Showing posts with label London 2012 Olympic Games. Show all posts
Showing posts with label London 2012 Olympic Games. Show all posts

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Olympians head for Last Night of the Proms

You'd think the presence of Nicola Benedetti and Joseph Calleja would be musical Olympics enough, but there's an extra dimension to tonight's Last Night of the Proms. Look who's coming to listen.

Last Night of the Proms welcomes Team GB and ParalympicsGB to celebrate the end
of an extraordinary summer
Saturday 8 September 2012
The BBC Proms is delighted to announce that athletes from Team GB and ParalympicsGB will be joining the Last Night festivities at the Royal Albert Hall and in Hyde Park tomorrow evening. Following an invitation from BBC Proms Director Roger Wright to all that took part in this summer’s Games, the Proms is delighted to welcome over 80 athletes to the Last Night celebrations.
In keeping with the return of Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea-Songs in the traditional second half of the Royal Albert Hall concert (live on BBC One), the BBC Proms is thrilled to be joined in the hall by rulers of the waves themselves: Team GB Gold medal winners in the Mens Coxless Fours Alex Gregor, Tom James MBE and Pete Reed; Silver medallist in the Lightweight Mens Double Sculls Zac Purchase MBE and the complete ParalympicGB Mixed Coxed Fours Gold medal winners David Smith, James Roe, Naomi Riches, Pam Relph and Lily van den Broecke (cox).

Last night at the Vienna Philharmonic, the front-section Promenaders did their best to get into the spirit of the LNOTP by doing a few knee-bends to the encore, J Strauss's waltz Voices of Spring. Only a few, though. For a nuanced write-up of the concert I'm going to refer you to the sterling Boulezian.

As for tonight, fabulous to know that 900-carat Calleja will be beamed out to the entire world. So everyone can hear that the golden age of the Tenor Voice has by no means been and gone. It's alive and well and flying out fresh from Malta. Here's an extract from his new album, Be My Love - a tribute to Mario Lanza. Actually he leaves Lanza standing. (Be my love? Any time, Joe. Any time.)

Monday, August 13, 2012

London 2012: A few things we can learn from the Olympic Games...

This was the fortnight in which Britain learned the value of clibing nachas. One of those all-but-untranslatable Yiddish phrases, its meaning is somewhere in between "taking pleasure in your family's achievements" and "basking in reflected glory". When you feel you're part of the success of something, even when it's someone else's success. (see left.)

I mean, it was amazing, wasn't it? After all the buss and fother, after all the warnings about impossible transport and raised prices and overcrowding and 'get ahead of the Games' (to which I flippin'well listened, and went on holiday, and missed half the fun), after the security debacle and the certainty that no way could the UK ever be organised enough to put on the greatest show on did. And pulled in in third place on the medals chart. How did that happen? World-class achievement in sport has much in common with other world-class achievements, so what can we learn from it?

1. Success takes damn hard work. We celebrated people pushing themselves to be extraordinary. We celebrated people being exceptional, and training for years to become exceptional. All the building of the Olympic Park, all the planning, all the peripheries, that took hard work too. Finally the hard work paid off, and everyone could share in it and clibe nachas.

2. Success takes investment. How did the UK get from one paltry medal in Atlanta 16 years ago to third place in the world? By investing in training. About £250m - mostly from the National Lottery - was thrown at the training of our athletes. The "treat 'em mean and keep 'em keen" attitude that's usually levelled at the arts in the UK didn't apply - because it is, of course, bollocks. True, money without good management solves little, but without financial investment you're nowhere. Now can we please have a reversal of the ongoing disinvestment in our wider education and culture? Otherwise we'll be back at the bottom in everything else.

3. Success takes dedication and sacrifice from the artists/athletes involved, but also from their families. Much was made by the BBC TV presenters of how the athletes' families have given their all to support their youngsters; so, too, the fact that the families were overjoyed to see their loved ones in Olympic action (ie, they were clibing nachas). Now, if a child is gifted at music and his/her parents put immense energy into helping him/her along and then take pleasure in the results, someone inevitably accuses them of being "pushy" or stopping their son/daughter from having a "normal childhood". Why the distinction? Sport and music alike require an early start, in every sense. It may be possible without familial support, but it's a heck of a lot harder. For instance, if your dad won't get up at 5am to drive you to the ice-rink/swimming pool/practice room for a few hours of training before school, but others' dads do, the others will be ahead of you and you won't make the grade.

