The Manchester premiere of James MacMillan’s Stabat Mater: sacred music concerned with the suffering of humanity

The Manchester premiere of James MacMillan’s <em>Stabat Mater</em>: sacred music concerned with the suffering of humanity

Can a medieval poem meditating on the suffering of Mary, the mother of Christ, as she stands at the foot of the cross have any relevance to these times, or to someone like me who adheres to no faith? The answer given by the performance of James Macmillan’s new setting of Stabat Mater at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall was a resounding yes.

The singers of Harry Christophers’ The Sixteen and the strings of the Britten Sinfonia combined to produce an electrifying performance of Macmillan’s elegiac, angry and often discordant cry of grief and personal commitment in the face of tragedy. I don’t think I’ve attended a more enthralling concert of contemporary music in the classical tradition. Continue reading “The Manchester premiere of James MacMillan’s Stabat Mater: sacred music concerned with the suffering of humanity”

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Stories of exile: Queens of Syria, Exodus and the Very Quiet Foreign Girls’ Poetry Group

Stories of exile: <em>Queens of Syria, Exodus</em> and the Very Quiet Foreign Girls’ Poetry Group

Another day, yet another atrocity hurled from the maelstrom of conflict in the Middle East, the turmoil which has also resulted in over half of Syria’s people being killed or forced to flee their homes to become refugees. In the evening I attend a performance at the Liverpool Everyman of Queens of Syria, a remarkable touring production, performed by Syrian women from a refugee camp in Amman, which weaves the women’s own stories of exile and war into passages from the ancient Greek play The Trojan Women, theatre’s earliest dramatisation of the plight of women in war.

Earlier this week I watched the BBC documentary trilogy, Exodus: Our Journey to Europe, which told the stories of some of the refugees in last year’s huge movement of people fleeing disaster – on dinghies crossing from Turkey to Greece, along the migrant trail through the Balkans, and in the Jungle at Calais – filmed along the way by those same people on mobile phones.

After a referendum campaign which seemed to establish the expression of racist or anti-immigrant sentiment as respectable once more, these three films gave voice to those who have truly lost their homeland, in stark contrast  to those in this country who, having ‘wanted to get their country back’, now truly believe that’s what they have achieved. Continue reading “Stories of exile: Queens of Syria, Exodus and the Very Quiet Foreign Girls’ Poetry Group”

We walk together? Europe’s failure on refugees echoes the moral collapse of the 1930s

We walk together? Europe’s failure on refugees echoes the moral collapse of the 1930s

Europe is facing a wave of migration unmatched since the end of World War II – and no one has reported on this crisis in more depth or breadth than the Guardian’s migration correspondent, Patrick Kingsley. In today’s Guardian, Kingsley offers an impassioned overview of Europe’s collective response to the refugee crisis. This is how he begins: Continue reading “We walk together? Europe’s failure on refugees echoes the moral collapse of the 1930s”

The Museum of Lost Objects: radio series documenting an assault on humanity

The Museum of Lost Objects: radio series documenting an assault on humanity

What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee;
What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage.
– Ezra Pound

When Islamic State captured the Unesco world heritage site of ancient Palmyra in May last year and then proceeded to destroy antiquities such as the Temple of Bel, a wave of revulsion swept across the world. But in the last few years those of us who have been horrified each time ISIS has wiped another ancient artefact from the face of the earth have, in the next moment, asked ourselves why we should mourn the loss of a building or stone carving when so many human beings have lost their lives in the conflicts that have devastated Syria and Iraq.

The dilemma of whether it can be appropriate to mourn the loss of material objects when human beings are suffering and dying was confronted in a superb BBC Radio 4 series broadcast in the past two weeks. The Museum of Lost Objects traced the histories of ten antiquities or cultural sites that have been destroyed or looted in Iraq and Syria. Continue reading “The Museum of Lost Objects: radio series documenting an assault on humanity”

Refugees: Europe did more in 1945

Refugees: Europe did more in 1945

This year’s Guardian charity appeal has already raised over a million pounds for six charities that provide emergency aid, food and shelter for refugees on their ‘unarmed road of flight’ from violence and persecution. Today, Zoe Williams’ report from Lesbos included this: Continue reading “Refugees: Europe did more in 1945”

Like a war zone … ‘A cemetery of souls’ on Lesbos

Like a war zone … ‘A cemetery of souls’ on Lesbos

A warning from the United Nations special representative for international migration and two photo essays by photographers covering the refugee crisis on Lesbos alert to the scale and tragic nature of a disaster unprecedented in its size and scope. Continue reading “Like a war zone … ‘A cemetery of souls’ on Lesbos”

An Afghan child’s odyssey to sanctuary in Britain

An Afghan child’s odyssey to sanctuary in Britain

Gulwali Passarlay was 12 when his mother paid people smugglers to take him from Afghanistan to Europe. After the US invasion, the Taliban had put pressure on them to become suicide bombers. For his mother, flight to Europe was the only way to keep her children alive.

Passarlay tells his story in an article in today’s Guardian that I think merits being reproduced here. Continue reading “An Afghan child’s odyssey to sanctuary in Britain”