Friday, 7 December 2018

Orchestra management fails to score

‘Seating can be a problem with loud brass or percussion seated immediately behind. You want them to bugger off because they’re deafening you, and it’s not their fault.’ – Violinist

This comment from The Prestige Economy of a London Orchestra, a revealing PhD thesis by Dr Francesca Carpos-Young, highlights a situation which led to Goldscheider v The Royal Opera House Covent Garden Foundation, the subject of tonight’s King’s College London event.

(The star turn for me is British Sign Language interpreter Richard Law. I can’t follow the speed of his gestures so my sketches are nonsense; I hope I haven’t introduced any obscenity.)

Chris Goldscheider, a viola player with the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, suffered career-ending hearing damage while seated in front of the brass section during a rehearsal of Wagner's Die Walküre in 2012. Noise levels were roughly equivalent to that from a jet engine. He can no longer take pleasure in listening to music, or be near a supermarket fridge: it's all painful noise to him. Awarding Mr Goldscheider damages for acoustic shock, the judge ruled that ‘musicians are entitled to the protection of the law, as is any other worker.’ The judgment is here 

Words from the projector land on Theo Huckle QC's head

This landmark case is of huge importance to the music business and the ROH is taking it to the Court of Appeal in 2019.

We are told this evening that orchestral musicians face a 40% chance of significant hearing loss; and it is not always explained to players that, if you don’t wear hearing protection for ten per cent of the time, you lose a substantial part of any protective benefit. (After the incident with the deer rifle at Bisley shooting range, an ENT specialist told me that, rather than relying on earplugs, one should avoid loud noise for ever.)

There are, it seems, no orchestral musicians here tonight. That's a shame, but they don’t want to make waves in an insecure, clannish industry where much work is freelance and the power is in the hands of promoters, conductors and fixers. Comments in the thesis cited above open up this world, even if they generalise:

‘Brass have an anarchistic approach, and are naughty, rowdy boys. Violins are sheep, violas are eccentric, and woodwind border on suicidal. Percussion are unstable, are experts at golf and killing time. They often get away with more misbehavior than others, and tend to stick together.’ – Double bass player

One violinist cites ‘Terrible levels of physical and mental stress. Abuse by managements trying to undercut their financial and working conditions. Woefully inadequate composers in the commercial sector. Ageism.’

‘People get to the top of the orchestral tree with a lot of drinking, a lot of sleeping around, or some ability to be business-like and tactical.' – Horn player

‘How many trumpet players does it take to change a light bulb? Three! One to hold the bulb and two to drink till the room spins’ – Trumpet player

‘As a piccolo player everyone leaves me and my section alone, but the woodwind gives the pond life [string players] a really hard time; taking the piss and calling them gypos and stuff.’

In today's accusatory, fact-free environment, quoting her thesis notes got Dr Carpos-Young hounded out of her professorship at the Royal Academy of Music. Warning students about name-calling in the real mucky professional world, she listed the names (see above). Her words were taken out of context by some. In November 2018 an employment tribunal upheld her claims for wrongful dismissal and victimisation. (All cults have their own lingo. The most offensive comment this evening is: ‘My wife calls all non-lawyers “muggles”.’)

Had enough? Here’s some naff clichéd prose from American one-time professional oboist Blair Tindall, author of Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music: ‘Instrumentalists had a sexual style unique to their instrument. Violinists, anonymous in their orchestra section, finished quickly. Trumpet players pumped away like jocks, while pianists’ sensitive fingers worked magic. French horn players, their instruments the testiest of all, could rarely perform, but percussionists could make beautiful music out of anything.’

Acoustic shock: where law meets aesthetics
Chair: Professor Alan Read, King’s College London
Participants: Theo Huckle QC, Chris Fry of Fry Law, Dr Aoife Monks of Queen Mary University of London, Dr Lucy Finchett-Maddock of the University of Sussex, Dr Colm McGrath of King’s College London

Performance Foundation; Dickson Poon School of Law, King's College London; King's College London English Department Creative Seed Fund; Faculty of Arts and Humanities Research Fund 

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Supreme Court: the grim RIPA

Or with the tangles of Neaera's hair...

This problematic line from Milton's Lycidas comes to mind as I confront the hairscape. Some versions have 'Hid in the tangles...' I'd been hoping to sketch the most famous mane on the bench (it's Lord Sumption's penultimate hearing) but the sightlines are terrible and he is hidden by Dinah Rose QC's curly locks.

Today's case is about hacking, security and human rights, so you're thinking about R v Gul and Bank Mellat v Her Majesty's Treasury, not poetry. I had a close shave the other day: in a trance of idiocy I opened an email purporting to be from a trusted friend, clicked on a link and got an ad for ketamine. In a panic I ran a virus scan: nothing this time but I was lucky, and stupid.

At issue in R (on the application of Privacy International) v Investigatory Powers Tribunal and others is whether s67(8) of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000  (RIPA) precludes judicial review of a decision of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. Privacy International, a London-based charity which challenges surveillance, had complained to the tribunal that it had been unlawfully hacked by GCHQ. But if GCHQ had done so, was this under a lawful warrant issued by the Secretary of State?

Off to check the wording
RIPA was, of course, at the heart of the BBC smash-hit series Bodyguard starring Keeley Hawes and James Bond hopeful Richard Madden. Sir James Eadie QC is making less of a drama of it today. Privacy International has third-party cookies on its website - I have no idea how much of a problem that is but I'm still with the BlackBerry 10 operating system so geeks will know where I'm coming from.

In the afternoon I go to the Lorenzo Lotto portraits exhibition at the National Gallery. His animals have symbolic meaning - fly, lizard, dog, squirrel, and weasel (dead, turned into an accessory).

Lorenzo Lotto, Ritratto di Lucina Brembati, c1518-23. Note the weasel (bottom right).

Another dead furry animal brings together art, court and surveillance in a tweet from BBC home affairs correspondent Dominic Casciani. He wanted to photograph a putrid dead rat in the RCJ, but s41 Criminal Justice Act 1925 forbids surveillance in the form of drawing or photography in courts and their ill-defined precincts (excluding the Supreme Court), so he drew it from memory, in the manner of all official court artists in the UK. This is an unbeatable sketch for impact, simplicity and news/comment value.

And critters in court are nothing new. I remember the giant exotic moth dead on the carpet at the Equitable Life hearing in Southwark Crown Court, a crude metaphor for my pension.

Are you under surveillance via your iPhone?