Remembering Grenfell Tower

The unimaginable terror of being trapped in a burning tower block hangs low this week.

Displaced residents search in desperation for missing loved ones. The rest of us look on the high-rise tomb on Latimer Road – a now potent monument to inequality, and ineffective leadership. We ponder what part we played in permitting this state of affairs.

Music-making tradition often seeks to reflect on tragic moments in the performance of meaningful works – classical music’s way to pay respect.

But what works? And how to remember?

The Problem with Elgar

Elgar seems trite in his noble aspiration, a musical representation of the detachment this tragedy highlights. That residents feel so angry at their lack of support in the days after such brutal loss that they march on council offices and Downing Street, then the country hangs his head ashamed. If we can’t get that right, we’re going to find it difficult to look people in the eye across the world with pride, hope, or even regret.

Elgar feels like an anachronism right now.

Mahler 9 – Fourth Movement, Adagio

The adagio from Mahler’s 9th symphony acts a twenty-five exploration of our place in all of this. Painful, torturous beauty. A meditation that highlights a complex mix of thoughts and feelings in response to the stories which have unfolded since Wednesday 14 June.

Stitched into every melodic line is sorrow, regret, and determination. The solo violin around five minutes in, is exquisitely channelled rage of the kind I’ve heard in the voices of commentators and journalists all this week.

Strauss and Britten

Richard Strauss’ Metamorphosen written in the closing months of the second world war, establishes a sombre mood but concludes with an ill-fitting sense of resolution.

The Lacrymosa from Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem on the other hand, maintains an emotional incongruity throughout, and in true Britten style it’s finished just as we recognise it’s healing effects.

Brahms German Requiem

The exquisite but restless opening of Brahms’ German Requiem brings a much-needed moment of calm, underpinned by a sleeping giant that could, if provoked, rise up in retribution. “Blessed are they who bear suffering” sings the chorus.

The restlessness continues in the solemn funeral march Brahms wrote for the second movement of the requiem “For all flesh, it is as grass”. And here the anguish of those who are left behind come into play: a funeral march for those who will never be identified or whose remains will never be recovered.

Mahler’s 5th symphony, Adagietto

Mahler’s intensely personal writing is what I keep to returning to. The adagietto from the 5th symphony – a breathtaking creation in and of itself – focuses attention back on the victims, casting them in a moment of imagined happiness. A futile attempt to bestow on them a modicum of respect after such a barbarous demise.

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