Monday, November 14, 2016

Goss - Bolero: The Life of Maurice Ravel

My love of Ravels’ compositions goes all the way back to age 10 when I broke my arm and my mother bought a “stereo” (equivalent to what would be today’s boom box or ipod) to entertain me until I could go back to practicing piano. Along with the stereo, one of my first purchases was a recording of Ravel’s famous Bolero; I listened to it until the grooves wore out. Now I play two of Ravel’s most beloved compositions on piano, Pavane pour une Infante defunte and the Adagio Assai from his Piano Concerto in G.

Reading Bolero: The life of Maurice Ravel  (M. Goss, 1940) introduced new insights that now bring deeper meaning and enhanced interpretation to his compositions. Ravel is fascinating as a study in leadership as well, particularly because his kind of leadership was one that often goes unrecognized – simple, convicted, and pursued with little regard for influence. He made music because he had to (“comme unpommier fait ses pommes”) instead of for the purpose of advancing himself or making money.

Ravel’s father was Swiss and his mother from the Basque region of Spain. His unique love of Basque culture led to a career-long fascination with rhythm and dance. This, combined with a tendency to obscure emotion behind a film of artistic restraint, came to be recognized as quintessentially French.

Numerous other composers influenced Ravel yet he remained unique. Chabrier provided inspiration for the Pavane pour une Infante defunte, the first of Ravel’s compositions to be widely embraced. Its delicate and unwavering rhythm depicts a princess dancing the Pavane at court and becoming so obsessed with its beauty that she loses all interest in anything else. His most influential teacher was Faure and contemporaries included the likes of Debussy, Satie, Massenet, Saint-Saens, de Falla, and Stravinsky (one of Ravel’s closest life-long friends). He also interacted with many of the impressionist painters (Verlaine, Monet, Manet, Renoir, and Degas) of the early 20th century.

Many of Ravel’s compositions drew sharp disapproval from critics and the public but made him a celebrity among his young artist comrades. He composed in many different styles with one period focusing exclusively on ballet and a later period incorporating elements of jazz. After visiting America he reported that “American people have developed a distinct national personality by combining different races into a united whole” which resulted in “two distinct characteristics: underlying pathos… plus a hidden yearning for an ideal which Americans hardly understand.” (62% through digital text)

Ravel composed Bolero only a short time after returning from his concert tour to America. Its pulsating beat never varied when Ravel conducted it in concert and it is this constant forward movement, drawing the listener to an eventual dramatic key modulation and explosive conclusion, that made the piece so intoxicating. Another of Ravel’s last compositions, the Piano Concerto in G, incorporates a similar rhythmic pulse in the middle movement (Adagio Assai) that supports a tender and elegant melody. The pace and persistence of each of these compositions creates a captivating quality much like the short life of this eccentric composer with the Basque heart and restrained French sensibility.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Khanna - Connectography

I read and review a lot of books, some are great, others are alright, and a few are barely worth the effort. Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilizations by Parag Khanna (2016) is a must read particularly in a time when governments and their leaders are searching for understanding about the future.

Khanna has recorded for TED Talks where he describes a world that should be understood more in terms of connections and trade than how we have seen it in geography and maps. His proposition is that connectivity will transform our world; geographic boundaries, protected by governments and military defense, will become irrelevant.

Informed by extensive travel and an amazing network of colleagues around the world (see “Acknowledgments”), Khanna describes a hopeful future where military superiority and wars will cease to be a threat, replaced by supply chain and trade agreements that world leaders dare not violate if they want to survive. Khanna, by contrast to many who deplore the mass urbanization unfolding around the world, sees cities as the way to deal with environmental degradation and income inequality.

“As the lines that connect us supersede the borders that divide us, functional geography is becoming more important than political geography.” (7% through digital text) Khanna predicts that nations will have little power in comparison to cities that broker supply chains and trade at will, carefully managing the flow (resources, goods, capital, technology, people, data, and ideas) and friction (borders, conflict, sanctions, distance, and regulation) within their purview. This world of evolving and permeable boundaries, is more effectively leveraged through engagement than containment.

Tug-of-war for resources, innovation, products and services is the new paradigm that Khanna says successful cultures must embrace. Within this tug-of-war the most important goal is securing talent; whether grown through education and training or acquired through immigration from other areas of the world, the boundaries should be taken down rather then erected. That is not to say that immigration can be totally thrown open but it does call for modification of immigration processes and numbers so that talented people who seek opportunity can flow to whatever place helps them achieve the goals they have for themselves and their families. When and if migrant workers “are sent back, they should be armed with skills and money to stabilize their own countries to eventually diminish the urge to migrate.” (73% through digital text) Perhaps the solution in the 21st century is to issue “global passports” that are carried by those who move and work from country to country and city to city, effectively undoing the “punitive effects of the accident of birth.”

With 60% of Americans now believing that the “American Dream” is out of their reach, 40% of young adults 18 to 24 see themselves working outside of U.S.A. boundaries at some point in their future (26% through digital text). This is a startling change in American’s view of their future and it is one that, in itself, will help the country become more connected and therefore influential. It is these expatriate and traveling diplomats who offer the new face of America abroad. New York, Miami, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Fancisco, Chicago, Boston, and Atlanta have been important to the U.S.A. but to these “homes” the global cities of London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore, and Dubai will be added. Infrastructure development will increasingly be central to the success of any city that wants to be included among the global supply, talent, and innovation centers. Simplistic calls to “bring jobs back to America” fail to recognize that the more jobs and wealth that emerge elsewhere, the more there are those who can afford to buy innovations that originate in the knowledge economy of the U.S.A. where banking, insurance, software programming, consulting, design, architecture, accounting, legal affairs, health care and education are so lucrative. These innovation industries can thrive in special economic zones (SEZs) placed around the world, providing more opportunity to build connectivity while bringing mutual benefit to all.

According to Khanna’s predictions, “Connectivity is destiny” and those individuals, businesses, and countries that do not embrace this reality are at risk. In his concluding paragraph, Khanna advocates, “We need a more borderless world because we can’t afford destructive territorial conflict, because correcting the mismatch of people and resources can unlock incredible human and economic potential, because so few states provide sufficient welfare for their citizens, and because so many billions have yet to fully benefit from globalization.”

Khanna is showing up regularly in Facebook posts and other media. One New York Times article proposes a new map of America based on the trends identified in Connectography. Khanna’s message is worth careful consideration, especially in the context of political strife emerging all around the world and most graphically demonstrated in the 2016 U.S.A. Presidential contest.