Friday, August 31, 2007


A good BBC 1 TV Proms broadcast this evening - the Baroque concert from last Thursday (23 August 2007) featuring a lively collaboration between two leading period-instrument groups, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (with Rachel Podger violin/director) and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra (with Gottfried von der Goltz violin/director ). The programme centred on Handel, including the famous the ceremonial fireworks music written in honour of King George II, the Concerto a due cori in F major, HWV 333, and arias and duets performed by Kate Royal (soprano) and the wonderful Ian Bostridge (see pic - tenor). We also got Purcell (arr. Catherine Mackintosh), Sett of Favourite Airs, Fantasies and Dances. Telemann's Suite in G minor for two solo violins, strings and basso continuo, TWV 55:g8, didn't make the TV cut, unfortunately.

Some kind of comment on the 'period instrument' issue is inevitable, I guess. The overall sound mix was certainly fascinating, and the virtuosity of the performers extraordinary. The strings are duller in tone than their modern equivalents, and the breath control required for valveless horns and woodwind is considerable. I was full of admiration. The passion and communication of the performers lent the whole concert an undoubted vibrancy.

Yet I remain slightly sceptical. 'Authentic performance' can make a genuine contribution to our understanding and appreciation of the music, yet it is still a tentative exercise, historically speaking. I also can't help wondering how Handel would feel about it. He would find some 'modern instrument' performances of his instrumental pieces quite remarkable, I'd wager, and would crave the control and modulation available to the contemporary performer. "Why deny yourselves the best?", I can hear him saying. There's room for both approaches, of course. But music is alive and should be allowed to develop. We owe it to those who gifted it to us. Not least Handel, whose zest for life was always forward-looking.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007


I've long advocated that eclectic jazz-rock drummer Bill Bruford (latterly heading up Earthworks, also ex-Yes and King Crimson) should delve more into the 'new music' arena. I'm delighted to see that this is going to happen at the end of next month. The concert concerned will take place on 21 September 2007, starting at 19:30, 170 Kensal Road, London, W10 5BN Cost : £10 (£8) advance booking or £12 on door.

The blurb proclaims: "Legendary drummer Bill Bruford and new music’s star keyboard collective pianocircus have teamed up with innovative composer Colin Riley. They perform an evening of this new material at a special performance in London. Riley has created create a set of high-energy and ambient tracks to harness the power and range of the performers, blending electronica, jazz, and the avant-garde." Tickets

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Saturday, August 25, 2007


I caught this on BBC Radio 4 yesterday, and it was both heartening and moving. Norwegian jazz musician Bugge Wesseltoft has used Beeb journo Mike Thomson's interview with Zawadi, a woman horrifically caught up in the conflict in Congo, as the basis for a song on his new album. Bugge Wesseltoft, who has worked with musicians like American guitarist John Scofield and Britain's eclectic composer and performer Django Bates, is to feature parts of the interview in the track called 'Wye'. Lyric royalties from the song are to be donated to the woman from Bukavu in Eastern Congo, who finally escaped her Rwandan Hutu abductors after witnessing the murder of fifty of her friends and family. The album will be released in October 2007. There is a clip on the BBC's website story here. It was in searching for Wesseltoft that I discovered the Maria Kannegaard Trio, too. [Pic: Thomson and Wesseltoft]

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Friday, August 24, 2007


Thanks to Sequenza21 for highlighting this one. Back in 1994, the following composers were invited to weigh in on what music would be like in 150 years: Milton Babbitt, Pierre Boulez (predictable, this one!), Harrison Birtwistle, Brian Ferneyhough (minimal answer), Steve Reich (maximal, funnily enough), Franco Donatoni (looks eerily like the late footballer George Best, on an off day) and Louis Andriessen. The ones who didn't take it as an opportunity pompously to state the bleedin' obvious (that prediction is a mugs game, and not to be taken seriously) wound up having some pretty interesting things to say - offbeat and onbeat.

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While searching for something entirely different, I had one of those happy chancing-upon internet adventures - discovering for the first time the Maria Kannegaard Trio {pictured}. They have some sound files up on their MySpace page, too. Their latest album, Quiet Joy, has been published on Jazzland Records, the label of the daring Bugge Wesselhoft - about whom, more anon. According to Rondomagazine the music "at one moment sounds like Bill Evans having the hiccups, at another like Thelonious Monk in Morse code (...) or like gumbo-backbeat when the drums peu à peu are losing all of their metal parts. That's one of many ways to describe the incredibly surprising style and positive craziness in the music of the Maria Kanneegaard Trio."

