Saturday, April 09, 2011

Super Shoutouts from the Stratosphere... Music for All #6

The morning after the night before...Fiona Maddocks in The Guardian is the first review I've seen of the big Barenboim bonanza at Tate Modern last night. 


The standing ovation began before Daniel Barenboim had played a note. On Friday night, to a crowd of about 1,100 who only learned of this impromptu free concert three days earlier, the legendary pianist celebrated more than 60 years since his performing debut with a quixotic recital in Tate Modern's Turbine Hall. If Barenboim wanted, as he said, to drag the classics "out of the ivory tower", where at least he might be guaranteed a good acoustic, he succeeded. The sound was not dissimilar to a public swimming pool, but everyone listened attentively and no one minded.
"Quite frankly I was tickled at the idea of playing here," he said, interrupting his all-Chopin programme with his characteristically fluent chat and sharp humour. "What would you like me to play? A polonaise? A waltz?" he challenged. "Bach," replied one brave soul. "Bach? I am here to play Chopin. I will play his Minute Waltz. Is that okay?" ...
Read the rest here... 

Barenboim had strong words to offer about the importance of state funding for music education, too. Fiona reports:
"Music is part of life, music is part of culture," he said. "Governments should put money into teaching music to all, from the kindergarten on." This urgent cry was also heard at the influential Salzburg Global Seminar on music this week.

His interview with the BBC's Will Gompertz is headlined CLASSICAL MUSIC FOR ALL

[Barenboim] says there should be a "radical change of the education system", so that "children don't just learn literature, biology, geography and history at school, but you also learn music". Because, he thinks, "through music you get over many obstacles you have in daily, normal daily life outside music".
And, he added, if people are to get something out of classical music they need to put something in:
"There's no point in telling people just go there it's so simple it will happen. That's also not true, it's not a good way. I think that people need to know that to get something out of classical music they have to really want to go there and open their ears. And really concentrate and listen and then they will really get a lot out of it." ...
"...[F]ind a new public and wanted to find the people that are curious. The people that maybe feel they don't know enough about music and don't dare to come into contact with it. And maybe through this kind of action they will. Maybe they will come. In the end curiosity is the most important because if you are curious you will acquire the knowledge that you might not have presently."

The Salzburg Global Seminar, mentioned above and co-chaired by Sir Nicholas Kenyon and Sarah Lutman from Minnesota's St  Paul Chamber Orchestra, ran earlier this week and carried the title The Transformative Power of Music. The roster of participants included many distinguished musicians, academics and big-time arts administrators. I can't see any politicians on the list, though. Here is some more information about the seminar; I hope this doughty collection of people are able to move the message forward. Some of the questions they are asking are:
When and how has music played a role in social and political change? How has music raised awareness of social injustices? How can music bridge cultural differences? How can music help to unleash the talents of marginalized youth? What role can new technologies play in this process? What contributions can music make to peace-building and reconciliation efforts? And, finally, how can we maximize these positive impacts of music? 
These are fine questions. Now we need some answers, fast, and a way to get the message home to the decision makers in government. 
In America, the marvellous Kevin Spacey has been speaking to Congress, making the case for greater funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. Read about it in the Huffington Post. I imagine the chance of him succeeding are limited, given that American snottiness towards the arts is almost as extreme as that in the UK, but at least he has tried. Here a bunch of our finest actors including Sam West and Penelope Wilton went to Downing Street this week to deliver a petition. We hear that David Cameron wasn't even there. 

As for the commentators who heap scorn on the arts - sometimes even if they are devoted attendees or even critics - SHAME ON YOU! Dan Rebellato has a good go at them in his Theatre Blog, here

Nicholas Daniel, oboist extraordinaire and one of my contributors to SHOUT OUT! this week, emailed this morning to tell me that the summer courses for the Bedfordshire Youth Orchestra have just been cancelled. "We are all gutted," he says.

My husband, Tom, who's been in the first violins of the London Philharmonic for nearly 25 years, probably wouldn't have been there at all if he hadn't got the bug for orchestral playing by attending his county youth orchestras and especially their summer courses. As we've mentioned here before, few British string players get jobs in the top British symphony orchestras today: the applicants who tend to play best usually come from countries where there are stronger systems for free music education for a wider range of children at a younger age, where ambition is encouraged, and where scorn is not poured on the talented ("Well, you're hardly going to be Yehudi Menuhin, are you," said a schoolteacher to Tom back in 1970 or so, a teacher who had never heard either Menuhin or little Tommy). The exceptions tend to be the ones whose exceptional inner determination can override all that and sustain them despite what often feels like no support from anywhere or anyone. I can promise you that I've never met anybody on this earth more determined than my good old Tomcat.

His family was not musical; he came from a one-horse town in the Midlands where only one or two other children were learning the violin; then he studied in Manchester with a violin teacher who couldn't play - as it happens, a Hungarian who'd been injured escaping in 1956 and no longer had the use of one hand. And it was only thanks to the county youth orchestras in Staffordshire and Cheshire that he met a peer group who inspired him and gave him the necessary ambition to push himself to a new level. - among them, a then-youthful fiddler who ended up as concertmaster of the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House.
You may say: fine, if those opportunities weren't open to him, he'd have done something else and what does that matter? Perhaps he'd have been a doctor (two siblings are medics), a tour guide (he's good at languages, not that anyone encouraged him with that either) or a PR executive (he's good with people and organising things). But it does matter. The point is, he had a choice. Music was his passion and he knew it would be his life. Are we to face a future for the UK where a young person with that talent and that passion finds that they can choose any profession they like except the one they really want, because its necessary foundations are scorned by an establishment that doesn't understand it? 

Don't let it happen, people. Don't let our children, grandchildren, nephews and great-nieces/nephews be turned into machines, denied the chances of expression, discovery, creativity and fulfillment through understanding that distinguish human beings from animals. We have minds, we have souls - yes, we do - and we use them. It doesn't cost very much and it brings extraordinary returns, both measurable and - more valuably - immeasurable.

To say that future generations may not have that choice because we can't afford it is stupid. And will land society with an awful lot of trouble when that generation grows up disaffected - and realises what we've done to it; what we had, what we could have had had we made the effort, and what we needlessly threw away at the stroke of a politician's pen.

Catch up with this week's Shout Out! Music Education for All:
No. 1: Tasmin Little, Barry Douglas and Julian Lloyd Webber;
No. 2: James Rhodes, Errollyn Wallen and Nick van Bloss;
No. 3: Paul Lewis, Nicholas Daniel and Eos Chater;
No. 4: Margaret Fingerhut and Leon McCawley;
No. 5: Clemency Burton-Hill and Philip Sheppard.