When will we hear the song of Ram Dass?
The lineage of John Fould's orchestral Song of Ram Dass is unclear. As discussed in my earlier article the published score for Song of Ram Dass explains the title as a reference to Swami Ramdas, a revered Hindu teacher who lived from 1884 to 1963.However Adrian Corleonis gives a conflicting interpretation of the title, explaining that: "The title refers to a 16th century Sikh guru." The accompanying photos were taken by me recently in the holy city of Varanasi. Although John Foulds was born in Manchester in 1880 he was influenced by Indian mysticism from an early age. In 1935 moved to India and became director of European music for All-India Radio in Delhi where he founded an Indian European Orchestra; however, sadly, he succumbed to cholera in Calcutta in 1939.
Sakari Oramo championed the forgotten John Foulds in his time as music director at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra from 1998 to 2008. During that period Oramo recorded Fould's Indian-influenced Song of Ram Dass and Three Mantras from Avatara. Since 2013 Oramo has been the chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, but he has not conducted any of Fould's music at the Proms. The Three Mantras have had two performances under other conductors, however the Song Of Ram Dass has never had a Proms performance.
Sakari Oramo's tenure at the BBCSO has just been extended until 2020. He has been active in giving audiences permission to like unfamiliar music, notably a 2014 Proms outing for William Alwyn's unjustly overlooked First Symphony. Despite this it would be good to see Oramo conducting far more adventurous programmes to supplement the audience whoring pot boilers that are now the staple diet of Proms' audiences..
I make no claim that John Foulds is a neglected genius. But in its early days digital technology was acclaimed as a great democratiser that would abolish hierarchies and establish a level creative playing field. We should now be living in a post-ranking age of digitally empowered plenitude where both Beethoven and Foulds should be readily available for appreciation. Instead hierarchies are the new black, winners are king and losers are consigned to algorithmic oblivion. Indian tabla maestro Zakir Hussain summed it up perfectly in a recent interview:
There is this need for human beings to establish the number one. And it cannot be - music is not sports. It's not boxing where you become the number one ranking boxer. It does not mean you are the best boxer around, it just means you are ranked number one at that point in time because you happen to have won a few more fights than someone else.John Foulds is one of many composers who for years have been conspicuous by their absence from the BBC Proms. We are repeatedly told that Proms audiences are the best in the world. Do the best really need spoon-feeding? The root of the problem is that Sakari Oramo's role is chief conductor of the BBCSO, while artistic decisions are taken by an administrator, Proms director David Pickard, together with former civil servant Radio 3 controller Alan 'mixtape' Davey. Oramo did exciting things at the CBSO. Crazy wisdom in the form of the counter-intuitive smartness of the Glock/Boulez era is sadly lacking at the Proms today. If Birmingham can do it, and if other BBC orchestras - notably the BBC Scottish under Ilan Volkov can do it, why not Oramo and the BBCSO at the Proms?
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