Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Zorba's trance

Quite soon I will be back in Crete. When I arrive there with my wife we go straight to Houdetsi to catch the last concert in Ross Daly and Kelly Thoma's Labyrinth Summer Workshop series. Then we travel to Agios Nikolaos to hook up with Panos from the Greek Music Shop who supplies me with CDs faster and cheaper than Amazon's UK operation. My most recent purchase from Panos is Osi Hara ‘houn Ta Poulia (Όση Χαρά ‘χουν Τα Πουλιά) on which Εvgenia Damavoliti-Toli sings Ross Daly's settings of Cretan contemporary poets and the great 16th century Cretan bard Vitsentzos Kornaros. A post here last year about the contemporary modal music movement led by Ross Daly lamented how Cretan music has been stereotyped. In the post I went on to explain how a rich mix ranging from Greek Orthodox Christianity to Zen Buddhism and Bektashi Sufism informs Cretan culture, and that compelling universalism pervades this outstanding new release.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

When will they learn that apps cannot replace animateurs?

The recondite MusiCB3 blog about the music collections at Cambridge University has a contribution from Margaret Jones about the the University Library's resources documenting children’s responses to classical music. Unsurprisingly David Munrow features prominently in Margaret's article which includes the photo above of the Pied Piper with his wife Gill and their instrument collection*. Just before reading the article I had listened to the newly released CD Oregon Live in New Orleans, which is a transcription of an NPR broadcast of a gig Oregon played in February 1978. Readers will know of my admiration for the work of both David Munrow, and of the innovative ensemble Oregon and their predecessor Codona. David Munrow died in 1976 and two years later Oregon's visionary multi-percussionist and sitarist Collin Walcott - seen below - was killed in a car crash while the band was on tour in East Germany. Today David Munrow is remembered as a an early music specialist, and Collin Walcott is remembered as a world music/jazz fusion pioneer. But forcing their huge talents into neat little genre boxes belittles their genius, because both led large audiences on to new musical discoveries. Margaret Jones' thoughtful essay on the importance of exposing young people to great music is titled 'In a child's mind'. The young and not so young are waiting to be led. But where are today's Pied Pipers? When will classical music's multitudinous experts learn that apps cannot replace animateurs?

* This photo is new to me and the caption says the following: Photographer unknown, please contact if you have further information. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). No comps used in this post. Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, August 22, 2016

So let's talk about public funding for classical music

Following the Olympic success of British athletes, Judy Grahame - employer M&C Saatchi PLC, turnover £169.37 million and profits £17.2 million - and Richard Morrison - employer Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, turnover £1.64 billion, profits £146 million - and others among classical music's great and good want to talk about public funding. Yes, by all means let's do that; but we must not forget that talking about funding means more than just talking about increased funding for classical music. Because if you simply increase funding without making other changes, the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.

So let's talk about another aspect of pubic funding - transparency. Lack of public funding is not the only problem. Inequality of funding within classical music is also a serious but less newsworthy problem. As has been pointed out here before, the annual income of £26,000 to £37,000 for a rank and file London musician is in the public domain. However the salary of their conductor is not, but single concert fees for a Rolex maestro in London are estimated at £20,000. And that inequality between celebrity and rank and file musicians is not the only problem: because around a further 15% (£3000 per concert) goes to the maestro's management agent with an additional payment often being made to the tour management for touring orchestras.

London based high profile ensembles receive a significant portion of available public funding for classical music. Because of an institutionalied lack of transparency, accurate information on how that funding is disbursed within ensembles is not available. But an informed estimate suggests that up to 30% of the total publicly funded subsidy for a London concert goes to just three parties, the conductor, his agent and the tour management, with the remaining 70% being divided between up to 100 less fortunate participants. As I said in my previous post, classical music must make the case for increased funding. But before doing so it must put its own house in order. For orchestras and other institutions in the UK receiving public funding, musician and agents fees for a single appearance of more than £2500 should be declared, as should annual retainers of more than £75,000. Furthermore public funders should make it a condition that all fees above £2500 for a single appearance and above £75,000 annually should be funded 50/50 by public and private sources.

But nothing will change. Because the knee-jerk retweets of pleas for post-Olympic increases in classical music funding come from those who benefit most from the current unequal distribution. So I am not holding my breath waiting for my proposal to be shared on social media by classical music's great and good.

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

No more sour grapes please

There are indeed disturbing inequalities between sports and arts funding in the UK. But before classical music's great and good serve up another round of sour grapes on the subject they should reflect on two points. The first is that a little more positive recognition of the truly remarkable achievements of our sportswomen and men at the Olympics would win classical music some badly needed friends beyond its own vocal mutual admiration society. The second thing to reflect on is the following vignette. I have been a committed supporter of classical music for fifty years and rarely watch sport. But the performances of Laura Trott and Jason Kenny - seen above - and many other athletes moved and inspired me far more than any performance I have seen by the current generation of lavishly remunerated celebrity classical musicians. Yes, we need to make the case for increased arts funding. But let's make it in a positive way.

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Where there is growth there is life

Buddhism was a matter of spiritual experience, and spiritual experience was something that could be put into words only to a very limited extent. The Buddha had, therefore, confined himself to showing his disciples how they might experience the Dharma for themselves. he had not laid down a system of philosophy, for this would have been to create a dogma and thus prevent individual development. No formulation of the Buddhas doctrine was final. He himself had been obliged to have recourse to the 'language' of his day, and had he lived later would doubtless have expressed himself different. To cling to outmoded forms of spiritual life and thoughts were disastrous. Spiritual things could not be 'fixed'. Where there was growth there was life, and spiritual growth depended upon our rediscovering spiritual truths for ourselves instead of trying simply to 'take over' the existing conceptual formulations of these truths. Through this process of spiritual growth the individual would become a link between the past and the present; history would become part of life, rather than an object of scholarly trust or blind religious revelation.
That pliant interpretation of the Buddha's teachings contrasts sharply with the restrictive dogmatism of other great faiths, and indeed contrasts sharply with the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism which is fast becoming a spiritual theme park. The quotation comes from Facing Mount Kanchenjunga by the English Buddhist teacher and writer Sangharakshita (formerly Dennis Lingwood) who founded the revisionist Triratna Buddhist community. The principle of where there is growth there is life finds expression in the recent redevelopment by architects Walter & Cohen of the Triratna community's Vajrasana retreat centre at Walsham-le-Willows, Suffolk; see photo above* and articles via this and this link. Composer Edmund Rubbra had a life-long interest in comparative religion and metaphysics, and briefly practiced Buddhism before returning to Catholicism. In 1947 Arnold Bax's brother Clifford wrote the BBC radio play The Buddha for which Rubbra provided the incidental music, which became his Suite, The Buddha, Op. 64 - see recording below.

* Header photo is by Dennis Gilbert and comes via the linked Guardian article. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). No comps involved in this post. Also on Facebook and Twitter.