DO shoot the messenger!

Imagine there was a political party which you had supported all your adult life (even though at times it espoused policies you didn’t fully agree with) because ideologically its economic and social policies were closely aligned with your own. Imagine a new leadership emerged which if anything brought the party’s stated aims even closer to your own… except that the leader was vociferously opposed to the teaching, promotion or funding of the arts in schools and colleges. The leader had publicly stated that he believed all theatres, orchestras and opera companies should not only lose any public funding, but should be closed down, as they were a bad influence on society. Furthermore, although never stated as party policy, there were constant rumours that the leader’s motivation for this belief is that the arts are ‘infested with homosexuality’, betraying an irrational prejudice which is strictly speaking proscribed by law.

This imaginary tale is of course preposterous, and yet it has many parallels with the way I feel at present about Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, except of course for ‘the arts’ read ‘Israel’ and for homophobia read anti-semitism.

No-one is claiming that it is Labour Party policy to be anti-semitic, but come the next election, who is to say what might end up in the Party manifesto? Alternatively, if the manifesto contradicts what are the known beliefs of the leadership, what confidence can one have that when in Government, the Party will not legislate according to those beliefs.

Which leads to the obvious question: how can the Labour Party extricate itself from this mess? Strangely, I see some similarities with the world of classical music.

Those of us who are involved in some way with organising or supporting classical music groups will be only too familiar with the regular pleas to appeal to a wider audience, and not to alienate future concert-goers by sticking to traditional habits and modes of behaviour. The response to these pleas may take many forms, some more radical than others. It is now more common to see orchestras performing in all black than in formal dress, and opposition to clapping between movements of a symphony seems, to me at least, to be less vociferous than in the past.

These ripples of modernisation are however less annoying to me than another trend, aimed at ‘popularisation’ of the genre, which is becoming much stronger in the classical music world these days, which I would like to call the ‘cult of the performer’. This manifests itself, for example, in the now annual concerts at the BBC Proms by certain groups or individuals, whose identity, rather than the music they are performing, is seen as the main ‘selling point’ of the event. Of course, this has gone on for years (e.g. the Glyndebourne Prom), but such concerts (the John Wilson Prom, Metropole Orchest, Heritage Orchestra, even the Berlin Philharmonic’s visit) are booming, admiration for the artists involved notwithstanding.

So why does the ‘cult of the performer’ annoy me, and how does it relate to the problems of the Labour Party? Because both are examples of the triumph of personality over purpose. People are being encouraged to attend a concert, not because of the music to be performed, but just because of who is playing it. This may be de riguer in the world of pop music, but in the classical world, there surely has to be a ‘higher motivation’.

In the case of the Labour Party, there is a disturbing level of cult worship of Jeremy Corbyn, as if the social and economic policies he espouses can ONLY ever become Government policy if HE leads the party to victory. And this personal support leads people not just to brush under the carpet aspects of his beliefs that ought to be questioned, but even to adopt those beliefs, just as in a cult.

So what about the original question – how does Labour get out of this mess. If you support the Labour Party, and want to see them elected to govern the country, you must realise that Mr.Corbyn is fatally flawed as a leader. The message MUST be more important than the messenger. In other words, separate the man from the manifesto.

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Posted by on 2 August 2018 in Uncategorized



I am now starting to get quite angry, and as my friends will testify, that is not my natural state of mind.

I am beginning to see attempts to exonerate Ken Livingstone from the accusations of anti-semitism that have resulted in both his suspension from the Labour Party, and widespread criticism of the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

Mr Livingstone’s comments about Adolf Hitler and his attitudes towards Zionism were sophistic at best and pure fallacy at worst. Stating that because some agreement may have been reached between the Nazi administration and a Zionist organisation to allow limited Jewish emigration to the British Mandate of Palestine proves that the Nazis (and therefore Adolf Hitler) were Zionists, is as twisted as claiming that because the British government negotiated with Sinn Fein and other Irish nationalists to create the Good Friday agreement, they must believe in Irish unification.

Now some are trying to put forward evidence that Mr Livingstone’s opinions are based on fact, including the specious argument that Hitler ‘created’ the State of Israel. These profoundly hateful statements have to be refuted thoroughly.

