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Posts Tagged ‘BP Portrait Award’

Opera

La Voix Humaine is a rarely staged 50-minute one-woman opera by Poulenc, one of only three he wrote, and Opera Up Close are to be congratulated on an accessible, high quality production at Kings Place starring Sarah Minns with the score played on piano by Richard Black. Captivating.

A French double-bill at the Royal College of Music proved to be a delight. Chabrier’s Une Education Manquee, about a couple who didn’t know what to do on their wedding night, and Poulenc’s rather surreal cross-dressing boob-expanding Les Mamelles de Tiresias worked brilliantly together and the singing and playing was divine.

I saw the rarely performed Leoncavallo opera Zaza in concert a couple of years ago, so I was looking forward to seeing it staged. Sadly, the staging and design were so incompetent and inconsiderate (sightlines and audibility) that I wished I was hearing it in concert again! The final straw was a downpour soon after the second half started, where the noise of the rain on the canvas roof virtually drowned out the singers – but that wasn’t Opera Holland Park’s fault.

The Arcola‘s enterprising Grimeborn (geddit?) opera festival staged a musical-opera hybrid called The Marriage of Kim K which was a great idea, very ambitious and had its moments, but didn’t entirely work. It alternated between the story of Kim Kardashian’s short marriage to Kris Humphries, Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro and a British couple (him composer, her lawyer) on a couch fighting over the remote and switching between the two. It was this middle section which let it down by being rather dull and underperformed (and often out of tune). Gold star for trying, though, and hopefully we’ll see it again re-worked and improved.

Classical Music

I don’t think I’ve ever reacted so differently to two halves of the same concert as I did at Simon Keenlyside’s recital at Wigmore Hall. I adored the first half of Vaughn Williams, Finzi and Sibelius, but didn’t care for the more frivolous selections of Poulenc and Mahler in the second half, despite the obvious skills of the performers. A matter of taste, I guess.

The BBC Singers / Eric Whitacre concert at GSMD’s Milton Court was an absolute gem. An eclectic programme of ten pieces by living composers from five countries, including four world premieres and one UK premiere, with all composers present, with Whitacre’s first and latest compositions included. To cap it all, an encore of favourite Laura Mvula’s own arrangement of her song Sing to the Moon. Wonderful stuff.

Andrew Norman’s children’s opera A Trip to the Moon, based on the 1902 French silent movie of the same title, was paired with Sibelius 2nd Symphony in a terrific LSO Discovery concert in the Barbican Hall that saw the former involve local communities and both involve GSMD students, under Simon Rattle. Watching the white-shirted post-grad students sitting alongside the black-shirted LSO players provided a great sense of current musicians nurturing the next generation, which really moved me – and they sounded bloody great together too.

Soprano Sophie Bevan & tenor Allan Clayton gave a lovely recital of 28 Shakespeare songs by 20 different composers at Wigmore Hall, a very diverse and sometimes unpredictable selection. The acoustic was unkind to the soprano as it was to Simon Keenlyside’s baritone last week, which is a bit odd.

Contemporary Music

My first Prom this year was a late night celebration of Scott Walker‘s late 60’s solo albums, songs that have never been played live by anyone let alone Jarvis Cocker, John Grant, Suzanne Sundfor & Richard Hawley, with small choir and big orchestra! I didn’t think Cocker’s voice suited Walker’s songs, but the other three were terrific. I’m not a huge fan, but it was well worth the punt.

Film

Seeing Baby Driver broke a two-month film famine. It wasn’t the sort of film I usually go to – glorifying violence in a Tarantinoesque way – but it was exciting and brilliantly made, though let down by the implausibility of the ending.

Dunkirk is an extraordinary film about an extraordinary event. It was tense for the whole 100 minutes, but deeply moving too. Unmissable.

Dance

The Barbican gave over their Art Gallery for four weeks of performance art, well dance really, created by Trajal Harrall. There were lots of short works in different places, so I planned my visit to see as many as possible. Sadly, they weren’t as organised as me so I ended up having to go with the flow a bit, but that proved to be fun. I managed to sample about twelve pieces over a couple of hours and left feeling rather pleased with myself.

Art

A lot to catch up on…..

The Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition was great this year, though I missed all those architectural models I’m so fond of. Still, the biggest selling exhibition of them all had a lot I would have bought if I bought art!

If I wasn’t a Friend, I probably wouldn’t have gone to the Sargent watercolours exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery, which would have left a gaping hole in my life because I loved it! Portraits, city scenes and landscapes, they were all wonderful.

