Friday, March 13, 2009
Where is your pie?
Yesterday the music press was full of pie in the sky. There is no doubt, the core story was a positive one. London's Barbican Arts Centre has long-term plans to host extended stays by four top orchestras that will include time in schools. But the music press does not do balance these days: it does press releases. The news that the Los Angeles Philharmonic is coming to town brought on one of the Guardian's all too frequent Dudamel moments under the gushing headline 'Barbican transformed by dancing to Bowie and Venezuela's maestro'.
Very few journalists bothered to drill down. The LA Phil's residency is not until the 2012-13 season; that's an awfully long time off in a country where financial planning horizons are currently weeks, not months, yet alone years. Another of the resident orchestras is the New York Philharmonic under a different man of the moment, Alan Gilbert. But the New York orchestra's next visit in far-off February 2010 is business as usual, with just two concerts on two consecutive days. A New York Phil residency for 2011-12 is promised, but this may mean no more than an increase to just three concerts over a week.
The articles on the Barbican's plans echoed lots of funder-pleasing buzzwords such as access, outreach and schools. Yet not one questions how the concepts of outreach and access reconcile with reports that the residencies are exclusive. This blocks any access to the visiting orchestras at London's South Bank Centre; which means if you are a youngster in a school on the south side of London you will not be tasting any of the Barbican's pie. Strange how the Guardian describes that as a 'coup'.
Away from London there has been an awful lot of pie in the fridge to enjoy this week. I have already written about Aldeburgh Music's inspirational week-long Celebration of School's Music. This is just one of many school's music events that is not available in user-friendly press release form to London-centric music journalists; so you will probably only read about it here. Last night we were savouring some delicous pie at another venue. A school's production of Benjamin Britten's Noye's Fludde is playing to capacity audiences in churches in south Norfolk. Eleven schools from the area are taking part, including five primary schools. We were at the performance in the 12th century Wymondham Abbey yesterday evening, and it was quite magnificent under the inspiring conducting of Margery Baker.
Genius is another word that has been devalued by the music press. But Benjamin Britten was a genius in the true meaning of the word. There is not one artistic compromise in Noye's Fludde, not one superfluous note, and not one cliché. Yet it can be performed by a cast of untrained youngsters and produce more tears than any Mahler symphony at the Barbican. As I drove home last night I marvelled at just how many youngsters and adults had been touched by classical music through this Norfolk school's production. And I bet that very few of them have ever heard of the indisputably very talented Gustavo Dudamel.
My lower montage includes photo of Britten at the first performance of Noye's Fludde in Orford Church, Suffolk, 1958. The Decca recording with Norman del Mar directing Britten's English Opera Group is a classic of the gramophone and should be in every CD collection. It is currently £7.78 on amazon.co.uk. We paid for our tickets for the Wymondham Youth Music Society performance of Noye's Fludde. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk