Saturday, December 29, 2018

Impressions of The Bund

Humanism & Humaneness

The Jewish Labor Bund poster in Yiddish says: “There, where we live, there is our country! A democratic republic! Full political and national rights for Jews. Ensure that the voice of the Jewish working class is heard at the Constituent Assembly,” Kiev, circa 1918.
Via: NYRB & Bund Archives of the Jewish Labor Movement, New York

In an article (“My Great-Grandfather the Bundist;” October 6, 2018), in The New York Review of Books, Molly Crabapple writes and reminisces about her family’s historical ties to the Bund—via way of her maternal grandfather (the post-Impressionist artist Sam Rothbort)—giving detailed and general impressions of a political party and organization whose humane and humanistic values echo those of my upbringing, ones that still ring true many decades later:
Founded in 1897 in Vilna (Vilnius in modern-day Lithuania), and reaching its height in interwar Poland, the Bund was a sometimes-clandestine political party whose tenets were humane, socialist, secular, and defiantly Jewish. Bundists fought the Tsar, battled pogroms, educated shtetls, and ultimately helped lead the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Though the Bund was largely obliterated by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, the group’s opposition to Zionism better explains their absence from current consciousness. Though the Bund celebrated Jews as a nation, they irreconcilably opposed the establishment of Israel as a separate Jewish homeland in Palestine. The diaspora was home, the Bund argued. Jews could never escape their problems by the dispossession of others. Instead, Bundists adhered to the doctrine of do’ikayt or “Hereness.” Jews had the right to live in freedom and dignity wherever it was they stood.
As a Jew, I can applaud this statement; and as a human being with wider humanist sentiments I can say that such ideas ought to apply to all peoples of the world, no matter where they live. The Bund as an organization promoting universalist ideas in Yiddish, a language that has fewer speakers than it once did, now lives on chiefly in archives and in articles like this one. Its relevance snuffed out by the Holocaust, the Stalinist Gulags and entho and religious nationalism, whose primal sources—fear and hatred of the Other— are as old as humanity itself.
We also witness its effects today as the rise of the reactionary right, of illiberal movements and of authoritarian populism. Such movements cannot be ignored, but seen for what they are and understood for why they exist—they draw their purpose and their power from the discontent of everyday people who feel they have long been ignored and marginalized by “liberal” democracies. Yet, despite all this, despite feeling the suffocating power of its presence, we are mindful and are aware that it is imperative to act, with renewed vigour, to ensure that the modern high-minded values of freedom, tolerance, justice and dignity remain a vital part of our everyday lives.

Such are as important now as they were in 1897. Perhaps even more so. As a reminder, the history of the 20th century is instructive of what can happen when such values are ignored or pushed to the margins. Hope is the wellspring of liberal democracies; hope is the antithesis of hate. Hope opens doors and builds bridges.

Final thought: We reside with hope that the new year of 2019 will be one where we can all live with dignity as free men and women. For now, given what is taking place in many parts of the world, this seems a far-away dream. But dream we must, and moreover act with good conscience on such  dreams.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Choir of King’s College, Cambridge: Christmas Carols

Winter Festival

Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, England, with Stephen Cleobury as music director, perform the annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. As is tradition on Christmas Eve, a lone boy is selected by the choirmaster to sing the first verse of “Once in Royal David’s City.”
Via: Youtube

It is that time of year again, to commemorate and celebrate a musical winter tradition that is this year marking its centenary. In an article (“Every Christmas Eve, a Lone Choir Boy Sings to More Than 370 Million;” December 23, 2018), in The New York Times, Michael White writes:
A serene liturgical parade of music, words and wonder that expounds the Christmas story, the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is the high point of the year for King’s, a University of Cambridge college with a celebrated choir that sings in its chapel almost every day while classes are in session.
And this year will be special: Partly because it’s the 100th Lessons and Carols, but also because it’s the last time Mr. Cleobury — who has held one of the most coveted jobs in church music for longer than most people can remember — will be in charge.
Something about the Lessons and Carols’ serene liturgy of music, words and wonder touches a nerve. It seems embedded in the DNA of Christmas, a tradition from the ancient past. Except it isn’t.  
It was started in 1918 by a young Anglican priest who had returned to Cambridge after serving in the trenches of World War I. He called it a “festival,” but it was also a commemoration for the war dead, with a so-called Bidding Prayer for “those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light.”
It established a precedent, and churches and cathedrals copied the new liturgy for themselves — to the point that the format of Nine Lessons and Carols became a standard at Anglican churches around the world.
And a beautiful one, too, that all peoples of the world can enjoy. 

