Sunday, August 31, 2003


As the blogosphere expands, so does the coverage of ‘ad-extra music’ (as somebody curiously described NFE’s range of interests the other day). The following are trailed by the very readable and playable persona of Ben Wolfson… whose waste.typepad is about to go into my permanent links.

First off, there's Mike Borella's Avant Music News: suitably electic updates on "music that is challenging, interesting, different, progressive, introspective, or just plain weird." Amen to that little list...

Next up, an excellent comment-and-analysis journal from Greg Sandow, "critic, composer, and, for lack of a better word, consultant; I also teach at The Juilliard..." Its focus is 'the future of classical music', explored in a series of bite-sized shards of open-hearted wisdom.

The host site, by the way, is ArtsJournal.Com, a daily digest of culture and ideas. It has seven other in-house writers, all of fine pedigree. A new one, I'm pleased to report, is erudite controversialist Kyle Gann, who pitches in with PostClassic: music after the fact. Essential reading.

AJMusic is here, too...

Then there's New Music Box, referenced by NFE some time ago, and an essential corner of the internet for those of us who care. Gann and Wolfson read it, naturally.

One I hadn't come across before is the graphics intensive ProgressiveEars, which covers that decidedly mixed bag of goodies (and a few baddies) known as prog rock. Not a genre -- or a visual style -- which automatically presses my buttons, I have to say. But it is well archived here, and I can't claim to be wholly innocent, counting (as I do) early Yes and all things King Crimson among my favoured listening experiences.

(Sorry Kyle, I also love Boulez's 'Le Marteau sans maitre' and Carter's 'Double Concerto', too.)

And lest you think that NFE is only or mainly focussed on the London catchment area, here's the encyclopaedic Chicago scene... not far from my in-laws, as it happens.


The BBC Proms debut for Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic tonight features a sublime programme of twentieth century masterpieces, starting with Bartok's 'Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta', moving on to Gyorgy Ligeti's fabulous 'Violin Concerto' and Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring'. Tasmin Little is the soloist. Expect the fireworks to fly. Rattle and his rollers staged the complete 'Rite' ballet with hundreds of schoolchildren recently - part of his consistent attempt to shake up one of the more staid European capitals of classical music with edgy and energetic performances.

Incidentally, this is Ligeti's 80th year, and the full London celebrations of his birthday take place on 18 and 19 October 2003 at the Barbican Centre. Visit the dedicated website, or, to receive information by email, write to, quoting 'Ligeti'.


The prolific Stefan Beyst's latest essay on Luigi Nono's 'Il Prometeo' ("a revolutionary swansong") is available here. Ingo Metzmacher and Peter Rundel's EMI Classics recording from 1995 is the recommended accompanying disc. The complete Nono Archives (in English, German and Italian) are well worth checking out.

Thursday, August 21, 2003


And what a fine magazine it is, too. A useful blend of traditional classical fayre, a pleasing amount of modern and contemporary music, and some pinpointed coverage of jazz and 'world' musics, as well as features on education, instruments and listening technology. A pretty good blend, given its broad market audience. The cover mounted CDs have also continued the positive tradition of complete works (rather than 'bleedig chunks'), with an emphasis on BBC archive and live performance. The playlists tend towards less famous works by well known composers, of course, but there is the occasional example of adventurousness -- John Adams, Toru Takemitsu, Latin American music, and so on.

I have been reading BBC Music Magazine since the first issue, and I bought it regularly up until the middle of 1999. However, due to an overload of books and papers (and an impending house move), I am wanting to find a good home for most of my back issues - minus the discs, I'm afraid. Anyone who can make a small conrtibution and cover postage would be welcome to have them. Please email me: just click on "contact" in the catch line below the description, above.

The sets I have at the moment are as follows: September 1992 (the first issue) to March 1994, complete; June 1994 to November 1996 (complete except for Feb '95); 1997, January - December (minus June); 1998 - 8 months (minus June, September, November, December); 1999 - January to June.

Drop me a line if you are interested, or know someone who would be.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003


Composer Stephen McNeff's new work 'Names of the Dead' - which features the names of people (from all sides) killed in the first few weeks of the Iraq War set to music - makes its debut on 12 and 13 September 2003, at the Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) , Lavender Hill, London SW11.

The performers are outre Australian soprano Adey Grummet and The Duke Quartet (well known for their classical recordings... and for Morrissey's Viva Hate album.) The piece is a BAC commission at the Main House, now infamous as the performance birthplace of 'Jerry Springer - the Opera'. The work, so we are told, is "shocking and moving." BAC's Tom Morris directs.

Oh yes, talking of BAC. Look out for a scratch performance of 'Newnight - The Opera'. Can we have too much of a witty idea on this theme, I wonder?


