Issue 216
Spring 2021

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Jun 20, 2021

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Spring 2021 (7.8MB)

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Can music – and musicians – recover from the self-inflicted disaster of Brexit?

Citing the example shown by the Catalan early music star, Jordi Savall, Nick Jones is optimistic

WHEN JORDI SAVALL, the Catalan musician, conductor and historian, now in his eightieth year, put together his collection 'Pro Pacem' in 2012 he wrote:

"We firmly believe that the principal enemies of mankind – ignorance, hatred and selfishness – can only be overcome by love, knowledge, empathy and understanding. Is this not the ultimate purpose of art and thought? We believe in art that is useful to society, an art that, through beauty, grace, emotion and spirituality, can have the power to transform."

Two years earlier the ensembles Hesperion XXI and La Capella Reial de Catalunya, both founded by Jordi Savall and Montserrat Figueras, performed 'Jerusalem, La Ville des deux Paix: La Paix céleste et la Paix terrestre'; heavenly peace, and earthly peace.

It is a recurring theme in many of Jordi's collaborative musical journeys. When nations and cultures suffer conflict, as they do with depressing frequency, it is creative artists who express and describe not just tragedy, but also the hope for peace, and a better future.

This is what inspires Jordi Savall to make music for peace with performers from across Europe, the Mediterranean, Africa and Asia. Together they explore how music and song from different cultures and traditions can help make the world a better place.

Today, as Britain reels from one self-inflicted disaster to another, it joins a long list of countries that sunder themselves, torn apart by conflict. In Europe alone, Spain, Italy, Germany and the Balkans have all been there in the last century.

Here, the double whammy of pandemic and Brexit have hit life hard, including arts and culture. In February, Elton John expressed concern that Brexit rules are thwarting the next generation of British musical stars, unable to afford the hassle and red tape involved in arranging to play in Europe.

I'm not so sure that he needs to worry. Musicians, like all artists, are a creative lot, and will definitely come up with workarounds to ensure that they get to play when and where they want to, subject to current pandemic restrictions of course.

Like one German orchestra specialising in Baroque music, who simply pick up their instruments, jump on a train, head for the next place, play, move on, repeat. No agent, no contract, no paperwork. One or two go ahead, fix accommodation with friendly locals, stick up posters and distribute flyers, and place an advertisement in the local paper. After the concert, the hat goes round; people are appreciative, and generous. It works.

When the only certainty is uncertainty, like canaries in mines, singers and musicians are often the first to raise the alarm whenever trouble lurks ahead, but also to express compassion, hope, joy and unity, as Lady Gaga and poet Amanda Gorman did with such spirit at Joe Biden's presidential inauguration.

Such a contrast to the dry, soul-less British way – vacuous promises from the new PM on the threshold of No10, then off to shake hands with the Queen!

Time was when European royalty were creative in their own right, as well as being the major patrons of the arts. Alfonso X 'El Sabio', King of Castile, Leon and GalicIa from 1252 to 1284, was all that, and more.

His 'Cantigas de Santa Maria', beautifully performed by La Capella Reial de Catalunya, are notable for their musical and poetic qualities. A remarkable polymath, the eponymous Alphonsus crater on the moon reflects his astronomical interests; he introduced the first vernacular law code in Spain; and even created an association for sheep farmers, the 'Mesta', named after the country's central plain.

Perhaps Alfonso's most outstanding achievement was to encourage a cosmopolitan, multi-cultural court, enabling Spanish, Muslim and Jewish scholars and artists to work together. This collaboration, at the School of Translators in Toledo, gathering, analysing and translating classical texts, laid the foundations for later scientific advances.

Alfonso was much influenced by the musical and poetic culture of troubadours, minstrels and jongleurs. These itinerant souls lived on the edge, independent, anarchic, fearless, holding a mirror to their lords, ladies, masters and mistresses.

Then, as now, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, sword, famine, wild beasts, and plague, were liable to appear around the next corner and ride roughshod over all who challenged them.

Then, as now, it's creative spirits that will recognise these horsemen as messengers of the Gods, and change the way we see them, and ourselves. So I am confident that artists will work out a way round the current difficulties. They always have. No grit in the oyster, no pearl!

Jordi Savall : ; ; and usual outlets


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