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Archive for the ‘Architecture’ Category

Opera

There was much to like about Coraline, the Royal Opera at the Barbican Theatre, but I’m not sure the adaptation and production served both Neil Gaiman’s story and Mark Anthony Turnage’s music well as neither were dark enough. Good to see a family friendly opera at accessible prices though.

I didn’t go and see the Royal Opera’s 4.48 Psychosis first time round in 2016 because I didn’t like the Sarah Kane play from which it is adapted. The reviews and awards propelled me to this early revival, again at the Lyric Hammersmith, and I’m glad they did. Philip Venables work makes sense of Kane’s play, a bleak but brilliant exposition of depression and in particular the treatment journey in the eyes of the sufferer. Words are spoken and projected as well as sung and there is recorded music, muzak and sound effects. The artistry of the six singers and twelve-piece ensemble was outstanding. Not easy, but unmissable.

Classical Music

The new Bridge Theatre put on a lunchtime concert of Southbank Sinfonia playing Schumann’s 3rd Symphony, which was a delight, particularly as they unexpectedly blended in poems read by actors. I only wish I’d booked seats within the orchestra, as that would have been a rather unique experience; let’s hope they do it again.

At Wigmore Hall, a young Stockholm-based chamber ensemble called O/Modernt gave a recital spanning almost 400 years of English music from Gibbons to Taverner with an emphasis on Purcell & Britten. They were assisted by a mezzo, a theorbo and vocal ensemble The Cardinall’s Musick. There was even a quirky improvisation on a theme by Purcell. It all sounded very fresh, though there was a randomness about it.

At the Barbican, a delightful double-dip started with a concert of Elgar choral works by the BBC Singers at St Giles Cripplegate. I particularly loved the fact the Radio 3 introductions were made by members of the ensemble. Then at Barbican Hall the BBC SO & Chorus under Andrew Davies gave a wonderful WWI themed concert bookended by Elgar pieces and featuring the London Premiere of a contemporary song cycle and a lost orchestral tone-poem, the highlight of which was an Elgar piece this Elgar fan had never heard, the deeply moving but thoroughly uplifting The Spirit of England, so good I will forgive the ‘England’ that should be ‘Britain’.

Another LSO rehearsal at the Barbican, this time with their new Chief Conductor Simon Rattle, a man who knows what he wants, if ever I saw one; Mahler’s 9th and a new work. It proved to be a fascinating contrast with Mark Elder’s less directive rehearsal method. Again, I wanted to book for the concert.

London Welsh Chorale did a good job with Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus at St Giles’ Cripplegate. It’s one of the first oratorio’s I ever heard (my mother was in Caerphilly Ladies Choir!). They were accompanied by a small orchestra and had four fine young soloists.

I actually went to the LSO Tippett / Mahler Barbican concert to hear Tippet’s Rose Lake again (I was at its world premiere) and as much as I enjoyed it, it was Mahler’s unfinished 10th which blew me away. A highlight in a lifetime of concert-going.

The British Museum reopened the fabulous Reading Room for some concerts and I went to the quirkiest, obviously, for Lygeti’s Poeme Symphonique for 100 Metronomes. They were all set off at the same time, but ended individually, with the fifth from the left on the back row hanging in there the longest for its solo finale followed by a minute’s silence. Strangely mesmerising.

Dance

The Royal Ballet’s Bernstein Mixed Bill was a lovely addition to his Centenary. The first piece, danced to the Chichester Psalms, was wonderful, and the last, to the Violin Serenade, was a delight. Though I love the 2nd Symphony, which provided the music for the middle piece, it was a bit dim and distant to wow me as the others had.

The Viviana Durante Company’s short programme of early Kenneth Macmillan ballet’s, Steps Back in Time, benefitted from the intimacy of Barbican Pit, but could have done with programme synopses so that we could understand the narrative, better recorded sound for the two works that had it, and on the day I went some aircon! Lovely dancing, though.

