Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Meanwhile in Milan...

...Our dear colleague Opera Chic has been on the receiving end of a sense-of-humour failure on the part of La Scala's in-house lawyers. We're still trying to think of any other musical organisation that would turn their noses up at free publicity to the value of thousands of $$$s...but she's being forced to replace her logo in case someone mistakes it for the official La Scala one (...yes, really). Solidarity from London, OC!

(If I had any idea how to design my own logo, the one I'd pick to rip off would probably be London Zoo, because London's musical life is so full of strange fish. As things are, the Blogger template will have to suffice.)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Sokolov, a.k.a. PianoGod, is playing at the Wigmore Hall tonight and Guess Who Got The Last Ticket?!? :-)

Meanwhile I'm swotting Noel Malcolm's excellent book Bosnia: A short history. The early 1990s come surging back. The names we heard daily on the news: Milosevic; Arkan; Srebrenica; Sarajevo. The pigs-ear that resulted not least because Western governments, it appears, didn't have the first clue what the conflict was really about.

A few examples. An arms embargo was placed on the entire region - which left most of the old Yugoslavian supplies in the hands of the Serbs, but the Bosnians without recourse to defend themselves. "No-fly zones"? Unenforced and unenforcable. "Safe havens"? Ditto. UN peacekeeping forces? Nice idea, but they ended up becoming human shields. You can scarcely miss the frustration in the text:

"It fell to the British government, as holder of the rotating presidency of the EEC, to chair a joint EEC-UN conference on the entire situation in Yugoslavia...The paralysis of the Wrst was made only more apparent. John Major obtained what he thought were solemn pledges from the Serb leaders to lift the sieges of Bosnian towns and cities and place their heavy weaponry under UN supervision. It later emerged that 'supervision' was to be interpreted in its original, etymological sense: UN monitors were allowed to look over the artillery pieces above Sarajavo every day while they were being fired."

Off to Sarajevo tomorrow.

Monday, June 04, 2007

What did I just say about loudness?

The Times runs an article today saying that rock music really is getting louder, and that it is definitely not a good thing. It has an adverse effect on human physiology, makes listeners feel fatigued and sick, drives neighbours round the twist and wrecks the music. WTF, why did it take so long for anyone to notice?

Here's a sample:

...Peter Mew, senior mastering engineer at Abbey Road studios, said: “Record companies are competing in an arms race to make their album sound the ‘loudest’. The quieter parts are becoming louder and the loudest parts are just becoming a buzz.”

Mr Mew, who joined Abbey Road in 1965 and mastered David Bowie’s classic 1970s albums, warned that modern albums now induced nausea.

He said: “The brain is not geared to accept buzzing. The CDs induce a sense of fatigue in the listeners. It becomes psychologically tiring and almost impossible to listen to. This could be the reason why CD sales are in a slump.”

Geoff Emerick, engineer on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album, said: “A lot of what is released today is basically a scrunched-up mess. Whole layers of sound are missing. It is because record companies don’t trust the listener to decide themselves if they want to turn the volume up.” ...

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Elgar's 150th anniversary...

Edward Elgar was born 2 June 1857 in Broadheath near Worcester. Here's the latest in a spate of articles about him - this by Richard Morrison in yesterday's Times, on the perennial enigma of the Enigma Variations.

It's kind of strange hearing Elgar the morning after Bosnian sevdah and Romanian Gypsies. Thank heaven there's room in the world for all of them.

UPDATE: Monday 4 June, 8.50am - discovered a pretty interesting take by Stephen Pollard in The Times the other day, in which he makes it clear that our own dear Arts Council doesn't think there is room in the world...

Barbican burns down

Metaphorically, that is. Went to the latest concert in the Gypsy Music festival last night and heard these guys. Ever seen the Barbican bopping like mad to Bartok? I have now. Please welcome, from Romania, TARAF DE HAIDOUKS:

Now add a packed hall, yelling, whistling and dancing in the aisles, and a smattering of classical musos looking on with dropped jaws (that'll be me & pals) and you get the idea. It was fast, it was loud and they took no prisoners. The place went bananas.

The cimbalom player boggles eyes and ears alike. Last time I saw one close to, in a restaurant in Budapest, I thought the instrument was simply a poor substitute for a pub piano. Wrong! This was wall-to-wall fireworks and white-hot energy - harpsichord and rock drummer rolled into one. The fiddles were fevered and furious, the accordion sounded like a clarinet, and the singing - Romany? Romanian? I'm not sure - the men's voices are direct, natural, communicative, conversational, and even if you don't understand a word it doesn't matter, you still get the general idea and that's fine.

Amira, the Bosnian sevdah singer, was the curtain-raiser to all this. She has a beautiful, sweet, soulful voice; the music is haunting, deeply sad, distinctly Mediterranean in sound (lots of Turkish influence, if I'm right) and her band was super, especially the pianist Kim Burton who isn't Bosnian but British. Fabulous rapport between them.

I have certain issues with overamplified music - not least that it makes my ears hurt for hours afterwards - which is why I don't go more often. And it would perhaps have been nicer, at least more 'authentic', to hear them unamplified (preferably somewhere in the wilds of Romania). All the same, this morning my head is reeling with wild Gypsy sounds and a smattering of Bartok, Kodaly and Khatchaturian that they 'regypsified' (including the Romanian Dances) and that will never sound the same again.