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The sad state of both modern politics and modern classical music performance

Both in contemporary politics and in contemporary classical music performance the situation today is of a stifling and boring sameness and conformity.

Between the late 19th century and the lattermost decades of the 20th century, going to an orchestral musical performance had many parallels to watching an enlightened, enthusiastic and informed political debate.

The grand age of orchestral performance bears surprisingly little resemblance to what transpires in most concert halls today.

The passion and individuality of maestros and orchestras has gone, replaced by bland, banal, monotonous, soulless, humanless tedium.

Most of today’s orchestral performances aren’t music at all. They are nothing more than sonic propaganda in the name of calculation, academic snobbery and affected pomposity.

By contrast, orchestras and their conductors used to have distinct identities. Over the last four to five decades or so, we have however lost maestros who imbue their music with tempo rubato/variation.  The idea that a tempo must breathe, flow and be a reflection of a spiritual and emotional journey, has given way to strict adherence to a solid lifeless tempo.

In the age of Golovanov, Furtwangler, Svetlanov, Knappertsbusch, Mravinsky, Mengelberg and Bohm, orchestra performances were narrative journeys. It is what Furtwangler referred to as the ability to ‘transform the sensual into the spiritual’.

Likewise each orchestral culture was unique.

In Russian orchestras one had vibrato laden brass, aggressive strings that were always on the chaotic verge of going flat though without ultimately doing so, stern woodwinds, and staccato percussion.

In Germany, and in Berlin in particular, one had a lush, sonorous weighty, celestial sound, whose apogee was reached under Herbert von Karajan.

Václav Neumann’s Czechs had a captivating woodwind sound which rivalled the strength of the French brass.

Mengleberg’s Concertgebouw was renowned for continual string portamento, just as Stokowski’s Philadelphians were known for their free bowing.

But almost all of this has changed. More and more orchestras sound totally alike. A thin, homogenised sound, signifying nothing.  Stale tempi and no identity.

Beethoven symphonies are today often performed by orchestras little larger than a chamber band in a moronically academic attempt to recreate the inferior playing ability of musicians of the 1820s.  In doing so they cheat their audience of the authentic musical experience.

Politics has taken much the same course.

The speeches and ideas of men as diverse as Gladstone, Bismarck, Lenin, Disraeli, Roosevelt, Tsar Alexander III, Kennedy and Churchill, have given way to an age where speeches and personalities are no longer memorable.

In the same way that orchestral music no longer represents true emotions, political leaders no longer represent their own people nor their own cultures.

Things however are changing.

Russia’s vibrant Duma demonstrates that vigorous political debate from unique men and women with contrasting ideas is still possible.

Throughout Europe the rejection of old political parties has allowed new leaders with fresh ideas to emerge.

Donald Trump’s speeches are rather like an orchestral performance by a Golovanov or Furtwangler.

They are spontaneous, unpredictable, exciting, and human.  They are individual and have a trajectory.

Trump is far more of a rhetorical artist than even his allies give him credit for.

For years people have been saying that politics is boring. They have also said that classical music is boring.

Neither are boring; it’s just that most people have never heard the proper version of either.

I’ll end this post with a clip of the great East German conductor Hermann Abendroth conducting Beethoven’s 9th symphony with a Russian orchestra and choir. Note that Schiller’s ‘Ode to Joy’ is sung in Russian in a very beautiful translation.

Where is such invention today?

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