Sunday, July 29, 2007


New York, where I was staying with friends recently, is a city pulsating with music. From bars and clubs to concert halls, buskers, street sounds and stores – melody, harmony, rhythm and dissonance seeps uncontrollably from its pores.

As I arrive on Amtrak from Washington DC, a man on the train next to me is listening to Charles Ives on his headset. I can tell this from the CD sleeve by his side rather than any discernible notes emerging from his earphones, but it is enough to evoke the music in my head.

On a Realty company’s forecourt a reggae trio, unlikely and popular with the passing lunchtime crowd, strike out with Bob Marley’s Exodus and more.

Then on one walk the Lincoln Centre comes into view. I remember hearing the Lincoln Jazz Orchestra at the Proms in London several years ago. In the aesthetic battle between Wynton Marsalis and the variegated memory of Miles Davis, I’m on Miles’ wing. But you don’t have to choose. The custodians of tradition and its innovators into new forms and possibilities can live together, if they are smart.

Mostly Mozart is on. But it seems to be mostly Beethoven, Mido, and the merest smattering of contemporary composition – which would not please Wolfgang Amadeus, surely? Steven and I talk Thomas Ades.

Across the road, of course, is Strawberry Fields, the shrine to John Lennon (‘Imagine’) and Yoko Ono’s overlooking apartment. The ‘found sounds’ beloved of John Cage are everywhere. And the imagined silences. Laurie Anderson haunts the sidewalks, resting between the cracks and rushing the red lights.

Somewhere else is the building depicted on Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti album. And in a studio I get a personal performance (well a rehearsal, actually) from R.U.B...with my friend Steven Sullivan doing the maths on bass for some reworked ‘80s material – including Depeche Mode (when they finally do the gig on 6 August 2007) and Elvis Costello’s ‘Pump It Up’.

Not quite The Juliet Letters, admittedly. But my mind slips naturally to the Balanescu Quartet, Nonesuch, Eno, Kronos Quartet and other border-crossings on the musical superhighway.

Talking of which: in Borders itself, I pick up Suzanne Vega’s new NY-centric collection, Beauty and Crime (11 songs bursting with hope, anguish and delight). Plus I note the relative absence of Tippett, A Child Of Our Time and some Ogden piano sonatas aside.

In another store I peek at the New Orleans jazz (is Woody Allen at Michael’s Pub tonight?), I peer at a Gramophone article on Ian Bostridge rescuing Handel, and I hear a track from the New York Dolls – who I never really liked, to be honest. But beloved Morrissey gets them, so there must be some point.

On CD in Jane and Steve’s apartment I take in, at various times, Bartok, Kodaly, Messiaen, Yes, Starcastle (don’t ask), Montreux, Arctic Monkeys, and the not-quite-forgotten John McLaughlin, Tony Williams (of Lifeime) and Jaco Pastorius power jazz trio. Press random again.

Something I listen to – I forget what, exactly – reminds me of that quintessentially NY downtown new music ensemble and festival, Bang On A Can. And in Virgin records I pass racks of Glenn Branca, whose post-punk orchestrations beat the eardrums into submission while enlivening them with sub- and après-sonic overtones, allegedly.

Last, but not least, is the Summer of Love psychedelia art exhibit at the Whitney – Jimi Hendrix, the artist who painted the cover of Miles’ experimental classic Bitches Brew, Jefferson Airplane, Ginsberg, Warhol and the Velvet Underground, a picture of Adrian Mitchell on the steps of the Royal Albert Hall (he now lives on my street in NW5), Janis Joplin, Julie Felix… more memories than my mind an hold.

Sing on, New York… from The Met all the way out West to Haight Ashbury. And well beyond. [Picture: Suzanne Vega, Beauty and Crime]

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Saturday, July 28, 2007


Thanks to Deirdre Good for drawing my attention to this - missed in the rush to get ready for my US trip. "The rediscovery of the gigantic Mass in forty parts by Alessandro Striggio (1536-1592), lost since 1726, sheds important light on the connections between music and politics in the sixteenth century. Dating from 1566-7, it is one of the most extravagant pieces ever composed in the history of music. Here's a link to the lecture recounting the discovery by Professor Davitt Moroney, University of California, Berkeley."

From The Guardian review of the BBC Prom earlier this month: "Thomas Tallis may have written his revered 40-part Spem in alium motet after meeting the Mantuan composer Alessandro Striggio in London in 1567. Perhaps Tallis even took as a model Striggio's own 40-part mass Ecco si beato giorno, which in its final Agnus Dei rises to 60 parts. For centuries, the missing link in this theory was Striggio's lost mass itself; its rediscovery is an astonishing moment in musicological history. Unveiled in this late-night Prom by the augmented Tallis Scholars, possibly for the first time in half a millennium, Striggio's work is a masterpiece; richer and more extravagant than Tallis's more austerely English motet, but more than fit to be mentioned in the same breath as twin landmarks of 16th-century polyphony."

