Friday, June 07, 2013

The New Creativity - a guest post from James Inverne

I'm away at the Ulverston International Music Festival in the Lake District, doing some nice concerts. More of this soon. Meanwhile, delighted to offer this guest-post from my colleague James Inverne, formerly editor of GRAMOPHONE, about his new Lorca Songs show, which is at St John's Smith Square next Tuesday (and unfortunately clashes with my Hungarian Dances concert at the St James Theatre Studio!) JD

Editor-turned-manager’s new show? The new creativity

James Inverne on jumping across to the other side of the footlights, and writing a show

What exactly is creativity? I remember a rather wonderful anecdote, somewhere in Stephen Glover’s compendium of essays about journalism, “Secrets of the Press” about a newspaper owner who, wandering through his own newsroom, complained to his editor about so many people “doing nothing but staring out of the window”. That, it seems to me, starts to define creativity pretty well – the art of productive window-staring. If you’re faced with a brief, or a challenge, or a job, and you can find a way to expand its possibilities by engaging imagination, context, presentation than you will be dubbed creative.

A few years ago this did not necessarily feel like a great thing to be. At least, as the recession bit and reality hit, the focus of everything seemed to be on number-crunching and belt-tightening. On the web, for instance, it was all about lists, about things that would come high in SEO (search engine optimisation) and those things remain important. But there’s something else in the air, a renewed sense of the importance of creativity. At times of crisis finding “creative solutions” is a phrase one hears a lot, and it usually means cutting budgets. But after that comes real creativity – a sense that we should see what we can make with what we have, of relying once again on our imaginations to make life interesting (and by extension to make things that other people might want to take notice of).

I noticed this a great deal at the big classical music conference in Vienna last week, Classical NEXT. Suddenly record labels weren’t talking (only) about sales figures, they wanted to find creative and distinctive ways to build their presence on the web, or live events that truly reflected what their artists were about. And that, as a fully paid-up creative person, fills me with joy. Because when I left the editorship of Gramophone I wanted to see how far I could push this idea of creativity. I felt sure that there must be a place for it in the traditionally hectic, overtly administrative world of artist management. I felt there must be a way to work with artists one admired in a way that would get across an idea of their artistic identities, their places in the world.

Sometimes that means working closely with conductors and record labels on repertoire and so forth. But occasionally it has allowed me to create exciting new projects and the first of these to come to fruition – called Lorca’s Songs gets its premiere at St John’s, Smith Square this Tuesday, June 11th (gulp). The original idea was to create a part-concert, part-spoken word evening telling the fused history of Spanish music and Spanish poetry – I created it for the violinist Alexandre Da Costa, who has a deeply authentic and idiomatic view of Spanish music (he looks for its darkness and intensity, which he says is the true heart of Spanish culture, as witness his recent, unusually trenchant recording of Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole on Warner Classics).

But then something happened. I started putting it together and the writer in me took over. Suddenly I was creating characters, almost a plot. I became fixated by the Spanish notion of the duende, the sense that art can be so intense that one can sense death. It became a show that lived, it breathes and suddenly what had seemed creative in the idea became an act of creation. For perhaps the first time, I felt something of what (here comes a colossal name-drop, sorry) Johnny Depp once said to me about working with Terry Gilliam – “We turn up in the morning and it’s like you have the skeleton there and you throw bits of meat on it and see what monster comes to life”. Excited, I brought in the great actor Henry Goodman (pictured above) and the leading Spanish guitarist Rafael Aguirre, and we had our show – for violin, guitar and actor.

Writing articles, including reviews, has always felt to me like carving a statue – you have your material, your block of marble, and in fashioning a readable piece from it, well, it feels much like sculpting. Books are a bit different. But a play – to be honest I don’t even know that I would call this a play, and most of the words in it are by Lorca and the rest, but it is drama, I know that much. Maybe it’s even a monster, of a kind. Certainly you can’t fully engage with the dark genius of Lorca or the intensity of De Falla without facing them head-on. As the narrator says in the show, “If we are to experience, let us experience…” I did when I wrote the thing. And maybe to be truly creative you must be unflinching. And guess what – I think it’s a better show this way, and something people will want to see. And that’s not only creativity, not only good business sense, it’s artistically honest. All of which feels rather good.

“Lorca’s Songs” is at St John’s, Smith Square in London on Tuesday 11th June at 7.30pm. For tickets call 020 7222 1061 or visit