Friday, 26 October 2012

Frieze Masters

A couple of weeks on and I have just about put the 7 day party that is Frieze far enough behind me to start being able to focus my eyes and order my thoughts.


Much is written of Frieze proper, and I shan't add to that except to say (a) it was fun to bump into lots of friends and (b) I liked Cabinet's stand best.  It didn't have anything you could buy - more a conceptual pointer to work by John Knight somewhere else, which you also could not buy. Quite brave, and definitely apart from the crowd.

Frieze Masters

I loved Frieze Masters, of which the director Victoria Siddall was clearly very much completely in control.  I bumped into her on the third day of Frieze wandering around radiating a mixture of relief and satisfaction, I would say with perfect justification.  I'd gone there worried that the galleries would take literally the definition of "Masters" as more than 10 years old, and it would be full of tentative Damian Hirst pieces trying to circumvent the editing process of history.  But no, it was one of the best looking art fairs I have seen for a long time full of genuine modern, and ancient, masterpieces, all very enhanced by the relaxed grey and beige theme and the carpeting underfoot.  The galleries I talked to had sold quite a few pieces, and thought they would definitely return in future years. 

Even when it was full it didn't seem claustrophobic
The juxtaposition of the very old and the almost new was lovely, and presumably a more accurate representation of what most collectors’ houses actually look like than the synchronic displays at Frieze.  Some of the old was very tempting, I’ve always wanted an altarpiece: 

Sadly somewhat beyond my price range
Some very pretty and friendly girls in the Helly Nahmad stand wanted to sell me a $20m Calder mobile. I liked it, particularly the way it was rotating, but not $20m worth!

As with Frieze, it’s quite fun to wander round and see what all the galleries that are showing have in common.   Everyone seemed to have decided that Donald Judd was a safe bet – at least 5 of the galleries were showing Judd sculptures.  It’s either collusion or Zeitgeist.  But they do look very good next to the old masters.

Donald Judd was everywhere - Collusion? Or Zeitgeist?

Amazing to think one could buy this Yves Klein.  I wish…

Yves was here
I was quite taken by the fact you could buy a gargoyle from a cathedral; an Indian miniature from the 16th century;  a 2nd century BC Han dynasty pot; or a Picasso.  This one was rather remarkable, with very thick textured paint:

Pablo Picasso - Torero, 1970 

Finally, and one of the more modern things there, I did very much like James Rosenquit’s Trash Can, all of 36 years old:

Calyx Krater Trash Can (1976) 18 carat Gold and Soot
Verdict:  A great success.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Harrison & Harrison - Organ builders in Durham

Recently Laura and I visited Harrison & Harrison in Durham, builders of organs, who are two-thirds of the way through the long and expensive process of restoring the organ in the Royal Festival Hall.

More of a craft workshop than a factory
I had no idea that the making of organs was so complex.  Most of the materials and methods used have been unchanged for hundreds of years, and the various craftsmen evidently took enormous pride in their work, paying as much attention to surfaces that would be invisible once the organ is constructed as to those that are on show.

Laura turned out to be very useful as an assistant on the tour.  It's a good thing she has been paying attention in her piano lessons.

Laura playing the organ                                               photo: Matt Freeman

Directing Laura at the keyboard is William McVicker, curator of the organ at the Royal Festival Hall, who also led the tour.  The couple behind the organ are my friends Mike & Kim Wilson - Mike first visited Harrison & Harrison about 60 years ago as a young boy to watch them manufacture the Festival Hall organ in the first place. He was very happy to be here again!  Perhaps in 60 years' time Laura will be here to watch the second restoration.

Somehow both William, and Harrison & Harrison, knew it was Laura's 12th birthday, providing birthday cake and as you might imagine a rather wonderful rendition of Happy Birthday To You on more than one organ!  Even more excitingly, Laura was then given the opportunity to make her own organ pipe.