Comedy

Mark Thomas’ latest show tells the story of running a comedy workshop in the Jenin refugee camp in Palestine, two Palestinian comedians with him on stage and four more showcased on film. In addition to a good laugh, you learn a lot about life in occupied Palestine. The post-show Q&A at Stratford East was a real bonus. Important and entertaining.

Film

Love, Simon is as wholesome and sentimental as only American films can be, but its heart was in the right place and it was often very funny.

The action was a bit relentless in Ready Player One, and the ending a touch sentimental, but it’s a technical marvel and proves Spielberg can still cut it, now with mostly British actors it seems.

Funny Cow was my sort of film – gritty, British, late 20th Century – with some fine performances and some really funny stand-up. Maxine Peak was terrific.

I enjoyed The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society, though it was a bit slow to get off the ground. Particularly lovely to see Tom Courtney at the top of his game.

Art

A bumper catch-up month!

I was impressed by Andreas Gursky’s monumental photographs of the modern world (ports, factories, stock exchanges…) at the Hayward Gallery. Much has been said about the gallery’s refurbishment, but I honestly couldn’t tell the difference!

I’m not sure I understand the point of an exhibition about performance art events that have taken place, so Joan Jonas at Tate Modern was an odd affair; intriguing but not entirely satisfying. However, Picasso 1932, also at Tate Modern, was astonishing – work from just one year that most artists would be happy of in a lifetime, with an extraordinarily diverse range of media, subjects and styles. Wonderful.

I love discovering artists and Canadian David Milne at Dulwich Picture Gallery was no exception, his Modern Painting exhibition is a beautiful collection of landscapes, with one room of early city scenes, all very soft and colourful.

Another Kind of Life: Photography on the Margins at the Barbican Art Gallery brought together some world class, cutting edge photographers, but it was all rather depressing. The quality of photography was excellent, but all those prostitutes, addicts, homeless people…..Agadir by Yto Barrada downstairs in the Curve didn’t do much for me and the wicker seats you sat in to listen to the audio aspects of the installation were excruciatingly uncomfortable.

At the NPG, Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography consisted entirely of portraits, mostly from the mid-19th Century, by four photographers. They were surprisingly natural and technically accomplished, but I’m not sure it was the ‘art photography’ it said on the can. At the same gallery Tacita Dean: Portrait consisted mostly of short films of people with loud projector sound as accompaniment and it did nothing for me.

At the RA, a small but exquisite display of Pre-Raphaelite book illustrations by the likes of Millais, Rossetti, Burne-Jones and Holman Hunt. A little gem, but oh for a much bigger one.

Ocean Liners: Speed and Style at the V&A was a brilliantly presented exhibition which conveyed the glitz and glamour but also covered the wonders of the engineering and the historical significance of the mode of travel. Unmissable.

At the Photographers Gallery the annual Deutsche Borse Photography Foundation Prize Exhibition had a real political bite this year with swipes at Monsanto, the US justice system and former Soviet and East European states. Downstairs Under Cover: A Secret History of Cross-Dressers was difficult to take in as it was a load of standard size snaps found in flea markets and car boot sales, but the accompanying display of Grayson Perry’s Photograph Album covering the early days of his alter ego Clare was fascinating.

The content of the Sony World Photography Awards Exhibition at Somerset House was better than ever and it was much better displayed, though it made me feel like a rubbish photographer again. In the courtyard, there were five geodesic domes, ‘Pollution Pods’, replicating the pollution in five world cities with live readings. New Delhi and Beijing come off particularly badly but London wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. It really made you think.

All Too Human at Tate Britain was another of those exhibitions where the premise was a bit questionable, but there were enough great paintings to forgive that. Wonderful Lucien Freud and Bacon pictures and a lot of 20th century British artists new to me. In the Duveen Hall, Anthea Hamilton has created a quirky swimming pool like space with sculptures and a performer moving around all day. Called The Squash, it was momentarily diverting.

Rodin & the art of ancient Greece places his sculptures alongside some of the British Museum’s collection of Greek pieces and it works brilliantly. Rodin apparently took inspiration from The Parthenon sculptures and was a regular visitor and lover of the BM. Wonderful.