This from Roald Helgheim: “I immediately sat up and noticed Maria Kannegaard the first time I heard her … She was playing beautiful tunes, and then there was something about the way she was improvising. Something well defined, conscious, well-thought through: … she speaks to me with music so soulful it leaves one with a massive impression, but at the same time this music possesses an inner calm. … the most original trio-debut in Norwegian jazz for a long time.”

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Thursday, August 23, 2007


Rather unjustly, I think, Andrew Clements has a reputation in some circles for being a 'dour modernist'. Well, he certainly champions demanding new music and maximalism. Good for him on that. But he also operates from a wide musical palette, as is indicated by this enthusiastic review of the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra's appearance in London. The progamme included Shostakovitch's stunning Tenth Symphony - one of my favourite works, and a piece of daunting musical and emotional scale.

Clements begins: "I am not sure anything quite like Gustavo Dudamel and his extraordinary group of young musicians have ever hit the Proms before. Whatever you have read about the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra - and the astonishing Venezuelan system of musical education that brought it into being - can't convey the brilliance and disarming exuberance of their playing, or the importance of Dudamel's role in channelling that energy. There are some great youth orchestras around today, but none of them is as exciting to behold as this." Read on.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007


The indefatigable Adey Grummet writes: "The Shout will go into rehearsal on their newly devised theatre piece, Fingerprint in September 2007. Directed by Emma Bernard, it deals with the multilayered and kaleidoscopic aspects of [human] identity. The tour is as follows:

* Linbury 27, 28, 29th Sept
* RNCM Manchester 20th Oct
* Portsmouth New Theatre Royal 31st Oct
* Sage Gateshead 8th November
* Dartington Plus (Ariel Centre) 29, 30th November

Details of all this will be here as well as on The Shout's own website. Why not contact them there to be put on their mailing list?"

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Sunday, August 19, 2007


Among the very best 'new music' web initiatives is undoubtedly the NetNewMusic/Sequenza21 New Music Wiki - and, of course, the Sequenza21 blog, which is essential reading. (Yes, I know, I must update my links.) "What we hope to do here is to build a reader-created community/encyclopedia of new music composers, performers, history, schools, important works - you literally name it. Since first person sources are always the best place to start, I am hoping that all of you who are active in creating and playing new music will create entries for yourself and the groups you are associated with."

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Friday, August 17, 2007


I haven't always been successful in seeing my musical heroes in the flesh, before they pass into dust and artistic immortality. I missed Miles Davis' last-ever appearance in London - so never witnessed him play live. I sadly never got to see Shostakovitch, Zappa or The Smiths, either. I caught Ligeti, Copland and Tal Farlowe, but missed out on Messaien - a huge lode star in my sonic firmament.

So I am thankful this evening, having heard the sad news of Max Roach's demise, that I got to see the ground-breaking jazz drummer in action, aged well into his 70s, along with pianist Cecil Taylor at London's Royal Festival Hall. It is a night I wont forget. Roach wasn't walking that easily and looked petty frail. But when he sat on the drum riser he was a man transfigured, and his deftness of touch, tome and rhythmic sensitivity never lost him. There were even signs of the controlled muscularity which he applied in such a customary way -- in the service of a greater musical cause, rather than for its own sake.

The BBC gives a pithy summary of what he was and what he bought to jazz "Born in North Carolina in 1924, Roach became the house drummer at the legendary New York club Monroe's Uptown House in his teens. He helped develop the bebop style while playing with the likes of Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie at Monroe's and another influential New York venue, Minton's Playhouse. Before bebop, jazz was primarily swing music played in dance halls, and drummers served to keep time for the band, Blue Note spokesman Cem Kurosman said. Roach, along with fellow-drummer Kenny Clarke, changed that by shifting the time-keeping function to the cymbal, allowing the drums to play a more expressive and melodic role.

"Roach began drumming before the age of 10In the process, he contributed to the shift of jazz from popular dance music to an art form that fans appreciated sitting in clubs, Kurosman added.
The self-trained percussionist also took part in sessions with Miles Davis, which were later released as The Birth Of Cool. The quintet he co-founded with Clifford Brown in 1954 is considered one of the classic ensembles in jazz. After Brown's death in a car crash with bandmate Richie Powell in 1956, Roach led a series of bands that included a who's who of jazz associates."

He was also a stalwart campaigner for human dignity and civil rights.

There is more on the BBC Radio 3 Profile - which adds: "Some of his duo performances are masterpieces of improvisation, notably his 1989 Paris collaboration with Dizzy Gillespie and a long-lived partnership with pianist Cecil Taylor both on record and in a series of occasional concerts. In the 1980s Roach formed a regular group which included Odean Pope on saxophones and Cecil Bridgewater on trumpet. In addition he worked in an amazing variety of contexts from all star jazz groups to the Beijing Trio, which explored Asian-American links."

