Tuesday, 10 November 2009
You who are girt with ice
By strange serendipity, I was pedalling around town on my way to round off my six City Lit classes on Turandot, with Liu's final 'Tu che di gel sei cinta' very much on my mind. And here was the wall of ice melting away in Belgrave Square just outside the German ambassador's residence. I hereby copyright my own production of Turandot, which will feature exactly that - a wall of ice which steadily dissolves throughout the evening. Whether or not I'll set it in divided Berlin and include a Chinese restaurant remains to be seen. But I do think another wall will be ominously under construction as the impossible lovers celebrate their final victory.
I imagined that most of this symbolic gesture would be mere water on the street by the time I was able to get there. But no, there on a helpfully chilly November day some of it still splendidly remained. A dead ringer for the irrepressible Fat Boy in The Pickwick Papers accosted his fellow cyclist: 'good, innit?' Somewhat surprised to be addressed, I rather patronisingly asked sonny if he knew what it was for. 'Well, I sees the German flag opposite and that notice, so I puts two and two together'. He'd come across it on the way to school, 'when there was lots more', and had come back specially. And he wanted to see what would be left tomorrow (that is, today). Rather more fun company, I think, than hanging around with diplomats earlier in the day.
Diplomats were out in force for the Hungarian Cultural Centre's 10th anniversary celebrations the previous evening. Elbows every side of me entering the beautiful room at the back of the Vaudeville Theatre in Covent Garden reminded me of the saying that if you go through a revolving door in front of a Hungarian, the Hungarian will always come out first.
And, golly, had they pulled a star. Tamas Vasary at 76 is still very much a live wire. Who needs the frosty objectivity of a Brendel when a player like this can whirl you through Schubert's 'Wanderer' Fantasy and make exhilarating sense of it all? He always likes to talk, apparently, and most of us were more than happy to listen to his animated discourse
especially since he would zoom to the piano with extraordinary abruptness and plunge straight into the 'Moonlight', the 'Wanderer', two iridescent Debussy preludes and a dizzyingly authentic Kodaly Dances of Marosszek (did Hungary's second composer ever write a dull piece?) Vasary played for Kodaly, he told us, and all the master said at the end was 'Servus', as he shook his hand. Our Austrian friends felt sure this meant 'welcome, you're one of us'.
I thought it was gracious of him to play on a Broadwood piano with one very faulty A flat, and to curtail his talking and even, for heaven's sake, his second encore for the eating and drinking. The food came second to the company, so I'll do a quick Tatleresque photo run. Here on the right is Mrs. Vasary, the distinguished Hungarian ballerina Henriett Tunyogi, with the adorable director of the French Institute and EUNIC Chairman Laurence Auer.
I see from an article by Jann Parry that Henriett has even danced to her husband's performance of the Beethoven 'Hammerklavier' Sonata. She's obviously first class, as leading dance critic Parry tells us. Now, here's vivacious Ildiko Takacs, the director of the HCC
and last, but by no means least, those great impresarios Lilian and Victor Hochhauser flanking the lady who was instrumental in setting up the HCC ten years ago, former number one Hungarian newsreader Katalin Bogyay.
I was especially delighted to greet the Hochhausers as I'd seen their daughter Shari Greenberg only a week earlier in Jerusalem. Shari and I became friendly through e-correspondence over my articles for the Bolshoy and Mariinsky programmes (those editors who make a personable effort to show their approval are very few and far between). She and her husband David took us to a lecture-recital at the Jerusalem Music Centre delivered by son Yoel and his fellow members of the Carmel Quartet. Here are Yoel, violinists Rachel Ringelstein and Lia Raikhlin and cellist Tami Waterman.
Yoel's narrative connected Mozart and Verdi through the once-thorny issue of opera versus chamber music. The spirited performances underlined beautifully how each composer comes up with a finale of total genius: arguably Mozart's best and quirkiest set of variations in the Allegretto non troppo of the D minor Quartet, K421, and Verdi's determination, in his less consistent quartet, to show what he can do technically as well as tunefully in his concluding Scherzo-Fuga. Yoel has just left with his family to live in the States, but will be back in Jerusalem with the Carmels for another pairing, of Haydn and Bartok, on 21 December.