Slipped disc: October 2009 Archives
Sitting in the fug of London's Northern Line in the summer of 2007, Christopher Fox began to compose a vocal piece on the small ads in the freesheet London Lite.
He called it 20 Ways to Improve Your Life and it has just been released on record by the Cambridge a capella group, The Clerks. The work is a telling reflection of the trash that gets thrust in our faces every time we board public transport - Give your sperm a life, don't run low, launch your career - and it may well endure as a relic of our disposable age.
London Lite was scrapped this month by its publishers, mourned by none.
You can find Fox's CD on Signum Classics here. Enjoy.
Attempts by Liz Forgan, chair of Arts Council England, to defend her veto of the Mayor of London's candidate are sounding more plaintive than her usual robust self. In a letter printed yesterday in the Guardian, whose ownership Trust she chairs, Dame Liz bleated that she was trying protect the ACE from political interference and to promote the cause of candidates who are more qualified than the Mayor's.
Hmmm... let's examine those two points. The ACE is yoked by the present government to a Department of Culture that controls all major decisons. The appointment of Liz as chair was a token of her Labour credentials. There is nothing non-political about the ACE any more.
And who are the other candidates she prefers? Tim Marlow is an art curator and presenter with no experience of the performing arts where the ACE spends its buggest bucks. Patrick McKenna is founder of Ingenious, an arts and media investment company whose involvement in the public-funded ACE would raise serious questions of conflict.
And then there is Nicholas Snowman, a former Arts Council official who ran London's South Bank Centre for 12 years, turning into the biggest guzzler of public funds with the least to show for its spend. Nicholas and I go back a long way and I would be the last to deny his many merits as an arts administrator. London, however, is his weakest link and the Arts Council his Achilles Heel. He would have made an appalling appointment, exposing both himself and the ACE to accusations of being an insider's club.
None of these considrations crossed the mind of Dame Liz when, in a burst of political bile, she vetoed Veronica Wadley as the ACE's member for London. Veronica, my erstwhile editor and close associate, has no history in the arts. What she offers is a blazing commitment, demonstrated by doubling the arts coverage in her newspaper and campaigning for every arts cause. More than any other editor in my time, she made the arts central to editorial policy.
She would have brought - and will eventually bring - great initiative and fresh ideas to her public role. It's a pity Dame Liz could not see that. It cheapens her greatly and fatally weakens the ACE.
News that a computer boffin in California had successfully manufactured a simulacrum of 'classical music' was of such overwhelming importance that I was asked to analyse it on BBC Newsnight, while the leader of the British National Party was contentiously being given parity time on another channel.
To my relief and delight, the musical samples obtained from Professor David Cope at the University of California, Santa Cruz, were of such derivative transparency and inventive poverty that the project fizzled out before our ears. Professor Cope calls his computer golem 'Emily Howell' and believes that, after 40 years, she can finally compose good music.
Of the ten samples I heard, one was a pastiche of Rachmaninov, others of Schumann, Scriabin, Chopin, Debussy, early Schoenberg and Terry Riley. Not one original or ear-catching phrase in the whole batch. Strung together, they might make a template for the soundtrack of a very low budget B-movie. As music, let alone 'classical' music, they are aesthetically null and void.
The relief I felt on reaching this conclusion was immense. Just imagine if the computer had written real music, a structured piece that could arrest the attention and affect the emotions. The day that happens - and I don't believe it will - human life will cease on earth because our last cognitive functions will have been taken over by machines.
Computers can already do all sorts of things that the average mind cannot - my tax returns, for instance. What they are unable to achieve without human instigation is to originate art and ideas. They cannot move us in ways that art does or inspire us in a spiritual manner. That remains the realm of real music. That's where the composer will always beat the computer.
Mark Lawson, in the Guardian this morning, appears to reach the same conclusion.
Opera magazine, parish newssheet of hard-core devotees, has gone on-line at iTunes.
From this month, you can download the entire issue and a partial archive for $1.99 (£1.19 UK) a week, the equivalent of a couple of chart singles.
Try it here.
Can't quite see how it will fit into my usage, but if I were an air-miles collector it might make a refreshing change from last week's Economist on the rack. This month's Opera cover is Glyndebourne's Rusalka.
The BBC's Culture Show is making a film about the decline of arts criticism in print media. It starts from the premise that the Daily Telegraph sacked some critics nine months ago in a cost-cutting drive and now pays freelances a pittance for their reviews.
The story is neither new, nor confined to one newspaper, but it takes BBC television a very long time to wake up to what's going on in the arts world and the Culture Show, its supposed monitor, is not only off the pace but absurdly ill-equipped to discuss the topic.
The Culture Show was created five or six years ago in response to criticisms, led by John Tusa and myself, that BBC TV had abandoned its chartered duties to 'reflect the nation unto itself', by failing to report the arts.
Instead of a hands-on arts current affairs show, like Front Row on radio 4, or a high-pressure think tank, like Night Waves on radio 3, what we got was a critic-free zone, dedicated to 'celebrating' all that is PR-driven and media-friendly in the creative industries.
The Culture Show is a travesty of the real world of creative decisions, a puff pastry fronted by occupational presenters that is deplored and ignored by arts professionals. For BBC TV to moan that newspapers are cutting critics when it has abandoned arts criticism for more than a decade is a matter of blatant hypocrisy. Is there an arts critic on BBC staff? Not one.
The BBC has just appointed yet another arts 'supremo' to its top-heavy executive layer, but at roots level it has no clue what goes on canvas or on stage, day in, day out. Nor is it in any position to comment on unsubsidised newspapers that are forced to reduce their arts spend.
The Culture Show is years behind the real story and the BBC undermines its own future by such feeble and belated half-stabs at arts journalism.
A Dutch-American blogger, Marc van Bree, has compiled a preliminary list of classical music writers and institutions on Twitter. The list, displayed here, makes no claim to be comprehensive and Marc warmly solicits additional contributions.
There is something of the zeitgeist about this catalogue. Last week Alex Ross, pioneer of the music-crit blog, froze his main site and announced that his future contributions would be rather more occasional and under his employer's banner.
Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, in a thoughtful article on media trends of the decade, cited google, wikipedia and twitter as top three and omitted blogging altogether, except as a by-product of his newspaper's reader-response policy.
Two twitter storms have just generated a minor constitutional crisis in the British Parliament and an advertisers' retreat from a newspaper site that carried an article criticising the gay lifestyle of the late Boyzone singer, Stephen Gately. These are very much signs of our times, and both were driven by the agendas of print newspapers.
So could it be that the cultural blog has had its day? Certainly many of its functions are gravitating to twitter, facebook and other places of savvy congregation. Many writers use them as eye-magnets for articles they have placed in traditional newspapers.
Some of those newspapers are now planning to put up paywalls, which means that if you're intrigued by the tweet you may not be able to access them for free.
A new convergence is emerging between old print media and new social sites. Does this signal an economic revival for arts journalism? Too soon to tell but the straws in the wind are not uninteresting. As this long-running mini-series indicates, we are in the thick of a fast-moving story.
The first victim of the next Conservative government was sacrificed in this morning's Times. Liz Forgan, chair of the Arts Council, was reported to have vetoed Veronica Wadley as the Mayor of London's arts chief, on the grounds that her nomination was motivated by political preference rather than cultural commitment.
Come again? Every such appointment, including Lefty Forgan's is overtly political and her own head is now on the line. The next Government will not forgive her bias and she will be gone from the Arts Council within months, to be followed in all likelihood by the Arts Council itself.
For what it's worth, and I know her better than most, Veronica Wadley was more committed to the arts as editor of the Evening Standard, 2002-9, than any boss of any other paper with the possible exception of the Guardian. As her Assistant Editor, I had a free hand to campaign on all arts issues so long as the paper stood four-square behind the expansion and elevation of London's arts. Her commitment can be vouched for by the heads of most major arts institutions in the city.
