Category Archives: Non-classical but good

Music and Ants: Weird connection?

I just love going to the proms every year as it introduce me to new musicians, composers and music, especially as the Proms organisers ensure that a: they commission pieces from young and upcoming composers and b: there are always UK   and often World premieres of music.

So here is one that we went to recently where every piece but one was a premiere either UK or World.

  1. Pierre Boulez arranged by Johannes Schollhörn: Notations 2, 11, and 10.
  2. Johannes Schollhörn : La Treizième
  3. Shiori Usui: Ophiocordyceps unilateralis s.l.
  4. camponotus leonardi
  5. spores
  6. pathology
  7. the grip
  8. hyphae
  9. Betsy Jolas: Wanderleid
  10. Joanna Lee: Hammer of Solitude
  11. the hammer alone in the house
  12. a presentiment
  13. a suicide
  14. Pierre Boulez: Dérive 2

Ok you say but just what on earth do all those titles mean and where do the Ants come in?

Well Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is also known as the Zombie Fungus! It affects ants of the Campotini tribe which includes the carpenter ants – apparently there are around 48 ant tribes – who knew this other than biologists I wonder? Anyway, this Zombie fungus is to be found in ants in tropical forests. The fungus spores infect an ant which leaves its nest and fellow ants and makes it way to the forest floor where it attaches itself to the underside of a convenient leaf. It remains on this leaf until it dies. It stops foraging etc.  It takes between 4 and 10 days for this to happen and during this time fruiting bodies for the fungus grow from the ant’s head (yuk)

see photo by “Ophiocordyceps unilateralis” by David P. Hughes, Maj-Britt Pontoppidan –   800px-Ophiocordyceps_unilateralis( Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons –

which obviously opens and then release the spores to infect the next ant. So the music sequence from Shiori Usui reflects this happening. Hyphae is the phase of the fungal growth from the head and thus release and finally death of the ant.

The other interesting piece in parts of course is the Hammer of Solitude. This was written to reflect a poem by Rory Mullarkey. Rory Mullarkey is also a playwright ( and has won several prizes for his plays and is still  very young only having graduated from Cambridge in 2009.

Quick bios on the young composers:

Shiori Usui:

Moved to England at age 17 and has been composing here since. Her English stills needs some clarity… Works in ‘sound’ and ‘noise’ improvisation.


Joanna Lee:

Currently just completed a PhD in composition at Birmingham Conservatoire,



Music is my Muse

Guest Blog Post – Music is my Muse music

Ali Parker

 Everyone has a muse, and where mine has always been good to me, she requires one thing – MUSIC! I listen to music all the time and a variety of it at that. I try to keep it to piano music while I’m actually writing just because I start singing and lose my place. BUT, the minute I’m plotting or scoping out a new character for further development – the good stuff comes into play. I have a few of my favorites right now that I listen to.


In the End – Linkin Park

All of Me – John Legend

Stay with Me – Sam Smith

Counting Stars – OneRepublic

Battle Scars – Lupe Fiasco & Guy Sebastian

I Knew You Were Trouble – Taylor Swift

Broken – Seether featuring Amy Lee

Clarity – Zedd featuring Foxes

Don’t Wake Me Up – Chris Brown

Glowing – Nikki Williams


Why does music work? Music, like art opens up our minds to the possibility of creating something new. The brilliance of the song-writer, the decadence of the singer’s voice and the movement of the music pull our hearts and open our minds. That’s my music is and will always be my favorite and probably ONLY muse. I’m faithful to her…. What’s your muse?

Promenading Around: Music of the Angels and Art of the Street

British Broadcasting Corporation Promenade (or...

British Broadcasting Corporation Promenade (or BBC Proms) concert at the Royal Albert Hall. The “promenade” section is the standing area immediately in front of the orchestra. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The summer has arrived in London and culture is with us with a vengeance.

In the Summer the Royal Academy has an Exhibition of artists of all categories and from all works of life. Normally we would go but last year we went and were disappointed with the choice. We did not feel challenged nor were we impressed with the quality or the subject matter – yet again too many animal prints and cutsey paintings in the small paintings area. So this year we decided not to go. That doesn’t mean we didn’t go to any art exhibitions – because we did.

It being summer also means that The Proms are here (the BBC Promenade Concerts for those who are not familiar with the shortened name) and, as always, we have managed to book too many! Especially this one week, as we managed to book one concert Wednesday evening – at 10.15pm – yes they have really late concerts – one on Friday evening, two on Saturday – one in the afternoon and another in the evening but not late, and then off to Tate Britain for the Lowry and Patrick Caulfield exhibition on Sunday (ps we also saw Gary Hume and he is another matter entirely…)! By now our brains are cultured out…

So what did we hear and see, and was it any good?

