22 August 2014
22 July 2014
Congratulations to Judith Weir on being appointed Master of the Queen’s Music. The first female holder of the post and the first, I think I’m correct in saying, to have been appointed while her predecessor is still alive - two more fundamental changes to a post which itself changed beyond all recognition over the previous decades.
It would be lovely to say that Judith Weir is the ideal choice for this post. But is she? And, frankly, what does the post entail that would allow anyone to define what “the ideal choice” would be?
|The promise of a Musical Monarch?|
|Explore Judith Weir's choral music with this excellent disc from Delphian (DCD34095)|
20 July 2014
15 July 2014
A few months ago, Gramophone magazine asked me to prepare a profile of the Scottish composer James MacMillan, who celebrates his 55th birthday this year. Knowing his output from my work reviewing church and choral music, I thoroughly enjoyed delving deeper into this highly imaginative and accessible voice, so reprint my article here, not quite as it appeared in Gramophone. Since then, however, I have been seeking out MacMillan's music and have taken a great liking to everything I have heard. Might I recommend readers of this to head towards this disc when it appears later this month? I've reviewed it for September's Gramophone, so my lips are sealed; let's just say, I loved it!
22 June 2014
Attending a gathering devoted to Traditional Scottish Fiddling (of the musical kind, I hasten to add) I was handed a guide book to let me know what made a good Traditional Scottish Fiddler. Apparently "In the past the fiddle was held not under the chin but under the shoulder. But modern fiddlers have higher artistic and musical ideals, and have adopted a more violinistic approach". Which begs the question, what is Traditional Scottish Fiddling and what is Proper Violin Playing of Traditional Scottish Fiddle Music?
|I feel our man on the left is holding it too far below|
the shoulder even for an arch-traditionalist!
Of course, the word Traditional means different things to different people. In the case of Scots fiddlers, most of the music they play goes back no further than the Victorian age (and very little of it is that old) and even "traditional" airs seem largely to have been composed by Robbie Burns (1759-1796). Nevertheless, there is a fine tradition of fiddle playing which you can still encounter in remoter areas, untainted by "higher artistic and musical ideals", and away from the interfering eyes of "experts on traditional music", you might still see a fiddler talking, looking around or even, on one memorable occasion, smoking a cigarette (the ban on the traditional Scottish past time of smoking in pubs has had unforeseen repercussions far beyond the prevention of lung cancer and heart disease) while playing, his fiddle grasped in a claw-like left hand which never changes position, rarely indulges in vibrato but seems to have an unerring instinct for intonation, ornamentation and controlled portamento (not, I hasten to add, words which any self-respecting Traditional Fiddler should understand).
|No good for Beethoven - ideal for Robbie Burns|
I know that it is a function of news to report the unusual and the exceptional, but we are so overwhelmed by the news of atrocities and terrors in Iraq, that it is difficult to perceive that anyone on the ground beneath our plane was able to live in peace or tranquility, let alone get themselves into the mood to savour the sheer joy of these performances from this outstanding Spanish ensemble.
Unable to take much more of these grotesque parodies of wonderful music, I switched off and turned to the glorious and vivid sound I carry with me everywhere; my musical memories. And I replayed these chorale preludes in my head, in versions which combined Marie-Claire Alain's ingenious use of registration with Ton Koopman's sprightliness and Simon Preston's boyish buoyancy. Re-living the glories of Bach reminded me that while the Muslims on the ground were, if the news reports were to be believed, celebrating their religion with violence, hatred, bloodshed and inconceivable atrocities, at least in some areas, Christianity still celebrates the joy and beauty of life. Bach's Lutheran faith as portrayed by his organ choral preludes underlines more vividly than anything the huge chasm which has grown up between these two monotheistic religions. True, Christianity has its problems and its fundamentally misguided leaders and adherents (I never go into a church these days simply because I feel so alienated by the widespread belief that, since Christ died in his mid-30s, there is no place in Christianity for anyone over the age of 40), but the prominence afforded to the ignorant, the violent and the intolerant in Islam, points to something having gone even more fundamentally wrong with that religion. A documentary I caught on television in India about how the more violent and aggressive inmates in prisons were being converted to Islam only reinforced that view. How convenient to be able to transfer responsibility for violent and inhuman actions to a long-dead prophet rather than accept responsibility for ones actions oneself. (True, the Catholics have their Confession which allows them to do whatever wrongs they like and then have the slate cleared, as it were.)
Long-haul flights might inure one to the horrors of life on the ground 30,000 feet below, but spending the time listening passively to great art opens up channels of thought and contemplation which are denied those who, quite understandably, indulge in the escapism of on-board movies.