun Ra, of course) are all deployed in downright curious contexts and formations. The theme seems to be ‘stand offs’. Music over ten or more rounds with no clinches barred.

Well, some clinches are barred. For somehow the 2003 line-up is not quite enough for the true width of a Meltdown experience. Jazz (as I've already indicated) is hinted at only tangentally, and more as an ethos than a musical inheritance. Contemporary composition is wholly absent. Those have been developing trends of recent years, and they are to be regretted. Perry himself also uses the opportunity to ‘join in’ perhaps a little too lavishly. From a celebration of new music which is artfully purposeful without being reverentially serious, Meltdown has become a 'virtual installation' for the more creative fringes of popular music, laced with some obvious crowd-pleasers (Macy Gray comes to mind), the inevitable commercial sponsors, the promise of some gripping collaborations for a curator who is otherwise paid little, the Flash website, and a decisive dash of nu-urban uber-hip. It's more than OK for what it is, and exciting at times -- but it's not nearly as edgy, sparky or (say the blessed word!) downright challenging as what might have been.

So come on guys, share out the shades and give it to Ollie Knussen or Harry Birtwistle next year. Or Ornette Coleman, perhaps. Or Aphex Twin, for goodness sake. ‘Cos wouldn’t we all really like to know what Knussen digs on the turntablism scene? And if he doesn’t actually know yet, put him through a ‘Secret Jukebox' routine a la The Wire, or set the artistic director of the London Sinfonietta and Warp Records onto to his CD collection: the results could be mind blowing. But the way things are going it might just end up with Ali G and da RFH Massiv… Wesside, but not South Bank.

PS. Some of the Free Meltdown looks pretty groovy in its own, distinct way.

Sunday, May 25, 2003


* Preview of the 'Meltdown' Festival: where it's come from, where it's heading
* Busking goes 'street legal' and upmarket
* Andrew Hill, spritely and extemporary
* Medieval inventions?
* More contemporary music previews, reviews and notes

Saturday, May 24, 2003


Stefan Beyst's penetrating Ligeti analysis, 'Adventures: Ode to the discrepancy between word and deed' can be found in English here. See also the precis and sound samples ('Lux Aeterna', "Presto ruvido" from 'Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet') on EssentialMusic; song texts; the BBC Ligeti profile [plus quotation on micropolyphony]; some Ligeti editions on Sony; the Pitchfork review of 'The Ligeti Project II'; and Nicholas Lezard's Guardian review of 'György Ligeti: Music of the Imagination', by Richard Steinitz, 429pp, Faber, £25. There is also a feature on the book in the June issue of The Wire.

Friday, May 23, 2003

[155.1] GET CARTER

ECM has come up trumps again with 'Lauds and Lamentations', a superb double disc of works by Elliott Carter (still going strong) and Isang Yun (who died in 1995). At the heart of the collection are two contrasting Oboe Concertos, one by each composer. Both were written for Heinz Hollinger, a performer of extraordinary intensity and deftness. The Carter work was "spun out of invention" (Andrew Clements) in 2001. His '4 Lauds' (featuring Thomas Zehetemair on violin), 'A 6 Letter Letter' and 'Figments One and Two' stand in parallel to Yun's telegrammatic, gut wrenching solo, 'Piri'. On the Carter disc Hollinger takes notes from conductor Paul Sacher's name and fashions out of it a continuous motif for cor anglais. These discs harbour refrains and redoubts to boggle the mind and entrance the ear.

Incidentally, John F. Fink's highly developed website, Elliott Carter: A Guide to Research, is essential reading on the man and his music. It contains a fully annotated bibliography, a detailed discography, and a complete list of works, as well as appendices. The bibliography includes video recordings and interviews in addition to books and articles. A separate section on Carter's own writings is arranged alphabetically by title. Other Carter-Hollinger colaborations are detailed in the addenda.

:: Friday, May 23, 2003 ::


Constitutional musical maverick John Zorn's compositional and saxophone talents effortlessly traverse the worlds of contemporary classical, freeform jazz, avant post-rock and breakneck cartoon freakery. Frankly, you never know what he's going to come out with next -- which makes his decision to team up with vituosic Cuban percussionist Roberto Juan Rodriguez perfectly predictable in its sheer unpredictability. The pair assemble two equally intriguing cross-sections of musical fauna at the Barbican Centre on the evening of Sunday 20 July. Zorn's band, which includes shimmering guitarist Marc Ribot, effects to disassemble and reassemble traditional Jewish sounds, while Rodriguez combines horns, strings and David Karkauer's klezmer-style clarinet. Percussive wizardy welds the projects together in an orgy of differance. Two zeds and a couple of noughts. Not to be missed...

While you're about it, why not visit Tzadik, Zorn's radical cultural site, "dedicated to releasing the best in avant garde and experimental music, presenting a worldwide community of contemporary musician-composers who find it difficult or impossible to release their music through more conventional channels"? A cause definitely worth supporting.

Thursday, May 22, 2003


'Infrasound' is a sub-sonic bass system which utilises bodily sensation to reproduce the aural impact of bass notes which actually resonate at a lower frequency than is strictly discernible to the human ear. Or something like that. As we all know, sound is airwaves anyway, but the basic issue is that -- channelled in a certain way and in a wider aural context -- infrasound gives us the capacity to respond to notes we can't hear as such, though we may pick up 'overtones' in combination with the physical resonance. Anyway, as you can tell, I'm way out of my explanatory depth here, and hopefully a sonic engineer will sort out the misconceptions involved in this rather sketchy description. I'm consoled that a certain press office couldn't really explain it either!

The point is that the innovative South Bank Centre in London has a couple of upcoming events that put infrasound into action. The focus is a Ravi Deepres film installation on 31 May: "This concert for piano, electronics and visuals is also a live psychology experiment. Some of the music is laced with infrasound (extremely low-pitched sound). A giant generator, in the auditorium, will produce some of the deepest bass notes ever performed while questionnaires monitor the audience's reaction. Featuring piano music by Debussy, Glass, Part, Satoh and Tanaka. Including the world premiere of a piece specially written for the experiment." This event is repeated twice (from 3pm), with a discussion in the middle.

Looks good, huh? There is also a dramatic warning notice about side effects and pregnancy (basically they shouldn't occur, but don't try to sneak unborn kids into the auditorium, OK?)... A friend who has 'heard' an infrasound-assisted performance gave the metaphoric description of 'experiencing sub-bass particles'. Apart from melting subcutaneous fat in the brain, then, it seems that infrasound lends new sense to the popular refrains "you had to be there" and "did the earth move for you?"

