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Archive for the ‘Cabaret’ Category

Dance

I haven’t seen ZooNation Dance Company since their first show, Into the Hoods, on the Edinburgh Fringe years back but it’s great to see them invited to Covent Garden’s Linbury Studio to stage a Christmas show, The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Wonderland is an asylum with a new psychiatrist Ernest so the Tea Party becomes the Therapy Party, well until the other characters take over for the second half and welcome us to Wonderland. This seemed a bit inaccessible for youngsters and I suspect a tad unacceptable to the mental health community. There was less hip hop than I was expecting, and some of it was a bit like X-Factor routines, but there was enough fun to be had to make it an innovative and refreshing spin on a classic.

Cabaret

The programming at St James’ Studio continues to be both eclectic and imaginative and their Christmas show, Noel Coward’s Christmas Spirits, was another enjoyably civilised, old fashioned (in a positive sense!) evening. The conceit is that we’re in Noel’s apartment in London during the blitz whilst he is writing Blithe Spirit. Two of its characters come to life and between them and Coward they entertain us with songs, poems and readings from Ben Johnson at the turn of the 16th / 17th century to World War II. It’s an eclectic collection that includes Coward’s own work, Dylan Thomas, Irving Berlin, Ivor Novello, Ogden Nash and Charles Dickens! Some succeeded better than others and the first half was over-long (not helped by a very late start while the ushers pandered to the last arrivals), but when it was good it was great. Stefan Bednarczyk captured the essence of Coward and played and sang very well; highlights including London Pride and Don’t Lets Be Beastly to the Germans (which I’d never heard before). Charlotte Wakefield sang I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas beautifully and, with Issy Van Randwyck, gave us a terrific Christmas Tree Angel (another I’d never heard). Original and entertaining in equal measure.

Art

A positive feast in an afternoon at the NPG starting with Grayson Perry: Who Are You? based on his terrific 3-part C4 series where he spent time with people then made a piece of art that represented who they are. It’s like a treasure hunt through the first floor galleries, with fourteen pieces brilliantly and appropriately located. Unmissable. Anarchy & Beauty: William Morris and His Legacy, 1860 – 1960 is a lovely reminder that Morris was the centre of an extraordinary circle of talented people. The exhibition is full of drawings, paintings and objects that connected these people. The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition was as diverse and as fine as always and in the room next door there was a bonus – a small display of Snowdon portraits, many hitherto unseen. The NPG is probably my favourite ‘pop in’ place, but this afternoon was a huge treat.

Film

What we do in the shadows is a spoof vampire film from those Kiwi boys Flight of the Conchords and it’s extremely well executed, in the best Spinal Tap tradition, and a real hoot.

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Contemporary Music

West End Recast was an impulsive last-minute punt which proved a treat. The idea is that musical theatre performers sing songs they would never normally get to sing, because they’re the wrong sex, colour, age etc. It was slow to take off, until Nathan Amzi gave us Cassie’s Music & the Mirror from A Chorus Line! This was followed by a stunning Being Alive from Company by Cynthia Erivo (quite possible the best it’s ever been sung), then a brilliant Rose’s Turn (Gypsy) from Nick Holder to end the first half. The second didn’t reach these heights, but there was much to enjoy.

I’ve always thought Damon Albarn was the best (pop) thing to come out of the 90’s and has become someone, like Elvis Costello and David Byrne, who continually reinvents himself and is always open to collaboration and experimentation. Though his Royal Albert Hall show was built around his excellent new solo album, it dipped into other incarnations and included guest appearances from Blur’s Graham Coxon, musicians from Mali, US hip-hop outfit De La Soul, rapper Kano and virtual recluse Brian Eno! Albarn is clearly in a very happy place and this was a very happy concert.

As her brother heads for the middle of the road, Martha Wainwright continues to do concerts that combine eccentricity, fun and beauty, showcasing her extraordinary voice and ability to inhabit her (and others) songs. This Queen Elizabeth Hall concert was good as the Union Chapel outing last August, though this time her son on stage outstayed his welcome. As one of my companions said, it’s hard to concentrate on a song about a man dying of cancer when you’re petrified a 5-year old might be about to electrocute himself!

I was hugely disappointed by John Grant at the Roundhouse earlier in the year, but had hoped that with an orchestra in the Royal Festival Hall he would be a lot better. Well the sound engineer was having none of that. With bass levels at painful vomit-inducing levels and the orchestra often buried in the mush of the mix, this was another disappointment. There were snatches of greatness (when the man at the back with the machines wasn’t producing his electro shit) but on the whole it was great musicianship ruined by a seemingly deaf arsehole.

Opera

My first (of two) concerts in the short Mariinsky Opera residency at the Barbican Hall was the original version of Boris Gudunov. It was good but lacked the sparkle of Gergiev’s work with the LSO. They seemed to be wheeling out a Mariinsky staple for the Nth time and going through the motions.

