strange_complex: (Nennig musicians)
I spent the weekend in Birmingham on a parental visit, vaguely structured around going to a concert in Warwick on the Sunday afternoon. Mum is looking slimmer and stronger every time I see her now that she has come off the steroids, though she is still slow and wobbly compared to how she was before she became ill. She likes going for walks around the neighbourhood to build up her strength, so on Saturday afternoon we walked along the local part of the Rea valley trail past playing-fields, dog-walkers and children on bicycles, while on Sunday morning we went up into Bournbrook to have a look at the massive demolition, river-culverting and road-construction works which are under way with the aim of completely changing the course of the main traffic flow through that area. It will definitely alter the landscape of my child-hood – but less so than I'd thought from what I'd heard about the project. In fact, as we walked around we passed my old piano-teacher's house, my old Brownie hall and even the row of purportedly-temporary huts on the University campus where my mother used to take me for the Mothers and Toddlers club when I was all of one year old. So I don't think I need to get too concerned about having my past erased.

The concert in Warwick is described under here )

Meanwhile, being in Warwick gave us a chance to drop in on Charlotte and Nicolas after the concert, which was great because I haven't seen their new house since the day they moved in. It's now looking a lot more cosy, with a lovely big soft sofa in the front room, a nice antique-looking coffee table and an iron-framed bed upstairs. We were also able to have a quick look through their wedding photo album, which our cousins (who did the photos) finally got round to putting together last month – only six months after the wedding. ;-) It's lovely, though – there are some absolutely gorgeous photos of Charlotte looking like someone out of a bridal magazine, all the standard shots you would expect of people processing out of the church and standing in groups, but also lots of lovely 'behind-the-scenes' shots of people who didn't know they were being photographed, laughing and smiling and playing silly jokes. It really captures the day very nicely, and I think was worth waiting for.

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My first Prom

Wednesday, 8 August 2007 17:27
strange_complex: (Nennig musicians)
Yesterday evening, I attended my first ever Promenade concert, in company with Cie. It occurred to me, sitting in the Albert Hall as we waited for the performance to begin, that this was a slightly odd thing to be doing for the first time now that I've moved to Leeds, given that I'd never managed it the whole time I lived in Oxford. But honestly, the trains from Leeds to London are so good, that it's practically just as easy from here.

I met Cie after work, and we caught up over dinner at Wagamama's - another first for me, and a good one, although I made the mistake of assuming that when a Japanese menu described soup as 'spicy', they wouldn't really mean it, only to find that actually they did. We then proceeded to Hyde Park, where we circumambulated the Albert Memorial for a while, gaping in mingled awe and horror at its sheer rococosity, before deciding that it was a bit nippy out and repairing to a basement bar within the Albert Hall. There, we drank coffee and ate cookies, until we were joined by [ profile] qatsi, who had just been enjoying a programme of Britten and Mahler in the evening's early Prom. Sadly, [ profile] qatsi couldn't stay for the late performance, as he needed to get home to Reading at a Reasonable Hour, but we got a good half-hour's chatting in nonetheless, so that was nice.

Concert review )

After the concert, we went back to Cie's flat in leafy Ealing Broadway, where we hooked up with her partner, Mark, for a bit before collapsing into bed. And then today dawned, all bright, breezy sunshine and views across people's gardens from Cie and Mark's lounge windows, coffee in hand. By lunch-time, I was safely back in Leeds - just in time to greet my Dad, who is installing curtain-rails for me downstairs as I type. Speaking of which, it's probably time I went and fixed us both some dinner.

Let me leave you with some pictures from my adventure )

strange_complex: (Nennig musicians)
Wow. I've just come back from what I think is one of the best performances of Bach's St. Matthew Passion that I've ever seen. And I have seen a fair few, because the Birmingham Bach Choir perform it on Good Friday every year, and while a quick glance back through my archives tells me I haven't been to one since starting this LJ, that's not representative of my overall life-time trend.

Everything about it was good really - I was completely gripped and entranced from start to finish. The only possible gripe was that the text was sung in English - accessible, yes, and the translation used was good, but it does inevitably mess up the rhythms from time to time. I'll note down my thoughts on the soloists particularly, though, so that I know what names to look out for in future:

Christopher Gillett - Evangelist (tenor). He usually sings this role for the Bach Choir, and I'm pretty sure I've seen him do it before. And so he should, because he is just perfect. Clear, unmannered and with a brilliant range of tone and colour considering that all he has to work with is recitative. When he sang that Jesus cried aloud and died, it actually happened. And the entire auditorium rang out with stunned silence afterwards.

Paul Whelan - Christ (bass). Much the same to say about him, actually - including the fact that I'm pretty sure I've seen him as Jesus before. I don't tend to like basses, but he had little of the toneless croak which normally puts me off. Instead, he was powerful, commanding, and - when the text required it - very, very human. Plus he was extraordinarily tall, and chose to emphasise this by wearing white tie and tails. So, points for presentation.

