Tuesday 28 June 2016

To Hope/An die Hoffnung/À l'Espérance

Always makes me a bit tear-y when everyone stands for the European Anthem, aka Beethoven's Ode to Joy, at the end of each Europe Day Concert, and all the more so watching this version with a difference. Stick with it beyond the first statement.

For 2016's event at St John's Smith Square we had the European Union Baroque Orchestra led by Rachel Podger and singers from the European Opera Centre in Liverpool (more usually partnered by the European Union Youth Orchestra. I'm sorry that the EUYO's admin couldn't trumpet the long-postponed result that the EU itself decided to save them as loudly as they proclaimed the initial disgrace).

La Podger is such a born communicator as well as a great stylist, and though for me a little Baroque goes a long way there were treasures here, especially when she played solo or in duet.

It's not usual that the obligatory anthem finale is the highlight, but thanks to Andrew Manze's Rameauification of Beethoven, this one was.

Who knows if there will be another such event next year? There's still much to hope for, which is why I'd change the title of Schiller's An die Freude to An die Hoffnung. The classical music world is weighing in - finally (not enough solidarity during the campaign). Jasper Parrott wrote an eloquent letter; in this Guardian article the Guildhall School imagines what its orchestra would look like without its full European quota.

Now let's have a series of parliamentary votes - including one to get rid of Corbyn, in whom I'd placed some trust but whose heart clearly wasn't with Remain - and an early general election. There's no way at least half this divided country is going to accept the self-perjuring Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. Theresa May is no alternative - let's remember this nasty piece of work wants us to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, for which she has been rightly excoriated again by the only strong leadership voice in the entire country (as it currently stands), Nicola Sturgeon  - and God save us from that other grinning goon Jeremy Hunt. Wasn't too sure about the wisdom of a second referendum - there may be more violence on the streets - but have just been reminded that Ireland and Denmark 'did it again'.

In the meantime, I am beyond disgust with the pondlife - sorry, dear frogs and freshwater creatures - once known as Nigel Farage. Complained to The Guardian for their putting up his speech in full and not those of the honourable Germans and Scot this morning; they took my point and replied - very swiftly, it has to be said - that they had limited space. I believe strongly that alongside due process this petition to prosecute an unelected monster for his horrific neo-Nazi poster should be signed.

Sunday 26 June 2016

They f*****d it up

That admirable human being RuPaul - to whom I've tried to apply something approximating to the colours of the EU flag - sent out a Referendum Day message with his/her famous catchphrase for the standoff at the end of each episode of RuPaul's Drag Race: 'And remember - don't f**k it up'. Sadly, the 52 per cent who wanted out were not in lipsynch with the r(R, Ru)emaining 48 per cent of us. Anyway, a good deal fewer of those want out now that the consequences have begun to hit so very quickly.

I'm told I should pity the disenfranchised working classes of the north and understand that they lashed out at the government, at a political elite which was bad but, for God's sake, not nearly as bad as the ones who manipulated them. Should they have been guided better? Certainly, but I still ask if it was too much for any of them to check the facts since one side failed to spoonfeed them sufficiently and the other constructed a campaign entirely out of lies.

The few Brexiters I've spoken to in recent days - anything but working class, like so many who voted for Brexit in areas with few or no immigrants - just parrot the lies and look startled when you tell them the truth. 'I had no idea' now becomes a refrain along with 'I didn't think my vote would count'. Sunderland 'had no idea' that £35 million from the EU kept their part of the world from collapsing completely once the government left them to rot. You couldn't make up the black comedy of the Cornish, having voted out, wanting the money the EU gave them to be continued by the Brexit regime.

So I cry shame on the whole pack of them, and have only one word, J's favourite as it happens (what a prophet!) - deluded. And I have no qualms about calling all, cynical leaders and misled populace alike, 'idiots' because the original word in classical Greek, ἰδιώτης, has the literal meaning of a person preoccupied with self-interest and just not concerned with the democratic good (the Athenians knew something about that). Don't forget - the one on the right is just as unprincipled and immoral, if not quite as stupid, as the one on the left, and not funny any more, if he ever was. 

No way can he allowed to become Prime Minister (Theresa May and George Osborne aren't vastly better alternatives, either). Instead, the chance of a general election early next year should force the opposition to join forces and make sure we don't get another government even worse than this one. Just a reminder of one of the many things BJ wrote before flipping a coin.

And let's lay responsibility at tragic Cameron's door for thinking he could stifle the rabid fringes of his party.

