Friday, March 20, 2015

'A Spool of Blue Thread' by Anne Tyler

20 March 2015

Anne Tyler has said her latest novel, 'A Spool of Blue Thread', might be her last. That would be a great shame as she is still at the height of her powers. 'A Spool of Blue Thread', which I have just finished reading (as an unabridged audio book, narrated by Kimberly Farr), is an amazing book. It is the story of a family, and the story of a house, with the narrative flitting forwards and backwards in time to create a thoroughly rounded picture of the Whitshanks and their family home on Bouton Road in Baltimore. Anne Tyler's writing appears clear and simple – it lacks the elegant flourishes of Marilynne Robinson's prose (reviewed here in February 2015) – but goes much deeper than you first realise, building an incredibly powerful emotional connection with the characters. 'A Spool of Blue Thread' is full of domestic scenes where little seems to be happening but enormous currents swell beneath the trivial everyday tasks. This is a mature Anne Tyler novel, without some of the quirkiness of her earlier books, more melancholy and serious. We really feel the family's joy and grief. It's gentle, subtle, impressive and moving. More please, Anne.


Friday, March 13, 2015

'Behind the Beautiful Forevers' by David Hare, based on the book by Katherine Boo

13 March 2015

Katherine Boo's prize-winning book 'Behind the Beautiful Forevers' chronicles life in Annawadi – a shanty town next to the airport in Mumbai, which looks a lot like the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. David Hare's play, directed by Rufus Norris for the National Theatre, and broadcast to cinemas by NT Live this week, dramatises real people and incidents to create a theatrical experience that is shocking, frightening and violent but also warm, funny and uplifting. We saw the NT Live broadcast at Cineworld in Milton Keynes and the combination of the impressive scale of the set, recreating Annawadi on the vast Lyttleton stage, with the close-ups afforded by the NT Live cameras made for a compelling spectacle. 'Behind the Beautiful Forevers' was also the first National Theatre show to feature a completely British Asian cast. It was a fascinating and moving production.

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Monday, March 02, 2015

Northampton Symphony Orchestra concert

2 March 2015

The music of Anton Bruckner tends to divide classical music fans. Unsurprisingly, as a horn player, I love Bruckner symphonies – my CD box set of all eleven symphonies (numbers 1-9, Die Nulte (number 0) and the Study Symphony (number 00)), conducted by Georg Tintner with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, is a treasured favourite in my music collection. Bruckner's orchestral music has a raw, slowly menacing power, like huge waves rolling through the middle of a great ocean. There is beauty, glory and brilliance, tempered by humility. The symphonies are big, long, and loud, but with moments of unexpected gentleness. On Saturday I played the first horn part in Bruckner's Symphony No 6 with the Northampton Symphony Orchestra at St Matthew's Church in Northampton. During 2014-15, while we search for a new permanent conductor, each NSO concert is being directed by a different guest conductor. On Saturday James Ham, currently the Sir Charles Mackerras Conducting Fellow at Trinity Laban Conservatoire, drew a great performance from the orchestra that had seemed unlikely as late as last Wednesday's rehearsal. I think it's fair to say we had struggled to get used to the Bruckner, but it came together beautifully on Saturday evening and I really enjoyed playing it. Bruckner writes wonderfully for the horns, with plenty to do throughout the piece and prominent moments for all four horn players. It was great to be part of a really strong horn section and, though there was some fine playing in all sections of the orchestra, this time I think I might be forgiven for saying it was all about the horns! The concert opened with Mozart's Overture to 'Cosi fan Tutte' which we followed with a wonderful performance of the Schumann Piano Concerto by the brilliant young, Northampton-born soloist, Stephen Meakins. Stephen, a 27-year-old graduate of the Royal College of Music, had not performed the Schumann before and told me he had been working on the piece for fourteen months in preparation for this one performance. I don't know about him but that made me nervous! I needn't have worried as he gave a stunning performance, our accompaniment of the tricky syncopated passage in the last movement finally began to click in Saturday afternoon's rehearsal and James held us together well in the concert. It was a really enjoyable concert, perhaps more so because the orchestra had not felt particularly comfortable with the repertoire and had to work that bit harder, so the results were especially pleasing. Now I'm really looking forward to the next concert, new pieces and another new conductor.

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