OT Records is a new independent jazz record label dedicated to the promotion and support of UK artists. It was originally an idea formed by singer Clare Teal to help promote some of the talented young musicians she came into contact with while touring in Britain. Everything fell into place at the end of 2002. OT is run by Clare’s manager David Carr and distributed here by the prestigious New Note Distribution. It has so far signed two major players on the UK jazz scene, Dylan Howe (who works with Gilad Atzmon and Orient House) and Ben Castle (ex-Kula Shaker). What is particularly encouraging is that both have evolved from a rock background into something more freeform and experimental. Howe's album, The Way I Hear It, was originally self-financed. Now on the New Note roster it has received positive reviews in The Observer (London) and elsewhere.


Established Dutch guitar maker Theo Scarpach has created a website to showcase his range of finely crafted instruments, which range from a classical concert model, via five jazz steel and string instruments, through to the acclaimed folk series - most notably, perhaps, the SKD.


Very good content and a clear-but-nifty design (using Movable Type 263) over at beepSNORT, which was launched in May this year by Joseph Benzola, Jeff Harrington and Steve Layton. It's also syndicated. The idea is to curate and comment on the electronic scene, sifting the wheat from chaff, and indeed the beeps from the snorts...

Also well worth checking out is dance-influenced ElectronicScene, which includes MP3 links, and Harrington and Layton's NetNewMusic - "for the world of non-pop/extreme indy/avant-whatever musics."


Bernard Pulham's unofficial site (which includes a useful recordings guide, and much more) has temprarily moved here. The official site, of course, is still doing its stuff, though the mercurial Karlheinz has no web-link at home, apparently...

See also Robin Maconie's fine resource page maintained by Jim Stonebraker.

[172.1] ONION JACK

Onion Jack is the gloriously improbable name of a London-circuit indie outfit whose song-based music has been variously described as "chilled melancholia", "nothing short of radical", "quiet and tender", "beautiful", "despondent" and "wonderfully atmospheric". Co-founder Daniel Vincent tells me that his influences include everything from ambient and dance/trance to prog, acoustic and industrial rock. They obviously keep their ears open. Sounds intriguing. I haven't heard more than the odd MP3 snippet so far, but I hope that I might be able to bring you a review of the new EP, Country Mile, at some point soon. Meanwhile, the band's site gives some background. The next chance to hear them live is at the Black Sheep Bar in Croydon on 27 September 2003.

Monday, August 18, 2003


A wide ranging directory of piano-related and general music sites can be found at Duane Shinn's ambitious They've listed NFE, so they definitely deserve a plug here...

Talking of the 'ol joanner: I think it was hearing concert pianist, improviser and AMM artist John Tilbury that caused me to stumble across a fun archive site for The Scratch Orchestra.

Those with longer memories will recall that the Scratchies blazed gloriously in the creative afterglow of '68 until the mid-'70s, at the behest of the legendary Cornelius Cardew and others. Michael Nyman, Brian Eno and Howard Skempton are among its famous alumnii. But composer Hugh Shrapnel still has by far the best name.

The other links are on the SO page, and some are in my own left-hand column, so I won't repeat them here. Except for Shrapnel, whose moniker merits it alone.


Globally, music sales have continued to dip as the world recession bites and neurotic popular fashions eat away at the through-put of 'brand-leading recording artists'. Notice that the word 'musician' doesn't even feature in that construction. But the latest figures from the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) indicate some significant bright spots. Newer, niche and specialist labels -- remember that HMV classes jazz, classical and world musics as 'specialist' -- are bucking the overall trend as part of a record quarterly upswing at the end of June 2003, following dire warnings of the industry's drift towards collapse in January and February.

Of particular interest is the news from seasoned analysts that Napster and internet downloading seems to have encouraged a 'sampling' generation to broaden their tastes... and buy even more CDs. Part of the trick is that they have forced big labels to cut prices. As Dorian Lynskey comments: "Most music-lovers are prepared to buy the real thing at a fair price... For many years the music business has been greedy, short-sighted and manipulative, inflating prices because it knew the consumer had no alternative. Now, led by pirates, the consumer has the upper hand."

Mind you, internet sampling needs to be distinguished from CD piracy, which is now running at an astonishing 1:4 global ratio. But that is quite different from the bedroom muso facing expensive BPI lawyers for activities that are marginal to the main problem: the swamping of our shelves with boring, unimaginative sounds. Back to those nooks and niches, folks...

Sunday, August 17, 2003

[169.2] SITE NEWS

Since ServuStats seems to have died a death, I have just switched to NedStats (the small graph icon at the very bottom left.) NewFrontEars was launched on 20 June 2002 and went regular -- at least six or seven posts a week, with occasional breaks -- in December of that year. Since then we have had some 3750 visitors and over 5384 page views, according to my last reckoning. Terribly small beer, really. But better than you might imagine for new and challenging music writing. Thanks to all who tune in, and especially those good enough to comment and make suggestions...


Daniel Patrick Quinn is a recording artist who, in common with many creative musicians these days, has set up his own internet label, Suilven Recordings. He writes: "the emphasis is on experimental/ ambient /avant-garde /prog/ folkish... The first release on the label is my acclaimed 'non-conformist' solo album The Winter Hills. A second solo album called Jura which is basically an hour long minimalist drone piece, was released on 9 June 2003. Personally, the sort of music I'm into varies from Eno, Jon Hassell, Nico and Robert Wyatt to Pere Ubu, The Fall, King Crimson, Can, and so on. There are some MP3 portions available." NFE hopes to review some of Quinn's work in the future.

