Tuesday 11 June 2024

Four Sea Interludes


Aldeburgh's Brudenell Hotel is an odd mixture. Some of its rooms are right next to the noisiest lift imaginable, like drilling through the wall (never again after the first experience), another is beloved of a seagull so you mustn't open the window too wide (I did, briefly, last year, and in it came and shat everywhere), and the lounge only offers the Torongraph, Times and Daily Heil (not even an Observer on Sundays). On the plus side, there's comfort, the restaurant is good and has the best views of the beach, sea and sky, and it's only a few yards to go and dip in the sea. Being there at so many times of day affords the kind of contrasts Britten captures in the interludes of Peter Grimes, so here's my visual representations from the weekend, not entirely corresponding, but, I think, equally various. 

Dark clouds on the horizon at Saturday lunchtime:

Sunbathers catching the last of the sun early that evening, with the hotel's shadow creeping up on them:

10.30pm, back from megaconcert having squeezed a crab sandwich out of the staff despite not even a snack being on offer at 9.45:

And glitter of waves on Sunday morning:

This weekend wasn't such a good one for me on the walking and bathing front, but I did have a bit of time to mosey around the marshes at the back of Snape Maltings, 

catching Iken Church tower in the sun (you'll need to click to enlarge to see that).

and registering a plethora of birds near here

with the now-indispensible Merlin app courtesy of Cornell University: reed bunting (plentiful, loud and often visible), house martin, barn swallow, treecreeper, oystercatcher, spotted flycatcher (a rarity!), chiffchaff, wren, blackbird, skylark, goldfinch, woodpigeon.

As well as being a weekend of stupendous music-making (I have yet to write up the review but shall post a link when I've done so), it was also a chance to see an old friend I haven't spent any quality time with for years. Even managed to squeeze in light Sunday lunch chez Bella near Orford, with her mother Vanessa (left) and friends Lysander (foreground right) and his partner Daniel. They came to the LPO concert the previous evening and the astounding recital by the beautiful, charismatic baritone Andrè Schuen and great pianist Julius Drake (unsurpassable Schumann, stunning new Larcher cycle on epigrammatic poems by W. G. Sebald).

Can't leave out the adorable Quinc(e?)y.


Bella has had done up two outbuildings to the maximum of character and comfort - I can't recommend the one being air-B&B-d too highly. The main cottage is in good nick these days too.

So all told it was a very happy weekend: my love-hate relationship with Aldeburgh inclined more to the former this time. Whereas with Dublin and Ireland it's all love so far: I have some catching up to do on the wonders of the previous week, though the musical side is recounted here (Blackwater Valley Opera Festival) and here (Dublin International Chamber Music Festival), Taking two much-need event-free days now.

Wednesday 24 April 2024

Reclaiming Palestinian gardens in Battersea


The title is somewhat oblique: the gardens in question are those remembered and symbolised by Palestinian weavers in a treasure piece of embroidery which had fallen apart, due, I gather, to too much exposure to the sun. So when I learned through my friend Cally that a work colleague of her godson Sasha (wonderful human being) had set up a collaboration with traditional weavers in Beirut - where both of them lived and worked for a time I jumped at the chance of a repare. Back in November Cal and I went along to see Larissa von Planta showing her work and taking commissions on the top floor of a gallery in Dean Street. Most of the commissions were to add embroidery to existing garments, but Larissa was very much 'can do' re the cushion cover.

She was impressed with the provenance, Al-Inaash, known as the finest in Lebanon. We'd bought the design at a gathering with the Beirut Ladies Who Lunch, and having paid very little for fine Syrian work, were a bit taken aback by the price. But I'm glad we went for it. Larissa guaranteed to have the repair back from Beirut before Christmas - it was going to be a surprise present for J - but, as she later told me, wasn't satisfied with the work, sent it back and then did further work on the detail in London. She wouldn't take any more money for the extra labour. And I got to visit her in a part of London I didn't know, the area around Battersea Square. There's a splendid Dicksonia antarctica in her garden whiich formed a suitable backdrop to the presentation.

I decided to take the afternoon off and explore the area. So I took a bus down to the south side of Wandsworth Bridge and walked along the Thames Path from there (not a stretch I've done before). Even the unwieldy roundabout has had some rather splendid muralling, which includes a cubist version of my favourite bird, the goldfinch.

The luxury flats, despite their colourful names referencing the spice warehouses which had been here before, are characterless, and to judge from the folk walking along there, house Eurotrash/drugs trade folk when there's anyone there at all. But at least something has been done to reclam nature on the river side of the path

and there are plenty of unafraid ducks about.

A helicopter was coming in to land - noisy, expensive brute - which made me realise the heliport is on this side of the river. Quite a few folk had gathered to gape through the fence at whichever celebrity was landing; I moved on, enjoying the sem-glimpse from the north side

and various bridge views to offset the general tedium of the architecture. 



