French composer Pierre Boulez (1925–2016)


This classical music video says about itself:

6 January 2016

Pierre Boulez in Memoriam (29.03.1925-05.01.2016)

Nachtmusik II from Symphony No 7 by Gustav Mahler

Concertgebouw Orkest Amsterdam

By Alex Lantier:

Conductor and avant-garde composer Pierre Boulez (1925–2016)

7 January 2016

On Tuesday, French conductor and composer Pierre Boulez died at his home in Baden-Baden, Germany, at age 90, after several years of illness. The Philharmonie of Paris, which he founded, issued a statement from his family declaring, “For all those who met him and had the chance to enjoy his creative energy, his artistic integrity, his availability and his generosity, his presence will remain alive and intense.”

Boulez was for decades a leading figure in European classical music. As a conductor who worked and recorded extensively with leading orchestras and opera companies, he elicited powerful, precise, unpretentious and always tasteful performances, though they sometimes had a touch of coldness. He had a reputation for being approachable by students and young artists he met, to whom he often gave generously of his time.

As a composer and founder of musical institutions, particularly for avant-garde music, he worked with rigor and was ruthless in polemics with musical rivals and French officials who got in his way. A man who was both analytical and strong-willed but not burdened by excess modesty, Boulez acted based on carefully weighed and calculated judgments, of whose correctness he was absolutely convinced. He had a firmly developed conception of the historical development of music, of which his own compositions, Boulez firmly believed, were the necessary and unavoidable end result.

Boulez taught himself to play the piano as a child in a bourgeois family in the small city of Montbrison. He studied advanced mathematics in 1940 in St Etienne and then Lyon. In 1943, he traveled to occupied Paris to study at the National Conservatory, failing the entrance exam in piano but being admitted to study harmony under composer Olivier Messiaen.

In 1945, he broke with Messiaen, whom Boulez later offended by calling his 1948 Turangalila Symphonie “brothel music,” to study with René Leibowitz, who introduced him to the “twelve-tone” style of composition of Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern. This style, designed to destroy traditional tonality in music, made a deep impression on Boulez, who characteristically embraced it and then denounced it, drafting a 1952 article in The Score that scandalized American academia by declaring that Schoenberg was “dead.”

In Paris, Boulez worked various jobs to pay the bills, as a math tutor, musician at the Folies Bergères nightclub, and finally director of stage music for the newly-founded theatrical company of renowned actor Jean-Louis Barrault.

Boulez, Barrault recalled in 1995, “arrived to us aged 20. We liked him immediately. On edge and charming like a young cat, he could not hide a wild temperament that was very amusing… But behind this anarchist savagery, we felt in Boulez the extreme delicacy of an unusual temperament, an extraordinary sensibility, even a hidden sentimentality.”

Starting in the 1950s, Boulez organized an avant-garde music series that Barrault backed at the Théâtre Marigny. Boulez both composed Le Marteau sans maître, an avant-garde piece based on works of the famous Resistance poet René Char, and began conducting, initially substituting for German conductors Hermann Scherchen and Hans Rosbaud.

This music video is called Pierre Boulez – Le Marteau sans maître (1955).

Though politically unaffiliated, Boulez in 1960 signed the Manifesto of the 121 opposing France’s war against Algerian independence and denouncing “the colonial system.” He was in Germany when the manifesto was published, and for a time he was barred from returning to France. However, he increasingly won world acclaim, with invitations to conduct the BBC Symphony, the Bayreuth Opera Festival, the Cleveland Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic.

He had conflicts with French authorities in the 1960s, and once called the Paris Opera a “ghetto full of shit and dust.” After Culture Minister André Malraux passed over his suggestions for a reform of the French musical system, he exiled himself to Germany, and in 1967 gave an interview in Der Spiegel in which he called for “blowing up opera houses.” Based on this statement, he would be briefly detained on terrorism charges by Swiss police 34 years later, after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.

Boulez directed the New York Philharmonic from 1971 to 1977, provoking some hostility by programming a great deal of difficult avant-garde music, but also giving popular performances of music by Mozart and Ravel.