And here's the choral wiki for Ecce beatam lucem.

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Friday, July 27, 2007


At this year’s WOMAD world music, arts and dance festival (27-29 July 2007) UK-based international development agency Christian Aid is asking visitors to join its 'Climate Changed' campaign as they listen to acts from developing countries which are struggling to adapt to the devastating effects of climate change.

Nazmul Chowdhury from Practical Action in Bangladesh, said: "Forget about making poverty history. Climate change will make poverty permanent."

More information here.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007


... to Kodaly (in his most lyrical phase) and, before that, some wondrous excerpts from Bela Bartok's Microcosmos - in a New York apartment, on a warm day with a beautiful blue sky visible through the wide windows. On piano, though it could also be on a harpsichord. Here's a Summer present for you, then: Bela Bartok. MIDI (free download) & MIDI/ZIP.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007


Loads of interesting stuff in the jazz and rock areas has disappeared off YouTube, thanks to the pointless greed of ViaCom and other 'majors' - who are mostly not preserving profits, but denying potential purchasers a chance to sample music they might not otherwise contemplate. But whatever. There's a lot less 'classical' and new music. But thankfully these Michael Tippett clips, which I mentioned last year, are still around. At the last time of checking.

Tippett rehearsing the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra in the Ritual Dances; Tippett rehearsing the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra in Cockaigne; Tippett rehearsing the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra in Suite in D and Nimrod; Tippett rehearsing the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra in Putnam's Camp.

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Monday, July 16, 2007


The BBC Proms classical music festival (sadly still best known for its jingoistic last night - but hugely brader in scope, not least in popularising new music) has kicked off the 12th and final BBC season curated by outgoing director Nicholas Kenyon.

It is being described as a celebratory season that marks the 80th anniversary of the partnership between the Proms and the BBC. While referencing the past, it looks to creating the music and performers of the future through concerts and broadcasting.

There are many new works (including 12 BBC commissions), and what the BBC calls "unparalleled opportunities for talented young performers as well as more ways than ever for a new generation to get involved."

In just two months the season spans eight centuries of music in 90 concerts. From the 13th-century Icelandic sagas that inspired Wagner, to the rediscovery of a lost Renaissance Mass, through the Baroque genius of Handel, Bach and Rameau, to the great orchestral repertory from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries (including new commissions), the music is performed by leading artists from across the globe.

Nicholas Kenyon says: "I hope that BBC Proms 2007, 80 years after the BBC took over this great concert series, is as exciting and innovative a season as it has ever been.

"In my final season I am especially pleased at the huge range of major orchestras and events, the new works, and the unequalled opportunities to hear the very best of young musicians.

"From an extraordinary Venezuelan youth orchestra to our own National Youth Orchestra, young brass players making music alongside the BBC Philharmonic on Brass Day, and talented young singers – found in a nationwide talent search – singing Rachel Portman's dramatic new piece about climate change. The future of classical music is right here at the BBC Proms."

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Sunday, July 08, 2007


Darn, I've just missed Private Passions on BBC Radio 3 again. Still, there's always Listen Again. It's a great programme, hosted by a contemporary clasical composer with an eclectic range of interests and guests. And it is so much better than its analogue Desert Island Discs, because the people invited to participate are always those for whom music is central rather than decorative in their lives.

"Michael Berkeley's guest this week is US-born jazz trombonist, conductor and composer Scott Stroman, who is currently Head of Jazz Studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. His wide-ranging musical tastes are reflected in his choices, which include music by Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie and Charles Mingus (of course) alongside a Bach suite, a Beethoven string quartet, a movement from Haydn's Symphony No 99 and an extract from Stravinsky's ballet Apollon musagete." [Pic: M. Berkeley]

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Saturday, July 07, 2007


Well, I was intending to write about Ian Bostridge on Handel. More of that later. Meanwhile, in the midst of catching up with some writing, I've been on-and-off watching the BBC broadcast of today's Live Earth concerts across the world - a noble effort to mainstream concerns about global warming and Al Gore's necessarily ambitious seven-point programme to tackle the human impact on climate change. Not much that lands vertically on my musical universe, admittedly. But the Red Hot Chilli Peppers managed to combine rockist sensibilities with some accomplished playing, good use of dynamics (not that easy at the cavernous New Wembley Stadium), high energy material and strong harmonies. Bloc Party are also interesting, and Corinne Bailey Ray brought a beautiful voice and some jazz and soul vibes to the proceedings. Perhaps surprisingly, I also love The Beastie Boys [Mike D, Adrock and MCA, pictured] and their wry, experimental, MC scratch-driven, hard-edged punk rap. The Blues Brothers gone 'Intergallactic' for the C21st. Kinda. Then there's Shakira, whose appeal (like that of the Pussycat Dolls, who actually performed well) is perhaps not exclusively musical. And don't forget the raw, hook-laden power of Foo Fighters' 'Times Like These'. Predictably Gore has been attacked over the environmental impact of an eight gig satellite linked event for an eco-cause. He has hit back. Let's put it this way. The nay-sayers are not motivated by compassion.

