Monday 5 May 2014

London lights, one to Brum

This is the great Dame Harriet Walter, giving a lecture at the Legatum Institute - to whom thanks for the images of her - about whether 'actresses' shouldn't just be called 'actors', about Shakespeare's roles for women, circumscribed as they are by each boy-played heroine being someone's mother, lover or wife, about how the Greeks let women stand alone, and what happened after Ibsen.

Although I didn't get to see her Brutus in the Donmar all-women Julius Caesar, some of her other performances are right at the top of my 'memorables' list, chiefly Imogen in Cymbeline when she was playing a raft of Shakespeare leads for the RSC, and more recently Elizabeth I to Janet McTeer's Mary Stuart (both pictured below).

But I had no idea she was so lucid and well-researched a writer or - this might have been more predictable - so captivating a public speaker. One not so far from here who loved that Legatum lecture persuaded her to speak at a bastion of male exclusivity which it seems I'm not allowed to mention. I was there, had the privilege of dining afterwards with Harriet and the actor husband she met working on Mary Stuart, Guy Paul, and had an idea.

I wondered if she knew the strong women of Strauss and Hofmannsthal (the Empress in Die Frau ohne Schatten was much on my mind given the concurrent run of Royal Opera performances), and we talked about that. And then I had an idea: I'd been given a budget - for the first time in my life, I think - to put together a Birmingham study day on 24 May before Andris Nelson's CBSO concert performance of Der Rosenkavalier (Soile Isokoski, Alice Coote, Lucy Crowe and Franz Hawlata head a delectable cast). The unenviable gambit to be covered between 10.30am and 3.30pm is to be Rosenkavalier, Ariadne, Götterdämmerung and Moses und Aron. Would she be willing to come and read speeches from the Marschallin, possibly Ariadne, Brünnhilde and - since she's played Brutus and set her sights on Macbeth - Moses? Would Guy be happy to play Monsieur Jourdain and Aron, maybe also Hofmannsthal's Lord Chandos? They would, and they will.

In addition Harriet has proposed two extraordinarily promising young actors taking their first steps in the professional world, Joel MacCormack and Daisy Boulton, who will read Octavian and Sophie (I want the Trio texts heard separately), the Composer and Zerbinetta in the original between-scenes backstage set-up for the opera in Hofmannsthal's original adaptation of Moliere's Le bourgeois gentilhomme. The speakers will be self on Rosenkavalier, William Mival - so good on a Radio 3 podcast we shared on Strauss's Feuersnot - on Ariadne, Michael Tanner on Götterdämmerung and my good friend Stephen Johnson on Moses und Aron (he's translated the final text Schoenberg didn't get round to setting to music)*. Does that sound enticing? If so, come along, book here.

I feel the especial liveliness of the London scene especially at the moment through the number of inspiring folk I've seen, heard and met recently. There was the delightful interview with soprano Nicole Cabell, whom I've long wanted to interview since her perfect Cardiff Singer of the World finale and her Leila in a Royal Opera concert performance of Bizet's Pearl Fishers.A truly engaging person who listens as well as talks. Here she is in the rather lovely apartment between the Barbican and St Luke's she found through Airbnb - a great alternative for performers fed up with staying in big anonymous hotels.

At the French Institute's It's All About Piano festival I was blown away by more perfection in the shape of young French pianist David Kadouch's ideally proportioned recital. This is he with festival organiser Françoise Clerc in the cafe afterwards.

And how could I resist a shot of our dear Jonny Brown, who accompanied me to the recital and was equally amazed, found nothing else to match it in the rest of the weekend, but has all the same written eloquently about the whole experience.

My colleague Jasper Rees enjoyed a revival of the play adapted from his brilliant book I Found My Horn, the chronicle of a mid-life crisis turned round through rediscovery of the instrument he'd abandoned as a 15 year old. I was unexpectedly bowled over by the staging at the Hampstead Theatre first time round; now we were virtually on top of the one man who plays many parts and the horn, too - beautifully, as 'Jasper' gathers confidence in the Mozart Third Horn Concerto - Jonathan Guy Lewis, photographed below in Trafalgar Square (artwork by 3D Joe and Max c James Lowe).

I found myself in floods of tears, not quite sure why, perhaps that quality of lost idealism regained. A special piquancy was to be sitting a few places away from Dave Lee, horn doyen whose northern accent is almost parodied by our hard-working actor as he encourages 'Jasper' to get on with it. Here are Dave, Jasper and Jonathan, snapped by I know not whom (oh, and I should mention that we saw Tom Hollander afterwards too, who'd been invited along by Jasper. His sad, infinitely expressive face in the Passion episodes of the television comedy Rev, which has suddenly risen from so-so laughs to absolutely compelling drama, should garner him awards in the TV world).

It was a flawless tour de force from our principal actor; a rather surprising modesty, or perhaps a less unexpected diffidence, forbade Jasper to allow anyone to cover the play for TAD. But a very enthusiastic Evening Standard review appeared a couple of days ago, only four weeks late.

I was going to leave it at that before the internet went down at 3pm on Friday - thank you, Talk Talk, you made for a stressy 24 hours plus. But now I'm elsewhere until this evening, I can take the opportunity to prolong the abundance. On Friday afternoon I interviewed the astonishingly articulate Pretty Yende, South African soprano now a favourite at La Scala and the Met. The 'peg' for the Arts Desk interview due in a couple of weeks' time is that she's giving a recital at the Cadogan Hall on 15 May (her Royal Opera debut is fixed but she can't yet reveal what it's to be).

