Went to the South Bank last night with a friend who is investigating Sufi music. We had a Japanese feast at Yo Sushi (we turned it into Yo Sufi for the occasion!), which is near the London Eye and jolly nice, and then settled into the Queen Elizabeth Hall for the Whirling Dervishes of Turkey.
They didn't so much whirl as twirl, rather gently. Five men in long cream-coloured robes and tall fezes. They went round and round and round and round and round, arms gently raised, heads leaning to one side, eyes closed, while a four-piece group played intricate and meditative music full of quarter-tones on beautiful instruments that bore strong resemblances to Renaissance lute, recorder and viol (mini model). Unfortuantely there were no programmes for the occasion, and I think this was a major ommission. My friend and I remained completely in the dark about a) what the instruments are called, b) what the music signified, c) to what end the dervishes twirl, if any, d) the history of this tradition and e) how on earth they manage not to get dizzy. I tried it when I got home and lasted about 25 seconds before nearly falling over.
The following will not sound tremendously politically correct, but after a while I couldn't help wondering quite what we were doing there (we weren't the only ones in the half-full hall who sloped off home at the interval). Sure, it's impressive and the music is different and fascinating in its own way. But thinking back a number of years to my days sub-editing on Southbank Magazine, which is a marketing tool and diary for the SBC, produced by the BBC, I was reminded of the way in which these types of evening were pushed rather at the expense of classical concerts. Classical wasn't cool and trendy enough - if they could have a picture of someone in a bright ethnic costume on the front cover, even Helene Grimaud wouldn't have stood a chance. A piano? Oh dear me... And these decisions were made by the centre, not by the editors. One reason I gently divorced myself from Southbank was the fact that the line we had to take - not so much politically correct as culturally correct - got up my nose to the point of inducing real depression. Now, I LIKE much of this stuff! I'm all for it! I loved talking to the world-musicy people I had to interview while I was there. I think the rise of world music is one of the most exciting cultural developments of the last decade or two - and it beats the hell out of mass-produced pop. But I don't see why classical music has to be 'positively' marginalised because of it.
Hopefully my friend found the evening useful. This morning I am operating in ever-decreasing circles.