Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Who pays the ferryman?

There was neither non-existence nor existence then; there was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond. What stirred? Where? In whose protection? Was there water, bottomlessly deep?
That photo was taken by me on the Ganges at Varanasi. The quotation from the Rig Veda 10:129 is appended to the opening movement of Jonathan Harvey's Bhakti for chamber orchestra and quadraphonic tape. My recent reading has included Malcolm Tillis' 'Turning East: New Lives In India'. Malcolm Tillis was a viola player with the Hallé Orchestra in the 1950s and played in the first performance of Vaughan Williams' Eighth Symphony. His career as a musician ended prematurely however; coming to an abrupt hall after he took a year's leave of absence to write what proved to be an unexpectedly controversial book, as this account explains:
"Sir John Barbirolli, who was the principal conductor, knew I was writing a book, and he gave me a year's leave of absence in 1958 to write it," he says. But his portrayal of the poor pay and conditions, the lack of rest and the hours spent travelling the country as the orchestra tried to pack as many venues in as possible, was not at all well received by Barbirolli. "I was 31, and at that age I was very naive," says Malcolm. "It was never a criticism of Sir John, but he wouldn't speak to me after that. I thought if you told the truth people would respect you for it, but they didn't like the fact that I told it how it was. The book went into the best-sellers list, and I was on national television three times in 10 days, it was on the front pages of all the national papers. By then, I realised my career as a musician was over." The publication of the book sparked a national storm about life in the orchestra. Three members resigned, Sir John threatened to resign, and Malcolm was sent a solicitors' letter warning him of imminent legal action if he repeated any of his claims. "My wife Kate said it was time to get out of the country to get away from all the fuss, so we moved abroad."
After moving on the fringes of the counterculture in Italy and Ibiza, Malcolm Tillis and his wife the novelist Kate Christie settled in India for eleven years. 'Turning East: New Lives In India', which was published in 1989, comprises twenty interviews with Westerners who sought alternative ascetic lives in India. Among them is Bede Griffiths profiled in my still popular 2008 post This Man is Dangerous. Predictably given the provenance of the author, the arts and music are a recurring theme in the interviews.

During his sojourn abroad Malcolm Tillis developed as a collage artist using the batik technique, and at the age of 91 is still active as an exhibited artist. 'Turning East' is a condensed version of his original manuscript. An uncondensed edition with fifty interviews was printed in Varanasi in 2004 by Indica Books under the original title of 'New Lives'. All these interviews together with an introduction by Malcolm Tillis are available free online.

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1 comment:

Pliable said...

There is a weird take on the Barbirolli/Tillis contretemps here - https://goo.gl/fAJSfV