The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
The launch of A Natural Calling by AWD Larkum accompanied by the performance of a string quartet celebrated the bicentennial year of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On The Origin Of Species.
Larkum is a professor in the school of biological sciences at the University of Sydney. The book is an account of the letters exchanged by Darwin (right) and his cousin William Darwin Fox. The event manifested both scholarly science and research and humanity's social and artistic instincts.
The concert consisted of world premieres of specially commissioned works celebrating Darwin and his contribution to evolutionary theory.
The composers, though coming from somewhat different strands of the classical tradition, were connected through a converging point of concern for the expressive qualities of music and the working out of appropriate forms for themes drawn from life experience.
The music showed that "classical music" is not an archaic concept or finished form but, like all genres of living art, can and must be taken forward to be consistent with the movement for enlightenment and the aspirations of today's ascendant class - the working class.
Hugh Shrapnel is one of several composers seeking to develop music that shows a way forward. The development of the themes of his string quartet were akin to Darwin's theory of the evolving of species.
Dave Smith's quartet, Natural Selections, had an unusual harmonic content, emphasised by the speaking of a current definition of natural selection.
John White's Continuation Of The Species was meant as a comment on the process of human evolution in its steady progress through changing circumstances. He has a continuing connection with the theatre and teaches at the Drama Centre in London.
Welsh composer Rhian Samuel is professor of music at City University and co-editor of the New Grove (Norton) Dictionary of Women Composers.
Her quartet The Last Dance offered musical responses to questions about the survival of the planet, beginning with frenetic material interspersed with moments of reflection which culminate in a quiet questioning section.
Michael Chant is a composer well-known for his political concerns. He is chairman of the Cornelius Cardew Concerts Trust and editor of Workers' Weekly.
His quartet embodied that humankind is an evolutionary product of mother earth. It also expressed that humanity is not just a product of its genes but is defined primarily by society and culture. Today it has a responsibility for humanising both the natural and social environments.
A solo oboe made a moving appearance towards the end of the piece, looking to the future when humankind will make its own history.
The title Even Our Shadows comes from some lines of poetry recently quoted by Comrade Fidel: "For this freedom that is the right of the youth/For this freedom/As beautiful as life itself/We will have to give our all/If necessary/Even our shadows/And it will never be enough."
The Darwin Bicentennial Quartet specially formed for this event, though the players have an association stretching back many years. The oboist in the final piece was Catherine Pluygers who tirelessly organises the London New Wind Festival which includes a celebration of music by women composers.
As a totality, the book launch and concert embodied the forward march of cultural concerns which have relevance to opening the path to progress of society and address how questions pose themselves in the here and now.
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