Friday, December 21, 2018

Winter Solstice 2018


Winter solstice (hibernal solstice) will begin today at 5:23 p.m. EST here in Toronto, which is well within the northern hemisphere. As for its significance, the Farmer’s Almanac says what many of us Canadians know and experience all too well, and, might I add, for far too long: “The day of the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, meaning the one in which we experience the least amount of daylight in 24 hours; it is also the time when the Sun reaches its southernmost point in the sky. Although this part of Earth is cooling, its great thermal mass still retains some heat from the summer and fall.” On the shortest day of the year, today, Toronto receives 8 hours, 55 minutes and 46 seconds of sunlight. (Sunrise: 7:47 a.m.; sunset: 4:43 p.m.). It is dark when you leave and dark when you return. The good news is that starting tomorrow the days get longer. Spring is around the corner, but a long corner it is—only four months or so to go. 

Monday, December 17, 2018

Al Stewart: Year of the Cat (1976)

Al Stewart & band perform  Year of the Cat on the Old Grey Whistle Test on November 30, 1976 (BBC2; 1971–1988).
Via: Youtube

Year of the Cat
by Al Stewart & Peter Wood

On a morning from a Bogart movie
In a country where they turn back time
You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre
Contemplating a crime
She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running
Like a watercolor in the rain
Don’t bother asking for explanations
She’ll just tell you that she came
In the year of the cat

She doesn’t give you time for questions
As she locks up your arm in hers
And you follow ’till your sense of which direction
Completely disappears
By the blue tiled walls near the market stalls
There’s a hidden door she leads you to
These days, she says, I feel my life
Just like a river running through
The year of the cat

While she looks at you so cooly
And her eyes shine like the moon in the sea
She comes in incense and patchouli
So you take her, to find what’s waiting inside
The year of the cat

Well morning comes and you’re still with her
And the bus and the tourists are gone
And you’ve thrown away your choice you’ve lost your ticket
So you have to stay on
But the drum-beat strains of the night remain
In the rhythm of the new-born day
You know sometime you’re bound to leave her
But for now you’re going to stay
In the year of the cat

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Birds Offer Hope During Winter

Comfort of Song

Winter Sparrows on Tree Branches.

A beautifully written opinion piece (“The Solace of Birds in Winter;” December 15, 2018), by Margaret Renkl, in today's New York Times captures my sentiments; Renkl, who lives in Tennessee, writes:
In the search for comfort in the face of so many 21st-century dangers — to democracy in the age of fake news, to the natural world in the age of climate change — I don’t normally think of winter as offering much in the way of consolation.
Many of the most interesting creatures have gone to ground now. The cheery chipmunks are asleep in their tunnels beneath my house. The queen bumblebees have made themselves a little sleeping chamber deep in the soil of my garden. Somewhere nearby, the resident rat snake is also sleeping underground, and, at the park, the snapping turtles and bullfrogs have settled themselves into the mud at the bottom of the lake.
All the loveliest insects are gone now, too. The honeybees are huddled up in their hives, vibrating their wings to keep warm and feeding on the honey they’ve stored for just this reason. The monarch butterflies have long since migrated to their Mexican wintering grounds. My flower beds are nothing but a jumble of dried stems and matted clumps, a collection of dead vegetation I’ve left undisturbed for my tiniest neighbors to shelter in. But even remembering the purpose behind this untidiness, I take no comfort from my garden anymore.
But there are the odd winter birds who remain, local birds who never leave, loyal to the area, like the sparrows (Passer domesticus) in our neighbourhood. Yesterday was a grey rainy day here in Toronto, the kind that makes you feel sad. Then, at a local shopping mall of all places, I heard birds chirping, singing—sparrows. Loudly and joyfully. It was beautifully inspiring and my mood quickly changed. I recommend that you read the complete article [here].