Well the Wednesday was rather an interesting and different concert. We heard some of Frank Zappa’s music that had been set to orchestral instruments and one piece that had been turned into an opera with one singer and one narrator.

As the BBC site says we heard the following:

    • Nancarrow Study for Player Piano No. 7
    • Zappa G-Spot Tornado,
    • Philip Glass Symphony No. 10  UK Premiere
    • Zappa The Adventures of Greggery Peccary (25 mins) with Christopher Purves baritone and Mitch Benn as narrator

The Aurora Orchestra was the instrument through which this performance was presented to us with Nicholas Collon  as conductor

English: Frank Zappa in concert. June 24, 1973...

English: Frank Zappa in concert. June 24, 1973, Hordern Pavilion, Sydney, Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And if you want to Listen to Glass’ Symphony No 10 – and the Complete performance from this Prom you can press here.

About this event

Trend-mongers, philosophers and hunchmen. A car-chase, a love-in and a replica mahogany desk. A coughing mountain, a choir of stenographers and an exceptional swine-pig called Greggery. Nicholas Collon and the Aurora Orchestra give the first Proms performance of Frank Zappa’s high-energy counter-culture satire The Adventures of Greggery Peccary.

An arrangement of a zany Nancarrow study and the UK premiere of Philip Glass’s 10th Symphony complete a far-out late-night happening from one of Britain’s most vivacious young orchestras. As described on the BBC Proms website.

We thought the Glass  Symphony was particularly good and the Zappa g-Spot too. The opera was different – I do vaguely remember this from its original version and am no more enamoured now than I was then. What the concert did however, remind us, was that Zappa was a very accomplished musician and really knew his music well.

I didn’t actually attend the Friday evening concert as it was long and I was rather tired, but details are:

    • Naresh Sohal and The Cosmic Dance  a BBC Commission, World Premiere
    • Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor
    • Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5 in E minor.

Saturday afternoon was different in that I did go with my friend to the Cadogan Hall to see, again a new orchestra to me, the Britten Sinfonia, led by Jacqueline Shave. As first violinist she was not only the leader of the orchestra for the performance, but here also the violin soloist and she played her heart out. It was wonderful music and she played exceptionally well and vivaciously. You can find out more about this ensemble at:  We heard:

    • Britten Prelude and Fugue (10 mins)
    • Holst St Paul’s Suite (13 mins)
    • Berkeley Four Poems of St Teresa of Avila (14 mins)
    • Tippett Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli(19 mins)
  • Britten Phaedra (15 mins) with Sarah Connolly as the mezzo-soprano

And Sian Edwards was the conductor. We have seen her before and she is very good. Not an exuberant conductor but precise and controlling. (

Listen again: BBC Proms: 2013 Season: Proms Saturday Matinees: PSM 02: Britten, Tippett, Holst and L Berkeley

About this event

Two great British works for voice and string orchestra appear in the second Proms Saturday Matinee, which focuses on Britten and his peers. Sarah Connolly joins conductor Sian Edwards and the Britten Sinfonia in Britten’s searing final vocal work, Phaedra, and a rare performance of Lennox Berkeley’s intensely felt Four Poems of St Teresa of Avila, premiered by Kathleen Ferrier in 1948.

In addition to featuring classics of the string orchestra repertoire in Holst’s St Paul’s Suite and Tippett’s Fantasia concertante on a Theme of Corelli, the programme includes Britten’s inventive Prelude and Fugue for 18-part string orchestra.

I was interested to find out what the leader of an orchestra actually was responsible for, and so consulted Wikipedia of course. Here it says:

“It is usually required that the concertmaster be the most skilled musician in the section, experienced at learning music quickly, and counting rests and observing the conductor for the rest of the section to follow.

The concertmaster sits to the conductor’s left, closest to the audience, and makes decisions regarding bowing and other technical details of violin playing for the violins, and sometimes all of the string players. The concertmaster performs violin solos that are present in orchestral works. The concertmaster leads the orchestra in tuning before concerts and rehearsals, and other technical aspects of orchestra management.” Only the conductor is more important.

Normally for an orchestra, the concertmaster is the first violin and it is not unusual for them to play the solo parts if it is not a violin piece eg concerto, per se.

Saturday evening we went again to the Albert Hall to hear yet another Proms concert. This time we heard the oldie – but goodie?