Meanwhile, when NFE is in a less jocular mood, we will offer a much more satisfactory, learned musicological discourse on this development. As always. (No doubt most of you already know this stuff, since it's been kicking around the electronic music labs for literally *weeks*)... The nearest I've got so far is this NOAA definition: "Infrasonics is the study of sound below the range of human hearing. These low-frequency signals are produced by a variety of geophysical processes including earthquakes, severe weather, volcanic activity, geomagnetic activity, ocean waves, avalanches, turbulence aloft, and meteors and by some [hu]man-made sources such as aircraft and explosions."

You have been warned. The old sub-woofer may never sound the same again.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003


An enterprising programme of new music comes under the baton of London Sinfonietta laureate conductor (and adjunct composer) Oliver Knussen on Thursday 22 May at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall. Featured works include the premiere of Alexander Goehr's 'Marching to Carcassone', plus '...about Stravinsky'. Goehr was one of Knussen's own teachers. Then there is Detlev Glanert's experimental chamber sonata, 'Secret Room', and Charles Wuorinen's 'Cyclops'. Wuorinens says this piece is like the stock market, "because it proceeds in fits and starts"! The soloist is Peter Serkin on piano. It promises to be a fascinating and demanding evening.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003


Notorious-but-nice soprano Adey Grummet writes: "Another gig... Kombat Opera Klubneit is part club, part psycho recital. Richard Thomas ('Tourette's Diva' and 'Jerry Springer - The Opera') unleashes his epic urban song cycle. Very weird. Very funny. See you there? I'm the one who's not a goth or in bling. I'm in a caftan." Details: Friday 23 and Saturday 24 May at the Battersea Arts Centre in London. Box Office 020 7223 2223.

Adey can also be heard on the new CD from multi-voice orchestra The Shout, 'On Arrival'. She lends her time to spnm (what used to be called the Society for the Promotion of New Music, but is now more lower case and less prosaic...). And she was fabulous in the BAC's 'Jerry' too. See NFE on the latest JS production.

Monday, May 19, 2003


The imminent advent of John Adams' 'Klinghoffer' on TV (Channel 4, UK, Sunday 25 May, 18:55 -- slightly later than it was advertised before) raises the question of past opera-for-TV experiences. The precedent is mixed. Back in December 2000, for example, Channel 4 screened a film version of a highly acclaimed Glyndebourne youth opera, 'Zoe' (with music by John Lunn). The reviews were great [see Duncan Hadfield on MusicWeb for the whole story]. Richard Morrison of The Times declared it "a magnificently atmospheric score, cleverly conceived for young players." But in ratings terms it bombed: just 300,000 viewers. The overall terrestial audience share for the channel went down to only 1%, a tenth of its usual average.

Now I'm biased on this one -- librettist Stephen Plaice hangs out in my neighbourhood -- but this doesn't seem at all bad for a specialist art form in the age of niche and narrowcasting. However, since the advertisers definitely wouldn't wear the recent 600,000 audience for a highly-publicised contemporary version of Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night', Adams will need to pull at least 800,000 to cross the TV executive acceptability threshold. The signs are that it definitely deserves to do so. Whether it will is another matter.

Britten, Gian Carlo Menotti and Jonathan Dove are among the distinguished composers who have been involved in writing opera for TV before. But it is a difficult trick to pull off. Somehow the technology, the overlayed art forms and the intrinsic drama needed to make a TV opera take off don't gel readily. If Adams' musically accessible singalong-a-docu-soap doesn't help create a new genre, probably nothing will. 'Jerry Springer' (see NFE passim) is just too rude. So for those who want to love opera into the FX / videotech age, we'd better keep our fingers crossed and tune in...

Incidentally, Stephen Plaice (whose writing skills have graced fiction, essays, TV scripts, poetry and translating Ernst Bloch into English) has worked with several young opera composers through Aldeburgh Productions. He has also been recently engaged on a forthcoming Birtwistle project.


To put it all in perspective, the Velvet Underground certainly made the avant garde aesthetic chic, though they were never that risky in reality. 'Walk On The Wild Side' was, for sure, the first blissfully post-ironic chart song. With hindsight. And 'Metal Machine Music' is one of the great enigmas of twentieth century music. Even Darmstadt would have quaked, I'd wager. Yet I have never been a drooling protagonist for Lou Reed. Scratch him and there's an unadventurous rocker screaming to get out. His guitarism is de rigeur but often little more. His material is, in some strange way, transfiguredness ordinaried. And his voice can be absolutely terrible. I caught the recent outing for his new album, 'NYC Man' (BMG, 2003), on Jools Holland's 'Later' (BBC 2). It was dire.

I'm glad the old feller spoke out against the Iraq war, of course. I think he's a lucky man to be associated with Laurie Anderson, who is an abidingly interesting acoustic artist. But I somehow doubt that Reed's own musical contribution will be what gives him a place in the cultural history of the future. It's more a case of the man being the mood being the moment being the album - and evermore shall be.

My underlying opinion that Lou is 'frankly overrated' (as they say) is most unlikely to be mitigated by his peevish, petulant performance with Simon Hattenstone in The Guardian yesterday. Rude and evasive doesn't begin to describe it. 'Not A Perfect Day' is a classic car crash interview. Hattenstone - as usual - comes across as enquiring, pleasant, acute, angular and observant. But he's treated like shit. You're left wondering whether the A&R men have eaten Reed's soul and spat out the entrails. There is a momentary spark of possibility when he fezzes up to Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry as heroes. But anyone can namecheck the hall of fame, just for one day. And as for "If you want to know the records I like, on the web pages there is a top 100 or something like that" -- get a grip Lou, it's not even funny for chrissakes...

Reed 'only wants to talk about music'. He says absolutely nothing. This is eloquence beyond volume, I suspect.


Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Adams’ courageous opera ‘The Death of Klinghoffer’, based on the true story of the 1985 Achille Lauro hijacking, has enjoyed a mixed reception since its premiere in Brussels in 1991. During the armed takeover of the Italian cruise ship, American tourist Leon Klinghoffer was murdered and his body thrown overboard in his wheelchair. Adams’ work explores the complex human and political circumstances surrounding this awful incident. The key to its subsequent controversy was the way, in the eyes of some, it enabled the voices of Palestinians to be expressed lyrically and poetically; and the perception of others that it glorified its subject too much. The mixed feelings of the ‘Klinghoffer’ family added to the storm. Charges of anti-semitism and pro-terrorism have abounded, and, no matter how unjustified (and they are) they have stuck.