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Friday, July 06, 2007


Sidewalk Dances: 14 Moondog pieces has now been available in the shops for a few months. Sidewalk Dances was performed by Britten Sinfonia, pianist Joanna MacGregor and saxophonist Andy Sheppard in last year's (2006) London Jazz Festival. Read press reviews. The Britten Sinfonia website [see its left-hand column] has put up an online video, 'Bach meets Moondog' - a wonderful pairing of music from the Baroque master and the underground American street musician who has become legendary in new music circles. Somewhat reminds me of the curious Handel and Hendrix festival pairing a few years ago, based on the London House that both occupied in Brook Street, now the Handel House Museum.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007


Interesting piece in the Guardian by Nicholas Kenyon on the Aldeburgh Festival, its antecedents and prospects. See: Flying the flag, 30 June 2007. Inter alia, he notes of one of its leading lights: "It is ironic that, as a composer, Benjamin Britten's commitment to the music of his contemporaries was more equivocal."

"While the Proms of the 1960s under Glock's direction rushed to embrace the continental avant garde, introducing Messiaen, Schoenberg, Varèse, Ives, Stockhausen and Berio to a sometimes stunned metropolitan audience, Aldeburgh's tastes were far more restrained. In the 1950s, Kodály and Poulenc came, and Lennox Berkeley, Malcolm Williamson, Richard Rodney Bennett and Nicholas Maw had new theatre pieces performed. While the Society for the Promotion of New Music was allowed to present small-scale music from the younger avant-garde generation, Britten drew the line at Harrison Birtwistle's violent music-theatre piece Punch and Judy. (Whether he actually walked out of the premiere is debatable, but he clearly disliked the piece and criticised its lack of awareness of operatic tradition.) For all his generosity to young composers, Britten felt increasingly uncomfortable with some of the directions that music was taking.

"... Gradually, the festival worked its way back to find a home for new music and living composers. Oliver Knussen invited Henze (who had already been welcomed by Britten and Pears), Takemitsu, Dutilleux, Magnus Lindberg and others, and the present creative team of Thomas Adès and John Woolrich has made new music and a distinctive vision of the repertory central to its proposition. The creation of the Britten-Pears School transformed the context in which the festival happens, and Aldeburgh Music (as it is now snappily branded) is a round-the-year proposition of huge potential value to the whole east of England, with ambitious plans that will see the rest of Snape Maltings developed over the next two years." [Pic: Aldeburgh view]

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Nothing at the End of the Lane (electronica / experimental) are well worth a listen on MySpace, which remains a good place to make surprising musical discoveries - usually recommended by friends and associates. In this case, Alexandra Douglass-Bonner. Thanks. NAtEotL cite an interesting range of influences - Masami Akita, Malcolm Clarke, Delia Derbyshire (of BBC Radiophonic Workshop fame), Kevin Drumm, Brian Eno, Philip Glass, Jim O'Rourke, Pierre Schaeffer, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and David Vorhaus. Hhmmnnn... I could detect at least five of them in the excerpts they offer: 'Alone', 'Projections', 'Needles and Crystals', and 'Stepping Stones' (remix).

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Sunday, July 01, 2007


The Shout are back in the rehearsal room and the workshop to prepare for joining with Streetwise Theatre and the Almeida to explore the world of folksong. Streetwise develop creative performing projects with homeless people, and their work to date has won much critical artistic acclaim as well as being acknowledged as some of the most innovative collaboration with those who are homeless.

My good friend and Shout luminary Adey Grummet (pictured) says: "The rather wonderful Emma Bernard will be masterminding the whole event and whatever glorious thing this project ends up being will be performed in the Almeida theatre at 8pm on July 21 and 4pm & 8pm on July 22, 2007.

"The Shout are also currently waiting for the final funding news for their autumn UK tour. A newly devised theatre piece, Fingerprint, also directed by Emma Bernard, it deals with the multilayered and kaleidoscopic aspects of identity. Stay tuned and pray hard for them! Details of all this will be here as well as on The Shout's own website." You can sign up to receive regular info.

Adey was also a leading light on the fabulous Kombat Opera mini-series on BBC2, which will hopefully be re-airing at some point. From the people who (originally) brought you Jerry Springer - The Opera, only even better.

Picture of Adey Grummet (c) Jim Four, 28 Woolwich Road, London SE10 OJU. Used with grateful acknowledgement. Give him some more work now.

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