A visit to Whitechapel Gallery en route to a concert proved disappointing as Benedict Drew’s The Trickle-Down Syndrome was slight, A Handful of Dust was a bit pointless and the ISelf Collection underwhelming!

White Cube Bermondsey is such a big gallery that trying to fill it with women surrealists was bound to lead to variable quality, but fortunately there was enough good stuff to make Dreamers Awake worthwhile.

You don’t expect to see Picasso in a private gallery, let alone 111 paintings, drawings, sculptures, tapestries & ceramics of Minotaurs and Matadors, all bar one from private collections! It wasn’t a selling exhibition and entrance was free, so I’m not sure how the Gagosian funds it, but I’m glad they do.

Gregory Crewdson‘s heavily staged and artificially lit photos are like stills from an indie movie or paintings by Edward Hopper, which appear to tell a story but tantalisingly don’t, quite. His Cathedral of the Pines exhibition at the Photographers Gallery puts nudes in white clapperboard houses in snowy landscapes. Weird but a little bit wonderful.

A lovely double-dip at the NPG en route to the theatre, starting with the excellent class of 2017 at the BP Portrait Award, followed by The Encounter, featuring drawings from the 15th to 17th centuries, mostly culled from private collections including fifteen, a third of them, from the Queen! Another treat.

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power at Tate Modern took me by surprise. Covering just 20 years of Black American art from the outset of the 1960’s civil rights movement, it contained some powerful, bold political statements alongside some terrific abstract pictures.

Though low lighting and overcrowding made Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave at the British Museum a bit of a challenge, it was great to see his complete range of gorgeous, finely detailed work. I shall now pour through the catalogue to see them properly!

The month ended on a real art high with Alma-Tadema at Leighton House, an artist I’d never heard of whose very comprehensive retrospective was absolutely fabulous.

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Opera

The Royal College of Music put on Britten in their Britten Theatre and did him proud with a delightful production of his comic masterpiece Albert Herring. It succeeded in every department – staging & design, playing & singing – and it was lovely to see Janis Kelly guesting at her old college where she’s now teaching.

Classical Music

The LSO‘s end of season concert at the Barbican was also a tantalising taster of things to come when Simon Rattle takes over in 2017. The first half was a lovely opera for children by Jonathan Dove based on the Minotaur myth with literally hundreds of community performers and the LSO and GSMD SO together. In the second half, the combined orchestras raised the roof with Walton’s 1st symphony. Exciting stuff, and wonderful to see the students side-by-side with the pros from one of the world’s great orchestras, which I sense it about to become even greater under Rattle.

The first Prom of 2015 was a cracker, with the Proms debut(!) of Vaughan Williams huge choral piece Sancta Civitas coupled with Elgar’s 1st Symphony and a bit of Debussy to kick off. Sir Mark Elder marshalled his Halle Orchestra and four choirs brilliantly. The Royal Albert Hall was packed to the rafters.

Dance

INALA, at Sadler’s Wells, the collaboration between choreographer Mark Baldwin, composer Ella Spira and South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo was simply extraordinary, a brilliant fusion of dance and music, Africa and Europe, beautiful and breath-taking. It had no narrative, yet it somehow managed to convey the essence of Africa. Gorgeous.

Film

Seeing Brian Wilson in concert in recent years has been so wonderful, a true survivor and genius returning to make the glorious music he began so long ago and the bio-drama Love + Mercy about his ‘lost years’ is an outstanding film. It’s a fascinating story of survival told beautifully and delicately. Not to be missed.

Art

The Carsten Holler ‘exhibition’ at the Hayward Gallery was a bit of a disappointment. The twin entrances – long pitch black tunnels which twisted and turned – were scary and disorientating, but very clever. From then it was really rather tame, though I didn’t take the aerial ride (which seemed very slow) or the slide down and out!

The Joseph Cornell: Wanderlust exhibition at the Royal Academy was fascinating. His box collages are eccentric and a bit obsessive but always interesting and intriguing. Downstairs was the best Summer Exhibition in years, thanks in part to the curation of Michael Craig-Martin, who’d painted three rooms (well, not personally!) in bright colours before hanging the works, and the courtyard sculpture and brightly painted stairs within.

At the NPG, the BP Portrait Award exhibition contained some brilliant pictures; the standard seems to get higher every year. An excellent institution. Elsewhere in the building, Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon added some glamour. Is there a more classically beautiful woman?

