And so we're back from a brilliant working vacation in Morocco. The trip began with a June 1 flight into Casablanca, where our little party -- myself, Dr. LP, Anastasia Tsioulcas (of Billboard, Gramophone, Weekend America and Café Aman renown) and her husband Joshua Sherman, classical scribe Robert Hilferty and world music maven Peter Margasak -- paid a lengthy visit to the breathtaking Hassan II mosque, then proceeded overland in a hired van to Fès for the 12th annual Festival of World Sacred Music. There, we were joined by other friendly faces -- Tom Pryor of National Geographic's marvelous, highly recommended new online world music directory and news site (and Weekend America, as well) and Rene Goiffon of Harmonia Mundi USA, to name but two.
I'm still processing all of the sounds that I heard, for a review that will appear in an upcoming issue of Signal to Noise. But I'm also still rather blissed out by the sheer experience of spending so much time in a place that seems to have one foot planted in the 20th century and the other in the 14th, perhaps. So much gorgeous architecture, rich history, fine food and fabulous weather, not to mention an altogether warm reception from the local population. (A ripple of nervousness that arose the morning the Zarqawi news broke proved unwarranted.) A small group of us also hired a driver one beautiful, hot morning for a road trip to nearby Mekenes and Moulay Idriss, before ending the day in the scenic Roman ruins of Volubilis. (Photos will be forthcoming, although I will not vouch for their quality.)
It was a thoroughly brilliant trip, and one that I highly recommend to music lovers of virtually any inclination -- save, perhaps, mainstream rock. Even lovers of Western classical music were well served with fine performances by William Christie's Les Art Florissants, Jordi Savall's Hesperion XXI and especially the Spanish ensembles Capella de Ministrers and Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana, whose performance of the 14th century codex El Llibre Vermell brought the house down at the Bab Makina on June 5.
That's a CD I still have to track down -- it wasn't available on site, unfortunately. But I did come home with more than two dozen discs of mostly Moroccan music (with a Syrian and a Tunisian added in for good measure) -- predominantly music of the Sufi brotherhoods whose devotional concerts ended most nights, but also a good sampling of gnawa and more contemporary hybrids.
With all of that buzzing through my head, I've little new with which to titillate at the moment (but it was very kind of you to inquire, Henry). Things should be rolling again by Friday night. In the mean time, a few items bear mention:
Like every other music lover, I was saddened to learn of György Ligeti's passing. Many lovely tributes have been posted; in addition to his own eloquent words, Alex Ross has rounded up many of the best essays and articles, including Ethan Iverson's terrific point-by-point tally of Ligeti's significance on the Bad Plus blog, Do the Math.
Among my favorite live encounters with Ligeti's music: Pierre-Laurent Aimard in a selection of the Etudes at Carnegie Hall in 2001 (preserved on this CD, which you might want to acquire soon if the buzz about the demise of Warner Classics is accurate); Jenny Lin in the three final Etudes at Galapagos in 2003 (newly available on a Koch International Classics CD, The Eleventh Finger, which I'll write about in TONY quite soon); Tasmin Little in the Violin Concerto with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic, later that same year at Carnegie Hall; Michael Wendeberg in the Piano Concerto with Jonathan Nott and the Ensemble InterContemporain at the Rose Theater in 2005; and later that year, the all-Ligeti concert by Tim Weiss and the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble, with the Violin Concerto once again, this time played by Jennifer Koh.
+ Speaking of Koh, my own latest spin on Weekend America aired the Saturday before last: a glowing review of her outstanding new Cedille release, on which she's joined by conductor Carlos Kalmar and Chicago's Grant Park Orchestra in works by Szymanowski, Martinů and Bartók. You can listen to the review here; more importantly, you should hear the CD.
+ Since I've become somewhat superstitious about announcing in advance what performances I'll be attending (after a few random mishaps, usually work-related), I'll simply state that I very much hope to hear the ageless Ornette Coleman at Carnegie Hall this Friday night -- especially since his fine recent quartet with drummer Denardo Coleman and bassists Greg Cohen and Tony Falanga has now become an intriguing quintet (despite what the Carnegie Hall website says), thanks to the addition of electric bassist Al McDowell, a veteran of Ornette's Prime Time band.
+ Like Vilaine Fille, I'll be heading up to Boston this Saturday to catch Peter Eötvös’s new opera, Angels in America, which I'll be reviewing for Musical America. I look forward to hearing Tom Meglioranza again, and to my first live encounter with conductor Gil Rose and his noble Boston Modern Orchestra Project, whose work I've admired on numerous discs (especially this one).
+ Prog rock fans in New York City have ample cause to rejoice: Hatfield and the North, a Canterbury band as musically accomplished as it was puckishly clever, has reunited. Keyboardist Dave Stewart, who supplied the group's most ornate charts (and went on to work with Bill Bruford, not Annie Lennox), is a no-show, as he was for an earlier reunion in 1990. But the remaining members -- bassist-vocalist Richard Sinclair, guitarist Phil Miller and drummer Pip Pyle -- have taken on keyboardist Alex Maguire, seasoned by work in bands led by Pyle and the late Soft Machine saxophonist Elton Dean. With a year's worth of gigs under its collective belt, the group makes its long-overdue New York City debut on Sunday, June 25 at the Bowery Poetry Club, presented by the valiant souls of Downtown Music Gallery.
Tariqa Aissaouia - title unknown (but I'm working on it...) (Fassiphone)
Hatfield and the North - Hatfield and the North and The Rotters Club (Virgin)
Jenny Lin - The Eleventh Finger (Koch International Classics)