If I claimed that I, a British Jew, owe my life to Adolf Hitler, to whom I am eternally grateful, you may well think me completely mad. But using Mr Livingstone’s twisted logic, you could make the case that I was being truthful. After all, if Hitler had not murdered 85% of my mother’s family in the concentration camps, if his slave labour workhouses, faced with the advance of Russian troops, had not force-marched their weak and starving inmates, including my mother and aunt, hundreds of miles across Germany to dump them in the disease-infested hell of Bergen-Belsen, only for the British to liberate them on the point of death, nurse them back to health and permit them to settle in this country, so that my mother could eventually meet my father, marry him and then give birth to me, if Adolf Hitler had not been responsible for all that, I WOULD NEVER HAVE EXISTED. So yes, Mr Livingstone’s supporters, by all means twist the facts to prove black is white, but it plainly doesn’t make it true.
I have also seen comments which try to belittle those attacking the likes of Mr Corbyn and Mr Livingstone, claiming them to be politically motivated to cause maximum damage to the Labour Party in advance of next week’s elections. Perhaps those comments contain a modicum of truth, but you should remember that there is nothing wrong with accusing someone whose views you dislike of punching you in the face AS LONG AS THEY DID ACTUALLY PUNCH YOU IN THE FACE. Politically motivated though they may be, if the accusations are true, go ahead and point the finger.

So to use a not inappropriate phrase, j’accuse.

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Posted by on 30 April 2016 in Uncategorized


Jurowski and the OAE Resurrect and Reinvigorate.

I’ve just recovered the ability to string words into coherent sentences again. What an incredible performance by the OAE and Philharmonia Chorus of Mahler 2 tonight. It was like no performance I’ve ever heard before. 

 The trumpet section was outstanding, producing a warm, round sound that integrated with the orchestral texture perfectly. The double-basses, 10 strong, were a revelation; the clarinets, playing in the most authentic klezmer style in the third movement, at times seemed to be as mellow as Mozartean basset horns (even though they weren’t!). The figurations in the violins stood out with absolute clarity in a way I’ve never heard before. The balance, in both volume and style, between the leader and the 1st flute in their little duet was incredible. 

The horns had a most appealing timbre – as pleasant when playing quietly as when belting it out. The harps looked just like modern instruments, but their sound was mellower, and somehow it was always possible to tell the two apart. The timpani were crystal clear out in the auditorium (I’ll forgive the slightly dodgy tuning at the beginning of the third movement: a really good reason NOT to put the two sets on opposite sides of the stage, in my opinion). 

Sarah Connolly was, as usual, faultless – her soprano colleague, Adriana Kučerová, was fine, if unclear enunciating the German text. The Philharmonia Chorus were immaculate in every way: their dynamic contrast was awe-inspiring, their intonation unimpeachable.

Vladimir Jurowski was the conductor – the second time in the past 12 months I’ve seen him direct a performance of such quality (the other was Shostakovich 8 with the LPO at the Proms last year, if you ask). His left hand is so expressive, nothing overstated but everything so meaningful. I wonder if his interpretation would have been different with a larger choir and modern-style orchestra? His brilliant analytical way of illuminating all the detail, his impeccable balance between sections of the band and his understanding of how to pace the performance so you felt neither steamrollered nor reined back was second to none.
This performance reminded me completely of the joys of performing music live, and has reinvigorated me in ways I could not have predicted. Incredible.

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Posted by on 13 April 2016 in Uncategorized


40 Plus Years of Readership Counts for Nothing… or does it?

UPDATE: See the comment at the bottom – I have had contact from The Times who wish to resolve the situation if they can. I’ll keep you informed as to how this turns out. Now read on for the original story…

I am not the most well-organised of people – at least, not unless I have to be. If there isn’t a deadline to meet, I’m quite adept at putting things off. Unfortunately, this fault in my character has come back to bite me today.

I am a subscriber to The Times newspaper, which I have read regularly since I was at school (i.e. for over 40 years). The subscription scheme involves me paying a monthly fee, in return for which I receive a quarterly book of vouchers which can be exchanged at a newsagent for a copy of the newspaper. My papers are delivered daily to my door by our local newsagent, whom I pay in arrears. If I have left it a long time (usually 3 months or so), the newsagent generally staples a bill to the paper to remind me to come in and pay. For various reasons, I haven’t settled up for a long time, and I was surprised to find exactly how long – 10 months, and no reminders from the newsagent in between! Today, I went in to pay up and cash in my vouchers, only to be told that they wouldn’t accept them as they had ‘expired’.

They advised me to contact The Times, which I did on their ‘LiveChat’ service. This was the conversation I had:

Hello, you’re chatting with The Times and The Sunday Times Live Chat Team. How can we help?

You’re now connected to one of our online advisors.

Jemima: Hello, you’re chatting with Jemima. I’m here to help you with any questions you may have about The Times and The Sunday Times.

David: Hello – I subscribe to The Times and Sunday Times and receive quarterly voucher books. My newspapers are delivered daily by our local newsagent. For various reasons, I have not ‘cashed in’ my vouchers to ‘pay’ for my newspapers since last December! Today, I tried to settle up, but my newsagent said that the older vouchers were ‘out of date’ and I would have to send them back to be exchanged for new ones – is this true?

Jemima: Hi, David.

