Despite Gaza’s war, the show must go on

The very existence of Prom 46 was a thrilling and political event

Share

Daniel Barenboim’s Prom with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which includes young Israelis and Palestinians, was for me a thrilling and highly political event. To see, in the midst of the Gaza conflict, these young musicians from both sides of the divide making music and hugging each other at the end lifted the spirits. Yet some critics were unimpressed, noting that even though there were premières from both an Israeli and a Syrian composer, the bulk of the sunny repertoire that evening consisted of Ravel, pieces from Carmen and finally an Argentinian tango. This joyous music, they said, was insufficiently political.

I believe they miss the point. It needs neither sombre and serious music, nor a political speech from the brilliant Barenboim, to be a political event. The orchestra’s very existence and its ability to come together in a celebration of joyous music-making was in itself a huge political statement.

Which brings me to the UK-Russia Year of Culture. Who knew we were in the middle of it? It has received hardly any publicity or fanfare, and no Government ministers attend its events in an official capacity. Its director, Leigh Gibson of the British Council, tells me that in March, when the problems erupted in Ukraine, the decision was taken that Government ministers would not be involved, and the emphasis of the year of culture would change completely from being a celebration of the relationship between the two countries to being an educational and cultural series of events. The year of events continues (as indeed it does in Russia) but since March there has over here been “no active promotion of the year celebrating the relationship”.

I consider this a mistake. If these bilateral festivals are to mean anything, if culture is to mean anything, that meaning has to be widening our knowledge, learning not just about ourselves but about other people and finding that art helps us to understand. And yes, we should celebrate that. We should not keep the festival quiet. Ministers should not be studiously avoiding it. They should be shouting about it, shouting how cultural links show that even politically opposed nations can come together and understand each other better through art. Actually, that is meant to be the British Council’s raison d’être. Can one imagine Barenboim cancelling the visit of his orchestra to the Proms because of the situation in Gaza? That visit brought hope, just as a properly promoted, Government-blessed UK-Russia Year of Culture might also bring hope.

The Shaftesbury has other theatres licked

I recall being shocked when a theatre owner and producer told me she didn’t know what an ice-cream cost at her venue. The price of ice-creams, drinks and programmes are part of a night at the theatre. So it’s pleasing to see The Stage newspaper’s survey of the price of these items at West End theatres. The average total cost of a glass of white wine, a programme and an ice cream in London’s West End is £11.99. When added to the average price of the cheapest ticket (£20.36) and most expensive ticket (£81.68), a theatre-goer can expect to pay £32.35 and £93.67 respectively, when buying wine, a programme and ice-cream on top of their seat price. And the most expensive ice-cream in the West End? The award (or booby prize) goes to the Shaftesbury Theatre which charges £3.80. Memo to playwrights: more plays without intervals, please

A performance before the show even started

Last weekend, I caught one of the last “shows” by the performance artist Marina Abramovic in her long stint at London’s Serpentine Gallery. She held my hand as we walked at a snail’s pace across the gallery a “magic” seven times to clear the brain. My cultural life is complete. In the queue outside, one was handed a card with a list of the usual instructions about leaving mobile phones, coats and even watches in lockers before going in. At the entrance there was a notice with the same instructions. And once in the foyer, gallery staff assembled visitors for a short lecture, in which they repeated those instructions. At first I thought this was bureaucracy gone mad, but on reflection I realised it was the staff doing their own version of performance art.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Junior Web Developer - Kent - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Junior Web Developer - ne...

Recruitment Genius: Production Team Leader / Chargehand

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a Chargehand to join ...

Ashdown Group: Client Services Manager - Relationship Management - London

£30000 - £32000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Recruitment Genius: Credit Controller / Customer Service

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding business...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Amjad Bashir said Ukip had become a 'party of ruthless self-interest'  

Ukip on the ropes? Voters don’t think so

Stefano Hatfield
'One minute he cares desperately about his precious things, the next he can’t remember them'  

I repeat things over and over in the hope they’ll stay with him

Rebecca Armstrong
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project