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. 

In Manchester: 3 – Macbeth

When Caroline, the children and I walked in to the deconsecrated St.Peter’s Church the usher pointed out that as we were in the front row we needed to be careful not to lean forwards in case we got hit by a sword.

The production was relentless, visceral, immediate.  We were spattered with mud, water, blood.   Clashing swords created firefly-like sparks landing on our faces.  McDuff’s wife and child were slaughtered a meter in front of my nose.  Shocking, tragic, total theatre.

Kenneth Branagh brought to the role such a psychological profundity and narrative clarity that I would say this could be the defining Macbeth of our generation.  It's odd then to read the reviews; the critics seem divided between the majority who think it outstanding; and one or two who strangely didn't like it at all.

Almost everyone I know intends to go and see it in a cinema when it’s broadcast this weekend.  But what you won't get in the cinema is the peaty, lingering, smell of the Scottish mud.

In Manchester: 2 – The Michaelangelo Sonnets

A Peter Sellars staging of Shostakovich's Suite on Verses of Michaelangelo Buonarroti, Op.145  and Bach's Cantata BWV 56.  Both were sung by the Bass-Baritone Eric Owens, accompanied by the organist Cameron Carpenter.

The older I get the more I get Shostakovich.   His piano sonatas seem like the logical successor to Bach’s fugues, and the eighth string quartet perhaps the pinnacle piece of chamber music of the 20th Century. So I was already in a state of heightened expectation as Eric Owens started singing.  

The odd solitary tear but seldom graces my cheek, perhaps only once every couple of years, and usually at moments of overwhelming beauty. This was one of those. That said, the friend I took didn’t like it at all.  He found it a bit melancholic. However, I am older than him, and I quite like the cathartic effect of a bit of gloom. 

I was very happy subsequently to meet both Peter Sellars and Eric Owens at one of the many, many parties at the festival.   I couldn’t stop myself sort of hugging Eric, and I asked Peter if he was ever going to revive the “Peony Pavillion” – a Tan Dun piece which we had seen at the Barbican 20 years ago – and which has resonated in my head ever since.  He seemed very pleased to be asked, and is indeed just “finishing it off” now. 

In Manchester: 1 – Massive Attack vs Adam Curtis

I’ve just attended 10 shows in Manchester over two weekends of the 2013 Manchester International Festival.  Every single show was amazing in its own way.   I should admit to a slight bias – I chair the commissioning circle for the Festival.  That said, I am incredibly proud of my involvement with this really unique and outstanding event.   I also think I went to 10 post-show parties.  I have decided not to drink for a bit!

Massive Attack vs Adam Curtis

I love Bristol post punk music.  If I ever get on to Desert Island Discs then the Pop Group’s “She is Beyond Good and Evil” would definitely be on my playlist.  Massive Attack, coming out of the same mindset in the eighties, are right up my street too.  

Adam Curtis’s documentaries, most of which I have seen, are a bit less central to my life – while he’s got some great and important ideas his polemic goes over the top a bit, perhaps counterproductively.  

However together, the combination of the band and the documentary made for a new art form.  Peter Saville describes it as “Grown up pop music”.   I’d say it was the best way to see a documentary ever - it’s like the conscious bit of my mind was fully consumed by the bass being cranked up to 11, so the Adam Curtis messages, however far fetched, bypassed my critical faculties and were injected straight into my brain.  A sort of voluntary brain washing.

The band hid behind screens, and played other people’s music.  As an act of supreme professionalism and self-confidence, it left me in awe.   The cover of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream” is still echoing in my head a week later.    Hope they record it sometime.

With P&V before the concert

I have realised too that I have done a lot since my last post - for example going to Tokyo to see a play.  I might have to become a bit chronologically non-linear in my posting.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Two book launches

I went this week to two strangely contrasting book launches, with a unifying theme.

The first was on Tuesday at "The Society Club" - a rather fascinating bookshop at 12 Ingestre Place in Soho - for "How to Wear White" by Francesca Beauman.    She's written an intriguing book aimed at women getting married - peppered with good advice, and also unexpected and bizarre statistics that relate in some way to marriage - for example a table of champagne consumption by bottle for every country in the world for last year.  I am extremely fond of Fran and have known her for all of her life, so I never miss any of her book launches (this must be her fourth or fifth). You can buy her book here.

Fran's husband James Bobin directed the very successful Muppets film that came out last year, and he's half way through making the next one.   For me perhaps his greater claim to fame is that he co-wrote and directed "Flight of the Conchords".   It was fun therefore to find Jemaine Clement at the book launch party.

The Society Club also quite distractingly above its bookcases was having an exhibition of Bob Carlos Clarke pictures - I spent most of the evening making polite conversation whilst being quite distracted by pictures of girls naked save for various bits of PVC clothing.  All very jolly.

The second was the next evening at Boodles - another club but not one in which you would ever find Bob Carlos Clarke pictures.   This was to launch the publication of a book about the history of Boodles written by David Mann, who died last year, and other contributors.  The book is a celebration of the  250th anniversary of the foundation of the club.

Boodles, like so many other London clubs, is entirely comfortable, seductive and appealing on the one hand; and absolutely appalling and retrograde on the other.  It's the sort of club in which gentleman have to wear coats and ties; in which women have been grudgingly tolerated and only then in recent times, and occupy a second class role if at all; and in which it helps if you were at the right school, the right university, the right regiment, speak in the right accent, have the right family, etc.   Despite precisely meeting all these requirements I can't quite relate to these places.  The charming wife of the president of the club told me that she thought I probably wasn't old enough yet (I am past my first half century!) and that she thought the club was an extremely useful place because it got her husband out of the house and meant she did not have to cook him dinner.

All of that said, I did meet some very urbane and open minded people at the launch party, and enjoyed some conversations about music, and the future of Europe.

I then drifted into conversation with quite a large group of men who were describing to me very animatedly how wonderful they thought "Nigel" was, and what fun he had been at dinner the night before.  It was only when one of them began telling me how there were enough immigrants in the country now, and perhaps we should even encourage some of them to leave, that I realised "Nigel" was of course Mr. Farage of UKIP.   As frequently happens they made the categorical error of believing that because I looked and spoke like them, I might share their reprehensible views.  The conversation went from bad to worse at that point, and so with my prejudices about the moral bankruptcy that inhabits the rotten core of these institutions entirely reinforced, I left.

The unifying theme, lest you should wonder, is family.  Fran is my cousin and David was my uncle.