Sunday, July 27, 2014

Re-re-reading Diary of a Provincial Lady

Re-re-reading (for perhaps the 8th time) the brilliant EM Delafield's Diary of a Provincial Lady which remains an utter delight. Not least for her assuming the persona of a mere country wife when she was in fact at that stage a celebrated novelist and a Director of Time and Tide.

From the very beginning she lampoons her husband's employer mercilessly:
"... Lady Boxe calls. I say, untruthfully, how nice to see her..."
and even right at the end Lady Boxe is behaving outrageously at a party she has organised:
"Our Vicar's wife and I agree at some length that, really, nobody in the world but Lady B. would behave like this"
"Lady Boxe" was "the Honorable Mrs (Lottie) Adams" but I don't think it can be this one because the portrait was painted in 1902. Indeed she married her first husband in 1905 and he was killed in the War in 1915. Her son became the second Baron Waleran, and she was the daughter of George Coats, later Baron Glentanar and sister-in-law of the 5th Duke of Wellington). She was born in 1889 so would have been 40 at the time of the Diary (one year older than EMD). Her second husband Henry William Adams was born in 1884 and died in 1962 - he was a Commander RN in 1921 when his stepson accidentally shot and killed his farm bailiff but I don't know much more about him.

But the humour is delicious. EMD is on a train to London reading a magazine article about Christmas Gifts.
Why not Enamel dressing-table set, at £94 16s 4d or Set of moderate price of £34 17s 9d?
   Why not, indeed?
   Am touched to discover further on, however, explicit reference to Giver with Restricted Means - though even here, am compelled to differ from author's definition of restricted means. Let originality of thought, she says, add character to trifling offering. Would not many of my friends welcome suggestion of course of treatment - (six for 5 guineas) - at Madame Dolly Varden's Beauty Parlour in Piccadilly to be placed to my account?
   Cannot visualise myself making this offer to our Vicar's wife, still less her reception of it... (Indulge, on the other hand, in a few moments' idle phantasy, in which I suggest to Lady B. that she should accept from me as a graceful and appropriate Christmas gift, a course of Reducing Exercises accompanied by Soothing and Wrinkle-eradicating Face Massage.)

She is of course unsparing on herself. Here is her conclusion.
Go home, and on looking at myself in the glass am much struck with the undeniable fact that at the end  of a party I do not look nearly as nice as I did at the beginning. Should like to think that this applies to every woman, but am not sure - and anyway, this thought ungenerous - like so many others.
   Robert says, Why don't I get into Bed?  I say, Because I am writing my Diary. Robert replies, kindly, but quite definitely, that In his opinion, That is Waste of Time.
   I get into bed, and am confronted by Query: Can Robert be right?
   Can only leave reply to Posterity.
Of course this book when published in 1930 was a great success, and has never been out of print since AFAIK. Indeed the sequel begins with her astonishment at receiving a royalty cheque which, although she doesn't say so, is from this volume, and the cheque is big enough that from part of the proceeds she can buy a flat in Doughty Street. 1-bedroom flats there now sell for £550-950,000 so he success must have been considerable. And well deserved.

May she rest in peace and rise in Glory!

PS Mrs Adams

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Prom 2 with China Phil and great Chinese Musicians (and Alison Balsom)

To the Albert Hall last night for Prom 2 which was the proms debut of the China Philharmonic. Our friend Wang Boming was one of the sponsors of this tour and he very kindly gave us two tickets and invited us to the reception.  An additional delightful surprise was to find our friend Angela Chen in the box with us. Angela is very musical and has recently joined the Board of the NY Phil.

The first item was Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance No 4 - a kind tribute to the UK. This was followed by Tchaikovsky's Overture to Romeo and Juliet - the ghostly sections particularly effective.

