7.30 am: I took the train for London for a brief visit to see my elder son. He’d invited me to a jazz Proms concert. News of the sudden and tragic death of one of the School’s former students and an employee at the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales had emerged over the past few days. Anna Evans was a mother, and a valued contributor to both the Aberystwyth arts scene and the well-being of many in our community. I didn’t know her well. But we invariably chatted when our paths crossed. She’d always struck me as a woman of integrity, gravitas, and tenderness, with the capacity to impart happiness and hopefulness to others. We’re each of us resigned to be painted out of the picture, one day. It’s not within our gift to determine when, where, or how. Ideally, we’d like to cast off from the world when we and our loved ones are ready (as much as ever any of us are): in due time. That’s a blessing to hope for.
Recently, I watched a documentary on the opera singer Dame Janet Baker. Controversially, she retired – in the opinion of her fans and other professionals in the field – relatively early in her career. She, however, was of the view that it was better to quit too soon rather than too late. There’s great wisdom in that conviction. Baker was at the height of her powers. But the work had become a burden; it demanded too much of her. Everyone had had a slice of her, and she feared that there’d be nothing left for herself if she continued in the profession. It was timely counsel (for me).
En route, I dealt with emails and exchanged invectives with the family about the state of our Government. Of the current Cabinet, I wrote: ‘They’re a corrupt and spineless bunch of self seekers who ought to be ousted, democratically. I’m sure they no longer care that people regard them as the charlatans they undoubtedly are … In the 80s, “greed is good” was the unconscionable mantra of the rich and powerful; today, it’s “lying is good”.’ Disturbing times, both then and now. I’m ashamed of my generation. We’ve betrayed our children through shortsightedness, a prioritisation of short-term gains over long-term benefits, self-indulgence, mismanagement under the guise of micromanagement, and a conspicuous loss of vision. I fear the next generation will be so preoccupied with fixing problems for which we’ve been responsible, that they’ll have too little time to evolve their own positive contribution. ‘How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world’ (Hamlet).
12.20 pm: I arrived at Euston and headed for Clapham North to have my bonce mowed at a very reasonable price:
1.30 pm: I returned to the city centre:
Having mooched around the city centre thereafter, I met my elder son in the lobby of a company to which he has been recently seconded:
After which, we walked to the Barbican to see the Lee Krasner exhibition, taking-in the Banksy artworks on the way:
I regard Krasner as having been a very good painter, but not a great innovator, in the manner of Pollock, Dekooning, Rothko, and Frankenthaler. The large, late works were very impressive: assured, ambitious, and (at their best) executed with a lightness of touch. Quite remarkable.
We ate at a very good, non-chain Italian restaurant nearby, and talked about the exhibition, our jobs, music, and the best in life. On, then, to the Royal Albert Hall (which neither of us had ever been to before) for a late-night Proms concern. We were attending a performance of Duke Ellington’s sacred music, about which I’d read but never heard. (Recordings of it are rare.) The music was astonishing, relevant to my own practice of setting biblical texts sonically, and thoroughly uplifting. The concept of allying jazz to Christian worship may appear to be, at best, incongruent and, at worst, a bid to be cloyingly trendy. But Ellington was merely redirecting jazz back to one of its most significant sources: the tradition of so-called ‘Negro’ spirituals. Music, like visual art, is not intrinsically religious, but it can be made to be.