Monday, September 26, 2011

Seminars at Tsinghua, Conference at Columbia

Been amazingly busy so no time to blog.
Flew to Beijing on the 12th for an intense series of meetings including giving a seminar at Tsinghua School  of Economics and Management on the 15th. Mike Spence was giving the seminar the day before me and kindly invited me to his, so I was able to benefit from his tremendous wisdom and meet some exceptionally interesting people at the little dinner afterwards. His latest book The Next Convergence is truly outstanding and I cannot recommend it too strongly.

The meetings were mostly business and hence un-bloggable but we did call on Prof Fan Dian whom we had met in London and he very kindly had one of his curators give us a private tour of his museum, which was closed early pending the visit of a VVIP.

Meetings in Beijing concluded with a breakfast meeting on Weds, following which we flew to London. I spent one night at home, had a breakfast meeting in London on Thurs and then afternoon and dinner meetings in Harvard. Breakfast in Boston on Fri and then the Acela express to NY where I had been invited to Ned Phelps' conference at Columbia.

Arrived  in the pouring rain so a long queue for taxis.  I guessed correctly that the lady behind me in the queue was a writer and indeed she turned out to be Prof Emma Rothschild who was speaking at the conference, so we shared a cab which was delightful.  The conference was immensely stimulating, exploring the philosophical bases of economics. Enormously insightful contributions from many people including Amartya Sen, Joe Stiglitz, Tom Nagel, Emma Rothschild and Esa Saarinen as well of course as Ned. At one point I found myself at lunch sitting next to Nagel who was next to Sen who was next to Phelps, with Esa on my right and Martin Seligman on his right.  I said little and learned much!

It turns out that Nagel is an admirer of John Polkinghorne and is about to publish a book called Mind and the Cosmos which builds in part on Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism.  Esa is an admirer of Denis Noble and I hope to introduce them when Esa is next in the UK.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Stunning Missa Solemnis

Back from a stunning Missa Solemnis at the Proms, with Sir Colin Davis conducting the LSO, LS Chorus, Philharmonia Chorus and four excellent soloists: Helena Juntunen, Sarah Connolly, Paul Groves and Matthew Rose. I was Paul's guest this time, and sat next to his charming European agent. This is in my view much the greatest of the large scale Beethoven works, and the performance was utterly brilliant, reducing me to tears at one point.

Paul has a wonderful voice, and of course the Tenor is the most prominent soloist: essentially the Priest. From his first note - the opening Kyrie to the last it was beautifully judged and beautifully sung. I was too overcome with the music to make any notes on the programme.  The In Gloria fugue reduced me to tears and the Et Vitam would have as well were I not by then pretty spent! Interesting interview with Colin Davis in the programme in which he says that "it is far in advance of the Ninth Symphony in many ways." and "you human beings, you cry for peace, but what do you do about it? You just go on making war."

There is a scan of the original published score online: interesting that the original subscribers include the Tsar and the Kings of Prussia, France, Denmark and Saxony. In 1827 these were Nicholas I, Fredrick William III (grandson of Frederick the Great and I hadn't realised that they were also the Electors of Branderberg),  Charles X, and Frederick Augustus I (or possibly his brother Anton who came to the throne in May 1827)

Great to see Paul and Matthew backstage afterwards. They are doing this in Bonn, Paris and New York over the next few weeks, and in the meantime Paul is opening the Beijing Music Festival with Mahler 8 on Oct 6th. I just might be able to be there!

the great Alan Mulally on Teachers, and Rowan on God

To a dear friend's wedding on Sat in the Sussex countryside.  Wonderful day, delightful service (led by thoroughly competent lady vicar) and a most enjoyable reception at their polo club.

The bride's brilliant and beautiful sister gave up a bio-science post-doc at Harvard to come back to the UK get married and has become a secondary school teacher. I applaud this, and told her the story of the great Alan Mulally when he gave a lecture at the Royal Society while he was still President of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. During the Q&A a somewhat elderly gent stood up and began, somewhat falteringly "Well I'm only a teacher but.." Mulally bowed to him, and said "Sir, you are doing God's work.  What is your question?"

At the church I read the parish magazine which had the wonderful story of Archbishop Rowan's reply to a 6-year-old who wrote a letter to God asking "how did you get invented?"  If you haven't seen it before, or even if you have, do take a look.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Chinese Seal Cutting and Mahler 1

Tremendous performance of Mahler 1 at the Proms by the Budapest Phil under Ivan Fischer. I caught it on the radio which at least allowed me to conduct with the score.

The details of Mahler's orchestration are amazing. Just one tiny example, from Bars 273-280 in the 2nd (Frere Jacques) movement there is a ppp quaver figure which starts in the 1st violins on a B who hand over to the 2nds who hand it to the violas and cellos, each overlapping for 1 (or cellos 2) quavers finally ending almost 4 octaves down on the C. The Double Bass come in just for that C, but whereas the cellos have the note ppp for a quaver, the Bass has it pp for a crotchet!

BTW I'm sure it's not just my English ears that find the triumphal theme in the 4th movement to be inspired by "And He shall reign for ever and ever" - indeed not as a quick google shows.  Would be fascinating to establish the connection. Beethoven of course described Handel as "Master of us all".

Work going really well and I managed to prove a lovely and quite important theorem.

Last night my colleague took me to the Chinese Embassy for a "pre-launch" of the exhibition of seal cutting by Li Langquin that is coming to London next year.  Li was a Vice-Premier for 10 years but is now and artist and scholar. All fascinating.  I've been invited to give a seminar at Tsinghua later this month and am trying to learn as much as I can about Chinese culture. Met many interesting people including Prof Fan Di’an - charming and very knowledgeable and I hope we'll meet him again in Beijing.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Choral Symphony with Toby Spence

Prom last night with a new cello concerto for YoYo Ma and the Choral Symphony with Toby Spence.

The concerto was reasonably interesting and striking, and it's great that it was composed by a Cornish composer. To do it justice I'd need to hear it again but I'm not entirely sure that it's worth doing so.  Ma was clearly enraptured but the conductor was rather disengaged.  And a refusal to give it "movements" for the benefit of the programme notes was either pretentious or stupid or both.

The Choral was terrific, the conductor really came alive and you could see why my fellow guest, Paul Groves, spoke so highly of him.  But (please forgive me) I really felt that the interpretation of the Choral part was fundamentally wrong.  Every note of "freude, schoner gotterfunken (etc)" seemed to be sung marcato with a very foursquare beat (not as far as I can see in the score at all, though there is some clear 4-in-a-bar phrasing in the flute parts) and thus the effect was not so much "joy" as a somewhat robotic marching frenzy.  This is not of course to detract from the individual performances, and both Toby and Iain Paterson sung wonderfully.

We all went to the pub afterwards - a terrific evening. I'll go on Sun to hear Paul in the Missa Solemnis - Matthew Rose and Sarah Connolly are also soloists.