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Posts Tagged ‘Saatchi Gallery’

Contemporary Music

I wasn’t sure I wanted to see Rufus Wainwright again after being disappointed by his last outing promoting the over-produced Out of the Game, but solo and at The Royal Hospital Chelsea? Oh, go on then. There wasn’t much atmosphere in the hall-full space (when will promoters learn that there is a limit to the prices people will pay, however much of a fan they are) and the lovely weather turned 30 mins before he came on stage, but the rain stopped after 10 mins. Rufus’ concerts are inconsistent and uneven because he has a tendency to attempt under-rehearsed and / or overly-ambitious things, resulting in stops & starts and forgotten chords & words, covered up with clumsy humour, but when he’s good he’s stunning, and there were enough stunning moments to make this one very worthwhile. There were bonuses too – a duet with Neil Tennant on Poses, and support from The Villagers, who sounded lovely in the open air, in the sun.

John Hiatt‘s welcome return to Under the Bridge saw a fairly predictable, populist 2-hour set, but it was sung and played very well, and there were two new numbers. The usual final encore of Riding With the King was movingly dedicated to the recently departed B B King. You have to admire the bravery (or foolishness?!) of support act Josh Savage who walked into the club crowd to play an acoustic number with audience participation, but he just about got away with it.

Opera

A Henze double-bill was a also brave choice for the June GSMD opera production & it got a small but largely appreciative audience – an odd choice too, as it only enabled them to showcase nine singers. Ein Landarzt was a short absurdist Kafka monologue set to music, a very early work. Phaedra was his last work and got a really striking production. I had to pinch myself when Chinese counter-tenor Meili Li switched to baritone!

Musically, ENO‘s Queen of Spades was one of the best things they’ve ever done. The orchestra under Edward Gardner were on fire and all of the soloists, especially Peter Hoare as Hermann, were outstanding….. but the staging made little sense. Such is the arrogance of opera directors.

I enjoyed the double bill of Harrison Birtwistle operas in Covent Garden’s Linbury Studio TheatreThe Corridor and The Cure are both based on Greek myth, both two-handers, written five years apart but fitting together perfectly. Mark Padmore and Elizabeth Atherton were extraordinary and the London Sinfonietta (costumed in the first) sounded great.

Classical Music

The world premiere of Nico Muhly’s song cycle Sentences, inspired by Alan Turing, at the Barbican was superb. It was beautifully sung by countertenor Iestyn Davies (who also sampled and sung with himself!) with the Britten Sinfonia and Muhly conducting from the piano. The rest of the programme was well chosen, with a Dowland song and a Britten piece for viola (Lawrence Power) inspired by it and Vivaldi’s Sabat Mater for solo voice (Davies on top form again) and ensemble. A lovely evening.

Film

The second spy spoof of the year, cleverly called Spy, is even better than the first, Kingsman: the Secret Service, and Melissa McCarthy is wonderful, with the bonus of Miranda also cast as a CIA operative. I laughed a lot.

The film of London Road is as ground-breaking as the stage show, but not as good. I’m not sure they did NT Live when it was first on stage, but I think that would be a better experience (and judging by the tiny audience in the cinema, more commercial sense too).

Art

The latest at the Saatchi Gallery – art from Africa and Latin America – is their best for ages, with some great paintings and only a few of those installations that can often be pretentious and dull.

The Ravilious exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery was a real treat. His wistful, very British paintings range from landscapes to port scenes to war art but they all have a very distinctive style which I love. The best exhibition I’ve seen in a long while.

The Alexander McQueen exhibition at the V&A, Savage Beauty, also blew me away. I’m no fan of fashion, but I do love creativity and ingenuity and McQueen clearly had an imagination the size of a planet. In a brilliantly theatrical presentation, you learn a lot about the man and his influences – a lot more than the 100 minute play I saw the Saturday before, in fact – whilst looking at his beautifully crafted clothes.

I was less fond of David Hockney’s Painting & Photography exhibition at Annely Juda than I was his earlier landscape collection, though I liked the way it played with both art forms, and played with your head by having paintings in photographs and the same people turning up all over the place in both forms.

It was good to go back to the Estorick Collection of modern Italian art, though the Modigliani Drawings exhibition which took me there was much of a muchness – too small, really. Re-viewing the one-room permanent collection and three rooms of a current selection made it worthwhile though.

The latest double-dip at Tate Modern yielded an unexpected treat and something dull from two 20th century female artists. Sonia Delaunay‘s colourful work spanned portraits, abstracts, textile patterns and clothes   – diverse but uniformly cheerful. Agnes Martin was Rothkoesqe pretension – all dots, lines and hardly discernible colour.

