Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Lark Ascending? Really?

One of the things I love most about the Easter weekend is the countdown from Good Friday of the 300 top classical favourites as voted by the public. I have quite happily spent entire weekends in the kitchen with the radio tuned in to this event.

The most interesting part of the countdown, however, is not so much the number one as it is hearing what comes before say the top 20. The top ten are always pretty predictable and usually the top five are to be expected. Except that the last two years it has been somewhat surprising -- even astonishing to me -- that Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending should have placed number 3 last year and number one this year! That is not to say it is not a lovely lyrical piece -- but number one favourite -- certainly not mine -- not even in my top ten!

The number one choices in past years have been fairly predictable: Last year it was Mozart's clarinet concerto, the year before Rachmaninov's 2nd piano concerto and before that it was the Bruch Violin Concerto -- which surprised me, and it held that position for several years! This year for the first time Beethoven had more entries than Mozart. Personally, I don't see how anyone can listen to Beethoven's piano concerto number 5 (The Emperor) and not give that the highest of all rankings -- it ranked number 5 this year.

Personally, I would like to see some opera in the top ten. There is not really a lot of opera among the 300. The Pearl Fishers duet is always popular among listeners and so is the 'Humming Song' from Madame Butterfly -- but there is so much more that is exquisite yet not often heard.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


Just before he said it, it flashed through my mind, that it would be something if he would. Ahmadinejad's 'Easter gift to the British people' has made me reflect on the significance of Easter to people in the West -- it would seem that perhaps it is more significant to the President of Iran than to many of the rest of us!

In the US not much is really made of Easter. There are Easter Baskets covered in colorful cellophane for sale and horrible chocolate bunnies and horrible marshmallow 'peepers' (now in sickening blue, pick and green as well as yellow) -- but there is no holiday and it can pass by without anyone taking much notice. It should be perhaps noted that while there is not public holiday for Easter, it is usual that the schools time the Spring break to occur at that time. It is also a tradition that the White House has an Easter egg roll or hunt for children -- specially picked, of course! But overall, it's 'the holiday that isn't'.

When I was a child my parents made a big deal of Easter Sunday. In fact the period from Palm Sunday through Holy Week was spiritually very important to both my parents, as it is now still for me. It is in fact the most important of the holy days on the Christian calendar. As a small child I believed in the Easter Bunny and rushed to see the presents delivered to my place at the breakfast table. For years it meant a new outfit, a new hat and shoes (patent leather 'Mary Jane's' with the ankle strap and gros-grain bow), often a new spring coat and of course church. To this day I associate Easter with tulips and daffodils and always have them to bring the feel of Easter into the house.

In the mid-seventies in Washington, DC, my best friend and neighbor, David and I began to throw Easter dinners. What was interesting was that everyone we invited was so happy to have the dinner and to participate in it -- as if they rather regretted the lack of an Easter tradition. I don't know if there has ever really been a tradition in America as in Europe. Here Easter Monday is a holiday. Germany has a lovely Easter tradition -- eggs and Easter egg trees and pasqual lambs from the bakery and special bread, along with the religious celebration. I have some exquisitely painted and decorated eggs that I acquired when we lived in Bavaria. Unfortunately, at the moment I don't even know exactly where they are. Certainly the traditions of Germany are the traditions most prevalent in America. British customs are far more reserved and consist largely of hot-cross buns and all things chocolate -- especially chocolate Easter eggs.

Back to Washington -- David and I gave 4 or 5 dinners and no one who had ever come to one dinner declined to come the next year! The last one we cooked 4 legs of lamb and had nearly 60 people ... Easter became for us a joyful and festive occasion with plenty of food and lots of song and even a bit of dance: a celebration of life and of promise.

For truly Easter is just that: a celebration and promise of life everlasting ...