Beethoven, Bayreuth, Bernstein and Brexit: 200 years of the Ninth Symphony

Posted on: January 17th, 2024 by mlpEditor

Music critics almost universally consider Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony one of Beethoven’s greatest works. It is regarded as one of the supreme achievements in the history of music. Composed between 1822 and 1824, it was premiered at the Kärthnertortheater in Vienna on 7 May 1824. Since then, the symphony – or at least, its ground-breaking final movement with its setting of Schiller’s ‘Ode to Joy’ – has become arguably the best-known of all pieces of classical music, influencing many later composers.

Its melody is familiar to hundreds of millions of people across the world – who might never have heard it in its original context. This is thanks to its reproduction in films, video games, children’s books and TV adverts. It is also a work that, more than any other piece of classical music, has been used – sometimes appropriated – in connection with significant movements and events in European culture and politics.

Wagner conducted the Ninth Symphony to mark the laying of the foundation stone of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus in 1872. And his descendants chose it as the work with which to reopen the same theatre in 1951, as they tried to distance themselves from the Nazi Party.

On Christmas Day 1989, Leonard Bernstein conducted the symphony in Berlin to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall. From 1972 onwards, the ‘Ode to Joy’ was adopted as a European anthem by first the Council of Europe and then the European Union. And in 2019 Nigel Farage’s Brexit MEPs notoriously turned their backs when an arrangement of Beethoven’s melody for saxophone quartet was played in the European Parliament.

Michael Downes explores these and other significant performances of the work, including the Viennese premiere, examining the motivations of those who have programmed it and considering the reasons for its ubiquity.

The Longevity Imperative: Building a Better Society for Healthier, Longer Lives

Posted on: January 17th, 2024 by mlpEditor

We live at a unique time in human history. For the first time ever the young and middle aged can expect to live long enough to become old. That requires all of us, regardless of age, to behave differently. Crucially, we need to ensure lives are not just lived longer but also lived healthier, more productively and more engaged for longer.

With global life expectancy now over 70, a first longevity revolution is coming to an end, as the majority can now expect to live a long life. A second longevity revolution now needs to emerge to ensure that we age well. Even at a time when in low-income countries the biggest lifetime health burden the young face are ageing-related diseases, it is certain that we are entering a new era.

And life will never be the same again. Past progress created longer lives. Future progress is about how we make the most of this additional time by changing the way we age. We need to shift away from an “ageing” society narrative towards a “longevity” society agenda, that aims to make the most of the extra years we have gained.

In this talk by Professor Andrew J Scott – co-author of the global bestseller ‘The 100-Year Life’ – we will look at the implications for every aspect of life for both individuals and society. We will consider how to achieve a longevity agenda which keeps us ‘evergreen’, including what is needed if we are to achieve a three-dimensional longevity dividend – longer, healthier, more productive lives.

Scott’s new book, The Longevity Imperative, outlines the fundamental changes needed in our health system, the economy and the financial sector in order to seize the advantages of longer lives. It also looks at the critical cultural and political shifts that need to happen as we adapt to a new longevity era. Given only a minority previously became the old we do not invest enough in our futures. Scott argues that if we continue along that path, the result will be an ageing society – which will undoubtedly bring new and unexpected challenges for us all. But if we invest in our new longer futures, we can achieve better outcomes and stimulate economic growth.

At this crucial point in the emerging second longevity revolution, can we seize new and exciting opportunities to improve our culture, institutions, and individual lives in preparation for longer futures and a new era for humanity? Can we move away from the negativity of an ageing society and elevate a longevity society, alongside climate change and AI, as a key factor that will determine our individual and collective future?


UPDATE 20/06/24: We’re extremely sorry to announce that this event has been cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. If you paid for your ticket, you will receive a refund from Eventbrite. We appreciate that this is very disappointing news, and apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.

Spying through a glass darkly: can espionage be ethical?

Posted on: December 11th, 2023 by mlpEditor

One of the deepest difficulties in war faced by soldiers and their political leaders is uncertainty: how can they know whether their putative enemies might be on the verge of attacking them? How can they know whether their war, and individual acts within the war, are justified? By procuring information about their enemy. And how can they do that? By spying on them.

Yet there are deep disagreements about the morality of espionage. Some argue that it is clearly morally justified; others think that it is immoral, or ‘dirty’.

In this talk, Professor Cécile Fabre will argue that espionage is morally justified, indeed morally mandatory – as a means to serve just war ends, but also as a means to minimize occurrences on which soldiers, leaders, civil servants, and citizens will act unjustly.

This is the case, Cecile argues, even though spies often have to lie, deceive, manipulate, and exploit their enemies. Her reasoning will be illustrated through some historical examples, such as the Allies’ deception operations during the Second World War, or the recruitment of human sources from within the enemy who, if found out, will be regarded as traitors.