The contrast provided by the following night’s OAE / Opera Rara concert version of Donizetti’s Les Martyrs at the Royal Festival Hall couldn’t have been bigger. An orchestra, chorus and six soloists under Sir Mark Elder, all at the the top of their game, polishing a rarely heard opera and producing a musical jewel that shone brighter than Donizetti’s more popular operas. A spontaneous standing ovation is rare at such events, but not for this. Wonderful.

You can always rely on GSMD to give us a rare opera, but you don’t think of Dvorak as rare – productions of his operas are, though. We only ever see one of the eleven he wrote (Rusalka) so it was good to catch his comedy, The Cunning Peasant, in an English translation relocating it to Hardy’s Wessex. It’s a bit derivative of Mozart’s comedies and the first half didn’t grab me, but the second half was great. As always at GSMD, the production values and the performances were excellent.

The ever inventive Les Arts Florissants’ latest project is two short rarely performed Rameau opera-ballets, Daphnis et Egle & La naissance d’Osiris. The seven dancers, six singers and chorus of ten, all costumed, shared the bare Barbican Hall stage in front of the period ensemble, staging them as they would have been staged when they were first performed for the French Court in the eighteenth century. The stories are slight but it sounded gorgeous and this type of performance fascinating.

Glare at Covent Garden’s Linbury Studio Theatre was a SciFi opera which I saw less than an hour after the SciFi film Interstellar (below) and it was less than half its length. I admired it more than I enjoyed it, but as modern opera goes, it’s better than most. All four singers trained at GSMD and one, Sky Ingram, blew me away here as she had there.

Dance

It’s been a privilege following the final chapter of Sylvie Guillem‘s career, as she transitioned from classical ballet to contemporary dance and this fourth show (for me) with Akram Khan, Sacred Monsters, at Sadler’s Wells had a biographical twist. The dialogue was a surprise and the shows playfulness was both surprising and delightful. The music was great and the dancing of both mesmerising. In almost exactly six months it’s the farewell show as she retires, wisely, at 50. Real class.

Classical Music

A second outing to the Mariinsky Opera Chorus, but this time on their own, unaccompanied, at GSMD’s new Milton Court Concert Hall for a programme of secular music and folk songs. The acoustic was a bit harsh when they were at full throttle, but the singing was gorgeous and the standard of solos exceptional. If only they smiled more.

The following day, at a lunchtime concert at St. John’s Smith Square, a small group of 10 singers, also unaccompanied, all young enough to be the children of the Mariinsky Chorus (!) made an equally gorgeous sound with music from both ends of a 500-year range. The Erebus Ensemble are an exciting new early music group who also tackle 20th century equivalents like Tavener and Part. Lovely.

Looking at a couple of hundred late teens / early twenties performing Britten’s War Requiem at the Royal Festival Hall on Remembrance Sunday was deeply moving. 100 years ago, many of them would have been heading to the trenches and likely death. This added a poignancy to a beautifully sung and played requiem. The standards of the RAM orchestras and the National Youth Choir were astonishing and the three young soloists – a British tenor, a German Baritone & a Moldovan (former USSR) soprano, as Britten intended – were terrific. Not forgetting the excellent children’s choir assembled especially for the occasion. Conductor Marin Alsop’s command of it all was extraordinary.

The Chapel in the Royal Hospital Chelsea is a lovely venue for a choral concert and Rutter’s Mass of the Children and Britten’s St. Nicholas was a great pairing. Interval drinks in Wren’s beautiful refectory and Chelsea Pensioners in their bright red uniforms greeting all adds to the occasion.

A visit to Handel House with the LSO Friends included a short recital in the room where Handel himself held them, with his composition room just next door. The soprano and harpsichordist sounded lovely and it was great to hear music in this historic room.

The fourth and last of the Composers in Love series at St. John’s Concert Hall was Nocturne, a portrait of Chopin. Given the lack of letters left by him and his family, it was biographically sketchier than the others, but musically it was extraordinary and Lucy Parham converted me to Chopin, who hasn’t really been on my musical radar up until now. The readers this time were Alex Jennings and Harriet Walter (subbing for Juliet Stevenson). What a lovely series this has been.

Cabaret

I didn’t quite know what to expect from national treasure Anne Reid in cabaret (with Stefan Bednarczyk) at St. James Studio and I was delighted when it turned out to be the music of unsung musical theatre heroes Comden & Green, interspersed with the story of, and anecdotes from, their lives. Delightful & charming.

Film

Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner has the most incredible cast, a who’s who of British acting minus the ‘stars’ which would be guaranteed to win BAFTA’s Best Ensemble award (if there was one). Turner’s story is a fascinating one and Leigh’s attention to detail is extraordinary. A towering achievement.