The degree of vitriol and censorship that has followed ‘Klinghoffer’ is deplorable. The Los Angeles Opera, which co-commissioned the opera, subsequently refused to mount a production in the early 1990s after political pressure. Other orchestras and corporate sponsors then declined to touch it. More recently, the Boston Symphony cancelled performances of the ‘Klinghoffer’ choruses in the wake of 9-11.

Now, however, ‘Klinghoffer’ is undergoing a welcome reappraisal and reawakening. British filmmaker Penny Woolcock’s fine, naturalistic, dramatically multi-layered and musically first-rate movie of the opera was shown at the Sundance Film Festival in February 2003. It had its debut at the San Francisco Film Festival in April, and at the Lincoln Centre on 13 May. Now Channel 4, the UK company that backed the production, will give it its British network TV premiere next weekend.

The Los Angeles Times has already declared that the movie marks out ‘Klinghoffer’ as the first great cinematic opera – a real boost to the whole genre (see photo here). Mark Swed called it “brilliant, morally courageous and overwhelmingly moving.” This is also the prospect raised by Charlotte Higgins in The Guardian and more cautiously by Rupert Christiansen in the conservative Daily Telegraph.

Unfortunately I missed the first UK concert performance (at the Barbican, with Leonard Slatkin in January 2002). I have very much appreciated the recorded version and I am anticipating the TV screening with some relish. Blast Films and Channel 4 explain: “Penny Woolcock, who also directs, has written a screen adaptation of the opera to include a fictional account of the lives of the hijackers and incorporating narratives based on the historical context of the political situation (the Holocaust, the foundation of Israel and the exile of the Palestinians). The film includes archive footage from the Zionist and Palestinian political history. John Adams himself conducts the London Symphony Orchestra in a modified score for this adaptation.”

See also the highlight stories in The Guardian, Variety, Media Week and Yahoo!. A new ‘Klinghoffer’ production opens at the Prague National Theatre on 22 May.

‘The Death of Klinghoffer’ shows on Channel 4 at 18:55 on 25 May 2003.

Sunday, May 18, 2003


The US premiere of rebellious Swedish composer Sven-David Sandstrom's 'High Mass' (1993-94) for soloists, world voices, VocalEssence Chorus and Orchestra, was given at the Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis, on 3 May 2003. I am pretty sure that this work hasn't made it to the UK yet. Let me know if you have different information. Bruce Hodges' MusicWeb review of the event can be found here. His own judgement is that "this might possibly be one of the greatest choral works of the last twenty years or so. Time will give it more perspective." The Oratorio Chorus and Concert Orchestra's 2001 performance at Indiana University (where Sandstrom is a professor) is available online. The LSO played one of Sandstrom's Symphonies (No 2, I believe) some time back, and I have a hazy memory of a London outing for 'Mute the Bereaved Memories Speak' (a requiem) too, but I can't recall who did that. 'Hear my Prayer' (his Purcell adaptation) and 'Es ist genung' (extending an initial idea by Buxtehude) were played on BBC Radio 3's 'Baltic Nights' slot on February 21. They are available on BBC Radio 3 web playback. Sven David is not to be confused with the younger Jan Sandstrom, who is the composer of the well-known 'Motorbike Concerto' for trombone and orchestra.

MusicWeb's editor, Marc Bridle, adds: "In July I should be carrying reviews of a Sciarrino series in New York (including his opera, 'Macbeth'), Henze's new opera from Salzburg in August, and in September Rautavaara's new opera, 'Rasputin', from Helsinki."

Saturday, May 17, 2003


The highly commendable BBC Music Magazine continues to purvey interesting monthly front-cover CDs. Contemporary music is a little rare, it must be admitted. Better known compositions by John Adams and Louis Andreissen have appeared recently, but the staple is standard classical repertoire. Neverthless, they are always complete works (rather than the more usual bleeding chunks), often include lesser known works by well-known composers, and frequently feature live performances or recordings by newer (and occasionally historic) artists. The current issue of the magazine -- June 2003 -- reproduces two first rate BBC studio recording sessions by the recently deceased pianismo legend, Vlado Perlemuter. Featured is Ravel's 'Le Tombeau de Couperin' (recorded in 1970) and Debussy's 'Pour le piano' and 'Images' (1968). There are full notes and an article to accompany the disc, which includes 61:48 worth of delicately crafted, architectural and almost orchestral music. Perlemuter gave his final recital in 1999. Ten years before he died, aged 98, Nimbus asked him to record his entire repertory, consisting mostly of Chopin and Ravel, but also including some masterly performances of Beethoven, Faure, Rachmaninov and Schumann. The only 'modern' work he ever performed was Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No 3.


There's a rare chance to hear pianist Andrew Hill and a specially commissioned 12-piece US-British band on tour in the UK this month. For those who don't know him, Hill is, like Cecil Taylor and Thelonious Monk (to whom he is particularly dedicated), the occupier of his own unique stratosphere in the world of extemporary jazz. John Fordham says of him: "[Hill] is a distinctive composer with a fondness for a rattling, percussive music full of sudden rhythmic zigzags and odd intervals, and with a harmonic imagination as audacious and visionary for his generation as Monk's had been 20 years before." The tour takes in the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester (20 May), London's Queen Elizabeth Hall (21 May), the Irish Centre in Leeds (22 May), the CBSO, Birmingham (23 May), and the bath Festival (24 May). Hill is the winner of this year's JazzPars Award. His album 'Dusk' took the Downbeat and Jazz Times prizes in 2001.

Friday, May 16, 2003


The Classical Music Archives is a pay-site containing an extraordinary range of resources -- currently some 24,118 files covering works by 1,557 composers, together with radio links, background data and much more.

On a more modest tack, but one of significance for NFE readers, Dave Lampson's Classical Net modern repertoire (post 1945) list is one of a number of short introductory guides which crop up regularly in general online composer searches. At present this includes luminaries such as: Adams | Babbitt | Barraque | Berio | Boulez | Bryars | Cage | Carter | Crumb | Dallapiccola | Feldman | Ferneyhough | Glass | Gubaidulina | Harrison | Hartmann | Henze | Hovhaness | Kokkonen | Krenek | Ligeti | Lindberg | Lutoslawski | Nancarrow | Nono | Part | Partch | Penderecki | Reich | Reynolds | Riley | Sallinen | Scelsi | Schnittke | Stockhausen | Subotnick | Takemitsu | Varese | Webern | Wolpe | Wuorinen | and Xenakis

Lampson adds: "I am now looking for volunteers to write short biographies and recommend specific recordings for those composers who are not currently well-represented. All contributions will be credited. Recommended repertoire is also up for discussion. If you have specific interest in this music or these composers and would like to help, please send your contribution (bio, recommended recordings, etc.) to my email address."