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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

I so wish John Grant hadn’t started dabbling in electronica, because even his older songs are now all beginning to sound the same. Without it, the songs shine and the voice soars and much of his Roundhouse concert was stunning, but some of it was annoyingly dated 80’s electromush! Icelandic support act Samaris had two Biorkesque female voices but a similar electronica background which grated on me, I’m afraid.

Classical Music

Going to see Daniel (younger brother of Henry) Purcell’s The Judgement of Paris at St. John’s Concert Hall was a bit of a punt but worth the effort. It was written for the composer X-Factor of its day with four others in contention, using the same William Congreve libretto. It’s one of the first operas written, though not a particularly good one, telling the story of Paris’ goddess beauty parade to select a wife, but the five soloists, Spiritato orchestral ensemble & Rodolfus Choir under Julian Perkins did it full justice.

I like early music and have heard Rameau works before, but didn’t know much about Les Indes Galantes. It was an extraordinary ‘opera’ with five loosely connected ‘courses’ set on an Indian Ocean island, the Peru of the Incas and with Native Americans, amongst others. Each story was told quite quickly, followed by longer musical ‘interludes’. It was a long evening at the Barbican, but it was all beautifully played and sung by six soloists, ensemble Les Talens Lyriques and the Chorus of Opera National de Bordeaux under Christophe Rousset.

A lunchtime freebie at the Royal Academy of Music turned out to be a real treat. Sir Mark Elder led their Chamber Orchestra (seemed a bit big for that title to me!) in a programme of Verdi overtures and preludes, with a bonus aria from Dennis O’Neill no less, and an informative and entertaining commentary from the conductor. The orchestra sounded so much more than conservatoire students and were often thrilling, just like they were for Edward Gardiner last year.

The second of Lucy Parham’s composer portraits at St. John’s Concert Hall, Odyssey of Love, focused on Liszt. It was a little lighter than the previous one, with Martin Jarvis and Joanna David bringing some humour to the tales of his sex life, but just as fascinating and a superb introduction to a composer I know little of. Now I can’t wait for the next two in the autumn.

Imagine a school tackling Verdi’s Requiem! Well, it was Harrow, and the soloists were professional, and they were supplemented by adults. You will hear more technically perfect performances, but may not hear a more rousing & powerful one. The bass drummer was so passionate his huge instrument came close to falling onto a horn player! The Speech Room of Harrow School was grand enough for the occasion but small enough to make you jump. Great stuff.

Opera

I’ve liked the other three Jonathan Dove operas I’ve seen, but I absolutely adored The Adventures of Pinocchio. It’s a bit of a stretch at almost three hours, but it’s hard to see where it could be cut. At GSMD, it’s given a brilliantly inventive production by director Martin Lloyd-Evans and designer Dick Bird and the musical standards achieved by Dominic Wheeler are nothing short of astonishing. The chorus was the best I’ve heard it and there were a whole load of great performances, with Marta Fontanals-Simmons a simply stunning Pinocchio. Watch out for her; she’s going to be huge.

A very welcome initiative by Aldeburgh Music, Opera North and the Royal Opera brings us a pair of new operas, The Commission / Café Kafka. I admired them, but they didn’t entertain me and it made me realize that’s what’s wrong with a lot of modern opera – it aims to impress more than to entertain and composers and writers would do well to consider that. Café Kafka succeeded more than The Commission, and both were well played, sung and staged – but not entertaining enough!

Ariodante at The Royal Academy of Music was simple, modern and elegant with fine playing under Jane Glover no less and some lovely singing. This is one of my favourite Handel operas and they did it full justice.

Art

United Visual Artists provided the Barbican Curve space with one of it’s best installations with Rain Room where it stopped as you walked under it; now they’ve done it again with Momentum, using moving light to create images and shadows on the gallery walls, floor and roof. Another hugely imaginative use of the space.

Glass maker Dale Chihuly is back with another selling show at the Halcyon Gallery only a couple of years after the last. It all seemed more organic – lots of curvy bowls within bowls – but with the trademarks of scale and colour. I discovered he’s opened a museum in his home town Seattle, where I will be later in the year, so that’s clearly going to be a must. Down the road, the Pace Gallery were showing four of James Turrell’s light works but they seemed more of the same to me. Moving on to the Royal Academy for Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined where seven international practices (none of them British!) have created giant, mostly room filling, installations. As much as I admired them, I couldn’t help thinking they didn’t really justify the energy and expense that had been invested in them. Still, it was a rare foray into architecture for the RA and to be welcomed for that.

