Discover more from Backstage
Backstage in March
Notre Dame and the Pyrenees, Schools, Ships and a Scandal
I am listening to …
The first track, Lightship by Night by Colin Alexander, evokes some black and white images of a hard-working vessel on deceptively calm seas for me. I love it. (I am probably also a bit influenced by the Lighthouse film from 2019 and Cold Skin (French/Spanish) from 2017.) Have a listen.
I bumped into Colin and his cello at Barnes Music Festival where he premiered a piece written by and performed with percussionist James Larter called Inheritance. A powerful piece based on the poem by John Agard, capturing the inter-generational conflict of the climate crisis. Why do I mention this? Because only in a city like London will you be able to listen to an artist one night and then meet them in person the next.
So, to get slightly side tracked here: as much as the arts need to get out and spread their work around the country, artists need hubs to inspire each other, create together, perform and gather. A creative centre like London with its music, dance, theatre, museums, universities, schools, colleges, pubs and clubs does exactly that. To just smash this, to decentralise, take away the funding of London based groups and institutions etc is so very short sighted. As always, balance is everything, but the pendulum is not in the arts’ favour at the moment.
I am reading …
When I sing, mountains dance, by Irene Solà; translated from the Catalan by Mara Faye Lethem. Based in the Pyrenees, this is an ode to this region’s past and present.
Irene Solà creates a polyphonic world of nature, people and myths, in layers of personal, historical and geological stories. Each chapter presents a different existence, subtly interconnected. Weather phenomena, mythical beings, animals, plants and a family weave the narrative. No single perspective stands out … apart from the shared responsibility for our landscape, terrain, environment… and to ourselves.
“Eternity, a thing worn lightly. A small thing, an everyday thing.”
I am looking at …
a school in inner London, the home of the OAE since 2020.
In the summer of 2020 the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment moved into Acland Burghley School in Camden, where they set up their offices, library, recording studio and 20 admin staff. The residency – a first for a British orchestra –allows the ensemble to rehearse and perform amongst the students. This scheme builds on twenty years of work in the borough which has now culminated in this long-term project. A School residency on such a scale is just fabulous.
A few years earlier the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen made the same move. In 2007 they moved into the Bremen East Comprehensive School. The school not only became the home of a concert hall, but also the setting for the orchestra’s rehearsals and many performances. Pupils get to see and experience a working day of a musician and through ‘Future Lab’ music education has taken on a truly immersive quality.
Taking a residency that much further is truly inspiring, especially when thinking about the many, many bureaucratic hurdles and fund-raising efforts.
Even if the money and/or extra space is not available, more longer term residencies may be possible if we approach the concept creatively. Ensembles need space, kids need music … a great symbiosis!
I am thinking about …
the BBC’s new strategy for Classical Music which is “prioritising Quality, Agility and Impact” in their new strategy for Classical Music (7 March).
In order to cut costs they are cutting the BBC Singers, the UK's only full-time professional chamber choir, a choir of twenty plus their management team (not forgetting the effects on affiliated artists and guests) .
I am not sure the savings will outweigh the artistic cost to be paid by ripping apart such a choir (100 years old this year) and the huge blow to the wider contemporary music scene.
The BBC have also decided to target their orchestras:
“Building on the founding principles of the BBC orchestras as flexible and adaptable, we are creating agile ensembles that can work creatively, bringing in more musicians when needed and broadcasting from more venues in different parts of the country. … A voluntary redundancy programme will open across salaried posts in the English Orchestras (BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra and BBC Philharmonic Orchestra), aiming to reduce salaried orchestral posts across the BBC orchestras by around 20%.”
Agility here means more freelance work and less security. I have never worked with a more flexible and adaptable bunch of musicians than over here in Britain, salaried or not. That might have been their downfall in this case. They are just so good and often so very willing to work for very little indeed, giving their absolute best (which is world class). Keeping in mind that the UK already has worse pay and less security for orchestral players than most of Europe, this is another blow and frankly extremely disrespectful.
Cutting the BBC Singers and forming ‘agile’ ensembles means: we pay less, offer less security but will dip into and profit from the immense pool of amazing freelancers and choirs, from amateur to professional.
We are witnessing the dismantling of a world class industry, the destruction of an eco-system, which when ripped apart, loses its foundation, knowledge, talent and young people. Destroying the best is not levelling up, it is reducing aspiration, goals and opportunities for future generations.
and I like …
this New York Times article form the 3 March about the acoustics of Notre Dame, ‘The Cathedral of Sound’, including some awesome spatial audio and 3-D visualization. (If you cannot open it or the paywall strikes, try this article which has less impressive audio and visuals but most of the information.)
Historical preservationists are putting more and more emphasis on the importance of sounds, acknowledging their importance when experiencing the world around us, past and present.
Acoustic consultants and soundscape archaeologists are therefore now working together on the acoustics of the building which has lost about 20 percent of its acoustics because of the fire.
“To test the acoustics of the space at different points in the cathedral’s history, (acoustic consultant Brian Katz) and his team examined how a performance of “Viderunt Omnes,” by the French composer Pérotin, would have sounded. Pérotin was part of the Notre Dame school of composition, which developed contemporaneously with the building of the cathedral in the 12th and 13th centuries. The Notre Dame school was polyphonic, and in an organum like the “Viderunt,” you might hear a chant with more colorful upper voices, florid moments that illuminate the prayer, like golden margins on a piece of vellum.
To understand the interplay between the song and the historical acoustics, the group brought in experienced medieval singers to perform in an echo-free chamber. They have been testing the ornate lines of “Viderunt Omnes” in relation to the complex acoustics of the vaulted cathedral, which at the time of the song’s earliest known performance, in 1198, was yet to be completed.” (New York Times)
Thanks for reading, see you in spring!!
PS There is a lot of reading, listening, research and travel involved in my line of work; I stumble across many interesting things and ideas I can't just leave behind so I decided to write about them and share with you.
John Agard (born 21 June 1949 in British Guiana) is an Afro-Guyanese playwright, poet and children's writer, now living in Britain.