4. Success needs moral support. The importance of this has been underestimated. Who could have had better moral support than the Team GB athletes this past fortnight? It's in the air we've breathed here in London: everyone has been rooting for them, cheering them on, and when people believe in you so much it's like a big fluffy trampoline that helps you to bounce higher, take off and fly.

Our arts practitioners don't usually meet that kind of moral support. In music particularly, we have to fight and fight and fight and FIGHT just for the teeniest glimmer of recognition that what we do does not happen by magic, but takes the same kind of graft that an athlete puts in. Without moral support from families, schools, colleges, arts managements and indeed the country, performers - who are only human - have to throw more energy into surviving emotionally without it, energy that could have been better directed at the task itself. It's difficult already, and lack of moral support makes it more difficult. That's why they need us all to clibe nachas.

5. Elitism shmelitism. There's nothing more elite than the training required for a gifted individual to become the best. But without an "elite" training - high quality, full-on, time-consuming and, yes, probably quite expensive - people do not generally rise to become the best. Yet we're all interdependent. Without the people who prove they are the best at what they do, the rest of us become demoralised, because lack of world-class success reflects on our country and our society as a whole. We need the gifted and successful to pull us all up to a better level. That's what clibing nachas does for the ones doing the clibing.

6. One person's success brightens the lives of everyone who partakes in it. There've been a great many tears shed this fortnight as Jess Ennis and her team-mates showed the stuff they're made of. I mean, if I can be touched by all this - I'm one of many who was put off sports by school PE, and my enthusiasm as viewer rarely stretches further than Wimbledon - then anybody can. And just think of the joy, emotion and insight that music brings us, via those who excel at it. That's what it's for, for goodness' sake. To stir us to great emotions, to catapult us above the everyday. To make the world feel like a better place. See the point above about us all being interdependent.

7. You reap what you sow. The more you put in, the more you get out. But you do have to put in enough to begin with. Billions went into the London 2012 Olympic Games. What came out of it has been priceless.

8. Musical Olympics don't really exist - but where they sort of do, Team GB needs to get on board. If there's an equivalent, it's still the big competitions - eg, the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. These are not an end in themselves for their entrants, but a beginning, a launching pad - which, in a way, makes them all the more vital. The latest Tchaikovsky Competition, in which ace pianist Daniil Trifonov shot to international stardom, attracted not a single British entrant, let alone a medallist. British musicians do not often win international competitions and we have to face the fact that that is probably because other countries take musical training more seriously, invest more money in it and do so much earlier in youngsters' lives. It's easy to say "but we have some great teachers", etc, but the facts demonstrated in the international context tell the true story. Stripping state funding from our music colleges - along with all the other arts and humanities higher education courses in England - will make the situation worse. The lesson of the Olympics is not just that we should invest more in training for sport because all of a sudden we're good at it. It's that we should invest in education and training for many, many other things so we can become equally good at those.

9. From now on, we need to appreciate real ability instead of quick-fix, appearance-driven dross. In sport, this is relatively easy because you can see who's crossed the finish line first. In music it's more difficult, because assessment is about taste, personal judgment and, unfortunately, being well informed enough to know how to assess what you're hearing. Hopefully, though, the Olympics have shown up the vacuity of manufactured "stars" and the notion that you can be famous without being able to do anything. With any luck, this might produce a shift in national awareness of how we're too often fooled by rubbish. Despite all the hype about sponsors, branding and exclusivity, nobody can force us to eat hamburgers, swallow fizzy drinks, buy diamonds or download a particular recording. If we're in charge of our own brains, we don't have to be taken in. Interestingly, exercise can help this. Be inspired: go running. It helps you think.