The Travel Photographer of the Year Award exhibition moved completely outdoors and to City Hall this year, but the standard was as good as ever. The young photographer entries were particularly stunning.

I was overwhelmed by the scale and beauty of Monet & Architecture at the National Gallery. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see 78 pictures together, a quarter of which come from private collections, a third from public collections scattered all over North America, and only 10% in the UK, half in the NG’s collection. Going at 10am on a Monday was also a good idea, seeing them with a handful of people instead of the crowds there when I left. While there I took in Drawn in Colour: Degas from the Burrell, thirty lovely works, but as always with pervy Degas all young women and girls, Murillo: The Self Portraits, which isn’t really my thing, and Tacita Dean: Still Life, which I enjoyed marginally more than her NPG show!

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My two encounters with Shakespeare in this Globe mini-festival to celebrate his birthday earlier in the week were in Westminster Abbey and on the streets of The City and Southwark.

In the Abbey, we were invited to wander amongst the tombs of many of his historical characters, with actors popping up all over the place, individually, in pairs and small groups, speaking lines from his plays to individual visitors or small groups. Within minutes of entering, my first encounter was Mark Rylance close up in the transept giving Hamlet’s To Be Or Not To Be soliloquy; many more followed. We ended up in a circle in the nave around the actors with lanterns, singing before they left the abbey in procession through the front door. A really unique, uplifting and emotional experience.

Forty hours later I arrived at St Leonards Church in Shoreditch, famously connected with James Burbage, who built London’s first theatre down the road, and his son Richard, the first Hamlet and the first Richard III. Collecting a map and a red rose, we set off in small unguided groups on the Sonnet Walk East, which took in the site of this first theatre, appropriately called The Theatre, the recently discovered Curtain Theatre, where Romeo & Juliet was first performed, and the site of the first and second Globe, ending at the third present day Globe where we wove our red roses with the white ones already in the theatre gates.

At ten points en route actors popped up to read sonnets or speeches, one a song. My first encounter, as it had been in the Abbey, was Mark Rylance, but you could only identify him by his voice as he read Richard III’s battle speech from inside a tent on the site of The Theatre (probably wise as he’s now been in three Spielberg films!). We were fooled several times when the people we encountered seemed to be someone else (well, they are actors) until they began speaking verse. This included the site foreman in hard hat at the building site on top of the ruins of the Curtain, who described the find and its preservation, then spoke his lines just as we were about to leave, a lady asking for a photo and a Globe volunteer. Sometimes we imagined passers by were actors, mostly wrongly but occasionally right.

Like the Abbey, this was a lovely experience and together bookended a great weekend. Mark Rylance devised both, so hats off to him.

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Contemporary Music

Camille O’Sullivan really is a one-off. I adore the edginess, anarchy, unpredictability and eccentricity, but above all her unique interpretation of songs; she inhabits them. The Union Chapel was the perfect venue for her and I was captivated.

I was a bit nervous that Show of Hands’ could pull off the challenge of having their 25th Anniversary concert in the vast Royal Albert Hall given that the only other time I’ve seen them was at the tiny candlelit Sam Wannamaker Playhouse, but somehow they turned it into an intimate folk club (with raffle and birthday announcements!). The duo expanded to a trio and then an ensemble of up to eleven with a 26-piece choir, but it all worked brilliantly.

The Unthanks latest ‘Diversions’ project involves the songs and poems of Molly Drake, mother of singer-songwriter Nick Drake and actress Gabrielle Drake, whose recorded voice reads the poems. They are nice songs but 90 minutes of them was maybe a bit too much, though there was enough to enjoy to make the evening at Cambridge Corn Exchange worthwhile, with a Nick Drake song as an encore a terrific bonus.

Classical Music

I’m not familiar with Dvorak’s Requiem so it was good to hear it in the Barbican Hall, and the BBC SO & SC made a great job of it, with three excellent well-matched soloists. I’m a bit puzzled why it isn’t done more often as it’s as good as many others that are.

