Friday, January 25, 2013

Milton Keynes Chorale and Danesborough Chorus concert

25 January 2013

Since the mid-1970s Milton Keynes has boasted two large choral societies – the Milton Keynes Choral which was founded in 1974 and the Danesborough Chorus which was formed the following year. Since 1977 the two choirs have collaborated on an annual joint concert, enabling them to tackle ambitious repertoire as a single, massive chorus. Last Sunday we were at Milton Keynes Theatre for this year’s joint performance – a programme of music by Mozart, culminating in the ‘Mass in C minor’. The massed ranks of more than 200 singers sounded great accompanied by the period instruments of the Meridian Sinfonia and the two choruses naturally lent themselves to the eight-part double choir format of Mozart’s Mass. Conductor Tom Appleton was enthusiastic and entertaining (and his witty, emotive programme notes were a treat!). It was a lovely concert and a great way to mark the recent retirement of David Roberts after 36 years as Chairman of the Danesborough Chorus.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

'Sweet Tooth' by Ian McEwan

17 January 2013

Last August, in Edinburgh, we saw Mark Lawson interviewing Ian McEwan about his new novel, ‘Sweet Tooth’ – a spy story set in the early 1970s at the height of the cold war. I've now got around to reading ‘Sweet Tooth’ (as an unabridged audio book, narrated by Juliet Stevenson). It tells the story of Serena Frome (rhymes with plume), a Cambridge graduate who joins MI5 and is deployed to act as a patron to a promising young writer, T H Haley, whom it is hoped will write anti-communist novels. Haley is not to know that the funding Serena brings comes from MI5 and deception and lies create a dangerous balance in their relationship. ‘Sweet Tooth’, however, is not really a spy novel – it is about creativity, literature and fiction. Who is writing the narrative of our lives – and where do they get their ideas from? It was an enjoyable read, with a fine cast of suspicious characters, and it keeps the reader guessing to the end about where the inevitable twist will come from.


'Author, Author' by David Lodge

17 January 2013

I've never read anything by Henry James – I don’t think I've even seen a film or TV adaptation of any of his novels – so I wasn't sure how interesting I was going to find ‘Author, Author’, David Lodge’s book about Henry James. I needn't have worried: you’re in safe hands with David Lodge. ‘Author, Author’ wears its research lightly and contains much invented dialogue but it still felt more biography than novel to me. It doesn't attempt a complete biography, and I found it intriguing that Lodge chose not to write about the creation of the early novels that made Henry James famous, nor about the late, great novels for which he is now best remembered. Instead ‘Author, Author’ focusses on the 1880s and 1890s when James is living in London and attempting, unsuccessfully, to conquer the London stage as a playwright. I guess “famous author writes successful novel” wouldn't have made much of a story. David Lodge has created a compelling tale which paints a rounded picture of a complex, flawed but extremely sympathetic character. Much of the book is centred around James’s friendship with the Punch cartoonist George Du Maurier (father of the actor Gerald du Maurier and grandfather of the writer Daphne du Maurier). George du Maurier (who created the famous ‘curate’s egg’ cartoon) comes across as a lovely man and a very good friend to James. But when du Maurier tries his hand at writing a novel and instantly achieves the kind of worldwide success, acclamation and fame that James can only dream of (with his debut novel ‘Trilby’ – which gave us both the eponymous hat and the notion of the ‘svengali’) their friendship is seriously tested. ‘Author, Author’ has a strong supporting cast as Henry James crosses the paths of a wide range of literary and theatrical greats including H G Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Ellen Terry, Oscar Wilde, Edith Wharton and a five-year old Agatha Christie. ‘Author, Author’ may be guilty of not knowing whether it is itself a novel or a biography but it’s a fascinating and engaging portrait of a revered author.


Friday, January 11, 2013

'The Life and Times Of ...' by The Hot 8 Brass Band

11 January 2013

I've been listening to The Hot 8 Brass Band from New Orleans this week. Their new album, ‘The Life and Times Of …’, has a cheerful, funky swagger. This is the New Orleans marching jazz band tradition reinvented by the hip-hop generation. The music is wild, raucous and untamed whilst also slick, neat and tight. The cover of ‘Ghost Town’ by The Specials is a particular delight.

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Friday, January 04, 2013

'The Value of Culture' by Melvyn Bragg

4 January 2013

I've been hooked on Melvyn Bragg’s marvellous 5-part BBC Radio 4 series, ‘The Value of Culture’, which has been broadcast every day this week. Like an extended edition of ‘In Our Time’, Melvyn Bragg has been questioning a range of experts to get to grips with what we mean by ‘culture’, the origins of the word and its usage, and why culture is important. He has taken us on a journey, from Matthew Arnold (writing in ‘Culture and Anarchy’ in 1869) who thought that culture is “the best which has been thought and said", to the anthropologist E. B. Tylor who wrote (in 1871) that culture is " that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society” to Raymond Williams (in ‘Moving from High Culture to Ordinary Culture’ in 1958) who said "Culture is ordinary: that is the first fact. Every human society has its own shape, its own purposes, its own meanings. Every human society expresses these, in institutions, and in arts and learning.” This tension between ‘high culture’, ‘culture’ as that which separates humans from other animals, ‘culture’ as creative expression and the notion of ‘mass culture’ is fascinating. It was refreshing to listen to a radio programme that genuinely made you think. If you missed ‘The Value of Culture’ all five episodes will be available for the next twelve months at Brilliant stuff: what a great way to start the new year.