Hallo Berlin | Pushing the Wave

Hallo Berlin

Opinion, 18 January 2023
by L.A. Davenport
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, Germany
One of my Christmas presents that I have been enjoying a great deal over the past few weeks is something of a strange curio in one sense, with the question ever-present in my mind: Why should one need it at all?

The Black Composers Series is a groundbreaking series of recordings made in the 1970s by CBS Masterworks. Now re-released as a very nicely packaged box set by Sony, it features a whole host of composers spanning several centuries, who offer an incredibly varied set of pieces.

The only connection between them is, of course, the colour of their skin, and the result is a melange of all sorts of styles of music, all at an extremely high standard. This is by no means a dip into the best-forgotten slow lane of classical music composition but rather a tour around first-rate composers, all of whom were casually airbrushed from history. Moreover, the recordings are led, appropriately enough, by a black conductor — Paul Freeman — who is himself clearly a brilliant musician.

Let’s take one CD at random: David Baker and his fascinating Sonata for Cello and Piano. The second movement is quite unlike anything I have heard before, and brilliantly executed. Why should we have any number of recordings of Rachmaninov’s cello sonata and, as far as I am aware, only one of this piece?

Not there shouldn’t be lots of recordings of Rachmaninov’s effort, but this concentration around a small number of almost exclusively white and male composers is largely taken for economic reasons; after all, more sales equals more money and record companies tend to record only that which they think will sell.

But it’s very important to consider this: If the public don’t know a work, how will they know to buy it?

What traditionally guided what people considered important was based around the idea of the ‘canon’, a concept so self-evidently ludicrous that it is rightly outdated and discredited, and yet even today that still determines a lot of the choices that are made over what is and is not put before the public.

Record labels can and should take the time to show that there is more to classical music than a few white men, excellent and pioneering though many of them were. This is amply demonstrated by Naxos, who have taken people on a journey into the farther reaches of the classical universe, and shown it can be profitable to sell to a public who seek out novelty and unknown charms.

Above all, the box set is an important reminder that the colour of a person’s skin has no bearing whatsoever on their abilities or their character, other than that which is imposed from without by other people and their prejudices.
This week is full of anticipation, as I am finally, after a few years, able to go back to Berlin.

I love it, both as an environment in which to explore and be inspired, and as a people. If you don’t know the city, it is filled with parks and open spaces, architecture from across the ages and a whole host of galleries and cultural spaces. Traces of history — some faint, some gouged into the fabric of the place — are present everywhere and serve as a sober reminder of the possibilities and limitations of humanity.

As for the people themselves, they are funny, inventive, and extremely creative. And it is the people I am going to visit. I am going back, one might say, to see my German family. These are among my closest and oldest friends, and who I hold among the dearest in my heart. Having not seen most of them since before pandemic, the need to connect with them in person has never been felt so keenly.
After last week’s column, I didn’t think I would be returning to this topic. But spam, or rather Eric Jones, is back, with a vengeance.

Every single spam email I have had every day of this week has been addressed from him (if indeed it is a him). I said I missed him, but if the internet gods are listening, that was simply a pleasantry, a mere confection to entertain. If I am being honest, I would rather not have any spam at all, even if I accept it as something of a fact of life these days.

It is not as if Mr Jones is offering anything I need, or indeed anything that corresponds with what is on this site. It’s almost as if he isn’t reading what I put up on here. Surely not.
© L.A. Davenport 2017-2024.

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Hallo Berlin | Pushing the Wave