Magazine article The Spectator

Music Matters

Magazine article The Spectator

Music Matters

Article excerpt

While Ian Hislop went in search of the Three Kings for Radio Four, and surprise, surprise, came up with an English solution to the enigma of the merchants of gold, frankincense and myrrh, World Routes on Radio Three took us to Nazareth to experience the music that might have been heard by Mary and Joseph as they watched their small child grow up. The oud, a long-necked string instrument with a pear-shaped bowl, much like a lute, has been played in the Near and Middle East for about 5,000 years. It sounds sometimes like a guitar, at others like a harpsichord, but always gives off a haunting, meditative air that straightaway elevates and transcends the everyday. In the company of Moshe Morad we heard from a former soldier in the Israeli army who 15 years ago was fighting in Lebanon but who now runs festivals of oud music in Israel, bringing Arab musicians into Jerusalem and Nazareth. He vowed to himself that if he got out of the war alive he would focus his life on doing something to 'humanise' the contacts between Arabs and Israelis.

Music, he believes passionately, can bridge that gap. Half the population of Israel are Jews from Arab countries, he was keen to remind Morad. They have this music within their genes.

Much of the following day could have been spent on the European trail with Radio Three as it went on its annual jaunt in search of different Christmas musical traditions. Christmas Across Europe . . . And Beyond is a kind of upmarket Eurovision Song Contest but with absolutely no political strings attached. It's all about the music, and the idea of creating a 'radio' experience, linking individuals in far-distant places; something that's been part of radio since those first crystal waves in the 1930s. Despite the internet, despite the possibility of flying to Timbuktu at the drop of a hat, there's still a frisson about joining a community of listeners as it switches on simultaneously round the globe (although, sadly, now that it's so easy to edit, delay and manipulate digitalised material not all the concerts were strictly speaking 'live' broadcasts). This year we heard Stenhammar's Midvinter performed in his native Stockholm, the world première of Rautavaara's 'Our Joyful'st Feast' from the Kallio Church in Helsinki, and a concert by the mesmerising a cappella group, Chanticleer, from their hometown in California. …

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