15 January 2023

Ronald Blythe

There have been so many deaths of people about whom I could write, but did not want to turn this blog into an obituary column! However, news of the death yesterday of Ronald Blythe prompts me at least to refer anyone reading this to the wonderful obituary in the Guardian by Patrick Barkham, at https://www.theguardian.com/books/2023/jan/15/ronald-blythe-obituary

I missed Akenfield when it came out in 1969 but, of course, since moving to Suffolk it has become of particular interest. I first came to notice and appreciate Ronnie’s work when I started to subscribe to the Church Times, as the only way of getting a copy of my own reviews when I started writing for it, and read – usually before anything else – his weekly back-page column, ‘Word from Wormingford’, which I invariably enjoyed. I once wrote to tell him so, and received a lovely reply. His memories of working for Britten and Pears were also very fascinating, especially as told in his book The Time by the Sea (2013). He did well to reach his centenary while still living independently at home.

I never met him, but I thank him for his wonderful evocations of Suffolk life, never sentimental, but always with the ring of truth. May he rest in peace and rise in glory!

01 January 2023

New Year’s fireworks

It was an absolutely stunning fireworks display to welcome 2023 in London, and it cost £1.5 million!

I’m sure homeless people on the streets, those at home cold from trying to save energy, people forced to use foodbanks, would have really loved this demonstration of so much money going up in smoke that could have eased their burdens somewhat (and repeated at various venues around the country).

Not to mention the pollution being thrown into the atmosphere at a time when carbon emissions have already done irreparable damage to our climate and to curb which we are making sacrifices in the hope of easing the situation.

The estimated 100,000 people watching at £15 a head would of course cover the cost, but the pollution problem would still be there, and there would be no benefit to others on whom such a sum of money might have been spent. (And how many new Covid cases will result from so many people in close proximity to each other?)

Sorry to be a killjoy but the country is in a very serious situation and this simply won’t do. The mayor has questions to answer.

21 November 2022

Save the National Concert Hall of Wales


Shocking proposals for St David’s Hall, Cardiff, the national concert hall of Wales. Please read this petition carefully and please sign it! In addition to all the valid points made, the changes proposed would also affect the wonderful acoustics of this auditorium – and the many touring orchestras and companies that perform there may no longer be inclined to do so.

Please forward this petition so that it is circulated as widely as possible.

Diolch yn fawr!


18 November 2022

Save the ENO! Sign Bryn Terfel's petition!


13 November 2022

Fascinating new documentary.

The Maestro and the Cellist of Auschwitz


Why was classical music so important to Hitler and Goebbels? The stories of Jewish cellist Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, who survived Auschwitz, and of star conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, who worked with the Nazis, provide insight. The film centres around two people who represent musical culture during the Third Reich - albeit in very different ways. Wilhelm Furtwängler was a star conductor; Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, the cellist of the infamous Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz. Both shared a love for the classical German music. The world-famous conductor made a pact with Hitler and his henchmen. The young woman, brought to Auschwitz for being Jewish, was spared death for her musical talent. While Furtwängler decided to stay in Germany and make a deal with the devil, Lasker-Wallfisch struggled to survive the brutality of the death camp, with a cello as her only defence. Why did gifted artists like Furtwängler make a pact with evil? Why was classical music played in extermination camps? And how did this change the way victims saw music? German music was used to justify the powerful position the Third Reich claimed in the world, and to distract listeners from Nazi crimes. In addition to Beethoven, Bach and Bruckner, Richard Wagner was highly valued, because he was Hitler’s personal favourite. Hitler understood the power of music, and his chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels was in charge of music in the Nazi-controlled state. This music documentary by Christian Berger features interviews with musicians such as Daniel Barenboim and Christian Thielemann; the children of Wilhelm Furtwängler; and of course 97-year-old survivor Anita Lasker-Wallfisch. Her memories are chilling. Archive film footage, restored and colourized, brings the story to life, and bears witness to an agonizing chapter in history.

I knew Anita Lasker as an almost inevitable member of the orchestras playing in concerts in which I sang in the 1970s/80s. She always regarded me benignly and I very much admired her playing, usually sitting next to Olga Hegedus. Of course, then I knew little of her history, so this film is particularly fascinating for me, in addition to my interest in conductors and conducting, of which Furtwängler was a master.

30 September 2022

A ‘must-read’ by George Monbiot in The Guardian


27 September 2022

An open letter to our new culture secretary from a lighting designer


culture secretary michelle donelan

Dear Ms Donelan,

Please allow me, through these pages, to welcome you to your new job of secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. 

Many people have filled your role; you’re the 14th since 2007. In that period there have been just seven chancellors, five prime ministers and, until the other sad day, one monarch. The average time in your job is just over a year. There are individual shows that take longer than that to get on to the stage; it doesn’t feel long enough to figure out what everyone’s doing, let alone start making meaningful decisions. 

Ask it, and your own civil service will tell you that the sectors you oversee account for 13% of the UK economy, with the creative industries among the fastest growing. Despite what your government often seems to believe, this is a massively important area.

Narrow down the focus a bit to my world, the production side – the work of delivering live shows, events, television productions and films – and you’ll find a highly skilled, talented and serious workforce delivering big, complex projects bang on schedule. When was the last time you went to see a show and it wasn’t there ready for you? While you were there, did you wonder about the complexity of the scenery, costumes, props, lighting and sound in front of you – to say nothing of the tonnes of equipment hanging safely above you?

This is no longer the clichéd world of roadies pushing boxes. This is a world of high-level design, engineering and technology, often advancing the limits of what technology allows. Practitioners and suppliers from this country are in demand everywhere, their work acclaimed around the world. Just one example: four of the five nominees for best sound design for a musical in this year’s Tony Awards were British.

All these talents deserve the fullest support and encouragement from government, not to be ignored, dismissed and, in the worst case, told they should retrain. They need practical help with today’s challenges, including the ongoing recovery from the pandemic, the complications from Brexit and the looming catastrophe of energy prices and inflation. In that perfect storm, a number of long-established British suppliers in this field have been taken over by foreign companies. Has anyone in your department noticed that? Do you even know how many of these skilled individuals work in this field you now oversee?

It feels like you should.

Without culture, the UK would be an entirely different country, and a much less appealing one. But culture is not really a thing in itself, it’s the result of the people and organisations who make it.

Please, be bold on our behalf. Long-term bold, not just the sound-bites of electioneering. We need commitment. We need support. We need, as we used to have back in times when those leading the arts loved the arts and stuck around, an ally.