Thursday, September 22, 2005


Erica Jeal's Guardian review of the recent South Bank Early Music Festival makes me wish I had been able to be there, even if I'm not sure that she's grasped just how free improvisation can be. Ornette Coleman, take a bow. Anyway, she writes: "The theme of the weekend was improvisations, and, whether in 21st-century jazz or a 17th-century chaconne, those demand a predictable chord sequence. So it was no surprise that Sunday's concert by Berlin's outstanding Akademie für Alte Musik contained a few more repetitions of La Folia, the baroque era's answer to the 12-bar blues, than strictly necessary. But the group radiated warmth in Vivaldi and Geminiani as well as some more unusual gems, including Georg Muffat's Sonata no 5. Two high points involved only a few players: a Sinfonia by Corbetta for theorbo, guitar and virtuoso cello, and Biber's Passacaglia in G for solo violin, with which Midori Seiler held the audience rapt."

"The final concert teamed the viols and psalterion of L'Arpeggiata with the Italian jazz clarinettist Gianluigi Trovesi and folk singer Lucilla Galeazzi for an off-the-wall programme of songs - including a few foot-tappers by Galeazzi herself - and dance improvisations that showed how similar these three traditions actually are. There were moments when the members of L'Arpeggiata seemed jazz musicians manqués, keener to let their hair down than the slightly restrained Trovesi. In their version of Pozzi's Cantata Sopra il Passacaglio, it was Trovesi who supported flights of fancy from the countertenor Philippe Jaroussky rather than the other way round. Jaroussky, a singer to watch, hammed up the same cantata gamely for the self-consciously jazzy version that brought the weekend to a celebratory close." [See also: Early Music Network]

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Friday, September 09, 2005

[171.1] QUOTA

“Music is language removed from words”

(Mike Brierley, in the midst of an interesting BBC Radio 3 programme on the muse of the conductor.) True if one does not take too much account of the intrusions of the critic on wordless wonder...

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Monday, August 29, 2005


Although I haven't had a chance to see the book myself yet, composer Michael Berkeley has what looks to be a fair appraisal and overview in The Guardian of what one might well expect from the long-awaited The Selected Letters of Michael Tippett, edited by Thomas Schuttenhelm and with a foreword by scholar David Mathews (Faber, 2005).

Berkley writes of one excerpt that it is "quintessential Michael Tippett as I remember him, articulating a profound thought but then, as though intellectually dyslexic, digging himself into an ever deeper and more impenetrable grave as he allowed his tongue and mind to wander over disparate ideas. You began in the Home Counties and within seconds appeared to be surveying a lunar landscape. Recording an interview with Tippett was an absolute nightmare because, for all his charm, he was almost impossible to edit. Seemingly unconnected ideas joined seamlessly together to defy even the sharpest razor blade."

Well indeed. Though that word "seemingly" is an important qualifier. Tippett was rather less articulate, but just as mercurial, when his pen was crafting words as he was when they were forming musical notation. But it is important not to be deceived by the apparently chaotic assemblage in either form. There is often profound communication going on, and in the case of the music, very elaborate structure .

This, of course, is Tippett's centenary year. Regrettably, because of other commitments, I've got to precious few performances so far. I hope to rectify that before 2005 is out. For it is terribly sad that this great and quixotic composer (and man) should have seemingly fallen out of critical favour so soon after his death in 1998, and it is to be hoped that the current attention augurs well for his future recognition.

Meanwhile, Ashgate Publishing are offering £35 off the £50 cover price of the collection Michael Tippett: Music and Literature, featuring Edward Venn, Arnold Whitall, Suzanne Cole and others. And although Amazon lists the Selected Letters as out on 15 September 2005, you can order a copy, for £23 (£2 off the r.r.p.) with free UK postage and packing, by going to or calling the Guardian book service on 0870 836 0875.

