Thursday, October 30, 2008

BBC Philharmonic concert

30 October 2008

Erich Wolfgang Korngold is now remembered principally as a film composer from the golden age of Hollywood – one of those Jewish artists exiled from Europe by the rise of fascism. A few years ago I first discovered his wonderful later works for the concert hall – particularly the lovely ‘Violin Concerto’ which the Northampton Symphony Orchestra performed with Thomas Gould (reviewed here in April 2008). But I had not appreciated that Korngold was also a remarkable child prodigy. The ‘Schauspiel Overture’, which opened the BBC Philharmonic concert we attended at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester last Friday, was Korngold’s first published orchestral work, composed at the age of 14. (By this age he had already completed two piano sonatas, a two-act ballet and a piano trio!) The overture was performed across Europe by nearly every great conductor of the day and Henry Wood introduced it at The Proms in London in 1912 – making Korngold, to this day, the youngest composer ever performed at The Proms. The ‘Schauspiel Overture’ (‘overture to a drama’ – though with no specific play in mind) is a sumptuous piece, already demonstrating what would become the Korngold sound. The BBC Philharmonic followed the overture with the world premiere of ‘Beautiful Passing’ – a violin concerto by the American composer Steven Mackey. Violinist Leila Josefowicz gave a very physical performance of this challenging work which reflects on the finals days of Mackey’s dying mother. There were some beautifully moving quiet passages and lots of fascinating sound effects from the percussion department – including bowed cymbals and tennis balls being dropped onto the skin of the timpani. The concert concluded with Dvorak’s ‘Symphony No 9 – From the New World’ with the BBC Phil in fine form under the young Slovakian conductor Juraj Valcuha.


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Thursday, October 23, 2008

'The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul' by Douglas Adams

23 October 2008

If you loved the BBC Radio 4 adaptation of the Douglas Adams novel 'Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency' (reviewed here in November 2007) half as much as I did, then I'm probably enjoying the sequel, 'The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul' (currently being broadcast at 11 pm on Thursdays - listen again at twice as much as you. Dirk Maggs and John Langdon have done a wonderful job of realising this equally bemusing and entertaining novel as a radio serial. Wonderful cast, excessive use of sound effects, great music and a totally incomprehensible plot. You really need to listen to each episode at least twice to have any idea what's going on. The title is a quotation from an earlier Douglas Adams novel, 'Life, The Universe and Everything': " was the Sunday afternoons he couldn't cope with, and that terrible listlessness which starts to set in ... as you stare at the clock the hands will move relentlessly on to four o'clock, and you will enter the long dark teatime of the soul...". Marvellous! 


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

'Love's Labour's Lost' by William Shakespeare

15 October 2008

We didn't manage to get gold-dust tickets to see David Tennant as Hamlet but we were organised enough to book (back in February!) to see him in the Royal Shakespeare Company's parallel production of 'Love's Labour's Lost'. So on Saturday we made our way through the Stratford Mop Fair, which had taken over the streets of Stratford-upon-Avon, to the Courtyard Theatre - the temporary home of the RSC while the Royal Shakespeare Theatre is being renovated. I hadn't seen 'Love's Labour's Lost' before: it's a relatively early Shakespeare and not the most complete of his plays. The plot is more or less over by the interval, leaving the second half to a series of set-piece dances and pageants. You can clearly see elements that will become 'As You Like It' and 'Much Ado About Nothing' (as well as a flavour of 'The Merry Wives of Windsor'). David Tennant was a great Benedick in BBC Radio 3's production of 'Much Ado About Nothing' a few years ago, so it it was fascinating to see him as Berowne - very much the prototype for Benedick. He was fantastic - an electric stage presence - very hard to take your eyes off him - and extremely funny. A very enjoyable production with a great cast - I particularly liked Mariah Gale as the Princess of France and Nina Sosanya as Rosaline and it was lovely to see a familiar face from the Northampton Royal Theatre, Natalie Walter, in her RSC debut season. But it was very much David Tennant's show.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Kings Place opening festival

7 October 2008

Kings Place is London’s newest concert venue – a gleaming glass and steel block round the back of Kings Cross station, overlooking Regent’s Canal. It houses two concert halls, two galleries and the new offices of The Guardian. The building opened last weekend with a festival of a hundred short concerts over five days. We dropped in on Sunday afternoon and saw two performances. ‘Sound Walk’ was a collaboration between sound artists Tony Whitehead and Matthew Sansom, presented by the Society for the Promotion of New Music. Tony Whitehead had spent a day in and around Kings Cross, keeping a sound diary in which he wrote descriptions of the noises he heard, then honing these descriptions into a poem. Whitehead’s words were projected, verse by verse, onto a screen while we listened to Matthew Sansom’s composition – a soundscape constructed from recordings he had made of the ambient sounds of Kings Cross. This was serious, contemplative work which benefited from being presented in a concert hall: had I encountered it in a gallery or on a CD my attention span might not have been long enough to appreciate it, but sitting in a darkened room, concentrating on the patterns of sounds and words, it was fascinating how things were gradually revealed. We then moved to the main concert hall to hear the Brodsky Quartet, and clarinettist Mark van de Wiel, perform Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ ‘Hymn to Artemis Locheia’, introduced by the composer. Max explained that the work had been commissioned by the head of the London Fertility Clinic, to commemorate his father, and dealt with the idea of creation, the creative process and the cycle of life. A fairly long piece (around thirty minutes) it was often difficult and challenging listening but I found the quieter, slower passages very beautiful. It was a very impressive performance with virtuosic playing, particularly by Mark van de Wiel. There was a compelling moment, a few minutes from the end of the piece, when one of the violinists broke a string, as a result of a particularly violent pizzicato, but kept going seamlessly – the only clue that anything was wrong being the additional furrowing of his brow as he concentrated on working out how to play the remaining notes on his three remaining strings. Kings Place is an impressive venue – a monument to the new.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

'Lost in a Good Book' by Jasper Fforde

3 October 2008

Another week, another Jasper Fforde novel. Time travelling my way backwards through the Thursday Next canon at an increasing rate of daypers, this week I've read 'Lost in a Good Book' - the second novel in the series. It is fun to see how many hidden nuggets there are in Fforde's books that could only really make sense with the benefit of hindsight, having read the later works - though it does remove some of the tension to know, for example, that the world doesn't end next Thursday (having been saved, of course, by Thursday Next). I'm now really looking forward to finally getting the full picture by reading the first book, 'The Eyre Affair'.