Sunday, May 31, 2015

Trinity Sunday 2015

Trinity, transform our feeble power! 
Father, bring your kingdom in our life 
Your will rules and not our anxious strife. 
Trinity, transcend our either/or! 
Jesus, perfect God and perfect Man 
Draw us all to you in God’s great plan.
Trinity, transmute our souls once more! 
Holy Spirit, breathe in us anew,
Lead us into lives inspired by you!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Messiaen and Debussy from the Philharmonia

Sophie Bevan and Anne Stephany

4 Keyboards!
Took my sister to a truly wonderful concert on Thursday at the Festival Hall. This was part of the Philharmonia's City of Light series which is music from Paris 1900-1950. After the flute soloist and principal flute Samuel Coles gave us Syrix we had an excellent performance of La Demoiselle Elue with the great Sophie Bevan and Anne Stephany as the soloists. This is based on Dante Gabriel Rosetti's poem about a girl in heaven waiting for her lover. In any normal concert this would have been the high point!

BUT after the interval we had Messiaen's monumental 10-movement Turangalila-symphonie which is arguably in fact a concerto for 4 keyboard instruments: Piano, Ondes Martinot, Celeste and Keyed Glockenspiel (!) brilliantly played by Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Valerie Hartmann-Claverie, Elizabeth  Burley and Helen Crayford. These all have pretty amazing bios - Aimard could have conducted the work, Burley and Crayford are celebrated pianists and could presumably have played the solo piano, and Harman-Claverie seems to be the world's premier Ondes Martinot player and collaborated with Messiaen!

It is impossible to describe the impact of this monumental work. It is deliberately an overwhelming piece both in scale and scope, and the underlying theme is that of sacrificial love: human and ultimately divine. I wish I had time to listen to it again because the first time you just have to experience such a piece but it would be great to start to begin to understand it. The original piano soloist Yvonne Loriod, was Messiaen's pupil and became second wife after his first wife died in 1959.

Leonard Bernstein conducted the first performance - it was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra - and this concert was superbly conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. Just tremendous!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Whitsunday 2015

Icon of Pentecost from Wikipedia
Back from a few days in Cornwall, seeing my mother and sister, running along the coast, kayaking and sailing. Lovely to be in the parish church for Pentecost having been there for Easter.

And when the day of Pentecost was come
Apostles, as one, gathered in one place
Are stirred up by a rushing mighty wind
Alighting on their spirits tongues of fire
Aflame with inspiration to proclaim
Amazing news to spread to the whole world
As God makes things anew, he gives them power
All barriers of race and tongue to leap.
Anew creation flows from that event
A bigger bang, our fallen world to mend
Whitsunday – the beginning of the end.

Behold the Lamb of God that bears away
Beyond all time the sins of all the world
Begotten of the Father and not made
Being united in the deepest love
Before all things were made, and when he came
Born of a virgin, God’s astounding plan
Begins to make the fallen world anew
Bringing new life, redemption from the cross
Burst from the grave with resurrection life
Breathing on his disciples spirit breath
Whitsunday – spirit overcoming death.

Called to bear witness to the Lord they loved
Common, un-lettered people by and large
Can they prevail once their dear Lord is gone?
Could this small band prove equal to their charge?
Comforter, Jesus promised, who will lead
Crestfallen followers into all the truth
Courts and Sanhedrin, persecution, death
Cannot suppress the spread of the Good News
Cephas is strengthened, John inspired and Saul
Converted into Paul. Gospel unfurled
Whitsunday-spirit spread throughout the world!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake at the Wigmore

Wonderful concert at the Wigmore Hall last night with Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake!

It was an all-Schubert programme. The first three songs were by Matthaus von Collin including the sand and melodramatic Der Zwerg about a dwarf murdering his lover the Queen (shades of Game of Thrones).

Then Goethe including Der Musensohn which made me think of Der Alpenjager, An die Entfernte and Am Flusse which inevitably recalls the Winterreise.  Wilkommen und Abschied (1822) had echos of Beetoven's Les Adiuex (1809/10) and Wandrers Nachtlied II was (like the others) beautifully executed, with the final intimation of deep peace (in death) wonderfully conveyed.