Some related recent articles from The Guardian are as follows
09.01.2005: Feature: Reaching the Tippett point
03.05.2005: Review: The Knot Garden, Linbury Studio, London
02.03.2005: Review: LSO/Davis, Barbican, London
01.03.2005: Review: Tippett Weekend, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
06.01.2005: Review: Tippett at 100, Wigmore Hall, London
18.12.2004: Feature: Michael Berkeley pays tribute to Michael Tippett

In passing, I note with sadness the last public performance by The Lindsay Quartet, who championed Tippett's music (and his hero Beethoven's) alongside other considerable achievements.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2005


Sad to hear of the passing of Robert Moog, whose synths inevitably impressed themselves on my sound world in the 1970s. Whatever dubious uses have been made of his technology (and there have been more than a few) he is up there with Russian inventor Leon Theremin and others as a pioneer in the gamut of electronic music traversing fields as different as musique concrete, modern expermentalism, jazz and art rock.

As Allan Kozinn observed in the New York Times (today): "At the height of his [instrument's] popularity, when progressive rock bands like Yes, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer built their sounds around the assertive, bouncy, exotically wheezy and occasionally explosive timbres of Moog's [synthesisers], his name (which rhymes with vogue) became so closely associated with electronic sound that it was often used generically, and incorrectly, to describe synthesizers of all kinds."

The Moog company's particular specialty was the Ethervox a version of the theremin [pictured, with Robert Moog], an eerie-toned instrument, created in the 1920s, which allows performers to create pitches by moving their hands between two metal rods.

Bob's family has established The Bob Moog Memorial Fund dedicated to the Advancement of Electronic Music in his memory. Many of his longtime collaborators, including musicians, engineers and educators, have agreed to sit on its executive board. For more information about the foundation, contact Matthew Moog at

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Sunday, July 17, 2005


This from Ekklesia:

The first night of the BBC Promenade Concerts, considered to be the greatest classical music festival in the world, began at the Royal Albert Hall last night [15 Jyly 2005] with a stirring performance dedicated to those who died in the London bombing on 7 July 2005 – and with a work emotionally connected to those terrible events.

Michael Tippett’s anti-war oratorio A Child Of Our Time asks why humankind inflicts such brutality on itself. There is a commemorative peace plaque dedicated by its composer just yards away from the site of the Tavistock Square bomb that killed fifteen people last week.

The concert programme had been drawn up months ago, but the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s conductor for the night, Roger Norrington, drew attention to the poignancy both of Tippett’s work and also of Edward Elgar’s Cockaigne (cockney) Overture, ‘In London Town’.

Norrington told concert-goers and a large television and radio audience that in spite of the recent tragic events, he hoped Britain’s capital would remain an open city, “tolerant towards everyone accept those who come here to kill us.”

Michael Tippett, who died in 1998, is one of Britain’s most distinguished composers. The centenary of his birth is being celebrated this year. He was a lifelong campaigner for peace and justice, and in 1994 he unveiled a granite stone, barely 100 yards from the site of the bus explosion, to commemorate conscientious objectors to war. He served a three-month prison sentence himself for refusing military service.

A Child Of Our Time, written in 1944, takes its cue from the events leading up to the terrible 1938 Nazi kristallnacht pogrom, notably the assassination of a German diplomat by a 17-year-old Jewish boy.

Loaded with both biblical language as well as Jungian imagery, the libretto (text) also features five powerful African-American spirituals instead of Bach-like chorales. It is perhaps the first post-Christendom oratorio (opera-like work on a religious theme), reflecting Tippett’s alienation from what he saw as the patriotic militarism of prevailing Christian mores.

However, there is also a strong theme of hope: “Here is no grieving, but an abiding hope”, sing the soloists and chorus towards the end. Tippett’s integration of what are popularly called Negro Spirituals (‘Steal Away to Jesus’, ‘Nobody Knows the Trouble I see, Lord’, ‘Go Down, Moses’, ‘O, By and By’ and ‘Deep River’) was daring at the time, demonstrating a deep respect for black resistance to slavery and oppression.

