Ensemble XXI has been concentrating on its work with the indigenous peoples of the Arctic Circle. In Russia in particular there is a wealth of material to be recorded, filmed and notated from the European territories right through Siberia to the Far East. It is an enormous task, but I am happy to report that it is proceeding like the determined tortoise in Aesop’s fable –slowly and steadily - to win the race. And race it is, as it is only the Elders in the various communities of all these small nations, who remember how the music is sung and the instruments played. Ensemble XXI’s goal is to show the younger indigenous generations how important it is for them to carry on the traditions. One of the most important aims of the present field trips is to repatriate all the materials that we have collected to the Indigenous communities when Ensemble XXI tours to various parts of the Arctic. Please visit our new “offshoot” site at Polar Voices to follow our continuing journey through the Arctic and hear and see more about this world of musical treasures, some never heard or seen before. The site is in its infancy, but will be expanded to include so many important aspects of the Arctic. 

Recently, whilst in London, I took part in a most wonderful reunion of fellow students from my student days at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory. Despite our many nationalities, from Ireland to Turkmenistan, there were unfortunately no Russians amongst us that night, yet here we were in central London toasting each other with great hilarity in Russian, despite the fact that all present spoke excellent English. In fact, I was the only one still working in Russia. It was extremely touching, as it has been with all the reconnections that I have had, from the United States to Australia with former fellow students, how deeply everyone cares about Russia and knows that without Russia we would not be the musicians we are today. However, the one recurring theme with all of us is “how lucky we were to have studied in Moscow when we did” as anyone will agree that the sparkling music life of the Moscow of those days is long gone and so is the inspiration from great concerts. Therefore I am very delighted to report that soon in Moscow it will be possible to see Russia’s greatest living and legendary conductor, Gennady Rozhdestvensky in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory in a series of 5 concerts between the 14th of December and the 10th of January. For further details please go to the website of the Moscow Philharmonia: The site has an English version too. 

One thing that is common to all indigenous people is the importance and central role that music plays in their cultures. Yet how often these cultures are damaged and destroyed through ignorance and discrimination. It is impossible to ignore the social aspects to these people’s lives, even though we are principally concerned with their music and so I would like to share with you some eye opening experiences that I have had recently in my encounters with various indigenous peoples. 
During the summer there was an extremely provocative exhibition in Helsinki. As I walked along the road on my way to the Sibelius Academy, I was horrified to see a huge notice in English, Finnish and Swedish, which screamed:
“GYPSIES, WATCH OUT!”. I could hardly believe my eyes and stopped dead. I was particularly stunned as gypsies in Finland walk around in their colourful clothes and certainly have many more rights than their counterparts in other parts of the world. In fact, the provocative sign was an advertisement for a magnificent exhibition about the many prejudices in society against the Roma that lead to discrimination and eventually to all out persecution. It was on loan from the Luxembourg City History Museum. This exhibition should be toured by the EU throughout the Union and it would be a much better use of funds than a lot of the nonsense that is supported by Brussels for so called “Inclusive” purposes. 
One of the more frightening pieces of information that I was not aware of, was the fact that several European governments already had in place so many pieces of legislation to crush the Roma, that it was a breeze for the Nazis when they decided to obliterate them since the Roma had already been identified and were easy to locate with this rigorous system of identification. A set of humorous posters soon revealed the underlying prejudices of society as depicted by a Finnish artist. The artist recreated ads for well known Finnish products and inserted photos of Roma instead of Finns. It was shocking to realise that such ads would never appear in Finland (or elsewhere in the EU for that matter). 
Whilst on this topic, I was honoured to be invited to visit the Irish Traveller Movement’s offices in Dublin recently and meet its energetic and passionate director Damien Peelo, who with his colleagues is fighting for Irish Travellers to be recognised as an ethnic group. Despite the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) stating to the Irish government that "Such recognition would ensure that the rights and protections ethnic groups currently enjoy under international and regional human rights law, as well as EU law, would be applied to Travellers" , the government has done nothing. They need to get their act together and do so, as this Ethnic Status will be the first step in a) educating Irish people that the travellers are a rich part of our history that we should be proud of b) give protection to travellers under the law c) create a sense of dignity, which is especially urgent amongst the younger generations so that they can fulfil their great potential. Otherwise we are doing no better than the horrors inflicted on the First Australians. Discrimination against another ethnic group is the first step to the tragic events that we have witnessed over the last 70 years alone. And we all know how few steps it took human kind to create that most monstrous symbol of discrimination – a name that is synonymous with the frightening belief that ethnic groups could be justifiably obliterated because they were believed to be inferior. 
Please visit the Irish Traveller Movement’s site and sign the petition whether you are Irish or not, to make it clear to the Irish government that they must recognise Travellers as an ethnic minority group. 
Otherwise, in the years to come the government will, without doubt, be remembered for having failed to protect an ethnic group in Ireland in the same way the First Australians were abandoned by successive Australian governments. On that note, let me urge everyone to head for Australia’s multicultural and multilingual broadcaster – SBS’s site to view the extraordinary series about the First Australians made in cooperation with the First Australian Community itself, which includes from within this community some of Australia’s most brilliant historians and writers. This series is sine qua non for anyone interested in the world’s indigenous nations.
Finally, don’t forget to go to our Polar Voices site to see footage of the indigenous peoples of Kamchatka and Chukotka playing and singing their music in places where no one has visited before and certainly not collected the music. 

More than ever now, our decision in 1989 to call our orchestra Ensemble XXI has evolved into a much deeper meaning of the original philosophy that musicians everywhere should be treated equally. Ensemble, which means together and XXI, which symbolises the 21st Century has now come to stand for the belief that, as human beings we can only solve the world’s problems by respecting and appreciating each other’s cultures.