That was a crazy one, Saturday 9 February, very much crowned by Mark Rylance's matinée anti-idol of a Richard III (production photos by Simon Annand). The day's trajectory became seriously complicated when Gillian Moore, Head of Classical Music at the Southbank Centre, rang up late the previous afternoon to ask if I could step in for Tom Service, who'd gone down with the norovirus, to give a talk in the Queen Elizabeth Hall foyer. When? In 19 hours' time, at 12.30pm, for an hour. On what? Paris 1910-1930, the latest subject in The Rest is Noise festival of 20th century music.
Well, that I could do, basing it around what I knew of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes - quite a bit - and Prokofiev's viewpoint on the city as a resident in the 1920s. Gillian wanted me to include a fair amount of music from the concerts that were about to be performed. I replied that at such short notice I'd have to make do with what I'd got on the shelves. Fortunately I did have a copy of Antheil's Ballet Mécanique, and a CD of Josephine Baker, so that covered two essential requirements.
The preparation time, though, was short. I couldn't sacrifice a Friday night reunion with old Edinburgh University pals, two of whom had already arrived to stay from Washington and Cardiff. It turned out to be a wonderful evening, 15 round a big table at the Joy King Lau in Soho, including superstar Kerry Richardson of Bedlam Theatre Cabaret fame (now 'in telly') whom I hadn't seen for over 30 years. And a milestone in one way at least: the first time the six of us who spent a golden year together in 32 Dundas Street had sat down to eat together since 1982.
I got back predictably lateish, didn't sleep much and was up at 7am to start preparation. Half way through, the CD I'd started to burn with the extracts failed. And a second, a third, a fourth. A faulty pack. At 10am I pedalled furiously to Hammersmith, bought a decent set of CD-Rs and rushed back. Got to the Queen Elizabeth Hall at 12.10pm with 20 minutes to spare for a quick soundcheck. The Southbank team couldn't have been more soothing or friendly - and that includes the sound man, who must be the first of his ilk to say how much he'd enjoyed it at the end.
I had fun (and kinda glad Ben Larpent, Southbank Classical Music Programme Manager, documented the occasion, however weird I look with right arm flapping. Maybe I should have gone for Josephine's Banana Dance look). What a great audience - some seated in front of the stage, others eating at tables, including a jolly mother and baby.
Jude Kelly did the same relaxed, thoroughly professional job of introducing and questioning at the end I'd noted at James MacMillan's talk the previous week. I'd been asked to give some substantial excerpts, though obviously my playlist was quite different from the one Gillian had set up in The Guardian. I thought I'd keep a record of it here. To keep it short I won't list the recordings used.
Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (1913) - introduction compared with Musorgsky's shepherd-boy pipings at the end of the Sorochintsy Fair interlude we know as the epilogue to Night on the Bare Mountain; the 5/4-6/4 tune for the Spring Rounds compared with the 11/4 finale of Rimsky-Korsakov's The Snow Maiden; Procession of the Sage (polyrhythms) and Kissing the Earth (The Sage). (Image above: one of Roerich's designs for the original production).
Ravel: Ma mère l'oye - Beauty and the Beast, in the orchestral arrangement of 1910/12
Ravel: Rapsodie espagnole - Habanera, starting with four-hand piano version of 1895 and morphing into the orchestral arrangement of 1908
Stravinsky: Etude pour pianola (1917)
Antheil: Ballet Mécanique (1922-30 - opening (four-pianola version; see end of blog entry for later performance with film)
Satie: Parade (1917) - sequence with typewriter, pistol-shots and siren (photo: Picasso's designs for the American and French managers)
Milhaud: La création du monde (1923) - jazz fugue
Josephine Baker - 'J'ai deux amours' (1930)
Prokofiev: The Prodigal Son (1928-9) - final theme
A question or two, and then I had 20 minutes to whizz over the Thames to the matinée of Richard III. I've already begun to treat of this (in superlatives) in an earlier blog entry under that very funny photo of Rylance's king bearing a 'No Parking' traffic sign. I wish I'd caught the latest of his celebrated post-run speeches, but even at the penultimate show he managed to praise the first of the double-cast princes who were taking their leave and to say, with his usual tear-jerking sincerity, what a joy it had been for all of the actors to see so many kids in the audience.
There must have been more, of course, in the initial Globe run. I'd heard that MR took time to warm to his chameleonic impersonation after a family bereavement, but by the end of this Apollo Theatre transfer he was absolutely in his element from the very first speech. The voice has a greater range now - he can be bass-baritonal as well as his usual tenorial self. He had the extraordinary way of fixing on the stalls and on us in the upper circle so that you got the feeling he was looking directly at you. The laughing, and laughter-making, player of the first half became the deadly psychopath of the second, though, so that the roaring audience fell very silent.
The other joy of Tim Carroll's production, every inch as good as his Twelfth Night which I didn't dare see this time after fond memories of four Globe performances, was the teamwork. Maybe Johnny Flynn as Lady Anne was vocally a little weak, but the other 'ladies' couldn't have been better. James Garnon, whose star quality first shone at the Globe in Carroll's otherwise disappointing Dido, Queen of Carthage and flamed as James I in Brenton's Anne Boleyn, metamorphosed from a dignified Duchess of York into a plausible, noble successor to the throne at the end. Finest of all was Sam Barnett's Queen Elizabeth.
With Barnett and Rylance, the spat between bereaved mother and child-murderer was hair-raising: I'd never thought of it as one of the great scenes in Shakespeare, but I do now. The battle stuff that followed can drag; never for a moment here, with the rivals in their tents deftly intercut and the ghosts of the slain gathering round Richmond to despatch York.
I came out wishing that after all I could stay on and see the same company + S Fry (not a draw for me personally after earlier, marvellous Malvolios) in the Twelfth Night production I knew and loved so well. But Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky beckoned over at the Barbican, with live accompaniment from the BBC Symphony Orchestra under a meticulously synchronising Martyn Brabbins pretext for The Arts Desk review. I've seen this version three times live now, and the film many more, and I seem to have got past the stage of scoffing at the propagandist black-and-white of Nevsky as compared to the more nuanced Ivan the Terrible.
On this occasion I simply admired the actors' superb handling of their types. Nikolay Cherkassov's prince is so handsome and stirring, of course, but it was marvellous to hear the audience laughing so readily at Nikolay Okhlopkov's buffoon. A rich ending to a teeming Saturday; and on Sunday I was rescued from having to review Novello's Gay's the Word when I arrived at Barons' Court to find the District Line inoperative and the Piccadilly Line recently closed by a 'person under a train' - and that in itself was understandable on a cold, deluging February afternoon.
Grand finale - only connect: Eisenstein thought Fernand Léger's 1924 film to accompany Antheil's Ballet Mécanique was 'one of the true masterpieces of cinema'. I'm not sure how well it synchs with the music, which only joined it in the 1990s (and in the later version where the pianos are all but drowned out by the percussion and 'special effects'). But it's quite something to have both together.