Sunday, January 22, 2017

There is a time for many words and there is a time for sleep

That headline quote comes from Book XI of Homer's The Odyssey which chronicles Odysseus' descent into hell. In my view a second helping of cat bait is justified to counterbalance the gathering global gloom. I took the photo in Essaouira, Morocco where a resilient mystical, musical and feline culture has reassuringly survived the never-ending foolishness of man. An observation by John Tavener is relevant to this image:
There is something deeply mysterious about cats. I think they 'know' things we don't have access to.
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Saturday, January 21, 2017

The circle game

What is the source of the mysterious power of this image? Ginger is on a pouffe from Morocco decorated with a pattern typical of Islamic art. Cats are cherished by Muslims; so does the circular symmetry suggest the whirling of the Mevlâna Sufis - the mystics of Islam? Or maybe the image reflects the circular symbolism of the Christian Canterbury Cross or the circinate variants of the Tree of Life found in the Kabbalah? (The Kabbalah is in Abraham ibn Musa's reading a Jewish parallel to Sufism.) Or perchance the powerful visual energy come from further afield - from the Far East and the circular mandalas of Hinduism and Buddhism. Perhaps all these traditions combine in this syncretic orb? On the other hand it may be an uncomfortable reminder of the skeptical Krishnamurti's observation that "We are afraid to leave our own little circle and discover the circle, the barrier, around another". Or was my camera simply in the right place at the right time? Does any of this matter? Because as Joni Mitchell explains:
We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game
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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Audiences are not backward children

Among those who shared the post expressing Warren Cohen's frustration at myopic concert planning was violinist Johannes Pramsohler. His Facebook share elicited a comment from baritone Stéphane Degout who is seen above. Stéphane is a big hitter in the operatic world and his comment contains an important message for all those who capitulate to the tyranny of programme planners and marketing experts; so I have posted it below in translation*. As Virgil Thomson told us, never underestimate the public's intelligence, baby, and never overestimate its information.
Forty minutes of Debussy's songs last year, forty minutes of Poulenc/Apollinaire plus a trio of contemporary works in the same programme this year. Programme planners sometimes tell me that my recitals are too rarified, too intellectual, and that no one will come. But the rooms are full and the audience loves it. The tastes of audiences are often misjudged: the public are not backward children who only like what they know, and who have no appetite for the new or willingness to adapt. Quite the contrary! I was often told my programmes “will not interest anyone” and was asked for programmes mixing opera arias and more popular pieces. But I always refused; because I believe one must first acknowledge the audience's intelligence instead of acceding to the wishes of a programme planner who has a narrow outlook and an inbuilt fear of risk.
* Stéphane Degout's comment was in French; I take full responsibility for the loose translation. Photo is via IMG Artists. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Instead, they play the Emperor Concerto again ... it's depressing

Goodness knows, I try, but the problem is that I and the other people trying to bring more music, different music and new music to people are obscure and have a very limited audience. I did not go to a big school, I have very few connections with famous musicians, I conduct a couple of obscure orchestras (although one of them is really pretty good!) and have no connections in the media world to get people to pay attention to what I am trying to do. Previn, Bernstein and Monrow were well connected, famous musicians with an ability to reach vast numbers of people, and, more important, they were allowed to do what they thought best.

When Hindemith died Bernstein devoted an entire Young People's Concert to him the very next month - an hour of Hindemith for 9 year olds - and he was allowed to do it. No 'marketing expert" would permit such an outrage today. These are the people who determine what we hear, and, because they think in such a short term way, they cannot tolerate anything that might take a while to grow. Even I am repeatedly told that on every concert I need to have a "name the public will know"- but there are literally only about 10 names on that list, which means we continually recycle the same repertoire. The irony is that because of my limited reach and outsider status, I still have more freedom than the people who should be the ones bringing new music, new ideas and new people to the music world. Instead, they play the Emperor Concerto again, because...Beethoven. It's depressing.
That comment was added by Warren Cohen to my post How classical music squandered its golden opportunity. Warren, who is seen above, is music director of the Scottsdale-based MusicaNova Orchestra and artistic director of the New Jersey Integration Orchestra. Reader's comments are always valued, but when they come from those holding the baton such as Warren and John McLaughlin Williams they are doubly valued. These contributions from the Young Turks of the conducting profession give me faith that all is not lost; although all certainly does seem lost at celebrity level - the very people who, as Warren Cohen points out, should be bringing new music, new ideas and new people to the music world. And no comments please that Hindmith does not put bums on seats. If you want bums on seats programme Ravel's Bolero with a pole dancer.

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Classical music moves towards a single market

The London Symphony Orchestra is one of Classic FM's partner orchestras. There has been much media spin linked to Simon Rattle's 2017 Barbican concerts as the LSO's incoming music director. The spin includes a shower of anti-Brexit and pro-new London concert hall tweets from Classic FM quoting him, and a news story that "Simon Rattle launches first LSO season with swipe at Brexit". Both the Barbican Hall and proposed new London Hall are in the City of London, and the financial community in the City of London has been one of the most vocal critics of Brexit. In another Classic FM news item critical of Brexit, policy chairman of the City of London Corporation Mark Boleat is quoted as saying: "Britain has long been a magnet for global talent. To continue the sector's success, with 12% of City workers made up of European staff, it is important the flow of leading talent to the UK continues".

As pointed out in a 2015 Overgrown Path post Mark Boleat is in favour of the new £278 million+ London concert hall. He is a member of the City of London Culture, Heritage and Libraries Committee, and with Michael Cassidy sits on the City of London Property Investment Board. From 2000-2003 Michael Cassidy was chairman of the Barbican Arts Centre, and is currently non-executive chairman of Askonas Holt; which is the agency that manages Rattle and represents the LSO. The recently announced £2.5 million of funding for preparing a detailed business case aimed at keeping plans for the new London concert hall advocated by Rattle alive was approved by the City of London Corporation’s Court of Common Council of which Michael Cassidy is a member.

As well being a member of the City of London Corporation’s Court of Common Council and Property Investment Board, Askonas Holt non-executive chairman Michael Cassidy also sits on the City of London Investment Committee and Markets Committee, and is a non-executive director of Swiss global financial services company UBS which is a vocal critic of Brexit. Among the many sponsors of the London Symphony Orchestra is UBS.

Simon Rattle argues that he has not met anyone who has said Brexit is going to make life easier for the arts. Which may well be true. But it can also be argued that with or without Brexit, the hegemony over classical music that he is party to will not make life easier for the very many fine musicians who are not fortunate enough to share with him membership of a disturbingly powerful and privileged London-centric club.

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