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Posts Tagged ‘Barry Banks’

Contemporary Music

I must have seen almost all of John Hiatt’s London concerts in the last 30 years or so – solo and with a lot of different bands, including the solo-duo show with Lyle Lovett and the short-lived ‘supergroup’ Little Village with Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe and Jim Keltner. His sound blends country, rock and blues in different combinations depending on the configuration of the band (if there is a band) and the style of the latest album. This incarnation is more rocky, but boy is it a great band. Three-quarters of the set was made up of material prior to the recent album, often re-worked to give a fresh spin. The intimate Under the Bridge (actually under Chelsea’s ground Stamford Bridge, but fortunately without any players or WAGS in sight!) proved an excellent venue (much like The Borderline some years ago and The Half Moon Putney way back when) and it was a cracking night. By the last encore, Riding With the King, they were on fire.

Opera

Our summer visit to WNO in Cardiff only involved one opera, La Boheme, but it was a brilliant production which we enjoyed so much we’ve booked to see again in September. Annabel Arden’s simple new staging, with an excellent design from Stephen Brimston Lewis featuring brilliant projections by Nina Dunn at Knifedge, was pitch perfect and Anita Hartig and Alex Vicens as Mimi and Rodolfo sang beautifully. The supporting cast were excellent and, as ever, Carlo Rizzi made the orchestra and chorus soar. Gorgeous.

Caligula at ENO won’t go down as a great new opera (the music isn’t good enough for that) but it was a brilliantly dramatic and inventive staging which got to the heart of its subject’s madness. This was mostly owing to a stunning performance in the title role from Peter Coleman-Wright and two great supporting performances from Yvonne Howard as his wife and Christopher Ainslie as his servant. Modern opera is often challenging; this one was no exception, but it was worth the ride.

Classical

St. Paul’s Cathedral has an acoustic which makes performing anything there a huge risk; I particularly recall a disastrous Britten’s War Requiem some years ago. The LSO made a better choice of Berlioz Requiem because it was big enough for the space and indeed the space added something to the music. When there were four trumpet sections in four spaces all around you, it sent shivers up your spine. Berlioz specialist Sir Colin Davies was in charge and the combination of orchestra and two choirs and crystal clear tenor Barry Banks – 385 singers and players – was as powerful as it gets.

The Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela has got a lot older whilst they’ve been evading me; they’re now all between 18 and 28. I’d seen (and been underwhelmed) by their conductor Gustavo Dudamel with the LA Phil, but had not seen him with his main band. It didn’t take long before I realised it wasn’t all hype. Sitting in the front row of the Royal Festival Hall, from the first notes of Argentinean Esteban Benzecry’s Rituales Amerindios the sound was exciting; by the time they had finished Strauss’ Alpine Symphony they were thrilling. As if we hadn’t had enough of a treat, they gave us an encore (not so common these days). An odd man came on wearing an animal skin, horn helmet and eye patch, carrying a spear. I thought he might have been one of Benzecry’s Latin American Indians and we were about to get one of that triptych again, but then the helmet came off and it was Bryn Terfel. Somewhat unbelievably, they chose the final part of Wagner’s Das Rheingold (this orchestra’s first stab at Wagner!) – it soared and I cried. The icing on a delicious cake.

Art

I popped into a mercifully quiet Tate Modern after an early dinner on the last Saturday of the month to check out Damien Hirst and Edward Munch and what a pair of horrors they turned out to be. I’d seen (and not liked) most of the Hirst works before but having them all in one place – spot paintings, preserved animals, flies and butterflies (dead and alive) – was a depressing experience. I still think he’s an innovative and clever man who’s made a lot of money, but not really an artist of much merit. The Munch proves he was a bit of a one trick pony, and that trick – The Scream – isn’t part of this exhibition! His early work showed great skill as a portrait painter, and some that followed was interesting (and colourful), but his compulsions and obsessions, coupled with the loss of ability to paint a face, meant the body of work is uninspiring.

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Contemporary Music

The Floating Palace at the Barbican was one of those compilation concerts that throws together a handful of artists with similar tastes, though this one was without the usual theme – tribute to…songs of… Sadly, though it had its moments (mostly from K T Tunstall & Krystle Warren), it was rather flat, somewhat rambling & under-rehearsed with a lot of irritating inaudible on-stage chat. Robyn Hitchcock was in charge and it also included Martin & Eliza Carthy and Howard Gelb. Given it’s repeated a handful of times across the UK, a cynic might think it’s a bit of a money spinner rather than like-minded people making music together?

