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Posts Tagged ‘Nitin Sawhney’

Opera

It’s baffling why Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera May Night is hardly ever staged, so a gold star to Royal Academy Opera for a production with musical standards that any professional opera company would be proud of. Their theatre is being rebuilt, so it took place in the former testing hall of the University of Westminster across the road, which was just as well as it would never have fitted on their own stage / in their own pit! A real treat.

The London Handel Festival’s annual opera at the Royal College of Music’s Britten Theatre was Ariodante, one of his best, and it was another operatic treat, with gorgeous playing by the London Handel Orchestra under Laurence Cummings and a set of very fine performances from RCM students. I even liked the grungy set, even though it wasn’t exactly evocative of Edinburgh, where the opera is set!

I wasn’t expecting to be as bowled over by George Benjamin’s Written on Skin at the Barbican Centre as I was. I can’t say I entirely understood the story, but I was mesmerised by the music, brilliantly played by the Mahler Chamber Orchestra under Benjamin with three stunning lead soloists – Barbara Hannigan, Christopher Purves and Tim Mead. One of the best modern operas I’ve ever heard.

Popup Opera’s I Capuleti E I Montecchi in The Vaults at Waterloo was their first foray into tragedy and it was a huge success. Stripped down to five singers, an electric piano, a few props and some strip lights, the music shone through. Flora McIntosh and Alice Privett were terrific as the star-crossed lovers (Bellini wrote Romeo as a trouser role), though I wished they hadn’t done the final death scene standing up!

The original version of Boris Godunov at the Royal Opera House was 130 unbroken minutes but it kept me in its grip throughout. Richard Jones production was as masterly and fresh as his Meistersingers and the musical standards under Antonio Pappano were sky high. Bryn Terfel can act as well as he can sing and the rest of the leads were just as good. Terrific stuff.

Dance

The revival of Akram Khan’s Kaash at Sadler’s Wells was an exhausting hour, such was the physicality of the five dancers. There’s no narrative as such, but the combination of Anish Kapoor’s hypnotic design, Nitin Sawhney’s percussive music and the organic, acrobatic choreography of Kahn was rather mesmerising.

At the Staatsoper in Hannover, I caught a ballet of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Was Ihr Wollt (the play’s subtitle, What You Will), with a mash-up of music by Prokofiev Shostakovich and Dvorak, and it was a treat, particularly good at the comedy, with some lovely performances from an international cast. I do love catching opera and ballet on my travels, especially when it’s half the cost at Covent Garden, as it was here!

Film

Sasha Baron Cohen’s Grimsby was clever and often very funny, but also often gross and in the end more gross than funny.

I’m a big Coen Brothers fan, but I was a bit underwhelmed by Hail Caesar! And I’m not sure why. It was a great idea, but it didn’t fully satisfy me.

Though Anomalisa didn’t live up to its five star reviews, it was a very original film, an animation using life-size puppets and the voice of only one actor for all parts expect the two leads, and a clever way of showing a man spiralling into depression.

High Rise was another film that didn’t live up to the hype. It’s a very odd affair that I didn’t really think went anywhere, though it held my attention and the performances were good.

Art

Nikolai Astrup is the best painter I’d never heard of, and Painting Norway at Dulwich Picture Gallery was simply gorgeous. The vibrant colours and beautiful landscapes made you want to get on a plane there and then.

I caught the Frank Auerbach exhibition at Tate Britain in its last weekend. I liked about half of the pictures and was indifferent to the rest; I’m not sure I’ve ever felt like that about an artist’s work. Whilst there, I caught the Artist & Empire exhibition, examining Britain’s Imperial past through art, which seemed to me to be one of those exhibitions created to make some money, though it was very well curated. Between the two was Susan Philipsz clever sound installation featuring samples from The Last Post played on brass and woodwind instruments damaged during the Second World War; very moving.

I was rather chuffed with my photographs of my recent safaris to South Africa, Namibia and Kenya……until I went to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum, and that was just the under-18’s! They benefit, of course, from scale and back-lighting, but it was the compositions which I envied most. Lovely. Next door at the Science Museum, I very much enjoyed the American documentary photography of Alec Soth and the stunning mid-19th century portraits of photographic pioneer Julia Margaret Cameron and the juxtaposition of the two was in itself brilliant. Another diverse afternoon immersion in photography.

Strange & Familiar at the Barbican was a social history of 20th century Britain through an extraordinary collection of photographs by those who don’t live here. There was a bias towards the 50’s and 60’s (my first two decades!), probably the birth of such documentary photography, and many of them seemed attracted to my homeland – South Wales mining communities – so it may have been particularly moving for me.

Painting the Modern Garden at the Royal Academy was one of the best exhibitions I’ve ever seen. Over one hundred paintings from the impressionist and post-impressionist period and a riot of colour. The three Monet-only rooms were a joy to behold. I’ll have to go back. Upstairs, In the Age of Giorgione was a superb collection of early sixteenth century Venetian art. Technically very accomplished, but not really my thing. The one-room collection of Ann Christopher’s ‘Lines of Time’ was a little treat on the way out.

