Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Happy New Years

Christmas has been and gone so has New Year and Chinese New Year.  So many big occasions in such a short period!  Now things begin to get more reflective as we prepare to enter Lent.  These contrasts are, I think, important giving rhythm to the year.  Last night, I went to hear Bach's, St Matthew Passion conducted by Mazaaki Suzuki.  This was one of the opening performances for the 2011 Hong Kong Arts Festival.  I am not musically literate, but I can tell when I am in the presence of a composer of genius and a performer of greatness.  It is quite a long work to sit through on a Monday night especially after coming from a deeply frustrating School Council meeting.

Growing up, I had little interest in classical music.  My childhood and teenage years growing up in Liverpool were dominated by the Beatles and what was known then as the 'Mersey Beat'.  The first 'record' I remember buying was a single by Adam Faith!  When I became a Christian, I became part of a culture that was deeply suspicious of  'pop' music, and I stopped listening to anything but Christian attempts at it: some reasonable, some ..., well, let's just say, less good.  This was the era of the 'Come together' experience.  Anyone remember that?  We still sing 'Freely, freely you have received', which comes from it.

As I rejected the dualism implicit in this sort of approach, I started listening to non-Christian pop again and enjoyed it though was never a big enthusiast.  I much preferred the spoken word on BBC Radio 4, which now, thanks to the internet, I can still enjoy here in Hong Kong.  Classical music, however, remained very much outside my horizons.  I had heard Church Choirs sing Bach and organists play his organ music before and after Church services and, frankly, did not care for it very much.  This was both personal taste and ideology.  It was after all the time when the cry was for the Church to be relevant.  Whatever that meant.

My first serious encounter with classical music was at a concert I went to, which must have been around 1978.  It was at the Royal Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool, given by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.  A friend had invited me to go with him and I had no reason for not going.  The Hall itself I had been in before.  It was where my School Speech Day was held.  The first of the two secondary schools I went to being just down the road.  I seem to remember they were playing Elgar, although I don't remember which piece.  I do very clearly remember thinking, in a moment of enlightenment that has stayed with me, that this was altogether different to what passed for music in popular culture.  What was more the musicians had real talent  and ability that went way beyond thumping away on a guitar.  I didn't give up listening to popular music, but I did begin listening to classical music.  Not knowledgeably, I freely admit, but for pleasure, nevertheless.

Ironically, I now find myself having done something of a circle and thinking that my young Christian self may have had a point when he rejected much popular music as the work of the Devil.  Certainly the values it promotes seem hard to justify from anything like a Christian position no matter how much fun they may or may not be to dance to.

Whatever, I wish the Hong Kong Arts Festival every success as it brings great artists like Mazaaki Suzuki to Hong Kong and, hopefully, introduces more people to the genius of composers like Bach.  Maybe one or two may even stop to think about the words!

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