Martin Simpson’s concert at Kings Place was a real treat. Dick Gaughan and June Tabor guested and June’s 25-minute mini-set was as close to perfection as you can get. There was superb backing from Andy Cutting on accordion and Andy Seward on double bass and the sound was gorgeous. If only Simpson wasn’t so obsessive about tuning – I think he might be the only one who notices!

Opera

I haven’t been to any of the Opera Up Close productions since their triumphant first one, La Boheme, at the Cock Tavern in Kilburn. They’re now at The Kings Head Theatre and I was drawn to Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West as I haven’t seen it for so long. It was always a pretty preposterous opera (set in the Wild West, sung in Italian!) and here it has been relocated to modern-day Soho where Minnie runs a bar frequented by East European lowlife. It’s not Puccini’s best score, by a long margin, and the new libretto seems too keen to make you laugh at the swearing and modern references that litter it. It is by and large well sung ( though operatic voices at close quarters can seen unnecessarily loud and brash) and played heroically on piano by John Gibbons and the shamefully uncredited violinist. The opera is alleged to be the source of some of Phantom of the Opera’s melodies and a second hearing confirms this suspicion. I rather liked the way they made this point when Minnie picks up a phantom mask from her dressing table at one point!

The winter pairing at WNO was superb. The first was a revival of Berlioz’ Beatrice & Benedict, a light funny operetta-like piece with some gorgeous music which Michael Hofsetter conducted delicately. All of the performances were good, with a comic masterclass from Donald Maxwell, but it was the chorus and orchestra that shone most (again!). Michael Yeargan’s 18-year old design still sparked. It was followed by a revival of La Traviata which we loved when we first saw it 18 months ago and loved just as much second time round. It’s an attractive and intensely dramatic production and the leads this time – Joyce El-Khoury, Leonardo Capalbo and Jason Howard – all excelled.

I’ve only seen Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffman once before, many years ago at Covent Garden when you could afford to go, and didn’t think much of it. Operetta? Ugh! Richard Jones’ production for ENO is therefore a revelation. I now see it as an opera rather than an operetta and here it scrubs up fresh in a highly inventive production. Giles Cadle’s design is excellent and there’s some wonderful singing from Barry Banks, Clive Bayley, Christine Rice and most especially the ENO debut of American soprano Georgia Jarman playing all four female leads – a real find.

Ernani was only my second experience of The Met Live in HD. The picture and sound quality is outstanding and I like the interval interviews and visible scene changes. It was better musically than visually (a rather old-fashioned static production) but it whetted my appetite to see more next season.

Dance

Umoja was one of those punts you make when you flick through a season programme – in this case, song and dance from South Africa at Sadler’s Wells third theatre, The Peacock. This one paid off big-time as the dance was thrilling and the singing was beautiful. It sought to tell the story of the evolution of song and dance in this country, and did so well, though I’d have liked a little less narration.

Classical Music

I only got to one of the LSO’s Debussy mini-season and rather regretted that by the time the concert was over. Michael Tilson Thomas has a real affinity with this music and all three Debussy pieces, concluding with his most famous – La Mer, were superb. For some reason they added in Weill’s Seven Deady Sins, which is a piece I like but which somehow seemed out of place – the amplification of Anne Sofie Von Otter didn’t help. 

The same orchestra’s Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev & Shostakovich programme was simply thrilling. Valery Gergiev is unrivalled in the Russian repertoire and here he conducted Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony without a score! Prokofiev’s 3rd Piano Concerto was played brilliantly by another Russian, Denis Matsuev, but it was Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliet Fantasy Overture that I enjoyed most. The LSO really is at the top of their game.

Art 

The German Contemporaries exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery is the same as all the others – a handful of great pieces and a lot of mediocrity. Much better was the photographic exhibition upstairs celebrating 50 years of the Sunday Times magazine and even better a film in a nearby shop made by stitching together 5000 video diaries.

Lucien Freud Portraits at the NPG is a wonderfully comprehensive review of his work and a real treat. He may only have done portraits, but boy were they good. Seeing so many together can be a bit samey, but brilliant works like this make it unmissable and seeing the evolution of his work is fascinating. Also at the NPG, the annual photographic portrait exhibition is up to the usual standard though yet again I disagreed with the five awarded!

The Barbican Curve space has another extraordinary installation, this time by Chinese artist Song Dong. It’s called Waste Not and consists of a vast quantity of household items – clothing, furniture, pots and pans, newspapers, toys….you name it, it’s here! – collected by his mother in the seven years following the death of her husband and meticulously laid out thematically along the length of the long curved gallery. Given all of this was transported from China, though, the carbon footprint is somewhat unacceptable.

Hajj exhibition. It’s a brilliantly curated examination of the history and practice of the pillar of Islam including some beautiful historical books, pictures and artifacts. Fascinating!

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