Soon after I entered Body Language at the Saatchi Gallery, I felt like I was at an end of term school art show. It got better, as did New Order: British Art Today upstairs, and it was good to see more painting than sculpture and installation for a change, but so much of it seemed derivative. I think I might have to give up on modern art.

After the first few rooms, I didn’t think I was going to like the Richard Hamilton retrospective at Tate Modern, but it rather grew on me as the work got better. I’m not sure I’ve ever been to a show so eclectic by a single artist; is there anything he didn’t have a go at?!

I very much enjoyed Vikings : Life & Legend at the British Museum. The exhibits aren’t exactly spectacular, but the story they tell is. I was amazed how far they travelled, all by boat (Nova Scotia & Uzbekistan!), and how the simplicity of their design has continued to modern-day Scandinavia. Beautifully curated, with a recreated long boat and all the Lewis Chessmen.

Film

The Grand Budapest Hotel had a great trailer, but turns out to be just a good film, which is probably a good lesson in overselling. It is quirky and funny and Ralph Fiennes is a revelation in a larger-than-life comic role, but the trailer meant it left me a little disappointed.

As much as I admired the cinematography, I didn’t really understand Under the Skin so I didn’t get much out of it. I admired the fact that ordinary people were filmed, then asked if they minded being in it, but that wasn’t enough to make it worth seeing.

Starred Up was sometimes difficult to watch, but it’s a brilliant film exposing the damage prisons can do and the hopelessness they perpetuate. Jack O’Connell’s small screen debut in Skins was impressive; here he is simply stunning. Unmissable.

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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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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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I missed the first Folkestone Triennial, but I was determined not to miss the second, so off I went on the High Speed Train on a (too) sunny day. There are 19 new art works scattered all over the town and it’s a lot of walking between them; even more if you want to take in the 8 permanent works remaining from the last triennial. Better directions / maps would have helped me see more, but as it is I managed to see two-thirds of both in my four-hour walk, though that included snatches of film works rather than complete films. At its best it was brilliant – A K Dolven’s bell on the beach, Hala Elkoussy’s archive & reading room exploring Egypt’s colonial past, Mikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen’s three-screen film about illegal immigration (his name is an art work of its own!), Zinab Sedira’s multi-screen installation, Hew Locke’s model ships hanging from a church ceiling, Cornelia Parker’s bronze mermaid on the rocks and Paloma Varga Weisz’ sculpture on the tracks of a disused railway station. Amongst the permanent works, Richard Wilson’s beach huts made from an old crazy golf course is a masterpiece. This is a great idea and a fun day out –see you in three years, Folkestone, when I will allow more time!

Fired with enthusiasm for art at the seaside, the next day I went to Margate to visit the new Turner Contemporary gallery. From the outside, the architecture didn’t inspire me, but it’s a better on the inside. For a building so big, the display space is small. The works in the opening exhibition were excellent, but I’m afraid it was like having a starter but no main course. There was another exhibition there, which helped justify the 5-6 hour round trip, at the ‘pop up’ Pie Factory Gallery in the old town. It explores the British saucy seaside postcards that were judged obscene (or not) in the 50’s. Some were prosecuted in one town but deemed OK in another and the law was clearly an ass. The exhibition works on two levels – the postcards are retro funny in a carry on sort of way, and the historical perspective is fascinating. Great fun.

Having turned up before the exhibition opened in July, I went back to Whitechapel Gallery to see Thomas Struth’s photographs. They are realist pictures of people in museums, industrial installations, city streets etc., most on a big scale, but they are printed onto Perspex, which gives them a hyper-naturalistic yet surreal quality; very original.

Most things in the Saatchi Gallery’s New Sculpture exhibition are on a big scale, with many sculptors getting a whole room to themselves (and some using it for just one sculpture). It has some good pieces but little is original and some very derivative (notably the lifelike figures of two men which owes absolutely everything to Ron Muek). One day this fabulous space will house something truly extraordinary. How about a Richard Wilson retrospective?

The Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition is the best for a long time, though I’m not entirely sure why. I think it must be the way it’s curated, as each room is hung by a different RA member (though they’ve done this before). The architectural models fascinated again, but there were lots of lovely paintings and prints too. It may also be particularly good because there’s only one video and no film! Upstairs the small exhibition of 20th Century Hungarian Photography proved that these guys were way ahead of their time, producing insightful and artful shots when many were locked in staged and posed perfection. Quite why Hungary produced so many I really don’t know; maybe they influenced one another. Great to see them all together for once.