I fear that the world will lump us Brits together as many of us did the Americans when George Dubbya became President. And yet we will protest that 48 per cent of us voters don't deserve that. I am proud to be a Londoner under Sadiq Khan's (so far) wise leadership. Guess on which side the person was here who turned his back when Khan was elected.

I'm especially proud that our borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, led by our superb Labour MP Andy Slaughter, voted 70 per cent to remain (56, 188 to Brexit's 24,054 - a 40 per cent majority, and again around 70 per cent for the turnout)*. I'm proud of my godchildren's generation, who voted 73 per cent to remain, and apologise to them from the bottom of my heart that a lot of selfish old people who are going to die soon did them over yet again** as if the last two governments haven't done enough. My 85-year-old, Daily Mail reading mum, I'm proud to say, wasn't one of them, and was heading that way anyway.

After the walking-on-air after ENO's electrifying Jenůfa (the mob versus Laura Wilde's desperate heroine pictured above by Donald Cooper) on Thursday night, Friday was one of the worst days I can remember. Went to bed at 1.30am in despair at the Sunderland result, had only the most superficial of sleeps, woke up again at 5am to worse. The physical nausea I felt, part ascribable to tiredness, seems to have been shared by everyone I know who's been in touch. There were two points of catharsis - one finally catching up with the most impassioned speech of the campaign, Sheila Hancock's, which maddeningly can't be shown on YouTube but is at the bottom of the page here. The other was meeting Claudia Pritchard after an indifferent Royal Opera Werther - diverting, no more - and having a cleansing rant and hug together.

But with the brighter dawn of Saturday morning came the realisation that the fight is back on, whatever happens in the forthcoming week. J, who has been remarkably phlegmatic throughout, took me for a belated birthday lunch at Pizarro on Bermondsey Street - perfect food in an unpretentious setting, with pork to die for. Fine Spanish wines, too.

The area is yet another which merits exploring - this is the row of houses and the Strawberry-Hill-Gothic church opposite the restaurant.

and I was wondering when someone would have the chutzpah to call a cafe this.

Storm building over the City and St Paul's as I crossed London Bridge

to reclaim my bike, left at Covent Garden the previous night because I was too exhausted to cycle home.

And then I got caught up, to my delight, in the Pride march.

Hadn't planned to go this year - copped out when the whistleblowing got too loud and a BBC producer I know got tinnitus when an ex-boyfriend blew one in his ear - but it was just the tonic. How far we've come since the police used to glare at us - one stepped out of line to propose to his man this year.

Plenty of displays of solidarity with immigrants, who are already having a hideous time, at least outside London which will always welcome them* (OK, so it's the Socialist Worker, but good on them).

and Euroflags, not least the one by this woman - J says he knows her - who was yelling furiously 'six million Jews murdered' over and over.

And yes, I see that the path to extermination camps and guns and violence starts here. We can't let it happen. Half the world doesn't want anything like this, let's bear that in mind - and fight to the very best of our abilities. More flags by way of hopeful finale.

*Yet I just read of a graffiti attack on the Polish Cultural Centre just down the road in King Street, Hammersmith, something that hasn't happened in its 50 years until now. And racist tweets are being catalogued diligently by the Polish community. All should be reported to the police as hate crime.

**Yet a great many didn't. One of my students just reminded me of this before today's class, when Linda Esther Gray came to talk about Isolde and Goodall. Linda, as a Scottish socialist, is passionate on the referendum fallout, and so were the students who joined us at lunch. They have so much energy and indignation, it feels as if we're of the same generation - I've had this sensation before when sharing lunch with my (then) 94 year old friend Elaine Bromwich and her American pal Tom Cullen, who left America because he was, like her, one of the communists when the name denoted noble ideals.

Thursday 23 June 2016

Remain with Tillmans

24/6 Any updates in the comments (do add if you feel like it). I haven't the spirit to put up another piece on this craziest of days.

My New Best Friends in the Gildas Quartet reacted with this photo to the Wolfgang Tillmans-designed T-shirt I wore at a fascinating mini-conference on press and young artists organised at the Goldsmiths' Centre in Farringdon by the City Music Foundation. I could only stay for an hour because I had to rush to get a tube, bike, train and bus to Garsington for what turned out to be a first-class Idomeneo (an opera, incidentally, by an Austrian about Greeks and the forerunners of the Turks with an Italian libretto, performed by Brits and one Australian, with a Swedish conductor, and I'm making a guess, though I can't find it confirmed anywhere, that vivacious assistant conductor and chorus 'master' Susanna Stranders is Danish).

