Memories and afterthoughts of the exhilarating and, at times, revelatory experiences from HCMF 2013 haven’t really stopped swirling around my mind, so i’m going to begin 2014 by revisiting some of the most interesting highlights, starting with a world première given by the BBC Singers, directed by Nicolas Kok.
Even though it’s only two months since Cecilie Ore‘s Come to the Edge! was premièred, a great deal has changed. Chiefly, the focus of the work’s subject matter—the ludicrous imprisonment of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot—has become a historical event, as the pair of group members who remained incarcerated were released shortly before Christmas. However, the main thrust of Cecilie Ore’s abiding question—”how civilised are we?”—persists with, if anything, greater intensity. Few would attribute the band members’ release to an honest change of heart from a benevolent ruler; on the contrary, Vladimir Putin’s vain attempt to smooth over the world’s dismay at his increasingly dictatorial attitudes only illustrates the difference between being civilised and merely appearing to be civilised.
Doing the right things for the wrong reasons is of questionable long-term value; civilisation, at its core, must come from the heart, and to that end Ore has drawn on quotations that vividly proclaim that mindset. Constructing her text from short snippets by a diverse host of thinkers (see text below) enables the words to cut more forcefully, although—as i mentioned in my original review—there are occasions when their brevity threatens to undo their earnestness, sounding sanctimoniously pithy rather than heartfelt and imploring. But i think that’s as much to do with Ore’s vocal writing, which is, most appropriately, unashamedly direct. It can make one squirm a bit to hear phrases repeatedly so baldly, so simply, yet it’s a necessary relentlessness in order to match the equally unstoppable force of the text’s counterpoint, transcripts from the Pussy Riot court case. These are heralded by some of the work’s most striking moments—”Accusation! accusation!”—when the music plunges disconcertingly from the concert hall into the court room, followed by the only occasions when Ore allows the music to become lyrical, capturing the words of Pussy Riot themselves.
The blunt, declamatory style of Come to the Edge! is an acquired taste, to be sure, and the work continues to beg the question of whether it’s capable of doing anything of substance with respect to its subject matter, beyond being a expression of conscience and solidarity. But that question can be asked of all music that strives to be in some sense ‘political’, including the very music that instigated the episode in the first place, Pussy Riot’s brave, brazen performance in the Moscow Cathedral. Ultimately, of course, music isn’t really able to do anything at all, but sympathetic audiences certainly can, and to that end, in Come to the Edge! Cecilie Ore is seeking to remind, inspire and embolden us all. Power to the people.
Cecilie Ore – Come to the Edge! (World Première)
“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” – George Washington
“He who stands for nothing will fall for anything.” – Alexander Hamilton
“To sin by silence, when they should protest, makes cowards of men.” – Abraham Lincoln
“Accusation: You have shown disrespect towards society! Maria Alyokhina, step forward!” – Moscow Court
“I am not afraid of you. I am not afraid of falsehood and fictiousness, of sloppily disguised deception, in the verdict of this ‘so-called’ court, this ‘so-called’ trial. All you can deprive me of is ‘so-called’ freedom. But nobody can take away my inner freedom. This freedom goes on living with every person who is not indifferent.” – Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina, excerpt from the Closing Statement
“Proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear.” – St Catherine of Siena
“Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.” – Maggie Kuhn
“Feel the fear and do it anyway!” – Susan Jeffers
“Accusation: You have committed a grave violation of public order! Nadezhda Tolokonnkova, step forward!” – Moscow Court
“We have stopped weeping, we have lost our ability to cry, we have desperately shouted with all our might, but now, our voices have been taken away.” – Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnkova, excerpt from the Closing Statement
“Take away the right to say ‘fuck’ and you take away the right to say ‘fuck the government’.” – Lenny Bruce
“We cannot be sure of having something to live for unless we are willing to die for it.” – Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara
“Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste death but once.” – William Shakespeare
“Guilty! You are sentences to two years in prison! Yekaterina Samutsevich, step forward!” – Moscow Court
“We expected a guilty verdict. Compared to the judicial machine, we are nobodies, and we have lost. On the other hand, we have won. The whole world now sees that the criminal case against us has been fabricated. The system cannot conceal the repressive nature of this trial. That is all. Thank you.” – Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevich, excerpt from the Closing Statement
“COME TO THE EDGE! And they came. And he pushed. And they flew.” – Christopher Logue
“You can cage the singer but not the song.” – Harry Belafonte
“Open all the doors, tear off your epaulets. Come, taste freedom with us.” – Pussy Riot protest song