Music performance and morphic resonance

Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of morphic resonance posits the existence (in some metaphysical or conceptual sense) of morphic forms which arise when living beings act in the world. In this theory, these forms are strengthened with each repetition of the action, and create a force field (a morphic field) which can be drawn upon by subsequent beings repeating the same act. The theory predicts that doing the same thing should become easier over time, even when the entities doing the acting are different, in different locations or not not even alive at the same time. Morphic resonance, if it exists (whatever that may mean) is a form of action at a distance and action through time. I have been fascinated by this theory since first reading Sheldrake’s book about it 36 years ago.

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Concert Concat 2024

This post is one in a sequence which lists (mostly) live music I have heard, as best my memory allows. I update this list as time permits. In some cases, I am also motivated to write about what I heard. I write to have a record of my musical experiences because memory is fallible. These entries are intended as postcards from me to my future self. Other posts in this collection can be found here.

  • The London Firebird Orchestra under conductor Michael Thrift with violinist Yury Revich Olario in a very fine concert at the beautiful St George’s Church, Hanover Square, on Tuesday 11 June 2024. This was apparently the fifth time Mr Revich Olario has appeared with the Firebird Orchestra. The church was full, with perhaps 200 people present, most of whom appear to have dressed up for the occasion. Dressing-up is not something London concert audiences do much anymore, in my experience. The programme:
    • Revich Olario: Prelude
    • Gershwin/Frolov: Fantasy on themes from Porgy and Bess
    • Revich Olario: Choriner Wald (the Forest of Chorin)
    • Massenet: Méditation from Thais
    • Bizet/Sarasate: Carmen Fantasy
    • Interval
    • Sibelius: Symphony No. 2

    The acoustics of this church are excellent. Because of the large size of the orchestra, the harpist was positioned behind a column. Where I was sitting, the sound of the harp reached me after having bounced off a side wall, which gave me (seated in the middle centre) a nice stereo effect.

    The performance throughout was excellent, and particularly in the two medleys of themes by Gershwin and Bizet. The two compositions by Mr Revich Olario were both well-written and well-orchestrated (and well-played), but did not sound (on this single hearing) to be very interesting harmonically or rhythmically. They could have been written in 1850 and, in their effects, they had a certain Hollywood-esque feeling. There is nothing wrong with this, and the audience certainly liked them. But I wonder why someone so good at orchestration (and at performance) is not more adventurous harmonically, and not apparently alert to the possibilities to play with rhythm that minimalism has enabled for us.

    I stayed for the Sibelius, although I find his music mostly too dark and overwrought. This was a very good performance of the Second Symphony in a space that took and held the sound, before releasing it. I still wonder what Sibelius intended to convey with all the pauses and gaps in his music, inserting silence like some musical Harold Pinter. Or is the time between performances of his symphonies the real silence?

    Something strange: The Firebird Orchestra prints out the names of the buyers of pre-purchased tickets in large type on A4 sheets and puts these sheets on the book-rests of the pews. Why they go to this trouble and expense, instead of just numbering the seats, I don’t know. This practice, surely, breaches GDPR, as all around us can see our names, something for which we certainly did not give witting consent. They cannot argue business necessity for the practice, as every other performance venue survives without doing it.

    As well as having fine acoustics and being remarkably beautiful, St George’s Hanover Square has another distinction: It is – perhaps – the only London church whose Director of Music is the son of a Fields Medallist.

  • Alexander Doronin in an exam recital to a fortunate audience of nine people (together with two assessors) in the East Parry Room (aka the Carne Room) at the Royal College of Music, London at 9.40am on Sunday 9 June 2024. The programme was:
    • Elena Firsova: Hymn to Spring, Op. 64 (1993)
    • Robert Schumann: Kreisleriana, Op. 16

    Mr Doronin played both works from memory, in a thrilling recital on a Fazioli piano in a room with high ceilings and very good acoustics, up in the attic of the RCM. Mr Doronin’s playing was superb. He was articulate and forceful, and the playing sounded more assured on these two works than it had seemed just a week ago. I particularly liked his strong treatment of the first Intermezzo and of Movement #7 in the Schumann. This recital was one of the handful of great performances I have experienced.

