Archive for the ‘The personal’ Category


Shimon says: “The choice of Israel is peace”

February 2, 2009

Shimon Peres, Israel’s current president, has been at the heart of everything major that has happened in the Middle East for fifty years. He probably knows the conflict better than anyone else still alive.

Here the old man of Israeli politics speaks with great force at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in response to Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan (who walked out following Peres’ speech).

A lot of fire, a lot of passion, a bit of anger. I agreed with every word.

And we never gave up, all my life as you said, Mr. Chairman, I appreciate it, I am fighting for peace, what we did is not…the thing that we wanted to do… It’s not our choice, our choice is peace. What we did is because the lack of a choice, we were threatened with a choice. Would you vote for such a convention, to kill the Jews? OK, those are words, but to kill the Jews and send rockets to kill them. What you want us to do?

I created the Peres Center, all the money we have collected went to the cure of children. Palestinian children. They didn’t have insurance, they didn’t have hospitals, in five years we have brought to Israel 5500 Palestinian children and their mothers to be cured. By the way, there is no hospital today in Israel that does not have Arab doctors, so the children can communicate with the doctors in the Israeli hospitals. That is our choice, to touch a child. But if you put a child, if you put bombs in the kindergarten, and if you hide yourselves behind innocent families, and before we shell, we, before we try to shell anybody, we try and telephone the people, we say, please leave the place. We don’t want to hurt you. We made during those twenty days, 250,000 telephone calls before we shoot. What could we do, what was our choice? And what would any government do?

Thanks to Elder of Ziyon for the transcript, but you really have to watch it, and hear it. Not the best English, perhaps, but this is real eloquence: unforced, from the heart.

Skip forward to the 39th minute.


Favourite classical recordings

January 30, 2009

At Commentary, Terry Teachout lists his top 25. I don’t know any of them!

I’m going to do my own list.

(And my top 25 films, TV shows, blogs, conspiracy theories….)


War and the agony of the artist; or, Furtwangler plays Beethoven’s 9th three times

January 27, 2009

Because I have a new Furtwangler gravatar, and because we’ve been surrounded by the echoes of a war these past weeks, I’ve had occasion, over the past few days (not that I needed an excuse), to listen to three of Furtwangler’s performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, given in 1937, 1942 and 1951.    These were in London, Berlin and Bayreuth respectively before, during and after World War II.  I was interested to see if I could gauge what he thought of the war that was coming, the war he was part of, and the war he remembered.  I think I got something out of the experience which I’d like to share.

But first, some words about  Wilhelm Furtwangler, the greatest of all conductors in the age of recorded music.  For Furtwangler, the romantic repertoire of symphonies, concertos, songs and operas was like the flow of a great, unending river.  Under Furtwangler’s baton, you are carried on its breast, in calm and flood, for an hour or so, until the work comes to an end.  Then you are released from it, and it sets you down, but the river flows on, in time and space and memory, until the next of his performances you are privileged to be part of.  Once you have heard Furtwangler conduct Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Bruckner or Wagner, it is almost impossible to listen to anyone else conduct their works.

So conscious was Furtwangler of his responsibility, and the power he wielded in calling up the passions and poetries of composers long dead, that his hand often trembled before the first downbeat of the baton.  A famous story is told of a leader of first violins who looked up to see the conductor tormented by hesitation at the start of a performance, and called out encouragingly, “Coraggio, Maestro!”

For Furtwangler, any performance of Beethoven’s Ninth was a religious ritual.  He gave the symphony only on special occasions.  The work is, of course, most famous for its chorale, the fourth movement which sets Schiller’s Ode to Joy to music of extraordinary power and force.   Furtwangler saw the great finale as the culmination of all that went before it, the dread, the storms of violence, the tearing grief, the hope, the longing, expressed in Schiller’s words: “Alle Menschen werden Bruder, Wo dein sanfter Flugel weilt!”

But Furtwangler knew better than any before or since that in Beethoven’s setting of the Ode the joyful processional and the auto-da-fe go ever together.  Human nature walks as readily to an execution as to a wedding, and the grim beat of war compels no less than the gentle words of peace.  Each elegant polka masks the Dance of Death. The pipe-and-drum march of the Chorale leads as surely to the death chambers as to the canivale.  That is why Beethoven’s Ode to Joy (although perhaps not Schiller’s) is also an Ode to Despair.

