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Jordi Savall

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

November 17

Death of a classical photographer

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped discWe report with regret the death of Vico Chamla, a photographer who chronicled classical music in Milan for three decades, especially early music. He was a close friend of many artists, among them Gustav Leonhardt. Ton Koopman, Philippe Herreweghe, Radu Lupu, Yuri Bashmet, Jordi Savall and Andras Schiff. Of French and Greek origin, he would invest huge amounts of time in capturing the moment. He once spent two days with Riccardo Muti and came away without a single exposure. He was about 66 years old.

On An Overgrown Path

December 8

Classical music cannot ignore these 140 characters

Gustavo Dudamel, Simon Rattle, Daniel Barenboim, Jordi Savall and Joyce DiDonato are among the leading musicians who have performed in the Gulf States in recent years, and the the inaugural BBC Proms Dubai festival takes place in March 2017. So, given classical music's ongoing love affair with social media, the launch of the 140 Characters website deserves a heads up. This is the work of Human Rights Watch, and in recognition of Twitter’s 140-character limit, the interactive website profiles 140 prominent Bahraini, Kuwaiti, Omani, Qatari, Saudi, and Emirati social and political rights activists and dissidents - see images above - and describes their struggles to resist government efforts to silence them. All 140 have faced government retaliation for exercising their right to freedom of expression, and many have been arrested, tried, and sentenced to fines or prison. Dubai, which is hosting the BBC Proms, is the largest city in the United Arab Emirates, and Abu Dhabi, which has a high profile classical music festival, is the capital of the Emirates. Seventeen of the activists are from the UAE; the profile on 140 Characters of just one of them says it all:Osama al-Najer is a social media activist and the son of the political detainee Hussain Ali al-Najer al-Hammadi. Al-Najer used Twitter to campaign for the release of his father and other political detainees in Abu Dhabi and to criticize the conviction of 69 Emirati nationals in the "UAE 94" trial in July 2013. In September 2012 al-Najer was quoted in a Human Rights Watch news release that contained credible allegations that detainees had been tortured during interrogations. Authorities arrested al-Najer on March 17, 2014 and in November 2014 the Federal Supreme Court sentenced him to three years in prison under the 2012 cybercrimes law on charges including "damaging institutions" and "communicating with external organizations to provide misleading information." Authorities also fined him 500,000 AED ($US 136,127), confiscated his electronic devices, and ordered the closure of his Twitter account.Classical music at celebrity level is cash hungry, and it is unrealistic to expect a boycott of the cash rich but ethically tainted Gulf States. But in these days when Twitter is the communication channel of choice of even the US president-elect, is it too much to ask that Gustavo Dudamel, Simon Rattle, Daniel Barenboim, Jordi Savall, Joyce DiDonato and the BBC put the 140 Characters website in their pipe and tweet it? Before any clever clogs points out that there are 119 and not 140 faces in the header image, the reason is that photos of the other 21 activists are not available. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

On An Overgrown Path

December 8

And now for some genuinely new music

Catalonia is a creative powerhouse: Pau Casals*, Joan Miró, Antoni Gaudí, and Salvador Dalí were all proud Catalans, and today Barcelona is a vibrant centre of the arts. Jordi Savall is just one of the contemporary Catalan musicians who has had a global impact, and modern modal master Ross Daly's Crete-based music co-operative has an annual Labyrinth in Catalunya outreach workshop. My recent plea for the composers in the photo above taken at the summer workshop of the National Youth Orchestra of Catalonia in 2000 to be identified has been answered by Santi Barguñó of Neu Records with help from Ramón Humet who is in the photo. They are from left to right: Benet Casablancas (bio & music), Marcos Bosch (bio & music), Josep Maria Guix (bio & music), Carles Tort, Moisés Bertran (bio & music), Ramón Humet (bio & music), Enric Riu (bio & music), Joan Guinjoan (bio & music) and Jonathan Harvey. I have added links to biographies and music samples for the composers**. These are contemporary composers with something new to say. So why not take a break from the depressingly predictable albums of the year and Grammy nominee listicles, and instead explore some genuinely new music. * One item of little-known music trivia is that Pau Casals - typically stereotyped as being rather po-faced - was a close friend of the Russian composer Thomas De Hartmann who is best known for collaborating with the controversial mystic G. I. Gurdjieff. Although Hartmann is remembered for his joint compositions with Gurdjieff he was a prolific composer in his own right, and Casals performed Hartmann's Cello Concerto opus 57 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1935. Pianist Elan Sicroff has recently masterminded a 7 CD overview of Hartmann's previously unrecorded chamber music. ** I could trace no information on Carles Tort. If anyone can supply links to a biography of him and music samples I will add them. No review samples involved in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

