Monday, August 29, 2011

Elijah with Rosy

To the Proms last night for excellent performance of Elijah. Simon Keenlyside, Sarah Connolly and Rosy Joshua were outstanding soloists with a large combined choir and a greatly expanded Gabrielli consort and players conducted by Paul McCreech, in a performance which aimed to recreate the forces of the first performances conducted by Mendelssohn himself.  This included a very large string ensemble with doubled woodwinds, trumpets, drums and ophicleides but single horns and trombones, and serpents doubling the choral bass line. I had never heard of ophicleides, which are a predecessor to the tuba, and they also had the one and only existing playable version of a contrabass or monstre ophicleide (lindly lent by Ron Johnson from Albany NY) and of course the Albert Hall organ.

Although it was a fine performance Elijah is in my view a very disappointing work.  Part of the problem is the libretto. Part I has the contest with the Prophets of Baal as its centre, Part II the exile and the "sill small voice" mentioning the taking up to heaven in a whirlwind en passant. Mendelsohnn and his librettist had a poor instinct for drama. This is no-where more evident than when the prophets of Baal are slain: just think how a really great composer like Handel, Brahms of Mahler would have done this with an amazing contrapuntal chorus (I say nothing of Bach because it is no critcism to have fallen short of the greatest composer of all time!) and compare the pedestrian treatment followed by two worthy arias for Elijah and the Mezzo.

Rosy was of course terrific, especially when she was singing the Angel in Part II.  Great to see her afterwards and we went out to supper, with her son and some friends including a v nice Cambridge-based mezzo called Lucy Taylor.

Rosy will be singing Helen of Troy in the world premiere of a new opera called Orest by Manfred Trojhan for the Netherlands Opera and then doing Despina in Cosi (with Thomas Allen as Alfoso) at  Covent Garden in Jan/Feb. Not to be missed.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

DC and Harvard

Back yesterday from excellent visit to Washington and Harvard. Arrived just after and earthquake, left just before a hurricane!

Stayed at the Hay Adams - "where nothing is overlooked ... except the White House".  At Harvard we made great progress and it was also excellent to see Erez Liebermann Aiden.

Still madly busy I'm afraid ...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cornwall, CP Snow, Edith Sitwell and Lucy Diamond

Delightful holiday with Son and Grandchildren at family house in Cornwall.  Kayaking, running, a big sandcastle, surfing but alas no sailing. Came back with filthy cold and have to travel to DC and Harvard soon so again no time to blog.

Met "Lucy Diamond" at the launch of her latest novel The Beach Cafe which I finished on the train on my way back. Glad it's doing well. Read CP Snow's The New Men which is about the UK experience of the development of the Atomic Bomb, and started Victoria Glendenning's excellent biography of Edith Sitwell, a poet whom I greatly admire.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Addressing UK Unemployment

The rise in unemployment is clearly bad news, although as always you have to be very cautious about one month's statistics.

I have been urging the govenment to cut Employers NHI (= payroll tax) for employers to employ people who have been claiming benefits. What's really needed is negative NI because most people who have been unemployed for over 6 months face grave difficulties in getting (back) into work and employers will generally prefer to offer people already in jobs or recent.  But this would require legislation and have to wait until April.

I suggest therefore that the Employer NIC Holiday be extended for this year only to cover any case where a business has employed someone who has been unemployed and claiming benefits for 3 months or more.  No new forms or systems would be needed for HMRC.  It would be easy to count the number of people who have been helped into work this way. The net cost of this would be tiny since employed people pay taxes and of course would be off the dole.

Looking at the detailed statistics the following points are striking:
  1. Private Sector Employment increased by 104k in the quarter to March 2011.  Public sector decreased by 39k
  2. Of the 240k increase in employment in the year to June 2011, 290k was accounted for by people born outside the UK: employment of people born in the UK went down by 50k. 
Now some of that will be due to age profile: people who retire are much more likely to have been born in the UK and so are public sector workers.  But it's hard to resist the conclusion that much of this is due to the generally poor quality of UK-born applicants. Indeed although we have doubled our staff in the last year 50% of the new hires are non-UK born and this ratio is likely to continue or increase.  Now this is partly becasue we need to recruit some fluent Mandarin speakers who can work in China, but our lead statistician was born in South Africa and came over here to do his PhD and is keener, sharper, brigher and more entrepreneurial than the UK applicants.
I've been trying to create jobs by sponsoring a paid intern or two at our local Church, which does tremendous work in the community, but this is proving difficult as well.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Back from amazing trip to Beijing

Back from amazing trip to Beijing - hence big gap in blogging.

This was mainly business (though with an important academic component) so I can't blog much about the content.  An extraordinary place with people of great dynamism and kindness - I hope to return soon and frequently.  But here at least is the obligatory picture on the Great Wall.  More later if time!

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

PNAS, Nature, and look out for Simon O'Neill

Again v busy so no time to blog properly. Grabbed 3 day holiday in Isle of Wight then back to fascinating work.  Some highlights:
  • PNAS paper about to be published in print. Will be coverage in the FT Aug 6th - who knows where else.
  • Heard a great performance of Beethoven 1st Symphony at the Proms by National Orchestra of Wales (on the radio). On terrific form.
  • Our friend Simon O'Neill is singing Parsifal at Bayreuth. Sadly I can't get to it but I'm certain he will be brilliant.
  • V interesting paper in Nature about the role of glial cells in Rhett's syndrome caught my eye a while ago. It has long been a theme of mine that glial cells are much more important in the brain than people suppose. 
Back to work...