He subsequently returned to France, where he launched avant-garde groups including the Ensemble intercontemporain (EIC) and the Institut de recherche et de coordination acoustique-musique (IRCAM), which had been founded with the support of French President Georges Pompidou. In 1981, he wrote Repons, which is often cited as his masterwork.

Throughout the latter decades of his life, Boulez continued to conduct major orchestras, compose, and found new music festivals and venues, including the Cité de la Musique in Paris in 1995 and the Lucerne Festival Academy for orchestral players in 2004. He met with and gave master classes for many conducting and composing students.

Boulez also leaves behind a vast collection of recordings, focused to a large extent on late 19th and 20th century composers including Debussy, Mahler, Bartók, the twelve-tone school, Stravinsky, and Messiaen, as well as performances of the operas of Richard Wagner and of his own works.

Boulez’s other main legacy was his relentless search for a new musical vocabulary to replace both traditional tonality and the twelve-tone system invented by Schoenberg.

This author confesses to considerable skepticism regarding some of Boulez’s compositions and also the aesthetic conceptions underlying them. There is strong reason to doubt that the conceptions of art and musical composition that underlay Boulez’s innovations—such as those he developed while writing in French structuralist circles such as the Tel Quel group—will stand the test of time. The theoretical-philosophical underpinnings of his aesthetic judgments are especially questionable.

“Music is an art that has no ‘meaning,’” Boulez declared in a 1961 lecture titled Aesthetics and the Fetishists, “hence the primary importance of structures that are, properly speaking, linguistic, given the impossibility of musical vocabulary assuming a simply communicative function.”

Paradoxically, Boulez’s best work shows the profound meaning and emotional and communicative power of music, be it vocal or instrumental, with words or no.

Ultimately, however, whether one agrees with Boulez’s conceptions and his preoccupation with forms and linguistic systems, his research and his striving for a new musical language was an honest and integral part of the musical life of his era. In his research, there was nothing of the charlatanry and posing that characterizes much of public life today.

The author also recommends:

Lulu: A new production of a challenging 20th century opera
[4 January 2016]

Violinist forgets Stradivarius on train


This classical music video says about itself:

Jennifer Koh – Bach’s Partita No 2 in D minor – WQXR‘s Bach Lounge Live

This recording was made at the WQXR presentation of Bach Lounge at The Greene Space in New York City, March 23, 2013.

From Slipped Disc blog:

Who left her Stradivarius on a German train?

January 7, 2016 by Norman Lebrecht

BERLIN, Jan 7 (Reuters) – An American violinist who left her $2.6 million 1727 Stradivarius in the luggage rack on a regional train in western Germany was “more than relieved”, police said, when officers retrieved it one minute before it left the station.

So who was it?

The violin is the ‘General Dupont’, played throughout its career by Arthur Grumiaux. It was last sold at auction a year ago to an anonymous collector in China, after being on loan for several years to the US soloist, Jennifer Koh.

Police says the violin was unharmed. So, Ms Koh will be able to play it tonight at her concert with the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie orchestra in Saarbrücken.

Rock ’n’ roll, 1956 till today


This music video from the USA is called Bill HaleyRock Around The Clock (1956).

By Francis Beckett in Britain:

A rock ‘n roll landmark

Saturday 2nd January 2016

Sixty years ago Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock hit number one in the charts. FRANCIS BECKETT explores its cultural significance

SIXTY years ago today, Britain woke up to discover that Rock Around the Clock, by the US rock ’n’ roller Bill Haley and his Comets, had elbowed aside local boy Dickie Valentine’s Christmas Alphabet to occupy the number one spot in the charts.

It was a rough and brutal transition, as 1956 itself was to prove to be.

“C is for the candy trimmed around the Christmas tree, H is for the happiness…” crooned Dickie Valentine, but “Rock” had a sexual connotation and Rock Around the Clock was a boast of sexual prowess.

And it was a fitting start to a year which was to see the British shifted out of their comfort zone as never before.

It was the year Britain and France invaded Suez and the Soviet Union invaded Hungary.

Nikita Khrushchov’s “secret speech” exposed the crimes of Stalin and the Royal Court Theatre unveiled John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger.

