Friday, May 09, 2014

Why we should be moved to violence


Music anniversaries are overrated and overexposed. But an exception must be made for Alex Ross' The Rest is Noise blog which today reaches its tenth birthday. Alex writes with an authority and vigour that other commentators can only aspire to. He is a genuine animateur and his enthusiasm has spread beyond the parochial world of blogging to new audiences via his acclaimed eponymous book and the linked concert series. In his chapter on Benjamin Britten in the The Rest Is Noise he captures the mercurial spirit of Aldeburgh better than any other contemporary writer. Alex's exemplary advocacy of Britten proves, once again, that those geographically and culturally distant are often best equipped to carry a composer's spirit forward. How exciting the future course of Aldeburgh would be if the author of The Rest Is Noise was at the helm instead of the perpetrator of The Sound of Music.

But, sadly, that header photo does not show Alex being interviewed by the scantily clad ghost of Britten on Aldeburgh beach. In fact it shows Britten and Peter Pears in Bali in 1956. Regular readers of On An Overgrown Path will know that my admiration for Britten's music is coupled with disquiet at other aspects of his personality. This disquiet was captured in my post last year which quoted the pacifist Britten's response of 'I believe in letting an invader in and then setting a good example' to the question of what he would do if his country was invaded. That uncompromising pacifism is reflected in the performances of the composer's TV opera Owen Wingrave - arguably his most flawed work - that are the centrepiece of this year's Aldeburgh Festival. Recently I came across an enlightened perspective on pacifism; this comes from the Dalai Lama and is quoted in a commentary on the Buddhist Kalachakra Tantra teaching:

Once there were two meditators sitting by the side of a rushing torrent, when a crazed man arrived intending to swim across. Both meditators knew that the current was extremely treacherous and that the man would surely drown. They tried to dissuade him from crossing, but the man would not listen to reason. One of the meditators decided that nothing could be done and so resumed his absorbed concentration. The other got up and punched the man unconscious so that he would not kill himself in the river. Who committed the act of violence? It was the meditator who shunned the opportunity to save a life. Thus, if all other means fail to end a drastic situation, then out of the wish to prevent others' suffering,and without anger and hatred, we need not hesitate to use forceful means. In doing so, however, we need to be willing to accept the painful consequences of our actions, even if it means hellish suffering. This is the conduct of a bodhisattva.
That wisdom provides a valuable perspective on Britten's uncompromising pacifism. It also provides me with the solace that my own all too frequent use of verbal violence to fight the idiocies of today's classical music industry is condoned by the teachings of a notably enlightened being. Happy birthday The Rest Is Noise, and here's to another ten years.

Header photo comes via Classic FM. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use" only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

No comments: