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.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

In Berlin: 2 - Thilo Heinzmann

The composer Jóhann Jóhannsson and I paid a visit to the studio of Thilo Heinzmann, the Berlin based artist.  As we arrived Thilo was listening to Jóhann's "Englaborn".   If you don't know it I strongly recommend it.
Thilo holding one of Jóhann Jóhannsson's records 
Thilo and Jóhann are collaborating on a project, one of the end points of which will be a composition by Jóhann called "12 conversations with Thilo Heinzmann".   This meeting at the studio was the 4th conversation, in which I was very pleased to be able to participate.

Jóhann is recently back from a trip to the South Pole - and we noted that in a funny parallel some of Thilo's polystyrene pictures have an iceberg like quality.   Thilo has been in Paris looking at impressionist paintings, and I think the result has been to inject a wider colour palette into some of his paintings.
Jóhann and Thilo in front of a post-Paris trip painting
The project has 8 more conversations to go, and I will blog about it again later in the year.

In Berlin: 1 - Nachtmusik barock

In Berlin on Sunday for a rather unusual concert at RadialSystem V - a performance space near the Ostbahnhof.

RadialSystem V from the river during the day
The concept behind the concert - "Nachtmusik barock" - is that you listen to lovely baroque music late at night in a relaxed state, this being achieved by taking your shoes off and lying on yoga mats, with your head on a soft and squashy pillow.

Sitting up from our yoga mats to clap at the end of the concert

The musicians were Ensemble Hippocampus (violin, viola da Gamba, and harpsichord) and they played a variety of music by Bach and composers who had influenced him including Froberger, Krieger, Schenck, and Biber.   The violinist, Kerstin Linder-Dewan, spoke before the concert about Bach and his times. Fortunately her German was simple enough for me mostly to understand.

My favourite part of the concert was the Chaconne for Gamba and Harpsichord  by Schenck during which I completely drifted off into a trance like state.

Getting back to Charlottenburg in the snow after the concert woke me up again quite quickly.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

My heart bleeds for Newbury

My heart bleeds for Newbury; for its has been eviscerated.  Twenty years since last I visited this market town some 60 miles from London. No doubt naive of me to be surprised, but it's like another country if you live as I do in central London.  I can't imagine what sort of economic policy could fix this in less than a generation. We need to change our society.

Wednesday lunchtime, Newbury