Magazine article The Spectator

Marathon Man

Magazine article The Spectator

Marathon Man

Article excerpt

It rapidly became inevitable that my annual trip to Fukushima would be cancelled: I was due to go less than a week after the earthquake. No explanations were asked for and none was given. After all, every contract I have ever signed has included a standard clause about force majeure - it is always taken for granted and assumed it will never be invoked - and here suddenly I was presented with the most complete definition of that phrase I could ever expect to encounter.

The job in question was to judge the all Nippon Choral Competition, which I had done for the previous three years. In so doing I had got to know not only the town of Fukushima and its delights, but also the people who run the Symphony Hall there, including the prefect of the province. This amiable and melodious politician had turned the competition into a big banner for his occupation of office, and it had helped him to re-election last autumn.

Now instead of singing tenor to his electorate he is dealing with the possibility of leaking nuclear radiation, a massive refugee problem and a cracked symphony hall.

I occasionally see his name in the papers - the last reference explained that the Prime Minister of Japan had 'commanded' him to do something, I forget what, and that this was a sign of the desperation of their situation, since no one in Japanese culture is normally seen to command anyone in such a public way. I sent him a copy of the Victoria Requiem, which he had told me he loved more than any other Renaissance masterpiece.

Mention of the Victoria reminds me that I have just directed 12 performances of it in 16 nights, nine in the US, two in Belgium and one in Paris, with two different ensembles (separately) - the Tallis Scholars and the Choeur de Chambre de Namur. I was asked if this was a world record, though since the Guinness book doesn't run to musical feats the question must remain moot. But I can report on what it is like to revisit such a passionate and unfamiliar emotional world night after night after night.

It is a strange thing, but although I recoiled from the effort on the second night, by the fifth or so I was longing for it again.

This relentless repetition had forced out an understanding that in Victoria's interpretation the message of the Requiem text can be positive and uplifting. …

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