Friday, December 14, 2018

Trans-Siberian Orchestra: Christmas Canon (2004)

Christmas Canon by Trans-Siberian Orchestra from their album The Lost Christmas Eve (2004), the last album of a Christmas trilogy performed by the band. It is set set to the tune of Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D major with new lyrics added. A memorable Christmas song and performance.
Via: Atlantic Records & Youtube

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Christopher Hogwood Academy of Ancient Music: Handel’s Messiah (1980)

Handel’s Messiah, by the Christopher Hogwood Academy of Ancient Music (AAM), conducted by Christopher Hogwood, in this 1980 rendition and recording is considered one of the finest performances of this Christmas classic performed and recorded at the grand and magnificent Westminster Abby in London, England. Also present and predominant are the Choir of Westminster Abby, with Simon Preston as organist and master of the choralists; soloists Simon Preston, Judith Nelson, Emma Kirkby, Carolyn Watkinson, Paul Elliott and David Thomas. This masterpiece was composed by George Frideric Handel [1685–1759] between August 22, 1741 and September 14, 1741 in  London; and the libretto-compiler by Charles Jennens, who used the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer for his source inspiration. It premiered in Dublin on April 13, 1742, and a year later in London. This oratorio transcends the boundaries of religion, culture and geography.  For a fine background piece on Christopher Hogwood [1941–2014], see the article (“Reconstructing Messiah performances;” August 2, 2007) in Gramophone [here].
Via: Youtube

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Jacqueline du Pré and the London Symphony Orchestra: Dvořák Cello Concerto (1968)

Dvořák Cello Concerto in B minor, opus 104, B. 191, performed by by Jacqueline du Pré and the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Daniel Barenboim, at the Royal Albert Hall, in London, England, on September 2, 1968. For more, see [here].

This concert was held in tribute to the people of Czechoslovakia, taking place days after the Soviet Union invaded this country (August 20–September 20, 1968), thus crushing the people’s aspirations and hopes for freedom. It would take another twenty years, with the Fall of the Soviet Union, for this to be realized. Such is a hopeful reminder that evil regimes do not last forever, even if at the time they seem that they will never end, causing much misery to those under its boot. But they do end, and when they do, they collapse for the reasons that they no longer have the support of the People. Music and the Arts go a long way to keep People mindful of this, bringing beauty, truth and justice to the forefront. Enjoy this wonderful performance.

The Concert

1. Allegro 0:00
2. Adagio, ma non troppo 16:10
3. Finale 29:01

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 (2014)

Ludwig van Beethoven Symphony No. 7 in A major, opus 92, by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, conducted by Iván Fischer, at the Het Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on January 9–10, 2014. Beethoven completed this four-movement symphony around 1812 in the Bohemian spa town of Teplice, where he went to improve his health. Beethoven himself conducted this piece in Vienna, Austria, on December 8, 1813. In Notes on Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, Christopher H. Gibbs writes for NPR as to its immediate appeal, one that continues two centuries later: “After its premiere, the Seventh Symphony was repeated three times in the following 10 weeks; at one of the performances the ‘applause rose to the point of ecstasy,’ according to a newspaper account. The Leipzig Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung reported that ‘the new symphony (A major) was received with so much applause, again. The reception was as animated as at the first time; the Andante [sic] (A minor), the crown of modern instrumental music, as at the first performance, had to be repeated.’ The Symphony's appeal is not hard to understand. In scope and intensity, it is fully Beethovenian, and yet it does not place quite as many demands on the listener as does the ‘Eroica.’ The ambition of the first movement, beauty of the second, the breathlessness of the scherzo, and relentless energy of the finale did not fail to impress audiences. Beethoven himself called it ‘one of the happiest products of my poor talents.’”
Via: Youtube