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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I am not an overtly political sort of chap. However, I am minded to comment by a couple of tweets picked up with the #bbcproms hashtag during the last couple of days, suggesting that the Prom on Thursday given by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra should be boycotted. Given that the concert appears to be sold out, this seems a little like the proverbially belated request to make secure the equine sleeping quarters, but nevertheless I am disturbed by the mindset I perceive here.
I do not propose to bore any reader with historical details of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, nor to advance any opinion or judgement on the rights and wrongs. What I do want to do is explain why such a boycott is at best misguided and at worst dangerous. If you wish to broaden the argument to cover the whole issue of boycotting Israeli cultural and academic activity, feel free.
There is a well-known quotation by Winston Churchill, ‘to jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war’, with which I expect most sensible people would agree. Although I am no historian, I would guess that throughout its existence, the human race has only ever succeeded in bringing conflict to an end in two ways: where one side has annihilated the other, or by some form of negotiated ceasefire or surrender. Surely better the latter than the former.
When a group of people propose a boycott of something, they are really suggesting that the time for negotiation is at an end – after all, you can’t talk to the other side if you’re boycotting them. And if you eschew contact with your opponents, does that not imply that the only way you can win the argument is to obliterate them?
For many years, the British government and the IRA dismissed any idea of negotiating an end to the Irish Troubles, and the violence continued as a result. Somehow, there was a change of position on both sides, and although there are still a small number who want to perpetuate the conflict, today we have a negotiated settlement that has made Northern Ireland a much safer place to live. On the other hand, in Sri Lanka there have been allegations of mass murder of Tamil civilians during the final phase of their civil war; if this is true, it shows what can happen when a dispute is allowed to run to a military conclusion without a negotiated surrender.
Of course, the Israeli Government and the Palestinians have had long periods during which any diplomatic contact was refused. Israel refuses to negotiate with Hamas, and Hamas do not accept Israel’s right to exist. In effect, they are boycotting one another. What might be the end result of this? Perhaps Israel will bomb Gaza out of existence. Perhaps the Palestinians will succeed in ‘pushing Israel into the sea’. Would either of these scenarios be remotely acceptable to any intelligent person? I hope not!
So if you cannot contemplate such a one-sided conclusion to the conflict, you surely have only one other option: negotiation. You have to have dialogue between the sides. And you cannot have dialogue at the same time as a boycott. Better to try to understand your opponents than to ignore them. Better to listen to a fine orchestra than to bury your heads in the sand.
I’ve posted a cryptic crossword in the ‘Puzzles and Quizzes’ section, for anyone who likes that sort of thing. Point at the link top-right and pick the crossword from the drop-down menu.
Back in March, BBC Radio 3 ran a Comic Relief competition, in which the prizes were opportunities to conduct BBC ensembles. All you had to do was answer a simple question about the original use of Maida Vale Studios (a roller-skating rink): correct respondents were put into a hat and the winners drawn at random. Although I didn’t win the ‘first prize’ (conducting the BBC Singers in the Hallelujah Chorus live on Radio 3 on Comic Relief day), I was lucky enough to win a ‘runners-up’ prize, and chose to conduct the BBC Concert Orchestra in rehearsal.
It took a while to arrange a mutually convenient time but eventually, on Wednesday 22nd June, I travelled up to LSO St.Luke’s, where the Orchestra were rehearsing for a concert they were giving in Plymouth the following weekend. When Gavin Sutherland had finished his part of the rehearsal, I mounted the rostrum to conduct Sullivan’s overture to The Yeomen of the Guard. The first run was good, but not quite at the speed I intended: my total lack of experience conducting orchestras was very apparent! After a brief chat, the second run was much more satisfactory.
Following my exploits, BBC producer Matthew Walker recorded a short interview with me, which was broadcast during Afternoon on 3 the following Friday. He also made recordings of both run-throughs, which he has now kindly sent me; so here, if you’re interested, is how it went!
A quick note to say that I have updated a number of pages in the ‘Jukebox’ section so that the music can be downloaded from WordPress to your own computer or other device. Some of the original links pointed to files on Mediafire which had expired, preventing their download. Apologies, and thanks to Ian Finn for pointing out the problem.
I’m writing this on the train back to London after a pleasant break with my friends in Harrogate: I can’t really understand why anyone would willingly travel any other way. In an ideal world we’d beam from place to place like Star Trek characters, wasting no time at all, but given that the laws of physics do apply, any other method of transportation has an unacceptable amount of waste involved – whether it’s waste time or waste energy. Even in the days before on-board wi-fi and mobile phones, a train journey was always an opportunity either to relax and recharge one’s batteries or to do something useful before you arrived at your destination. Now I can catch up with my emails, check Facebook, listen on-line to the cricket commentary and, yes, even post a new blog entry. My only regret is that I’ve missed some of the fantastic views out of the window.
OK, when the train’s delayed or even cancelled it’s very frustrating, but you’re far more likely to be delayed by traffic whilst driving. Even when you are delayed, it doesn’t have to be bad: I recall returning from Scotland some years ago on the Flying Scotsman (no, not the steam locomotive – it was just the name of the 12 noon service from Edinburgh to London) when we ground to a halt near Northallerton; at the time, I was just starting lunch in the dining car. After a short while, the driver announced that there were cows on the line ahead, and we would have to wait until they had been rounded up and removed from the track. All I will say was that it was the most comfortable railway meal I can remember – not a drop was spilled, and we all got extra portions!