Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Antic Saturday

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.


David Damant said...

Paris 1910 to 1930.....wow, what expertise! ( I mean by Mr Nice as well as by the composers !) But I might add that those decades were also of great interest in the parallel field of painting. Some years ago one dimension of this was demonstrated to me by an exposition in Amsterdam ( don't know if it travelled) which showed Russian art from before the Revolution until afterwards - it was amazing, in a quite large selection, to see how the really innovative art, starting before 1917, gradually got less and less and finally expired under Soviet Realism in the twenties. Many of the artists of course left and arrived ( inter alia ) in Paris. It would interesting to see a similar exhibition of paintings made there
in the years 1910 to 1930, though Paris was so rich in talent that no doubt the gradual insertion of Russians would not be so noticeable

I have to declare an interest in Richard III as my college at Cambridge, Queens', received considerable funds from Richard, and his boars's head flies over the college buildings. The funds were however "resumed" by Henry VII and spent on the completion of King's Chapel. You can see the parts he built by the Tudor rose and other emblems scattered around - not at all in line with the concept "clene and substantial" envisaged by the pious founder, Henry VI

David said...

Indeed - and Diaghilev used them all: before the war Golovin, Bakst, Benois etc.; after it Picasso, Derain, Gris, Laurencin, Braque, Utrillo, Matisse, Roualt; and, bridging the gap, those great Russian avant-gardists Larionov and Goncharova.

By the way, my marvellous colleague Marina Frolova-Walker reported back on an exhibition in Moscow showing what stunning work was done alongside Soviet Realism from the 1930s onwards - little of it seen until then. I'd have loved to have gone to that.

Roses are a good way of dating buildings - remember the white rose and sun-on-shield when I wrote about St Mary Steeple Ashton, helped date the structure to before RIII's death in 1485.

David Damant said...

I am really surprised about the "stunning work" done in the 1930s - was this in Russia itself or in other countries by Russian artists? Those years in the USSR were so horrible, with no one free from fear, and millions killed or starved. Or maybe that is the meaning of the comment that this work was not seen "until then" - if there was a school of "stunning work" which was just kept privately, that is a matter of tremendous interest. Stalin maintained his power by not allowing individual thought, and looked to whistle blowers to report on their neighbours.

David said...

Absolutely in the Soviet Union. It went up to the end of communism. Maybe the catalogue is worth getting hold of - I might try.

David Damant said...

If there was an underground of artists in the USSR, I wonder what other undergrounds there were in those terrible years? Maybe the artists did not communicate ( much) with each other. Or maybe they were tolerated by the regime, though I cannot see that Stalin would have allowed such a school to flourish. This negative approach was partly due to his view of all arts ( Lady Macbeth etc) but also and perhaps mainly the result of his desire to eliminate all centres of independent thought and culture, as possibly a threat to his rule or personal idea of himself

David said...

I guess they weren't members of schools as such, just independent artists forging independent paths. After all, Hans Fallada is a great example of an individual voice flourishing in Nazi Germany, so anything is possible in the arts at any time.

Susan Scheid said...

Must second David D: Extraordinary, to come up with a list as interesting as that in any event, let alone in the time allotted! David Lang could have used your help in coming up with his playlist for the Consonant Abstraction concert I heard at MOMA Tuesday. I love the photograph of you in action, that hand outstretched making some sterling point, no doubt. Wish I could have been there—that the sound man enjoyed it is definitely saying something about how good it was.

As an aside, back to David D’s comments, the MOMA exhibit, Inventing Abstraction (the concert was presented in conjunction with that), which covers the years 1910-1925, does have what seems to be an excellent segment on the Russian contributions to the period.

The Richard III sounds so entertaining, and how splendid to hear the score to Nevsky played live (though for you, I see, it’s several times already).

