Starting Over

Friday, August 25, 2006

Proms Part 3 - A John Adams Spectacular

A surprisingly low audience for a Friday night Prom, it must be true what they say about comtemporary classical music. But we were treated to a real treat as John Adams himself conducted three works -
My Father Knew Charles Ives (2003); The Wound Dresser (1988-89); and Harmonielehre (1985).
My favourite two were Adams' setting of Walt Whitman's Wound Dresser - a strong, striking combination of soloist and orchestra (only slightly let down by the deadening acoustics of the Royal Albert Hall), and my first hearing of Adams' major work Harmonielehre.
The LSO will be having a short Adams season later this year and early next, and I'm about to book tickets very soon!

You Face Tomorrow: Fever and Spear

"How can I not know today your face tomorrow, the face that is there already or is being forged beneath the face you show me or beneath the mask you are wearing, and which you will only show me when I am least expecting it"

Javier Marias is a compelling and fascinating writer. Fever and Spear is the first volume in a novel in three parts. Light on actual plot Marias's novel relates the largely inner world of thought and conversation of his Spanish narrator, who has moved to London after breaking up with his wife, and is invited at an Oxford party to join a mysterious organisation whose day to day activities involve careful observation of how individuals present themselves to others and interact, in order to understand and assess character and future behaviour.
Fever and Spear tells a story in which Jacques Deza is invited into and starts to work for this organisation, but is really a discourse about trust, betrayal and the nature of human relationships.
Spanish Marias is an absolute Anglophile, but this (translated) novel bears little relationship to the English spy novel. This is a supremely meditative novel, with Marias provoking trains of new thought through meticulous passages of fluent, sophisticated reflection. There is a sense of subtle irony in that this books is largely concerned with the need to keep secrets (careless talk - and indeed actions - cost lives) and yet the inevitability of revealing them. If "Life is not recountable", then in Fever and Spear Marias refutes this with his attempts to get at the crux of lives and people.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Pierre Huyghes

Currently at Tate Modern via Paris is Huyghes' exhibition Celebration Park. This is one of the best art exhibitions of the year! Comprising video, sculpture, and neon light works, Huyghes' work is intriguing, thoughtful and stimulating. Replete with ideas about cultural ownership, the notion of celebration, the environment, and self-referential these works look good aesthetically and aren't overly intellectualised and wanky.
The exhibition as a whole was really well put together - and I loved Gates the oversized doors that moved around the largest room which seem to represent both an opening and a closing, two dancers and instill a childlike mix of fear and delight. Its just one of thse exhibitions you walk out of thinking how lucky you are to have seen it.Theres a nice interactive broadband flash thing at:The Tate exhibition webpages

Ghost Dance - Douglas Wright

Douglas Wright is New Zealand's perhaps best known dancer and choreographer. He danced in New Zealand-based Limbs Dance Company and then in the New York-based Paul Taylor Dance Company. On returning to New Zealand he formed his own company the Douglas Wright Dance Company and produced some of the most awe-inspiring and moving dance/choreography I've still ever seen.
Dance for me is the art-form that, at its best, really activates every sense and engages me. Something about the physical presence and about pure movement creates a direct, personal form of artistic communication that reaches out and pulls you in. As a young man in New Zealand, the work of Douglas Wright really turned me onto dance as something that was not only entertaining but much, much more than that.
Ghost Dance is a kind of memoir, that meditates on friendship, love and performance. It moves between London, Europe and New York in a seemingly randomly constructed stream of consciousness, tinged with both black humour and deep humanity. Like stage sets, he described tableaux of place and people, and then with unabashed honestly tells the tale of growing up in the 1960's, through drink, drugs and sex, to the height of performing and creating his art. Partly the simple tale of a local boy done good, struggling against adversity and low expectations, its also a book touched by illness, death and mortality; a lyrical elegy for lost friends and past performances.
Two things struck me most in this book - firstly the loyalty and passion of Wright for his friends, for Malcolm Ross (for whom this book is in someways both a love poem and a eulogy), Janet Frame, Tobias Schneebaum and Lloyd Newson; and secondly how at the height of his fame and success Wright seems internally to feel broken and torn. At that time I couldn't imagine that he would be anything but basking in the adulation he so deserved.
Ghost Dance is a sensual and physical text, pulling together gay bath houses, meditation retreats, road trips, performances and friendships to create a work that forms a whole composed of these separate and connected parts that flows like a beautiful and moving dance piece.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

From Constable to Kandinsky

Two exhibitions at Tate Britain and Tate Modern respectively, were more interesting for me in terms of understanding the artists process than the actual works themselves. Constable is, alas, however accomplished too chocoloate box-y for my personal tastes, and Kandinsky too 'busy'. What I found interesting about each exhibition was learning how each artist gave attention to composition and arrangement of pieces within their (quite different!) works. I enjoyed seeing how the pictures were formed, reworked and fit within notions of balance, point of view and perspective; and how colour and form were arranged.
Visiting the Constable exhibition also gave me the opportunity to explore a family connection to one of his pictures - although what I discovered provided only a partial answer.

Proms Part 2 - Shostakovich also rocks

Proms 23 and 26 included Shostakovich's Symphony no. 8 and Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Strings - both most enjoyable and the latter my first hearing (but won't be my last). Also featured was a new composer for me, Glazunov, a friend and pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov, who's Violin Concerto in A Minor was very nice indeed. Britten's Les Illuminations, a musical and voice arrangement of Rimbaud's prose-poems disappointed though - a case I think of the limitations of the acoustics in the Royal Albert Hall.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Black Swan Green

David Mitchell is one of the most exciting new English language novelists around at the moment. His previous works Ghostwritten, number9dream, and the very successful and popular Cloud Atlas were all thoughful and experimental and great reads.
Black Swan Green is a story told by a 13 year old boy, of a year in his life in which the Falklans war takes place, his sister leaves home, his parents break up and he deals with a stammer and being bullied. It represents a shift of sorts, being a more focussed single narrative than Mitchell's previous works. Yet, like his previous novels this work moves subtley between episodic genres and isn't afraid to leave questions unanswered and withhold the full story. So while at first glance a more conventional work, the voice of an adolescent would-be poet is no less intriguing than the shifting narrators of Mitchell's previous works.
If portraying a middle-class family in an English town in the 1980's is in some ways autobiographical then this is a damning portrait of a year in the life of the artist as a young man. Mitchell isn't afraid to condemn small-mindedness, pettiness and insularity. But this isn't an angry work, but a tender and careful one. In some ways perhaps a transitional work it raises a very big question of what next for this acclaimed novelist. Having stepped back into his childhood where will the voyage move on to?