'Adventures: Ode to the discrepancy between word and deed' is writer and critic Stefan Beyst's evaluation of one of the generally underestimated mini-landmarks of contemporary music. He writes (in translation):

"Ever since -- [some] forty years ago -- I heard them for the first time, they have had me in their grip: [Gyorgy] Ligeti’s 'Aventures'. And they [have not lost that] grip after all [these] years. [Q]uite the contrary. The same goes for two other works .. from 1962: ‘Atmosphères’ and ‘Volumina’. In this essay, however, I .. confine myself to the unparalleled ‘Aventures’ .. [I]n my view – perhaps apart from Alban Berg’s 'Wozzeck' – [this is] the only great .. negative ‘opera’ of the twentieth century. For, even [though] the work, in the best tradition of Webern’s ‘Bagatelles’, .. lasts for a mere eleven minutes, there is a [great deal to say] about it. Not .. least [that] it is governed by the discrepancy between word and deed... the Freudian lapse..."

The text can be a little tricky to follow, but it is full of insight and allusion.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

[146.2] QUOTA

“Why waste a lot of money on psychotherapy when you can listen to the B Minor Mass?” – Michael Torke

“In music the passions enjoy themselves” – Friedrich Nietzsche

“Why was Charles Ives an amateur? Because he wasn't a European?” – Morton Feldman


Judith Weir’s ‘String Quartet’, of which I am rather fond, gets a rare broadcast outing on BBC Radio 3 in the early hours of Friday 16 May (though you’ll find it in the schedules for 15th) at 17.25. The programme is ‘Through the Night’, a regular slice of classical turntablism which tends to get less conventional as the wee hours progress… or at least to throw in the odd nugget of contemporary grit. [Not a mixed metaphor if your brunch is American-style, I should point out.]

The BBC Radio 4 interview with ex-Tony Blair guitar accompanist Mark Ellen has been preserved on the web by those terribly efficient Frippian archivists, FraKctured. “We've got the soundclip over at: You'll find it in the FraKctured Files section and it is called uglyrumours.mp3.” Thanks to Darren ‘Vroom’ for pointing this out on

A follow-up letter in the Guardian on Saturday observed, drily: “If only Tony Blair's favourite King Crimson track had been ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’, (‘Rock on Tony’, G2, May 7), he might have proved to be a much sounder socialist.” Tim Skelton, Bury St Edmunds. ...{cough}...

[See 139.3: NFE, Wednesday, May 07, 2003]


Album: ‘Hatful of Hollow’
Artists: The Smiths
Audio CD (re-issued 20 February, 1995)
Number of Discs:1
Label: WEA 4509918932

Burn down the disco... Morrissey's melancholic musings and Marr's angular melodic lines undoubtedly make The Smiths indie's defining glory. 'Hatful of Hollow' stands out, alongside other classics like 'The Queen Is Dead', as the clearest testimony to their talent in album form. If you only have room for one Smiths CD in your collection -- and there really is no excuse for such parsimony given how cheap they are these days -- this is probably the collection to plump for. Wryly heart-rending vignettes like 'William', 'Reel Around the Fountain' and 'This Charming Man' stand side-by-side with gnarly testaments to urban noire ('Girl Afraid', 'Back to the Old House') and alternative classics ('How Soon is Now?'). Even those who are resistant to Manchester's singalong-sophists-with-attitude can usually work up some sympathy for 'Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now', where (faux?) adolescent angst and a jaunty tune walk hand-in-glove: full of crisp overstatement... "What she asked of me at the end of the day, Caligula would have blushed..." There's no getting around it. You have to own this album if you have a soul... so they claim at Salford Boys' Club.

James Littlewood adds: ‘Hatful Of Hollow’ is a sixteen track collection that is taken in the main from BBC Radio 1's cutting edge John Peel and David Jensen evening shows in 1984. Like ‘The Beatles at The BBC’, The Smiths radio sessions sound both timeless and epoch defining, and there is no better introduction to the band's beguiling talent.”

: : Tuesday, May 13, 2003 : :


It’s artful, but also wildly popular. It’s demanding, but also glamorously smooth on the ear. The music of those extravagant ‘80s indie pioneers, The Smiths, is the deserved focus of internet-accessible BBC Radio 6 this week. Indeed it’s already underway and I really should have warned you before. Anticipate unreleased John Peel sessions, covers from the likes of Ed Harcourt and Nada Surf, plenty of 'strange ways here I come', and classic solo Morrissey observations (such as ‘We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful’ and ‘The World Is Full Of Crashing Bores’).

The Smiths (profiled here) really were extremely nifty operators, and it is one of my abiding regrets –alongside missing Miles Davis’ last London gig, not seeing Zappa or John Cage perform, and being denied a final sighting of Michael Tippett at the Proms by the hoplessness of Connex South Central – that I didn’t take up the opportunity to catch Mozzer and Co at the Brixton Academy just before they split. I don’t believe the re-union rumours in The Independent (28 April) and Manchester Online . It would be intriguing.... but ultimately disappointing.

Besides, the crystalline recorded legacy is there for everyone; and I shall demonstrate the raw passion that lies behind my more considered tastes (Birtwistle and Crumb really do live in different galaxies) by revealing – in the post above – a less than bashful Amazon sales pitch for what is perhaps The Smiths' finest opus. Go there, expect to have to work at it if you come from another zone of planet sound, but hope to be charmed later or (better still) sooner.

Monday, May 12, 2003


The Wigmore Hall Farwell Gala for former artsistic director William Lyne (BBC Radio 3, 19:00 – 23:00, Monday 12 May; introduced by Petroc Trelawny). The four-hour bonanza contains “a galaxy of stars”. Expect 18th and 19th century fare and the odd bit of wry jollity rather than anything too demanding, but it will make for an un-winding evening’s listening. [See NFE 142.1]

Contemporary British compose George Benjamin conducts performances of his own ‘Viola, Viola’ and ‘Three Inventions’ with the London Symphony Orchestra on BBC Radio 3, 19:30 – 21:30; Thursday 15 May) -- given live last week at the Barbican Centre as part of the extensive ‘By George!’ season. In a multiple bargain, you also get Colin Davis taking the LSO through Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird’ (the complete ballet) and Bach’s Brandenberg Concert No 6. A gloriously chromatic, colourful combination. [See NFE 76.1, 2/11/2003 6:23:47 PM]

Note also the LSO live recordings label.