I liked Set Fire to the Stars, about Dylan Thomas’ first US tour, when its American organiser had his work cut out to keep him under control. The US in the 50’s looked great in B&W and the performances, particularly Celyn Jones as Dylan, were very good, but I thought the focus was too much on the US organiser and not enough on Thomas, no doubt because of the star casting of Ethan Hawke.

The Imitation Game is an even better film than I thought it would be. It moves between Alan Turing’s childhood, wartime work and tragic final days and really does illuminate his story. In a terrific cast, Benedict Cumberbatch is extraordinary.

Even though I go to plays more than three hours long, films of similar length rarely hold my attention and I don’t really know why. Interstellar comes in just under three hours but I was captivated throughout. So so much better than last year’s Galaxy, maybe a touch too sentimental but an absolute must see.

Art

I’ve seen Anselm Keifer works in galleries all over the world, but seeing them all together in the Royal Academy’s retrospective exhibition was a bit overwhelming as they are virtually all dark and depressing with his brown-to-black palette. Many (but not all) are great as individual works, but together it’s a different experience. His books were a revelation, but displayed in cases open at one page seemed like a lost curatorial opportunity to me.

Waled Besthty’s installation at the Barbican’s Curve Gallery is more impressive for its execution than its visual appeal. It’s a whole year’s worth of images created using the cyanotype printing process covering the whole curved wall. You have to take in the overall impact rather than the detail (unless you’ve got a day or two to spare). It’s not the best the Curve has offered, but this space is still indispensable for innovative big scale works.

I’m afraid Mirror City at the Hayward Gallery went right over my head. Apparently, the artists are seeking ‘to address the challenges, conditions and consequences of living in one of the world’s busiest cities in the digital age’. Yeh…..back in the real world next door in the RFH, the annual World Press Photo Exhibition shows us what it’s really like living in cities, countries, the world; a reminder of last year’s events, mostly sad ones this year.

The Late Turner exhibition at Tate Britain is a riot of gorgeous colour and a great companion for Mike Leigh’s film (above). It’s a brilliant example of how a man in his 60’s and 70’s can be bursting with creativity and originality. Upstairs in the Turner Prize exhibition there isn’t a painting in sight – it’s all film, slides & photos – I wonder what Turner would think. I hated it. In the Turner Galleries themselves, one room has been given over to Olafur Eliasson’s colour experiments where he tries to create the late Turner palette. The room contains giant circles each with their own colour range. Interesting.

Catching Dreams was the title of this year’s Koestler Trust exhibition of art by offenders, secure patients and detainees at the Royal Festival Hall and it was as intriguing and inspirational as ever. This must be excellent therapy and great that their work is seen and sold in this way.

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Contemporary Music

In Laura Muvla‘s late night Prom she performed the whole of her one and only album, Sing to the Moon, with an orchestra and choir. Some of the arrangements were a bit overcooked, smothering the lovely songs a bit, but overall it was a success as the writing and singing shone through. The sound was great and the audience even more quiet and attentive than most classical Proms. Now we need a new album, Laura.

Anything Goes at Cadogan Hall was anything but another one of those song compilation shows. First it was Cole Porter and the 50th anniversary of his passing. Second, it was musical theatre royalty with Maria Friedman, Clive Rowe, Jenna Russell & Graham Bickley all at the top of their game, with obvious chemistry, mutual respect and friendship. It was great to see the Royal Academy of Music MTC Chorus given a chance to work with such musical theatre icons and with a band as good as the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra under Richard Balcome. You rarely hear musical theatre songs played this well, and the winds and brass were positively glorious.

Opera

A return to Opera Holland Park after a few years to see an early 20th century  relative rarity by Francesco Cilea, Adriana Lecouvreur. My enjoyment of the first half was badly hampered by a full-on view of the conductor and not a lot else – a relatively expensive restricted view front row seat that wasn’t sold as restricted view! The highlight of the evening was the fantastic orchestra under said conductor, Manlio Benzi. There was some good (rather than great) singing and the updated production just about pulled it off. Sadly, OHP seems to be turning into a London version of those country house operas – rising prices, conspicuous corporate hospitality, dressing up…..if they introduce long picnic intervals, the transformation will be complete!

Classical Music

I don’t often go to piano recitals, then when I do I ask myself why?! A visit to Oxfordshire included one by John Lill at Christ Church Cathedral and I thoroughly enjoyed it. In a great programme of Mozart, Schumann, Brahms and Beethoven, the Schumann and Beethoven shone and the venue was a real bonus.

My first proper Prom of 2014 was an all-English affair, with three works from Vaughan Williams and a real rarity from someone I’ve never heard of – William Alwyn. Alwyn’s 1st Symphony isn’t brilliant, but it’s good enough and not worthy of such neglect (like the rest of his work). By contrast, The Lark Ascending is by all accounts the most popular classical work and here it was beautifully played by Janine Jansen. The gung-ho Wasps Overture and rarer Job ballet suite made up an excellent programme conducted by the BBC SO’s new chief conductor Sakari Oramo, whose enthusiasm and joy were infectious.