I couldn't help comparing our conversation to the one I'd had with heavenly Anne Schwanewilms earlier in the year, now up at great length on The Arts Desk: both sopranos have huge amounts of wisdom and self-knowledge, but the difference lies in youth and maturity, between Schwanewilms' great experience and Yende's awareness of how far she has to go.

Finally, I shifted everything to hear the last two instalments of the Jerusalem String Quartet's Shostakovich cycle after Wednesday's performance: quartet playing doesn't come any greater than this.

To add to the Arts Desk rave about Wednesday's concert, I'd say that Thursday night's tumultous conclusion to the Twelfth, reiterating the major despite all the dissonances and tone-rows, capped even the victory cavalcade of the Ninth and made an equally satisfying resolution to suffering x 3. Sophie came again and once again conferred 'rock and roll' status on a chamber performance.

She was also stunned by the endgames and rites of the Fifteenth Quartet last night, as was I: never have I concentrated more fiercely, though there were two peaks in this concert. One was violinist Alexander Pavelenko and cellist Kyril Zlotnikov searing their way towards the moment of tenderness (the Braga 'Angels' Serenade' which Shostakovich had orchestrated in his plans to make an opera of Chekhov's The Black Monk? Mahler linden-tree? Janáček?) in the Fourteenth's slow movement. The tender serenade returns, of course, with fragile radiance at the end. The other was the astounding resonance of the solos in the Fifteenth's funeral march, which is where the tears started to flow uncontrollably.

Makng space for that, and a talk to the Friends of the Jerusalem Quartet beforehand, meant coming down to Gloucestershire a day late, and missing beautiful country weather, but I'm here now in the arcadian Uley Valley among fewer people, but an abundance of surprisingly untimid ewes and lambs. This, apparently, is Eglantine and her offspring.

*Stop press (9/5): we've now got two singers and a pianist from the Birmingham Conservatoire to deliver 'Du Venus Sohn' as it appears in the original 1911 Hofmannsthal adaptation and Harlequin's Serenade, plus a couple of Strauss songs. And Alice Coote, one of my very favourite singers, has expressed friendly readiness to pop in and chat Octavian if rehearsals and rest-time permit.


Susan Scheid said...

Yet another cornucopia of a post from you. And was very pleased to see the link to the Schwanewilms interview. She's so charming, and also wry, isn't she? Your brainstorm of a study day looks like fun--as well as informative. Can't beat that for a combination. On the Shostakovich, love that Sophie "conferred 'rock and roll' status" again! You make the experience of the concerts so vivid. Wish I'd been there, too. Your parenthetical about the Fourteenth suggests yet more trails to go down. Can you say more about what led you to those possible connections?

David said...

Wry's the word with lovely Anne: if only the bald text could convey the charm and wit with which her careful choice of English was inflected.

And especially happy about the study day since Alice Coote had recently discovered my email in her trash and may well drop in to chat before the performance. Students from Brum Conservatory may slip into the programme, too. And so it goes on...

I read about the Braga Serenade in an excellent essay about the Quartets by Judith Kuhn in the The Cambridge Companion to Shostakovich, part edited by David Fanning who provided the similarly excellent Wigmore notes. No mention of it there, though. The Mahler was my connection, and though I'd already set down the end of Janacek's 'Intimate Letters' Quartet as an example, I hadn't twigged, as two of my audience later did, that the thirds and sixths could come straight from its last theme. The question is, how much Janacek, if any , did Shostakovich know?

Susan Scheid said...

I've just now been able to set up a playlist relating to the Adagio of the 14th Quartet. I think I'm picking up Braga references (am I hearing one right at the beginning?), though I need more time (and right now rainy days!) with the music to be sure and to follow-up on the other references as well. Looks to me like I should get the Cambridge companion, and you're reminding me with your reference to Fanning that I need to spend some time with what look to be excellent liner notes to the Pacifica Quartet CDs (including from Elizabeth Wilson). The possibility of a Janacek connection is intriguing, too, though I don't think I'd ever be able to pick up something like the thirds and sixths from its last theme. There is so much to know!

PS: My maiden voyage review will be coming out online and in print in June, and the publication has expressed the hope I'll contribute in the future. I feel my limitations much more keenly than my assets, here, but we shall see . . .

David said...

Finally unearthing Braga more casually on YouTube, I don't really hear the correspondence (though I didn't have time to check the Shostakovich score). So I reckon the Mahler and Janacek links are more pertinent (re 'Intimate Letters', listen to the last movement and especially for the final, poignant theme which is interrupted, or interrupts, right up to the end).

You're still being a bit coy about your maiden voyage, as if to keep us all in suspense. No reason to be superstitious since it's presumably in the can...

And I only just spotted that your 'cornucopia' was the mot juste bearing in mind Jasper's play.

Susan Scheid said...

Serendipitous, that horn connection, though certainly not conscious. Thanks for the tip on where to listen in Janacek. My ears haven't found the spot as yet, but I'll try again. And my ears are probably hearing things, then on the Serenade. (PS: Did you see that Adams' City Noir/Sax Concerto album is out? I have it cued up for my next round of purchases.)

David said...

Indeed, a white label copy of the Adams arrived in the post this morning - can't wait to hear it.

I was cursory with the Braga, but when I have a spare moment I'll make careful comparison.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why you describe Harriet Walter as great. I have noticed she always speaks with an irritating and offputting lisp. For a great breed of horned sheep, check out the Manx Loghtan.
John Graham, Edinburgh

David said...

One day, dear John, you'll surprise me by popping up between habitual absences with a paean of praise for something. FWIW I've never detected the hint of a lisp about Harriet. But thanks for the pointer to a prize type of horned sheep.