Friday, August 15, 2003


A good and growing selection of live performance, interviews and sessions at the BBC Radio 3 Mixing It page. They could update their festivals, though. For those on another sound planet for the last five years, and who therefore don't know: "Mixing It has long been celebrated as a bastion of experimental music radio. It covers a wide range of styles, including left-field areas of modern classical, dance, rock and world music. Hosted by Robert Sandall and Mark Russell." Currently broadcasting on Sundays at 11pm... but Radio 3 is in the process of adjusting its schedules.

Thursday, August 14, 2003


Composer Michael Berkeley on festivals:

"Given a clean slate and an impressive budget, I would love to programme a festival that might take something from Coldplay and Radiohead to the London Sinfonietta or Mitsuko Uchida via Andy Sheppard and Django Bates: in other words, a festival that exposed audiences to completely new forms of music-making at their best and most diverse.

"A festival should leave a community feeling enriched, both economically and in the mind, and should provide a high-octane level of intellectual energy that suffuses the lives and work of the people living there. Let's not worry about frightening the Aldeburgh mackerel or giving strange new signals to the brains at GCHQ in Cheltenham. No more Mostly Mozart, Basically Beethoven or even Hugely Handel: let's go for the jugular."

Wednesday, August 13, 2003


Violinist and composer Mark O'Connor gave a mesmerising performance as soloist in the world premier of his own Violin Concerto No 6 at the BBC Promenade Concerts on Monday night. Inspired by a South Carolina plantation design by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the three-movement work was written in 2002 and features three unlabelled movements. Its sub-title, 'Old Brass' is derived, rather evidently, from Auldbrass in Yemassee.

O'Connor has garnered a strong reputation as a fiddler in the American folk tradition. Strongly influenced by Stephane Grappelli, he has worked with Yo Yo Ma, Nadja Salerno-Sonneberg and Wynton Marsalis in his turn towards the classical tradition.

Careful scrutiny of 'Old Brass', performed superbly with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and directed by Kenneth Sillito, shows precisely why O'Connor is so difficult to label - though that didn't stop Stephen Pettitt in the London Evening Standard throwing 'fireside homeliness' and 'conservative reactionaryism' (sic) at it.

Scored for strings, flute, oboe, two bassoons and two horns, the concerto is gently remorseless in its pursuit of wispish and elusive melodies across a complex palette of contrapuntal playfulness and dense texture. Its surface is thoroughly tonal and rooted in the American folk tradition, which is presumably what gives rise to Pettitt's ill-judged put-downs. But though that (and the odd resemblances to Copland and Bernstein) may be the first word, it is certainly not the last.

Another strong element in O'Connor's blend is neo-classicism, which undoubtedly led to the decision to pair his new work with Bartok's 'Divertimento for Strings', performed with vigour, precision and enthusiasm by the very well resourced Academy.

Then again, there are broad hints towards chromaticism and the thick orchestral undergrowth of unrestrained modernism. Yet the overall impact is nothing like the portmanteau dilettantism that this range of influences may suggest.

In the fast outer movements the musicians were rapt in a complicated web of counterpoint and almost-repetition. O'Connor develops his themes both by leaps and lisps. The slow central movement contains some achingly beautiful, remorseful and yet fleetingly optimistic tunes, saved from the obvious by unexpected twists and ornaments.

Near the end of the work O'Connor handled an extensive unaccompanied solo with breathtaking aplomb and extraordinary technique. He is a remarkable yet unpretentious performer, and the applause from orchestra as well as audience was as genuine as it gets in a cynical old world.

No doubt some critics will dismiss O'Connor as an offshoot of the warmed over romanticism that has infected those sections of the 'classical' world disillusioned with both ascetic modernism and playful postmodernism. But if they do this, they haven't really listened. O'Connor's remains a distinctive and thoughtfully eclectic voice.

Equally distinctive, of course, is Krzystof Penderecki, whose 'Sinfonietta' (1990-91) began this fine concert. In the tradition of important, occasional string works going back particularly to the 'Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima' (1960), 'Sinfonietta' lasts just 12 minutes and consists of two movements, Allegro Molto and Vivace.

The work's structure has block-like elements at its core. There are Stravinskian flourishes and Romantic allusions as well as those loud, stabbing tuttis that begin, end and punctuate the work. Berg and Schoenberg are not very far away. Penderecki combines an extraordinary intensity with, at times, a surprising lightness of instrumental touch. 'Sinfonietta' is many miles away from the austere sound world of the 'Threnody', but in years to come it will carry the same degree of weight in the repertoire.

Overall, this was a wonderful concert in the best late night Prom traditions. Sillitto and the Academy performed with well-rehearsed dedication and flair. Only the size of the audience was (predictably) disappointing. Thank goodness for the wider impact of BBC Radio 3, therefore.