The next Prom was named Lest We Forget and it was a melancholy but very beautiful affair, featuring four composers, one German, who fought in the First World War, three never coming back. Two were completely new to me (the German, Rudi Stephan, was getting his Proms debut and Australian Brit Frederick Kelly is rarely performed). George Butterworth‘s song cycle A Shropshire Lad was sung beautifully by Roderick Williams and the BBC Scottish SO under Andrew Manze played all four pieces wonderfully. Vaughan Williams Pastoral Symphony (with tenor Allan Clayton, instead of the more usual soprano) has never sounded better. The loss of three talented composers was very sad, but it was a lovely tribute.

My final Prom for 2014 saw Andrew Davies back where he belongs and he chose a terrific programme of Strauss (R), Elgar & Berlioz to show off his great new band, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, who got a great welcome from the Proms audience. Music by German  British & French composers spanning 89 years, an Australian orchestra & a Norwegian cellist & a British conductor and an audience of real music lovers – that’s what I like about the Proms.

Cabaret

Celia Imrie’s show Laughing Matters at St James Studio was a quirky and sometimes surreal affair. Songs accompanied by a pianist and drummer (I wish I knew who wrote them), monologues and anecdotes and two male assistants! It ended with a panto-style sing-along complete with song sheet, with the cast dressed as sailors and the audience in sailor hats emblazoned with ‘R.M.S. Celia’! She can’t really sing, the show had a certain amateurishness about it, but her charm won you over and made you smile – a lot.

Film

I was lured to The Inbetweeners 2 by rave reviews (4* in The Times!) and even though it was fun, it was like watching a triple episode of the TV series with big screen technicolour projectile vomiting. A peculiarly British take on gross-out teen comedy.

Positive reviews also lured me to Guardians of the Galaxy (another 4* in The Times), but it was no time at all before I was bored with the banal story and just watched the 3D effects, but they became relentlessly repetitive too. There were some nice tongue-in-cheek touches, but I’m now wondering why I stayed.

I refused to pay Sonia Freidman’s obscene prices for Skylight in the West End but I eventually succumbed to the ‘encore’ of the live cinema transmission. Carey Mulligan proves to be an exceptional stage actor and Bill Nighy has lost none of his charisma. The 19-year-old play seemed bang up-to-date and the interval interview with Hare was a bonus. I’d have loved to see Bob Crowley’s brilliant set live, but hey it came over as a great production and I thoroughly enjoyed my first NT Live experience, even though it wasn’t the NT and it wasn’t live!

Art

I think I’m going to have to stop going to the Saatchi Gallery as, yet again, only a small fraction of what was on show appealed. This time it was Abstract America Today upstairs and Pangaea: New Art from Africa & Latin America downstairs. When the best room has walls covered with giant insects, you know you’re in trouble.

I’m not a fan of fashion and if I’d had to pay I probably wouldn’t have gone, but The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier at the Barbican was great fun and extremely well curated with a nice tongue-in-cheek touch (some of the dummies had holographic talking heads!). Whatever you think of his clothes, you have to accept that he has a colossal imagination.

No less than three exhibitions for an afternoon at the Royal Academy. The Summer Exhibition never changes but it’s an important institution and it’s always worth a visit. The highlights this year were the model of Thomas Hetherwick’s garden bridge (I can’t wait to see it built) and a couple of hilarious Glenn Baxter cartoons. Upstairs, Radical Geometry is an exhibition of 20th Century South American art which you’d never know was South American if it wasn’t billed as such. It’s well executed but they are very derivative abstract, geometric works. Interesting, but…..Round the back, Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album is a very personal record of six years in the sixties which would never be seen if the photographer wasn’t a famous film actor / director. Interesting, but…..

In just six years the Travel Photography Awards exhibition at the Royal Geographic Society has become so popular that my usual amble through it has become a scrum, partly because I left it until the final day I suspect. It was hard to get close enough to what seemed like a less impressive collection this year. Down the road at the V &A Disobedient Objects is an original, fascinating and wide-ranging look at items associated with protest, including banners, posters and even vehicles. Well done, V&A!

The British Library Comics Unmasked exhibition was a frustrating affair – low lighting combined with small print labels, but above all lots of nerds stooped over the exhibits reading every word of every cartoon and monopolising them. Again I was probably hampered by catching it on its last day, but it could have been curated so much better. The Enduring War exhibition, part of the WWI commemorations, was a lovely unexpected bonus which I enjoyed more!