At the Photographers Gallery, a trio of small exhibitions starting with a lovely varied retrospective of American photographer Saul Leiter, another master of documentary photography. On the floor below Rio-Montevideo was a brilliant exhibition of Uruguayan protest photographs which had been hidden during the prolonged period of military dictatorships and were now presented by a Rio photographer and projected by vintage machines picked up in flea markets and second-hand stores (a lot of which were out of order!). Finally, an exhibition commemorating the Easter Rising on its 100th anniversary, something I found it hard to engage with for some reason.

The 100th Anniversary of Vogue was celebrated at the NPG in huge style by an exhibition which took over almost the entire ground floor, containing pictures from each decade. A simply stunning collection which had me rushing to buy the catalogue (again!). Whilst there, I popped into Russia & the Arts, an exhibition of portraits of famous musicians, writers etc, but failed to get enthused after the wonders of the Vogue collection.

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The Proms is unquestionably the world’s greatest and most accessible music festival; this year there are 74 concerts and promming is still £5. New life has been breathed into them in recent years with chamber proms, late night proms, children’s proms, proms in the park and the inclusion of jazz, folk, world music, film & TV music and comedy. My selection of 5 this year was particularly eclectic.

The first was Havergal Brian’s Symphony No.1 ‘The Gothic’, written in the 1920’s by an almost forgotten British composer. How can you resist something that requires c.1000 performers? – two orchestras, nine choirs, four soloists and the RAH organ! A third of the stalls was given over to the three children’s choirs, four timpanists and most of the brass. No wonder it’s very rarely performed (and therefore no wonder he’s almost forgotten). Conductor Martyn Brabbins deserves a medal for having the balls to put it together. They made a terrific sound in unison, but even in the quieter moments it impressed. It’s not a great work, but I’m glad I took this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear it.

I never saw the Human Planet TV series, but I like listening to music from around the world and this prom caught my imagination as something a little bit different. It combined five extracts from Nitin Sawhany‘s orchestral TV score with five visiting musicians / groups from Greenland, Russian Siberia, Zambia, Mongolia and Papua New Guinea, with scenes from the programme projected onto screens around the auditorium. I liked the orchestral music and would like to hear more, but it was the visitors who caught my, and everyone else’s, imagination. The boys from Papua New Guinea and Enock Mbongwe from Zambia had never left their own countries and their excitement was infectious. Their innocence meant they didn’t leave the stage when they’d finished as they didn’t really know when to do that. At the curtain call, Enock was jumping up and down excitedly and the audience’s warmth was palpable. There was a bonus too, as the BBC Concert Orchestra under Charles Hazelwood gave us the world premiere of the 1812 overture played on specially made instruments made by professional instrument makers entirely from re-cycled material. It didn’t half sound bad, but it was the sheer fun of it that brought the audience to its feet for one of the most spontaneous standing ovations I’ve ever seen at the Proms. What a surprising and thrilling evening.

Verdi’s Requiem and the Royal Albert Hall are made for each other. With a chorus of almost 400 and a large orchestra, it fills the space. This was one of the best interpretations I’ve ever heard. The BBCSO & Chorus under Semyon Bychkov were joined by  the BBC National Chorus of Wales and the London Philharmonic Choir and four fine soloists – Marina Poplavskaya, Mariana Pentcheva, Joseph Calleja (hugely impressive) and Ferruccio Furlanetteo (guess where he’s from?!). The choruses have never had so much power, yet more delicate moments were deeply moving.

The late night prom of Grainger songs included folk favourite June Tabor, so this one was always going to be a must. I’d had to miss the Kings Place Grainger songs concert earlier in the year, so that made it essential. Northumbrian piper Kathryn Tickell‘s clever programming included pairing contrasting orchestral / folk interpretations of four songs collected by Grainger. I loved both her band’s instrumentals and the Teeside Wilson Family unaccompanied vocals and June Tabor’s solo voice was hauntingly beautiful in the RAH. The orchestral contributions sat well alongside the folk, but I’m afraid the BBC Singer‘s jarred with me – they just didn’t suit the material. We ended with a clog dance, as if to prove the Proms goes where no-one else dares.

The Spaghetti Western Orchestra have been on my ‘maybe’ list many times; the fact they had a late night prom promoted them to the ‘let’s go’ list. These five mad Aussies recreate the film scores of Ennio Morricone with both instruments and sound effects – from a variety of items including a tree branch and cornflake packets. On this occasion, they also get to use the RAH organ. The whole thing has every tongue in every cheek, but it’s an affectionate  homage rather than a comic spoof.  Even from good stalls seats, we couldn’t see exactly what was being played some of the time and I think screens would have helped in this vast hall. It was great fun, though something I think you can only do once – though many there seemed to be regulars.

As I said at the outset, a lovely eclectic cocktail at the world’s greatest music festival.

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