Bon anniversaire D. L. Menard!

Saturday, 14 April, 2012

Doris Leon “D. L.” Menard was born on 14 April 1932 in Erath, Louisiana. He started playing guitar at 16 and Hank Williams, whom he once met, became a huge influence on his music. Menard modeled La Porte En Arrière (“The Back Door”) on Williams’ Honky Tonk Blues, and it has been covered by dozens of Cajun bands and by artists such as Kate and Anna McGarrigle. Backed here by L’Angélus, Menard performs his most famous song in his native Erath. Bon anniversaire!

The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross in Spain

Saturday, 7 April, 2012

The Austrian composer Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) wrote The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross for the Good Friday service at the Catedral de Santa Cruz de Cádiz. It provides musical interludes during the priest’s meditations on Christ’s final utterances, and offers a moving journey through grief, resignation and redemption. Here, it is performed in the San Agustin church in Santiago de Compostela by the Dominant Quartet with Do Phuong Nhu as the lead violin.

Those amazing Swedes

Saturday, 31 March, 2012

It began with ABBA. In their time, Agnetha Fältskog, Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Anni-Frid Lyngstad sold an astounding 380 million albums, which, believe it or not, puts them next in line to the Beatles. After ABBA came Roxette, Dr. Alban, Ace of Base, The Cardigans, Mando Diao, The Hives and The Shout Out Louds, to mention just seven. What’s the secret? A critical factor is the Swedish educational system. It encourages every child to learn music while turning out perfect speakers of English. Put the two together and you get people capable of feeling at home in any genre.

So what started with ABBA has expanded to a global network of producers and performers who accept no boundaries or borders. Two examples: Tove Styrke, who specializes in global pop, and Anna Ternheim, who is going down the country road. Here, she sings “The Longer The Waiting, The Sweeter The Kiss” on Dave Ferguson’s porch in Goodletsville, Tennessee.

Anais Mitchell

Saturday, 24 March, 2012

From her new album, Young Man in America, the very talented and very wry Anais Mitchell displays her poignant side as she combines whispers of Joanna Newsom and Gillian Welch in Coming Down.

Fiddling with finance and violins

Monday, 19 March, 2012

Greg Smith, the Goldman Sachs director who dropped the bomb on Wall Street last week in a public resignation letter, said he was leaving the firm after 12 years because it was “morally bankrupt”. Indignation and outrage, especially in Europe, followed Smith’s condemnation of his ex-employer, but this was tempered by the recognition of the key role, especially in Europe, that the Goldmen now play in the continent’s financial affairs. Alban violin Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank, was once a Goldman Sachs director; Lucas Papademos, the Greek Prime Minister, was head of the country’s Central Bank, where he worked closely with Goldman Sachs to help the government disguise the true extent of its deficit, and Mario Monti was an international adviser to Goldman Sachs from 2005 until his nomination to lead the Italian government in November last year. And on and on and on.

What a pleasure it is, then, to leave the corrupt world of global finance to one side and turn to the violin. Rosin the bow, tune up, play a melody and one is instantly transported to a serene state in which the soul soars above the grubby world of Mammon. But wait, what’s this? “I can remember selling a violin which was considered to be by this maker at auction, and which was described as Tyrolese. It had a label inside: Matthias Alban, geigenmacher in Bozen. I saw it again a few months after the sale, now described as an Italian violin, and with a label which read Matteo Albani fece in Bolzano.” Oh, dear. The post “How the violin trade works” makes for sobering reading. Snippet:

“Italian violins, though, are far easier to sell, and far more expensive than Tyrolese examples. Since the early 19th Century, therefore, Alban’s original labels have been removed and fake labels, in Latin, have been inserted… All these labels are completely different — some are printed, some are written in ink. Those that are printed have completely different fonts. Those that are written have completely different handwriting. They’re all fake, of course.”

Truly, the serpent that tempted Eve in the garden has found eager disciples in every trade on every street and the wonderful works of Matthias Alban have not been spared, alas. But all is not lost and visitors to the Tiroler Landesmuseen in Innsbruck in Austria can explore a comprehensive violin collection that includes the finest example of his work: Built in 1706, “This extraordinarily beautiful master instrument was acquired in 1966 from a Swiss collection. The violin is preserved largely in its original state; only the neck was re-fashioned to meet the increased demands for intonation that most composers called for after 1800.”

Tomorrow, here, purple pencil prose.

The Low Anthem play Carnegie Hall for Paddy (Moloney’s) Night

Saturday, 17 March, 2012

The Low Anthem opened for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the Moody Theatre in Austin, Texas, on Thursday night. For the show’s finale, they joined the Boss, Jimmy Cliff, Eric Burdon, Tom Morello, Joe Ely and Alejandro Escovedo in singing Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land. To celebrate St Patrick’s Day, […]

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Messi, Ali, Menuhin

Saturday, 10 March, 2012

It was the week of Lionel Messi. The diminutive Argentine striker struck five as Barcelona demolished their German opponents in the Champions League. The aftershocks were heard all around the world and The Himalayan Times was moved to declare “Messi runs rampage“. Our young century now has a megastar capable of mesmerizing audiences in the way Muhammad Ali did during the 20th century — minus the activism and eloquence, of course. But these are different times and Messi’s fans want goals, not political or religious declarations.

And what does Yehudi Menuhin have to do with all this? Well, he possessed the elegance of Ali and the agility of Messi and he combined those physical abilities with a heart and a soul that found sublime expression through the violin. He puts it all together here in a memorable interpretation of the Hungarian Dance No. 5 by Johannes Brahms.

And the Amati goes to the Russian gentleman at the back

Tuesday, 6 March, 2012

An eagerly-awaited sale of valuable violins will take place at Sotheby’s in New Bond Street today. The most envied instrument in the lot dates from 1682 and was made by Nicolò Amati. The pre-sale estimate is between £250,000 and £350,000. The Amati family of Cremona is one of the most distinguished names in the history […]

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Hazmat Modine

Saturday, 3 March, 2012

A band’s lineup that includes tuba, harmonica and saxophone “blows a lot of hot air” says Wade Schuman, lead singer with the New York-based blues/folk/fusion/jazz Hazmat Modine. Naturally, the name invites curiosity and the explanation is as follows: “Hazmat” is a combination of “hazardous material” and “Modine” is the name of a company that specializes […]

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Ring them bells Sweet Martha / For the poor man’s son

Saturday, 25 February, 2012

Produced by Daniel Lanois and hailed by critics as a triumph, Oh Mercy was Bob Dylan’s 26th studio album. It was released in 1989, which was 12 years before Sarah Jarosz was born in Austin, Texas. She picked up the mandolin at 10 and a decade later she was being called “a songwriter of uncommon […]

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Fitting the soul of a fiddle

Friday, 24 February, 2012

According to the violin care experts: “The fit of your soundpost inside your instrument is crucial for good sound production. Each post is custom cut to fit precisely in a specific position. A poorly fit soundpost can impede the transference of sound energy and can even damage the table or back of your instrument.” The […]

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