21 February 2014

The joys and perils of live classical

Two and a half years of living in the UK have afforded me and my wife quite a few opportunities to applaud some of our favourite artists. I've mentioned Arcadi Volodos, Valentina Lisitsa and Eric Whitacre before. Boris Berezovsky was a slightly hurried delight; Marc-André Hamelin showcased his complete mastery and superb musicianship; András Schiff, talking about and performing the Diabelli Variations, brought to mind the luminous memory of Daniel Barenboim's Chicago Beethoven masterclasses of almost a decade ago; Mitsuko Uchida was equally at home in Mozart and Messiaen; Stephen Hough (whose beautiful Schumann album is playing right now in my EarPods) offered a lacklustre Liszt (1st concerto) and an offensive encore (a badly played Chopin, in a Hungarian themed program); Cédric Tiberghien was the perfect companion to the effusive Pieter Wispelwey. And Midori was imperial in DoReMi.

Fabio Biondi's Europa Galante was almost beyond reproach; Lionel Meunier's outstanding Vox Luminis made us go back for their second London appearance; nobody does a fresher, more exciting Messiah than the Academy of Ancient Music; the Belmont Ensemble of London deserved better brass players on the night; The King's Singers in Salisbury Cathedral were electrifying; The Thallis Scholars in their anniversary concert at St Paul's were ravishing; Jeffrey Skidmore's Ex Cathedra is a worthy institution; so are The Cardinall's Musick, or the Temple Church Choir. The Choir of Westminster Abbey is definitely dwarfed by the cavernous abode of the famous dead. And yes, we also enjoyed non-classical performances by Straight No Chaser and The Real Group.

Excepting most of the events hosted at Wigmore, where one can still encounter the impudent wrapper crackle, and the occasional well behaved audience, I still curse the time and money so often wasted by idiot concert goers. The constant fidgeting and pen clicking right behind me at Cadogan Hall; the sonorous bracelets right across the isle; the unruly bunch of kids, whose chaperon couldn't be bothered, at the unforgiving Symphony Hall in Birmingham; the distinguished elderly lady next to me with an infernal tick-tock on her wrist; and, most shameless and annoying, the use of loud, sometimes culminating, passages to mask" all sorts of coughing. Shall I mention the slender pensioner who threatened to step on my phone, only because, at intermission, I was sharing with my wife some of the best pics from our earlier visit at the Manchester Art Gallery? Classical concerts can be downright dangerous in this gentlemanly country.

06 January 2014

Flirting with eternal damnation

If last January's event at the crossroads of atheism and religion was the emergence of The Sunday Assembly (possibly the fastest growing “church" in the world), this January former Adventist pastor and minor celebrity Ryan Bell is making news with his plan to chronicle a Year Without God. For this “believing atheist" it comes as no surprise that both (many) believers and (some) atheists find it hard to wrap their heads around such a venture. While no two intellectual biographies are the same, I'll throw in my two cents.

It's not that one should dare opt for eternal damnation that irks the faithful - the world is, after all, replete with the numerous sorts of the doomed. It's the flirting which they find simply appalling! They haven't yet learned Tim Minchin's “anthem to ambivalence". A “true believer" loves an unbeliever, nay, he/she needs the unbeliever - it's the latter who gives the “true believer" his/her gravitas. “The Cross", for instance, is supposed to divide history and the world in clear, opposing parties. One can either embrace or reject its claims. Sitting on the fence suggests the possibility that “the Cross" is not all that important to either history or the world. It ridicules and offends the devout way more than outright rejection.

As for reading atheist literature, one need not look further than the Bible itself. When the stultifying straightjackets of a “spiritual" hermeneutics are put aside, this ancient collection of texts reveals itself for what it actually is - the best argument for atheism conceivable. God is only a mirror for humanity. There is no such thing as prophecy, let alone “Messianic prophecy". The apocalyptic imperialism of the “Kingdom of Christ" is no better than the delusional dreams of Jerusalemite world dominance. And I'd replace the likes of Spinoza and Locke with George Carlin, Tim Minchin and the rest of the best preachers of disbelief. If one is to go to hell, why not go laughing?