That was a shame, since the CMF artists seemed like a lively group, and I know and admire several, like the pianist Samson Tsoy, already. The panel consisted of lovely Maddy Castell from the BBC (below, foreground left), Kimon Daltas, Editor of Classical Music and sometime contributor to The Arts Desk (right) and myself. The Gildas Quartet are on the left.

It was a rush beforehand, too - had to go and pick up two of the T-shirts designed by Tillmans by cycling via the Serpentine Gallery, where I had a lively chat with the very nice woman in the shop. She thought I should flout the 'antiquated dress code' of Garsington by displaying one or t'other, but of course in the end I didn't have the nerve, merely opening my white shirt to reveal the message to selected punters. Here are the shirts sported by model, the simpler message first

and the one I really like, which - since I took the shot in the mirror as the others didn't work well - needs interpreting: 'No man is an island. No country by itself'. I hope to get to wear it after today by simply adding a 'd' to 'Vote' at the bottom.

Worth adding a few more of Tillmans' manifestos to the ones I've already posted. The list of hostile names on the Brexit side has become more piquant, though of course Trump with his unequivocal support for Out - is he really coming to the UK today? - isn't there yet.

and the messages crystal-clear.

As a recent reminder of the darker forces at work, just read this on my main source of information about Russia, The Interpreter: some vile misfit has been insinuating to a state-owned TV channel that the murder of Jo Cox might have been a put-up job. Negativity knows no bounds. Yet in all the nastiness of the past weeks, there's been more resourceful humour. This one I like

as well as one aimed at the oldies who are most likely to vote Brexit - 'Vote Leave on Friday'.

But enough - though it'll be on my mind all day, and at the first night of Jenůfa at ENO before we go on to some gathering or other. A few calming floral scenes from Garsington, which obliged with sunshine after the rains and before the big storm last night.

Finally, one good piece of news: Jonathan Bloxham, very talented cellist and conductor, and my guest at Garsington last night, has just been appointed Assistant Conductor at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. What a wonderful time to start, with Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla taking over as Principal Conductor; sure she'll be a wonderful mentor, too. Nice to end, as I began, with a take on the young musicians who give us such massive hope for the future.

Tuesday 21 June 2016

Reykjavík, Aldeburgh, Snape: sunsets, sunrise

It's been the most discombobulating and wonderful four days, with obscenely early rises made more than bearable by stimulation of mind and heart. I managed only one full day and three concerts at brilliant young pianist-animateur Vikingur Ólafsson's Reykjavík Midsummer Music - feature due on The Arts Desk this coming weekend - because I knew I couldn't miss an Aldeburgh event equal to the ambition of Peter Grimes on the beach, Pierre-Laurent Aimard's journey through Messiaen's Catalogue d'Oiseaux from sunrise to midnight. And I'm overjoyed with what I savoured of both.

First night in Iceland did not deliver a midnight sun since the sky remained overcast. But by early evening of the next day, the clouds had cleared. Above and below are Reykjavík scenes at around midnight - the fabulous Harpa where two of the three concerts took place, the central lake (Tjörnin)

and the spire of the ever-impressive Hallgrimskirkja, by which time I think the illuminated clock face was reading 12.40am, from near my hotel past the domestic airfield (full of bird interest, as a future picture-blog will show).

And yes, I and the delightful Samantha Holderness did get out of town for a trip I've been wanting to do for ages - to the old parliament site where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart in a spectacular rift valley, Þingvellir. More on that and the birdlife in all three places anon.

So, a 5am rising to get the plane back to Heathrow, a couple of hours' kip at home and then up to Aldeburgh on the eve of birdday. Arrived about 9pm, found the famous fish and chip shop closed and wandered the beach with a nearly full moon in the offing, just about visible in the below picture

though not looking northwards to Thorpe Ness

and plants still providing colour including these yellow horned (sea) poppies.

In bed by 10.30pm, up at 3am to be driven by Rebecca Driver, for whom nothing seems too much trouble, to the Snape marshes to catch the dawn chorus.

It wasn't quite as bird-loud as I'd expected, but my recordings - maybe I can download them as sound files some time - reveal more than I heard. It was good to learn retrospectively, since Messiaen features it in a high clattery trill, that the stridulation I heard was that of the Grasshopper Warbler.

The Alde glinted in the pre-sunrise glow

looking somewhat different to how I'd seen it in post-storm late afternoon light on a flying visit the previous Wednesday (review of the very impressive ENOA opera I saw here).

By the time Aimard's 4.30am recital was over, the sun had risen spectacularly, visible through one of the Oyster Bar windows, and moved upward through cloud to leave only a different sort of glow.

