Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Purcell Room’

Contemporary Music

After 13 evenings without live culture I might have enjoyed almost anything, but there’s little doubt that the Carolina Chocolate Drops concert was simply brilliant. They just get better and better and this first time (for me) with the new line-up continued this progression. The musicianship is extraordinary, the enthusiasm infectious and the sound gloriously uplifting. There was fine support from the unfortunately named but original and entertaining David Wax Museum and their blend of American folk with Mexican! Quirky and fun.

John Cale is still cool at 70. Silver haired with matching goatee, pink jacket, blue jeans and expensive leather shoes. His new young band is fearsome, they play the stuff off the new album brilliantly and the sound is great. In fact the first hour was a huge treat. Then it outstays its welcome because at two hours the sound becomes monotonous and relentless; there just isn’t enough light and shade. More is less. I almost always turn up in time for support acts and boy did that pay off on this occasion. Lucy Rose was simply brilliant and I’ve already bought her debut album.

The Unthanks third ‘diversion’ project is the soundtrack to a film of archive footage of shipbuilding (remember that? making ships in the UK?) and they performed it live at the Purcell Room. It was surprisingly contemporary (Alex Glasgow and John Tams rather than traditional folk) and it benefitted from that. The screening was a bit bitty, with gaps and silences, but it was often moving and always beautifully played and sung.

Opera

Finding Butterfly was a ‘re-imagining’ of Puccini’s opera set in a Nagasaki mental hospital in 1948 where Pinkerton junior has come to find out about his past, with the opera itself in flashback. It’s staged in the near derelict but atmospheric Limehouse Town Hall, where the same company The Wedding Collective staged Menotti’s The Consul. It supposes that Butterfly never died but was incarcerated whilst her son was in an orphanage rather than with her from birth to leaving with his father. What makes the evening is some simply stunning singing, particularly from young Chinese soprano Can Xie as Butterfy, Joe Morgan as Pinkerton, Latansa Phoung as Suzuki and Xiaoran Wang as The Bonze. As he did at the Cock Tavern’s Olivier Award winning La Boheme, Andrew Charity plays the entire score heroically on an electric piano. A wonderful evening.

Art

I adored the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition at Tate Britain. It was the most I’ve seen in one place and it proved my theory that Millais and Burne-Jones were the stars. It was good to see tapestries, furniture, books etc. as well as paintings so that the connections with people like William Morris could be explored. I might have to go back. I won’t be going back to the Turner Prize shortlist, only one of whom was worthy of the space – Paul Noble’s technically stunning though somewhat obsessive drawings of imaginary worlds. Yawn.

The Barbican Gallery has put together a fascinating exhibition called everything was moving of 12 photographers from 10 countries who worked in the 60’s and 70’s. Their subjects are diverse and there’s a lot to take in, but it is a veritable feast if you’re interested in photography. One of their better ideas!

Read Full Post »

Contemporary Music

Some of the best things I’ve been to were on impulse. The impulse to see Mari Wilson with jazz vocalist / pianist Ian Shaw came a few days before. In truth, I’d never heard of Shaw, but Mari has been a favourite for almost 30 years and I’ve recently re-connected with her through new albums and concerts with her own band. After a couple of solo songs from Shaw, Mari marched on looking as glamorous as ever carrying a decorated Christmas tree, put it on a small table and announced ‘£12.74 from Neasden IKEA’ and from this moment on we were treated to a light-hearted but virtuoso display of well known songs in interesting arrangements – a ‘mash-up’ of The Ronettes ‘Be My Baby’ and The Righteous Brothers ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ was a particular highlight. Shaw brought on X Factor audition reject John Wilding whose interpretation of Radiohead’s Creep brought tears to my eyes (it had been massacred on that very programme the previous week by tone-deaf Wagner!). Even though The X Factor is one of my guilty pleasures, sitting listening to these brilliant musicians whilst most of the country was watching it on TV did put things in perspective somewhat; when I got home and watched the recording, I didn’t enjoy it anywhere near as much as I usually do!

I’m not sure how to categorise Richard Thompson’s latest project, but I’m putting it here in Contemporary Music! Nutmeg & Ginger is a lovely title for his collaboration with Philip Pickett & the Musicians of the Globe singing spicy ballads from Shakespeare’s time. He’s had a renaissance guitar made and is accompanied by bass viol, violin, lute, bandore and recorder in 10 songs plus eight dance tunes. Cadogan Hall was the perfect venue and after a nervous start where he seemed to be finding it difficult to get all the words sung at the pace of the music, he soon started smiling and it settled into a delightful evening. Few rock / folk musicians would have the necessary musicianship – or sheer balls! – to attempt a project like this, but like his 1000 Years of Music project, it’s both fascinating and rewarding. Keep your eyes open for the album he hinted at (but wouldn’t commit to).

