The 43rd Symphony

It is now become a habit to reflect on love, life and longing towards the end of each year. Thoughts that come to mind on the eve of this New Year dwell upon the extraordinary times we live in, accompanied by regret over the lack of leadership to help the world cope with its historic tryst with destiny. Even Bill Clinton, the most popular politician of our times, has made little difference to problems like globalisation and ghurbat (misery caused by poverty). What Clinton is admired for, really, is to have designed his leadership to fit perfectly the measurement of the information age. He has successfully psyched the public to view him as a composite character endowed with great political gifts, but who is also a fallible human being. The result is the birth of a tender image, in the collective consciousness, of a man who seems like one of us. However, a Clinton kind of leadership damages, as it encourages mediocrity, inspiring the ordinary to remain ordinary and to look for salvation in uncreative, short-term diversions devoid of vision. Creativity, not imitation of celebrities, may be the answer to problems faced today. Peter Sellars, the American artistic director, looks upon art not merely as entertainment but also as social and moral action. Invited by the city of Vienna to head the New Crowned Hope Festival, the month-long celebration of Mozart’s 250th anniversary, Sellars did not reinterpret Mozart. Instead, he commissioned contemporary artistes from around the world to compose art that has been inspired by themes closest to the heart of Mozart’s music—magic and transformation, forgiveness and reconciliation, recognition of the dead.These are issues that Sellars passionately feelsmake Mozart so crucially relevant to our moment in history. All the song and dance witnessed in Vienna, therefore, was inspired by Mozart’s ability to envision the future. The unique tribute paid to Mozart is utopian in spirit and included films, visual arts and ideas. Ideas that spilled over into living projects for ‘The Next Vienna’, where homeless women attended workshops to prepare herbal and fruit tea for guests at The Flowering Tearoom, along with biscuits baked under an initiative that enables prostitutes an alternative to sex work. Homeless musicians found here a place to perform and to participate in literary readings.The concept of Living Room Conversations held every evening for a whole month encouraged different artistes and audiences to discuss the most burning problems of the day—individual greed and ambition, money and morality, power and politics. Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison, who played The Louvre’s guest curator last November, came down from Paris to talk about African-American strategies of storytelling and the development of alternative histories. Morrison encourages the use of every disadvantage to bring forth new things that have never been seen before.Louvre Director Henri Loyrette is on record saying that a museum is not just a place. It is a place for education with a social role. Tables of The New Crowned Hope is where culture met agriculture. While dancers and musicians performed and films were screened, farmers got together with restaurant owners and school administrators to find ways to strengthen the global organic food movement. In Vienna, the leading European city for the production of organic food, chefs and curators created a series of inspired and memorable tables that served as delicious meeting points for all those starved for food, both for the body and the soul.  Sellars sprung this surprise upon the city on the heels of the Vienna Film Festival, which ended in October and where Hans Hurch, the Viennale director, claimed culture is the responsibility of all citizens. That it is not a good idea to leave culture to them, meaning politicians, I suppose. The Viennale, he said, refuses to serve industry or to please the Press, but is an attempt to unearth the extraordinary from beneath the debris of the commonplace. And Anal Shah’s six-minute short film is the only Indian entry chosen this year for the Viennale. It is a story of a fakir wandering tirelessly through the lanes of Varanasi repeating the songs of Kabir—proof enough that Hurch means what he says.

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