See also: Art Taylor: 'Max Roach' in Notes and Tones (New York, USA, Da Capo, 1993); Drummerworld: Max Roach; Max Roach: The Hard Bop Homepage; Max Roach - Wikipedia; Max Roach - Verve Records.

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In The Guardian (whose online redesign really is fab): Second Life goes symphonic - a British orchestra is staging the first full-scale classical concert in the virtual world. Meanwhile, in the 'real world', we're at the Proms halfway point, the paper reminds us.

"The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic has created a virtual, 3-D version of its concert hall and on September 14 users of the website will be able to attend a concert led by the orchestra's chief conductor, Vasily Petrenko."

Encouragingly, the report adds: "Far from compromising with popular classics, the orchestra will perform, aside from works by Ravel and Rachmaninov, two premieres, by Liverpool composers Kenneth Hesketh and John McCabe."

A different kind of 'virtual orchestra experience' was provided by an installation on London's South Bank last Summer (August-September) called Play.orchestra - see illustration. "56 plastic cubes and 3 Hotspots are laid out on a full size orchestra stage, each cube containing a light and speaker. Sit down on the cube or stand in the hotspot to turn on that instrument and bring 58 friends to hear the full piece. "

An intriguing initiative of the Philharmonia Orchestra, Play.orchestra was reviewed at the time by Frankie Roberto.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Ivan Hewett of the Daily Telegraph writing about Prom 18 (Thursday 26 July 2007, while I was in the United States):

"Then came another piece which was thought to be a swan-song: Michael Tippett’s Triple Concerto, written when the composer was 75 (in fact he went on composing for another fifteen years). I remembered its exulting melodies, the three soloists singing like one, but I’d forgotten its dancing energy, the ingenious cyclic form, and the virtuosity of the orchestral as well as the solo writing. The three soloists – violinist Daniel Hope, violist Philip Dukes, and cellist Christian Poltéra, played like heroes. But the orchestra was no less wonderful; in fact the most entrancing part of the performance was the sinuous duet between Hope and alto flautist Michael Cox.

Listen to the Proms on BBC Radio 3’s audio-on-demand service

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Saturday, August 11, 2007


...and an unexpected find on YouTube. For O, For O, the Hobby-Horse is Forgot, by Sir Harrison Birtwistle (April 12, 2005). There are two further portions. Courtesy of OberlinPercussion [Clockwise from top: Ross Karre, Jared Twenty, Michael Lehman, Andrew Burke, Zachary Crystal, Matthew Jenkins]

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Friday, August 10, 2007


My friend he took his final breath
Now I know the perfect kiss is the kiss of death
(Bernard Sumner Peter Hook Stephen Morris Phil Cunningham)

I was delayed, I was way-laid
an emergency stop
I smelt the last ten seconds of life
I crashed down on the crossbar
and the pain was enough
to make a shy, bald buddhist reflect
and plan a mass-murder
(Morrissey Marr)

Sad to hear on the BBC this evening of the death of Tony Wilson - the impresario who created the context for the glorious emergence of The Smiths, in my view the indie band of the 1980s, and who is immortalised (warts and all) in the fine 24 Hour Party People.

"The Salford-born entrepreneur, who managed New Order, Joy Division and the Happy Mondays, was diagnosed [with cancer] last year during a routine visit to the doctor. The 57-year-old, who launched Factory records and the Hacienda nightclub, underwent emergency surgery in January to remove a kidney. He passed away on Friday evening in hospital. Doctors recommended he take the drug Sutent after chemotherapy failed to beat the disease, but the NHS refused to fund the £3,500-a-month treatment. However, members of the Happy Mondays and other acts he supported over the years stepped in and started a fund to help pay for it."

NP in my head: The Smiths, 'Stop Me If You Think That You've Heard This One Before' and New Order, 'The Perfect Kiss'.

Sound and vision files:

The SmithsStop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before

Ten-minute version of 'The Perfect Kiss' on YouTube.

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The fastest going JSB-related group on Facebook at the moment is the delightfully whimsical "Every time you write parallel fifths, Bach kills a kitten". (You need to be registered to view it). I have gently raised the thorny and well-trampled issue of whether, therefore, he actually wrote Toccatta and Fugue in D Minor, which has plenty of PFs in it. They're mostly students on there. And that's what students are for. In the nicest possible way.