I’m not a huge fan of Barbara Hepworth‘s abstract sculptures, but I very much enjoyed her retrospective at Tate Britain, partly because it included excellent early figurative work and partly because you learned a lot about the woman herself.

The Barbican Curve Gallery was back on form with an installation where you walked on salt following a light, with a soundtrack, through the gallery! Intriguing.

A day trip to Margate for Grayson Perry’s Provincial Punk exhibition at Turner Contemporary was well worth it. He’s the most interesting living British artist and his eclectic collection of pots (more than I’ve ever seen in one place) and tapestries was fascinating. It was supplemented by early films, paintings, drawings and other items. A treat.

Soundscapes at the National Gallery was a great idea and by and large a good experience, though at £1.33 per picture, perhaps not the best value in town! The paintings chosen weren’t predictable and the music which the six composers had written for each painting were diverse and fitting, but the atmosphere was occasionally destroyed by gallery attendants talking (I had to bollock one!).

The art month ended on the top floor of the Brewer Street car park in Soho for Carsten Nicolai’s light and colour installations. The best of them, unicolour, was an extraordinary projection of infinite coloured light changing frequently and mesmerising the viewer. Brilliant.

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Contemporary Music 

I couldn’t make Neil Young’s concert at the O2 and it was always going to be risky going to Birmingham instead. Sadly, nine hours of my life and c.£130 weren’t really worth it; I’d have been better off staying with my memories of all his concerts since the first one 42 years ago! The core issue was song choice. 50 minutes in, four songs later, I began to despair. The new stuff is fine, though elongated – one ending with 10 mins feedback and another with 10-mins of ‘What a fuck up’ chanting (not wrong, there, Neil) – beyond my self-indulgence tolerance limit. In the first two hours, just two classics from the 45-year back catalogue (one also subjected to the endless ending). There was apparently another hour, but I had to leave – and in truth, didn’t feel too bad about that as I’d had enough by now. I suspect this will be my last NY concert; a sad way to end my relationship with a genuine genius I have virtually worshiped.

The world of wrinklie rock redeemed itself just four days later when The Who performed their second rock opera, Quadrophenia, live at the O2. This is a much neglected work and one I’ve always loved as much as Tommy. It sounded fresh, with an enlarged band including three brass, two keyboards, two guitars, bass and drums. The film / photo montage, put together by Roger Daltrey, and the lighting were brilliant and the sound was good. Modern technology enabled deceased band members to contribute vocals and a bass solo by video; very moving. The additional 45 minutes included tracks from Who’s Next which if anything sounded even fresher. Support band Vintage Trouble, an American retro four-piece, were well worth getting there early for and their hard work paid off with a great audience reception.

Opera

June was opera month – nine! – one of which, Grimes on the Beach, I’ve already blogged.

I’m not a huge Rossini fan, but it’s impossible to resist both Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Florez. La Donna del Lago is a bit daft, with a Scottish setting & characters but sung in Italian, and John Fulljames production is a bit odd, starting and ending in some sort of museum, but the music is good and the singing was sensational. In addition to my two faves, Daniela Barcelona impressed hugely in the trouser role of Malcolm. It would be great if the Royal Opera found a better vehicle for these extraordinary talents, though.

The Perfect American is Philip Glass’ new opera about Walt Disney and, of the five operas of his I’ve seen, I think it’s his best. The score has more variety and less minimalist monotony and his subject matter is fascinating. What takes it from good to great though is Phelim McDermott’s astonishing production, designed by Dan Potra, Leo Warner, Joseph Pierce & Jon Clark, which is packed full of Improbable’s trademark invention, with every bit of it appropriate and effective. In an excellent cast (with such clear diction that, for once, you could hear every word – it can be done!), Christopher Purves shone as Walt. One of the best evenings at ENO and of modern opera in a long time.

The summer pairing at WNO was another Cardiff treat. A new opera by Jonathan Harvey, Wagner’s Dream, set at the moment Wager died, was paired with his Lohengrin. Wagner had apparently been contemplating a ‘Buddhist opera’ and at that moment just before death he reflects on it as we see it performed behind him. Wagner’s moments are acted in German and the opera is sung in the ancient Buddhist language of Pali. With added electronica, it was played and sung beautifully and staging and design were both effective and elegant. Lohengrin will go down as one of WNO’s finest moments. Despite needing a stand-in for the big role of Telramund (well done, Simon Thorpe!), the musical standards were exceptional, with the orchestra and chorus soaring (at one point with four additional fanfare groups at four points in the auditorium sending shivers up your spine). Apart from a noisy scene change in Act Three (while the orchestra was still playing), the staging was highly effective. I love pairings / groupings of operas and next time we have Donizetti’s Tudor trilogy – an 18th century Italian spin on 16th century British history!