An Die Leier by Franz von Bruchmann (a Redemptorist poet who had 5 songs set by Schubert!) after Anacreon is a fine comic song where the poet wants to sing of heroes but his lyre will only sing songs of love, and we also had his Am See and Im Haine which again was witty and well observed.

The first half concluded with a masterly rendition of Erlkonig: I've never heard the drama so clear and the parts done so well.

The second half was all Goethe. We started with the 1815 setting of An den Mond, and then Nahe des Geliebten with one of the finest evocations of sunrise I have ever heard: this was a poem written by Goethe to a melody by Zelter, improving on a poem by the poetess Freiderike Brun. I found it especially moving: the poet say he thinks of, sees and hears his beloved  in natural phenomena and finally says "I am with you" - again the wonderful poetry and music were perfectly expressed by the performers. Nachtgesang, Liebhaber in allen Gestalten, Meeres Stille and Auf dem See were beautifyully performed and we then had An Mignon, Erster Verlust and Ganymed before we concluded with the 1819 setting of An den Mond - completely different music.

Three encored concluded a wonderful evening, and they signed some of their Wigmore Hall Live CDs. I was able to thank Ian in person for his wonderful book.

Monday, May 11, 2015

A magical cabaret at The Globe

Daughter and Janie at the party afterwards
To the Sam Wanamaker Theatre at The Globe to see Janie Dee and friends in a one night Cabaret. It was a magical experience!

This Theatre is an intimate space apparently a replica of the Bankside Theatre. Everyone is very close and the acoustics are perfect. Janie walked in through the central aisle singing a love song and pausing to address in the song ("you look tired, love! ") and hug a very happy member of the audience who was sitting next to the stage with his wife and daughter - and just in front of her husband and son.

The first part of her show was structured around telling us about their wonderful Globe Theatre tour of China, Singapore, HK, Taiwan and Russia last year.

A succession of wonderful numbers followed, including On a Clear Day and then Janie introduced her first guests, an amazing recorder group called Block4 who played a remarkable composition of theirs called Air Rise in which sounds were produced in almost every way you could (decently) use a recorder - initially blowing into the hole where the air normally passes the Labium rather than into the mouthpiece. Other numbers followed including a duet sung in Russian with one of the Globe touring company.

Janie then played and sung Imagine and concluded with a medley from Shakespeare-inspired Musicals:

  • Falling in Love with Love from The Boys from Syracuse
  • Strange, Dear, but True Dear from Kiss me Kate and
  • Tonight, Tonight from West Side Story.
The second half Janie was in full fig as Elizabeth I and began with a naughty and imaginatiueve song called Private Delight written by two talented female singer/songwriters (Bea and Ali) who were also guesting. This was ostensibly about eating a chocolate ice cream on a stick. Janie eventually passed it to my daughter with the instruction "lick it" and then to me to consume, but after having made a show of doing so I passed it back to her son who devoured it. The song and the act brought the house down.

Block4 gave an Elizabethan medley first on traditional recorders and then on remarkable box-like contemporary recorders from Germany. Another song from Bea and Ali (My heart has made a secret room) and then the next guest: Kit Hesketh-Harvey! He told us of a production of The Tempest in Barbados in which he had been involved where Miranda was Kylie Minogue, and sung a song to Janie as Miranda. They then got us all doing Summer is a-coming in as a 4 part round.

Janie sang a Sondheim setting of Fear no more the heat of the sun - lovely - before introducing her final guest, the great Juliet Stevenson! She and Janie sang a Some Say Love it is a River as a duet beautifully - Janie afterwards revealed that this was the first time Juliet had sung on the London stage.

An altogether magical evening - sadly a one off but one I would not have missed for the world!

