An American colleague of mine sometimes wears a t-shirt telling us that ‘Life is short; Opera is long’. If you live your life caught in the jaws of this dichotomy between brevity and urgency then you probably understand the textspeak TL; DR. In which case might I redirect you to our ‘At a Glance’ which Aliye will be forwarding shortly. This newsletter is particularly long and contains very little news.
Having borrowed from Handel in choosing our name, it seems only fitting that ‘The Triumph of Time and Truth’ can now be used to describe IT&T’s activities this Autumn. Not only did the oratorio form the backbone of our Autumn concerts with performances at the Tetbury Festival, King’s Place, London and the Sheldonian, but to my mind it identifies a shift in IT&T’s presence and a feeling that the orchestra is now being embraced by the Oxford audience.
Our season began in September with Digital Spaghetti, a fitting platform for the talents of our virtuosic leader, Bojan Cicic. When I first heard Bojan perform Locatelli’s Il Laberinto Armonico about 6 years ago, my reaction was to laugh in disbelief – not only that a composer would write something so mad, but that someone could actually play it. Ever since I have wanted everyone to hear Bojan perform that piece, and to realise the extent of his talent. I loved that we made our concert in the Holywell Music Room on September 22nd happen, for that reason. I think of Digital Spaghetti as the ‘thinking man’s totty’ of baroque music, in that it combines sophisticated composition with an irresistibly popular appeal. It’s the sort of programme we perhaps don’t get enough of in Oxford, a sort of guilty pleasure amidst a landscape rich in intellectual challenges.
But there is no shame in enjoying Art – I am most definitely in Philip Larkin’s camp here. His ‘enormous Yes’ epitomising what the arts mean to me – the ultimate affirmation of humanity and human experience.
This feels particularly apposite as I return from the latest Charity Futures conference in London. This is the third consecutive year I will have had the privilege of attending this conference at the invitation of Woodford Investment Management, and it is always a remarkable experience.
As a classical musician one can often feel like a fly-on-the-wall of real life: nothing ever seems to apply to us – categories and surveys never allow for the vagaries and uncertainties of a musician’s life, and people look blankly at me as I try to explain why I can’t regularly attend on a Tuesday, or why I shouldn’t pay exorbitant car insurance because, despite being ‘an entertainer’, I don’t give lifts to celebrities.
It’s a bit like that at Charity Futures. These are all intelligent people with proper jobs in challenging and worthy fields. They also understand what the speakers are on about and ask probing questions at the end. But no matter how alien an environment it can feel to a musician who also helps run a charity which has one administrator and three volunteers, there always comes a moment when I want to get up and shout, “That’s us! That’s what we do!”
This year that moment came when Roman Krznaric, who addressed ‘Planning for The Long Now’ (the need to think not in months but in millennia), asked us to discuss with our neighbour our most important experience of ‘Long Thinking and what it meant to us.’ Suddenly the Alien became the Native, for ‘The Long Now’ is where we classical musicians live. In particular early musicians trying to imagine and reproduce the vision of composers from hundreds of years ago, and act as conduits in entrusting that legacy to future generations. One of the intended interpretations of the word ‘Instruments’ in our name.
It is ironic that the moral of Handel’s oratorio ‘The Triumph of Time and Truth’ is belied by its very existence. Handel might have us believe that Beauty is transient and only Truth endures. But Art alone can be both beautiful and true. One wonders if Handel was a Long Thinker and if he is smiling now.
One of the other speakers at the Charity Futures conference was Andrew Mackay, a former senior officer in the British Army who commanded 9,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. Central to his story was his need to know why he and his troops were in Helmand and how he had gone about answering that question and validating their presence there.
Again that sort of question is in our minds this weekend and is underlined by our Sheldonian concert this Friday, In Memoriam. Ticket sales are always an anxiety for a group in its infancy, but alongside our annual Messiah, In Memoriam promises to be our largest audience ever. Proof surely of the enduring power of music to express those ‘Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears’ and which we, as humans, will continue to experience.
Judith Evans, Concerts Manager