Britten’s Owen Wingrave was the first opera made specifically for TV and it’s very rarely staged; gold star then to the Guildhall School for this contribution to the centenary. It’s an excellent production of his pacifist opera about a boy who defies his family’s military traditions. The setting is contemporary and the traverse staging is ‘framed’ by scenes from modern warfare showing what might have happened had he not rebelled, with projections used very effectively. Amongst the fine cast, Joseph Padfield was outstanding as military tutor Coyle and Samantha Crawford and Catherine Blackhouse both impressed as Owen’s aunt and fiancée respectively. 

I very much enjoyed the first outing of Deborah Warner’s production of Britten’s Death in Venice at ENO back in 2007, but I wasn’t prepared for how much better a revival could be. With beautiful, elegant designs from Tom Pye, it really is a masterly staging, but the chief reason that propels it to ‘Masterpiece’ is John Graham Hall as Aschenbach. Very occasionally a singer inhabits a role in such a way that they begin to own it. Simon Keenlyside IS Billy Budd and now John Graham Hall IS Aschenbach; it’s mesmerising. I’m so glad the Britten centenary (and half-price tickets!) persuaded me to see it again as it will go down as one of my great nights at the opera.

Gerald Barry’s opera of The Importance of Being Ernest in Covent Garden ‘s Linbury Studio was a quirky affair. The small orchestra was on a series of white steps surrounded by white walls. The singers entered from the audience and occupied the rest of the steps. The instrumentation includes plate-smashing. Lady Bracknell is a man in a suit with no attempt at female impersonation. The music is strident, almost spoken. It’s more semi-staged than staged. I admired the originality, I loved the way the orchestra was part of it and the performances were very good – but I can’t say I loved the opera. 

The ROH contribution to the Britten centenary (and the queen’s diamond jubilee) is his only historical opera Gloriana and it proves to be a better piece than the myths suggest (though having seen the Opera North production 19 years ago I knew this!). The problem with this new production is director Richard Jones decision to ‘frame’ it by our present queen’s visit to see it at a village hall, complete with 1953 production values and visible wings. Even during the overture we get a brief appearance from every monarch between the two Elizabeth’s in reverse chronological order with olympic style name cards and a row of schoolboys holding up cards signalling their geographic origin! This all robs the opera of its grandness, majesty and pomp. Still, musically it’s first rate with the orchestra & chorus on top form and the largely British cast including many personal favourites. Susan Bullock makes a great queen and it was wonderful to see Toby Spence again, in fine vocal form after his serious illness.

Classical Music

Another Handel oratorio for the collection – Susanna – from Christian Curnyn and the Early Opera Company at Christ Church Spitalfields. It’s not in Handel’s premiere league, but it was beautifully played and sung and an uplifting end to a challenging day. Emilie Renard and Tim Mead, both new to me, were excellent as Susanna and her husband, and the small chorus was so good I yearned for more than the seven items they were given. Will I ever hear them all live? I doubt it!

Dance

I returned to see The Clod Ensemble after enjoying their last show at Sadler’s Wells. That one was in four parts, with the audience moving from upper circle to dress circle to stalls to stage! Zero was staged conventionally, on stage, but I’m afraid it did nothing for me. The blues harmonica got it off to a great start but it was all downhill from then. I don’t know what it was about, I wasn’t impressed by the movement and the 80 minutes just dragged.

Britten Dances at Snape, part of the centenary Aldeburgh Festival, was a lovely varied cocktail of four pieces from three choreographers – Ashley Page, Cameron McMillan & Kim Brandstrup –  and two ballet companies; The Royal Ballet of Flanders & our own. In addition to two Britten pieces, the musical choices included his arrangement of Purcell and a piece from contemporary composer Larry Groves’ which takes Britten’s take on a Dowland piece as it’s starting point! A unique evening and a unique contribution to the centenary.

Film

Behind the Candelabra was a must-see after the trailer. Though a touch overlong, what makes it worth going to is highly impressive performances from Michael Douglas, Matt Damon & an unrecognisable Rob Lowe. Hard to believe it isn’t getting a cinema release in the US; the land of the free is still the home of the bigots.