Can espionage be ethical? Join us to hear the argument for its moral justification, and then decide for yourself.

How can we make our cities greener? Andy Burnham on transforming Manchester

Posted on: December 4th, 2023 by mlpEditor

**We are extremely sorry to announce that this event has been cancelled as Andy Burnham will now be on an international visit on the 18th January. If you purchased a ticket, your refund will be issued via Eventbrite**

In an era marked by unprecedented urbanisation and environmental challenges, the importance of creating a sustainable future for our cities has never been more pressing. City leaders and citizens are playing pivotal roles in steering the course towards a greener and more sustainable urban landscape.

As cities continue to expand and evolve, their sustainability becomes a critical factor in ensuring the well-being of both current and future generations. The interplay between city leaders, who set policies and make strategic decisions, and citizens, who drive demand and catalyse change, is at the heart of this transformation.

Manchester is no stranger to this challenge. City officials have long recognised the need to address climate change and reduce carbon emissions, with a first Zero Emission plan launched in 2009.

Since then, mayor Andy Burnham has pledged to make the Greater Manchester region carbon neutral by 2038. But the process of implementing some of the changes to realise the pledge has been far from straightforward.

The implementation of the Clean Air Zone (CAZ) has sparked a heated debate, pitting environmental concerns against economic considerations. Advocates stress the urgency of cleaner air for future generations, while critics emphasize the need for a balanced approach that doesn’t undermine economic recovery. It’s undoubtedly a complex issue, and Andy decided to press pause on rolling out CAZ in February 2022. Manchester continues to grapple to find a consensus that effectively addresses both environmental and economic imperatives remains a formidable challenge.

What other plans do Greater Manchester leaders have to transform our city into one of the greenest regions in Europe? And can citizens and leaders work together to make this happen? Join us to explore this complex issue with our special guest Andy Burnham.

Developing the ‘meadow’ as an urban cultural form

Posted on: November 16th, 2023 by mlpEditor

50 years ago, meadows were mainly viewed as a lost agri-environmental landscape whose passing was not much mourned. Since then, public and professional interest in the meadow’s many incarnations has grown. They are now valued for their aesthetic inspiration, their role in supporting biodiversity, their ability to restore the ecosystem, and as an ‘ecological paragon’.

James Hitchmough’s talk explores his research and practice into how to make meadows and meadow-like vegetation in urban (and sometimes rural) landscapes – in the UK and around the world – and how people view and experience them.

The foundational issues that James’ work has addressed over a career spanning 50 years include: how are meadows seen by the public in the context of urban places (as opposed to a field in the countryside)? And what are the key levers that you could shift as a designer to increase notions of value and therefore acceptance?

James’ research has also considered if it is possible to use design to maximise the chances of meadows delivering the visual and other benefits they can provide within politically contested urban landscapes.  He had observed the awakenings of the ‘nature in the city movement’ from the mid 1970’s and it was clear that getting public buy-in to urban meadows was far from automatic.

The final element in the jigsaw was understanding the ecological dynamics of meadows and meadow-like vegetation, and how this could inform management to enable these vegetation types to persist in urban landscapes. James’ interest in meadow-like-vegetation has, he states, always operated within the context of the world’s temperature vegetation as a whole, rather than just the UK. This has significantly coloured the nature of his work.

Join us for this intriguing look into how our relationship with meadows has transformed over the years.

Plastic Ocean

Posted on: October 16th, 2023 by mlpEditor

Join us for this online talk, to explore a photographic artist’s response to the worrying state of our oceans today.

Oceans are essential to life on earth. They cover more than 70% of the planet’s surface, regulate the climate, and supply the oxygen we need to survive. But every year, more than 8 million metric tons of plastic enters our oceans, affecting marine environments, biodiversity, over 700 different species, and ultimately human health.

For more than 13 years, artist Mandy Barker has created different series of work to try to engage new audiences with the harmful effects of marine plastic pollution. Captions alongside Mandy’s work detail the ‘ingredients’ of the plastic objects photographed, list brands, or provide descriptions about locations and countries and what was recovered there. The aim is to provide the viewer with a realisation of what exists in our oceans. It is hoped that raising awareness of the scale of plastic pollution that is affecting our oceans, through the passing on of these facts combined with scientific research, will ultimately lead the viewer to want to make change and take action.

Mandy writes:

“Art alone cannot change the world. But by bringing attention to marine plastic pollution in this way, it is hoped my work will help inform, and raise awareness about the overconsumption of plastic and the wider issue of climate change, and in doing so encourage a wider audience to want to do something about it.”

Getting Medieval with Stranger Things

Posted on: October 16th, 2023 by mlpEditor

The hugely popular Netflix series Stranger Things is set in 1980s middle America. The creators, the Duffer Brothers, have atmospherically laced their work with 80s cultural references – including music, film, and fashion. From the jangling guitars of The Smiths, the punk anthems of The Clash, and the heavy metal of Metallica. Iconic 80s films are also referenced – Poltergeist perhaps most provocatively. And the actors’ costumes impeccably reference 80s fashion. These cultural references work together to create a heady trip into the decade that saw American pop culture going global. So, why are we getting medieval?