Though NFE covers live classical, contemporary, jazz and avant events as far afield as New York, Melbourne and Amsterdam (to pick three recent examples), the emails I get on this subject tend to be about London… why so much specifically on the English capital’s music-making? The obvious answer is that I’m based here in the South-East, and it’s inevitable that a weblog with that kind of geographical gravity will show it, even if NFE aspires to global frontiers and lives in cyberspace. Besides, locality is important to music. And whatever its faults (and they are legion), London is one of the world’s most exciting cultural centres – especially for modern music-making. (As an upcoming example, look at the extraordinary fayre on offer at the City of London Festival, 23 June - 10 July 2003; and, generally, the Classical Source and SBC.). I do understand the frustration of ‘not being able to get there’, however. I often have that feeling when I’m surfing the web and come across some dream concert I won’t be able to experience. But, let’s face it, that can happen down the end of one’s own street too, given the demands of life and schedules.

Still, NFE does try to compensate wherever it can by pointing to radio broadcasts of the concerts it flags – perhaps especially if they’re in the Big Smoke and (as I know) most of you aren’t. That’s one of the many reasons to laud the excellent BBC Radio 3. Is there another single art music station in the world with such wide (and deep) coverage and excellent post-broadcast net availability? I don’t think so. Though that is not to say that their aren’t a host of fine contemporary music stations around the globe – about which I enjoy being informed. Anyway, not to miss out on the treat at the end of the rant, two events mentioned recently on NFE are coming up on R3 imminently are [see NFE 144.2 above]

Sunday, May 11, 2003

NOTE TO READERS: For the future I am considering an additional cross-indexed portal page which will make searching much easier and reduce dependence on the current archiving system. SB.


Today at 17:45 Alyn Shipton (whose shamefully scuppered night-time jazz round up on the BBC World Service was always worth catching, too) introduces ‘Django’s People’, a fine documentary on the roots of Gypsy guitar legend Django Reinhardt [see NFE 139.1]. It looks especially at his kin, the Manouche, “eastern European itinerants who settled in northern France in the late 19th century and kept their traditional music alive while combining it with contemporary influences.” Shipton, who himself played with Belgian travellers for a while in the ‘70s, meets Reinhardt descendents in Paris who combine free jazz, bebop and post-bop with their Manouche heritage. Delight and outrage all round, I’m sure.

Saturday, May 10, 2003


Jazz musician and composer Deirdre Cartwright -- a long-term favourite of NFE, and rightly described in Highly Strung magazine as “currently the most imaginative guitarist on the scene” -- is touring across southern England at the moment.

Her fine new album ‘Precious Things’ is in the spotlight, and accompanists include vocalist Sarah P and trombonist Annie Whitehead. Also featured is the work of Anne Robinson, an artist whose visuals include video, digital image manipulation, super-8 and ‘direct action on film’ – as used in earlier ‘jazz’ films, such as those of filmmaker and kinetic artist Len Lye. John Fordham (The Guardian) describes the feel of the album well: “Cartwright's mingling of a Metheny-like sound and delicate textures suggestive of Ralph Towner is very expressive … and the idiomatic range is full of surprises.”

The remaining dates on the current tour are - 18 May: Exeter Arts Centre; 19 May: Norwich Arts Centre; 21 May: Cargo, 83 Rivington Street, London EC2; 25 May: Bath Jazz Festival.

You can find out more on the Blow the Fuse website, which is well designed (even in the eye of someone who is often averse to its medium, Flash). Mind you, Deirdre isn’t always terribly good at keeping her patch -- signalled at the bottom of the index page -- up-to-date…. (a-hem*). Photos of the band in action by Barry Quick are available on-line, and reviews of Cartwright’s three solo albums are on Amazon here. But buy them through Blow the Fuse. They need the money, I'm sure.

* What was that first track on 'Play' (BTF 9703, 1997)? 'Got My Modem Working', I believe...

Friday, May 09, 2003


At 22:45 on BBC Radio 3 tonight (available on the web), Sarah Walker presents a concert given by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra marking vivid Australian composer Gerard Brophy's 60th birthday. This is part of the 'Hear and Now' series. It includes the world premiere of his 'Guitar Concerto in Blue', a BBC co-commission with Symphony Australia, conducted by Clark Rundell and featuring soloist Craig Ogden. Also on the bill are Brophy's 'Mâtho' and 'Colour red...your mouth...heart', and the UK premiere of Mary Finsterer's 'Sequi', played by the Arditti Quartet.


Paul Kildea, the new artistic director at London's historic Wigmore Hall, has the right attitude. He has no intention of letting the place become a museum, or a platform purely reserved for the jewels of C18th and C19th classical music. A few years ago regular Wiggers were a little horrified that jazz recitals made their first appearance -- though the prodigious talents of Julian Joseph and Jason Rebello could only be deemed risky in the narrowest of circles. Henze and Boulez trip off Kildea's tongue as readily as Beethoven and Schubert. He is ready to build on the tremendous 38+ year reputation of predecessor William Lyne (whose contribution is celebrated in today's gala performance). "Surely only a madman, a Barnum or a Barenboim tinkers with a functioning, successful demand- supply economy, which we have at Wigmore Hall. Yet tinker we must, for the long-term survival of the species."

No shrinking violet, Kildea ventures opinions on numerous facets of his craft in The Guardian today. In particular, he says: "Here in Britain, the problem is that for 10 years or more, the sacred marriage of artist and repertory has been slowly falling apart. Sure, there is a cult of personality, but this is dislocated from the concept of the artist as the gatekeeper of all repertory. Classic FM, Naxos and even some programmes on [BBC] Radio 3 have emphasised repertory over performer, leaving new music without popular, trusted advocates. And whatever their role in introducing art music to a wider audience, once the introduction is completed, fixation on repertory must be exchanged for the true musical experience - what Britten once called the "holy triangle" of composer, performer and audience."

[See the feature in Friday Review]


Composer Stefan Hakenberg wrote the music to 'The Displacement Map', a a documentary film "in four movements" by Theo Lipfert. It has been showing at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. The final performance is today: Friday, 9 May 9, 14:00 Tribeca Film Center, $10.00. There is more concerning the film at Singing Pictures. The movie is about "an Ohio shopkeeper's daily activities [that] trigger memories of a little-known historical event - the forced relocation during World War 2 of Aleut-Americans from the Aleutian and Pribiloff islands to camps thousands of miles away. ... 'The Displacement Map' uses music and visual clues rather than words to tell an almost universal story of war, displacement, and relocation."

