Saturday, September 29, 2007


As part of my gradual re-curating of links, I have added a 'Michael Tippett Focus' section, to indicate that one of the regular intentions of NewFrontEars is to maintain interest in the late, great and (comparatively) sadly neglected composer - one of my favourites. Eventually I will index some of the key material on this site, with MT material a particular priority. In the meantime, I hope to be able to signal forthcoming performances of his work, live and on the radio. Below is an upcoming R3 broadcast touching on Tippett's life and music.

The Making Of Music – War Again
Monday 8 October 2007
4.00-5.00pm BBC RADIO 3

BBC Radio 3 presents performances of the music James Naughtie mentions in his BBC Radio 4 programmes (3.45-4.00pm) charting the relationship between 1,000 years of history and the classical music that became its soundtrack.

This programme explores the Thirties and those composers who didn't join the artistic diaspora out of Europe, but instead stayed behind to deal with the catastrophe of war.

Dmitri Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony (the Leningrad) was written during the 900-day siege of that city in which 750,000 Russians died.

In Britain, Michael Tippett spent a few years in the Communist Party during the Thirties, but soon lost faith in its creed. On the day war broke out in September 1939, he began to write the oratorio A Child Of Our Time, inspired by the story of the Polish Jew Herschel Grynspan, whose assassination of a German diplomat in Paris in 1938 was one of the causes of Hitler's organised assault on German Jews on Kristallnacht in that year.

As a pacifist and conscientious objector, Tippett was jailed for refusing to undertake war work as an alternative to military service. In A Child Of Our Time, he deals with the question of the outsider, or the group that can't be understood.

Presenter/Louise Fryer, Producer/Anthony Sellors

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Thursday, September 27, 2007


Thanks to Deirdre Good for drawing my attention to this one: "Tonight Marin Alsop will shatter the glass baton. As she steps onto the podium for her inaugural concert as Music Director and Principal Conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO), Ms Alsop becomes the first woman to assume the leadership of a major American symphony. The baton she will grasp will be a simple wooden one, worn and slightly crooked, handcrafted by her father. Here's the website of Marin Alsop."

Formerly PO of the Bournemouth Symphony, Alsop was also involved with the Building on Excellence: Orchestras for the 21st Century statement, which Andrew Clements comments on here.

Back in April, she declared: "Britain has some of the leading voices of the 21st century, composers that I revere such as Thomas Adès, James MacMillan and Oliver Knussen. What we have to do is maximise on that stature and encourage younger voices."

The 10-year mission statement also promises that musicians will perform in non-traditional venues. The document is signed by the orchestras' chief conductors, including Valery Gergiev, Vladimir Jurowski and Vasily Petrenko, and a lone British name, Mark Elder, the Hallé's music director.

Marin Alsop added: "The UK's orchestras are ... filled with musicians who want to make a contribution to the future of humanity."

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I've just been listening to some wonderfully chromatic Bach, and for some reason found myself wanting to hear Allan Holdsworth. I love his effortless legato style, weird modes, and ability to rework a tune harmonically (this one is by the late Tony Williams, of Lifetime fame) while improvising. Leaves some people cold, I know. But I could listen to him for hours. And Have. Sadly I missed him last time he was in London, so I'm delighted to learn that Allan will tour England in November/December 2007. Venues and dates are due to be announced soon. The band will feature Chad Wackerman on drums and Jimmy Johnson on bass. Then 2008 will see Allan splitting his time between recording and touring. He will focus on the completion of several delayed recording projects of his own and has plans to play in Japan, Australia, Europe, and the USA, apparently. Unmissable.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007


While most of the media attention has gone, understandably, to Pavarotti, the musical demise that has impacted me most has been the death today of the extraordinary Austrian pianist Joe Zawinul. His time as keyboard player with Miles Davis and his co-founding of Weather Report with saxophonist Wayne Shorter, guitarist Miroslav Vitous and bass player Jaco Pastorius are true milestones in contemporary jazz. But he was so much larger than this. I was privileged to see him in improvisatory mode (a pulsating set of avant, blue note-inflected classicism and world beat) in Cardiff a couple of years ago. He was sharing the honours with Bill Bruford's Earthworks.

In 2004 Zawinul bought a jazz club in Vienna, the Birdland, but continued to tour with his new group, the Zawinul Syndicate. He was due to play this September at the La Villette jazz festival in Paris, but the performance was cancelled due to his ill health. Over the course of his career, Joe was named pianist of the year 28 times by the American jazz magazine Down Beat. That speaks volumes. But not nearly as eloquently as the notes he modulated.

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Monday, September 10, 2007


Open Rehearsal is a Mayor of London campaign taking place across the Uk capital from 27 September to 2 October 2007. Piloted in 2006, the campaign was well received, with South Bank, the Barbican, Wigmore Hall, Dance Umbrella and a variety of commercial and non-commercial theatres participating, and is therefore being expanded this year.

Open Rehearsal will offer the public an opportunity to sample London’s finest music, theatre, dance and opera, free of charge, through access to rehearsals and behind the scenes activity, thus providing a mix of passive and participative activity. As a result more people can enjoy the world-class music, theatre and dance that London offers. Among those participating are the wonderful Britten Sinfonia.