It is unfortunate that Liz neglected to mention her personal animus against Veronica - she hates the newspapers she worked for, and has often told me so - but I cannot deny her a shaft of sympathy since this row, now bubbling over the British press, was not of her making.
It seems she was dropped into it by Ben Bradshaw, the inept Culture Secretary, who is driving an anti-BBC agenda in the last months of a dying government. Bradshaw knows he is not long for this world. But he doesn't want to die alone, so he has dragged Liz down first.
As for Veronica's appointment, it is still in the gift of the Mayor of London. If the present government won't ratify it, the next one will.
Here's a round-robin from the head of opera at the music conservatoire of Vienna:
Dear friends all over the world.
I would like to wish you all the very best and also let you know that apart of my every day enjoyment and success as a Head of Opera Department at the Vienna Conservatorium I had the privilege to sing and record with the worlds finest lyric soprano, Albanian Inva Mula.
Her new Cd "Il Bel Sogno" was released from EMI at the beginning of this September and has already reached her unnumbered fans and listeners around the world. I am so grateful to Inva to choose me to back her in Violeta's aria, over the best tenors in the world she works with.
But I am also proud of her new achievement bringing to the world another level of operatic art.
At the same time I would like to thank all who are sending me messages and their sympathy about my singing.
I invite you to share together this Albanian Diva and wish her more great successes.
The album is newly out on EMI: judge for yourselves. I quite liked what I heard here
The London Evening Standard, which I served as Assistant Editor from March 2002 until stepping down in May this year, will become a giveaway paper from next week.
The paper was selling 440,000 copies daily when I joined and about half as many when it was sold at the end of last year - after a battle with two free newspapers - to a Russian investor, Alexander Lebedev. The full-price sale in August 2009 was down to 107,000, according to the Financial Times, indicating that the new ownership and editorship have lost about two in every five readers. That would appear to be a reason for abandoning the cover price and giving the paper away for free.
I do not wish to argue the merits of that decision, except to express a hope that the paper will survive as a quality product. I like and admire many of the people who work for it and hope they can continue to flourish.
My chief concern is what will become of the arts - not so much how they are covered in the Standard as how they are received.
The public does not, on the whole, value unsolicited opinion - which is to say, opinion for which it does not pay in some way. And the arts industry does not turn to freesheets for response, quotation and stimulation. In the decade or so of Metro's existence, its arts pages have had no discernible impact either on public debate or on box-office activity.
A review in a free newspaper, even by a recognised writer, carries about as much weight as a plug on Amazon. Arts in the free Standard are threatened with creeping devaluation. Much as I hope to be proved wrong, I fear that the erosion of value perception will be irresistible.
At the memorial service for Geoffrey Tozer in Melbourne, former prime minister Paul Keating slammed past directors of the Sydney and Melbourne symphony orchestra for deliberate and malicious neglect of the country's most gifted pianist. 'This malevolence more or less broke Geoffrey's heart,' he said, adding that the saga was a prime instance of 'bitchiness and preference within the arts in Australia.'
Keating has written an article to the same effect in the Sydney Morning Herald, while the Age of Melbourne carries a full text of the speech under the headline 'Indifference to Tozer's genius is a disgrace' - perhaps to make amends for its own disgraceful silence over Tozer's death.
I endorse and applaud every word of Keating's eulogy. Australia failed its greatest pianist and little has been done to put the arts on a more professional footing that might prevent such waste and injustice in the future - witness only what is happening now in Melbourne's chamber music hall. I have said it in Australia and I say it here again: the arts in that country need a Royal Commission - an independent assessment of assets and future strategy.
Meanwhile, let's not lose sight of the precedent of an elected leader attacking orchestral administration for bias, ineptitude and flagrant favouritism. Can we hear it now from the Mayors of Philadelphia and New York? Berlin, too, should take note.
Good on yer, Paul.