The Photographers Gallery continues to be an essential regular visit and this time it was a fascinating exhibition tracing colour in Russian photography over 120 years. It proved to be a social and political history as well as a photographic history. At the entrance, they currently have a video wall which shows how a couple of Germans mined Facebook for images then put them on a spoof dating site with categorisations based on the images. It includes the victims comments, TV coverage and the legal threats they received. Clever, fascinating but spooky! I shall brush over the other exhibition – still life photos (and installations including them) of decaying fruit from Ridley Road market!

The first few rooms of the Malecvich exhibition at Tate Modern are spectacular – bright, colourful, original paintings of people and landscapes with a geometric spin. Then he goes all dull and abstract before returning to his earlier style. Frankly, it would be a better exhibition if it was ‘The early and late works of…’ and reduced from 12 rooms to 6!

There was some great stuff to see around town this month; two WWI tributes – the moving sea of poppies at the Tower of London, spectra – the lights illuminating the sky from Victoria Embankment Gardens – and this year’s Serpentine Pavilion, like a spaceship which has landed. Up in Gateshead, Daniel Buren created glorious colourful spaces in Baltic by covering the windows and skylights with coloured panels and placing large mirrors on the gallery floor. A real regional treat.

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Contemporary Music

In yet another senior moment, when I booked for it I’d forgotten that Maria Friedman‘s show at The Pheasantry was a repeat of the one just ten months ago at the same venue, but it hardly mattered. These Sondheim & Bernstein songs can be heard over and over again and you hear something new or the interpretation is subtly different or its just like a glorious encore. The venue is intimate and this time I was in the front and able to appreciate every nuance and every note. From the ‘overture’ – Jason Carr‘s ‘ mash-up’ of Sondheim & Bernstein melodies – it was an absolute delight.

The second ‘cabaret’ of the month paired the same Jason Carr with Janie Dee. The former, usually accompanying others or orchestrating shows, mixed his own songs with vintage musicals fare. He’s no great singer so guests Anna Francolini and Melvin Whitfield proved welcome. He does have bags of charm though and was very engaging with his audience…..as was Janie Dee, who hot-footed it over from Putting It Together for a short but perfectly formed if somewhat unpredictable set in which she invested more than a touch of acting. A very original take on the cabaret form, which I loved.

Classical Music

Flicking through those concert hall brochures, in this case St. John’s Smith Square, a series called Composers in Love took my fancy and Beloved Clara if the first of four I booked. It tells the story of the relationship between Robert Schumann and his wife Clara and the relationship of both of them with Brahms. Actors Harriet Walter and Henry Goodman read a selection of their letters and pianist Lucy Parham played appropriate selections. When I booked it, I had no idea it was going to be such a treat. The music was gorgeous and you learn a lot about these people’s lives. I was enthralled and now can’t wait for the other three.

I don’t know the work of John Tavener very well, but everything I’ve heard I’ve liked. When I saw a ‘celebration weekend’ in the St. John’s brochure, it seemed an ideal opportunity to correct that. Four concerts, twenty-one works spanning 43 years, three UK premieres and one world premiere, five hours of music. Between booking and going he died, so it became a posthumous review of his work. There was extraordinary range, from pieces for solo instruments through string quartets, a brass ensemble and the church organ to orchestral suits and choral works, but mostly choral works. Amongst the highlights were The Hidden Treasure for string quartet, cello work The Protecting Veil, Trisagion for brass quintet and new choral work Miroir des Poemes. This was a very good idea!

Opera

During a 24-hour post-work skive in Paris, I made an impulsive first visit to Opera Bastille for Massenet’s Werther for the only opera of the month. Roberto Alagna didn’t turn up and though his cover did his best he wasn’t really up to it. The rest of the singing was good though, the orchestra under Michel Plasson was excellent and the period production imported from Covent Garden was fine. The building didn’t really impress, though the sight-lines and acoustics were good and in egalitarian France those of us at the back were invited to fill the more expensive seats further forward!

Art

Pop Art Design at the Barbican does what it says on the can – looks at how Pop Art influenced design. It’s an interesting idea and the selection is eclectic. There are Warhol works I’ve never seen before and household furniture and other items that seem ever so familiar. This is the sort of show the Barbican does well.

Paul Klee: Making Visible at Tate Modern is a fabulous exhibition. A huge collection of works showcase extraordinary variety and a sublime use of colour. Seeing it on a Saturday evening was a bonus, as the thinner attendance allows you to savour everything close up and from a distance. When I first entered the Mira Schendel exhibition two floors up, I wondered if it was a continuation of Klee, but it went off the boil very quickly as she became ever more conceptual. In fairness, it picked up towards the end with some nice installations, but there was a lot of rubbish in between.

Dulwich Picture Gallery has a huge hit on their hands with An American in London – Whistler and the Thames. Fifteen minutes to get a ticket, 30 minutes to enter the first room and too many people to fully enjoy it. It pulls all its punches in the first room with extraordinary etchings of Thames scenes done in his 20’s; the rest is fine but just doesn’t match these.