10. Apart from a little Elgar at the start of both, and a surprise appearance by Daniel Barenboim, carrying a corner of the Olympic flag, there wasn't a lot of classical music in the London 2012 opening and closing ceremonies. And a lot of the pop singers were out of tune. What we learned, though, is that the real classics of British music in the 20th century are mostly by the Beatles. See point 8.

11. So who's on Music Team GB? Here's one of our truest golds. You can hear him at the Prom tomorrow, playing Saint-Saens's Piano Concerto No.2. This interview is a promotional thing for his new CD of that concerto, Ravel's G major and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Go, Benjamin, go!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Our own local Olympian

Back from summer holiday just in time to give a big cheer for the extremely cheering London 2012 Olympic Games and offer a special tribute to our own local Olympian, Mortlake station-master Daniel Opoku.

Daniel carried the torch in the relay on 22 July from Erith to Bexley - then, he says, handing it on to Lennox Lewis - and he's the winner of three national awards for public service. He even puts in an appearance, by name, in my Rites of Spring, something that's noted on the station poster celebrating his participation in the relay. Were there an Olympic race for kindness, helpfulness, taking pride in your work and brightening the day of everyone you see, this man would take gold. He has become a local hero simply by being A  Wonderful Person.

Here's what South West Trains says about him:
Daniel Opoku has worked for South West Trains for 17 years and was put forward to participate as a torchbearer because of his passion and commitment to customer service. Daniel Opoku, commented: “Being a part of the global showcase is very exciting as the Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world. I feel jubilant about being put forward to participate in this historic event and have been walking and jogging in Erith to prepare for the big day.”
As well as helping customers plan their journeys, making announcements and maintaining the ticket machines at his station, Daniel Opoku knows many of his customers by name and thrives on giving his customers a warm welcome. Over the years, Daniel Opoku has received a number of prestigious accolades for his outstanding customer service skills; National Railways Employee of the Year (2000), Personality of the Year (2000) and Frontline Customer Service Professional of the Year (2008) are just three examples.
And here's a recommendation for anyone in or visiting London who wants to sample the city's best scenic views: a handy new guidebook to some capital vistas has just been published. It's Skyline London, written by Blue Badge guide Caroline Dale. I've lived in London all my life, but there are spectacular views in this book that I've never seen before, and as soon as the crowds calm down a bit I'll be off to sample some. Caroline shows you where to go for the best ones and presents an expert explanation of what you see when you get there. Plus plenty of photographs and maps to whet the appetite. Skyline London is available from Amazon, here.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Barenboim - from podium to stadium

Here's my review for The Independent of the last night of Barenboim & the WEDO's Beethoven cycle, head to head with the Olympic opening ceremony. And eagle-eyed viewers still awake at about 12.45am may have noticed the maestro carrying the Olympic flag into the stadium in a posse of eight great humanitarian figures.

It was a difficult night to award a star rating - but eventually I felt that the sense of occasion and the power of the music-making deserved this 5-er. It was only a couple of the solo singers who didn't, and that may not be their fault: one was a late replacement and, besides, they may all have been fazed by their placement alongside the choir, having to sing clean across the orchestra.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The Trouble with Sponsorship

More people these days are making their feelings known about where sport and the arts get their necessary lucre. And it's not a moment too soon. But where do we go from here?

Mark Rylance, probably today's finest Shakespearean actor, appeared the other day on BBC1's Andrew Marr Show (catch it here for the rest of the week) and didn't mince his words about certain fast-food chains that are sponsoring the Olympics and building their largest-ever outlets on location in East London. It shouldn't be allowed, he insisted.

As the Olympics approach, more and more Londoners are starting to find the surrounding morass cringeworthy: big money, black markets, shuddery transport, the alleged attempt not to remunerate performing musicians, and so on. Junk food is not the jewel in the crown. It's the nail in the coffin. 

After tweeting about Mark Rylance, I found I'd acquired a new Twitter follower called BP Or Not BP. "We are the Reclaim Shakespeare Company," says its mission statement. "We cometh to rescue the RSC from the slings and arrows of outrageous BP." And considerable attention is also being drawn to the involvement of the oil industry with fine art.

