Friday, July 21, 2017

Northampton Symphony Orchestra concert

21 July 2017

The last concert of each Northampton Symphony Orchestra season is always a private performance for the Friends of the Orchestra - a chance to say thank you for their support and an opportunity for the orchestra to explore repertoire that might not fit into one of our main concerts. This year's NSO Friends' Concert, last Sunday, concluded our season of Fifth Symphonies with Beethoven's 'Symphony no 5'. With such a famous piece of music it is easy to take it for granted and assume you know it all. So it was good to have the opportunity, over the past few weeks, to really get to grips with the symphony and to appreciate why it is such a successful and well known work. During 2016-17 we have played the fifth symphonies by Shostakovich, Glazunov, Sibelius, Alwyn, Mendelssohn and Beethoven. It has been a really enjoyable and interesting season of concerts, cleverly programmed by NSO Conductor, John Gibbons. But I'm not sure whether we really identified any particular characteristics of fifth symphonies. It is interesting that for many composers the fifth symphony seems to be a particularly significant work but, beyond the fact that getting as far as writing five symphonies is likely to indicate a maturing of the composer's skill, I don't think we noticed any other common features.

The rest of our programme on Sunday included Sullivan's overture to 'The Yeomen of the Guard' and Handel's 'Music for the Royal Fireworks'. But the star attraction was the return of the brilliant young saxophonist, Jess Gillam, who played John Williams' 'Escapades' with the NSO at our February 2017 concert. Jess is due to make three appearances at this year's BBC Proms, starting with the John Williams Prom this Thursday (which is being shown on BBC4 on the evening of Friday 21 July). She joined us again on Sunday to try out some pieces by Chick Corea that will form part of one of her Proms performances. Jess Gillam is an amazing performer and it was a privilege to see her in action again.

Sunday's concert also marked a final appearance with the NSO by my fellow horn player, Ian Frankland. Ian has been with NSO for 19 years and we have played alongside each other since 2000. We've had a great time and played in some amazing concerts together. I'll really miss Ian and wish him well for his forthcoming move to Copenhagen.

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Friday, July 14, 2017

'Alan Partridge: Nomad' by Alan Partridge with Rob Gibbons, Neil Gibbons and Steve Coogan

14 July 2017

When I reviewed the Alan Partridge ‘autobiography’, ‘I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan’ (in May 2012) I was particularly taken with how it managed to replay many of the best known Partridge moments (from radio and TV series going back more than 20 years) without making the book feel like a ‘greatest hits’ exercise, merely replaying old jokes, but actually adding a further layer of hindsight humour by re-telling the various incidents in exactly the way Alan himself would. The ‘sequel’, ‘Alan Partridge: Nomad’ by Alan Partridge with Rob Gibbons, Neil Gibbons and Steve Coogan (which I have just finished reading as an unabridged audio book, narrated by Alan Partridge) cleverly extends this technique. In this diary of Alan’s ill-fated attempt to get a TV commission for a celebrity walking series (in the style of Julia Bradbury or Clare Balding) by embarking on an emotional trek across East Anglia in the footsteps of his father, he includes his reflections on almost everything that has happened to Alan Partridge since the publication of ‘I, Partridge’. This includes telling us about the events that form the plot of Declan Lowney’s excellent 2013 film ‘Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa’. The whole Alan Partridge canon has become increasingly meta-textual. Rob Gibbons and Neil Gibbons are genuine Partridge fans who have turned their obsessively pedantic (Patridgean?) attention to detail regarding Alan’s history to superb effect in the books.

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'Respectable' by Lynsey Hanley

14 July 2017

Since the EU referendum in June last year, I’ve been thinking a lot about the class divisions that were highlighted by the vote in so many communities that clearly felt disconnected from, and disillusioned with, Government and the ‘metropolitan elite’. In September 2016 I saw the Guardian journalist Lynsey Hanley give a brilliantly entertaining and provocative presentation about class and culture at the Creative People and Places conference in Doncaster. Lynsey Hanley’s book ‘Respectable: Crossing the Class Divide’ has been my timely, inspiring and challenging companion over the past few months. It has made a significant impression on my thinking in a very similar way to ‘Welcome to Everytown’ – Julian Baggini’s exploration of mainstream culture (reviewed here in April 2008). So it was particularly interesting to discover a reference in ‘Respectable’ to ‘Welcome to Everytown’ – especially as I hadn’t come to this reference when I met Julian Baggini for the first time in February and encouraged him to read ‘Respectable’. Lynsey Hanley uses her own experience of social mobility as a platform to explore and explode many middle class assumptions about working class people and culture. It is an important and fascinating book – highly recommended.

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'Titus Andronicus' by William Shakespeare

14 July 2017

Last Tuesday we were at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon to see the new RSC production of ‘Titus Andronicus’. I had never seen ‘Titus Andronicus’ before and, although this was a stunning production, I don’t think I want to see it again. I knew the play has a reputation for being particularly gory but I found the plot incredibly discomfiting as well as not making a great deal of sense. There is a horrifically brutal rape scene that sits very uneasily with the dark comedy that follows. There is also an incredible amount of blood spilled during the performance: don’t sit in the front row! Blanche McIntyre’s modern-dress production is an amazing theatrical experience which compares contemporary crises to the decline of Roman civilisation, opening with anti-austerity protesters in hoodies trying to storm fences protecting the Roman Senate.  There were some very witty touches, such as making the messenger Titus Andronicus sends to the Emperor into a cyclist with a padded ‘Deliveroma’ box on his back. And having some of the speeches delivered from a podium with a microphone allowed for a quiet comic undercutting of some of the more declarative text. The (very) dark humour reminded me of the 2005 National Theatre production of ‘Theatre of Blood’ (adapted by Lee Simpson and Phelim McDermott from the 1973 MGM movie). The always-impressive David Troughton, who I last saw at the RSC as Gloucester in ‘King Lear’ (reviewed here in September 2016) is wonderful as Titus Andronicus (is he working his way through the goriest Shakespearean parts?). This is a quality production of a very peculiar play.

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'Great Expectations' by Charles Dickens, adapted by Laura Turner

14 July 2017

On Saturday 1 July we were at the National Trust stately home at Claydon near Buckingham for an outdoor theatre production by Chapterhouse Theatre Company. We have seen many Chapterhouse productions over recent years (at a variety of venues) and they always bring an impressive cast of young actors who rise to the many challenges of an outdoor performance. Laura Turner has made a specialism of adapting classic novels for Chapterhouse outdoor productions and this time we saw her adaptation of ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens. It was a beautiful evening to spend in such a lovely setting, with Claydon itself playing the part of Satis House and a wonderful sunset providing the backdrop to the play. The cast were all very strong but Dominic Quinn, making his Chapterhouse debut as a late replacement for the actor playing Magwitch and Jaggers, was particularly impressive.

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