At last I came in sight of St Mary's, Battersea Parish Church, a place apart.


on a site occupied by a religious building as early as 800. Westminster Abbey was granted ownership and, the guidebook tells me, 'devoted the revenues from "Batricescie" to the support of the Convent Infirmary'. The present church of 1775-7 is more or less what we see now, and though there are many additions inside, not least since WW2 bombing, harmony rules.


The oldest glass is in the east window, its framework imitating the pointed opening of 1379. The panels painted by Bernard van Linge were inserted in 1631 by Sir John St John on his succession to the Lordship of the Manor. Pompously, it outlines his 'ancient and noble descent', with Henry VII, Margaret Beauchamp and Queen Elizabeth I marking connections to the House of Tudor.

To the left is a circular window with the holy Lamb, one of two made by James Pearson in 1796 (the Dove window's fragments were collected and added to new painting by Joan Howson in 1946).

Most interesting, perhaps, not least for the church's links to the great and good, are the four windows added between 1976 and 1982, designed and made by John Hayward of Edenbridge, Kent. If you walk clockwise, the first is to J M W Turner, who lived opposite for a time and took a boat over to the church to paint from there.

The church and the river feature in the bottom right hand corner. 

Next along celebrates the wedding in the church of William Blake and Catherine Butcher (featured in the double portrait bottom left).

The detail here is especially fine in referencing Blake's art and poetry (though of course it doesn't quote the 'signs of weakness, signs of woe' he detected on the London scene.

Less well known to me are military man Benedict Arnold, of dubious fame (I'll pass over him) and the botanist William Curtis, framed with a chapter of flowers from his book Flora Londoniensis.

To the left are the arms of the Society of Apothecaries, which can also be seen on the other side of the river atop the south gate of the Chelsea Physic Garden. It shows Apollo, the god of healing, victorious over the serpent of disease (I framed a postcard of it for a friend in hospital several years ago). The rhino is not so sound a symbol, given the mumbo-jumbo about its horn containing healing properties.

After coffee with Larissa and friend in nearby Battersea Square, I resumed my river walk. The modern build-up continues, but at least there's still a glimpse of Lots Road Power Station, whatever it's used for now, between the high-rises

and the slightly more distinguished new edifices on the south side are used for enticing-looking offices, one clearly for a firm of architects.


Familiar territory came into view beyond Battersea Bridge

and then I was back in the park, full of spring planting (looking across here to Albert Bridge).

The English Garden, never over-frequented, is getting better by the year. It's still early, but irises are flourishing,

the first pulsatilla I've seen in flower this year at the end of the pond,



 and a lilac, with peonies growing up fast.

More lilacs and others around the London Peace Pagoda (the dog was delightfully lively).


I always enjoy catching a sight of the ring-tailed lemurs through the fences of the Children's Zoo.

Then out past fern plantation

and over Chelsea Bridge, with Battersea Power Station - now a mecca of mammon - on one side and louring clouds on the other.


Finally on the north side, with plenty of spring foliage in front of Chelsea Hospital,

and up to Sloane Square tube. The kind of afternoon that keeps me in love with London.

Wednesday 17 April 2024

From Bernstein to Berlioz


No regrets that I postponed the Thursday Zoom-course move to France in favour of Bernstein and so many students' enthusiasm (as well as mine) for Maestro. I did wonder if I could sustain 10 classes on Lenny the composer without much ballast from his conducting and lecturing, but it turned out not only to be easy, but revelatory. I expected to renew my love and awe for the Platonic Serenade and Mass!, one of the great panoramic works of the 20th century; but there was so much more I didn't really know. Portions of all three symphonies and Songfest are of the highest order, but the real surprise was A Quiet Place, so much more than just an extension of the masterly Trouble in Tahiti.  This recording gave me much cause for reflection, 

but I want to see a production in the UK. Surely Opera North could build one around its already peerless staging of TiT? Family grief and the tensions around it are something we can all relate to, and Bernstein drew from a profound well after the death of Felicia. It needs a lot of patience and looking in to, but definitely worth it. I vowed that we'd devote four or five Mondays to it in a future Opera in Depth term. 

Operas we won't be covering in this Berlioz course - strictly concert works only, though La Damnation de Faust has often been staged. I'm not sure at this point if one term will be enough, but let's see. David Cairns' detailed study is obligatory reading, of couse, alongside the beautifully written Memoirs. I've only previously dipped in to Cairns's first volume with reference to select works, but I'm now going through it - there's some repetition but a real bringing to life of a vivid and far from chaotic personality.

We begin tomorrow (Thursday) afternoon, finding out how the future composer's singularly music-starved youth shaped the genius (his upbringing was far from all bad, though, and probably home education allowed his imagination to flourish). There's still time to join. Details below (click to enlarge).