Sculptor Bill Woodrow‘s exhibition at the Royal Academy was a hit & miss but mostly miss affair. Clever but neither beautiful nor funny!

The tiny Ben Uri Gallery hosted a show of the London Group which was a who’s who of 20th century British artists and contained a high count of absolute gems amongst just 49 works. Most museums would die to show a collection like this and this is an unfunded gallery that doesn’t charge admission. Magnificent!

Jake & Dinos Chapman’s Come & See at the new Serpentine Sackler Gallery was a lot of the same old stuff – scenes of carnage in glass cases, defaced 19th century pictures etc. – but there was new work like contraptions for brain damage and self-deprecating films with David Thewlis & Rhys Ifans (not new, but I hadn’t seen them before). It was presided over by 37 life-size Klu Klux figures wearing rainbow socks and smiley badges. An odd combination of the macabre and playful.

My 24-hour Paris skive was an art feast with three exhibitions at the Pinacotheque and another at the Centre Georges Pompidou. La Dynastie Brueghel had paintings from 12 painters spanning 6 generations from the early 16th to late 17th centuries. It focused mostly on the elder and younger Jan’s, there was a shortage of Pieter’s and there were too many flower paintings, but it was well worth the visit. Chu Teh-Chun was new to me but I rather took to his brightly coloured abstract pictures, which were a huge contrast to the etchings in Goya et la Modernite which composed most of the third Pinacotheque show. Le Surrealisme et L’Object at the Centre George Pompidou was a collection spanning most of the 20th century featuring all the usual subjects, beautifully curated by theme. As it was no. 4, I probably didn’t do it justice.

Film

I hadn’t seen the first one, so Anchorman 2 was a bit of a punt, partly selected as 3rd choice because it fitted a location and time slot. Though it’s a tad overlong, and not all of the American humour works here, it does have a lot of laughs and ends with an extraordinary number of celebrity cameos. God fun, though far from life changing!

I’m at a loss to understand what all the fuss is about with American Hustle (10 BAFTA nominations!). I liked the period look, it was sometimes funny, but it was overlong and poorly structured and, well, rather dull. Not a patch on the director’s last film – Silver Linings Playbook.

I’m puzzled by the critical indifference to Mandela: Long Road to Freedom. It compresses so much into almost 2.5 hours and does so extremely well. Idris Elba is stunning. The whole thing is captivating and moving. Go!

You would be forgiven for thinking that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire isn’t actually a new film, the second in the series, but a new version of the first one. It just seemed to be more of the same and I was hugely disappointed.

Twelve Years a Slave is a harrowing, uncompromising and unsentimental story of someone kidnapped onto slavery. It may win a BAFTA, but it won’t win an Oscar because the Americans won’t be able to publicly confront something that is only 150 years ago in their short history. I’d love to be proven wrong, though. Not easy to watch, but a stunning film nonetheless.

I love the Coen brothers films, but Inside Llewyn Davies was a huge disappointment. It just didn’t go anywhere and the journey was rather dull, even if the cinematography and performances were good.

The Wolf of Wall Street ended my film-going month and was the fastest three hours I’ve ever spent in the cinema. Funny and chilling in equal measure, it’s a coruscating expose of the sort of excesses of the financial sector we’ve got used to in recent years and it’s a career defining role for Leonardo DiCaprio.

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Opera

Even a lover of modern opera like me found American Lulu at The Young Vic challenging. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the score was the worst I’ve ever heard; positively excruciating. There’s nothing wrong with adapting Berg and moving it to 50’s-70’s USA and Lulu as a black dancer / whore makes sense. There were some excellent visuals, most created by projections onto an oval bead curtain, but nothing could block out that awful sound. You have to feel sorry for the singers and musicians who have to perform this for 100 minutes on each of 10 nights (and that’s just in London)!

Noye’s Fludde is a short opera by Benjamin Britten written for children and amateurs and the RFH turned over their ballroom for a promenade performance by the LPO, professional singers and children’s groups. It was a rare chance to catch it in this centenary year and it proved a minor treat, despite some of the children behaving as if they were in a different show or a show of their own!

Contemporary Music

I’ve enjoyed Caro Emerald’s brand of retro jazz / pop on record but wasn’t expecting the live experience to be so much fun. She’s got a terrific band, the visuals were lovely and her personality and the quality of the songs shone through. It seems to me she occupies a unique space in contemporary music which is maybe why she has attracted a big following in a short period of time.

Music Hall!

Seeing music hall in Wilton’s Music Hall, one of only two left in London, was an enticing prospect, but it turned out to be so much better. Somehow I think the venue raised the game of the performers. A pair of dancing and singing sisters, a ukulele player, a comedian and a trio of songbirds were all good, but were topped by both John Styles sets as a comic Chelsea Pensioner and a magician and Peter John’s brilliant creation of barmaid Bertha. The audience needed no encouragement to shout out and sing along and it turned into a huge treat. Encore!

