A Unique Concert of Well-Timed Truths
at the London Barbican
David Barsamian is a Good American (and an Armenian) – in fact, an excellent one – the best manifestation of American decency, compassion, and classless egalitarianism – a rare species indeed nowadays in a world polluted, devastated and on the verge of global destruction because of US corporate imperialism.
George Bush junior – twice the fraudulently selected non-elected President of America succeeded in converting the American State into the most hated in the world, rendering it practically impossible for Good Americans like David Barsamian to tell another story – that of American love of egalitarian Democracy and Renaissance humanism.
Barsamian could remind people in the world that it was the American citizenry that battled hard to destroy their governmental destroyers of the Vietnam – the pity of it is that the new generation of the American citizenry have not yet woken up to do the same to the destroyers of Iraq – alas, alack, Poor Yorick …
Barsamian is the Founder and Director of Alternative Radio – a bold brave broadcasting unit, speaking the truth about things weekly from the clean-air Mountains of Colorado (USA). He alone in America dares give a voice to the much-reviled Prophet adored in Europe, Professor Noam Chomsky, who solo in the USA dares castigate the lies, the damned lies and the endless lies of the American Governments and their imperialist agenda for permanent world-domination – defined by the Pentagon illiterates as “Full Spectrum Dominance”!
Barsamian is not your typical brash and loud motor-mouth American radio-man with inane jokes and smutty hot-air – Barsamian possesses European intelligence and quiet refinement. He is also creatively innovative – he had the brilliant idea of producing for Londoners (at the Barbican Arts Centre – 28th July 2007, 7.30 pm) a unique “Radio-show” on a ... theatre-stage, beautifully designed and lit by Laurence Neff, with first-class sound production by the audio engineer Brian Mohr.
Birds of a feather flock together – they absolutely must to deface the tarted-up face of inhuman capitalism. The excellent Barsamian had the equally excellent idea of inviting to the podium a most articulate intellectual, one of Britain’s rare and unique truth-speakers, Tariq Ali, to talk to him about the vast problems of this wretched world re-barbarized, re-nuclearized and re-missiled by the Mafia of the US neo-Cons.
With straight questioning and up-front answering, together, bravely and boldly where no right-wingers wish to hover, David and Tariq weaved a sharply observed tapestry of world events, displaying the horrible images of poverty, neglect, disease, sheer inhumanity caused directly by the exploitation of the world’s peoples – the starving masses, devastated by high-powered ruling elites, greedy and totally corrupt in every meaning of those words.
Tariq and David took us on a journey going from America to China, passing through Pakistan and India, returning to the Middle East – the Palestinian suffering and the Nazi policies of Israel acting as the client- state for the US socio-political oligarchy (my words, not theirs). They were on the cusp of reaching Africa, when time ran out …
Perhaps the show should have been scheduled for two performances – and made more available to Londoners – the world’s most expensive city, indeed, with 12 English Pounds and 50 pence for the cheapest tickets!
Why O why, No Concessions for the students, unemployed, and the Pensioners? – Because they would constitute most of the audience?
No one who could afford paying £20 for a single ticket, plus all the accouterments – transport, food and drink – would possess the brain-interest to attend such a show anyway …
Politics and Music is another of Barsamian’s formulae that manifested itself perfectly this night – and what better choice than the great human-rights concerned Kronos Quartet.
Concert sophisticates are universally made to suffer collective amnesia by the music-world elites (subservient to the political oligarchs) about the profound links of
classical music to day-to-day socio-political events;
The greatest, Johann Sebastain Bach lost a job in a Church because he had the ‘folly’ of entertaining a girl-friend on the job! Mozart’s operas mocked at the sexual peccadilloes of the upper-classes and their hypocritical ‘Christian’ morality. Beethoven was furious with Napoleon’s conversion from a French revolutionary Liberator to a tuppeny Tyrant.
Schoenberg’s insistence on including every half-tone of the scale and imparting to them equal value and worth was an act of egalitarian Socialism and the destruction of centuries old classical musical hierarchies!
All praise to Kronos Quartet, with virtuosi players – with the most perfect holder of the base line I have yet encountered (Jeffrey Ziegler cello), valuably voluble viola (Hank Dutt), sweetly mournful ‘second’ violin (John Sherba), led by the gloriously learned ‘first’ violin David Harrington, a musicologist of the first order, and uniquely heartwarmingly humane!
They have transformed their traditional instruments electronically into communicative-media of every sort, able to produce every imaginable sound, occasionally helping themselves of other instruments and even their own human voices – they play world-music globally – global music worldly-wise.
But even they, the timeless Kronos – the first god of classical Greek mythology – can occasionally slip-up – their mythological namesake used to swollow his new born children annoying his wife, Gaia=mother Earth, who did all the child-bearing!
The absence of a printed program with background information for a concert cannot be right for post-modern tastes. It gives the impression of penny-pinching and deceit on behalf of a rip-off Management.
To do it in the name of musical Improvisation is even worse; Absolute improvisation in the professional performing arts (even in Jazz) is a gimmicky nonsense, as professionals (especially the virtuosi) develop over time their own (Plato’s) world of forms and structures while creating a personal repertoire.
