Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Cultural Conductor

When two Scousers meet conversation normally revolves around football, leisure & family. At least it does when the two Scousers in question are from working class backgrounds. Their middle class counterparts, however, tend to be more stilted, more formal, less spontaneous. Such an encounter is to be dissected in today's Observer where Ed Vulliamy & Simon Rattle look ahead to the latter's two dates at Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall later this year, firstly with the Berlin Philharmonic, & then with the RLPO ( ).
There's a discernible element of nostalgia for the Liverpool of yesteryear as well as a shudder at the recent past when Rattle enthuses that "it's nice to see [Liverpool] in such a renaissance because there were some really tough times in Liverpool after the riots, the Derek Hatton years."
Vulliamy seizes on this cursory throwback to the 80s to revive his own well-documented antipathy to Militant:
"[Rattle] says this with solemn slowness, as though a dear friend had been abused by the years when Hatton and Margaret Thatcher picked over Liverpool's bones."
Ah, yes, Hatton & Thatcher, two sides of the same destructive coin that did for the city. That tired, discredited & contradictory theory; it's as risible as claiming that the city's slide was due to events in the 80s & nothing to do with the Port's decline decades earlier.
Vulliamy is on altogether firmer ground when he highlights the hitherto overlooked issue of musical education in schools with his observation that "a battle rages over music in British schools between people such as Rattle, Julian Lloyd Webber and Peter Maxwell Davies, who believe that deprived children have a right of access to great classical music, and those -- with their bastion in the north west as it happens -- who believe that music education should consist of what is regarded as 'relevant' to children and chosen by them, not 'bourgeois' and 'imposed' from the classical heritage. It's a situation which results in poor children studying rap music in class and never hearing a note of Beethoven."
Other than the term "bourgeois" (which I haven't heard used in cultural, political or economic discourse for a decade), Vulliamy is correct to identify this depressingly limiting phenomenon.
That said, however, the issue of class is again germane to such an issue. Rattle grew up in Aigburth, next to Sefton Park, in a home environment which was clearly comfortable. Therefore it was easier for him to persue & develop his musical ambitions in the city. Anyone of Rattle's generation growing up in the working class north end of Liverpool simply wouldn't have had such a supportive ethos in the home, the parents' help notwithstanding. That can be explained simply: lack of money. It's a situation which remains unchanged half a century later.
A postscript: it's heartening to see Rattle's role as something of a Renaissance figure referred to in the article.

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