I rather liked the new Superman film Man of Steel, the ultimate in prequels, which starts with his birth on Krypton and ends with him getting his job at the Daily Planet. It’s all a bit exhausting, and I’ve seen better 3D (I think maybe I should give up 3D), but it’s gripping and new Superman Henry Cavill is very good. Russell Crowe plays Russell Crowe again as Superman’s dad.

If you like those American gross out comedies like Superbad, you’ll like This is the End and I do /did. This one adds gore and disaster to the cocktail and the effects are excellent. It’s one of those films that’s better in the cinema than at home, because there’s a contaigon about the audience reaction which improves the experience.

Art

A lean month for art. I did pop into the NPG to see the annual BP Portrait Award exhibition, though it seemed to ack sparkle this year. Over at the lovely new giant White Cube in Bermondsey, there are four North American artists on show, the best (and most) of which is Julie Mehretu (actually, she was born in Ethiopia). Her giant B&W canvases are multi-layered and grow on you. It’s like she started with an architectural drawing, they overlaid it with another , then another….Original.

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With eight days at the paralympics at the beginning of the month, five days housebound at the end of the month and seven shows in-between, there wasn’t much room for ‘the rest’.

Opera

We’d seen both productions in our autumn visit to WNO in Cardiff before – Handel’s Jeptha some years back and Puccini’s La Boheme just 3 months ago. Neither were quite up to their earlier incarnation, but both were well worth re-visiting. Jeptha was never meant to be staged and it is directed by my bête noire Katie Mitchell, but despite that I like the modern war-time staging and the music is simply gorgeous. Robert Murray was excellent in the title role. The La Boheme staging is one of the best, but the new Mimi, Giselle Allen, wasn’t really believable. This was a ‘safe’ visit – the next one is Janacek and Berg and the one after Wagner and a modern one about Wagner, so they should be more challenging!

Ballet

I was persuaded to go to San Francisco Ballet by some visitors, but came out glad I was. The very diverse third mixed programme was a veritable feast. It started with a quirky and camp Mark Morris piece (not his best), then we got a more classical piece (to a lovely Prokofiev symphony), a captivating Japanese dance drama and some more modern dance with a blend of early and contemporary music. It seemed like a very young company which is probably why it all felt exuberant and fresh.

Art 

Another London at Tate Britain was both a superb idea and a brilliantly curated exhibition of B&W photos of London taken by foreign photographers. It included most of the 20th century’s iconic photographers and though it focused a bit too much on ‘grimy poor London’ it was unmissable.

At the Photographers’ Gallery, the annual Deutsche Borse Photography Prize exhibition was the best ever, in particular the images of Ghanaian scavengers and the arty Japanese selection. The new galleries have been improved since they moved in and now provide an excellent space to show these works.

The Korean Eye exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery was one of the best of their recent overseas contemporary art exhibitions with a nice combination of sculpture, installation and painting (yes, painting!). An excellent bonus during this visit was a small but hugely creative exhibition of chess sets by British artists (the usual suspects such as Hirst and Emin). How does this gallery survive without subsidy?

At the ICA, I liked Bruce Nauman’s soundwork Days – you walked through a space where speakers on both sides projected people speaking. Sadly, the rest of the soundworks ‘exhibited’ at the same time were hugely disappointing.

A brilliant trio of exhibitions at the NPG this month with the BP Portrait Prize living up to its reputation, photos of people associated with London 2012 (not just athletes) all over the building and a surprisingly interesting exhibition of pictures and photos of the queen  I’m no monarchist, so enjoyment of the latter was a bit of a shock!

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Opera & Classical Music

I really liked Nico Muhly & Craig Lucas’ Two Boys. It’s an original subject for opera – internet chatrooms – and it unfolds like a detective story with great pace and narrative drive. I loved the chorus with laptops representing chatroom activity, with projections adding much to the impact. The music creates an atmosphere of suspense for the story-telling and is much more accessible on first hearing than most modern operas. It’s a fine cast, with Susan Bickley shining as the detective. One of ENO’s more successful ventures into modern opera.

The Consul was the first Menotti opera I saw, years ago in Stockholm when I was there for an opera festival I didn’t know they had. A few years later, I was in the attic room of a freemasons hall in Edinburgh late at night (as one does at the fringe!) for another of his short operas and in the tiny audience was Menotti himself, now retired to a castle in Scotland. It has now been re-named The Secret Consul and presented as a site-specific opera in the derelict Limehouse Town Hall. Sadly, it only partly works. Despite the fact the audience was exactly the same size as the cast, they weren’t able to marshal us unobtrusively without confusing and / or irritating us. Apart from the first scene on the stairs, the opera takes place in different parts of the same large room, so you’re just changing direction (most seated) not promenading. The acoustic echo made it hard to understand the English libretto, though you never fully understand a libretto even when it’s in English, so it was difficult to know exactly what was going on. The leads were good, though, and the quartet – piano, cello, violin and clarinet – played the score well.