The world premiere of Stefan Hakenberg's 'Nosey' and 'Gussy LaMore', two pieces for two Highland bagpipes and snare drum -- performed by Laurie and Doug Gardner (bagpipes) and David Sheakley (drum) -- takes place on 18 July, 2003, 20:00, Northern Light United Church, Juneau; there is a further concert the next day at the Chilcat Center, Haines. For more information please visit CrossSounds's site or e-mail


Some time ago NFE reviewed the fabulous eponymous album from 'Inner Noise' [Asaf Sirkis (d); Steve Lodder (church org); Mike Outram (g)], which is on Konnex KCD 5113. You can now visit Asaf Sirkis' new website. It was he who conceived, composed and arranged this highly innovative album, drawing upon influences from the overlapping domains of classical, jazz and art rock - with world, klezmer and other Arabic overtones. Sirkis is touring extensively with Gilad Atzmon & the Orient House Ensemble over the summer. There are also appearances with the Phil Robson and Mark Latimer Trios.

'Inner Noise' themselves perform less frequently. But there is an important opportunity to hear them live on Sunday at 20:00. JAZZ7 at Hugo's, 25 Lonsdale Road, London NW6 6RA, is the venue. Advance booking highly recommended. Bookings 020 7372 1232. [The original review with extensive links is here]

Thursday, May 08, 2003


I didn’t manage to catch the premiere of Lowell Liebermann’s ‘Sonata No.3 op.82’ at London’s historic Wigmore Hall on 16 April, but Marc Bridle, editor of the excellent MusicWeb did, and he reports that – along with performances of works by Liszt, Schubert, Read Thomas, Hough, and Wild – it was “one of the most sheerly inspired piano recitals I can remember hearing for some time.” The soloist was American pianist James Giles, a professor at Northwestern University.

Bridle adds of the Liebermann: “Its scale is breathtaking, its drama evocative and its lasting place in the repertoire imperishable. Liebermann’s largest solo piano work to date, and his first piano sonata for 20 years, it has all the typical elements of lyrical brilliance and formidable virtuosity which were hallmarks of his two, incandescent piano concertos (recorded by Stephen Hough for Hyperion).”

[See the full review, which is well worth reading, here.]

Wednesday, May 07, 2003


As if progressive rock somehow lacked enough mortal foes, Stuart Jeffries (writing in the Guardian newspaper today) reacts with ironic glee to the surprising news that British prime minister Tony Blair apparently has a soft spot for quintessential art-house band King Crimson. He was formerly publicly associated with the more languid, acoustic delights of a duo called Etzio. One for the communitarians to hum, no doubt.

Mark Ellen, who 33 years ago played with the PM in the Oxford student band Ugly Rumours, disclosed on BBC Radio 4’s flagship ‘Today’ programme yesterday that Blair also loves the more mainstream Free. The PM’s attempts to ‘get down with the kids’ are, of course legendary. One of the loudest mistakes of his first term was to try to ingratiate himself with the Gallagher brothers: a move that backfired when they joined legions of other (then) fashionable acts to denounce his government’s rightward drift in the New Musical Express.

The news that Blair is an aficionado of Robert Fripp & Co’s boffinish musings is more serious however, since it threatens to sully an otherwise highly credible outfit: the one manifestation of ‘prog’ (a term strongly disavowed by Fripp) still deemed acceptable in other avant quarters of the musical universe. But hang on a moment. Before you recoil in horror at the unlikely thought of No 10 Downing Street reverberating to the artful cacophony of THRaKaTTaK, consider the evidence. This love affair may in fact be with one album, maybe even with one song only.

Noting that “lyricist Pete Sinfield had Wagnerian pretensions and deployed in verse an analysis of the human psyche that drew heavily on the work of Melanie Klein”, Jeffries explains thus: “One of King Crimson's songs .. still weighs heavily on the prime minister. ‘I saw him not long ago and we spent about 20 minutes talking about the music we listened to at college,’ said Ellen. "We were talking about ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’, which had an incredible guitar solo in the middle of it.’ ”

Apparently Tony still struggles to nail those fleet-fingered notes. Jeffries quotes some delightfully batty advice from Fripp in Total Guitar (not solely directed at senior politicians coming to terms with the weight of being 50, admittedly). He goes on to note of the dystopian lyrics: “You can't tell me that the second verse isn't a prophetic critique of war in Iraq, nor that the third isn't a similarly insightful prediction of the paranoid-schizoid politician of the current century who has adopted, just as Klein envisaged, patterns of thought and experience characterised by blame, scapegoating, idealisation, persecution and other distorted perceptions.”

Perhaps, after all, we can expect a liberal volte face in C21st politics, as Sinfield (no relation to Jerry Seinfeld, in case you were absent-mindedly fantasising) works his latent, imagistic sorcery on GW’s newest playmate? Then again, maybe not. Well, not unless the pigs begin to fly and progressive rock leapfrogs back into the mainstream…

Fripp and Sinfield were, apparently, unavailable for comment. By a curious (and perhaps fearful) symmetry the Guardian's wonderful spoof, 'Mrs Blair's Diary', mischievously alleged back in 1997 that El Tone also gained some inspiration from Yes' 'Tales From Topographic Oceans'. Astonishingly, he was still elected by a landslide.

[The full article by Jeffries can be found here John Harris' new book, 'The Last Party: Britopop, Blair and the Demise of English Rock' is published on Friday, and previewed today in The Independent.]

Tuesday, May 06, 2003


An extraordinary array of performers will gather in London on 26 and 28 June (a Thursday and a Saturday) to perform John Adams' striking Millennium work, 'El Nino', a stark and unsentimental retelling of the story of the holy family set against a contemporary backdrop of poverty and racism. Unjustly ostracised in some quarters for his powerful opera 'The Death of Klinghoffer', Adams has never shied away from social engagement in his work. The stage production of 'El Nino' combines singers, dancers and a full-length feature film (shot in the deserts and by the ocean in California). Adams himself conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra with Dawn Upshaw (sop), Willard White (bass-bar), Kirsti Harms (mezzo-sop), London Voices and Theatre of Voices. Tickets from the Barbican Centre. Performances begin at 19:30.