All the assumptions that had made post-war austerity and rationing bearable were being shattered — that Britain was a great power, that being British was something special, that the British empire was strong and benevolent and forever.

Nineteen fifty-six was the hinge of the 20th century, the year when the old Britain died and a new one was born.

It was, in a sense, the end of the second world war and the start of the ’60s.

And it started with rock ’n’ roll — a raucous, dangerous US sound that made some of the stuffier musicians and commentators look very foolish, very fast.

“I don’t think the rock ’n’ roll craze will come to Britain. It is primarily for the coloured population,” said bandleader Ted Heath.

Haley also occupied the number five slot in that first chart of 1956 with Rock-A-Beatin’ Boogie.

It would prove to be a remarkable year for Haley and his Comets. Having only been heard in Blackboard Jungle, they starred in the films Rock Around the Clock and Don’t Knock the Rock.

There was only one week in those first six months when Haley had no record in the NME chart. He spent more weeks in the chart, with more hits, than anybody had before, or has since.

With him, too, came Britain’s first home-grown rock stars, like Tommy Steele. And there was skiffle. Entering that first January chart at number 17 was Lonnie Donegan from Glasgow with Rock Island Line — an obscure railroad song from the repertoire of the black US folk-singer Lead Belly, and a harbinger of the skiffle craze.

It was the first record 15-year-old John Lennon bought, and he took it home very carefully — a fragile, precious 78rpm disc.

That summer, he got together with some friends from his school, Quarry Bank High, to form a skiffle group — the Quarrymen.

The old world fought back — it always does. For most of the rest of the year, the number-one ranking was held by mainstream figures with anodyne songs: Dean Martin, Ronnie Hilton, Pat Boone, Doris Day, Anne Shelton…

But rock ’n’ roll and skiffle had put down their markers: a new music for a new generation. Nothing afterwards would be the same.

That same day, 60 years ago today, the 58-year-old prime minister Anthony Eden’s new year message spoke to the world that was dying, not the world that was being born, to those who listened to Dickie Valentine and not to those who listened to Bill Haley: “This is the season when we, each one of us, try to prepare our resolutions for the new year. We’re determined to keep full employment — we’re all agreed about that… And then there’s the question of peace — always in all our minds. You can be sure we shall do everything we can to reduce tension between the nations at any time and at every opportunity.”

By the end of the year, the prime minister’s remark about peace looked even more out of touch than the bandleader’s about rock ’n’ roll.

In that first week in January, French voters handed victory to Pierre Mendes-France’s radicals and Guy Mollet’s socialists, who intended to abolish state subsidies to church schools. The British Catholic paper The Universe reported it under the headline: “The people fail France again.”

That idea that there is something called “the country” which is greater than the democratic will of the people looks to us a little like fascism. But in January 1956, it did not look at all odd.

It was only 11 years since Labour’s 1945 election victory was greeted by a lady diner at the Savoy Hotel with the words: “This is terrible — they’ve elected a Labour government, and the country will never stand for it.”

The same could well have been said of rock ’n’ roll. Young people took to it, but it was not at all clear that the country would stand for it.

Francis Beckett’s latest book is 1956: The Year that Changed Britain, out from Biteback October 2015.

Singer Natalie Cole, RIP


This 2012 music video is called Natalie Cole LIVE – Unforgettable; a computer generated duet with her father, the late Nat King Cole.

From the Daily Record in Scotland:

Singer Natalie Cole dies aged 65: Musician and daughter of Nat King Cole passes away

16:53, 1 Jan 2016
Updated 17:22, 1 Jan 2016

By Rebecca Pocklington

The star, who had hits including This Will Be and Unforgettable, reportedly fell ill at the end of last year and was forced to cancel several live tour dates

Singer Natalie Cole has died aged 65.

The famed musician and daughter of star Nat King Cole reportedly passed away in a Los Angeles hospital after cancelling a series of live tour dates due to illness recently.

According to TMZ, the singer died from congestive heart failure, but suffered from several health issues with complications from a kidney transplant and Hepatitis C also contributing.

Natalie also suffered from liver disease and received chemotherapy in 2008 for Hepatitis C. …

Tributes have poured in and Rev. Jesse Jackson tweeted on New Year’s Day: “#NatalieCole, sister beloved & of substance and sound. May her soul rest in peace. #Inseperable.”

