Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Concert highlights for 2014

My ticket stubs tell me that I went to 62 performances during 2014, of which 9 were in Berlin and most of the rest in London.  Strangely in 2013 I also went to 62 performances (7 in Berlin, 8 in Manchester and most of the rest in London).
Almost everything I went to pleased me greatly.  Those that really stick in my memory as special were:
  • Johánn Johánnsson playing his score “The Miners’ Hymns” to accompany Bill Morrison’s film about the lives of miners in County Durham during the twentieth century – the film is an extraordinary and ultimately rather depressing piece of social history, beautifully complemented by the music  (09.03 Barbican)
  • Harmonic Series, at which the cellist Olly Coates introduced me to Éliane Radigue’s “L’ile re-sonante”.    I had not come across Radigue before, and now I am addicted - iTunes tells me I have since listened to this piece 39 times.  It’s 55 minutes long, so that’s about 3 days worth of my life.  And that’s not to mention the 12 times I have listened to her 3 hour long "Trilogie de la Mort" this year (17.03 Southbank)
  • The London Sinfonietta as part of its “Blue Touch Paper” programme played a new sextet by Gavin Higgins – “Uncle Dima”.   An angry polemical piece raging against Russian suppression of gay rights.  I find it extraordinary that the pop music of our times is so politically passive, but take great comfort that our contemporary composers are not. (21.05 ICA)
  • Opera Erratica’s “Triptych”.  I loved it, a sort of mini opera created by a cooperative.   Highly modern, dense with meaning, and very pretty girls wearing not much.   It suggests one way forward for opera as something less expensive, elitist and hierarchical.  I’ve since seen further performances by the same company which I have also enjoyed greatly, including ""The Little Match Girl Passion" followed by a Christmas Carol Karaoke in Hackney Wick (03.06 Print Room, Notting Hill)
  • Mica Levi playing her score along with the film “Under the Skin”.  I have followed her work closely, seeing her play both pop concerts as Micachu, and as a collaborator with the London Sinfonietta.  She’s a refreshing and rare reminder that pop music does not have to be merely dull repetition (18.06 Southbank)
  • Alice Coote and Christian Blackshaw performing Schumann Lieder.   From the first note I was transported to another world; I already knew that Blackshaw is amongst my favourite pianists, and found Alice Coote’s voice an equal delight.  (22.06 Wigmore Hall)
  • Matthew Barney’s “River of Fundament” with music by Jonathan Bepler.  Visually beautiful, unforgettably intense.  Somewhere between a film, art, opera and surreal pornography.  And six hours long.  I’d really like to see it again. (26.06 Colliseum, London)
  • Norma Nahoun and Julien Quentin performing a concert of music by the English composer Charlotte Bray in this wonderful piano repair workshop come concert space. The concert included "Yellow Leaves" which I had commissioned (12.09 Piano Salon Christophori, Berlin)
  • Hauschka playing through his new album “Abandoned City” on prepared piano and electronics in this wonderful Berlin venue.  (19.09 Volksbühne, Berlin)
  • Britten Sinfonia playing live work by Thomas Adès live for dances by four choreographers (Wayne Macgregor, Karole Armitage, Alexander Whitley, and Crystal Pite). A perfect marriage of musicians, composer, and dance. The standout moment however was Adès playing the piano while Claire Booth sang so captivatingly that I was almost unaware of the dancers on the stage (01.11 Sadler’s Wells)
  • Cédric Tiberghien, playing Bartók  piano pieces to a chamber music size audience (about 20 of us).  Cédric talked through the whole development of Bartók’s composing in an insightful, informal, and informative manner.  And he plays beautifully.  (04.11 Queensgate Terrace)

As a footnote, the 2014 events included:
24  classical concerts (ie written before about 1960)
25 contemporary classical music concerts
11 contemporary dance performances
2  plays
The concerts were:
22 Chamber recitals
14 Ensemble performances
7 Orchestral concerts
6 Operas
The most visited London venues were:
16 at the Southbank (22 in 2013)
8 at the Wigmore Hall (11 in 2013)
6 at Sadler’s Wells (5 in 2013)
3 at the Barbican (1 in 2013)
2 at King’s Place (none in 2013)