It’s hard to believe that it is fifty years since the death of Gypsy jazz guitar legend Django Reinhardt. His famous co-conspirator in the ‘Hot Club de Paris’ was, of course, Stephane Grappelli (link is to BBC Radio 3 interview), who lived until 1997 and made his impact on the classical world via duets with the likes of Yehudi Menuhin and Nigel Kennedy. Reinhardt’s following is growing again at the moment, and he is fortunate to have a contemporary expositor-in-chief in the form of fleet fingered virtuoso, Martin Taylor, perhaps the greatest living acoustic jazz guitarist. John Etheridge, formerly of Soft Machine, is one of a number of musicians from well outside Reinhardt’s orbit who have fallen for his charms. At a time when European jazz was seen as little more than a cheap and inferior imitation of a quintessentially American art form, Benny Goodman was another of those elder statespeople who extolled Django’s extraordinary gifts. Thankfully times have changed, and increasingly jazz is being seen as an international language, not to mention a decidedly mercurial one. Just think of Django Bates.

Francois Rousseau's extensive Django Reinhardt Documentation Centre is well worth visiting for those who wish to find out more. The Classic Jazz Guitar site has biographical notes and sound samples, as well as information on a range of other important artists. Last but not least, Garrison Keiler introduces virtuoso guitarist Jay Berliner playing John Lewis' fine tribute piece, 'Django'. Reinhardt's Django's most famous composition, 'Nuages', from the 1930s, is also featured. An ideal way to settle in for the night... thanks indeed to Eve's Magazine: A Prestigious Magazine of Writing, Music and the Arts.

[138.2] 'THE WIRE' & 'BBC MUSIC' -- OFFER

NFE has a significant number of back copies of BBC Music Magazine and The Wire, dating back to 1992, which are available FREE to anyone willing to collect them or to pay for their transport from Brighton, England. They're not complete runs, and the last few years are thinner - but they are a valuable resource, and I'd be sorry simply to recycle them. Unfortunately I no longer have room to house said items. Drop me an email (address under 'contact' above) if you are interested or if you know someone else who might be. Neither the performance CDs that come with BBC Music nor the 'Wiretappers' series are included in this offer, it should be noted...

Monday, May 05, 2003


'Best of the rest'? Surely the Independent on Sunday newspaper had to be kidding? But no, with virtually no serious music coverage in its supplement this weekend, the news that Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony were touring Europe (or at least Dublin, London, Brighton, Brussels, Amsterdam, Düsseldorf, Cologne, Vienna, Prague, and Paris) from 7 - 25 May was merely noted in passing, with the Barbican date (9th - Adams, Copland, Stravinsky) as the only one detailed. This is, however, a major series of events. I don't often quote publicity shots, but this news release sums up the deal just fine:

Celebrated for their commitment to contemporary music, Tilson Thomas and the SFS will feature at least one 20th century composition on every program of the 2003 European Tour. The tour includes two works making their European premiere, a brand new John Adams work commissioned by the SFS, 'My Father Knew Charles Ives', and Tilson Thomas’s own 'Poems of Emily Dickinson'. Tour repertoire also includes Mahler’s 'Symphony No. 9 in D major', Tchaikovsky’s 'Manfred Symphony', and Copland’s 'Symphony No. 3'. Acclaimed violinist Hilary Hahn will join the orchestra in Stravinsky’s 'Violin Concerto in D major' in Dublin, London, Brighton, Brussels, Düsseldorf, Cologne, Vienna, and Prague. Soprano Barbara Bonney joins the SFS for Tilson Thomas’s 'Poems of Emily Dickinson' in London, Cologne, Vienna, Prague, and Paris. Renowned for its music education programs, the SFS will also take its music education abroad through a series of classes and appearances by orchestra members. SFS musicians will visit and perform in local European elementary schools and conduct master classes in music academies and colleges.


This year marks the 80th birthday of the remarkable Hungarian contemporary composer, György Ligeti. His works are well highlighted at this season’s BBC Proms season, with ‘Lux Aeterna’ (best known for its role in Stanley Kubrick’s classic film, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’) and two comic operas, ‘Adventures’ and ‘Nouvelles Adventures’, being the standout events. The full roster is ‘Six Bagatelles’ and ‘Ten Pieces’ (21 July); ‘Lontano’ (31 July); ‘Horn Trio’ (4 August); ‘San Francisco Polyphony’, ‘Adventures’, ‘Nouvelles Adventures’ (8 August); and ‘Lux Aeterna’ (14 August).

Braunarts' extraordinary 'György Ligeti Site' is well worth a visit if you haven't come across it yet: full of insight and imagination. See also the Ensemble Modern site (in German, translated amusingly in English here). 'The Ligeti Project III' is reviewed at Book.Nu. The last major celebration of the man's work in Britain was 'Clouds and Clocks' around 1997 at the Barbican Centre, if I recall correctly.

Canada's excellent national new music programme, Two New Hours has a good Ligeti feature. They comment: "Perhaps the most notorious example of Ligeti's interest in shifting densities of sound is his 'Poeme Symphonique' (1962), which is scored for an orchestra of 100 metronomes. Ove Nordwall has observed how this work "proved fruitful in a later stylistic development: the superposition of different metres to produce sound of perpetual change in rhythm and colour, related to a scheme of interval changes. This was the formal principle in 'Continuum' (1968) for harpsichord, in the second organ study, 'Coulee' (1969), and also in several movements from larger works. The obsession with time-counting is evident in 'Clocks and Clouds' (1972-73), where metronome sounds are gradually transformed into misty images."

Sunday, May 04, 2003


Excellent news. Michael Tippett's complex and probing second opera 'King Priam' (1958-1961, recently revived in the Netherlands) makes its appearance at the BBC Proms on Sunday 20 July. It features David Wilson-Johnson (Priam); Elizabeth Connell (Hecuba/Athene); Susan Bickley (Andromache/Hera); Susan Parry (Helen/Aphrodite); Marcel Reijans (Paris); Martyn Hill (Achilles); Stephen Roberts (Patroclus); William Dazeley (Hector); Timothy Robinson (Hermes); Christine Rice (Nurse); Christopher Gillett (Young Guard); Stephen Richardson (Old Man); James Eager (Paris as a boy); the BBC Singers; the BBC National Orchestra of Wales; and David Atherton, conductor. This will be a semi-staged performance. Tickets here. See you there...

Tippett's 'Dance, Clarion, Air' (which featured last week on BBC Radio 3's Nightwaves) also makes an appearance, alongside Mark Antony Turnage's 'Momentum' and Britten's 'The Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra' on 30 July, in a concert which will be attended by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.


As part of the current Brighton Festival, a multi-arts event which runs throughout May, the Brighton Festival Chorus are giving two concerts. The most imaginative is a live orchestral rendition of the classic film score ‘Alexander Nevsky’, by Sergei Prokofiev, complete with a showing of Eisenstein’s film from 1938. Andrey Boreyko conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra on Sunday 4th May (today) at the Dome, 19:30. This is the Festival opener.