Well, watch closely and you’ll see that the over-arching theme to the narrative is certainly the Middle Ages. How so? Well, the 80s board game, Dungeons and Dragons, a big inspiration for the series, provides the medieval context. And the troubling presence of the Upside Down, in the form of a world ruled by Evil, as opposed to Light, connects the world of Hawkins, Indiana to thirteenth-century Europe.

In this talk, Dr Cynthia Johnston will discuss the connections between the series and the Medieval world. She will share images from medieval manuscripts including the Hart Collection in Blackburn Museum that link these seeming very different worlds without drawing on the powers of Eleven to do so.

We were left teetering seemingly on the apocalypse at the conclusion of the last series (S4). But now the creators are back in action after the settlement of Writers Guild of America. And we can’t wait to see what happens next!

How can we best help those in need during and after a Humanitarian Crisis?

Posted on: October 3rd, 2023 by mlpEditor

What does it take to save lives in war, disaster, and disease?

Tony Redmond has over 30 years’ experience of responding to wars, disease outbreaks, and sudden onset disasters all around the world. In this engaging talk, he will detail the lessons learned, the improvements that have been made in the international response, and how we can continue to ensure the assistance provided is both effective and focused on those most in need.

He will describe the type of medical assistance that is needed across the various types of humanitarian emergencies and how international support can best complement, and not compete with, the work of others and that of the affected country itself.

Delivering medical assistance during humanitarian crises, especially during conflicts, can be incredibly dangerous. Tony will outline how we can attempt to mitigate these risks, though never eliminate them. He will describe his personal experiences of practicing medicine under fire.

A particular focus of the presentation will be his work in Ukraine and that of his colleagues in UK-Med. He will explain how the programs they are running there been shaped by their experience of delivering emergency medical aid to Sarajevo and Kosovo for the duration of the wars in the Balkans.

Helping those in need during a Humanitarian Crisis is not without personal cost. Tony will discuss how we can look to reduce this amongst team members. He will also give an insight into the physical and mental challenges he has had to deal with – the legacy of over 30 years of committed work.

What are you drinking? A look at chemicals in the urban water cycle

Posted on: October 2nd, 2023 by mlpEditor

When you turn on the tap to get a glass of water, do you think about where that water has come from? Or rather, where it’s been and what treatment processes it has had to go through?

It’s true that chemicals can extend, improve and enrich our health, wellbeing and life experiences. But the rate at which new chemicals are being generated is resulting in widespread contamination of water. Arguably, the impacts of chemicals in our environment represent the third greatest planetary crisis behind climate change and biodiversity loss. And yet they are inextricably linked to both.

Currently, more than 56% of the world’s human population lives in cities. And daily use, release and exposure to chemicals in our environment is an emerging concern.

Leon Barron’s talk will outline how chemicals move in our urban water cycle. From the wastewater we generate, to river pollution, to contamination of our drinking water and their occurrence in both humans and biota. Advances in measurement technology has underpinned much of this, especially the use of mass spectrometry, to fingerprint chemical sources.

Leon will describe the role of wastewater in understanding exposure to chemicals, with respect to continuous release of treated effluents to our rivers, lakes and seas. He will also talk about using the analysis of wastewater generated in cities to understand consumption and exposure patterns to every-day-use chemicals – like pharmaceuticals, personal care products, pesticides, lifestyle chemicals and many others.

He will go on to assess potential solutions to this issue, to ensure that we balance the environmental impacts of chemicals and their immense benefit to society.

If we’re going to survive and thrive in the future, there is no doubt that we will need to look after our water supply.

Fruits of the Earth: Food and Art

Posted on: October 2nd, 2023 by mlpEditor

What do food and art have in common? What reflections can representations of different types of edible goods inspire?

This talk, presented by art historian Sara Riccardi, will focus on food in art, from traditional Dutch still lives, such as those painted by Jan Davidsz. de Heem, to contemporary candy floss installations.

The presence of food in the visual arts across the centuries is very common, and its significance highly varied. Some foods have symbolic meanings, linked to religious or mythological traditions. Some function as status symbols, when found in certain areas at specific times in history. Others can make us reflect on the connection between society and nature and, in contrast, on our modern-day consumerist habits. Sara will explore these themes, starting from examples of artworks that present a link to food, in some way or another.

By looking at food from the angle of its artistic representation, this talk will seek to inspire a new insight into our aesthetic experience of it. You will be encouraged to think about the meaning of food in our lives, and its role in different societies at different times. Sara’s presentation will inspire a new appreciation of one of the most fundamental experiences – that of nourishing our body with what the Earth offers us.

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