My rational mind tells me to expect nothing less than a total cultural lockdown until at least middle March. This time plans are ready: the total immersion into Bluebeard's Castle (Judith), preparing a symphonic/opera concert as mezzo/conductor, practicing and recording several (many) chamber works with the Champs, and teaching my kids how to cook. For now the goal is to reach the weekend without anybody contracting and testing positive for C, a feat almost unimaginable with elementary school cases skyrocketting.
There are magical moments that happen so sparsely in our careers that it is possible to count them on two hands after decades of practice and performance. How to describe it is something that many have words for, yet they still don't encompass the real meaning. The difficulty is that it cannot be willfully elicited, it cannot be planned, it certainly cannot be coerced. When it happens, the performers almost dare not breath for breaking the moment, for losing the magic.
Last Thursday I was conducting a rehearsal which I was convinced would be the last for at least a few weeks, if not longer, due to the very possible imposition of corona regulations. With a concert just two weeks away, all of the repertoire is finished and is only awaiting fine-tuning and the general rehearsal. I decided to do the general rehearsal of the works that we could do without the soloists. One of those works was Gorecki's Totus Tuus, which is (as most of his genre is) extremely tiring and taxing to sing due to the endless repetition and difficult tessituras that need to be actively upheld to dismay sinking tonality. At the end of the piece, when intonation had gone downhill anyways, and I was not expecting anything at all from the piece and just decided to stick to the end because we needed to get a feel of the whole, it happened. The endless repeated Maria's caught us in a spell. There was a sort of über concentration, a submission to each other, a submission to the music. As the last sound died away, one of the tenors burst into tears.
I always know that tears are victory in music. The magic is why we do music. The tears are the release.
Part of the art of (music) conducting is anticipation paired with critical analysis of what has happened and what is happening in real-time. An artist has either learned or has the natural ability to think out of the box. A conductor hopefully has both qualities.
A conductor is constantly influencing the ensemble with his/her movements, decisions, opinions, knowledge, and is therefore highly alert as to the consequences of his/her actions, as it is directly heard in the resulting sound. A conductor simply knows that there is a consequence to every action, and knows to accept it and more importantly, learn from it.
If there is one thing that has become blatantly obvious to me, is that some of the few that are openly critical of the world situation are conductors. While many just follow the policies imposed by the government because they have full trust in the experts, therefore feeling obliged to comply, there are also those who scrutinize these rules critically and question their motive and use in combatting the situation. And these people, in my network, are all conductors. Perhaps the explanation is simple: we are leaders and don’t like to be led. Perhaps the explanation is as I stated above: we are trained to analyze.
I’ll give my abbreviated look on the situation.
We have an acceleration of crisis’s happening simultaneously: a (relatively mild*) pandemic combined with a continually worsening (Western) health crisis, species extinction due to varying factors (poaching, steadily decreasing wild areas, climate change, pesticides, disease due to global traffic), climate change causing ocean acidification, melting of the ice caps and sea-level rise, social unrest due to a dramatic decrease in resources (of course linked to climate change!) and a dramatic increase of social inequality, housing crisis due to combined factors of overpopulation and financial inequality (the last inevitably linked to the first), frighteningly uncontrollable technological expansion. And while we are frantically trying to find solutions to all of these individual problems, we are unable to accept this axiom: every action has a consequence. Or as the English have stated so elegantly: you can’t have your cake and eat it too.
What does this mean (in my opinion)?
— As an individual, you can’t disregard your personal responsibility for your health. As a nation, you can’t sacrifice the health of your citizens for economic growth (and I’m not even talking about the corona crisis).
— Infinite economic growth is not possibly on a finite planet.
— As a society, if we hold ethical (human) standards as a supreme, that will inevitably have a negative influence on our environment and eventually will be our downfall. (this last one needs explanation)
- Exponential population growth is not sustainable and will cause devastating suffering (therefore meaning that inalienable reproductive rights are impossible to sustain)
- A health system based on prolonging life at the cost of quality of life is unjust and financially not feasible.
The crisis that we are facing now is not that all of the above is happening simultaneously (which it is), but that we are unable to come to terms with the fact that we MUST accept the consequences of our actions. We are collectively unable to manage ourselves within the natural balance needed for survival on this planet. Because of our collective failure, the consequence is that de planet will do it for us. If we are to survive, we must accept several things. First, the only manner of survival is to accept mass-management on a world level and downscale to pre-industrial levels. Second, there is no way to evade the consequences of the mistakes made by the previous generations. We must face the reality of the situation.
So why are many of my colleagues critical of how the governments are handling the current crisis's?
Me personally: I see a hard-headed focus on the corona crisis to be a harmful diversion from the real work that needs to be done to combat climate change and the sadly almost inevitable human suffering that will ensue. I see a societal egotism that insists on survival at the astronomical mental and financial cost and brainwashing of our younger generations and the plundering of the planet. I see a society that insists that the present is more important than the future. In short, nobody is conducting. Nobody is anticipating. Nobody is able to steer us into balance and harmony. We're a cacophony of bickering voices plunging into chaos.
orchestral and choral conductor, my daily conducting life described here.