Sunday, August 8, 2010

"An ideal of international harmony..."

Last week (on my "Musings" blog) I wrote about musical birthdays & ended with a reference to the daily BBC Proms broadcasts available online (

Earlier this spring I wrote a series of essays on Greek myths, with Prometheus figuring chief among them (see April's "Musings" posts).

I began the year writing about the polymath Daniel Barenboim--conductor, pianist, author & cultural ambassador. Speaking of his youth orchestra comprised of Jews, Muslims & Christians from all regions of the middle east, Barenboim wrote that music is

"unable to bring about peace. It can, however, create the conditions for understanding without which it is impossible even to speak of peace. It has the potential to awaken the curiosity of each individual to listen to the narrative of the other and to inspire the courage necessary to hear what one would prefer to block out."

Yesterday, one of the features of the Virginian Pilot was an engaging profile of the new president of Regent University, Carlos Campo. One of the points of focus was Carlos' activism in the area of immigration reform. He is part of a conservative movement--in dialogue with the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi--that advocates enrolling illegal immigrants in education and service programs as a path to citizenship. This sensible, middle-ground platform (Campos eschews the extremes of amnesty and deportation) is an example of the dialogue Barenboim advocates.

The 65th "anniversary" of the bombing of Hiroshima was observed this week. The main headline of today's New York Times reads "Across Nation, Mosques Meet Opposition."

I led off a recent post here on a new Civil War-era musical work with a reference to the current debate about states rights (vis-a-vis immigration reform in Arizona). I admired Carlos' transparency in his Pilot interview. He clearly stated the immigration issue was "personal" (he is Latino) and is not related to his work as President of Regent.

I may be blurring those lines here, but let me offer the caveat that my opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the Virginia Chorale or Opera Roanoke, members of either organization, their directors, trustees, and/or patrons.

As usual, I am merely attempting to connect a few dots.

Currently playing on my recently downloaded bbc iplayer is a broadcast from earlier this week of two Mahler symphonies (no.'s 4 & 5) played by the World Orchestra for Peace. Founded in 1995 by the late Hungarian maestro, Sir Georg Solti, this venerable ensemble is made up of musicians from 70 orchestras representing 40 countries. Every player is a principal from the likes of the MET, Vienna, Berlin, London, Paris, Warsaw, Chicago & the Concertgebouw orchestras. And they sound like it.

I am not a partisan of the Russian oligarch maestro, Valery Gergiev, but I put aside my bias while listening to him lead the (literally) central symphonies of my favorite composer. The finale of the 5th--my favorite symphony, period--was so inspired I literally burst into tears at its frenetic and thrilling close. But then again, I have the genes that make such emotional responses to stimuli not only possible but regular. I'm curious to know if anyone else responds in a similar fashion. The andante (3rd movement) of the 4th and the famous adagietto (4th movement) of the 5th also provoke emotional responses. As do the opening and closing movements of Mahler's 3rd, 7th & 9th symphonies, the choral finales of the 2nd & 8th, the slow movement of the 6th, and the single greatest solo vocal movement in Western orchestral music, the closing Abschied of Das Lied von der Erde.

You have four days left to listen to this broadcast online (all of the Proms are broadcast live, GMT. They remain online for one week for archival listening).

"What does Prometheus mean to man today?" asks Albert Camus at the head of his lyrical essay "Prometheus in the Underworld." The French-Algerian Nobel prize winner first came to my attention as a teen, when I discovered my favorite British alternative band, the Cure, had based their song "Killing an Arab" on Camus' first novel, The Stranger.

I believe we would have more productive dialogue in our country--about immigration reform and, among other things, Islam--if more people were taught to read (and to listen) intelligently.

One of the reasons we commemorate horrific anniversaries like the atomic bombing of Hiroshima is to be reminded the difficult lessons of history are forgotten if they are not actively remembered. This is one of the themes imbedded in Camus' novels and non-fiction. History and justice are blind. They both depend upon human beings for vision. This is not as simple as it sounds.

Camus cynically notes "Prometheus was the hero who loved men enough to give them fire and liberty, technology and art. Today, mankind needs and cares only for technology."

I do not completely share this view, though it's truth resonates with my experience. I posted a link on my Facebook profile to a study of artists in U.S. society called "Investing in Creativity." In one statistic of jarring disconnect, a near unanimous majority of respondents acknowledged having been deeply moved or inspired by artistic experience. Though 96% of folks claimed to highly value art, only 27% felt artists themselves contributed much good to society.

Camus observes that "myths have no life of their own. They wait for us to give them flesh." Prometheus returns in contemporary life whenever the Solti's and Barenboim's of the world act on their vision. Every creative act is an affirmation of life. That affirmation may not be as harmonious as a Mahler symphony, and it may be seen or heard only once. As Solti's widow, Valerie notes about the "sound" of their orchestra,

"every ensemble is remarkable. Music is wonderful. It never fails you."

The UN recognized the contributions by the World Orchestra for Peace in its ability to create "cultural diversity and dialogue" and help establish a "culture of peace."

In creating his utopian, eminently impractical orchestra, Solti asked--and aspired towards--"what could be achieved with an ideal of international harmony."

The arts can't bring peace. But they create spaces where human beings of all varieties can listen. That's something.

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