Then the brilliant young Zhang Haochen was soloist for Lizst's first Piano Concerto. This was an absolute delight - he played with enormous subtlety and the filigree pianissimo sections were really striking in concept and execution. I felt he was, in the best possible sense, playing Liszt as though it were Schubert. And indeed it transpires from the programme notes that the Concerto was inspired in part by the Wanderer Fantasie.After three curtain calls he gave an exquisite Liszt solo as an encore.I also find from the programme notes that Liszt's father had been a cellist at Esterhazy in Haydn's time.

During then interval we went to the BBC reception and met Helen Boden (who runs BBC Radio) and Edward Blakeman the interim Proms Director, and were able to congratulate both of them.

The second half began with the UK premiere of a new work by Chen Qigang called "Endless Joy" - essentially a trumpet concerto, with the great Alison Balsom as soloist. This was a real triumph. Chen Qigang had studied with Messien and it showed. He made the trumpet do extraordinarily difficult things: very musical and no element of pointless virtuosity but a fast triplet theme which would have been slightly intricate on the piano or violin is, unless I'm much mistaken, virtually impossible on the trumpet and Balsom aced it apparently effortlessly. Wild and well deserved applause for her and for the composer, who was present.

Then Ravel's orchestration of Tableaux d'un Exposition. The programme note began with a dairy entry from the great Svatoslav Richter saying that he loathed this orchestral version because he considered Tableaux the greatest Russian piano work, and he told an interviewee that the orchestration was "a decorative travesty". Perhaps, but it's a very fine piece.  By a happy accident the baton flew from Yu Long's hands early on so he conducted batonless. His conducting, and the orchestra's playing, became noticeably freer, more fluid and expressive. I do hope that he does this more often.

We were treated to two encores, the first a traditional Chinese tune arranged for orchsetra. Then Yu Long explained that, at the request of the young musicians, they were doing a piece as a tribute to their French and UK hosts. Two young players, a violinist and a cellist, came forward, and started a duo which then morphed into a set of variations on God Save the Queen, loosely arranged from Beethoven's.  This would have been even better if the two young musicians had borrowed Strads for the occasion - which could have been arranged.

At the reception following we met and congratulated the pianist, composer and conductor, and I hope we will keep in touch with all of them.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Joyce wonderful in Maria Stuarda + doleful news from Ukrane and Iraq

Joyce backstage (from a selfie I'll spare you!)
 Very busy and largely unbloggable week. But went last night to see the great Joyce DiDonato in the final performance of MAria Stuarda at the ROH.

It's a terrific cast including Carmen Giannattasio as Elisabetta I and Matthew Rose at Talbot. The production is somewhat eccentric in that although Elizabetta was in a very Elizabethan costume and Maria somewhat less so, everyone else was in more or less modern dress.  This is intended to emphasise the idea that there are contemporary  resonances in terms of power and challenges to power. However this is somewhat undermined by the fact that Donizetti make sexual jealousy between Elizabeth and Mary over Dudley a major motivation in the drama. This is rather over-emphasised in this production by having Elisabetta strip Dudley to the waist in Scene 1: Ismael Jordi, the tenor, has a torso well up to the task.

Elisabetta was terrific and her first major aria was hugely applauded. But of course Joyce was superlative. She sung her first aria standing on a chair in her prison (Fotheringay castle is made to look like a contemporary women's prison, but heigh-ho) and the entire house was reduced to spellbound silence.

In musical terms everything was superb bordering on the transcendent. The moment when Maria finally snaps and denounces Elisabetta rather than being humble and asking for pardon was outstanding. Her confessional duet with Talbot (beautifully sung and acted by Matthew) was tremendous. And of course the final scenes where she offers forgiveness to Elisabetta and faces her death are beautifully done. Standing ovation at the end and Joyce came on for a couple of solo curtain calls before the cast assembled.

Since Joyce is a friend of Nicole's she got me on her backstage list and I was able to meet her briefly, and she is absolutely delightful. We took a selfie for Nicole but I look awful so I'm just showing you Joyce.

Matthew Rose then kindly walked me and Joyce's other visitors (two recent music graduates from Cambridge) out through the stage which was also a gladsome experience.