Christopher Purves (bass). My usual rule about basses was broken even harder by this guy. I actively loved his voice. It was rich, full of tone and expression, and perfectly controlled. He just sounded to me like a good tenor with a lower-than-normal range. Hooray.

Brad Cooper (tenor). This was a substitution - we were meant to have Paul Nilon, but after hearing him recently in Orfeo, I'm not sorry we didn't. Instead, we got a young Australian guy called Brad Cooper, who was (understandably) a little nervous, but fundamentally had a nice voice. A little more work on polishing it up, and he should be one to watch.

William Towers (alto). Like I say, they were all good, but he was the star of the show for me. Absolutely took my breath away. He has incredible power, and his upper range is so sweet, pure and beautifully controlled, I sometimes I had trouble believing that it was actually a human being who was singing, and not some perfect Platonic form of a voice. His lower range isn't quite so wonderful, being a little thin (though still powerful). But for some arias, that sound really works. It was when he sang 'Have mercy, Lord'1, for which this was very much true, that I was really won over. Mum and I were giving him secret silent hand-claps behind the backs of the seats in front of us for that one, and you can rest assured that I'll be buying CDs in the very near future.

Elizabeth Watts (soprano). Not so much praise for her, in that she wasn't in any way bad, but also wasn't as outstanding as most of the others. Could perhaps have been richer in tone and greater in power, I guess. But then again, she didn't warble or shriek. Just did the job very nicely.

We also had yummy toasted hot cross buns before we came out, and also Mini Eggs in the interval (which is probably an act of High Blasphemy, or something). So, all in all, I am glad that Jesus died. Much appreciated, dude.

1. I can't be bothered to look up the usual German names for the arias, but it's a little over half-way through.

strange_complex: (Apollo Belvedere)
I've just got back from a very enjoyable performance of Bach's B Minor Mass at Leeds University's Great Hall, which I attended in the company of [ profile] big_daz. Damn, but it's powerful stuff. We were sitting no more than 15 metres from a choir some 60 strong, and they certainly packed a punch.

The singers were mainly students of the School of Music, backed up by the Leeds Baroque Choir (whose numbers include my head of department!) and Orchestra. As such, some aspects of the performance were a little ropey, but then again it was a great opportunity to hear rising young stars. I especially liked the alto soloist, Beth Mackay, who did great credit to my favourite movement from the B Minor Mass - the 'Agnus Dei'.

And there were some interesting aspects to the performance, too. Firstly, two of the choruses ('Cum Sancto Spiritu' and the 'Sanctus') were taken at almost double their usual speed - apparently, according to the pre-concert talk, to bring out their use of forms usually associated with dance music; especially triplets. I wasn't convinced, because it made it difficult for the choir to articulate all the individual notes properly, and consequently it sounded as though some of them were falling over one another. But an interesting experiment, nonetheless. Secondly, although most choruses were taken by the full choir, some parts of some of them were stripped down to only one voice per line - this time apparently to bring out the fine details of their more complicated contrapuntal texture. Again, it didn't quite work, this time because the students chosen for these sections weren't quite up to the job, especially when standing on the other side of the orchestra from the audience. But it was an interesting compromise between the 'large' sound of the full choir and the precision of one-voice-to-a-part, which I think could work very effectively with better singers.

Anyway, a bit of Bach of a weekend is always a bonus, especially since I don't think I've seen the B Minor Mass in performance for about 6 or 7 years now. Definitely an afternoon well spent.

And before I go: what tarot card am I? )

That all sounds slightly worrying, actually...! Oh well, it's only a meme - right?

Things unblogged

Friday, 19 May 2006 11:33
strange_complex: (Darth blogging)
Gosh. I would appear to have some free time. Nominally, I'm at Warwick doing essay returns. But since I only have 11 people to see today, as opposed to the fearsome 35 I got through yesterday, there are a lot of gaps in the day when I can do other things. And I've actually run out of minor administrative tasks to perform, so that means I can write on LJ - yay!

What I'm going to do here is give quick accounts of some of the things I would have blogged over the last couple of months, if I'd had the time to do so. They probably won't get the same level of detail as they'd have had if I'd written them up at the time. But at least this way they won't be completely forgotten.

18th March - celebratory meal at Gee's )

30th March - Robin Blaze at the Wigmore Hall )

1st April - 'Springtime Baroque' concert at the Sheldonian )

24th April - QI recording )

8th May - Rik Mayall in 'The New Statesman' )

Well, that was a great relief! I feel a lot less weighed down by a back-log now, and more able to get on with posting about things day to day. There are still some Big Posts I need to make about things like my new job, and my book and so on. But this has definitely been a good start.
strange_complex: (Default)
I shall have to resort to numbered paragraphs.

