Friday, July 18, 2008

A cure for the summertime blues

Bleeurgh its been a rotten summer. A rotten year so far if I'm honest. Cue yet another meta-introduction to a much delayed post... The last six weeks or so have been tough going, working hard, plus taking some time off from this kind of thing to focus on helping my much beleaguered other half Julie through endless hospital visits and finally a much needed operation. Add to that being involved in a car accident that wrote off my car (at 70mph) but left me physically unscratched and all the nonsense that comes along with that kind of thing and there's not much time left for anything else. I've had to ditch planned visits to Dublin last weekend and Portugal (for the fantastic looking Dinamo festival) in a week or two, and its been just about all I can do to keep listening to enough music to put together a weekly radio show.

audition has been a lot of fun over recent weeks however, about the only thing that's kept me close to sane. The most recent four shows should all have made it up online pretty soon after this post goes public, so we should be up to date in the archives again. Thanks to anyone that has been, or will be listening.

A ton of great CDs have come my way, even without me making any attempt to find any for a couple of months. I won't go into details here as a whole slew of reviews are planned for the Bagatellen and Paris Transatlantic sites as they both relaunch this Autumn. For now though I can thoroughly recommend a few not-to-be-missed releases; David Lacey and Paul Vogel's The British Isles is a wonderful CD, everything I had hoped it would be. David Papapostolou and Daniel Jones' debut release Leaving Room on the Adjacent label is a fine hidden gem, and I have Brian Olewnick's reliably excellent taste for pointing me towards Seymour Wright's brilliant CDr release (and thanks to Seymour for being kind enough to send me a copy when I couldn't find one!) Plenty more great music has fallen my way this year, but its particularly nice to be able to pick out a couple of releases made in the British Isles to recommend, plus a third named after them...!

I've made it along to a couple of concerts over recent weeks, though I've also missed far more than I'm used to missing. One that simply couldn't be allowed to pass without my attendance though was John Tilbury's masterful performance of Feldman's Triadic Memories at St John's Hall in Westminster, London. I was particularly interested with this one to see if, (like virtually every other recent Feldman performance by Tilbury) this realisation went slower, and took longer than previous CD released versions of the work. Suffice to say it was a lot slower, and all the more enjoyable for it on this occasion. I don't remember the exact timings. Alastair was given the task of keeping an eye on his watch for me (one way of keeping him from dozing off...) so perhaps he will chime in here and remind me.

Amongst the sizeable audience that evening was the composer Howard Skempton, who also wrote a special short piece for Tilbury to open the show. Notti steallate a vagli was written as a companion piece to Triadic Memories and as a homage to Feldman. I mention it here because it was truly very beautiful, the perfect way to prepare for such an evening listening to late Feldman, capturing the mood and presence of the great man's work in a short space of time. The concert was recorded for a potential CD release and I do hope if that happens the Skempton work will be added as a companion piece.

Then a couple of days ago, once Julie was home and recovering nicely I made it back into the big smoke to catch the last night of this year's Music we'd like to hear series of concerts at St Anne and Agnes' Church hidden away in a truly revolting part of London's financial district. The evening was a showcase for the music of Michael Parsons, who performed some of his own work at the piano, plus selected the other music of the evening.

Of the pieces Parsons played the best by far was the ironically titled Krapp Music, originally written in 1999 (for Tilbury again as chance will have it) as part of a programme of pieces based on Beckett's play Krapp's Last Tape. In the play Krapp listens to and comments upon a spoken recording he made thirty years earlier. For Parsons' piece the pianist plays in response to two recordings made earlier in the same space, one at a medium distance from the piano, the other more remote.
The music itself was slow and softly melodic, but when Parson's live playing was joined by the distant recording of the same piano a strange sense of passing time came over me. The recorded sounded like it was being played live, but in an imaginary room somewhere off down an imaginary corridor, with the sounds taking their time wandering into the space. This was a really interesting piece to witness live. A CD recording just wouldn't have the same impact, as the sense of space created by the excellent quality recordings (made and then "projected" back into the hall by John Lely) couldn't be recreated on a stereo system at home.