I wasn’t impressed by this year’s Serpentine Summer Pavilion. It’s a huge double-walled rectangular black box with a garden inside and tables and chairs around it. Fortunately, inside the gallery there’s an excellent installation called The Mirror of Judgement by the wonderfully named Michelangelo Pistoletto, who has created a 4-room labyrinth of chest high corrugated cardboard with different mirrors and religious references in each room. Very original and fun to walk through.

The Roundhouse’s second summer installation is as good as the first, David Byrne’s Playing the Building. This time local designer Ron Arad has hung a 360 degree curtain made up of 7 tons of translucent silicon tubing which would be 50 km long if linear. A variety of films are projected continuously onto it and though better seen from the inside, its good to spend some time outside too. I stayed much longer then planned and saw a diverse range of about eight original films, including animation, realism and digital abstractions. A real visual treat.

During a theatrical outing to Chichester I popped into their newly extended Pallant Gallery where there were five small exhibitions in addition to their permanent collection. The prime reason for visiting now was to see the Frida Kahlo & Diego Riviera exhibition. It’s not that big – just c.20 paintings and c.10 other works – but there are some gems amongst them, particularly from Riviera. Two of the other exhibitions were related; from the same Gelman collections, they have a small collection of Guillermo Kahlo’s (Frida Kahlo’s father) photos and more photos from Kahlo / Riviera friends Manuel & Lola Alvarez Bravo. Butlin’s should use Anna Fox’s highly flattering photos of their Bognor Regis camp in their publicity – they made me smile. Punk rocker Nick Blinko’s somewhat obsessive pen drawings were also fascinating. The permanent collection is heavy on rarely seen 20th century Brits like Graham Sutherland, Peter Blake and the Nicholson’s which makes it well worth a look. The good people of Chichester are lucky to have somewhere like this which much bigger cities would envy.

…..and so to Edinburgh, which didn’t look good on paper, but turned out better in reality. Our artfest started at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art One with Tony Cragg. I liked his sculpture much more than I thought I was going to. The craftsmanship is extraordinary (particularly the plywood) and all those curves make you imagine all sorts of shapes as you move around them. In SNGMA Two, Hiroshi Sugimoto‘s photographic work includes some extraordinary B&W lightening pictures. They’re paired with his photos of original Fox Talbot negatives which had a historical interest and a certain ethereal quality, but didn’t really live up to expectations.

At St Mary’s Cathedral they have a modern-day Bayeux in the Battle of Prestonpans Tapestry which commemorates the Jacobite uprising led by Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745. An artist took six months to draw the panels and then 200 volunteers too another six months to complete it. Though it’s impressive, one does have to ask the question ‘why?’.

David Mach has taken over all five floors the Edinburgh City Art Centre (including moving his studio to the third!) where he is showing collages of scenes from the bible and sculptures of Jesus and Satan. It’s an ambitious and fascinating exhibition to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the King James bible. Across the road at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Ingrid Calame‘s obsessive ‘tracings’ left me completely cold. It seemed such a lot of effort for such pointless and unrewarding work. The gallery redeems itself somewhat by its involvement in Martin Creed‘s ‘installation’ which is in fact replacing the Scotsman Steps with new multi-coloured marble ones. A lovely permanent practical work of art.

I didn’t really fancy the Elizabeth Blackadder exhibition at the National Gallery of Scotland, but something compelled me to give it a go and it turned out to be a delightful experience. I was impressed by the range of subjects and styles and her use of colour. The short videos gave you an insight into the woman; charming & unassuming – I suspect you’d never believe she was an artist if you met her.

At the Open Eye Gallery I wished I was rich as I’d have bought quite a few of the John Byrne paintings and prints on show. I’ve wanted to see more of his work since being bowled over by the picture of his ex-wife Tilda Swinton at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. He’s a writer and director as well as an artist and his cartoonish style is playful and theatrical.

Visiting the Phoebe Anna Traquair murals at St. Mary’s Cathedral Song School was a real treat. This Arts & Crafts / Pre-Raphaelite genius is much neglected and this may well be her masterpiece. With one overall theme and much detail it covers all four walls of this rectangular building and it’s breathtaking.

Now that the National Museum of Scotland‘s renovations are complete, they are showing a recent bequest of modern glass, a lovely eclectic collection given a nice light space in the new section. Whilst there, I hunted out the Phoebe Anna Traquair items – a painted piano, enamel items and some drawings. You have to go to three different locations on four floors, but that also meant coming across some Charles Rennie Mackintosh, William De Morgan, Tiffany, Lalique and small Art Deco and Art Nouveau collections.

