As ever 2017 delivered riches in the concert hall, notably William Alwyn's First Symphony in a rare outing at Snape Maltings and Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in Avignon's inspiringly ephemeral Opera Confluence. But many readers will, understandably, find it deeply ironic that my most memorable listening in the year came via digital technology. My treks in Morocco's High Atlas brought me back to the Dar Adrar guest house in Imlil by mid-afternoon. It was then time to chill on the roof-top terrace and soak up the wondrous view seen above while listening to my iPod. The High Atlas is steeped in magic and mysticism as is Arnold Bax's music; so one afternoon at the top of my playlist was Bax's Third Symphony in Vernon Handley's recording. In a review of Dilys Gater's speculative book Summer with Bax – a Fresh Take on Reality Christopher Webber explains how "All creative work... requires an opening up of the artist to summoned worlds, more or less plausibly peopled in parallel with our own". That afternoon in Morocco Bax's music took me, as music can on very rare occasions, to a summoned world, a universe parallel to our own.
Great music works magic and the great musician is a shaman who alters reality in his audience by altering it in himself. Many will dismiss talk of parallel universes as New Age mumbo jumbo, but it is a concept that has support from quantum mechanics - the theory of how subatomic particles behave. The not universally accepted 'daughter universe' interpretation of quantum mechanics postulates that for every action there is a karmic range of universes containing different reactions, meaning that we live in many interacting worlds. In that syncretic environment of the High Atlas Bax transported me to a parallel universe redolent of magic and mysticism. But this unique power of music also - and more commonly - operates outside the esoteric regime. For instance the unfairly-derided André Rieu transports millions to a parallel universe - a different level of consciousness - less scarred by quotidien cares.
Music is reductionist. It is most powerful when transporting the listener to a summoned world where preoccupations are diminished. In those parallel universes, whether the animateur is Arnold Bax or André Rieu, less is more. Sublime music experiences are about simplifying, clarifying and focusing; in other words eliminating not adding. Yet, despite this, classical music currently devotes all its energies to adding. These obsessive additions include more listeners, new concert etiquette, increased funding, more celebrities, new concert halls, extended media coverage and inflated social media metrics. The shouting of the classical additionalists is now so loud it is drowning out the music. It is time to wake up and smell the coffee: classical music's New Year resolution should be less is more.
Reading while on the road included:
You Know What You Could Be by Mike Heron and Andrew Greig
Stranger Than We Can Imagine by John Higgs
Summer with Bax – a Fresh Take on Reality by Dilys Gater
Tibetan Book of the Dead translated by Robert Thurman
Bax: The Symphonies, Vernon Handley & BBC Philharmonic
Rafiki Jazz Har Dam Sahara
Burda by Mustafa Said and Tamin al-Barghouti with the Asil Ensemble for Contemporary Arab Music
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