Master's Blog

Spring : a new look and some very sad news

by Mark Damazer on Apr 23, 2018

The building work is now at an end – or almost. We still have the Hall lighting and acoustics to sort out, but the quads are done, and – Hallelujah! – there are no diggers around. The new building (the Hubert Perrodo Building) was opened by the Chancellor in March

The Perrodo family and friends outside the Hubert Perrodo Building (13 Mar 2018)

I have been away for a while and just walked around the Chavasse Quad, and to my delight find that the downstairs room is being used as we had hoped, with small groups of students imbibing coffee and peering at their laptops while chatting. The student bedrooms are occupied, and the top seminar room – with a spectacular view over the college – is now set for use. And the building has been nominated for a RIBA prize

I had hoped that some bulbs would have been showing some life for the March opening, but they were in full protest against the winter. But now, several weeks later than last year, the flower show in Linton Quad has begun, and will last for several months.

Linton Quad beginning to bloom (April 2018)

Would that our great Honorary Fellow had seen it. But Gus Born – at 96 – died last week, having been ill for a while. He was an FRS, a hugely eminent Pharmacologist (having trained as a doctor), a medical inventor, a passionate supporter of the college (he donated to help medical students), and much else. We had several evenings with him and his wife, Faith, at Canal House, where he reminisced about his childhood in Germany (before the Nazis arrived in 1933 and the Born family rapidly departed), his early period in Britain, and his work. 

Prof Gustav Born (1921-2018)

He was the eminent son of an eminent father. Max Born was a Nobel Prize winner for his work on quantum theory, and Gus was hugely proud of him and his entire family – both his antecedents and his children and grandchildren (one of whom studied here). He wrote a lovely family history, rich in anecdote and bathed in affection for scholarship, culture, pre-Nazi Germany, and Britain. 

He wore a duffel coat when he came to college, often to the chapel to listen to student concerts, and there was a bit of Gus that still behaved like a student – full of curiosity, and radiating energy and optimism. I will miss him hugely.

Trump and ‘The New York Times’.

by Mark Damazer on Jan 26, 2018

Steve Erlanger, one of the great contemporary New York Times journalists, a Pulitzer prize winner, and currently the Brussels-based Diplomatic Correspondent (Europe), came to talk about Trump – and more particularly his foreign policy – to a crowd of 70 plus in the Dorfman Centre.

He began with some personal background: he had written a piece about Trump and his yacht in 1988. The yacht had been as garish as we now all might imagine, but, intriguingly, even in 1988 (and at this point nowhere near being a Republican), Trump felt America was being taken for a ride, ‘treated as a chump’ – not least on trade matters. We should not be surprised at the America First policy he now espouses.

Steve sketched out the business background: Trump had flirted with bankruptcy, was not much of a regular bill-payer, and had not been overly fastidious about regulatory niceties. He had, however, been exceptionally good at brand-building.

There  followed an erudite and richly informed tour of large parts of the globe, beginning with a look at the ‘bromance’ with Putin, motivated on Putin’s part by his belief that Hillary Clinton had been central to a policy of fomenting unrest in Russia from 2011 on. Now, because of the Mueller investigation, any hopes of a re-set of the US relationship with Russia were on hold. Steve noted the Russophobia of many parts of the US government’s policy apparatus.

On Europe, Trump had not had any interest, which might be better for Europe than vice versa. But Macron had ‘seduced’ him. Merkel was not ‘Trump’s kind of woman’ – apart from anything else, she likes evidence – and May, having rushed off to Washington, was now nowhere in particular with the White House, with Trump hating the fact that London had a Muslim mayor, and so on.

Steve thought the wild gyrations of Trump’s foreign policy pronouncements might, just might, be working with North Korea, and even with China. But overall he had hugely weakened America’s soft power – ‘the idea of what America represents’.

There were questions galore: a little about journalism (Trump has had a benign impact on New York Times subscriptions), some about the challenge posed by authoritarian characters in democracies (Trump, Berlusconi, Erdogan, etc.), and a discussion about Obama’s diplomatic policy, too. Syria was his biggest failure, and although Obama was still pleased that American had not repeated the mistake of Iraq (in particular) it had been at a catastrophically high price. The loss of life in Syria dwarfs that of Kosovo in the late 90s.

We adjourned, but a crowd gathered around for more discussion. The planet’s problems had not been solved, but brain stimulation had been achieved.

On Saturday, the college held a memorial service for Prof David Wulstan, a formidable scholar and a musician of the greatest importance in the history of the scholarship and performance of choral music, and an Honorary Fellow of St Peter’s.

David was the founding genius of the Clerkes of Oxenford, created in 1961, which reinvigorated the standing of early English music, particularly 16th-century music. For more than two decades or so, the Clerkes, under his leadership, were pre-eminent in Tudor choral singing. Here is a sample of the discography, and if you are in need of some ethereal Anglican sound, I recommend it. The Clerkes sang at a higher pitch (a minor third) than had previously been the case for performances of Tallis, Gibbons, et al, and the effect is stunning. (David Wulstan rooted this decision in his scholarly understanding of the music of the period – of course – and in particular the voices of those who were singing these pieces.)

There were many in the chapel nave, and as the first hymn began I realised that something unusual was occurring. The vigorous but imprecise singing of a normal congregation at Evensong was replaced by a confident, clear and brilliant sound. The Clerkes had reunited for the occasion, and then sang, extraordinarily, doing the service a Thomas Tomkins anthem and, together with the college’s own choir, Libera nos, salva nos by John Sheppard. It was a superb exposition of choral singing.

David Wulstan had given the college an important collection of musical books and manuscripts, the most beautiful of which are facsimiles of Iberian medieval music. We have placed one of them in a beautifully-lit museum display case in the chapel. It is sumptuous.