Berlin Music Festival 2015

Berlin Music Festival 2015

September is a good month to be in Berlin. The theatres and opera houses are resuming their activities after the summer break, and as far as music is concerned, there is nothing to match the Berlin Music Festival in which distinguished local as well as world-class visiting orchestras from Europe and America usually take part.

Prof. Chetana Nagavajara is fortunate to be invited by the International Research Centre “Interweaving Performance Cultures” of the Free University Berlin to spend a six-week residency that partly coincides with the Berlin Music Festival which usually starts during the first week of September and continues for three weeks. Having both engaged in research on criticism as well as having been active as a practising critic, he writes a review of every concert he attends and publishes this on the Website of the Research Project on Criticism continuously supported by the Thailand Research Fund (TRF) for the past 16 years. (

Prof. Chetana sometimes writes in Thai, sometimes in English, but for the last two seasons, he has opted for English, so that his foreign friends and colleagues can benefit from his experience. The Berlin Festival is indeed a unique experience, for it is a meeting place of leading orchestras, and may have the edge over the “Proms” of London in that the Berlin concerts are usually well rehearsed. Every year, modern compositions figure prominently alongside the established classics, and every orchestra and conductor must prove that they are at home in both domains.

A professor of music at the Berlin University of Fine Arts told Prof. Chetana that the reading of these reviews is particularly interesting in the sense that the critic tries to relate his most recent experiences with those of the past that go back several decades. This can be instructive, for example, when the critic recalls his discovery of Gustav Mahler from the late 1950s in Manchester, marked by the Mahler Renaissance ushered in by the Hallé Orchestra under Sir John Barbirolli, with the still fervent reception of Mahler today. Viewed philosophically, live music once performed dissolves into thin air, but it is the aesthetic experience that lingers on in the mind and memory of the listener. A critic who is ready to share that aesthetic experience with others by way of writing performs a good service in perpetuating works of art. Furthermore, music has its context. Music can be a personal discovery, and in the this case, a South East Asian music lover has to cross over cultural divides in order to really appreciate the musical heritage of the West. And the evaluative approach, so personal and subjective though it may be, does make the readers conscious that the world of the arts is a world of values, and in the age of globalization, when things tend to get leveled out, uniqueness of experience is something so rare that is worth treasuring.

There is one dimension in the world of music that the present critic seeks to combat: that is, the impingement of business into the practice of criticism. And it is not only the domain of music that has been affected. Other art forms have fallen prey to the process of commodification of the arts too. Criticism in the West has not been beyond reproach in this respect. A respected British literary critic once defines the aim of criticism as “the pursuit of true judgement”. The present critic has been trying his best to come as near as possible to that goal. He may err out of sheer ignorance or lack of sensitivity, but certainly not out of bad faith.



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