Friday, July 31, 2009

What a Month! / Meeting John Joubert

July has truly been an extraordinary time.

It started with Adam coming to visit, to which we added five more visitors and a two-week trek across some of the most incredible places in Europe. And it ended with an interesting day yesterday in which I met John Joubert and starting reading Herman Hesse's final work, The Glass Bead Game.

More on all this later; I'd like to be as thorough with this month as I have been with our previous travels, so please excuse me if it takes a bit more time than usual.

As a general overview, we went to Paris for Bastille Day, then flew down to Rome; from there we went up through Italy, seeing Florence, Vernazza, and Pisa before coming home.

About yesterday, however: I went up to Birmingham (a dreary industrial city if ever there was one) to meet with a very accomplished and, in my opinion, underrated composer, John Joubert. I first came across his work while singing in the Ionian Singers — we did a piece of his called Lines from the Youth of Man that is probably one of my favorite pieces of choral music ever. Thereafter, I conducted his Octet on a chamber concert and gave a small presentation about his music for an assignment at the College. He has an impressive (both in quantity and quality) output and to me his music sounds like a happy mix of Britten and Hindemith (although he'd say Shostakovich) with just enough attention to major chords and sweet sounds to really make all the quartal harmonies mean something.

I played some of my pieces for him (which I gather he neither loved nor hated) but mostly we just chatted for an afternoon. He's a very kind man — when he discovered that I'd booked a specific train home to London (which is much cheaper than 'open return' tickets), he drove me to the station so I wouldn't miss it by taking the bus.

Something in particular that he said got me thinking; he was talking about how he constantly revises his works — sometimes even after they're published. Maybe that's another flaw in my own work, as I rarely do any substantial revision. More than just the immediate (and obvious) effect it would have on my music, it suggests a level of rigor and self-examination that I would like to be able to achieve.

And this is no doubt connected to the book I recently began: Hesse's Glass Bead Game. It is every bit as brilliant and nourishing as I had hoped. It's one of those books that I'm disappointed no one told me about when I was younger, and that, like Ishmael, holds the wisdom that I always hoped the Bible would when I was a child. I'm sure that before long I'll bore you with some of the points it raises — already there are things that I love and things with which I disagree — but that's for later. For now, I'll get to work on recounting my July expeditions :)

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