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Contemporary Music

Richard Thompson recorded his latest album, Dream Attic, live in concert and it was even better live in concert! The whole of the first half of his new show was taken from the album, then in the second half he gave us a superb selection of songs from his back catalogue that particularly suited this band’s inclusion of sax and violin. The selection really showcased his stunning rock guitar playing; the rockiest Thompson show for ages and a real treat – and including all the Meltdown shows, the 6th time I’ve seen him in 8 months!

Classical Music

I’ve waited a long time to see Gustavo Dudamel conduct, having had to sell my ticket for a concert with his Venezuelan youth orchestra as I was working abroad. Of his two programmes with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, I fancied the Adams / Bernstein / Beethoven combination. The Adams was new to be but I enjoyed it very much, mostly because the orchestra made a glorious sound. I loved the first two movements of Bernstein’s 1st, but found the final vocal movement somewhat lacking. Judging by the polite applause at the end of this half, the rest of the audience seemed underwhelmed, but they went bezerk for the Beethoven 7th. Though I enjoyed it, the standing ovation seemed a bit OTT – I’ve seen a lot more thrilling concerts by the LSO at the same venue. Maybe I should have chosen the Mahler?

As if to prove this point, just three days later the LSO provided such a treat, and rare opportunity to hear Elgar’s oratorio The Kingdom, with a favourite conductor, Mark Elder, at the helm. Why oh why is a great piece like this rarely sung when oratorios by Handel, Bach etc. are two a penny? It’s a lovely piece and was beautifully played and sung. Soloists Iain Patterson, Sarah Connelly and Susan Gritton (a late substitute) were excellent, though Stuart Skelton’s performance was marred by illness. The LSO Chorus was on fine form yet again. LAP 1 – LSO 2.

The month ended at St Peter’s church inside the Tower of London for a concert of Handel, Purcell and Dowland songs and arias with organ, cello and recorder accompaniment. Young sopranos Alison Hill and Sophie Jones alternated the Handel German arias with the English songs and both sang well, Sophie really shining at times. It’s a lovely church (with amazing views of Tower Bridge from outside) with a lovely atmosphere and good acoustics.

Film

I adored The King’s Speech. Colin Firth is terrific, but the spotlight on him means an awful lot of other superb performances get overlooked It’s a great story told with such sensitivity and much humour, beautifully designed and filmed. This was the last production funded by the UK Film Council before its sad demise – will we see such a high quality British film ever again?

NEDS got off to a slow start but eventually the story of a Glasgow boy’s decline from talented teenager to virtual psychopath became compelling. Minutes before it ended I was expecting to leave the cinema depressed, but a surprising surreal and somewhat hopeful ended prevented that. I’m normally good at understanding accents, but a good percentage of the thick Glaswegian was impenetrable and made Trainspotting seem like BBC best!

I found Black Swan a bit confusing; I didn’t always understand what was happening in her head and what was for real. I also found it a bit disturbing; I’ve seen more violent films, but I had to close my eyes more than usual (and I was awake!). Still, the film-making was superb; I found myself admiring it more than enjoying it.

Art

The second part of the Saatchi Gallery’s Newspeak collection of contemporary British art was better than the first, though it’s again very hit-and-miss. Still, it’s free and makes for an interesting hour or so.

The Art of the Album – a promising exhibition of original album art at gallery@oxo proved a bit of a disappointment – more about selling pricey limited addition prints than the quality of the artwork.

Over at White Cube, though I’ve liked some of his earlier work, Gregory Crewdson’s B&W photos of a dilapidated Italian film lot did absolutely nothing for me I’m afraid. The trip was made worthwhile by popping in to Chris Beetles nearby for their annual Illustrators exhibition, which this year packed in more than usual (too many?) into their two floors of a pair of terrace buildings. It’s an eclectic selection from Lucy Atwell to Quentin Blake with quite a few treats to hunt out.

Another few hours to kill between work and fun became an underwhelming visit to three small exhibitions. Bridget Riley at the National Gallery was a one-room 12-picture disappointment, more because of the uninspiring later coloured work than the size of the exhibition. The Robert Mapplethorpe photos at Alison Jaques were just as disappointing, this time because it’s an odd collection which doesn’t hang together particularly well – it was curated by The Scissor Sisters because they’ve used his photos on their album(s)! Neither could prepare me, though, for the cynical money grab of Gilbert & George’s new work at White Cube – 155 sets of 13 mounted postcards and phone-box adverts. This is business not art!

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