Jemima: You do not need to send in the older vouchers to be exchanged for new ones- the new ones will be generated automatically when you reach the end of your voucher cycle.

David: I don’t think this solves my problem. I have received copies of The Times and Sunday Times over the past 10 months, and my newsagent will not accept my current, dated vouchers as he says they have ‘expired’. Either I have to pay for a second time for the papers I have already received, or, he says, I should return the vouchers to you so that you can send replacements that are still ‘in-date’.

Jemima: However, it is at the discretion of the news agent whether or not they will accept the vouchers in arrears. This is why we encourage our members to exchange their vouchers in advance, or on the day they receive the paper, so there is no confusion.

David: I was not aware of this. Also, I have in the past attempted to hand in vouchers in advance, and was advised not to!

David: What do you advise me to do? If my newsagent can legitimately refuse to accept vouchers, are those vouchers now worthless? Have I paid 10 months of subscription to you for nothing?

Jemima: As I say, it is at the discretion of the news agent which they accept. It is best to check. Once we have distributed the vouchers, we cannot enforce how the news agent decides to accept them.

David: I understand that, but if I have already paid you for 10 months of vouchers which I am unable now to ‘cash in’, I have paid you about £300 for nothing.

Jemima: I’m sorry, David, but I cannot take responsibility for your news agent’s decision.

David: I don’t want you to. However, can you confirm that if I were to return the vouchers which I have been unable to use back to you, you would refund the money I have paid for them?

Jemima: Once we have provided our vouchers we have fulfilled our obligation.

Jemima: I’m afraid that will not be possible – as I say, we fulfilled our obligation by providing the vouchers.

David: It seems to me that this subscription scheme is a con. You provide a person with vouchers, but you do not guarantee that they have any value whatsoever. I think I will have to cancel my subscription and make the circumstances of the cancellation well-known, in case anyone else falls into this trap.

Jemima: I’m sorry you feel that way David. We have fulfilled our part of the contract by providing vouchers for the Times. These vouchers are meant to be exchanged on a day-by-day basis for papers, but some news agents choose to still accept vouchers after their date has passed. This is up to the news agent in question, and the Times cannot take responsibility for this decision.

David: I do not recall any explanation that vouchers must be cashed in within a certain period, even if it vaguely said ‘by arrangement with your newsagent’ – perhaps if it had said this, these circumstances would have been avoided. I have been a daily reader of The Times since 1973, so I will be very upset at being forced to forego my daily newspaper. Thank you for your assistance.

David: (I should have stated that I will, in the circumstances, be unwilling to purchase your newspapers at all after my subscription is cancelled).

Jemima: I’m sorry that you feel the need to do that David. And we shall be sad to lose a loyal subscriber. But as I have said, since we have provided you with the service, we do not consider that the fault lies with us.

Jemima: As I say, it is at the discretion of the news agent. If the vouchers have been provided to you then our obligation is fulfilled.

David: Thank you. Before I go, may I suggest that in future you print an expiry date on your vouchers, so people do not fall into this trap again.

Jemima: They do have an expiry date – it is the date of the day for which they can be used.

David: It doesn’t state that on the voucher! It just says on the back that the retailer should return it to News UK within seven days of them receiving it.

Jemima: I’m sorry, David. The date printed on the voucher is the date it is meant to be used. I don’t see how this can be any clearer.

Jemima: I am sorry that you are unhappy about this situation, and I wish I could be of help, but I suggest that you should take this up with your news agent rather than the Times.

David: You may be correct. To me, I simply read the date on the voucher as being the issue of the newspaper for which it was valid. I will indeed take it up with the newsagent. I will cash in as many vouchers as I can for which I have already paid you, and arrange to switch to another newspaper.

Jemima: Other newspaper voucher systems work in much the same way.

David: But now I have been warned that they work like this, I will not take so long to hand the vouchers in in future. Good news for another newspaper, who gain a subscriber, but bad for you, who lose one. Not your fault, I understand – thank you for your courtesy.

Jemima: Have a lovely evening, David.

So it would appear that when you subscribe to The Times, you aren’t actually guaranteed to receive a newspaper, only a voucher. And despite there being nothing which explicitly states an expiry date for the validity of the voucher, if you don’t cash it in soon enough to please your newsagent, it is worthless. I suppose if you buy a block of cheddar with a sell-by date on it, and leave it for some time after that date before you try to consume it, you have no excuse if it’s covered in mould. But a voucher for a newspaper? It doesn’t exactly go off, does it. Does it cost my newsagent or News UK additional money to process it just because it’s ten months old? Can’t see how. It’s just a con. And 40+ years of readership counts for nothing.

