16 June 2020

Protect our shared history, memorials and monuments

I've signed the attached petition - I agree with all the points made by the proposer - please consider signing also.

Whatever decisions are taken, they must be taken as the result of a proper democratic process.

Thank you.

13 June 2020

Open letter from Simon Rattle and Mark Elder:

There are so many pressing problems to solve in the UK that it takes courage even to mention the desperate situation of classical music in the time of Covid-19.

There’s a real possibility of a devastated landscape on the other side of this; orchestras may not survive, and if they do, they may face insuperable obstacles to remain solvent in our new reality. What we write applies, of course, to all types of music, not just classical music which is our area of expertise. Our music is essentially a live experience and requires all the participants, performers and listeners alike, to be in the same room together. What we may do individually over the internet in these months is all well and good, but the living core of our work is a live communion, a sharing of space, art and emotion which is both vital and healing.
This healing will become ever more necessary in the coming time as we attempt to bear witness and understand what we have all gone through. In such an existential crisis, the realisation of our shared vulnerability will surely change and deepen our relationship to all the arts. In our own field we are asking ourselves; how can we get back to live music? How can we give our audiences the courage to gradually return?
More immediately, how can we maintain musical continuity when orchestras are silenced? And how do we nurture a generation of young musicians whose prospects look bleak just as they embark on a career in this ever more uncertain world?
The recent extension of the furlough scheme is a blessing and enables many organisations to hang on. For freelance musicians, which include four of the London orchestras among others, huge problems remain. Currently many freelancers fall between the cracks of the government’s self-employment schemes. We need to find a way to sustain some kind of backbone of income so that we will eventually be able to play whenever that will be possible. At the most basic level, despite all appearances to the contrary, musicians are humans. They need to eat and pay their bills. But we also need to play together and train, just like any sports team, albeit in a totally new environment. Crucially, this musical team is part of a complex structure that is focused around, and serves, its home town or city.
Our venues will have to learn to shepherd audiences in and out of performances in safety, and accept that at maximum only 25% capacity will be allowed, with all the economic knock on effects that this reality implies. We MUST find a way to play together soon, even without an audience, if we are to maintain anything like our normal standards, and we badly need clarity from government, a timeline, of when that might be and how it can be implemented. We understand that we cannot expect to revert to everything as it was before; we will be creative and tireless in making contingency plans and solving problems.We will have to reinvent the wheel in so many ways. Learning to play while remaining distanced from each other will be much harder than it may initially seem.
All musicians of whatever genre share the magnificent problem of an art form which is, fundamentally, songs transmitted to people in a room. When will our audiences have the chance to experience this once more?
We refuse to believe that live music will die, but it will not survive merely on energy and optimism. It will need support and understanding, particularly when it ventures out in public once more. The first year of performing with fewer musicians to a much smaller public will be our toughest time, and we will need a helping hand to make it through.
In Mainland Europe orchestras are gradually opening up and finding different ways to deal with the problems of distancing. Good practice is being built up: in the UK we must gain time by learning what has already been proved to work, rather than starting from the beginning yet again, with people not from the performing arts making the decisions. Until we have some practical idea of what our future might entail, musicians in our country will continue to feel out in the wilderness.
Sir Simon Rattle, OM, CBE, Music Director, London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Mark Elder, CH, CBE, Music Director, HallĂ© Orchestra

12 June 2020

From today's Church Times (copyright):