Global Voices at the Royal Festival Hall was a bit of a punt that turned into a major treat. In the first half, the National Youth Choir of Great Britain did a musical world tour with innovative pieces from or influenced by Italian, Indian, Latvian, Chinese, Swedish, Aboriginal and British music. In the second they were joined by seven other guest youth choirs from the US, Hong Kong, Indonesia, South Africa, Latvia and Israel to form a 350-piece choir accompanied by the Southbank Sinfonia and two excellent young British soloists for Jonathan Dove’s superb oratorio There Was a Child, written to celebrate the life of the son of two musicians who died aged 19. I can’t begin to describe how inspirational, captivating and uplifting it all was.

The big classical event of the month was Sounds Unbound 2017 : Barbican Classical Weekender which was so good, it got its own blog https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2017/05/01/sound-unbound-2017-barbican-clasical-weekender

Dance

I enjoyed the New Adventures 30th anniversary mixed bill at Sadler’s Wells, but it came as a bit of a shock after all those large-scale shows. It was a good reminder of where it all started though, and a charming and funny show.

Film

It’s been a lean period, but I did catch Their Finest which I loved. A fascinating true story with a cast of British actors that reads like a Who’s-Who. Gemma Arterton continues to impress on screen as well as stage – even playing Welsh!

Art

I really enjoyed the Vanessa Bell exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery. I didn’t really know a lot about her, hadn’t seen much of her work before and I was very impressed. I do love going to Dulwich, where the exhibitions are always the right size, with brunch in the café to follow!

The David Hockney exhibition at Tate Britain blew me away. Spanning sixty years, with everything from paintings to photo collages to iPad drawings, it was a huge exhibition and a huge treat. From there, via the brilliant new Cerith Wyn Evans light installation in the Duveen Gallery, downstairs to Queer British Art, an odd exhibition in that not everything seemed connected to its theme, but there were some great individual works, including more of the Sussex Modernists I’d seen three and five days before in Dulwich and at Two Temple Place.

The American Dream, the British Museum’s review of Pop Art through prints, was very comprehensive and fascinating. It included the usual suspects like Andy Warhol but had a lot more I’d never heard of. The puzzle was, though, what is it doing in the British Museum?

The Eduardo Paolozzi retrospective at the Whitechapel Gallery was just as comprehensive, and much more diverse than I was expecting. I wouldn’t call myself a fan, but it was good to see the entire career of an important British artist like this.

The Barbican Art Gallery’s exhibitions are often surprising and fascinating and The Japanese House was one of those. It examines domestic architecture in Japan since the Second World War and they’ve recreated ten units of an actual house on the ground floor! Downstairs in the Curve Gallery, Richard MossIncoming projects giant images of refugees and their camps taken with long-distance thermographic cameras normally used in warfare to create something oddly voyeuristic but deeply moving.

Tate Modern has a giant Wolfgang Tillmans photography exhibition. As usual, Tillmans mounts his photographs, sometimes with narrative, to create room installations. It’s a bit hit-and-miss in my view, but worth a mooch.

The annual Wildlife Photography Exhibition at the Natural History Museum now seems to start as soon as the last one finishes; we were even wondering if we were going to one we’d already seen! There’s something new each year – a category or theme perhaps – and it’s always hugely impressive.

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Music

I’m not sure how to categorise Just Call Me God at Union Chapel. It categorised itself as ‘Music Theatre’, but I think I’d prefer Play with Music. John Malkovich played a generic dictator at the end of his reign when troops with an embedded journalist arrive at his underground concert hall. There is music throughout, most played on the chapel’s organ (hidden, so I never knew it existed) but some electronica. It was a bit of a one-off which I rather liked.

Art

At the Royal Academy of Art, America After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s and Revolution: Russian Art 1917-32 proved to be a contrasting but brilliant pairing, being so close in time but worlds apart in other respects. I loved them both.

The Syngenta Photography Award Exhibition, Grow / Conserve, at Somerset House featured many diverse pictures on various environmental themes. It was really well curated and mostly fascinating. It’s a pity it’s had little publicity.

Lockwood Kipling: Arts & Crafts in the Punjab and London at the V&A was a fascinating insight into the life of Rudyard’s dad who taught and curated arts and crafts at a time when the A&C movement was at its height. Fascinating.