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Posted by on 7 October 2015 in Uncategorized


Time to come clean

I can’t say that I’ve been very good at this blogging lark – I mean, I haven’t written a post for years – but I’m suddenly aware that this is probably the best place to get a few things off my chest which don’t fit in the general atmosphere of Facebook or Twitter. This is fundamentally a sort of apology to any of my friends who might have found me a bit distant or lacking my customary enthusiasm and bonhomie of late.

Thing is, I’ve been a bit preoccupied by the health problems of a few people over the past three or four months, and now that the situation has become clearer, it’s time to come clean. It all started when my oldest friend, who has suffered from a malignant growth on the spine for about three years, needed to go back into hospital for more treatment. This involved having his bone marrow harvested and stored, some heavy chemo, and then restoration of the bone marrow. This process is supposed to take about 4 weeks, during which time he has to be in an isolation ward. Unfortunately, he suffered septicaemia in hospital and was very poorly for a while, which meant he stayed in for over six weeks and subsequently had a slow recovery at home. Fortunately, he now seems to be very much on the mend and has resumed normal life (as far as possible). However, I’ve needed to spend a good amount of time hospital and home visiting (as well as having to run my business on my own – he usually helps out), so I haven’t had as much time for my usual activities as is customary, and when I have I might well have been a bit preoccupied.

About six weeks ago my sister had a routine body scan as part of her regular skin cancer treatment, and they detected a growth in her lung. A biopsy was taken and she was told that it was malignant ,although very slow-growing. The recommended treatment was excision, which was done in mid-October. Whilst the operation is quite straightforward, involving removal of two of the seventeen lobes of her lung, the recovery period is rather long: six weeks unable to drive or lift objects, then another six weeks off work. Luckily, her workplace have been very supportive, so there are no problems there. When she came out of hospital, she stayed with me and my father for a couple of weeks while she began her recovery – she went home last weekend – so I’ve been a little busier than normal looking after her (mind you, she was a model patient!). She had her follow-up visit to her consultant on Tuesday, where she learnt that following tests on the tumour, they have decided it wasn’t malignant after all – still, better out than in! So it seems she’s going to be fine.

While she was in hospital, my father heard from his GP that one of his recent blood tests had been abnormal, and they had made an appointment for him to see a specialist. We trekked over to Beckenham Beacon last week to see the urologist, who confirmed after examination that he had prostate cancer. Pills and an injection were prescribed, and a bone scan arranged (which takes place tomorrow, as it happens), but little was explained. However, we went for the injection this morning, where the urology nurse was more forthcoming (and reassuring) – in her words, he was far more likely to die of something else first than succumb to the cancer! So he came away feeling much happier, after a couple of worrying weeks.

Anyway, now that all three of my ‘patients’ seem to be on the road, if not to recovery, at least to a comfortable life for a while, I can relax again. Apologies once again to everyone I’ve neglected of late – I’ll try to be more attentive in future. Good health to you all!


Posted by on 12 November 2014 in Uncategorized


Another Music Quiz

Click here for my four-part Christmas Music Quiz 2012.

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Posted by on 31 December 2012 in Uncategorized


Holiday Puzzles

Two new brainteasers in the Puzzles and Quizzes sections, created for the music holiday I haven’t been able to attend! There’s a cryptic crossword here, and a music quiz here. Answers are in the Vault.

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Posted by on 20 August 2012 in Uncategorized



I found an old quiz CD recently, but not the answer sheet! So I’ve put it in the Puzzles and Quizzes section, in the hope that one of my knowledgeable readers will identify the mystery works. To have a go, either click on ‘The Hope Handicap’ in the Puzzles and Quizzes menu above, or click here.

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Posted by on 18 May 2012 in Uncategorized


For your listening pleasure…

Another recording added to the Jukebox section of the blog, this time choral. The chamber choir in which I have sung for a decade or more, Sine Nomine Singers, gave their first performance under their new Music Director Jonny Davies on 10th December 2011 at St.George’s, Bickley, including music by Stanford, Parry, Naylor, Bairstow, Elgar, Purcell, Tallis, Peter Philips and John Sheppard, plus contemporary composers David Bednall and Edmund Joliffe. There was also instrumental music: French music for flute by Ibert and Fauré played by Kieran Hughes with Peter Davies at the piano.

To access the recording, select ‘Sine Nomine Singers Concert December 2011’ from the Jukebox menu, or click here.

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Posted by on 19 December 2011 in Music, Recording


Seasonal Fun

If you’d like to while away half an hour, I’ve uploaded my latest Music Society Christmas Quiz to the Puzzles section. Just click on ‘Puzzles and Quizzes’ near the top-right corner of this page, and select ‘ORMS Christmas Quiz 2011’ from the drop-down. Alternatively, click here. Enjoy!

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Posted by on 13 December 2011 in Uncategorized