Friday, May 08, 2015

Election Victory is "a sacred trust" and a chance for service

Linton Crosby celebrating some good news
Enormously encouraged by the General Election and by the PM's reaction to it. I had the privilege of being at Conservative Central HQ throughout the night from just before 6pm, where I was one of many volunteers telephoning voters. I and many others called voters in South Thanet and in Hendon and earlier  had called people in Brentford and Isleworth and Morley and Outwood.

When the BBC Exit Poll came in we were surprised and a bit cautious because it was at the high end of our expectations. Then as results came in after about 5 (3 Labour and 2 Conservative) I began to realise that not only were the results consistent with the Exit Poll they in fact suggested we were doing a little better than this poll suggested.  Some very good Conservative MPs were defeated (Mary Macloed and Esther McVeigh in particular) and it was sad to see some excellent Liberal Democrats who had put Country before Party being punished by the electorate for this. But other excellent MPs who were in danger of being swept away held their seats, and the Conservatives made gains in Wales and held our seat in Scotland.

We were very pleased when it became clear that Ed Balls was losing his seat (I learned something tragic and unbloggable from two of his constituents which made me feel strongly that he should not be an MP) and that Nigel Farage was not going to win South Thanet. It looked as if news of Ed Balls losing would arrive just as David Cameron arrived at CCHQ but he demanded a re-count so this was delayed.

 However the highlight of the marathon session was undoubtedly when David and Samantha arrived to be greeted by cheering workers and volunteers, and he gave what I'm sure was a completely sincere off-the cuff speech. He congratulated us and said:
"the real reason to celebrate tonight, the real reason to be proud, the real reason to be excited, is that we are going to get the opportunity to serve our country and to put into practice our brilliant, positive, up-beat manifesto: all the things we have done in the last 5 years to get to where we are, laying that foundation, and now being able to offer real hope to people in our country, I think we are on the brink of something so exciting....

so celebrate... but then we need to get back to work, because we have been given a sacred trust.  This is the greatest country on earth, and there is nothing better than the chance to serve the people who live here. And all the things we've talked about, all the dreams we have of giving people the chance of a better life, all of that now needs to be put into place, at the same time as bringing our country together. It is a sacred trust, it's a huge honour, it's a great victory, but now let's turn it into something special for our people."
And, to be completely clear, when he said "for our people" he certainly didn't mean 'for our people as opposed to others in the UK', but for the people of the United Kingdom as a whole.

I was delighted to shake Cameron by the hand once more and also Samantha, and to congratulate them both. I then went home, tired but elated.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Nobel Prizes and Rejection

George Akerlof and Vernon Smith
Images from Wikipedia*
Just finished The Nobel Memorial Laureates in Economics which I picked up years ago in a second hand book stall in Cambridge and have been browsing occasionally.

Interesting to find that although George Akerlof's paper 'Market for "Lemons"' is "probably the single most important contribution to the literature on economics of information and the paper for which Akerlof was awarded the was rejected in turn by: the American Economic Review, the Review of Economic Studies and the Journal of Political Economy. The first two rejections were on the grounds of triviality, the last because the argument... was, in the view of the referees, simply wrong."  It was therefore 3 years before it was published in 1970 in the Quarterly Journal of Economics.

Similarly Vernon Smith's seminal paper 'An Experimental Study of Competitive Market Behaviour' was only published in the Journal of Political Economy in 1962 "after two revisions, four negative referee reports and an initial rejection."

Of course at one level this is understandable. Nobels are won for changing the way people think and therefore it's reasonable that when young guns submit these radical ideas (Akerlof was 26 and Smith was 34) the established reviewers and editors should find them somewhat paradoxical. But it is still a sobering thought - especially since Nobels in science sometimes have that history as well.

Akerlof is also quoted as saying in 2002 "Most of us think of central bankers as cautious. conservative and safe. But I consider them to be dangerous drivers: to avoid the oncoming traffic of inflation they drive on the far edge of the road, keeping inflation too low and unemployment too high." (Akerlof 2002, p 422)  Hopefully his assessment has changed somewhat now that his wife is Chairman of the Fed!

I haven't met Akerlof though I do know both Joe Stiglitz and Mike Spence with whom he shared the Nobel. But he sounds a great guy.