Other Tagesszeiten less well documented, not least my afternoon bathe in a far from freezing North Sea, but vivacious Lucy Cheung sent me this shot of my ascent from the Minsmere bird hide to Aimard's al fresco dusk concert on Whin Hill.

Dark clouds gathered for that, but the rain had the decency to hold off; three hours later, near midnight back at Snape, it was pelting down and continued to do so on the journey back to London early the next morning.

Sunday 19 June 2016

To honour Jo Cox

Only four days now to a referendum which may change our lives more profoundly than any general election has. With one of the most sickening murders I can remember symbolising the outcome of Brexit's more toxic side - for, regardless of the fact that the killer was obviously mentally ill, that movement's representatives may have smiled and smiled and yet been villains all along - the unease I've been feeling for weeks turned to physical nausea. And here I am in Aldeburgh, where despite the applause that greeted the sign of the European Union's Culture Programme supporting the Euro-opera I saw on Wednesday at Snape, Vote Leave and Give Us Our Country Back signs are everywhere*. In London we're living in a bubble. Much of the rest of the country thinks otherwise - and if it's Out on Thursday, sposo and I are out of Little England too, sooner or later, moving either to Scotland or Ireland.

Just a few reminders, then, of what's at stake. It's a unique case where negative campaigning is essential. In the short term, we'll get a Tory government that's more right wing and even less concerned with statesmanship than this one. Click on any of the photos for a larger image if the text is too small.

 It's worth ramming home who some of the other spokesfolk are

and who in Europe would like us to leave, for no honourable statesperson in the entire world does.

Not to mention the two biggest bogeymen, Putin and Trump. This, the excellent Wolfgang Tillmans' poster campaign, has also been positive

and so, too, funnily enough, was one Boris Johnson in his book The Churchill Factor (including the fact that, yes, much DOES still need to change about the institution of the EU, though one can quote plenty of facts to gainsay the 'inflated bureaucracy' charge).

Unelected officials? Try Nigel Farage, the Royal Family and the House of Lords, for a start.

Dark moments along the way, one loosely connected and, thank God, that hurdle overcome,

the second just vile from a supposedly intelligent journalist at the time of the Brussels bombings

 and the third magnificent timing from UKIP on the day of the killing

with its unequivocal links to a Nazi propaganda film. Update: someone recently pointed out that the band on the right above is plastered over the one obviously white face in the procession.

Among about a hundred things that are good about the EU, let's emphasis the human rights

not to mention clean beaches and, more generally, the best environmental rights programme in the world.

Jessica Duchen has a very eloquent piece on her blog about what Brexit might mean to musicians. I'm disappointed that so few voices in the classical and opera world have made their feelings felt - especially in the light of their being ignored by the Remain campaign's very selective list of artists and writers. Anyhow, lest I weigh you down with too many cut-and-pasted facts here, go across to 'Elgar the European' on the blog for further links lower down that page.

And remember - though I fear that, like The Guardian, I'm preaching mostly to the converted here  - 'not everyone who wants to leave the EU is a racist, but all racists want to leave the EU'. Please let's not wake up to the possibility of a bunch of liars, careerists and psychopaths running the country on Friday morning.

Those of us whose natural home is not professional comedy, and who feel it's all beyond remedy now, should leave it to the superb Stewart Lee to inject some wit filled with savage indignation here. For anyone who can't be bothered to read the whole thing, this will do:

Leave had no arguments or facts, just pornographically arousing soundbites and lies they knew were lies, but which they calculated might stick to a wall in a depressed town somewhere, if flung with enough force, like compacted pellets of Priti Patel's shit.

Now I'm back to more Messiaenic birdsong at Snape. Good luck to all those kissing for Europe in London and other capitals: I'm with you in spirit.

Oh, and one good thing has just happened which I never thought I would live to see: our affable Prince Wills appearing on Attitude magazine's cover to stand up against bullying of young gay people. Kudos.

STOP PRESS (21/6) Amnesty has just announced an event to celebrate Jo Cox's life in Trafalgar Square tomorrow afternoon (Wednesday 22 June) at 4pm. More details here.

*I have no idea on which side the owners of the Wentworth Hotel, where I stayed in Aldeburgh, might be, but it's worth noting that this very comfortable hotel priding itself on traditional values overlaid with modern conveniences employed the most delightful Eastern European lady on reception, who could not have been more attentive. What would happen to the hotel trade without the Poles and other workers moving freely between EU countries who staff the establishments and usually turn out to be the most polite of people?