Regular Open Rehearsal partner meetings are held at City Hall. Our next partner meeting is from 3pm-4.30pm on Friday 24 August 2007 in Committee Room 3. Please email if you would like to attend.

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Saturday, September 08, 2007


I'm afraid that, much though I love the Proms as a (indeed the) classical music festival, wild dogs wouldn't force me to watch the embarrassing anachronism that is the Last Night (tonight, BBC 1 & 2). Well, not unless there was a re-run of Harrison Birtwistle frightening the horsey types and yahoos with 'Panic' for sax and percussion. That was great.

I will, however, tune into BBC1 shortly to catch a glimpse of ex-Pink Floyd front man David Gilmour at the Albert Hall - if only because there might be an excerpt from 'Echoes', far and away my favourite PF piece. To be honest I'm not massive on them post Syd Barrett and the promise that sprung out of 'Piper at the Gates of Dawn'.

Prior to the film, which was recorded last year (2006), Gilmour came on stage and performed 'Castellizon' - the guitar piece from his solo album 'On An Island'. He took to a darkened platform with just a spotlight on his guitar.

The footage included several tracks featuring Crosby & Nash performing vocals alongside Gilmour - 'On An Island', 'The Blue' and 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond.' The Albert Hall gig also included David Bowie on two songs: 'Arnold Layne' and finale 'Comfortably Numb.'

After the concert (which included an immense laser light show in the auditorium for 'Echoes') finished, Gilmour came back onstage to take questions from the audience and appreciators around Europe.

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Friday, September 07, 2007


"In the poetry for the Third Symphony, I included a line which I had been ‘forced’ to write: “My sibling is the torturer”. It is a frightening line, and I do not know that I understand what it means. And yet I know instinctively that it is something that we have got to face up to; there is some element, which we have not yet understood, about why people do things in this violent form. I am afraid that unless we make some definite effort to understand we shall not get ourselves round this corner. My emotional responses in favour of the victims of war and in opposition to notions of military heroism do not necessarily make me a better person than the ‘heroes’."

Composer and life-long pacifist Sir Michael Tippett, Individual Responsibility, Talk at PPU AGM.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007


"Music is a shout of foregone conclusions, as long as music plays its part", the song goes. On the other hand, the Mercury Prize, originally hailed as a genre-busting new music award, has become long on foregone conclusions while remaining comparatively short on musical daring. Industry hats go on about 'innovation', but what they mean is previously little known talents in fairly predictable pools. This year those psycho-darling Klaxons (Myths of the Near Future) outvoted rehab Winehouse and the net-tastic Artctics, among others. Congratulations to them. But it's still a scandal that the Basquiat Strings with Seb Rochford (drums) remained an afterthought even on the Independent's arts pages. The Mecuries almost immediately reduced contemporary classical and jazz to token shortlist inclusions, before ditching them altogether (honest, at least). The Basquiat broke the barrier again this year, because, as John Walters put it, "they rock". The dubious honour has at least secured them some valuable additional sales. Not to be sniffed at. But their fine aroma is not sufficient to re-odorize the stench of music biz commercialism surrounding the Mercury muppett show. Music alone is not good enough to pipe its message, it seems.

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Edward Pearce, who has issued a passionate plea for 'traditional values' on BBC Radio 3, is a delightful man. Some years ago, when he worked as a commentator and journalist on a national newspaper and I scribed for an obscure weekly, I sat next to him at a political conference we were both covering. Unlike many 'name hacks' he was unfailingly courteous and good-humoured, even saving my hotly-competed-for place while I went in search of a cuppa. I've always enjoyed his writing, too. It is thoughtful, informed, quaintly punctilious and wryly Swiftian in its denunciations. A breath of fresh air also, because Pearce moved ground from conservatism to a Whiggish and idiosyncratic form of liberalism during the Thatcher era.

That said, his squeal of anguish over Radio 3 is spoiled (as one respondent says) by "[needless] words and phrases such as 'tributary tosh', 'kitsch', 'inferior music', 'inferior taste', and 'long live cultural snobbery'." Ah, well. That's the bluff North Riding traditionalist in him. Bless. Likewise, film music isn't necessarily the best target - Prokofiev, Britten, Walton, Tippett and Korngold didn't despise the medium per se. And rightly so. 'Light music' is, I admit, anathema as far as I'm concerned - Gilbert and Sullivan included, which drives me nuts. And there is surely plenty of other airspace for it?

But sorry Ed, the idea of re-building cast-iron walls between resplendent classicism and resolute modernism depresses me. Drummond and Glock may have seemed over-zealous in their educative missions, but the Proms at its best is now testimony to the fact that musical trenches are unnecessary. I don't mind jazz seeping in and out of the mix, either. Far from it. Given "those twentieth century blues" it's inevitable, as well as desirable. Radio 3 should still unashamedly be about music as art rather than music as distraction. With that I readily concur. But it should seek to discharge this remit by breaking barriers as well as upholding traditions. Both are possible. Quality should never be confused with stuffiness. And as you say, "[a]n audience of 1.78 million for a programme of classical music, long in earnest talk and flecked with avant garderie, is nothing to apologise for."

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