The other real joy of this evening's music was the opportunity to witness a string quartet up (very) close in an intimate space. The Post Quartet are made up of young, very talented musicians, and watching and hearing them play together in such a relaxed, pleasant environment was fantastic. they played an assortment of pieces including Parsons' reworkings of traditional Scottish Highland music, Webern's String Quartet op.28 and Cardew's Second string trio. They also played two short works by 16th century composer Orlando di Lasso, but the real highlight for me was Parsons' transcription for string quartet of Henry Purcell's Four Part Fantazia (sic) No.9 written originally in 1680. This brief but powerfully uplifiting tapestry of echoing chords tumbling over each other just a couple of yards in front of me made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. A string quartet in full flight is as near as I think you can get to musical perfection, and coming to this music with very little expectations made for a really enjoyable experience.


On the way to the concert on Wednesday I took in the Cy Twombly : Cycles and Seasons exhibition at the Tate Modern. I am reasonably new to Twombly's work. After having been intrigued by one or two paintings at the New York MoMA back in 2006 I have only been able to see the four of the paintings that have made up the Four Seasons series over recent years as they have been on continual display at the Tate. For this show however a couple more paintings from this great series have been added, massive works that depict the changing moods and sensations throughout the four seasons of life. For me a great combination of the outpourings of human passion and a chaotic sense of disorder these paintings are worth the (actually quite extortionate) entrance fee alone.

Even these paintings were overshadowed for me however by the two versions of the massive works Treatise on the Veil. A sudden step towards minimalism in the late sixties brought about these works, which are based upon Twombly's responses to an Edweard Muybridge photo of a bride in motion. A series of studies accompany the display of these huge paintings (probably about fifteen metres wide by maybe three metres high?) and spending time with these in conjunction with the paintings themselves was a great pleasure. Twombly was most certainly not inspired by Cornelius Cardew's Treatise, that he would have been writing around the same time, but I found it hard to not see a similarity between Twombly's paintings and some of the more sparse pages in Cardew's masterwork. I spent a lot of time with these two works, and would definitely recommend a visit if you can get to the Tate before the exhibition closes.


Jon said...

hey, man. nice to see you back and around, sorry it's been such a rough stretch, but sounds like hopefully you're past the worst of it now.

"I have Brian Olewnick's reliably excellent taste for pointing me towards Seymour Wright's brilliant CDr release (and thanks to Seymour for being kind enough to send me a copy when I couldn't find one!)"

Seymour actually isn't selling these (to individuals or distributors), but he'll be happy to send one to anyone interested for free (as long as they last, it's an edition of 100). I'm hesitant to post his mail here, but you can e-mail me or Richard and we'll point you on.

seconded on The British Isles and the Wright disc, both are on my short list for the year so far. jealous of you getting to see Tilbury doing Triadic Memories!

and someday I hope to receive copies of Poor Trade... :(

robert said...

Glad to see you posting again Richard, hope you are past most of the troubles. I join Jon in his envy of that Tilbury performance, its great that you've gotten to see For Bunita Marcus and Triadic Memories now - both things I'd like to see Tilbury perform more then just about anything.

That string quartet sounded great too, I agree that they are wonderful to see live, which oddly (at least here) isn't a very common occurrence. Usually they are putting the whole symphony or chamber group to work and its just touring groups coming through for the quartets. Ah well.

Anonymous said...

Hope Julie's doing well, Richard, good to see you around again.


Richard Pinnell said...

Thanks all, much appreciated. Yep, Julie is on the road to recovery and fingers crossed the second half of '08 will be much more productive and enjoyable.

Thanks for the details on the Wright disc Jon. For anyone thats not heard it I'll likely play something from it on audition this evening (Show 84, 20th July 08)

Alastair said...

Buggered if I can remember how long the Tilbury Feldman was. Longer than his CD version, anyway. If you'd posted this a bit earlier I might have still remembered the exact time :)

One thing that struck me from attending the concert: in the 21st century is it still necessary to have a middle-aged woman turning the pages of the score? Surely technology can be utilised to make her redundant and stop me getting fixated on just how long each page takes to play rather than immersing myself in the sound.

Richard Pinnell said...

Gah, I give you one job to do.... ;)

Anyway you can't measure how long it takes to play a page by how often the page turner flips the page over. You have to remember that she might have been turning the pages faster than Tilbury was playing them. Some venues have thicker air than others and it takes longer for each page to be turned, or she might have been taking a rest in between turning each page.


sexy said...