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


Pliable said…
If you are thinking of going to the second performance of Noye's Fludde in Wymondham Abbey, which takes place tomorrow Saturday March 14, I am afraid it is completely sold out.

It appears nobody has told the residents of south Norfolk that classical music is dead.
G-# said…
Dear Pliable,
Some time ago I found an article that made me think about international tours by orchestras:


Living in Madrid, where some of the local orchestras are good but not outstanding, I can understand that concerts given here by top level bands such as the Vienna Phil, the Concertgebouw and the likes can appeal to the audience. But it is more difficult to understand that same situation in places where the local orchestras are already top level.

Some time ago, one of the local orchestras in Madrid toured in Germany and Austria for a couple of weeks. After the tour, there were brochures in their concert hall reporting the successful reviews they got from the local press in the cities they visited. And I wondered whether I needed someone from Germany or anywhere else to tell me how good (or bad) is an orchestra I see regularly and they have seen only once.

In May this year they are touring in the UK. We will see more of the same thing.
Pliable said…
G-sus, thanks for that very useful link and your comments.

They support the discomfort that I have over the Barbican's 'extended residency' project. I am a huge supporter of music outreach into schools and the community. But I am at a loss to understand what a flying visit by a musician from Amsterdam, New York, Leipzig or Los Angeles can do in an East London school that a local teacher cannot, other than add some expensive novelty value.

I am finding it difficult not to view these 'extended residencies' as a clever way to window-dress intercontinental tours by the big name orchestras. It also disturbs me that mentions of access, outreach and schools immediately elevates a project into the 'ethically sound' category, and puts it off limit for critical discussion.

Which is why I wrote the article.

It seems a waste of money, frankly, better spent on local hires,giving local musicians the gig would better everyone all around:the school, the community, the musicians and the economy. Why is FLASH so important? The least flashy conductor I know of , Abbado, is also, for me, the best.
Gavin Plumley said…
Great posting and insightful as ever... but I have to disagree with the following "It can [...] produce more tears than any Mahler symphony at the Barbican". Of course it would depend on who was performing the Mahler (not Gergiev), but I can't believe Britten himself would agree with the comparison. A great work, but up there with Mahler (on this occasion)...? I wonder.
Pliable said…
Gavin, thanks for that. The great thing about this blog is that we can exchange personal opinions.

Actually, I think that Mahler would have agreed with my comparison between his symphonies and Britten's 'Noye's Fludde' if he was around today.

Mahler spent a lot of time searching for the musical expression of child-like innocence. Britten found it in 'Noye's Fludde'.

Whatever, we should not forget how much Britten was influenced by Mahler -

Pliable said…
Nice to see this post quoted on the Telegraph website -


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