    Despite my having heard the Kreisleriana (written in 1838, revised 1850) many times over the years, it only occurred to me hearing this performance today that the last movement is written in a style similar to the so-called “fairy music” string ensemble style of Felix Mendelssohn, a style that became associated with him (Mendelssohn) from after the Scherzo of his Octet (1825). The name of this style is due to Mendelssohn’s sister, Fanny. Mendelssohn was most likely influenced by the Scherzo of the first string quartet of Liugi Cherubini, written in 1814. Mendelssohn and his father met with Cherubini in Paris in 1825.

    One of my earliest orchestral experiences was with a one-off scatch orchestra & choir of amateur players created by the inspiring David Urquhart-Jones in Far Northern NSW which rehearsed & performed a concert in Grafton over one weekend, five decades ago. My father read about the upcoming event in the local paper, called up to ask if I could participate, and ended up being invited to join it also. Everyone met mid Saturday morning to sight-read the pieces, and then held group and individual practice sessions on Saturday afternoon & evening and Sunday morning, with a public performance mid Sunday afternoon. We learnt and played Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte & Hubert H. Parry’s Blest Pair of Sirens. It was enormous fun. After all those years, it seemed somehow fateful to be sitting in a room named for Parry, as if that earlier experience was pointing to this one.

  • The Meraki String Quartet, founded by students at the Royal Academy of Music, in a very fine early evening recital to about 25 people at St Mary-Le-Strand Church, on Friday 7 June 2024. The programme was:
    • Haydn: String Quartet Op.20 No.5 in F minor
    • Felix Mendelssohn: String Quartet Op.13 No.2 in A minor
  • Five by 5 Trumpet Quintet in a lunchtime concert at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, Friday 7 June 2024. This was an outstanding performance to a large audience. About 50 people were present, which is more than double the usual number at these concerts, and included a good mix of young and old. Churches, with their longer resonance, are good places for brass ensembles, and it was nice to see the Quintet take advantage of the space for their initial procession from a side gallery into the main body of the church.

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Transcendent music

Some years ago, I compiled a list of purposes that may motivate composers, performers or listeners of music, under the heading What is music for?

An objective that may motivate many performers is that of reaching a transcendent state, as the Russian-Israeli pianist Boris Giltburg, describes here. His blog post was written after he had performed all five Beethoven Piano Concertos with the Brussels Philharmonic (under Thierry Fischer) across three evenings, in February 2020 (blog entry of 18 February 2020):

The high point for me was No. 4, during which I experienced something which until now I’ve only felt while playing Russian music: a kind of floating, when your brain disengages or splits in two. One (small) part is alert and following the performance, and perhaps directs the musical flow a little bit, the other (much larger) part is completely sunk into the music, experiencing it in a kind of visceral, instinctive way which precludes logical thinking and seems wired directly to your deepest feelings, without any buffers or defenses. After that concerto I was drained, bewildered, exhilarated – a complete mess. But what an unforgettable night.”

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Transitions 2015

People who have passed on during 2015, whose life or works have influenced me:

  • Yogi Berra (1925-2015), American baseball player
  • Ornette Coleman (1930-2015), American jazz musician
  • Robert Conquest (1917-2015), British kremlinologist
  • Malcolm Fraser (1930-2015), Australian politician
  • Jaako Hintikka (1929-2015), Finnish philosopher and logician
  • Lisa Jardine (1944-2015), British historian
  • Joan Kirner (1938-2015), Australian politician, aka “Mother Russia”
  • Kurt Masur (1927-2015), East German conductor
  • John Forbes Nash (1928-2015), American mathematician
  • Boris Nemtsov (1959-2015), Russian politician
  • Oliver Sacks (1933-2015), British-American neurologist and writer
  • Gunter Schabowski (1929-2015), East German politician
  • Alex Schalck-Golodkowski (1932-2015), East German politician
  • Gunther Schuller (1925-2015), American composer and musician (and French horn player on Miles Davis’ 1959 album, Porgy and Bess).
  • Brian Stewart (1922-2015), British intelligence agent.
  • Ward Swingle (1927-2015), American singer and jazz musician.

Last year’s post is here.

Paris life – brunch

Les Frangines Montparnasse Paris
Cafe Les Frangines, 46 Rue Raymond Losserand, Montparnasse 75014 Paris, France. Soundtrack: Dixieland and klezmer – trumpet, clarinet, trombone, piano, accordian, double bass.

A great Norwegian Messiah

Until this month, the best performance of the Messiah I ever heard was in 2011, an event I recorded here. I have now heard its equal.

