By Kelly Lovelady
This weekend I will conduct a musical programme in solidarity with our brothers and sisters seeking asylum by sea in the beautiful chapel of King’s College London.
My ensemble Ruthless Jabiru is a London chamber orchestra dedicated to humanitarian stories. A dual advocacy for contemporary composers and Activist narratives reflects our citizen duty as artists to engage ever more deeply with the world around us; giving voice to the truths of our allies, interrogating the accountability of our leaders and championing solidarity in all its forms.
As I collect my thoughts on another International Women’s Day I have been reflecting on the cult of familiarity and how deep it runs. In concert music culture we are dogged by this and for good reason: we want to luxuriate in the masterpieces we have carried in ourselves as musicians our whole life! For me though our continuing obsession with expectation management and comfort in the concert hall is a real barrier to the powers of the sonic arts to inspire, mobilise and unite us around topical issues.
We can be seduced in a splitsecond by a website graphic, a grafitti wall, the flicking past a colourful page en route to somewhere else. We naturally see the visual arts firstly from a bird’s eye view and allow ourselves to be tempted into a deeper engagement. It is curious to me that the experience of the temporal arts has become so far removed from this spirit of openness and adventure. We invest our precious time, money and attention in essentially a lockdown performance environment; it follows that our decision to engage is so often led by our familiarity with the music in question.
Albeit through a well-intended reverence to our forefathers, the orchestral sector is notorious for its museum culture. The beloved music of the past is so deeply normalised that the sounds of our own era and even that of 70 years ago are still considered radical. The historical exclusion of female composers from the canon means that their music, ever as lush and captivating as their contemporaries, continues to be marginalised through our fixation on the familiar. The act of programming has become an opportunity for Activism and to my mind, can be no other way.
It further occurs to me that the steps towards a deeper humility in the concertgoing experience: an implicit trust in the unknown, an openness to natural evolution, and a willingness to blur the boundary between listening and hearing that would so rejuvenate our appetite for contemporary music; could similarly be applied to our embrace and compassion for our brothers and sisters seeking refuge in their time of need.
Kelly Lovelady is the Artistic Director of Ruthless Jabiru
Photo © Eleni Xintaras