Why Music is No Mere Optional Extra

Considering it unlikely that I “pop down” to New Zealand in February, as is my wont, I bit the bullet and signed up for the entire 2022 Spring/Summer season of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, eleven Saturday evening concerts in Glasgow, running from 5th February until 4th June.  What an imaginative season it is.  On Sunday morning, with half an ear on the Andrew Marr show, I found myself perusing the syllabus with the enthusiasm I remember experiencing as a teenager.  More recently, with the crusty ennui of middle age, I’d been inclined to non-attendance, the way I might decline to attend the movies.  No Time to Diet?  Seen it already.  Similarly, let’s say: the William Tell Overture, Mendelssohn’s fiddle concerto, Brahms 2…  Heard them already. 

But maybe it’s because we have been starved of live music, that I look upon each programme with delight, and think, I can’t miss that.  Every Saturday evening, with a fair wind, will be a benison and a blessed relief from all of fortune’s outrageous slings and arrows, and the surreal absurdities of everyday life. 

“Secretary of State, was there a party in 10 Downing Street last December 18th?”

“Let’s be clear…”  That hackneyed banner headline of obfuscation, prelude to any muddying of the waters.  “The Prime Minister says no rules were broken.”

Feb 5: Beethoven – the Fourth Symphony and the Fourth Piano Concerto with pianist Steven Osborne.  Even-numbered Beethoven is less bad-tempered than odd-numbered Beethoven.

“Was there a party at No. 10?”

“I couldn’t say.  Unsubstantiated reports.  We are chasing shadows.  And I wasn’t there.”  Ah.  The old school motto.  It wuznae me.

Feb 19: Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto and Rachmaninov 2.  Stravinsky called Rachmaninov “a six and a half foot scowl”.  Stravinsky could be rather critical of his composing contemporaries.  There was that remark about Britten’s War Requiem: Get your Kleenex out.  And somehow Stravinsky and Schoenberg managed to avoid one another despite both living in Beverly Hills.  Anyway, there is nothing to scowl about in the clarinet solo of the third movement of Rachmaninov 2.

“Would you agree that last December, if there was a party, then it was in breach of the rules?”  Andrew Marr, with the persistence of a dog with a bone, continued to chase shadows.

Feb 26: Sir Andrew Davis is coming up to conduct Vaughan Williams’ Sinfonia Antarctica.  Now that is an event.  RVW 7 is rarely performed, although I have heard it live once before, in the Royal Albert Hall.  It is not merely film music of the highest quality; it is truly symphonic. 

“…The Met are taking a look at it, but they don’t normally pursue investigations retrospectively.”  I would have thought that most, if not all, police detection is retrospective.  Right enough, I seem to recall a Tom Cruise movie – was it Minority Report? – in which criminals are apprehended before they have actually committed their crime.  Orwellian.   

March 4: Sheku Kanneh-Mason is playing Shostakovich’s Second Cello Concerto.

Then again, maybe there is a statute of limitations on the prosecution of attendance at illegal gatherings.  Though I doubt it. 

March 19: Walton’s Scapino, Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, Elgar 1.  What’s not to like?

“If the matter is sub judice, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment.”

April 23: all Shostakovich.  Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, the Second Piano Concerto, and the Fifth Symphony.  .

It should be quite straightforward to establish whether or not a party took place on December 18th.  We could make application through the freedom of information act.  If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well it were done quickly.

Good luck with that.

But surely events at No. 10 are logged.  It can’t be that difficult to find out what people were doing on December 18th.  I’ve just looked at my own diary from last year to see what I was doing.  December 18th was a Friday.  I had attended a Zoom lecture, on the statistical modelling of pandemics, on December 10th.  Then the diary is empty until Christmas.  That’s how life was then, at least for most of us.     

April 30: Richard Strauss, An Alpine Symphony.  I can’t say I’m a great Straussian, but very often it is the concert one attends with least expectation that turns out to leave the biggest impression.

Was there snogging?

May 14: The Dvorak Cello Concerto and Sibelius 5.

Will there be snogging this year?

The government is not going to micromanage trysts under the mistletoe.

May 21: John Wilson, the most musical man on the planet, is coming to conduct Gershwin’s Concerto in F and Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony.

If there was a party, do you agree that rules were broken?

If rules were broken, rules were broken.  There are truths, there are untruths and, somewhere in between, there is a vast ocean of humbug.

May 28: Nicola Benedetti is playing a Scottish première – Mark Simpson’s Violin Concerto.  Premières don’t normally put bums on seats, but Ms Benedetti will still fill the hall.  And then there’s Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique

“I put it to you that a party did take place, and did not take place.”


There was both an event, and a non-event.

You mean, like Schrödinger’s Cat?

I extemporise.  I think that some time before this point Andrew Marr had abandoned the attempt to chase shadows, and changed the subject.  I do believe he is mellowing.  But then, come Christmas, he is moving on.  Maybe he’s de-mob happy.

June 4:  Beethoven 9.  Just for good measure. 

Well, there we are.  At the top of Buchanan Street amid all the craziness, an oasis of sublimity.  An antidote to madness and a way out.     

Omicron permitting.

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