I recently went to hear the Simon Bolivár Orchestra and Gustavo Dudamel at the Royal Festival Hall, playing the Beethoven 'Eroica' Symphony. As the Venezuelan musicians took their places, a woman in the audience began shouting. I couldn't see her or hear the details of what she was yelling about; the assumption that it must be a human rights issue about Chavez’s government didn't seem unreasonable. But then, briefly, a banner the size of a tea-towel became visible and made clear that her protest was environmental, directed not at the performers, but against the sponsors of the series in which they appeared, which goes by the title Shell Classic International.

Only a couple of people appeared to be involved; they were quickly booed down and all was peaceful thereafter. A few days later, at an opera, I found myself surrounded by big-money types sporting interesting languages, sharp suits and trophy wives. Their exceedingly powerful company was sponsoring the event. It has a somewhat mixed history regarding both the environment and politics, but here there were no protests. Indeed, the company's personnel seemed to account for most of the audience.

Government subsidy is reducing. The latest dollop of extra money from ACE, 'Catalyst Arts', has been awarded to various entities - the Wigmore Hall and some top orchestras among them - on condition that they raise private funds themselves to match the amount. Arts companies, as well as sporting events, must court private sponsorship more actively than ever before. And sponsors with the inclination and spare dosh to invest in the arts are not as plentiful as they might have been five or six years ago.

I don't need to give you a run-down here about banking and LIBOR, or environmental disasters, or how smoking kills people, or the connections between the arms trade, organised crime and blood diamonds, and so forth. You can find it all with a few judicious Googles. Scratch away at the paintwork of many big events and you might well discover something lurking beneath that could justify unfurling a tea-towel. 

Now, there are wonderful people who practise philanthropy on a daily basis; admirable individuals who, having made money through hard graft, are devoting the fruits of their labours to supporting the arts that they love - for example, by helping young musicians, sponsoring recordings and financing good instruments. This needs real encouragement. No company brand is involved, no subliminal message designed to implant the idea that maybe if you eat this, you'll be able to do that.
But beyond that, arts organisations, along with international sporting fixtures, are sometimes having to cosy up to people they might rather not. They do have to be cosied up to. They have to be wined and dined and played to and publicly thanked. Sometimes they become power-hungry. The worst scenarios involve the whitewashing of public images and the cleansing of charred souls. 

Arts audiences - the ordinary ones who'd like to buy tickets to see and hear something inspiring – are people who care about Shakespeare and Mozart and talented kids, and they're likely to care about the environment, human rights and good health as well. With issues as high-profile as the Olympics and that recent Formula One event to prove the problems loud and clear, more are waking up. Will they begin to vote with their tickets? I'm starting to wonder.

If an organisation can please either its natural audience or its sponsors, but not both, chances are they'll plump for the sponsors every time. Are we to end up with a state of affairs in which our arts organisations are mere playthings for the super-rich? 

The arts need big money. The audience wants good ethics. Where do we go from here? Answers on a postcard, please.  

Meanwhile, a good proportion of the shoppers in our local supermarket are now so fat that they can only waddle. It couldn't be more obvious that Mark Rylance is right. 

UPDATE: LondonJazz has forwarded this story from Simon Tait's Arts Industry newsletter, describing the way that Jeremy Hunt is pushing the sponsorship agenda and pulling state support back. Look out for this bit, with JH saying “I hope the state will continue to be able to support the arts” - implying for the first time from him that it might not – and admitting in his next sentence that “the state has become a less reliable partner” in arts funding. The fear of the likes of Nick Serota is that it is about to become even less reliable, bringing forward the Comprehensive Spending Review a year to this autumn and piling still more cuts on the arts.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

On your marks, get set...

...GO! Yet the identity of the extreme cultural bonanza that is the London 2012 Festival is anything but clear. I've tried to unravel it all in today's Independent, but when I tried to draw a Venn Diagram it ended up looking like a psychedelic Mickey Mouse. We probably won't see the likes of this festival again, though. Its existence must not be used as an excuse to relegate the arts, thereafter, to the austerity-bound sidelines. They should always be this central to a civilised society.

Read the whole thing here: