"It felt odd to sit in silent, formal rows, as if we were listening to Ravi Shankar, but since Ravi Shankar himself was sitting in the front row, who were we to disagree?"

July: the month in review
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The Independent Culture
If you don't get them cheering with Pictures at an Exhibition, you have a problem. The question was, how would they take Silvestre Revueltas? It was the opening of the current King's Lynn Festival, and the mid-century Mexican's exhilarating short burst of Afro-Latin menace, Sensemaya, was the high-risk item. When Sachio Fujioka and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra won a good hand for their efforts - not a roof-raising job, but exciting enough - there was mighty relief. We made it!

Such are the usual issues of programming around the country. You will often read about the few who go heavily contemporary. Scaring the public with the music publishers' latest fashions is no option when your festival committee lacks the wherewithal to compensate. At the end of the Eighties Meirion Bowen bravely tried to zap up the novelty level in King's Lynn, to the acclaim of the press. But the catchment area doesn't include enough metropolitan sophisticates and the houses dropped. Now the festival is run by the arts centre director, with a little input from two advisers (of whom I am one), and bookings are up again.

So how do we have our adventures? The classical content is, we hope, lively while mostly traditional; its audiences growing, but not growing younger. Diversity and youth enter by stealth. Wayne Marshall is in residence, playing everything from jazz to church organ. Music and art from Africa and Peru are prominent. There are stories for children, and a "Carnival of Voices" for singers from all over the region. The premiere is by Howard Blake, and a string quartet is reviving Ethel Smyth.

The point of this column is to report a month of listening as it really was - not just the selection the reviewer thinks is good for you. Music is a bigger menu than a collection of specialist diets. Most of our listening mixes it as much as our eating, and no style will be off-limits here.

Back in the city, talk is about the audience of the future, too. Nobody knows how to get it, so they place their hopes in education and image and wait for the grey hairs to fade. Meanwhile the South Bank Centre has its own answer: broaden the product range while testing the rejuvenation pills. This year's much-plugged "Meltdown" was one way, though its box- office success disguised the classic mistake of trying to do it all in every concert. Pluralist listening isn't a matter of dilution.

July saw a neater alternative in the short "Rhythm Sticks" series, a lively tour of the world's percussion with a different focus each evening. It happened only at the last minute, because the SBC had budget cuts and dropped its own plans for an Indian popular music festival. (Well, they wouldn't drop "Meltdown",now, would they?) What emerged was a new venture in programming: the first time a number of independent promoters have jointly created a festival in partnership with the South Bank. It has built up a head of enthusiasm for working the same way again.

One of its catches was the South Bank debut of Traditional Arts Projects, a group from the south of England which set clog dancing alongside Indian kathak. Where can emphatic English heel-and-toe work connect with Asian subtlety? This meeting was on native soil, and the cloggies weren't attempting intricate cross-rhythms. But the aim was to respond within their own tradition, not to imitate, and the session chalked up a few neat patterns and a large quota of fun.

The QEH was snapped up for an "Arts of India" season of big names in dance and Indian classical music, promoted by SBC regulars, Sama Performing Arts. With seven dates in less than a fortnight, the series risked overkill, and certainly the evening of folk musicians from Jodhpur didn't attract the usual mid-season turnout, nor did it hold everybody to the end.

Still, the show relieved its longueurs with a rousing sequence of songs and solos. Star instrument was the khadtal, a pair of wooden clappers played with alarming flamboyance like aggressive castanets. Some of the vocal lines showed a distant kinship with flamenco. It felt odd to sit in front of this highly social music in silent, formal rows, as if we were listening to Ravi Shankar, but since Ravi Shankar himself was sitting in the front row, who were we to disagree?

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