Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Northampton Symphony Orchestra concert

18 June 2013

Performing a horn concerto, not as the soloist but as one of the horn players in the orchestra, can be an intimidating experience as you tend to worry your performance is going to be unfavourably compared to that of the soloist. The Second Horn Concerto by Richard Strauss is the Matterhorn of the genre and while the two orchestral horn parts constitute mere foothills compared to the peaks the soloist has to scale, they contain some tricky echoes of the solo part and make you work hard to ensure you don’t let the soloist down. I think our performance of the concerto with the Northampton Symphony Orchestra on Saturday went extremely well, with Richard Bayliss stepping in at the last minute to give a wonderfully exciting performance, as our original soloist sadly had to pull out of the concert for personal reasons. And those orchestral horn parts sounded pretty good to me too! The second half of the concert contrasted the concerto, written when Strauss was 78, with the precocious First Symphony by Shostakovich – a graduation piece written at the age of 19. Much closer to Shostakovich’s playful music theatre writing than the later, more serious, symphonies, it was a really enjoyable work to get to know. Our performance featured some impressive solos from Nick Bunker (trumpet), Mara Griffiths (flute), Kathy Roberts (oboe), Christine Hunt and Robert Reid (clarinet), Sian Bunker (bassoon) and William Thallon (piano).

Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

'Life After Life' by Kate Atkinson

11 June 2013

As regular readers will know, I’ve read the entire output of the contemporary novelist Kate Atkinson, so I had eagerly awaited her latest book ‘Life After Life’. Taking a break from the Jackson Brodie detective novels (such as ‘Started Early, Took My Dog’, reviewed here in April 2011), ‘Life After Life’ (which I read as an unabridged audio book, narrated by Fenella Woolgar) feels like a return to the family saga format of Kate Atkinson’s award-winning debut ‘Behind the Scenes at the Museum’. ‘Life After Life’ covers an earlier era than its predecessor, starting in 1910 with the birth of its protagonist, Ursula Todd. And ‘Life After Life’ is a family saga with a twist: in the opening pages Ursula dies before she can take her first breath, strangled by the umbilical cord. But then we rewind and imagine how the scene might have played out differently, with the baby surviving. And this forms the pattern for the book, with Ursula’s life cut unfairly short through a series of childhood accidents, only for her to find a way past each obstacle the next time around. Atkinson enjoys this extended Groundhog Day structure, taking a mischievous delight in making the reader wonder whether Ursula will ever make it out of infancy. But this tale of the parallel lives that we might have led takes on a growing poignancy as Ursula appears to use some distant memory of her previous lives not just to preserve herself but also to try to save her family and friends from the hand of fate. (The love story of Teddy and Nancy which plays out in the background of the novel forms an engaging thread through the story of Ursula’s life.) It was interesting that as you get used to Ursula’s apparent immortality, the next time she gets into a difficult or dangerous situation you begin to stop worrying for her because you can relax in the realisation that danger will be averted by death and rebirth. Then Atkinson pulls the rug from under the reader by having Ursula survive and have to suffer the after-effects of illness or injury – making you realise that sometimes it’s much harder to go on living. ‘Life After Life is a very clever, charming and moving tale of foxes, bears and wolves.


Wednesday, June 05, 2013

'Hope and Glory' by Stuart Maconie

5 June 2013

I've written here before about Stuart Maconie's ongoing metamorphosis into the British Bill Bryson, through his books including 'Pies and Prejudice' (reviewed here in June 2008) and ‘Cider with Roadies' (reviewed here in March 2009). 'Hope and Glory' is another entertaining and informative addition to the Maconie canon in which he tells a people's history of Britain in the twentieth century. The book consists of ten chapters, each focusing on a key date - one for each decade. Each particular event becomes the starting point for a less linearly chronological exploration of themes that include politics, war, sport, immigration and celebrity. And Stuart Maconie visits many of the scenes of the notable events he is recounting. So the book becomes a mixture of travelogue, history and reminiscence. It's a bit of a mixed bag - and contains a surprising number of proofing and editing errors - but there are some real gems throughout. An easy read that is educational and very enjoyable.


Tuesday, June 04, 2013

'Blue Remembered Hills' by Dennis Potter

4 June 2013

I first saw Dennis Potter’s play ‘Blue Remembered Hills’ many years ago in an Edinburgh Fringe production at Greyfriars Kirkhouse. The central concept – using adults to play young children without disguising the fact they are obviously adults – works well as a device to explore the nature of childhood, memory and relationships. Appropriately enough, my distant memories of the play proved not entirely accurate when we saw the new Northern Stage production, directed by Psyche Scott, at Watford Palace Theatre last Saturday. In particular, while it was a very impressive production with some great acting, the piece felt much more slight than I remembered it. Written originally for television, it only lasts about an hour – perfect for the Edinburgh Fringe but a bit short played, without an interval, as the main attraction. Nevertheless it was an enjoyable and interesting experience with the actors’ mastery of childlike movement especially impressive. There is a ‘Lord of the Flies’ brutality to the children’s games and a dark ending to the story which echoes its wartime setting. And the distinctive Forest of Dean accents conjure up wonderful memories of ‘The Singing Detective’ (another example of the coma drama subgenre by the way).

Labels: ,