Tragically her father died before Natalie began her solo career, but she continue[d] to soar to success. …

She won an incredible nine Grammys from 21 nominations over her career, including the Best New Artist Grammy.

Cole was married three times and leaves behind a son, Robert Adam “Robbie” Yancy, from her first marriage to producer Marvin Yancy.

Muslim girl likes rock concert, photo


Muslim girl at rock concert, photo by Jan Rijk

This photo by Dutch photographer Jan Rijk shows a 17-year-old Turkish Dutch Muslim girl, crowd surfing at a rock concert by the band John Coffey, on 19 December 2015.

This video shows part of that 19 December gig, in concert hall Gebroeders De Nobel in Leiden. Various people in the audience start crowd surfing. At about 0:45, the Muslim girl starts.

Translated from Vincent Frequin at Dichtbij.nl in the Netherlands, 22 December 2015:

LEIDEN – The photo of a Muslim girl crowd surfing at a concert in Leiden goes all over the internet. Photographer Jan Rijk: “It is moving to see that after all the misery of recent times yet there also can be tolerance. Music is obviously the way!”

During the concert of John Coffey in venue Gebr. De Nobel in Leiden the concert photographer Jan Rijk was moved by seeing two girls with headscarves on who turned out to be big fans of the Dutch rock band. “Then a little later one went crowd surfing, and I just had to capture this,” said Rijk.

Photo of integration and tolerance goes viral …

The girl in the picture would prefer not to generate too much fame for her person, but she would be happy if the photograph could bring about a change in the stereotype of ‘the Muslim‘, particularly at this time of hatred and destruction, she told Dichtbij.nl. “I also hope to have an effect on the Muslim community, because I know that there are more Muslim girls who also enjoy such music, but do not talk about it or are not allowed to go to the concerts by their parents.”

“I think my father will find this photo funny, but my mom will get really mad if she sees this, haha,” laughs the Muslim woman. She is proud and pleased with the beautiful picture. “Let’s hope that this, however unexpectedly, will be good for something and that this will lead to something positive!”

Muslim women at John Coffey concert

A comment by Walter Hoogerbeets under the article says (translated):

Funny, an angry tweet by [Dutch xenophobic politician Geert] Wilders on the day that the picture of a crowd surfing Muslim woman went viral. While he hates, we celebrate.

Rock singer Lemmy of Motörhead ‘killed by death’


This 2010 live music video is called Motörhead and Girlschool ~ Please Don’t Touch.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Motörhead star Lemmy dies after cancer news

Wednesday 30th December 2015

THE WORLD of heavy metal was plunged into mourning yesterday by the news of rock legend Lemmy’s death just days after his 70th birthday.

The Motörhead founder, real name Ian Kilmister, died at his Los Angeles flat on Monday, two days after being diagnosed with a highly aggressive cancer.

Born on Christmas Eve 1945, Lemmy once said he remembered when there was no such thing as rock and roll.

He played with the Rocking Vickers, Sam Gopal and Hawkwind — and briefly worked as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix — before forming Motörhead, the band that would make him famous, in 1975.

Though he was notorious for wearing a German Iron Cross medal and having a collection of nazi memorabilia, Lemmy held strongly anti-authoritarian views.

Last month he lamented the injustice of former bandmate Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor’s death while the likes of George W Bush lived on.

Specials drummer John Bradbury dies


This 2013 live music video is called The Specials 30th Anniversary Tour (Full).

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands today:

In England at the age of 62 drummer and music producer John Bradbury has died. He was the drummer of the band The Specials, for which he, among others, co-wrote the song The Selecter.

Bradbury and The Specials were best known for their song Free Nelson Mandela in 1984, which was embraced by the African National Congress in South Africa as an anthem. The original Specials had then been relaunched under the name Special AKA.

His death was announced on the Twitter account of The Specials. The cause of death is not known.

In English music circles John Bradbury has been hailed as a leading drummer in the world of ska and reggae. Three years ago he was playing with The Specials at the Dutch Pinkpop music festival.