On An Overgrown Path

November 11

There be dragons but no middle ground

It  was very clear to me from the beginning of the project that the object here was not one of finding the common ground shared by two or more traditions and working from that as a starting point. Here the common ground was minimal if indeed it did exist.That is Ross Daly writing in the sleeve essay for his CD White Dragon*. This album was recorded live at Ross' 2003 Houdetsi Festival on Crete and is a collaboration with the Huun Huur Tu throat singing (khöömei) ensemble from the southern Siberian republic of Tuva, plus guest musicians including the Franco-Iranian percussion group Trio Chemirani. Tuva is known as Russia's Tibet and the republic's religion is a mix of animistic shamanism and Tibetan Buddhism. So it is not surprising the album's opening track Mörgül on which Huun Huur Tu deliver an a cappella Buddhist prayer took me back to the early morning puja in the Tibetan Buddhist Thiksay monastery close to the Indian border with Tibet**. Ross Daly is a musician savant in the mold of Jordi Savall and the late Jonathan Harvey, and his willingness to venture where there is no common ground deserves closer consideration. In his essay he explains that "Perhaps the greatest difficulty for a Westerner working with Tuvan music is to go beyond the "strangeness" of it on a technical level and to simply perceive it as music". In world music - a categorisation which Ross derides but I will use nevertheless - if common ground does not exist it is forcibly created as a safe space that the mass market audience can explore without leaving their comfort zones. The result is invariably a bland fusion that neither offends nor inspires. This enforced migration of unique music traditions to the lowest common ground is not confined to world music. It is the driving force behind the dumbing down of Western classical music. And, not coincidentally, this artificial middle ground provides lush grazing for the intermediary parasites who are the music industry's equivalent of the Davos class. There is much that Western classical can learn from Ross Daly. His observation on the challenge of appreciating Tuvan music can be reworded to read 'Perhaps the greatest difficulty for a new listener to contemporary Western classical music is to go beyond the strangeness of it on a technical level and to simply perceive it as music'. Or in other words stop trying to create a safe middle ground, and instead reintroduce audiences to the lost art of listening. * The complete album White Dragon can be downloaded legally for free from Ross Daly's website. There is also a seven minute video of the concert on YouTube. ** Auspicious synchronicity strikes again at this point. My first draft of this post with its mention of Thiksey Monastery in Ladakh - which I visited two years ago - was drafted a few weeks back. To find out more about Tuva I ordered Tuva or Bust: Richard Feynman's Last Journey by Ralph Leighton, one of the few books about the republic. Richard P. Feynman (1918-1988) was a scientist, teacher, raconteur, and musician.I was astounded to find the photo and caption below in the book: Richard Feynman is portrayed here by Pasadena artist Sylvia Posner in the garb of a Ladakhi monk. (The costume, based on photographs in the National Geographic, was made by his wife Gweneth for a costume party. Had the geographical restrictions allowed it, he would have dressed as a lama from Tannu Tuva, the small, isolated land he tried to reach during his last dozen years here on earth.) In the background is the landscape of Los Alamos, where Feynman worked on the Manhattan Project during the Second World War. The opened padlock has both literal and symbolic significance. In his right hand is a "Feynman diagram," which Feynman originally invented as a kind of shorthand to help him remember where he was in a complex calculation. Such diagrams have helped physicists around the world unlock the mysteries of Nature. (The diagram here shows one possible way that two electrons can go through space and time: one electron emits a photon represented by the wavy line - and the other electron absorbs it.)No review samples used in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Jordi Savall

Jordi Savall (1941) is a Spanish Catalan viol player, conductor and composer. He has been one of the major figures in the field of early music since the 1970s, largely responsible for bringing the viol back to life on the stage. His characteristic repertory ranges from Medieval to Renaissance and Baroque music, though he has occasionally ventured into the classical or even the romantic period.

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