1. I spent the weekend in a cottage near Ledbury, enjoying the 10th Annual Winsley Road Posse Christmas Meal. The choice of Ledbury was pretty random, really, based on reasonably equal travelling distances for all of us, and a nice-looking cottage within taxiable range of a railway station. But it was a good choice. The cottage exceeded all our expectations, while the lady we were letting it from had even left us a real live Xmas tree, a plate of mince pies and a lovely fire smouldering in the grate when I arrived. It was fabulous to catch up with everyone again, and enjoy the cottage, the grounds and the crisp but sunny weather together. We were all a bit bemused to find ourselves smoothly and professionally cooking a fabulous meal, eating it on an antique oak dining table and passing round port afterwards: all something of a contrast with meal number 1. Anyone would think we were grown-ups now, or something! But it was great, and so great in fact that we unanimously decided the book the cottage up again for the equivalent weekend next year before we left.

2. Last night was another jovial Christmas gathering, this time with the [ profile] oxgoths in the Chequers. Presents aplenty were distributed amongst the assembled company, chocolates munched and silly hats worn. We even attempted to play Christmas carols in chorus, with Spiky Neil conducting us and each person blowing on a differently-pitched whistle. Just one of those evenings that makes you feel really glad to have the friends you have.

3. And, finally, isn't Radio 3's Christmas Bachathon a stroke of genius? I don't tend to listen to Radio 3 all that much, but now that it's offering 100% Guaranteed Bach every time I switch it on, things have become quite different. I even threw over the Today programme this morning, setting my alarm to wake me up with one of his cantatas instead. Chatting to friends, I think a lot of people are doing the same sort of thing, and I don't doubt it's doing their audience figures a world of favours. Now, how about a Handel New Year, eh?

4. Ah, it's time for Futurama! Bye. :)
strange_complex: (Default)
... that's according to The Passion of The Christ at least, which I have just seen with James, Hugh and Zahra.

I've heard stories about churches buying tickets for this en masse in the belief that it will convert people, but having seen it I really can't see why. As a committed non-believer (nay, heathen), it just came across to me as a story about stupid people getting whipped up into stupid actions by religious extremism, with stupid and contemptible results. Not understandably misguided and tragic: just stupid. And I'm afraid I include Jesus in the category of 'stupid people' there.

The Passion is definitely capable of being put across in a more compelling way than this. Bach's Passions (the St. John and the St. Matthew), and the relevant parts of Handel's 'Messiah' (which I'm listening to right now because a biblical quotation at the start of the film brought it instantly to mind[1]) make this very clear. OK, so they could never convert me either - but at least they have an emotional impact on me. Bach and Handel make the story seem like an regrettable human tragedy, but somehow Gibson's failed to engage me emotionally in any way.

I think the problem could be phrased as being that the film was 'plot-driven' rather than 'character-driven': in other words, we just got a sequence of canonical events from the gospels, rather than any recognisably human scenes which might help us to relate to the characters or make sense of the transitions from one event to another. There was one scene which almost managed this, which was when Jesus fell down while carrying his cross to Golgotha, and Mary ran towards him to comfort him, which was interspersed with a flash-back of her running to pick him up when he fell and grazed his knees as a child. That gave us a chance to feel human pity for the motif of a mother losing a son she had raised. But other than that it left me cold (except for the occasional 'yuck' at the abundant violence).

I asked James, who is training to be a priest, whether it engaged him on an emotional level. He basically said that it had stirred the same sorts of emotions in him as a regular meditation on the stations of the cross would have done, but that these were emotions which he'd brought with him into the film from his church experience, rather than emotions which the film had stirred in itself. Yet obviously it has stirred great emotional responses in some viewers, because there are stories in the recent edition of The Cherwell about people confessing to long-undetected crimes after having seen it. I wish I could understand how it managed to do this: possibly those people also had to bring pre-existing emotions into the film, which were then sparked off onto a new level by it?

I wasn't too happy with the Latin either. I'd need to see it all written down to decide what I thought of it properly, but many of the sentence structures sounded very English, I spotted at least one example of someone not using the vocative when they should have done, the soldiers who are scourging Jesus inexpicably start counting from eight after they have turned him over to start whipping his front[2], and all the Romans used pronunciation which was a cross between medieval Latin and modern Italian. Plus, why were the Romans speaking to people like the Jewish high priest in Hebrew? At least, I presume it was Hebrew, although I can't distinguish Hebrew from Aramaic: but it certainly wasn't Latin or the actually-more-likely Greek. That doesn't fit with my knowledge of Roman provincial administration, although I'll admit that Judaea wasn't entirely a typical province, and I don't know much about its specifics.

And on top of all that, they also rather gave the game away for the sequel by showing him sitting up in his tomb at the end! So much for Passion II: The Resurrection.

Ah well, at least I've seen it now... I expect to enjoy 'Troy' a lot more when it comes out next month.

[1] Isiah 53.5: 'He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement
for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed'.

[2] And no, they're not carrying on from where they'd got to on the previous side, because they'd reached about twenty-something on his back.


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