Monday, 10 November 2014

Night Train to Paris

I took the night sleeper from Berlin to Paris.  It's being discontinued at the end of 2014 and I wanted to experience its romance. It reminded me of journeys from my past.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Gentlemen Like Us, with Pinar & Viola

Some time ago, and as part of the research work for a planned composer/artist collaboration (on which more news in a month or two),  I asked the Amsterdam based post-digital artists Pinar & Viola to create a design for a pocket square.   After some deliberation, which included their relocating to Paris, the girls came up with the desire to create a "wearable spell" and produced a wonderful design - a digital painting suffused with symbols and meaning:

Detail from the design for the spell
We did some research about how to produce handmade silk pocket handkerchiefs - including some very helpful advice from Nicholas at "Le Noeud Papillon" of Sydney, Australia - and in the end had them manufactured in California by Donnalee, a delightful hippy, or that's how I imagine her anyway.

The finished article
Last week we had a very special incantation ceremony in London at which 5 of the 7 recipients of this very special limited edition were able to join us in Gothic surroundings.

Viola casting a spell on CA, me and TF

Pinar wrote out the spells, and Viola read them to the members of the "Gentlemen Like Us" club, and then gave us each a unique, named pocket square.   And now we can't be parted from these pocket squares, which are more than just a piece of silk, they are a talisman to protect us from the world.

TF in his office, wearing his charm

AP returning from night out in town, with protection.

Me, with a private witch in my pocket
masquerading as wearable art
MT - under the spell!

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Stolpersteine in Frankenthal

Laura and I went to Frankenthal (Pfalz) on 18th August 2014 for a ceremony at which the artist Gunter Demnig placed commemorative Stolpersteine for my grandfather (Dr F.A. Mann) and great-grandfather (Dr. R. Mann) outside Westliche Ringstraße 9, the house in which they used to live.

Westliche Ringstraße 9
The Mayor of Frankethal, Herr Theo Wieder, made a very good speech in which he emphasised the importance of learning from the past.  We have enjoyed a long period of peace in Europe, but events in the world around us show how fragile this is -  we must understand through knowledge of history the necessity as individuals to make moral choices.   Laura said to me later that her history lessons at her (British) school  are just about facts - and how much better it would be for it to be about ethical responsibility too.
Oberbürgermeister Wieder
After laying Stolpersteine at two other houses of former Jewish residents of Frankenthal (the Rahlson family - died in concentration camps; and the Schottland family - fled to USA) Gunther Demnig then moved on to the Mann family house. 

Gunter Demnig installing Stolpersteine for Mann family
There was a short further speech about the history of the Mann family (many generations of bankers, lawyers and judges) given by Herr Herbert Baum, of the Association for the memorial of Jews in Frankenthal (website here) He seemed to know more about the history of my family than I did!  The audience included the Frankenthal Town Archivist, Herr Gerhard Nestler (leaning on umbrella).
Herbert Baum giving a speech
Here are the Stolpersteine installed in the pavement:


And finally, a photo of me and Laura with the amazing Gunther Demnig.  Over the last 20 years he has installed 48,000 Stolpersteine across the countries in Europe from which minorities were persecuted by the Nazis.  He's created something that is both an extraordinary work or art, and a powerful piece of social and political action.  His website is here. and more info about his work is here

Gunter, me and Laura at Westliche Ringstraße

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Music with people singing

I haven’t always liked music with people singing – particularly lieder and opera.   I did always think that in my later years I would be nudged towards opera, in the same way that perhaps my reading will nudge me towards Trollope and Proust when I am more grown-up.

Notwithstanding my reservations, in the last 6 weeks I have been to the complete gamut of singing possibilities:

  • The orchestra and chorus of Santa Cecilia, conducted by Sir Antiono Pappano, singing Verdi’s Requiem at the Royal Festival Hall.  Completely wonderful, proper Italian choir singing big music.
  • Thebans” by Julian Anderson, a new opera at the ENO.  I could see it was a proper opera, but I found it a bit plodding narratively, and felt it could have been written at any point in the last 50 years.  So didn’t exactly excite me.
  • Opera Erratica’s “Triptych” at the Print Room.  I loved it, a sort of mini opera created by a cooperative.   Highly modern, dense with meaning, and very pretty girls wearing not much.   Much more engaging than “Thebans” and points one way forward for opera as something less expensive, elitist and hierarchical.
  • Alice Coote and Christian Blackshaw at the Wigmore Hall performing Schumann Lieder.   From the first note I was transported to another world; I already knew that Blackshaw is amongst my favourite pianists, and found Alice Coote’s voice an equal delight.  Still surprised this concert wasn’t reviewed anywhere, I think it’s the best of the 50 I have been to so far this year.   But the music establishment is a bit anti-Blackshaw because he won’t play their celebrity games and is seen as a bit “difficult”.
  • Luca Francesconi'sQuartett” at the Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House.  Utterly amazing, absorbed in the 80 minutes of this modernist mini-opera. As above, reviewers ignored/found it difficult which reduced audience numbers. But I loved it.
  • River of Fundament” by Matthew Barney, with music by Jonathan Bepler, at the Colliseum.  Visually beautiful, unforgettably intense.  Somewhere between a film, art, opera and surreal pornography.  And six hours long.  Two weeks after seeing it I know I would go again like a shot if the opportunity offered itself, mostly to hear the music again.  Bepler has written things for voices to do that I haven’t heard before, and would like to hear more of.
  • Lyrische Symphonie” by Alexander Zemlinksy, at the Staadbad in Mitte/Wedding, Berlin.   Seven connected movements, scored for an orchestra of 200 with baritone and soprano soloists.  The staging I heard was with a reduced orchestra of 23, but still worked really well. It’s music I ‘d like to hear again.
  • Janacek’s “The Cunning Little Vixen” at Garsington, with Claire Booth in the title role.   Claire was great, fully engaged in the role of the Vixen.  Garsington is also a fantastic setting, it reminds me of Glyndebourne when I first went there (as a teenager) in the 1970s, before it got all corporate.

July 2014

Thursday, 25 July 2013

New Movement Collective - NEST

I have been helping to support the New Movement Collective (NMC), run amongst others by my friend Gosia Dzierzorn of the Rambert Dance Company.

NMC's latest piece (NEST) is a dance and immersive multi-media performance being put on at the Welsh Chapel in Shaftesbury Avenue, former site of the Limelight club at which I occasionally passed some time when younger.  So it was with a strange sense of impending nostalgia for racier times that we went to see the show a couple of nights ago.  It's based on the story of the Odyssey, which the children impressively and confidently narrated the bones of to me in the taxi on the way over.

The piece was extraordinarily good, and rather than trying to describe it I will rely on the very praising reviews here:  Guardian  Independent   Standard   BalletBag

My favourite bit of all was the dancer Clemmie Sveass as Penelope (Odysseus's wife) weaving and unweaving the shroud.  (Penelope, whilst being pursued by suitors in Odysseus's absence used the delaying tactic of pretending to weave a burial shroud for his father Laertes, claiming that she would choose a suitor when finished.  But each night she undid part of the weaving).

Another fine element was a dance done by Gosia in front of a mirror - which I think was a metaphor for the Cyclops's eye.    I liked the piece so much I went back alone a couple of days later.

Anyway, altogether I am immensely proud to have been able to support NMC.  It's the second time I have done so, and I am sure not the last.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

In Manchester: 4 – The parties

The parties were all great.  Imagine if  London had decided to have and largely fund a festival and allowed the organisers to put on a show in most of the National Gallery;  have a series of drinks parties with a very loud disco in the House of Commons attended by most of the Cabinet; and to take over the unused bit of Waterloo station as a concert stage set.   That’s the equivalent level of commitment that Manchester makes to the Festival. 

It was a pleasure to see Alan Erasmus again at a lunch party held by Tom Bloxham (property developer, Chancellor of Manchester University, and Chair of the Festival).   Alan was one of the founders of Factory Records, and I think the last time I saw him was at least 20 years ago at the Hacienda. We had a lovely long chat in the searing lunchtime heat, before I was whizzed off to see Robert Wilson’s staging of Daniil Kharms’ “The Old Woman”.  Of all the pieces I saw in Manchester I liked it least, which I think says more about me than the play, as Charlie Asprey who was with me liked it best of all.

Escaping the culture, Charlie and I took a train out from Manchester to
Alderley Edge and walked up a hill to a great pub - the Wizard - for lunch

Somehow also the tireless Alex Poots, festival director, was everywhere. How he manages to organise it all and still be at all the parties is incomprehensible.  Perhaps he doesn't sleep much.