Paul Vallely: Don’t try to erase the past, study it

Colston’s statue should be in a museum, says Paul Vallely

WHEN a Roman patrician donated a new bathhouse, aqueduct, or road to a city, he would often have a prominent stone inscribed D.S.P.F., or de sua pecuna fecit. It meant “paid for with his own money”. In return, his fellow citizens often put up a statue to him. When the great man fell from public favour, the statue was often torn down — a practice, as I learned while researching my forthcoming book on philanthropy, which became a great symbolic gesture in any revolt or sedition.
The lessons of history go far wider than that, as we have seen this week with the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston, once lauded as the city of Bristol’s greatest philanthropist, but now reviled as a slave-trader. The event tells us something about the nature of history, the need to remember, the danger of forgetting, and the fact that we do not stand detached from history, but are part of it.
The need to remember is perhaps the easiest of these lessons to learn. Colston gave the contemporary equivalent of about £25 million to build schools, almshouses, hospitals, and churches, although he excluded as beneficiaries the Catholics, Dissenters, and Whigs whom his politics led him to despise. But his fortune was built on the sale of 84,000 slaves, of whom 19,300 died in the ships that he used to transport human beings from Africa to the Caribbean, and then bring tobacco, sugar, and rum back to Britain. It is hard to argue that such tainted money can ever be fully redeemed by good works.
The danger of forgetting is clear from those who fail, or refuse, to understand that, at the time, slavery was generally condoned by the educated churchgoing classes. John Locke, that most celebrated philosopher of liberty, was a shareholder in Colston’s company. The protester who sprayed “Churchill is a racist” on his statue in Parliament Square may remember historians’ revelations that Britain’s wartime leader privately used derogatory anti-black language — but appears to have forgotten that the choice in 1940 was between Churchill’s slang and Hitler’s genocide.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, several Eastern European countries took down their statues of infamous Communist dictators, but, rather than destroy them, placed them in statue-parks so that children could learn something of the context that the past gave their present. History is a better option than the uncontrolled emotion on show in Bristol this week. Liverpool, whose splendid array of Grade I listed architecture is a testament to another city whose greatness was built on slavery, has responded to the complexity of its own history with a Slavery Museum, in which future generations can learn to comprehend the complexity of their own chequered past.
In such ways do we make our own history in an honest and healthy fashion. Colston died in 1721. The notorious statue was erected only in the era of Victorian imperialism — almost 200 years after his death. Removing the statue to a museum would merely have been another stage in the way a city makes its history — and one from which its children could learn far more than this week’s attempts simply to erase the past.

09 June 2020

Quote for the times

'Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.'

George Orwell, 1984.

07 June 2020

Welcome to my blog!

After a few years without a website, when the company that looked after it closed, I've now finally got a blog up and running and this is its first post! It's somewhat different from the website, because my activities have changed, and I've virtually given up singing (or, at least, singing for money!), am no longer on the recorded music societies' speakers' circuit and, though I'd love to do more conducting, the opportunities have never really arisen.

However, one of the things I'm happiest doing is writing, beginning many years ago with concert programme notes, and this still continues, with occasional forays into CD liner-note writing. Around the turn of the century I began to write music and arts reviews for the Church Times (I'm still happily doing this) and mainly but not exclusively musical obituaries for the Independent newspaper, and it was a very sad day when the print version of the Indy ceased and obituaries of the kind previously published were excluded. There was a great frisson being telephoned by the obituaries editor and asked to produce an obit and researching, writing and filing it within 12 to 24 hours. I miss that! (It was also pure pleasure to work with the Indy obituaries editors: first, Jamie Fergusson, then Diana Gower and last - but certainly not least - Chris Maume.) Obituaries have crept back into the Indy, but not to the same extent, and for a nominal fee only. Some of my 'advances' have been used in the digital edition (the first was of Sir Neville Marriner) and the Church Times has taken others.

Programme note writing is for anyone who wants them, some on a regular basis, and a particular pleasure has been writing for Midsummer Opera, not least because of its varied and eclectic repertoire - always a challenge, and for me stimulating because it often takes me far beyond my main areas of musical interest.

I'm also in sight of completing a major project that must for the moment remain under wraps but I hope may be revealed soon. Watch this space.

This blog will take a while to evolve, so please be patient, and keep visiting as, overtime, different features are added. One thing that is a welcome advantage over my previous website is that I can now control everything myself, without having to ask someone else to do so. On the other hand, my computer expertise, although pretty good, isn't as good as the professionals', so please forgive anything that isn't quite right. No doubt it will improve with time and practice.

This is all happening at the time of coronavirus, so to everyone reading this, keep safe and well - and keep coming back!