 

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For the second time in a matter of weeks, hot on the heels of Paper Cinema’s Odyssey, BAC is hosting something completely original and unique and this time showing off the wonderful Grand Hall in the process. How to describe it is another matter!

The Grand Hall, with its proscenium stage, high ornate ceiling & pipe organ has become a 30’s /40’s Paris music hall where the legendary jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt & chanteuse Yvette Pepin (fictional?) are performing. They ‘step out’ of the concert performance on platforms in front of the stage to perform the story of Orpheus & Eurydice on the stage, playing the lead roles themselves with all other roles played by five members of the band. In effect, there is a musical prologue, interlude and epilogue with the story told in two halves in-between.

The performance style can best be compared with a silent movie – all exaggerated gestures and movement, hammed up mercilessly and a real hoot – with added retro inventiveness. The music, mostly live, is an eclectic selection of all things French including Reinhardt, Saint-Saens, Faure, Debussy & Piaf plus Bach, Monteverdi, Brahms and original compositions! The musicianship is superb – Dominic Conway’s guitar playing in Django’s (necessary) two-fingered fashion, piano, violon, accordion, double bass, flute, clarinet & percussion – and when Charlie Penn takes to the Hall’s organ it takes your breath away, quickly followed by gasps as percussionist Tom Penn proves to be an extraordinary counter-tenor!

It took a short while before my puzzlement subsided and I allowed it to cast its spell, but then it never let me go. It’s not often someone who’s been going to the theatre a few times a week for over thirty years can say ‘well, I’ve never seen anything like that before’ but that’s exactly what I did say. Sparkling originality, consummate musicianship and great fun. Absolutely not to be missed – and Little Bulb yet another company to follow.

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Contemporary Music

I couldn’t do either of the Richard Thompson London dates, something which became even more frustrating after I’d bought his great new album. Almost by accident, just a couple of weeks in advance, I discovered he was playing St. Albans on my birthday, they had a few tickets left, it was only 20 mins from St. Pancras and nearby friends fancied it. How serendipitous is that? It had to be great, and it was. His new trio makes a superb sound, the song selection was excellent and the guitar playing beyond genius. As he was about to start the third encore, he joked that they fancied themselves as a power trio but were 50 years late, then broke into a stunning version of Cream’s White Room; it was a bit high for his voice and he stumbled on the words, but the playing was magnificent. Combined with some Roman history (theatre, mosaic and museum), the gorgeous cathedral and lovely Lebanese food, it was a proper birthday treat.

I couldn’t make the original one week run of Maria Friedman‘s Sondheim / Bernstein show at The Pheasantry, so I was delighted when she added a couple of nights, one of which I could do. A brilliant selection of songs, superb arrangements and accompaniment from Jason Carr and a quiet, respectful audience made for a sensational evening that was often moving, often funny and always captivating. Her personality really shines and no-one else can interpret a song like she does. Unmissable, and I didn’t!

Opera

I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed an opera as much as Medea at ENO. It’s not particularly great music (not a patch on Handel) but David McVicar’s production, Bunny Christie’s design, Lynne Page’s choreography, conductor Christian Curnyn’s musical direction and above all a set of fine performances made it a real treat, particularly Sarah Connolly’s superb Medea and Roderick Williams’ brilliant Orontes. The story is in some ways different to the play (which I’ve seen a lot!) but it still makes a great tragedy. A treat!

Imeneo is an unusual Handel opera as it isn’t based on some epic historical tale; it’s a simple story of whether Imeneo gets the girl he wants as a reward for freeing her and her friend from pirates  – should duty be above love. There’s just about enough story for a 2-hour opera and it suits this modern setting at a spa hotel by the sea, where fun can be had with treatments and smartphones. There’s some gorgeous music and the cast of five and small chorus of six are excellent, with Laurence Cummings & the London Handel Orchestra making a terrific sound in the pit. Hannah Sandison & Katherine Crompton were outstanding and counter-tenor Tai Oney showcased a fine distinctive voice. Lovely.

Classical Music

My second Britten centenary event was the (Royal) Academy (of Music) Song Circle at Wigmore Hall with a recital of 20 songs in five languages. Many of these are challenging pieces for any singer, let alone young singers, but Sonia Grane, Angharad Lyddon, Simon Furness and Gareth John were all superb, as were accompanists Manon Ablett and Finnigan Downie Dear. Yet again, I am in awe of the musical talent we have here in London. Two down, c.18 to go!

During a visit to Budapest, I went to the lovely State Opera House for a concert performance of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion – on Easter Saturday! – and lovely it was too. There was a raised pit for the orchestra, the soloists were on stage behind them, and the chorus were behind a gauze screen on which they projected words and images. It benefited from being sung through without an interval, though this was challenging for the more fidgety audience members.

