Saturday, August 31, 2013

Prom, Sailing and Syria

Very busy this week but managed to get to one Prom on Thurs, with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting the Philharmonia. I came for Bruckner 7 but first we had the Overture to Der Schauspieldirektor and the UK Premiere of a new concerto by Peter Eötvös called DoReMi with Midori as the soloist. I'm a big fan of some contemporary music but I'm afraid I found the Eötvös pretentious and vapid. The Bruckner however was wonderful - uplifting, mangificent and beautifully played.

Last Monday Daughter and I had our one sail together this year on our little Cat at Shoreham. The weather was sunny, the sea was smooth and the winds were rather variable. Mostly they were a little too light for us but there was an exhilarating moment when the wind picked up, we brought our windward hull out of the water and sped past a very fast Fireball with its kite up!  Sadly the wind dropped and the Fireball finished ahead of us, but it was a reminder of how sailing can be.

I'm concerned about the situation in Syria. As often is the case the debate in the Lords was more enlightening than that in the Commons.  Paddy Ashdown said:
The aim is ...to act as a bulwark for international law, and above all to protect one of the few pillars of international law that has been in existence for 100 years and more—against the use of chemical weapons and gas—and to act in support of international law while at the same time seeking to diminish the capacity of President Assad to continue to use such weapons. That is the aim. So what is the strategy? It is the same as the aim. If you have a law against murder and you enforce it, you enforce it in order to reduce murder. Do you remove the possibility of murder completely? Of course not; it will continue to be committed. However, the question is: if you did not enforce it—if that law had become a dead letter—would murder increase in frequency? Of course it would.
George Robertson also made a powerful speech, saying:
I agree with the Government, and with other allied Governments, that there must be a response to the events of 21 August in Damascus. To do nothing in the face of this illegal, obscene, despicable and, indeed, desperate use of poison gas would in itself be a positive act. It would be in many ways to legitimise an instrument of war that has been outlawed for almost 100 years and it would open the door to much further and wider use of these chemical weapons. Effectively, it would end the responsibility to protect that has now been established by the UN General Assembly.
and there were also many other interesting speeches including from John Kerr and Lord Carlisle QC. but Justin Welby, for whom I have enormous respect, said:
I do not intend to repeat the powerful points that have been made on international law, which is itself based on the Christian theory of just war. That has been said very eloquently. However, I want to pick up a couple of points. First, it has been said, quite rightly, that there is as much risk in inaction as there is in action. In a conflict in another part of the world—a civil conflict in which I was mediating some years ago—a general said to me, “We have to learn that there are intermediate steps between being in barracks and opening fire”. The reality is that, until we are sure that all those intermediate steps have been pursued, just war theory says that the step of opening fire is one that must only be taken when there is no possible alternative whatever under any circumstances. As the noble Lord, Lord Alli, just said very clearly and very eloquently, the consequences are totally out of our hands once it has started.  
Some consequences we can predict. We have heard already about Lebanon and about Iran, particularly the effect that an intervention would cause on the new Government in Iran as they are humiliated by such an intervention. However, there is a further point. I talked to a very senior Christian leader in the region yesterday and he said that intervention from abroad will declare open season on the Christian communities. They have already been devastated. There were 2 million Christians in Iraq 12 years ago; there are fewer than 500,000 today. These are churches that do not just go back to St Paul but, in the case of Damascus and Antioch, predate him. They will surely suffer terribly, as they already are, if action goes ahead. That consequence has to be weighed against the consequences of inaction.  
In civil wars, those who are internal to the civil conflict fight for their lives, necessarily. Those who are external have a responsibility, if they get involved at all, to fight for the outcome. That outcome must be one that improves the chances of long-term peace and reconciliation. If we take action that diminishes the chance for peace and reconciliation, when inevitably a political solution has to be found, whether it is near-term or in the long-term future, then we will have contributed to more killing, and this war will be deeply unjust. In consequence, I feel that any intervention must be effective in terms of preventing any further use of chemical weapons. I have not yet heard that that has been adequately demonstrated as likely. It must effectively deal with those who are promoting the use of chemical weapons. It must also have a third aim, which is somewhere in the strategy: there must be more chance of a Syria and of a Middle East in which there are not millions of refugees and these haunting pictures are not the stuff of our evening viewing.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Two Proms: Shostakovich, Lutoslawski, Britten and others

On Friday went to my first Prom of the season - the Warsaw Phil under Antoni Wit playing Lutosławski, Panufnik and Shostakovich. Lutoslawski I can take or leave - technically very accomplished but self-regarding "modernism". The Panufnik was more interesting, with the Lullaby quite haunting.

I love Shostakovich - in my view clearly the greatest composer who lived entirely in the 20th Century. The Piano Concerto he wrote for his son Maxim was in many ways (by his own admission) a slight work but well played. The theme of the first movement reminds me of "what shall we do with the drunken sailor" and I imagine Britten will have ribbed him about this  - it could even be deliberate (I've now googled and it seems that it was, though I can't find any actual letters about it).  The soloist was fine though in this day and age using a score, even as a backup, seems a bit odd.

The 6th Symphony was excellently played, and the 2nd movement especially convincing - not "kitch" at all. Audience loved it.

Then yesterday we went to the Chamber Prom at the Cadogan Hall. The ECO was conducted by Paul Watkins with Ben Johnson singing and Richard Watkins (no kin) on the Horn.  The first item was a Britten arrangement of Purcell, followed by another Lutoslawski - Paroles Tissees sung well by Johnson but as a piece yet more self-regarding than the Concerto for Orchestra last night.

In 1953 Britten organised a set of 8 Variations on an Elizabethan Theme with each variation written by a different composer (Arthur Oldham, Tippett, Lennox Berkeley, Britten himself, Humphrey Searle and Walton) and for this occasion the BBC had commissioned two more variations by John Woolrich and Tansy Davies. I hadn't come across Oldham or Searle and on the evidence of their variations hadn't missed a great deal. The Berkeley and Walton variations were a delight and a reminder of how good these people were, in some ways outsihining the Britten and certainly the Tippett.

The Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings is of course a masterwork and was excellently performed. According to the announcer it is Richard Watkins' favourite piece for the horn, and although the Brahms Horn Trio and the Mozart Horn Concerto are stiff competition I can see what he means. Tecnically it explores the instrument far more. Apparently Dennis Brain asked Britten for a Horn Concerto and got the Serenade instead - a good trade!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Back from Cornwall

Back from a lovely time in Cornwall with the UK grandchildren. Coasteering, Kayaking, sailing, being on the beach, playing cricket in the garden. Not a great deal to report otherwise.

So here are some pictures...