The shooting down of MH17 is horrible - an extra frisson for someone who regularly flies over Russian airspace although of course the route from Beijing to London goes well north of Ukraine.  And the BBC reports that the ISIS Caliphate is requiring Christians, on pain of death, to convert to Islam or to pay a protection tax. This is of course the Jizya which is specifically enjoined in the Koran.
Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.
 As the 12th Century Muslim scholar al-Razi puts it:
it's important to pay the jizya with humiliation and servility, because naturally, any sensible person cannot stand humiliation and servility. So if the disbeliever is given some time watching the pride of Islam and hearing evidences of its authenticity, and see the humiliation of the disbelief, then apparently this might carry him to convert to Islam,
 Draw your own conclusions!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

China, freewill, and the AB6030 Universe

Back from a fascinating week in Beijing. Most of the meetings were un-bloggable but there was a video-interview for Harvard Business Review China about my presenting my article to Premier Li Keqiang when I met him in London.

It was a joy to be at the South Cathedral in Beijing on Sunday and sing in the English Choir. I was welcomed like a long-lost brother by the conductor - a very talented young man who has just graduated and hopes to continue his studies in Germany.  As always the service was a living illustration of "the communion of saints" - the international (and inter-temporal) family of all believers. There must have been 20-30 different nationalities in the congregation - though unusually that morning I was the only Westerner in the English Choir.

After a lecture at a university we were taken to dinner at a restaurant which was a former prince's residence, with the staff all dressed in imperial costumes. An unusual experience and a first for me in 15 trips.  It was also an interesting experience to find Angela Merkel staying in our hotel. I saw her twice but not to speak to. The first time I was carrying things in both hands, so I bowed - she looked and nodded.

An e-correspondent and I are engaged in an energetic e-debate about freewill. He thinks that it is logically impossible for a universe created ex nihilo to have libertarian freewill . Of course if that were so I'd be tempted to say "so much the worse for creation ex nihilo" because it seems to me that without genuine freewill we can't have genuine love - let alone sin, personal responsibility, repentance etc..  However it's clear at least to me that he's begging the question (in the correct sense of that term, not the deplorable modern barbarism of using "begs the question" to mean "raises the question").

The issue is clarified by considering a "toy" discrete time universe in which there is just one object which can be in 2 states (A and B) and where uncorrelated the transition probabilities are p and q. It starts in state A at t=0 and then either changes state or doesn't at each subsequent time period. The question is whether such a universe could exist with p and q not equal to 0 or 1 - say 60% and 30% which I call the AB6030 universe.

My correspondent doesn't think AB6030 is a universe at all, but a partial and incomplete theory of a universe. I'm driven to be more specific on what I'd consider to be a "universe". So I suggest that

a Discrete Time Finite Regular Universe U = (X,R,S,T) is a finite set X of objects, a discrete ordered set T of times, a finite set S of states and a set R of rules such that if the current state vector V of U at time t is V(t) then you can in principle calculate Pr[V(t+1)| V(t)] (with the obvious abuses of notation). And that U is Deterministic iff Pr[V(t+1)|V(t)] is always either 0 or 1. 

Eventually he says that by "universe" he means "the entire history of the universe" which seems to me to make it very clear that he's begging the question. Though there is of course a venerable (and I believe misguided) tradition in Christian philosophy to say that just because God knows with certainty what we are going to do we still have freewill. As Chaucer said:
In scoles there is altercacioún
In this matier, gret disputacioún,
And hath ben of an hundred thousend men.
But yit I can not sift it to the bran,
As can the holy doctor Augustýn,
Or Boece, or the bisshop Bradwardyn,
Whether that Goddis worthy foreknowing
Constraineth me needly to do a thing,
(By need I mene simple necessitee);
Or else if ful free choice be graunted me
To do that same thing, or to do it not,
Though God foreknew it, ere that it was wrought;
Or if his knowing never constreineth me,
Save by condicional necessitee.