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Posts Tagged ‘Valery Gergiev’

Contemporary Music

Elvis Costello brought his Spectacular Spinning Songbook tour to the Royal Albert Hall. This is the development of an idea he first used in a residency at the then Royalty Theatre (now Peacock Theatre) ages ago. Audience members come up and spin the wheel which determines the next song, though he does add in other songs, and remain on stage for a drink, or a cage dance(!). The sound took a short while to adjust to this huge space, but when it got going it was a great set of mostly oldies but goodies. His brother’s Irish folk band (new one on me) joined him for a moving tribute to his recently deceased dad. Other guests later included Brinsley Schwartz guitarist Martin Belmont and Squeeze’s Chris Difford, but the real surprise was the arrival of Russell Crowe for a song by the other Elvis and another by Johnny Cash. With a veritable army onstage for the final encore, and Steve Naïve on the RAH organ, (What’s so funny ‘bout) peace love and understanding was a fitting end to a great night.

Opera

South African company Isango, who opened the Globe to Globe festival, moved on to Hackney Empire where their residency included an extraordinary La Boheme. It worked well in a 70’s township, but it was the quality of singing and acting which took your breath away. The ‘orchestra’ was composed of wooden marimbas and steel drums. The overture was partly sung (hummed) which in itself was so moving it brought a tear to my eye. This was as good as their Carmen and Magic Flute and amongst the most emotional productions of this favourite opera I’ve ever seen. I had to see it, even though I’ve had a WNO La Boheme next Sunday booked for over a year!

Our Town (based on Thornton Wilder’s play) was a real coup for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. They dramatically re-configured the Silk Street Theatre ‘in the round’ with the orchestra in a pit in front of one of three sets of seating. Twelve members of the chorus occupied two rows on the fourth side and it was played out on a central platform and elsewhere. I’m not sure I like the story that much, but the music is lovely and it was acted and sung to perfection. Stuart Laing was excellent in the part of the Stage Manager (a sort of narrator) and despite an infection, Sky Ingram again impressed as Emily. It was particularly good to see the GSMD putting on a 21st Century opera.

Classical music

The LSO Stravinsky mini-season got off to a wonderful start with three brilliant pieces. His mass for voices and wind is a great spin on the usual; his violin concerto in D major, played brilliantly by Leonidas Kavakos, a thrilling revelation and the full Firebird ballet set the Barbican alight. When the LSO & Gergiev are on form, they’re unbeatable and here they were absolutely on form. The second concert was a more low-key affair, with Renard, a piece for four male soloists and small orchestra and a narrated version of The Soldiers Tale. They were fascinating pieces, though not thrilling. The thrills returned at the third concert with a brilliant interpretation of the opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex. The chorus were on fine form, though I wish the singers hadn’t been buried at the back. Simon Callow again narrated and the Russian soloists were all good. The Rite of Spring, which preceded it, is a less accessible work than The Firebird and though I enjoyed it, again it didn’t thrill. The final concert was a real treat; a selection of seven jazz influenced chamber works. I really liked the ‘running commentary’ from conductor Timothy Redmond – very insightful and fascinating. The Octet for Wind Instruments was the highlight for me, though I enjoyed it all. I love ‘immersing’ myself in a single composer and this mini-festival provided an excellent opportunity to do so with a much underrated 20th Century one.

Dance

Ballet Revolucion was Cuban ballet dancers having a go at contemporary dance, but it was a bit of a hit-and-miss affair. The first half was rather samey and didn’t really inspire, but the second half had more great moments. More light and shade and more variety of musical style and accompanying choreography would show off this young talented company so much better.

Art

I was glad I caught David Shrigley’s exhibition at the Hayward Gallery on its last day as it made me smile the whole while I was there. He’s rather eclectic (animation, sculpture, drawings, paintings…..) and very quirky and funny.

The Yayoi Kusama retrospective at Tate Modern showed an artist who never seemed to sit still; the variety of her work was extraordinary and she’s continued working in the 35 years she has lived in a hospital. I didn’t like all of it, but it was fascinating and worth going for the final room alone – an infinity mirror space with changing coloured lights. I want one!

Back at Tate Modern for the Alighiero Boetti exhibition; another artist I’ve never heard of and another eclectic retrospective. There were rooms that captivated amongst others very dull, but overall an interesting review of one artist’s work rather than an aesthetically pleasing whole.

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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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