In 2001 Tippett’s orchestration of the Spirituals was sung in a rapidly and drastically amended programme for the Last Night of the Proms, which came just four days after the 9/11 twin towers attacks in New York. Last night’s precise but emotional performance of A Child Of Our Time was given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus with international singers Indra Thomas, Christine Rice, Ian Bostridge and Willard White as the soloists.

The BBC Proms season continues until Saturday 10 September, and features 74 concerts plus ancillary events.

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Saturday, July 02, 2005


Can't say that there's much in the Live 8 line up that thrills me musically, with the exception, perhaps, of the mercurial Bjork. But the Make Poverty History cause of debt relief, trade justice and appropriate aid for the worlds' poorest nations is one I am more than happy to endorse.

"When the power of love becomes stronger than the love of power, we will have peace," declared Jimi Hendrix. Well, it might take a bit to get there, but there's no point not starting.

Play on.

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Saturday, June 25, 2005


Yes, I know. NewFrontEars has been irritatingly absent in one of its periodic hiatuses occasioned by the intrusion of other aspects of life and work. I've been considering calling it a day, but music is too central to my existence and documenting it to rewarding and generative to give up straight away. I 'go freelance' from 1 July 2005, and my intention is to develop a plan (including a redesign and possibly some writing partners) around August. So don't expect much before then.... though you never know. I'll try to keep you posted.

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Sunday, February 06, 2005


Unfortunately I'm down in Devon, UK, at the moment, and so can't take advantage of this tip-off.... but I see that there is a live and free Electronics Anonymous performance tonight, at at the Electricity Showrooms Bar, Hoxton, London, from 5pm to midnight. It features experimental electronic music plus experimental short films. There will be live performances by Sudden Infant [Switzerland] and Filter Feeder [UK]. Definitely worth checking out if you are in the vicinity.

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Friday, January 21, 2005


I am hugely looking forward to the English National Opera performance, tonight, of Michael Tippett's choral work, A Child Of Our Time. I almost wrote 'oratorio', and ineed this is the closest formal category to which it belongs. I have seen it described as 'a secular oratorio', but that isn't quite right, either.

Tippett, whose spiritual leanings were at once traditionally sceptical and romantically Jungian, was no straightforward 'believer', certainly. He respected many Christians but was rightly critical of what had been and was done in their name. And he wasn't one for metaphysics.

But by replacing the Bachian chorales with fantastically orchestrated African-American spirituals, he disclosed what faith might look like set free from its trdaitional moorings and facing up to the horrors of genocidal war. He also demonstrated a global consciousness at a time when it was far less usual, paying homage to 'those twentieth century blues' (the title of his autobiography).

Some critics remain snooty towards A Child of Our Time. We live in a cynical age. It is definitely the one work by Tippett, in his early lyrical phase, which has come close to being a 'war-horse' (sic!) of the classical tradition. But in spite of its popularity it is a tremendously powerful and coherent work - as deserving of major performance as it is of the regional repertoire.

What a fine way to mark the Tippett centenary. Well, a start, anyway. There's much more to come in 2005, and NFE will be following it closely.

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Monday, January 17, 2005


One of the most enjoyable end-of-year concerts I sampled was the two-night residency of exotic vocal ensemble The Shout, featuring - among others - my friend Adey Grummet, the soprano, writer and conductor. They were 'classical gig of the week' in The Independent newspaper, and got this good write-up from John L. Walters in The Guardian (see below pic).

"Originally brought together as a vehicle for the compositions of Orlando Gough and Richard Chew, the Shout's 15 singers make a virtue of their divergent backgrounds. The resulting a cappella sound - broad, rich, thrilling - has meant that the ensemble has remained unclassifiable: too awkwardly multicultural for a bench at the high table of classical music; too unpredictable to become teatime TV favourites; too tuneful to be cool. They're so good it's possible to take them for granted."

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