For the baffled, the relevant Wikipedia entry has a pretty succinct summary:

"In music, consecutive fifths (also known as parallel fifths) involve the concurrence of successive intervals of a perfect fifth between two voices in parallel motion; e.g., a parallel movement from C to D in one voice, and G to A in a higher voice. Intervening octaves are irrelevant to this aspect of musical grammar; for example, parallel 12ths (i.e., as created by successive intervals of an octave plus a fifth) are equivalent to parallel fifths. During the common practice period, the use of consecutive fifths was strongly discouraged. This was primarily due to the notion of voice leading, which stresses the individual identity of voices. Because of the powerful presence of the fifth above the fundamental in the overtone series, the individuality of two parts is weakened when they move in parallel fifths."

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Thursday, August 09, 2007


"Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, followed by Mahler’s 10th Symphony; it would be hard to think of a more intense pairing than this one, given to us last night by the BBC Philharmonic and its new chief conductor Gianandrea Noseda", writes Ivan Hewett in his Telegraph BBC Proms review. Indeed. He adds: "It’s a clever pairing too, as the two pieces go together so beautifully. The doom-laden thump of the bass drum colours both pieces, and they both lead through strange, tormented areas of experience before subsiding in serenity and acceptance. Where they differ hugely is in scale."

For the at-home listener (like me in this instance - go to the Beeb's 'listen again' facility: the immensity and gradualism of the Mahler [pictured] can be a challenge. In years gone by I have struggled with it, rather sympathising with the person who once famously commented that "Wagner's music is better than it sounds" - and applying it to Mahler too! Complexity and density in music (Birtwistle, Ferneyhough, etc.) has never been something that has especially daunted me. But lyrical density and ponderousness has. I know for many it is the other way round.

In the 1970s I got into Bruckner a little, partly by way of self-education. Wagner passed me by. And Mahler 10, except in bruised chunks. But the Proms is an ideal environment in which to stretch one's listening experience. Long may it be so.

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Monday, August 06, 2007


Ouch, sorry about that. What I wish to commend, however, is the short 15-minute-per-broadcast series on BBC 2 and BBC 4 (TV, around 11.20pm, after Newsnight) - York Minster organist John Whiteley performs a series of JS Bach's organ works. The BFI blurb, such as it is, talks up the "innovative camera techniques". Thankfully these enhance, rather than obscuring, the beauty of the music.

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Friday, August 03, 2007


I am staying in West Virginia at the moment, in a country spa hotel situated near the foothills of the famous Appalachian mountains. I've been listening to a young fiddle player called Rob Mann, a street musician and function player, who has been busting a cat gut or two taking us through some of the repertoire for this region. And very talented he is, too.

Of course the vernacular music of the area owes a good deal to English and (especially) Irish folk music, whence it borrowed some ideas and reworked them across the homesteads and bars. One or two of the better known tunes (from a wider span of possibilities) are included in Aaron Copland's famous ballet suite Appalachian Spring, which has always been a favourite of mine.

"An emotional highpoint of the score is a melody based on a traditional Shaker song, 'Simple Gifts.' We hear a chorus sing the original hymn that provided Copland his inspiration, then listen to Copland’s beautiful solo vocal and instrumental adaptations. Throughout the work, Copland brilliantly weaves melodies that evoke simplicity and the “earnest but good-natured piety” of Shaker culture. Composer John Adams discusses the Shaker influence on American culture and how Copland allowed that to shape the piece."

Adams' own orchestral work 'Shaker Loops' is one of the most widely adapted in the neo-minimalist canon, and has been set to words in an abbreviated version by Jon Anderson on the album Change We Must.

NPR continues: "Music critics were in awe of Copland’s ability to capture a vast emotional world within the limits of the 13-piece orchestration prescribed by the original score (which, in turn, was dictated by the size of the Coolidge Auditorium orchestra pit at the Library of Congress, site of the ballet's premiere). With some strings, a few woodwinds and piano he achieves remarkable effects."

See also Classical Notes on Copland and Appalachian Spring.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007


"Lore Lixenberg [pictured] and Adey Grummet have worked together for years. Between them they sing some of the scariest contemporary scores know to humanity. Perhaps this is sheer foolhardiness and perhaps this is true courage. Whatever, it means that they never get cast in standard repertoire or considered for nice polite parts in nice polite opera houses with music where you know how many beats are in the next bar. Funny that. And a bit sad.

"However, Graham Coatman, the new artistic Director of the Hexham Festival, heard them whinging about this one day and decided to take them at their word. Dragging their good friend and stalwart support and all-round-nicest-man-we-know, Jonathan Williams, with them, they will be singing just what they fancy singing on 4 October 2007 in Hexham Abbey and no-one is going to stop them!" Updates here.

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