Laura welding a lead and tin organ pipe                  photo: Matt Freeman
She first helped to weld a pipe (see above) following which we took the pipe to the "voicing workshop" where a voicer makes adjustments to the pipe to tune it properly.  It's a very specialised profession, and each voicer makes their own tools with which they make the minutest adjustments to the metal of the pipe.  The pipe started as a rather out of tune F sharp,  but once voiced (see below) was a very melodic F.  Looking on at the voicer is Brent Hansen, a governor of the Southbank and former boss of MTV Europe.

Voicing Laura's organ pipe

Not perhaps the most usual way to spend a birthday, but certainly one Laura won't forget.

Happy 12 year old (flower a present from Mike & Kim)

At Sadler's Wells

I seem to have been at Sadler's Wells quite a lot in the last month or so:

  • 19th September - San Francisco Ballet
  • 11th October - Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet
  • 16th October - Rambert Dance Company

Other than reinforcing my view that I prefer the middle of the Stalls to the First Circle - you kind of feel more engaged with and enveloped by the gesamtkunstwerk aspect of contemporary dance in the Stalls, my main observations are:

All three dance companies have the most amazing and gifted dancers.  The obvious virtues of the lead dancers aside,  Hannah Rudd (a recent recruit to the Rambert) and Sasha de Sola (in the Corps de Ballet of the San Francisco Ballet, just promoted to soloist in 2012) both have that hard to describe "you know it when you see it"  quality of grace and ease which will probably have them become leading dancers in due course.

This was Cedar Lake's first visit to the UK.  Although it apparently started as a vanity project for the Walmart heiress, it's turned into a very fine dance company.  I will definitely book tickets for their next trip here.

But the overall impression I was left with was that the two American companies had the great luck each to show only pieces of new choreography (the standouts being Christopher Wheeldon's "Within the Golden Hour" for the West Coasters; and Hofesh Shechter's "Violet Kidd" for the East Coast company) and these really allowed the dancers to flourish.

The Rambert by contrast seems to have had a much more hit and miss record recently with new choreography, and the best piece of their evening was the revival of Merce Cunningham's 1975 "Sounddance".

It would be lovely at some point to see the Rambert programme 3 or 4 brand new pieces in one evening.  Their dancers deserve the opportunity.

Bach Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin

Just back from one of my regular haunts - the Wigmore Hall - where violinist Alina Ibragimova was playing Bach's Sonatas and Partitas as a late replacement programme.  I took my friend Nick, who has been away in Denmark for the last four years and hasn't heard her play before.

I on the other hand have been to quite a lot of her concerts this year:
  • 1st October - with her Chiaroscuro Quartet at Bob Boas's house in Marylebone playing Mozart string quartets in D Minor and D Major
  • 25th July and 1st August 2012 - with Cédric Tiberghien at Vernon Ellis's 49 Queen's Gate Terrace playing Schubert works for violin and piano
  • 28th June at the Mansion House with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, playing Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E Minor
  • 28th April - with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican playing Arvo Pärt's Tabula Rasa
  • 29th February leading the Academy of Ancient Music at the Wigmore Hall playing Biber, Bach and Vivaldi 
At the interval Nick said "she's a bit of a superstar, isn't she?"

I've heard Alina play the Sonatas and Partitas before.  Every time it's a revelation.  She has the ability to portray profound emotion through what in theory is quite unromantic music, showing the Sonatas and Partitas, and particularly Partita No.2 in D Minor, to be one of the pinnacles of achievement in Western Civilisation.

First Sonata for Solo Violin: Adagio (Autograph 1720)

I won't go on any more because I am conscious I am sounding a bit obsessive!

As a footnote, was a guest of the Britten Sinfonia at the Barbican for their 20th birthday concert on 27th  October, which included the Bach Concerto for two violins, strings and continuo in D.Minor.  The violinists were Alina Ibragimova and Pekka Kuusisto.  Very good interplay between the violins, and altogether a very happy concert - amongst other things on the programme was Joanna MacGregor settings of Louis 'Moondog' Harding.  No, me neither, but here's the link to some info.