Showing posts with label Venezuela. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Venezuela. Show all posts

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Music and politics don't mix, right? Wrong.

Three cheers for Rhinegold and Classical Music Magazine, now home to a new podcast entitled Music Plus, hosted by music journalist and human rights activist Chris Gunness. Chris used to work for the UN in the Middle East, but he is now back in the UK and interviewing the musicians who burn to change the world. Music Plus focuses on the role that classical music can play in social justice and also supports the magazine's efforts to inform and educate re mental health for musicians. 

Among Chris's interviewees to date are the pianist Gabriela Montero, who speaks powerfully about the situation in her native Venezuela; Chineke! founder Chichi Nwanoku; Mark Wigglesworth on the responsibilities of the conductor, and much more besides. Do have a listen. In the meantime, I wanted to interview Chris himself about why he does what he does – and why classical music has lagged so far behind its potential in this invaluable field. JD

Gabriela Montero: free improvisation on Venezuela

JD: Chris, congratulations on this splendid new series and thanks for talking to us. First of all, why do you think a podcast about music and social justice is necessary? What do you hope it will achieve?

CG: I created the Music Plus Podcast because classical music and social responsibility have come of age. After years or retreating from society, classical music, at last, is re-engaging with issues of social justice; and I wanted both to showcase the work of classical musicians who are passionate about making our world a more just place and also to encourage others in the industry to do more. 

Pop music has been promoting the rights of the most disadvantaged for decades. I attended the Live Aid concert in Wembley Stadium in 1985 which was watched by 40 per cent of the world’s population and which raised billions to combat starvation in Ethiopia. Look at the black musicians who provided the sound track for the American civil rights movement. 

By contrast – and despite notable examples -- classical music is only now beginning to look more seriously at its social responsibilities; and the truth is that although it’s easy to ridicule elitist musical institutions, many of those in the UK today are doing transformative work with some of the most disadvantaged communities in the country. I wanted to highlight this, while at the same time, pricking the consciences of those who should be doing more. 

It’s also been important for me to draw in younger audiences and to show them that classical music resonates with their ideals of a better world.  And already youth audiences are listening in.

JD: I don’t know of any other initiative quite like this. Have we in the music world been too slow to wake up to the potential for a stronger role for music within society?

CG: The answer to your question is a triple fortissimo, resounding YES. Music is deeply embedded in our lives at all levels and there is massive potential for classical music to create change within our society; on a personal level with music therapy for example, but also at a societal level.  My interview with Chi-chi Nwanoku, who founded “Chineke!”, Europe’s first majority black and minority ethnic orchestra, highlights this beautifully. 

Chi-chi has broken down barriers and destroyed stereotypes, drawing in younger more diverse audiences, transforming the classical music landscape forever. It is this sort of cutting-edge work that I feature. Certainly there’s no other podcast that showcases world class musicians with a burning sense of social justice. And by the way, the podcast also supports a campaign by Classical Music Magazine to promote mental health in the classical music industry:

The Chineke! Chamber Players in part of Schubert's 'Trout' Quintet

JD: Tell us something about your line-up so far. Why have you chosen these particular interviewees? 

CG: Beyond Chi-chi, I interviewed Mark Wigglesworth on the responsibilities of the conductor, both within musical institutions and in society more broadly; Gabriela Montero – Amnesty International’s first Honorary Consul -- on the role of music in promoting human rights; James Rose, the world’s first professional conductor with cerebral palsy on disability and stigma; Julian Lloyd-Webber on universal music education and Dr Cayenna Ponchione-Bailey who recently brought to the UK the Afghan Women’s Orchestra, surely the world’s bravest ensemble, who were attacked by a suicide bomber simply for playing. These are all musicians, passionate about social justice and whose work is ground-breaking and inspirational.  

JD: You’re a musician, but you worked for the UN in the Middle East. Tell us about your path into that - and back from it? What have your experiences there have shown you and what do you hope to do with that knowledge now?

CG: I decided to work with refugees in the Middle East because after 23 years in the BBC writing about social justice, I wanted to go and do it! When you work with people who’ve been robbed of everything – their land, the property, their history – when you work with communities who are forgotten and marginalised, you begin to think deeply about those things that bind us, the common humanity that unites us. You search for and hold tight to those things that can bring joy and a sense of values amid the most terrible loss. Music and all it engenders is one of those things and I hope that each and every edition of the Music Plus Podcast illustrates this in one way or another.

 The Afghan Women's Orchestra perform in Zürich

JD: “Music and politics don’t mix” - your thoughts on this little maxim, please?

CG: It’s demonstrably wrong. We know that music was an integral element of public life in ancient societies and music has been an element of the political order throughout human history; think of Protestant and Catholic music during the Reformation; think of music and nationalism in the nineteenth century; think of the musical conversation between Shostakovich and Stalin! Music has always moulded society and vice versa. 

Moreover, music retreats from society at its peril: it will be condemned to irrelevance. Conversely society is impoverished when music and musicians retreat; they bring so much richness. That’s why I am delighted that classical musicians are re-engaging and why I believe the time is ripe for a podcast that focuses on how classical music is transforming our communities.  

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Gabriela Montero plays the Grieg Concerto - aged 11

Gabriela Montero has digitised and uploaded to Youtube a video of herself in her prodigy days in Venezuela, aged 11, playing the Grieg Piano Concerto. She says it's the first time it's been unearthed since its original broadcast. She was already a seasoned performer by then, of course, having made her concerto debut at the age of eight. It's wonderful to see and hear, especially if you know her remarkable artistry today, because her own sound is already there - a little like meeting a cute, fuzzy lion cub with the prescience indicated by very big paws. Here are the first two parts - she's going to upload the last movement shortly.

Friday, August 05, 2011


Here is my exclusive interview with Gustavo Dudamel for today's Independent - the interview that most of the music business said I'd never get in a blue moon.

"I think we have to make everyone understand that it's important to have a future for the people. It's important to give the best level of art, the best level of culture and the best level of music to ALL the people, not only to one part of the community. This is the message of El Sistema..." 

He and the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra are at the Proms tonight doing Mahler's Second Symphony. "Resurrection is happening every day," he says. "It's the resurrection of hope."

Remember my Fred & Ginger clip the other day? This is what it was all about... "They laughed at me, wanting The Dude, said I was reaching for the moon...But ah, he came through - now they'll have to change their tune..." 

Here's what happened last time they came to the Proms. You've seen it before. See it again. If you can't get to the show tonight, it's live on BBC Radio 3 as usual and on TV tomorrow.