In the introduction to Gulag: A History, historian Anne Appelbaum observes a brisk tourist trade in Soviet paraphernalia springing up on Prague's Charles River Bridge in the immediate wake of the collapse of the Soviet monolith. Western tourists who would be sickened by the thought of wearing a swastika snapped up pins, hats and T-shirt emblazoned with the hammer and sickle. "It was a minor observation", she writes, "but sometimes it is through just such minor observations that a cultural mood is best observed. For here, the lesson could not have been clearer: while the symbol of one mass murder fills us with horror, the symbol of another mass murder makes us laugh."Read More
My program notes for upcoming performances with Huw Warren, Mat Maneri and Peter Herbert, in which retrospection solves the problem of what to write about a program of improvised music.
This project was born out of my frequent collaborations with Huw Warren at the Summer School of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. Huw was a friendly presence my first year, a decade or so ago. Idon’t remember how it was that we came to perform together at the tutors’ concert, but I think I might have angled for it.
Years before that, while I was still an undergraduate at Juilliard, in the heydey of ‘alternative’ music, I had toured with an acoustic trio called the blackgirls. In the long hours driving between Midwestern college towns, we listened to music. We’d all fallen in love with 'Some Other Time', a 1989 recording of jazz standards by the great English folksinger June Tabor. Huw, Tabor’s longtime collaborator, played on that record, and I recognized his name from the liner notes that I’d unfolded and folded into the cassette case many times.
In July, before I left for London, and eventually Kabul, I convened a group of musicians – friends, students and colleagues from Boston’s New England Conservatory – to perform in a fund-raising concert. I asked each performer to choose a piece of music that reflected his or her thoughts, feelings and hopes for the culture, history and people of Afghanistan. I’d sent around a couple of emails with pictures, articles, quotes, links to videos, and images by documentary photographers, but other than that I gave no specific artistic direction.
So on the night of the concert, I didn’t know much about what music that would be played, and I experienced the concert much as anyone in the audience did. One performer after another came to the stage, and introduced a piece of music that reflected a personal engagement with Afghanistan, with our (for many of us, adopted) American home, and with our global family of musicians.Read More