Though not on anything like your Saturday schedule, I’ve not been idle my way, which is why I’m late to get to your post. Among other things, I attended my first Parsifal. NOW I know what gesamkunst is. I have no basis for comparison, of course, but can report that I found it thrilling. While there is room for difference of opinion on the production itself, our general agreement was that it was thoughtfully done, going for elegance and understatement rather than Broadway razzle-dazzle. For me, the use of choreography throughout was particularly compelling. (Though I would have preferred that the singers were not compelled to walk in red-dyed water throughout Act II . . .)

But that’s only the beginning: the music(!), so ravishingly played and sung (Daniel Gatti conducting), the soloists astonishing: Pape as Gurnemanz was for me, anyway, first among a marvelous cast that included Katarina Dalayman as Kundry (she will be our Brunhilde for the Ring), Jonas Kaufmann as Parsifal and Peter Mattei as Amfortas (we thought Mattei stronger than Kaufmann, but that is not to say we are complaining about the performance Kaufmann turned in). The choral work and orchestral performance were outstanding. After disappointments earlier in the season, we left ecstatic, saying THIS is what it’s about. Now, in April, on to my first Ring.

One thing I would say about the Met’s Parsifal: they should hire you (if you were willing) to do the Program Notes! Some interest in them, to be sure, but so skimpy for such a masterwork.

PS: I remember that white rose as a way of dating the building.

David said...

Don't think I know much about the MOMA event - have I missed something somewhere?

Delighted to have a full report of Parsifal - production photos reveal it to be the sort of Wagner take I like. I believe it's being livescreened on Saturday, but we are at My Country's Good in the afternoon and Threepenny Opera (Jurowski in The Rest is Noise, in concert I'm assuming) in the evening. Will certainly be preserved on DVD, as (I'm hoping) will be the Covent Garden Onegin. More folk have joined my side in loving Kasper Holten's production since seeing the film, after so dire an initial critical reception.

The Met skimping on the annotation of Parsifal? You could never say that happens with the still high-level, article-packed programmes for both our major opera houses...

Susan Scheid said...

Quick note before I'm off to the accountant (yech, tax time here)' then a symposium to do with the intersection of poetry & music. Should be good, but I'll be glad to put my feet up & have a chance to digest it all. Anyway, if you go back to your Duchampery post, you'll find a link to an interactive diagram about the connections drawn in the exhibit. That leads to lots more. The Russians are in the upper right, if I remember rightly. I see you have a new post up. Look forward to that!

David said...

Oh, I see. I must have been the one at the back not paying attention. That's a scary spiderweb of a diagram, though once you hit on individual artists, what a wealth. I suppose it suggests that many of the Soviet-era artists did carry on painting like that well into 1930s and 40s, if they managed to live that long.

Tax time here was end of January, always a lean time. Gave me a shock on this occasion, but I've rallied to what I have to pay and back on the tightrope above Insolvency Falls.

wanderer said...

Struggling to catch up, still, and tax time here is quarterly, do you mind, so it is always hovering Damocles like, and Insolvency Falls, how delicious, close by our farm, Entropy Park.

And between the French and the Russians, the Germans were dealing with their own chaos - we had a show not so long ago the introduction to which is here. It might be of interest, as well as the associated clips, to which i really can't speak. I remember it as relentlessly bleak.

Susan, much has been written about Act 2 Parsifal and that 'blood' - a bleeding gashed world, Amfortas' wound, even menstrual. What happened to American musical literacy that the programme notes were lacking? Perhaps because it was European in origin the notation fell down - reason but no excuse. Can't wait. Gatti I heard conduct it in Zurich - sans score except for opening night!

David said...

That's a fascinating one, wanderer, I must give it my full attention. Here in the latest strand of The Rest is Noise Festival, we're getting the standard 20s/30s Berlin stuff: Threepenny Opera, Seven Deadly Sins, etc - though no doubt the many talks will be covering the lesser-known areas.

Directors always go wild in Parsifal Act 2. David Alden in Graz took the cue of Klingsor's castration to put him in a flowery dress at a piano. This one looks rather striking.

I heard Gatti do the orchestral Parsifalian stuff in the opening of the new Bologna concert hall - alongside some weird clown pop musician. I have mixed feelings about him: he can go for tempi that feel unnatural at times.