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Posts Tagged ‘Susan Philipsz’

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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Contemporary Music

Another gem at the lovely Union Chapel – The Carolina Chocolate Drops – absolute joy! Since I first saw them at Bush Hall a couple of years ago they’ve grown – and so has their audience. They play an eclectic mix of bluegrass, country, blues and jazz on fiddle, banjo, kazoo and percussion (including bones and jugs!). The between song chat between and by Dom and Rhiannon is charming and you feel you’ve got to know them as well as their music. Thoroughly uplifting.

Gem followed gem with John Hiatt delivering a glorious set at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire one week later. The new band is great, though it did seem to limit his song choices meaning there was less light & shade than we’re used to from Hiatt. That said, it was a terrific 2-hour rock / blues set with the second encore – Riding with the King – a magical five minutes in a lifetime of concert going.

Opera

ENO’s Radamisto was a musical treat with six well-matched performances (though Ailish Tynan almost stole the show) and the orchestra sounding lovely. The production / design, however, was often baffling. The first half had giant walls covered in black and red flock wallpaper and Prince Tigrane was played for laughs by the aforementioned Ailish Tynan in padded suit, false moustache and fez. Why? A rare lapse in intelligence from director David Alden.

Another lapse at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, I’m afraid. Spinalba is a rarely performed early 18th century opera by an obscure Portuguese composer with Italian influences. Stephen Metcalf has set it in a contemporary old people’s home where the residents are rehearsing the opera. It’s a similar story to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and this production idea makes it virtually impossible to follow. To be honest, most of the time I didn’t know who was who or what on earth was going on in the opera within the rehearsal – I accept its innovation and cleverness, but at the expense of a complete loss of a story and characters? The music was pleasant if undistinguished and there was some good singing and particularly good playing, but it was all lost in ‘the big idea’ and I’m afraid I couldn’t drag myself back after the first 100-minute half.

Film

I found Social Network a fascinating insight into the extraordinary story of Facebook. It unfolds like a thriller, draws you in and keeps hold of you for the duration. Free of gimmicks, it’s beautifully filmed and edited with great performances. It’s great to see a young British actor (the excellent Andrew Garfield) get a Hollywood lead (playing an American too!), no doubt thanks to executive producer & honorary Brit Kevin Spacey CBE

Mike Leigh’s Another Year is charming and poignant, and a lot better than his last film Happy Go Lucky, but I still think he does edgy better than wistful! A study of loss and loneliness, each character is well developed and each performance is beautifully judged; Lesley Manville is simply terrific.

Filming the last part of Harry Potter was always going to be difficult but I’m not sure splitting into two, with the first half merely a long set up for the conclusion, was wise. Much of it is desperately slow, there aren’t enough ‘wow’ moments and the absence of scenes in Hogwarts and other iconic locations leaves you feeling a bit cheated. Of course, I’ll have to see the final part – let’s hope it’s a hell of a lot better. 

Art

I adored the Glasgow Boys exhibition at the Royal Academy, Unknown to me (and I suspect many others) these late 19th century artists stand up well against their contemporaries, the impressionists and post-impressionists. Their style is sort of Pre-Raphaelites meets Arts & Crafts and I loved it.

I learnt more from the British Museum’s Egyptian Book of the Dead exhibition than I did in two weeks in Egypt! It’s brilliantly curated; looking at lovely objects and learning about the practices of a great civilisation are given equal prominence and are equally rewarding – possibly the best of their big Reading Room exhibitions. 

Those wonderful people at Artangel have done it again with Surround Me, a song cycle for the City of London by Susan Philipsz which consists of pieces of appropriate early music broadcast at six locations across the city. Walking between them when The City is empty on a Sunday added to the pleasure. I sincerely hope she wins the Turner Prize, because the other three at the Tate Britain exhibition are dire! 

I’m afraid Treasures from Budapest at the Royal Academy was too full of things I don’t like – Madonna’s, Christ’s, still life’s and dimly lit drawings – to be at all enjoyable. With hindsight, I should have raced to the last three rooms and given the rest a miss.

James Turrell’s exhibition at the Gagosian includes a light installation for one person at a time. You enter it laying down on a sliding ‘tray’ and stay in there for 15 minutes. I’m not sure if I could have coped with that, but all the ‘slots’ are booked anyway, so I didn’t have to decide! Fortunately, the other two pieces – particularly the elevated ‘room’ you walk into where colours change and your perceptions are manipulated – are well worth the visit without it.

Kings Place is becoming completely indispensible and when I went this month there were no less than four exhibitions, plus interesting sculpture all around the atrium and outside. Developments in Modern British Art was a small but fascinating selling exhibition which included Sickert, Hodgkin and Riley amongst others. Face to Face was a captivating selection of c.60 British self-portraits from Ruth Borchard’s extraordinary collection. Jazz Legends was a superb selection of Sefton Samuels B&W prints of musicians from the 50’s through the 90’s. Norman Adams paintings had been hidden away so you had to hunt for them, but when you found them they proved to be a pleasant surprise. Amongst the sculpture, there was a terrific revolving water screw feature on the canal side. I didn’t go to either of the two concert halls on this occasion, but all the exhibitions are free and we had a great lunch in their restaurant. As I said, indispensible.

Visits

A visit to Sands Film Studios in Rotherhithe with the V&A Friends proved to be absolutely fascinating. It is an extraordinary place (think Dennis Severs House) over three floors of a former warehouse housing film stages, scenery costume and prop stores & workshops, a unique screening room / cinema and a picture research library. It’s run by two characters – Christina & Olivier – whose respective families also live there. Their most famous production is probably the brilliant 2-part 6-hour Little Dorritt made in the mid-80’s; the entire film was shot in 9 months inside these studios (no external filming) with every set, prop and costume handmade here too. There can be nowhere else like it and I feel privileged to have visited it as I suspect it won’t be able to survive this modern world; today they spend most of their time and effort making and hiring out period costumes – if you catch the forthcoming Treasure Island on Sky (I won’t!), it will be their craftsmanship behind the costumes.

I visited the new Supreme Court, again with the V&A Friends, and as much as I loved the building and found briefly sitting in on proceedings interesting, I could have done it all a lot cheaper and at my own pace by just turning up and moving between the three public galleries and wandering around the building; the guide added little. It’s a lovely restoration of the Middlesex Guildhall with original ceramics and woodwork alongside Peter Blake carpets and modern drapes and glass. In Court Two there were 5 judges, 13 barristers, 2 solicitors and 5 clerks hearing a case about knitting factory noise in the 70’s and 80’s – all that expense from my taxes rather wound me up!

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