LETTER from THE EDITOR

Click to follow
No argument; everybody agrees; terrible nonsense got up by the media; all right? That was the gist of Malcolm Rifkind's response to the grandees' letter in this newspaper on the subject of Europe. Well, that's reassuring. But I'm afraid it's also hooey. The anti-Brussels Tories - whose press fans poured buckets of steaming bile over the grandees yesterday - are now so numerous and well-organised that Norman Lamont must be right in saying that it has become inconceivable that a Tory government would take Britain into monetary union, at least for years ahead. It would split the party so badly that such a government would be likely to fall.

The Independent's confederalist blueprint, published earlier this year, shows at least one way in which a secure relationship could be made democratic and not too burdensome. But I've just received an alternative suggestion from Mr John Spencer of Pimlico, who calls for the pound to be integrated with the US dollar instead, adding: "Obviously this presupposes a vast constitutional shift as we move forward to become the 51st state of the Union by, let's say, the tercentenary of the American Declaration of Independence in 2076." Certain "powerful interests in London and Washington", he promises, are engaged on a feasibility study and he wants to start a new party called America Now. He doesn't seem to be joking.

The best experience of the week, by far, was lunch yesterday with the great Russian cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich. It was hosted by the BBC's Music Magazine and the maestro was in formidable form, rattling off anecdotes about Sibelius, Shostakovich and Prokofiev, all of whom he knew. In his younger days - he's 69 - Rostropovich composed music himself; why had he not persevered? Well, he had gone to listen to the first performance of Shostakovich's Eighth Symphony and rushed home to compose one of his own. After a while, he took stock of what he had written. "It was very near to Shostakovich's Eighth ... but much worse," said the maestro. Then, in 1945, he heard Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony ... rushed home, wrote a scherzo. "Very near Prokofiev ... but much worse." So he stopped and became a conductor, or as he rather alarmingly put it, a prostitute: "In music, I have many loves."

Listening to him were Colin Matthews, whose second cello concerto, written for him, was premiered by the London Symphony Orchestra to wild applause earlier in the week, and James MacMillan, the young Scottish composer whose concerto he premieres early next month. Rostropovich was eloquent about new music and how it often wasn't immediately recognised by people. He told a story about going to London to perform Shostakovich's second cello concerto ("absolute genius composition") and to receive a gold medal for the composer. The next day, a London newspaper asserted that had the concerto been heard before the medal was awarded, Shostakovich wouldn't have got it. The moral, perhaps, was kindly aimed at MacMillan, whose first opera got a pretty savage critical bashing at this year's Edinburgh Festival.

Earlier, being a bit of a philistine materialist, I'd asked what it actually cost to commission, say, a cello concerto these days. The answer was around pounds 7,000, rising to only pounds 25,000 for a world-renowned composer such as Tippett. If you compare that to advances for books from popular authors, or what top painters can earn per canvas, it seems mildly shocking. Why don't people commission new music more? Britain has, after all, some of the world's most interesting new composers.

Comments