Bampton Classical Opera is an annual affair showcasing one opera in the garden of a house in Oxfordshire. It punches way above it’s weight, with very good production values and excellent young professional singers. They’ve been invited to Buxton Opera festival this year and will also perform the opera in concert in London at St John’s Smith Square. This year’s offering is a late 18th century light comedy, The Italian Girl in London, by Cimarosa, directed by Jeremy Gray. Cimarosa is best known for The Secret Marriage (he apparently wrote 70 operas, but that’s the only one now produced regularly). It’s the usual fare of this period, a romantic comedy with an implausible plot and a happy ending, with the addition on this occasion of a preposterous yarn about becoming invisible by holding a ‘bloodstone’, but well suited to the venue and occasion. Nigel Hook has managed to create a delightful small London hotel with bar and, most importantly, a food hatch, and the musical standards are very high. There is a small chamber orchestra conducted by Thomas Blunt and five well-matched soloists. Kim Sheehan is lovely in the title role and Nicholas Merryweather gives a fine comic performance as the Italian who loves her and is looking for her but can’t recognise her in disguise as a French maid! I also liked Caryl Hughes hotel proprietor who courts English Lord (Robert Winslade). I’m not sure why we need Dutchman Sumers, but Adam Tunnicliffe sings the role well. They were all almost upstaged by the non-singing policeman, an auspicious debut from local man Martin Havelock; one to watch!

Iestyn Davies’ lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall was an inspired and eclectic programme from 12 composers spanning 400 years. I’m not a huge fan of the counter-tenor voice, but his is very beautiful and this concert showed his range. There were three thematic groups – nature, night and spirit – to hang this diverse collection together. A lovely hour, encoring with Purcell’s Music For A While, which was probably the best of them all.

Dance

Sylvie Guillem’s show at Sadler’s Wells was an extraordinary display of skill; she does things with the human body you don’t think are possible – and she’s 46! There was a duet with Nicolas Le Riche choreographed by William Forsyth, a solo piece choreographed by Mats Ek and a duet from Aurelie Cayla & Kenta Kojiri choreographed by Jiri Kylian. I can’t say that any of the dances meant anything to me, but the artistry had me spellbound.

Hofesh Shechter’s Political Mother at Sadler’s Wells was more like a rock concert than contemporary dance. There’s a 20-piece band on three levels like a wall at the back of the stage and the lighting is extraordinary. The dance seems more like unchoreographed people at a rave (not that I’ve ever been to one!). I’m not sure I got the war references but it was a brilliant spectacle.

Film

Bridesmaids is another of the new breed of quirky American comedies which are often laugh-out-loud funny with a fair dose of satire and good bad taste. Being American, it had its ration of sentimentality, but it was funny enough to get away with it and it’s send-up of wedding obsession was delicious.

Horrible Bosses was another and I liked it. It won’t win any prizes and I probably won’t remember it in my dotage, but it was a good laugh, helped by an outstanding cast, with Kevin Spacey giving us another fine turn.

Beginners was a bit of a slow burn, but I eventually succumbed to its thoughtfulness and quirky structure & style. Ewan McGregor’s relationship with his father Christopher Plummer was very authentic (as it was with his girlfriend and dog!). I don’t know whether it is based on a true story, but it really felt like a true story. A complete contrast to Horrible Bosses.

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows II was a whole lot better than Part I and quite possible the best of the series. Apart from the three main leads, yet again it’s a Who’s Who of great British actors. This one was brilliantly paced (though I was less convinced by the IMAX 3D) and I left the cinema rather sad that there would be no more. I think I shall have to work my way through the DVD’s now.

Art

Every year I say I’m impressed by the standard at the BP Portrait Award and this year is no exception. Lest you think it’s a dying art form, this years prize-winners are more than thirty years apart in age. There’s a very diverse range of styles and subjects and there was hardly a dud in this years selection.