I was thrilled when I heard The Unthanks had chosen the songs of Robert Wyatt and Anthony & The Johnsons as a project as I like all three. At their concert in the Union Chapel, they did a 40 minute set of Anthony songs followed by a 60 minute set of Wyatt. I enjoyed them both greatly, but the second set worked better – the songs were more challenging and complex and they rose brilliantly to the challenge. The final song about the neglect of gypsy holocaust victims in the Czech republic was deeply moving and it was impossible to follow with an encore.

There’s a direct line from The Kinks through Squeeze to Madness and Lily Allen which represents a soundtrack of London. It’s a very long time since I last saw Squeeze but an attack of nostalgiaitis prompted me to book for one of their run of London gigs; sad to report that it didn’t really live up to expectations. Support Lightening Seeds set them up well, and when they were good they were good, but there was lot of padding in their 90 minute set, a little too many self-indulgent solos and sound which was often turned up at the expense of clarity to distortion levels.

Opera

The music of A Dog’s Heart by Raskatov is difficult to penetrate on first hearing, but Complicite’s Simon McBurney’s production is an extraordinary theatrical feast of terrific performances, clever puppetry from Blind Summit and brilliant projections & inventive design from Michael Levine. It’s a satire based on Bulgokov’s banned satirical novel about a dog that is turned into a man and back again. The dog has two voices brilliantly sung by Andrew Watts and Elena Vassilieva (who also double up as the Vyasemskaya and The Cook), there is a wonderful turn as The Maid from Nancy Allen Mundy, Peter Hoare is fantastic as the man (dog) and Steven Page is terrific as the professor at the heart of the story with Leigh Melrose also great as his assistant. I think you would have to hear it a fair few times to get into the music, but the production was a treat.

Classical Music

Handel and Cecilia Bartoli is a partnership made in heaven. Backed by the brilliant Basle Chamber Orchestra with fine second half support from young (though he doesn’t look it!) Argentinean counter-tenor Franco Fagioli, this was a highlight in a lifetime of concert-going. There were the vocal fireworks and beaming smiles you always get at her concerts but, on this occasion, the match with the composer (OK, so he’s a fave of mine) meant she reached new heights and delivered pure joy. Given the ovation, it wasn’t just me!

Art

The Hayward Gallery has cornered the market in quirky exhibitions you can’t really call art and Move – Choreographing You is another one of them. It didn’t do a lot for me, I’m afraid, but maybe I didn’t ‘play’ enough. Fortunately, the South Bank offered two photographic gems to make the journey worthwhile. At The RFH, the annual World Press Photo exhibition lived up to its exceptionally high standard; though this year there was a series of photos of a man being stoned in Somalia which was hard to look at. At the RNT, things were less harrowing at the Landscape Photography exhibition; there were so many beautiful images, it made me feel like a completely inadequate photographer.

I really enjoyed the GSK Contemporary exhibition at the Royal Academy annexe this year, a sort of art meets fashion meets politics. There was one video of men posing in shirts with chest holes or flaps you could open which became chilling when it was followed by its inspiration; men opening their shirts in Palestine to prove they were not suicide bombers.

The Photographic Prize Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery was as good as ever – another photography exhibition to make me feel an inadequate photographer.

Another impulsive treat was popping in to the Courtauld Gallery when passing by with time to kill to see the Cezanne Card Players exhibition where they’ve put together 14 preparatory paintings and drawings with three of the Card Players paintings themselves. They’ve gone to a lot of trouble to get them from 6 countries but it’s absolutely worthwhile. I’ve avoided these in-depth exhibitions before but won’t do again.

Finally, and somewhat appropriately for year end and courtesy of Whinger Andrew I went to the recording of the News Quiz of the Year (three weeks before its broadcast) with Sandi Toksvig and (in my view) the best of the panellists – Andy Hamilton, Francis Wheen, Sue Perkins and Jeremy Hardy. The 90 minutes recorded will be edited down and you knew exactly where are there were some very rude bits! It was a bit of a palaver to get in but it was worth it.

Read Full Post »