We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Eastern European Idylls

Posted from Bratislava, Slovak Republic

Here at the only Internet cafe in Bratislava that I can find, I am struggling with a crazy Eastern European keyboard and what are for me the difficulties of using�yahoo. It’s an arkward combination, not made�anz easier bz the fact that whenever I tzpe z I get y and whenever I tzpe y I get z. So it comes out as zahoo unless I concentrate verz carefullz.

But enough of trivia. I got to Bratislava last Friday and leave next Monday, and so far it’s been great. I have lucked into a classical music festival, the initials for the Slovak title of which are BHS. So when I went to the concert on Saturday, I thought, oh no, they�ve done a truly tacky sponsorship deal. But all was well.

The concert however was dull, I thought.��The solo pianist, Ivan Moravec, is world-renowned, but frankly he made his two pieces, the Franck Variations for Piano and Orchestra and the Ravel Concerto, sound to me like run-throughs. Maybe it was me. Maybe it is that he looks like a waiter. Whatever, everyone else seemed happy.

But then on Sunday, there was Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting the Czech Philharmonic in Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. It was sold out of course, but I went along anyway, and a Japanese gent sold me a ticket, for the Slovak equivalent of about £6 sterling ($9 US). Unbelievable. As was the performance. For once all the flim-flam of classical musical ovations – a loud a pretentious ‘bravo’ as soon as the last chord went silent, vast gobs of flowers for the lady solo singers and even for the gentleman conductor, constant returns to the platform for more applause, rhythmic applause – all seemed entirely appropriate. Ashkenazy is a tiny man, but his conducting both made the absolute most of each passing musical moment and made�the piece as a whole – and what a�whole it is – all hang together. He has the ability that all the best conductors have of being able to flap his stick arm about like a madman, while keeping not just his torso but also his other arm absolutely immobile. So the flapping arm dealt with the here and now, while the rest of him made sure that the ‘paragraphing’ of the music, so to speak, still made sense. The only problems were the ensemble of the trumpet section, which wouldn’t do if they ever try to turn the evening into a CD, and�the coughing of the audience, ditto times five. The trumpets were otherwise excellent, and their occasional fluffs mattered to me not at all, but the coughing made�me think murder. But,�the vital silence that�happens just before the chorus starts to sing in the final movement was, against�all the odds, truly silent. When the choral singing did get underway, it was magnificent.

The�hall of the Slovak Philharmonic�is really too small for the tremendous din that went on inside it that night, but for me this only added to the impact. No way could I play this piece as loudly on my CD machine, because the neighbours would have me expelled mid-way into the�first movement.��Concerts�in such halls are often marred by traffic noises, but this�was a concert�I can imagine having seriously threatened the concentration of passing motorists.��It’s a�huge piece, with no holding back, especially in the first and last movements. Mahler is out to�borrow the very voice of God. So all in all, it was the complete and perfect opposite of the night before, and a memory to treasure for a lifetime.

What has all that to do with the usual pre-occupations of Samizdatistas, such as the ongoing War on Terrorism? Well put it this way:�it’s what is being defended.

3 comments to Eastern European Idylls

  • Music. That’s very nice. You’re in Bratislava ffs! Did you catch any hockey games?

  • I agree with you music and creativity is what we must defend and if the price of the preoccupation is thinking outside the square the better ….

  • Brian Micklethwait

    Michael: No, probably because I wasn´t fishing for them. Each to his own. But this Saturday, Slovakia v England, European Championship qualifier, at the Slovan ground in Bratislava, this Saturday. Football. That´s soccer to you. Sadly I won´t see this, but my hosts have promised to video it for me. I have just given a couple of talks on political themes at a local school, and both classes volunteered their thoughts on this vital international issue. My call is 5-3 to England, with Michael Owen getting a hat trick. We shall see.

    But you have a point about hockey. The Slovaks are world class at this. I have heard tell of when, during communism, they defeated the USSR, and one of their commentators got the sack for being too happy.