* "George Akerlof" by Yan Chi Vinci Chow . Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Orbits: Charles Laughton and Berthold Brecht.

Peter Saracen and Edmund Dehn as Brecht and Laughton
To the White Bear theatre last night to see our friend Edmund Dehn in Orbits - a fine play by Wally Sewell based on the relationship between Charles Laughton and Berthold Brecht.

We begin with someone we gradually realise is Galileo defending himself, emotionally drained, and then finally confessing to an initially silent inquisitor, who then bends the conversation to homo-eroticism and ends up with Galileo bending down ready for a spanking.  It then transpires that Laughton and Brecht  are improvising whilst working on their translation of Brecht's Life of Galileo.

This premise seems so improbable that it has to be true, and indeed Brecht came to the US in 1941 and after years of struggle managed to write a hit movie Hangmen Also  Die! (1941) which provided enough income for him to continue. He met Laughton, then a fading star, in 1944 and their collaboration went on famously. By the end of 1945, after Hiroshima had rather redefined what a scientist could do, they had a version that satisfied them both and Orson Welles signed up to direct it, though he later fell out with them and left. The smash-hit production opened in LA June 1947 (with Charlie Chaplin, Ingrid Bergman, Frank Lloyd Wright, Gene Kelly, Billy Wilder and Igor Stravinsky at the opening night) and then transferred to open in Broadway in Dec. But in Sept 1947 Brecht was summoned before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and "citing his status as a foreigner, and choosing ... a strategy of appearing to cooperate with the Committee, but actually undermining their investigation with a combination of cunning, obfuscation, and the pretense of politeness."(ref)

The second act is post Hiroshima and Laughton/Galileo, initially being attacked by Brecht, turns the tables and reduces Brecht to close to tears by belittling his art compared to Galileo or Einstein's science. The final act begins with Brecht being interrogated about his communist sympathies before the House Committee on Un-American Activities although it then transpires that again this is role playing with Laughton trying to prepare Brecht for his ordeal. Afterwards they say goodbye since Brecht is going to return to Germany, and he never came back to the US.

Both actors were excellent: Edmund as always was superb and with an enormous number of lines and switching of roles-within-roles that really plays to his astounding craft. We saw him years ago in The Alchemist and then saw Simon Russell Beale in the same role at the National and Edmund was even better.  It deserves a wider audience - maybe the Hampstead Theatre would be interested.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Janie in Ah Wilderness!

To the Young Vic last night to see Janie in Ah Wilderness! a 1933 play by Eugene O'Neill.

This is set on 4th July 1906 and centres on the Miller family and especially their 16 year old son Richard. Janie plays the wry mother of the Miller family: her husband Nat owns the local newspaper, her elder son is at Yale and her younger boy loves to let off firecrackers. Her brother Sid and her sister-in-law Lilly also live in the household - they broke off their engagement 16 years ago due to Sid's drunken antics. Richard is obsessed with the poetry of Swinburne, Oscar Wilde and the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám from which the title is loosely taken:
A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!
The whole cast was acting excellently - which usually happens when Janie is in the cast! In addition to Janie, Martin Marquez was fine as the father, Dominic Rowan did a wonderful turn as the drunken uncle Sid and George MacKay as the 16-year-old son.

Catch it if you can!

Friday, May 01, 2015

The Misfits of London: the Gin Chronicles

Last night to  Interrupt the Routine's "The misfits of London: The Gin Chronicles" performed in St Andrew's Church: a spoof retro radio comedy/drama which was surprisingly well done and enjoyable. Robert Blackwood, Nicholas Cowell, Sophie Dora-Hall, Rosemary Lippard & Luke Lamont star. Idle rich John Jobling and his shrewd Welsh housemaid, Doris Golightly, decide to become private detectives when news arrives of the disappearance of well-to-do Gin magnate Cornelius Juniper.

There was a certain feel of the 39 Steps about it which is not bad at all. The cast were all very good! It is touring and I think they hope to go to the Fringe. We wish them well!