I turned up at Whitechapel Gallery for an exhibition that had yet to open(!), so I had to make do with a small selection from the government’s art collection, some local photos from the 70’s and a re-visit to Fred Sandbach’s extraordinary string installations. The government has a huge collection of British art which moves from office to office and embassy to embassy seemingly based on the taste of the occupants. This small collection was selected by Nick Clegg, Peter Mandelson, Samantha Cameron and a few others. The most fascinating thing about it was seeing the history of one Lowry painting – everywhere it had been since it was purchased for £120, including photos of it in situ.

Whilst in Manchester for their International Festival, I went to the Art Gallery and caught a little exhibition of some terrific Grayson Perry pots with museum objects selected to sit alongside them plus a small selection of pre-Raphaelites as a preview of a bigger exhibition this autumn; but the artistic highlight was a side trip to Liverpool at see the Magritte exhibition at Tate Liverpool which is a really comprehensive collection of his work. In some ways, in terms of the impact the pictures have, more is less but it was fascinating to see such a range of work. The sculpture exhibition also on at the Tate was so-so, but a hell of a lot better than the Royal Academy one a few months back.

If Time Out hadn’t told me to go to Hauser & Wirth at 196 Piccadilly to see an art installation, and I had just popped in from the street, I really would be thinking that I was in the Piccadilly Community Centre, a space on four floors with canteen, computer room, bar, meeting rooms, charity shop, prayer room…… This was a surreal and extraordinary experience created in impeccable detail by Swiss artist Christoph Buchel! I’m still not sure if it was or it wasn’t…..

The NPG has yet another photo exhibition; this time B&W portrait photos of Hollywood stars from 1920 to 1960 called Glamour of the Gods. Some are iconic and some are quirky, but they are very compelling.

The Courtauld Gallery’s last in-depth exhibition was of one picture by Cezanne and it was a surprise treat, so I went back for a second one; this time a look at the relationship between artist Toulouse-Lautrec and dancer Jane Avril. They’ve brought together pictures and other items from 15 museums, archives & private collections in France, the US and the UK and it was another insightful treat.

The Vorticists at Tate Britain was one of those exhibitions that introduces you to a little known (well, to me anyway) art movement which seems to have had a profound influence on subsequent art and design. I’d seen the portraits of Wyndham Lewis before, but here was other work by him and his contemporaries that was new to me. It ‘s influence clearly lasted much longer than it’s 8-year life as a movement. Fascinating. Whilst there, I took the opportunity to see Mike Nelson’s Coral Reef installation – a maze of rooms with creaky doors to up the spook effect that you get lost in. I’m not entirely clear what it all means, but its huge fun!

Other

Also in Liverpool, I was privileged to get to both Lennon and McCartney’s childhood homes, now National Trust properties. I’d been to McCartney’s before but it was great to visit John’s and indeed both together, even though abandoning the audio tour at McCartney’s is in my view a mistake. You really get a sense of these young lives and to see a photo of them actually writing I Saw Her Standing There on the wall just above where they did still sent shivers up my spine. Being in John’s house is rather moving, though the signs of Ono’s control-freakery are evident. There’s a certain irony to the fact that ‘working class hero’ Lennon lived in middle class comfort whilst much maligned McCartney was squashed into a tiny council house with his mum, dad and brother. For someone for whom the Beatles are a major part of the soundtrack of my life, this was thrilling and the fact that the bus driver’s soundtrack got to Penny Lane just as we drove past it’s street sign was spooky!

A Royal Academy Friends visit to Ironmonger’s Hall (with lunch in the hall) was preceded by a short walking tour that included Paternoster Square, St Paul’s Churchyard, the rooftop views at One New Change and Postman’s Park (where unsung heroes are commemorated by ceramic plaques) and it was a treat. I do love these livery companies and even though I’ve walked this way many times before, with a City blue badge guide you always learn something new.

I visited the shell of the new Jacobean theatre at Shakespeare’s Globe’s and it inspired me as much as the Globe itself did when I first went there. It’s going to be a great indoor space for a completely different complimentary winter season. Donate now – they need £7m!

Down in Somerset visiting friends, my attempt to wrench some value from my National Trust membership took me to four properties in the south of the county – the lovely gardens at the intriguingly named Tintinhall, the even lovelier house and gardens at Lytes Cary, the rather more grand Montecute and Barrington Court for a nice lunch made from local (and mostly estate) produce. This is the first year I feel I’ve had my money’s worth!

What a busy month!