Then on 16 May the City of London Sinfonia and the Brighton Festival Youth Choir join the Chorus in Benjamin Britten’s famous 'War Requiem'. It was planned before the Iraq conflict started, but now seems particularly appropriate. The conductor is Richard Hickox, who seems to have a crowded diary prior to his departure to become director of music for Opera Australia.

Also worth checking out will be the ENO's touring production of Richard Strauss' opera 'Ariadne on Naxos', of which good things have been spoken in recent reviews and previews. The venue is the opulent Theatre Royal on Thursday 8 May.

Saturday, May 03, 2003

[136.1] TWO ON THREE

There is an unexpected outing for Frank Zappa's 'Wind Quintet' on the BBC Radio 3 lunchtime concert (starts 13:00, featured around 13.45) on Wednesday 7 May. Later that afternoon there is a chance to hear George Benjamin's 'In Memoriam Olivier Messiaen'. Also, for those who missed Norman Lebrecht's feature on why contemporary classical music seems so isolated from other dimensions of intellectual life in the West at the moment, there is a chance to hear the repeat of the programme at 12:10 today.


BBC 2 highlights the thirtieth anniversary of Pink Floyd's multiple platinum-selling 'Dark Side of the Moon' with a television documentary about its making tonight (strictly, tomorrow) at 12.40 am. The album marked the end of an era of artistic creativity in mainstream popular music which began (or, at least, found its iconic moment) with 'Sergeant Pepper'. King Crimson's 'Red' and Yes' 'Relayer' represented (with brooding 'metal for intellectuals' and steely jazz-rock, respectively) the most adventurous limits of non-underground progressive rock the following year. The BBC guide has it about right:

"Contextually speaking this was the Floyd's saving grace. By 1972 they'd firmly claimed the avant garde (read: musically unadventurous but prone to hitting large gongs and setting fire to stuff onstage) art rock mainstream as their own playground. Yet these middle-class boys still craved, like, bread, man. After a prolonged period of fumbling soundtracks for European arthouse movies they'd finally emerged from under the shadow of founder/visionary/lost-marble icon, Syd Barrett with a coherently beautiful album, 'Meddle'. Roger Waters had some big ideas about madness, life, death and all that deep stuff. EMI had a rather splendid studio with some top-notch engineers. Six months later...voila!"

Actually, the album that really deserves to be remembered from 1973 is the wrongly derided and much misunderstood Yes epic, 'Tales From Topographic Oceans'. About which, more anon...

Friday, May 02, 2003


The ex-men (and a few women) from the former Eastern bloc return to the Barbican Centre in London for a cutting edge blend of ethnic and urban music from 23-31 May 2003. Rather bizarrely flagged as a 'summer season', the musical cultures on view extend between Czech electronica, Polish art jazz, Russian ska, Tuvan throat singing, Bulgarian classical folk, and more besides. The highlights for me are likely to be the wildly eclectic contemporary soundtrack to Vsevolod Pudovkin's 1928 silent film masterpiece 'Storm Over Asia', savagely cut by Soviet censors; the Koutev Ensemble (a choir) with traditional Kaval flute player Theodosii Spassov; and the Anatoly Vapirov Quintet -- a new, experimental pan-Eastern European jazz project. The latter features the mercurial talents of the Russian saxophonist who lends his name to the band; and dark, brooding, bloody trumpet-playing from ECM's Tomasz Stanko, accompanied by piano, bass and drums. These events run on 26 May, 29 May and 30 May (St Luke's) respectively. The X-Bloc Reunion series will also hopefully give a fresh publicity boost for the wonderful Leo Records, who kept Eastern contemporary jazz, classical and experimental music alive to wider audiences throughout years of suppression and / or marginalisation.

Thursday, May 01, 2003


Well, it’s all over the hoardings, initial reviews are ecstatic, and it’s being described as ‘London’s hottest ticket’ by the newspapers. The mixture of high art culture and lo-life street smart (or should that be stoopid?) is clearly hard to resist. All it needs is a few Good Taste pickets. Anyway, Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee’s ‘Jerry Springer – The Opera’ is at the National’s Lyttelton Theatre until 30 August 2003 (extended from 5 July), so you have plenty of time to find out what the fuss is all about.

JS-TO began life as a workshop production at the Battersea Arts Centre in 2001, when composer Thomas famously bought cans of beer for members of the audience in exchange for their script ideas. In truth, he says, not much of value was forthcoming. But plenty of booze went down, and publicity began to roll in for his ‘How To Write An Opera About Jerry Springer’ evenings. The next step involved developmental performances of the work as part of BAC’s annual Opera Festival; then a high profile stint at the Edinburgh Festival (under new management, and minus some of the original stars, like the irrepressible Adey Grummet); and now it sits on to the cusp of the West End. Of the principals, only Lore Lixenberg remains from the BAC days. Some of the early National publicity cheekily talked about a ‘world premiere’. But by all accounts JS-TO has lost little of its initial shock and awe.

I haven’t seen the Lyttleton production, but I was delighted by the low-tech, high quality performance in Battersea last year. Working with playwright Stewart Lee, Thomas has combined a witty, cunning and exuberantly well-written score with a foul-mouthed libretto of masterful, comedic noire. Bach-like chorales, Handelian flourishes, swing, high opera mannerisms and pure vaudeville blend together… well, as if they were meant to, in some alt, po-mo universe. The first act utilises the standard Jerry Springer Show format, with the ‘audience’ brilliantly cast in the role of Greek Chorus, and a litany of trailer terrors soloing and duetting their weird hearts out. The twist before the curtain means that the second act takes place at the gates of hell, with Satan, Jesus and Eve trying to figure out what went wrong and who, exactly, is responsible. Can Jerry survive intact? You’ll have to find out yourself…

As must be evident, this is music theatre at its most creative (OK, outrageous), rather than ‘opera as such’. But it breathes new life into the form nonetheless. It also succeeds, for the most part, in being a morality tale devoid of moralism, and an ironic poke-in-the eye without the snide. The score and lyrics are littered with delicious literary and pop culture illusions, sly musical jokes, and camp pastiche. I’m told that because the second act was less popular with the critics in Edinburgh, publicists Avalon – whose brutal reputation has put something of a shadow on things – encouraged cuts and a new, post-curtain dance scene. The danger was always that an artfully dangerous invention might be compromised by West End saccharine. It’ll be interesting to see where JS-TO ends up… Meanwhile, reviews galore.