As a connoisseur of Kronos Quartet, I could detect the items played, like their arrangement of a love-song by the Lebanese female star Feyrooz, married to one of the Rahbani Brothers whose music she sings exclusively throughout the Middle East; the Bollywood love-song mehbooba mehbooba = O My Beloved, immortalized by Asha Bhosle, the Bollywood film star married to the composer of the song, the late R.D. Burman. Miss Bhosle is thought to have recorded more than 12,000 songs … Still – I would have loved to have had a printed program with Notes by the learned Mr Harrington, whose writing is always a joy to read.
The Program opened with the execution of the US National Anthem in the version of the late rock guitar virtuoso Jimi Hendrix – an extraordinary piece, which I think shall emerge eventually as one of the great musical compositions of all time – it is of course impossible to dissociate it from Hendrix’ own masterful performance of it. Hendrix played it on his eclectic electrical guitar, and the result is an inspired piece of inimitable perfection. He begins playing the American National Anthem, to variation it to eventual total destruction – an immensely complex work of extraordinary dissonant-harmonies, because I think Hendrix poured all of the anger and frustration of a whole people – the American nation, and his own racially abused Black people, against the military-industrial barbarism of the Vietnam War.
I think the Kronos Quartet should have left the Hendrix original alone. I appreciate that they produced very well the sheer ugliness, violence, and Genghis-Khan style of cacophonic aggression … but I feel they bulldozed the sophisticated complexities of the Hendrix piece, which is highly textured in rhythmic nuance, melodically refined while in gradual dissonant dilapidation and eventual cacophonic destruction of melody and rhythm – All …
They could have broadcast the Jimi Hendrix recording of it, or done better creative justice to the symphonic polyphony of the piece which Kronos is generally extremely competent at achieving otherwise.
I am afraid my reservation for Miss Wu Man’s pipa featuring the opening item of the Second Part of the evening is similar. Wu Man is a consummate virtuoso of the Chinese lute (the pipa) – no doubt about it. Her fingers swim like boneless eels and flow like the waves of a running river.
She played a most celebrated Chinese musical piece of great antiquity that has survived, titled The Great Ambush, usually learnt by ear in old China, passed on in performance from Master to Disciple – it began to be written down during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in a kind of notation using numbers. It is an ancient example of what I call ‘narrative music’ - otherwise called “programme-music” post-Strauss and his symphonic poem Don Juan, although a peak illustration could be served by Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
The Chinese melody tells the story of a famous battle between two generals, Liu Bang and Xiang Yu, won by Liu Bang, who then proceeds to found the Han dynasty (in 206 BC). The music represents a complex aggregate of textured sound, rhythmic proto-counterpoints with abrupt changes of tempo, imitative of a clash of body-armored armies, their spears and swords, and even the thuds of primitive cannon balls (the Chinese had already invented).
Miss Man is of course an unsurpassed master of exciting rapid strumming and twanged notes – I was therefore much perturbed when she inexplicably bull-dozed (American dumbing-down?) all complex, subtle, highly visual and onomatopoeic rhythmic variations – as if she suddenly got lazy and could not be bothered to scale the ancient depths of the piece, which is what the Kronos Quartet does famously and with great musicological panache.
In between, I agreed of course with every word Tariq Ali and David Barsamian uttered, filling the evening with thought-provoking ideas without a second of boredom setting in. Their up-to-the-minute well-informed analyses of world-events could not be bettered. But I wish that David Barsamian would not cast himself in the role of an interviewer, even though I appreciate it is his professional label – it plunges the interviewee into an unnecessary halo of superiority, when in fact Mr. Barsamian himself is every inch an equal – he aught to conduct his interviews as conversational Dialogues, rather than deferential monologues.
It could have been even more of an exciting evening if occasion was created for audience participation – like a phone-in – allowing members to make brief comments or put questions. Perhaps next time!
What was most heartwarming, after exposing all the miseries and wretchedness of our post-modern world of rampant globalization aka inhuman exploitation of the masses of the world from China to Palestine by the filthy rich getting unimaginably, mythically wealthier upon the dead bodies of millions and millions displaced and murdered in pointless imperialist wars, was the paean sang by Tariq Ali and David Barsamian of hope of an alternative world being created on the South American continent, against all the odds of evil American imperialist aggression and CIA terrorism – a truly peaceful revolution for true democracy and freedom through the Ballot Box, and not down US weapons of mass destruction, led by the true man-of-the-people, Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela, re-elected last year with the 70% of his country’s vote, against America’s George Bush Junior, a fraudulent President if ever there was one, ruling the American roost via electoral fraud like a Banana Republic-an!
Evo Morales, scion of the ‘Red-Indian’ the Americans genocided 200 years ago in the North American continent, today is the democratically elected President of Bolivia, dedicated to improving the lot of his people much raped and massacred by the US military-industrial complex, as in all of South America from Colombia to Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
Chavez and Morales, with Chomsky, John Pilger, Barsamian and Tariq Ali may yet defeat the evil American empire with their sheer Good, of human decency and compassion.
Long may they survive America’s satanic evil.
It is time that the poor of America – 50 million of them, join hands with the poor of the rest of the world to create another world more than possible – truly realizable as an actual global fact.
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