Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Rhythm Is It


After my concert in New York I fell into the arms of a dear and familiar figure - Louis Langrée - under whose baton six consecutive winters in Glyndebourne were warmed in the company of Debussy, Beethoven, Janacek, Verdi, Puccini and Mozart, and who is now the head of the Mostly Mozart Festival.

On seeing him I wept. I am asking myself:

'For what'?

I am contemplating the word 'Conductor'. The French word 'Chef' (d'orchestre) implies (ironically for a country obsessed with Michelin stars) someone who mixes ingredients to perfection. However, as Anthony Bourdain is only too keen to point out, you can also be a 'chef' de train. It simply means the one who is in charge. It occurs to me again that the person that stands up on the podium is - or should be - neither a cook nor a dictator but rather a channel (and here the French word conduit is apt) through whose body, heart and spirit the composer - himself a channel - speaks. If the channel of the conductor is clear enough each member of the orchestra can plug into it, like an artery to the heart or a river to the ocean, and become their own ichannel leading back through the composer to the source.

Simon Rattle says in the profoundly moving Rhythm Is It: To make music one has to get 'beyond the ego..... but not completely'. His 'not completely' fascinates me as, of couse, without an ego, he wouldn't be up there in a position to move and shake.

I had never seen Rattle conduct and was astonished to do so in this film. It was as if his body has absorbed All Cultures - All Music, All Dance. It had nothing to do with 'beating' (what connotations that word has!). He was an African drum, a Balinese puppet, a Sacrificial Woman; he was whatever chose to come through him.

One of the many kids in the film who was learning the choreography to 'Sacre de Printemps' (possibly one of the most African-influenced pieces of Western classical music), spoke about how, coming from Nigeria, the music and the movements felt alien to him. I wondered what was alienating him. Was it the culture of the music or of the orchestra? And if this rhythmic piece about ritualistic sacrifice alienated him what would he make of Mozart? I thought about African music and dance grounded in the feet and solar plexus, and then about hands wielding batons, fingers trilling, feet in little concert shoes. The cultures of African music and the Berlin Philharmonic seemed planets apart and yet this piece, like Picasso's 'Demoiselles d'Avignon', and especially in the hands of Rattle, had the possibility to join them.

I watched Rattle conduct, as the Nigerian boy must have done, and saw that he had absorbed this kid's culture and found it in Stravinsky's music, and I knew that when the kid saw him he would see the bridge, be able to cross it and, having crossed it, see that there are no bridges except between the cages we make for ourselves.

It's not about 'crossover'. Crossover implies two separate worlds. Here nothing is diluted. Nothing is compromised. We are all simply one.

I left the theatre giving thanks for this great spirit who has come to heal, as much as it is possible in a single human lifetime, our cultural wounds.

He says, and he means it: "Music is for everyone".

So why was I weeping?

"What wonderful times we shared" Louis had said as we hugged. I was a member of a large section, and he was the conductor but we were both, along with the second trumpet, the dresser, the lady who serves the tea, the people working on the education project, every member of the audience, the trees in the Sussex countryside and the sheep peeping over from the ha ha, present when something greater than us moved.

Here is to great conductors.


Blogger Augustus-Reed said...

Wow, that was deep...

5:42 PM  

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