Tuesday 11 February 2014
In late January there was Oslo, courtesy of the fabulous Barokksolistene, a city completely new to me. Sentry on duty at the Akershus Fortress:
Then it was back to Reykjavík for the Dark Music Days Festival, the city almost unfamiliar in the freeze after our glorious summer initiation. Whooper swans on Tjörnin, which, believe it or not, is in the middle of town:
Flanking those were return visits to Glasgow and the Borders, where host Christopher took me with my two beloved oldest godchildren to Stobo Castle's Japanese Water Garden:
and to Edinburgh for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra's 40th birthday concert, where the situation of my hotel, the very characteristic Parliament House on Calton Hill, led me on a walk I'd never taken during my four student years in the city, past the Burns monument with stunning views over Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags:
Glasgow is always a delight to visit, however gloomy the weather, and my talks before BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra concerts have become regular fixtures. On the last two occasions I was able to take godson Alexander, and dine him beforehand at the Italian Caffè. This time dad was in attendance, and goddaughter Evi, who's now also at Glasgow University, came too. All three have permitted a rare personal shot of them at Stobo:
This is a big year: Alexander and Evi will be 21, their respective sisters Kitty and Maddie 18. We're planning a big Garrick supper midway between the four birthdays.
I think A and E enjoyed the concert. Personally I'd never programme Shostakovich's First Symphony in a second half, but predictably the great Donald Runnicles made much of it, and was a sleek partner to Lars Vogt in a memorably idiosyncratic Grieg Piano Concerto. The wonderful venue is 'City Halls' because there's another hall next door to the classical concert venue, but it can never be used simultaneously as there's no soundproofing. We snuck in to take a peek at the empty, freezing cold alternative venue during the interval:
Stobo and Chapelgill ought to be one of four 'northern walks' I need to chronicle following this general spiel if I ever get round to it. The second will be a tour of Oslo in the snow and the third a windy wander to the lighthouse on the Seltjarnarnes peninsula outside Reykjavík, but in the meantime it's worth underlining the similarities between the two newish buildings which were my headquarters on both weekends. Harpa of course I already knew and loved, having been present at the grand summer opening. Again, it's very different in the foreground of snowy cliffs around Reykjavík harbour in the winter
while Oslo Opera House must be white in all weathers.
Both are the only nordic edifices so far to receive the Mies van der Rohe Award of the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture - Oslo in 2009, Harpa in 2013 . Of course I knew all about Danish-Icelandic genius Olafur Eliasson's work on most details of Harpa, not least the three-dimensional windowpanes representing basalt columns,
but I only read later that he was responsible for The Other Wall in Oslo, four box volumes inspired by the space beneath glaciers where ice crystals form.
They look across the marble floor to the oak 'tree' surrounding the auditorium, reflected in mirrors above:
The other connection, this time between all four jaunts, is Rooms with Views, starting with the known quantity of Chapelgill in Broughton,where outside my window the brook was rattling away restfully. Normally I wouldn't put a high price on what I see from a hotel window, since you can usually be out in it, but given the cold in Oslo and Reykjavík, it was good to sit still and look. We were on the 28th floor of a dauntingly large and impersonal Radisson in Oslo, looking down on the Opera House and the harbour in unrelentingly grey, snowy weather
and especially held by the compass-point picture made by a roundabout so far down.
The Centerhotel Arnhovall in Reykjavik looks like a barracks or a Soviet headquarters from the outside but it's not only superbly placed for dashing across in knockdown winds to Harpa, it also has the best views in the city if you get a seaward facing room.
And though again grey was the predominant colour - or at least 20 shades - the light shifted by the hour as it always seems to in supernatural Iceland, so sun did touch the peaks of the mountain over the harbour.
Edinburgh, too, yielded a surprise. I've been up Calton Hill, of course, but never up Calton Hill The Street, the steep cobbled incline at the top of which sits the Parliament House Hotel. Nor had I ever been in Calton Cemetery, bisected by Waterloo Place so that a segment of it is in the hotel garden. The rest is a tourist attraction I'd never visited. More on that anon, but here in a somewhat fuzzy dawn are its obelisk and the castle-like building which, as the governor's house, is all that remains of Edinburgh's ill-starred prison.
A little later, the sun waiting to rise from behind Salisbury Crags (yes, that's a natural wonder, not a roof, on the left)
and in full sunlight,
beckoning a walk that lasted me the better part of the day after the SCO concert. Here's just a taster in the view from the cemetery over to Parliament House Hotel (on the left) and Calton Hill.
For further steps that reminded me how Edinburgh is the most beautifully-situated city in the world, at least of all those I know, more in the series to follow.