All this Furtwangler understood with a perfection never equalled.  And because of that, the three statements he left us with these performances of the Ninth might cause us to reflect on how a great artist and a man of good conscience and decent instincts responded through the fragile medium of music to the reality of a war which, with all its ineluctable brutality and inexorable cruelty, tore his treasured dreams to pieces – and those of the German people, who never wanted the war that Hitler forced them into.

Read the rest of this entry ?


While we wait….

January 25, 2009

…. myself not least, for normal service to be resumed, can I introduce visitors to one of the the finest offerings of the folk music revival of the 1960’s – Crazy Man Michael, by Fairport Convention?


And now for something other than war, etc.

January 10, 2009

The great John Renbourn performs – doesn’t sing terribly well, but as a singer he’s strictly an accompanist; just watch those fingers – one of the best blues songs from the ‘sixties, and one of the hardest to get right. I should know, I’ve tried and failed (often)

‘Blues Run the Game’, by Jackson C Frank:


New Year’s Concert in Vienna, tonight

January 1, 2009

For those interested, the annual New Year’s Concert in Vienna will be broadcast tonight in the Australian  eastern states at 21.15 on SBS.  Tonight’s concert will be directed by Daniel Barenboim.

From last year’s concert under Georges Pretre:

UPDATE: Well, that was fun.  A little Teutonic, perhaps, and probably because of Barenboim’s affinity with the Berliners.  There was definitely a degree of emphasis in the upper bass which made the sound rather heavy and thick.  A lighter touch would not have gone amiss. And I didn’t think the orchestra really sparked, as if they and Barenboim were not really at one.

Interesting that Baremboim included in the traditional New Year message a plea for ‘human justice in the Middle East’.  Given his well-known sympathy for the Palestinian cause, that was pretty pointed.  Hmm.


A poem for the Christmas season

December 26, 2008

Beats cricket.

Whilst I immensely respect and admire the theological skills of The Currency Lad and saint at DogfightAtBankstown, I have to admit that it’s things like this that really work for me as far as Christianity in concerned. High Anglican, too. Now, if only they had a different Archbishop.


Despised And Rejected

Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

My sun has set, I dwell
In darkness as a dead man out of sight;
And none remains, not one, that I should tell
To him mine evil plight
This bitter night.
I will make fast my door
That hollow friends may trouble me no more.

“Friend, open to Me.”—Who is this that calls?
Nay, I am deaf as are my walls:
Cease crying, for I will not hear
Thy cry of hope or fear.
Others were dear,
Others forsook me: what art thou indeed
That I should heed
Thy lamentable need?
Hungry should feed,
Or stranger lodge thee here?

“Friend, My Feet bleed.
Open thy door to Me and comfort Me.”
I will not open, trouble me no more.
Go on thy way footsore,
I will not rise and open unto thee.

“Then is it nothing to thee? Open, see
Who stands to plead with thee.
Open, lest I should pass thee by, and thou
One day entreat My Face
And howl for grace,
And I be deaf as thou art now.
Open to Me.”

Then I cried out upon him: Cease,
Leave me in peace:
Fear not that I should crave
Aught thou mayst have.
Leave me in peace, yea trouble me no more,
Lest I arise and chase thee from my door.
What, shall I not be let
Alone, that thou dost vex me yet?

But all night long that voice spake urgently:
“Open to Me.”
Still harping in mine ears:
“Rise, let Me in.”
Pleading with tears:
“Open to Me that I may come to thee.”
While the dew dropped, while the dark hours were cold:
“My Feet bleed, see My Face,
See My Hands bleed that bring thee grace,
My Heart doth bleed for thee,
Open to Me.”

So till the break of day:
Then died away
That voice, in silence as of sorrow;
Then footsteps echoing like a sigh
Passed me by,
Lingering footsteps slow to pass.
On the morrow
I saw upon the grass
Each footprint marked in blood, and on my door
The mark of blood for evermore.