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Reflections on the Aldeburgh border


I should have been in Aldeburgh for most of last week, but suddenly found myself with lots of time on my hands having declined to show my passport at the Aldeburgh border. Old news now, but I’ve only had to cancel a job a couple of times in my life (and then for vocal reasons) so it leaves a mark.

Was it the right thing to do, or was I just being a ranting ego maniac (as the first few people to comment on Norman Lebrecht’s Arts Journal seemed to think)?  Was I completely mad to do myself out of a week’s work at one of the world’s most iconic venues with some wonderful musicians that I’d been really looking forward to meeting?

I did manage to use the time productively (though it has been a bit weird). We’re moving house in a few weeks so I’ve spent most of the time clearing out the attic and making lots of visits to my local recycling centre.  And on Easter Day we had a great family lunch. In between I checked my newly acquired Twitter account, so was able to keep up to speed with my would-be/erstwhile colleagues who were having such a great time in Suffolk.

I couldn’t help thinking back to all those token protests of my youth – refusing to sing in places with poor human rights records, not going to South Africa during Apartheid or Israel during the Intifada and so on. And then gradually realising that the only thing affected by my position was my bank balance, and that I was doing myself out of seeing some pretty spectacular places. I think I used to drive my Hilliard colleagues mad. I refused to sing in Turkey for years, but in the end couldn’t say no to a Hilliard gig with Jan Garbarek in the Roman amphitheatre at Ephesus, and it was downhill from then on. They’re all so far away, these places, and nothing I did was going to make any difference to anything…

But with the passport business I discovered that I do have a bottom line after all. I‘m glad Concerto Caledonia had such a great time (it was especially good that they weren’t doing the usual Easter stuff that the rest of the world was wallowing in) but in the greater scheme of things music is not that important. The problem for me wasn’t really the need to identify myself per se –  it’s that we’ve never had to do that kind of thing over here until very recently: it’s what happens routinely in all those countries I used to refuse to go to. The reason it’s important is not that we need to safeguard music (I’m sure Concerto Caledonia dutifully showed their passports just as every musician has to do at the Aldeburgh border and life went on as normal) but that we don’t want to lose a society where you can go to the recycling centre and have family lunches whenever you like. The loss of larger freedoms starts with the loss of small ones.

The whole experience has certainly made me think – and turn off the autopilot for a bit. I missed the music a lot more than I thought I would (not helped by Twitter, which seemed to show David McGuiness’ musicians as virtually the only people not in thrall to seasonal composers beginning with B). On the other hand I really enjoyed my trips to the dump, and the family lunch was sheer magic (at Guy Fawkes’ birthplace…). That’s really what I want the freedom to do.  Music is all very well, but if it means colluding with the far right, you can count me out next time too.

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