LSO‘s pairing of the hardly known Stabat Mater by the almost unknown Szymanowski with the ever so well-known Brahms Requiem was inspired. The former turns out to be somewhat Goreckian (though it pre-dates his 3rd Symphony by c.50 years!) and I rather liked hearing it for the first time. Somehow, the Brahms lacked sparkle – certainly not due to the soloists (Sally Matthews and Christopher Maltman) and not really to the playing of the LSO or the singing of the LSC, but lacked sparkle it did. A bit of a puzzle.

Dance

BalletBoyz: The Talent 2013 shows extraordinary growth since their first work four or so years ago. This group of 10 male dancers are unique and the new pieces from Liam Scarlett and Russell Maliphant, though quite different,  both suited them perfectly. Scarlett’s Serpent flowed organically in a hypnotic way whilst Maliphant’s Fallen was edgier and animalistic; I loved them both.

I got the last ticket for Arthur Pita’s dance-theatre piece The Metamorphosis on the day of the performance and it will no doubt be in my highlights of the year when things booked six months before will be forgotten! It’s the first time I’ve seen The Linbury Studio Theatre at Covent Garden in traverse, which meant a better view from my standing position.  Kafka’s tale of a man who turns into an insect is puzzling but mesmerizing and Edward Watson is extraordinary, moving in ways I didn’t think were possible for 80 minutes (8 times in 8 days!). Never has a spontaneous standing ovation been so richly deserved.

Over in Budapest, I saw a lovely production of John Cranko’s ballet of Onegin The music is a mash-up of Tchaikovsky pieces, the design was gorgeous and the dancing beautiful. It was hard to follow the story as they’d run out of programmes (which contained the synopsis in English), so I just let it wash over me – aurally and visually – without really caring what it was all about!

 Art

 An afternoon of two contrasting exhibitions started at the gorgeous (but not very suitable) Two Temple Place for a show called Amongst Heros : the artist in working Cornwall. It’s mostly 19th / 20th century pictures of fishing and fishermen with seascapes and mining scenes and portraits of locals. The highlights were by Charles Napier Hemy (who has popped up all over the place since I first saw his work in Penzance) and Stanhope Forbes, someone new to me whose pictures are wonderful and who will hopefully now also pop up all over the place. At Tate Modern, the Roy Liechtenstein retrospective proves he’s not a one-trick pony in terms of subjects, but is in terms of technique and style. The cartoons are well-known but the landscapes, abstracts etc less so and I enjoyed seeing them, but by the 14th room you’re more than sated.

I thoroughly enjoyed Light Show at the Hayward Gallery – 25 installations that play with light in some way. In addition to the usual suspects like Turrell and Flavin, there were lots of new names (to me). The booking system meant that the numbers were well controlled; great to see a gallery not being too greedy at the expense of visitor enjoyment.

The Bride & The Bachelors at the Barbican Art Gallery brings together the work of ‘artists’ Marcel Duchamp, Robert Rauschenberg & Jasper Johns with the music of John Cage and the dance of Merce Cunningham. For me, it’s well curated bollocks, particularly the work of Duchamp, the key influence on the others. Some of Johns’ work is good as is some of Cage’s, but the rest seems pointless to me.

I have to confess I’d never heard of artist Kurt Schwitters. Some of his Tate Britain exhibition was familiar, though, but I think this may be indicative of his influence rather than previous sightings. His collages date back to the 30’s and seem ahead of their time, but there were an awful lot of them and it got a bit monotonous. I rather liked Simon Starling‘s Duveen Gallery commission – a film of previous commissions (apparently re-staged) made by what looked like a flying camera, and the screen the only object in a giant atmospherically lit space.

George Bellows at the RA is a great exhibition of an artist I’ve never heard of. His late 19th / early 20th century paintings and drawings vary from boxing to cityscapes to landscapes to portraits to seascapes and they are wonderful. How is it possible someone this good can pass you by?

Back at the NPG, there’s a surprisingly good exhibition of George Catlin‘s paintings of native Americans first shown in London in 1840. The blurb accompanying a picture of the Mandan tribe suggested they intermarried with descendants of a 12th century Welsh prince called Madoc; that came as a bit of a shock!

At Somerset House, there’s an eclectic exhibition of photos called Landmark which ranges from landscapes to satellite shots to arty images, but all with the theme of planet Earth and an underlying environmental message. It was very good, but I wish they’d said where each picture was taken as I kept puzzling over locations!

Film

I thoroughly enjoyed Arbitrage, a multi-layered piece about a wealthy New York financier who embarks on both a business and personal cover up. It’s a gripping thriller which takes unexpected turns and Richard Gere is outstanding in the lead role.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to see Side Effects, but I was so glad I did. It lulls you into thinking you know what it’s about then turns a corner and takes you somewhere else. It really did keep you guessing until the end and enthralled throughout.

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