  • Johann II Strauss – By the Beautiful Blue Danube
  • Beethoven – Overture ‘Coriolan’ ; Symphony No. 5 in C minor

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra with Donald Runnicles conductor and Vadim Repin violin

About this event

Donald Runnicles conducts the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Vadim Repin in James MacMillan’s Violin Concerto. Written for Repin’s big-boned Russian sound and premiered in 2010, the concerto is threaded through with allusions to the traditional fiddle music and Scottish laments that MacMillan regards as the ‘ancient modes of expression and storytelling’.

The concentrated drama of Beethoven’s 1807 ‘Coriolan’ overture acts as an up-beat to his Fifth Symphony, its opening four-note motif as arresting today as it was in 1808

We absolutely loved the MacMillan work and so I have included the link so you can hear it for yourself.  If you can’t get to the Proms yourself then do listen on the radio on iPlayer, you will find yourself listening to some new composers – and often works that have been especially composed for these concerts – so keep trying them!

We still have one more Proms concert to go – another late evening one about World Routes. Thurs 22nd August.

About this Prom to come:

Following last year’s riotous celebration of Colombian music, this year BBC Radio 3’s World Routes Academy turns east to the former Soviet state of Azerbaijan. Eighteen-year-old Baku-born London resident Fidan Hajiyeva performs alongside her mentor, the Azerbaijani singer Gochaq Askarov. One of the most distinguished and eloquent exponents of the ancient mugham form, Askarov has worked closely with Fidan during a recent three-week period of teaching and performance in Azerbaijan.

Also featuring on the bill is the first public performance of the newly formed Trio Da Kali, musicians from the Mande culture of southern Mali, and the central Malian singer/ngoni (lute) player Bassekou Kouyaté with his band Ngoni Ba – two celebrated groups fusing traditional and popular styles, who have taken the world music scene by storm.

Well it sounds very interesting and I am looking to finding our just what the ancient mugham form sounds like….

Wikipedia says it is: It is a highly complex art form that weds classical poetry and musical improvisation in specific local modes. “Mugham” is a modal system. Unlike Western modes, “mugham” modes are associated not only with scales but with an orally transmitted collection of melodies and melodic fragments that performers use in the course of improvisation. “Mugham” is a compound composition of many parts. The choice of a particular mugham and a style of performance fits a specific event. The dramatic unfolding in performance is typically associated with increasing intensity and rising pitches, and a form of poetic-musical communication between performers and initiated listeners.

I am not sure I am any the wiser from reading this!

As we are clearly unable to go to every Prom there is – time and money dictate otherwise – I record quite a bit from the radio as every Prom is broadcast live on Radio 3 and then some are also shown on TV later. So last night we had the Tallis Singers. I really really wanted to go and hear them sing and from what I have subsequently heard on the recording I so agree with Adam Tyndall here: Taverner particularly as I am most fond of Early English music like Taverner, Byrd and Tallis.

The Tallis Scholars at the @bbcproms were absolutely sublime – obviously with a little help from Gesualdo and Taverner. Utterly glorious.” @AdamTyndall On Twitter

You can still here this on iPlayer, so give a listen if you like vocal and complex harmony and have never heard them before – like angels’ voices soaring high into the roof.

Now for the art which was the rest of our culture weekend.

Lowry is now quite well know and it surprised us to see just how well known he was in his own lifetime as he seemed to be rediscovered in the 1960s/70s. I am attaching here a timeline of his life from a book so you can see just how prolific he was and how versatile too. His early life drawings were nothing like the stick men he has become famous for. He can really draw! It was wonderful to see a variety of his work all together.

Lowry timeline

Patrick Caulfield and Gary Hume  were new artists to us and so we were pleased to see them at the same time at Tate Britain. However, we were very pleased to see the Lowry first and then the Caulfield as they were very different styles of work. Caulfield is very intricate and often amusing and certainly a very different way of working. Some of his work was amazingly precise and detailed and must have taken many months to complete and often they had something in them to contrast and startle you – but in a good way.  The closer you looked, the more you saw.  His still lifes  have a freshness about them and I shall look forward to seeing more of him.

That is not what I can say about Hume. We were glad we saw his exhibition last as not only were we flagging by then, but also we could not see his work has having any real value – to us. The red barn doors to us were ‘so what’ and not something that impressed us. I do find that many modern artists produce something with a complicated explanation of what it represents but the actual image is simple and easily painted – given time and inclination. So we won’t bother with him again.