I managed to see the painting Flaming June at Leighton House Museum, where it was brought together with four other late Leighton paintings, before it returned to Puerto Rico. It was also a treat to be in the Arab Hall again, one of my favourite rooms in one of my favourite London houses.

Hopping across town to another favourite London building, Two Temple Place, for Sussex Modernism: Retreat & Rebellion, a fascinating collection of art by people who had made homes, friends and connections in the county, like a Who’s Who of early 20th century British art and design. Great to see the carvings and stained glass again too.

Film

Viceroy’s House seemed the perfect choice for the day before I departed for India and I did enjoy it, though maybe not as much as I was expecting to. I loved the fact that it was made by the British Indian granddaughter of someone displaced by the partition.

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Opera

I liked the music of The Firework-Makers Daughter at Covent Garden’s Linbury Studio but I wasn’t that keen on the production. I usually like this lo-tech style but there was too much I shouldn’t see and too much I couldn’t see in this production. The narrative isn’t the clearest, so I was surprised it was billed as suitable for over-6’s.

Art

The World of Charles & Ray Eames at the Barbican Art Gallery was much broader and deeper than I was expecting. The American design couple are best known for their iconic furniture, but they designed so much more. Like Mackintosh, Lloyd Wright and Gaudi, they covered almost every aspect of design including architecture, exhibition spaces, film and printed matter. Fascinating – and way ahead of their time.

Even though eighteenth century portraits aren’t my oeuvre, I admired the skill of the work of Jean-Etienne Liotard at the Royal Academy, even though he was better at fabrics than faces and some of his men were feminine and his women masculine!

There were some beautiful and stunning items in the British Museum‘s Celts exhibition, but by challenging and questioning modern thinking, it rather muddied the waters and became more of a review of North European history of 1500-3500 years ago.

Film

I rather liked Star War: The Force Awakens; it was well paced, didn’t lag and sustained its 2h15m running time. The 3D was above-average and the story seemed to flow and follow logically from the third film (the 4th to 6th being prequels). I’m now looking forward to the next two!

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I’ve long wanted to come to Chiang Mai, so a stopover on the way home from Australia seemed to be the ideal opportunity. As it turned out, the flight times meant a night in Singapore, so it made sense to make that two nights and have a double-dip stopover!

I was impressed by the efficiency of Singapore on my only previous visit in 1992. It did come with a high degree of authoritarian, conservatism and compliance, but that doesn’t exactly interfere with a tourist visit. Give me a slick, clean, air-conditioned & cheap public transport network any day of the week! I chose a quirky boutique hotel on the edge of Little India, which proved to be well located, extremely hospitable and, well, quirky, though it probably isn’t in anyone’s list of hotels for those growing old gracefully – if there was a video of me getting into and out of my (albeit comfortable) bed pit, it would no doubt go viral and win comedy awards.

I hadn’t factored in humidity and mid-30s temperatures, so my preferred mode of exploration – on foot – proved challenging, and was abandoned for boat and metro mid-afternoon. I packed a lot into a day – colonial Singapore, new millenium architecture, Chinatown and Little India – with contemporary art at the Singapore Art Gallery and a visit to the top of the extraordinary triple-tower Sands Marina Hotel, which has what looks like a giant surfboard atop, spanning all three towers. I ended the day back in Little India where the food lived up to its reputation.

Chiang Mai is a walled and moated city and again I landed on my feet hotel-wise in a beautiful boutique hotel bang in the  centre of the city but blissfully quiet, with a terrific restaurant, delightful staff and one of the city’s most famous temple complexes virtually en suite. The challenge of pedestrianism was even greater here as it was even hotter and there’s little shade or wind and next to no pavements. Still, I did what I could, which by the fourth day was rather a lot  – too much, in fact. Two lovely trips out of town complemented my three half-day city wanders and took me to the mountaintop temple of Doi Suthep to join the pilgrims at Wat Pharat and the Doi Inthanon national park, Thailand’s highest point at 8500 feet, for nature walks, a visit to the King & Queen’s pagodas, waterfalls and wanders in markets and tribal villages. When we returned, the streets outside the hotel were in the process of becoming the night market, saving me the schlep across town, which I may have passed on through exhaustion.

