The rise of digital technology in cinema has been a decidedly mixed blessing, and not only due to the concurrent impending demise of celluloid film which it has ushered in. On one hand, it’s become much cheaper and easier to make a film. And on the other…it’s become much cheaper and easier to make a film. Which, when it means that you consequently don’t put much effort into realising the visual element of your chosen visual artform (and that often is the case), is a problem for me.
Occasionally I’ve thought that in my role as The Berkshire Review‘s ‘London correspondent’ I ought to focus sometimes on things that are more culturally British; unfortunately, I just don’t think much of British culture generally, and with the Olympics now here, decimating arts funding and forcing friends and colleagues of mine out of their homes due to massive rent increases, I feel arguably less inclined than ever to take up the baton for this country.
First off, a confession. Such, such are the joys of London transport that I arrived too late for the start of the Debussy, and was therefore not admitted till after the Prélude had finished. I have heard tell that there is a species of journalist that in this situation would confer with its fellow hacks and evaluate the consensus on the missed performance, before compiling a description along these party lines as though it were its own opinion. Fortunately, I am not that kind of journalist and would therefore not have the effrontery to hoodwink my innocent readers in this way. (Those of a political disposition have my full permission to consider the preceding sentences trenchant topical satire rather than pointless filler.) At least I can confirm that wherever the sound dissipates to in the Albert Hall’s less-than-princely acoustic, it is not through its double set of side doors off the auditorium, which yielded up nary a note in the five minutes-plus I was stood outside awaiting entry.
I’m in two minds about the Proms tradition of always allotting significant programming space to composers with major anniversaries. It’s transparently a fairly arbitrary device to make the programmers’ jobs much easier and minimise the thorny problem of personal taste entering the decision-making process; on the other hand, without it we would never get three concerts this year featuring one of my favourites, Percy Grainger (died 50 years ago). In particular, the late night Prom on 2 August including Kathryn Tickell and June Tabor, celebrating the folk music Grainger was inspired by, is to me one of the most interesting this year.
This was originally intended to be the penultimate programme of Pollini’s five-concert Project spanning the gamut of keyboard repertoire from Bach to Boulez (albeit with a large Classical Period-sized gap), but has been postponed for a couple of months due to illness. In my opinion this has made for a more fitting end to the series, not only following chronological order but also concluding by challenging the audience with something ‘modern’ rather than the obvious crowd-pleasing Chopin of what became the fourth Project concert. Appropriately, this concert in fact draws a connection, perhaps not immediately obvious, between the hugely different Chopin and Boulez.
More years ago than I care to remember (OK, about ten), Edward Moore, my piano teacher at university, told me he used to be a great fan of Maurizio Pollini, but had grown disenchanted with him because he thought his playing had become completely dry, overly safe and devoid of emotion. Perhaps because he was by far the best teacher I’d ever had, I took this opinion seriously and allowed it to influence my perception of Pollini ever after, remaining a devout sceptic despite his evidently immense popularity.
Years before I ever picked up any of their books, I was fascinated by the idea of the ‘Lost Generation’ of American writers in Paris between the World Wars; now that I’ve actually read The Great Gatsby, the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms and even a couple of Anaïs Nin’s books (Gertrude Stein’s going to have to wait, though), I felt I couldn’t pass up the chance to hear this UK premiere of the Dutch composer Louis Andriessen’s piece inspired by Nin’s relationships with several of her many lovers from that time—among them her father.
The Southbank’s annual Ether Festival, exploring innovative and multi-disciplinary approaches to contemporary music, includes this year a Xenakis weekend (perhaps timed to mark the tenth anniversary of the composer’s death), of which this concert is a part; following the Barbican’s “Total Immersion” day dedicated to him two years ago, there seems to be a bit of a vogue for Xenakis in London at the moment. I’m no aficionado, but have always been intrigued by his unique background as an architect and mathematician who applied the same structural principles to composition, and grateful that the resulting music doesn’t sound remotely as sterile as one might imagine — in fact far less so, to my mind, than what one might call the pseudo-mathematical approach of total serialism.