THE music programme of New Beginnings ended last night -- and what, in

sum, are we to make of it? Unequivocally, it has been by far the most

successful of the East European ventures masterminded in recent years by

director Chris Carrell.

The act, in short, has been got together. Successful here means

enlightening. And enlightening refers not to any personalised ego

nourishment, but to sheer levels of informativeness.

We had not heard, and now we have heard. We did not know, and we now

know perhaps a little. Rather late in the day, at the music forum last

weekend, historical viewpoints were revealed. How much more appropriate,

I felt last Saturday, if Alexander Ivashkin's revelatory explanation of

intellectual and spiritual orientation might have preceded some of the

music performed at the festival.

Still, such is the way of these things. What has been learned? As I

said some weeks ago, take any bunch of composers from any society, and

you will have a mixed bunch. Talents vary, as do the qualities of

individual compositions.

What was striking -- though after Ivashkin's talk, I felt a glimmer of

understanding -- was the seriousness, the earnestness with which Soviet

(specifically Russian) composers appear to be pursuing their new


It's not just that there are no laughs. There are few smiles. And if

an artist cannot look in a mirror and issue even a wry twist of a smile,

then seriousness can become a sombre, inward, and uncommunicative


It's understandable that, after five decades of repression and

conforming, the freed intellect will react by grappling with issues of

previously proscribed profundity. And perhaps the Russian spirit is

quintessentially earnest. But without humour there is no humanity. The

occasional gut-gesture injects into the cerebral just a little soul.

Maybe the newly-unchained Russian spirit just has to work through this,

like the hyper-intellectual activities that erupted in post-war Europe.

Or, who knows, maybe I'm trying to impose a dyed-in-the-wool Western

psyche on to a radically different culture? Maybe Alexander Ivashkin was

right when he quoted a Russian writer: ''We are the only European nation

seeking for suffering and worrying. In the West they are safe and

healthy, proclaiming the cult of the toothbrush despite the quest for

the latest truth.''

We are what we are. But if I had the opportunity, I would say to the

Russian cerebralists, okay, work through it. But then look to your

roots. Look to your folk heritage. Look to your satellite states who

wear their roots on their sleeves.

This was the most striking aspect of New Beginnings. What came out of

the represented states -- specifically Armenia and Estonia -- was

profoundly impressive. Why? I think perhaps because it acknowledged

overtly a source of inspiration other than the purely intellectual. And

it was not self-conscious about it.

The penultimate concert, by the Paragon Ensemble was, in that sense, a

classic. Two composers, from Armenia and Estonia, represented the core

of the programme, prefaced interestingly by Bill Sweeney's evocative

interpretation of Armenian ritualism.

The secret of the huge public success of these guys' music can be

precisely revealed in a single word. Characterisation. Though Armenian

Stepan Rostomyan's Wind Quintet was by no means a masterpiece, each of

its three movements adopted confidently an identifiable personality,

culminating in the heartfelt and compelling five-part soliloquy that was

its finale.

Likewise with Estonian Lepo Sumera's Play for Wind Instruments. Sumera

has wit and humour (he's a cheeky so-and-so, in fact) and it showed when

he gave each of his five instrumentalists a characterful solo. So where

the flute began demurely it became capricious, the bassoon proceeded

from the mischievous to the lyrical, the horn strutted his macho stuff,

the clarinet chattered shrilly (definitely a woman) and the oboe (ditto)

was slinky and feline. Character, you see.

Rostomyan's Third Symphony -- the great popular success of New

Beginnings -- carried its listeners inexorably from its wonderfully

atmospheric opening, to the voluptuous, Holywoodish glamour of its

heavenly chorus. Jings, I was nearly greetin' at it, transfixed by the

sheer sonic splendour. It had soul as well as calculation.

And, at another level, the swirling electronic/instrumental sounds of

Sumera's Music for Glasgow represented a joyous, sumptuous hedonism, a

wilful flinging of intellectual caution to the winds. In and around it,

the occasionally tentative, sometimes relevant interjections by Scottish

teenage composers had a simplicity, a naivety, and an occasional

gaucheness that was somehow touching.

Passions need not be unbridled. But they are factors of motivation in

music. Cerebral music might impress; rarely does it move. What --

ultimately -- counts most?

And David Davies and his superb Paragon Ensemble deserve the freedom

of the city. They gave youngsters who compose and perform the

opportunity to function professionally in public. Nothing -- in anyone's

experience -- can rival that opportunity for the development of

personality and critical self-awareness. Bravo. What an adventure.

And New Beginnings, too. What an adventure. Is there a balance sheet?

It has to be concluded with a favourable weighting on the credit side.

New Beginnings opened the eyes of the city.