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MORE OPERA

Simon Boccanegra isn’t an obvious choice for an opera in concert (not enough arias), but as it’s running at Covent Garden with Domingo in his first baritone role, how could The Proms resist. When he walked on stage I thought we had a substitute – this was not a 69-year old man! When he opened his mouth this extraordinary sound emanated – a unique baritone-tenor hybrid. He was wonderful, but wasn’t the only reason for being there. The ROH orchestra and chorus made a glorious sound and the other soloists were great (I particularly liked Joseph Calleja’s Gabrielle and Ferruccio Furlanetto’s Fiesco – what a wonderful name), but it was the Proms unique atmosphere (which had previously hit a peak at Domingo’s debut in Die Valkure) which made it so special; it was electrifying and the performers enthusiasm and excitement was palpable. At the end, the now dead Boccanegra (Domingo) failed to stand up and there were some expressions of panic on and off stage until he did – judging by the subsequent reaction, methinks he was playing a joke with his colleagues; delicious!

The Lion’s Face at Covent Garden’s Linbury Studio was a depressing treat – a chamber opera about dementia! Elena Langer’s lovely music was beautifully played by the 12-piece ensemble (you could hear every detail of the clever orchestration) and all four soloists were very good. I loved the way the patient was a spoken role whilst all around him sung, illustrating very well what it must feel like living with dementia.

CLASSICAL MUSIC

Bernstein’s Mass is an extraordinary and original music theatre piece which I’ve wanted to see again since I first saw it at GSMD more than 25 years ago. It was the culmination of the 9-month long Bernstein Project at the Southbank Centre and there were more than 500, mostly amateur, performers. The Agnus Dei was particularly exhilarating and I was hugely impressed by the ‘street people’ many of whom were from the Guildford School of Acting. A very uplifting experience.

ART

Anthony Gormley’s exhibition at White Cube is half-and-half. The poor half is a bunch of geometric metal sculptures that appear to be rusting (and to me appeared to be pointless), then you go downstairs and in pitch darkness you walk around an extraordinary construction of interlocking metal frames painted fluorescent which seemed rather other-worldly.

The Sally Mann exhibition at The Photographers Gallery starts well with fascinating close ups of her children’s faces – then it gets rather uncomfortable with nude and semi-nude photos of her pre-teen children, then positively disturbing with pictures of decaying corpses. I’ll think twice before I follow a Time Out exhibition recommendation again!

The RA Summer Exhibition is the usual mixture of quality and tosh. The architecture room (bigger this year) was again my favourite – I just love those building maquettes – though I also liked David Mach’s 10 ft gorilla made from coat hangers, Bill Viola’s video of a naked woman being drenched in water and David Hockney’s landscape photos. Tracey Emin was top of the tosh…..again.

At the V&A they’ve asked a bunch of architects to design small buildings on the theme of retreat (1:1 Architects Build Small Spaces) and placed seven of them at various points around the museum. It seemed to me like a lot of money to spend for not a lot of return; it did absolutely nothing for me.

Lots of treats at the National Portrait Gallery with an exhibition of extraordinary photographs from the middle of the 19th century by London-based Frenchman Camille Silvy whose portrait business turned around a million copies a year, the annual BP Portrait Award exhibition (probably the best ever) and a small but greatpop art’ selection from Adam Katz

The annual Press Photographer exhibition is this year at the NT. Much of it is of course harrowing, but you have to admire the talent of these extraordinary people. I loved the photo of Prince William on his own in a large room looking sideways (longingly) at his grand-mother’s empty throne.

I’m not a big Henry Moore fan, but went to his Tate Britain exhibition with a visiting megafan. His early small scale work (from 1922 to 1930) is extraordinary, there’s another great period from 1937 to 1939 experimenting with thread and stone, and then there are some amazing war shelter and coal mining drawings from 1940-42…..but all that abstract stuff – two-thirds of the exhibition – leaves me cold I’m afraid. At the same venue Rude Britannia is a review of comic art from Hogarth to the present. It’s of course hit-and-miss, but there’s much to enjoy, most notably Hogarth, Gilray and more recently Spitting Image & Gerald Scarfe.

A visit with the Royal Academy Friends to the Garrick Club proved a real treat and one of their very best outings ever. Perhaps it was particularly ‘up-my-street’ because of the theatrical context, but it proved to be a treasure trove of 19th Century theatrical portraits brought alive by wonderful stories and anecdotes from the Club’s Francis (who should publish them – they were that good!). It’s a very ‘old school’ gentlemen’s club which has been beautifully restored on the proceeds of the sale of their 25% of the film rights to Winnie the Poo to Disney (which A. A. Milne bequeathed to them).

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