This latest Messiah was performed on 19 December 2014 by The BBC Singers and the Norwegian Wind Ensemble, in an arrangement by Stian Aareskjold, under David Hill (conductor), with Fflur Wyn (soprano), Robin Blaze (counter-tenor), Samuel Boden (tenor) and Mark Stone (bass), in Temple Church, as part of Temple Winter Festival.

My heart sank when I first saw that the music had been arranged for wind-band, since groups of woodwinds, so often shrill and ineffectual, are not my favourite ensembles. But in fact this version turned out to be a wonderful arrangement and was realized in a thrilling performance. The secret, I think, was that the ensemble included a double bass and cello, some marvelous natural horns and three sackbuts, and, most spectacularly, saxophones. The solo for soprano sax in “O Thou That Tellest” played by Kristin Haagensen was just superb. That solo soared, as so did the saxes on “Surely He Hath Borne our Griefs and with His Stripes we are Healed”. A modern Briton, of course, cannot easily hear baroque music played by saxophones without thinking of Michael Nyman, and, just as with his great music, this was a truly sublime experience. The trombones in “He Trusted in God” were also inspired. Mr Aareskjold should be congratulated on this arrangement, and I hope it is soon recorded.

In addition, the performance rocked, and often literally. I was sitting as close to the orchestra as I could possibly get, and even had the two baroque trumpeters between me and the orchestra for the second half – Stian Aareskjold and Torgeir Haara, who had played angelically from the organ loft in the first half. (They played from iPads controlled by foot pedals.) So I could see the movement of choir and players as they performed, and there was a distinct bounce in some of the numbers, particularly in “His Yoke is Easy”. Perhaps the presence of saxes played by jazz musicians, who (unlike most classical musicians) move in time to their playing, led to this. Mr Aareskjold is the son of a trumpeter and the grandson of a trombone player (the reverse of my own ancestry), and brass players are often crossover musicians. The Church acoustics were, as usual here, superb.

For the “Hallelujah” Chorus, only part of the audience stood. Until this performance, I had never heard of the action of standing being construed as showing support for monarchical systems of government, and, frankly, such an interpretation is ridiculous. One stands for the “Hallelujah” because it is a tradition to do so, even if a tradition started by a Hanoverian monarch. Like Karl Marx, I believe traditions are the collected errors of past generations. But, like Morton Feldman, I’ve realized in adulthood that errors are not necessarily always to be avoided.
The concert is available to listen until mid January 2015, via BBC Radio 3. The Ensemble hails from Halden, a town of just 30,000 people. It was nice that the people sitting near me also came from there, and had brought with them tourist brochures to entice us to visit the town. I took one, of course, as it gave to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.
And on the way out of the Middle Temple, in the offices of law-firm Gibson, Dunne & Crutcher in Temple Avenue, a late-working Friday evening team could be seen around a white board, making at least one observer envious of their camaraderie and collective efforts. How much fun it looked!


Wayne Shorter’s album Juju was recorded at the Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey on 3 August 1964, 50 years ago today.  The ensemble comprised Shorter on tenor sax, McCoy Tyner on piano, Reginald Workman on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums.  The album has six original compositions, all by Shorter; the modern remastered version has two alternative takes. The music is sublime.

The Lamberts

From sometime before 1933 right down to the present day, members of my family have had on their walls reproductions of George Lambert’s 1899 Wynne-Prize-winning painting Across the Black Soil Plains, and so this image is part of my cultural heritage. (Image due to AGNSW.)

George Washington Thomas Lambert (1873-1930) was an Australian artist born, after his father had died, in St Petersburg of an American father and English mother.  The family emigrated to New South Wales in 1887.  In Australia, he is most famous for his painting, Across the Black Soil Plains, now in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which was based on his time living at Warren, NSW.  During WWI, he was an official Australian war artist.

George’s son, Leonard Constant Lambert (1905-1951) was a jazz-age British composer and conductor, and co-founder of Sadler’s Wells dance company. Constant’s son, Christopher (“Kit”) Sebastian Lambert (1935-1981) was a record producer and manager, and part-creator of rock band, The Who.

Sad that son and grandson both died in their 46th year.

Vale: Graeme Bell

Farewell, Graeme Bell (1914-2012), legendary Australian trad jazz man. His band’s tour of Czechoslovakia in 1947 was still fondly remembered almost four decades later by patrons of JazzKlub Parnas when I first visited Prague in 1984.