I have a fascination with Buddhism and a high tolerance of temples (Joanna famously referred to my gompa-bashing in Ladakh), but even I was overcome and ultimately defeated by the hundreds here in Chiang Mai. It was well worth a visit though, even if you do have to put up with a lot of tourists, many from the country of the world’s rudest – the Chinese – who’ve taken this mantle from the Russians. The onset of selfie-sticks, surely the pinacle of vanity, just compounds the issue.

So that’s it. A terrific trip, even by my own high standards! Little went wrong and an awful lot went right. This was the second of the month+ trips that started with the US last September and continues with Southern Africa in October. My new motto is ‘travel while you can, while you can afford to and while you want to’. Now I have to earn some money to pay for the next one…..

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I bloody love this city!  The setting on the harbour, with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge as features and the downtown skyline as a backdrop, are unrivaled. It’s the most cosmopolitan of places and its people have taken the Aussie casual, positivie trademarks and given them an off-the-wall, cool spin. I could live here – well, if there was (even) more culture.

I landed on my feet with a B&B in the somewhat Bohemian Glebe, a short bus ride from the centre. In addition to a comfy suite and great breakfasts, they provided advice and an Opal card (Aussie Oyster), collected and returned me to the airport and did my laundry! Joining my host for one of his regular ‘old boy’ coffee stops with a local artist and designer made me feel at home. I also lucked out on the weather as the storms earlier in the week disappeared and the sun came out; just a late PM thunderstorm and a drizzly morning to briefly interfere with lovely autumn days.

As soon as I arrived in the city centre on my first morning, I was compelled to take the Manly ferry across the harbour and the short walk from here to the ocean. This whetted my apetite for more ferry journeys so before I was through I’d travelled as far up the Parametta river as I could and hopped over to Watsons Bay for lunch and onward by land to Bondi Beach and the coastal walk to Bronte in an attempt to walk it off. An early visit to the Fish market even had me sampling lobster, scallop and oyster mid-morning. Add in good advice on Glebe dining and Sydney was a great gastronomic stop.

The one rainy morning was a good excuse to spend it in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, a hugely impressive collection with brilliantly curated Asian galleries which juxtaposed the ancient and modern ‘in conversation’, and outstanding Australian art. I even stayed for a lovely lunch to ride out the weather. The Museum of Contemporary Art is a great building, with a striking new extension since I was last here, but needs more art to fill it. It featured a special show on artists who use light and in another of those senior moments, I paid for and entered it before I realised it was the one I saw at the Hayward last year! Still, it was good enough to see again. I walked a lot along the harbourside and through downtown, the trip to the top of the tower provided city views and I even got a personal tour of the NSW parliament.

Sydney was also the trip highlight for theatre and opera. It started at the Belvoir Theatre in Surrey Hills for Elektra / Orestes, a superb modern setting of the story of how the latter returned to kill his mother and her lover in revenge for them killing his dad, goaded on by his big sister. In a theatrical coup, the two halves were mirrors of each other in different rooms. The rain risked the open air Aida on a floating stage in the harbour, but in the end it was clear and dry. Productions like this often put spectacle above music, but this one was briliantly sung, enhanced by the framing of the opera house and harbour bridge stage right and the downtown skyline stage left. Radames triumphant return from war on a real camel (followed by three others) was greeted by a firework display in a stunning end to Act I. The final show was Beckett’s Endgame, which I’ve never understood and still don’t, but it was a particularly funny production with the great Hugo Weaving in the lead role, directed by Sydney Theatre Company’s AD at their home theatre.

Sydney gets under your skin and into your bloodstream, even in just four days. Sad to leave it, and this country, but I feel privileged to have had 2nd and 3rd visits to Melbourne and Sydney respectively and new experiences in Tasmania and the Top End. A stopover in Singapore and Chiang Mai beckons. More from there…..

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