Monthly Archives: July 2005

Birzeit University, Ramallah, Palestine

In January 2004 a group of us were welcomed to Birzeit University, which consists of buildings constructed out of local white stone. It is impressive. What we were told, however, of the continuing harrasment of the Israeli army was an outrage. While the western world expresses its collective feelings of shock and horror at terrorist activities, there has been a failure to express solidarity with the courageous and dedicated staff and students at Birzeit.
Since we were there it appears that the situation has worsened considerably. On 21st November 2004, four Birzeit University students from Gaza were forcibly removed from their studies in the West Bank and illegally deported to the Gaza Strip by the Israeli occupation Army. No charges were made against Bashar Abu Shahala, Walid Muhanna, Bashar Abu Salim and Mohammad Matar, but they have been prevented from returning to Birzeit University to continue their studies. The Right to Education Campaign at Birzeit University is fighting for their return.

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Shoot first, ask questions later

Today (22/05/2005) has been a follow up of the second terrorist attack on the London transport system. Police have been active and are showing CCTV shots of suspects. Evidently the public like to see the authorities get tough in response to events such as those we have experienced recently.
News reports that a man was shot at Stockwell Underground Station are coming in. Passengers were sitting in the tube when a man fell into one of the carriages. The Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, said at a press briefing that “it was connected with the response to the terrorist attacks”, at least that was the way he put it. An eye witness spoke of the man stumbling into the carriage pushed by the armed police officers in pursuit. At this moment the witness says that 5 shots were fired at close range. The police commissioner went on to say “any deaths are regrettable”. At this moment we do not know who this person was. He has been described as of Asian appearance, and we are told he didn’t respond when challenged. Instead he lept over the barrier into the underground system.
Now he’s dead with 5 bullets in his head. No one can now ask him any questions. I can understand if the man posed a threat to the police, but since he was held on the ground the act of killing him appears unnecessary at the very least. This was done in full view of passengers which was traumatic in itself.
It is good to be reassured, but this act of violence seems to me to be wanton and could well inflame the situation. What now if there has been some sort of mistake? Too late to ask questions, shoot first.

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Carl Nielsen

Having watched and listened to Nielsen’s Fourth from the BBC Proms, greatly enjoying Osmo Vanska’s performance with the BBC SO. It was the third movement’s intensity which most impressed with its calm and breathtakingly quiet episodes and exquisite interplay of woodwind as a prelude to the eruption of the finale. I was surprised to hear the announcement that it was first performed at a Promenade Concert in 1965, the centenary of the birth of both Nielsen and Sibelius. John Barbirolli was the conductor of the Halle Orchestra in a concert which included Haydn’s Symphony no 83 “La Poule” if my memory serves me correctly, and Beethoven’s Eroica. I was present at this concert and still have memories of this fine orchestra and conductor.
The music of Nielsen appealed to me because of its objectivity. After the slowing down of music over long time spans in the nineteenth century, Nielsen becomes a breath of fresh air, rediscovering the movement which was second nature to classical composers like Haydn. The Fourth Symphony was completed in 1916. Robert Simpson in his book on Carl Nielsen 1952) speaks in terms of exploding nebulae which is how the work begins. It is clearly influenced by a world at war, but it is life affirming as its title “Inextinguishable” denotes. Nielsen was very much unknown in the UK until around 1950 when Tuxen brought the Fifth Symphony to the Edinburgh Festival and gramophone recordings became available. The Fourth is the first of Neilsen’s 6 symphonies to deal with conflict. The first three are out going and don’t appear to be much troubled, apart from the boy lazing on the pier in the Four Temperaments (no 2) when something drops into the water to disturb his peace.

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War Requiem

I was listening to Kurt Masur in conversation with Andrew MacGregor this morning (16/07/2005) He is a fascinating figure given his experiences in the life and times he grew up. We learned that he fought in the German army and was one of few survivors from one battle in which he fought. In East Germany he worked in a devastated Dresden before taking up his post of DIrector of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in neighbouring Leipzig. Masur has long since been a champion of Mendelssohn in this context, reminding us that this Jewish composer was banned in Nazi Germany. The War Requiem also strikes a chord in him in its quest for peace. It’s first performance in Coventry in 1962 links it to Dresden in their shared experience of devastating aerial attacks.
I listened to the Coventry performance on the radio, but managed to get a ticket for it’s second, the London premier, in Westminster Abbey. I remember queuing outside on a foggy December evening. Britten himself was present and his slight figure accompanied the Queen Mother in procession following this moving occasion. Even then I was feeling that the Royal occasion, connected as it is with the military, was at odds with the pacific nature of this work which Masur placed along side the Missa Solemnis and St Matthew Passion.

Birmingham links with Republic of Guinea

Birmingham UK, like its namesake in Alabama, is a diverse city which likes to believe that all is well in inter-community relations. A recently conducted report on attitudes and its findings on the way that the city is segregated in residential patterns is yet another instance why the City’s leaders should stop being complacent.
Complacent? If you don’t agree then look again at a report from 2001 about the enquiry commissioned by the City Council itself. I was a member of this enquiry for which Judge Ray Singh was invited to preside. Members of the enquiry interviewed a range of individuals and representatives of community groups. A group of employees working for the City Council were also persuaded to speak out. I knew of their concerns because a number of them spoke to me about “the glass ceiling” they felt existed. The then Chief Executive and secretary to the enquiry, Sir Michael Lyons, felt that by interviewing employees personal grievances would be put forward. However the hearing went ahead, with employees insisting there should be no senior officers present and that the session should not be recorded as had happened elsewhere during the enquiry. This seemed to me an eloquent statement in itself!

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