Monday, November 23, 2009

Cultcha Vultcha

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: hhm, 0.
Reading: Graham Swift's rather lightweight novella' Saturday'
Hair day: Am addicted to plaiting the longest bits of my fringe and then releasing for 80's crimped look.

It's been a Superweek in terms of cultural shenanigans: I first took Andy to a Words on Monday event at King's Place, where we were treated to a brain-massage of verbosity from the esteemed panel of Simon Schama, Tony Benn, Polly Toynbee and Geoffrey Robinson QC, discoursing on the topic of 'The Art of Rhetoric'. It didn't really matter what they were saying in the end: the joy was in hearing of each of them launch forth in a probably more impressive manner than many of the politicians they were dissecting. Simon Schama was easily the most showy, his liquidy presenter's voice rolling loquaciously over such figures as FDR, Lincoln and Obama. Polly Toynbee was more measured, Geoffrey Robinson could have quite easily been lounging in an old leather armchair, swilling scotch in a thick-bottomed glass, such was his confidently relaxed, richly posh tones (well, he is used to the pressure of prosecuting war criminals) but Tony Benn knocked spots off them, impressive simply by his accumulated experience. The others weren't able to give anecdotes about what Winston said in 1942, or indeed give their initial 15-minute speech without notes, as he did, all with a voice that sounds like he's permanently sucking on a Werther's Original. A real pleasure.

juice had a trip to see jazz/soul legend Cleveland Watkiss celebrate his 50th birthday at the QEH. It was a shame not to see of his solo loop station work, but we still saw a taste of his more exploratory side, the best being a trio with Talvin Singh and kora player Tunde Jegede. Yesterday I caught another of my 'Beginning with Blobs' shows (which I did the 45-min soundtrack for), which has come a long way since the first performance. Andy and I then made our annual trip to the BBC Wildlife Photography exhibition, always an utter delight, both for marvelling at the natural world and for technical and aesthetic artistry. Highlights included a teenager's shot of a deer caught in a half-lit woodland canopy, and flocks of starlings made as abstract as charcoal flicks in the black and white category. The under-10s category is always unbelieveable, though their precociousness shines through in their blurbs which say things like: 'I took this unusual photo of a silverback gorilla eating an ostrich whilst on holiday in Uganda with my father; I was just trying to capture the beauty of the strangler fig trees when the gorilla just appeared from nowhere. I was in grave danger but the gorilla realised I was an unthreatening posh kid and carried on as normal'. I think I actually agreed with the winner this year: an incredible image of a Spanish wolf jumping over a gate, a startlingly unusual impression of a fairytale animal who looks like he's just gobbled Red Riding Hood.

Finally we caught the end of the London Phil's weekend celebration of Russian composer Alfred Schnittke (the first time I heard his name was when I was a teenager at a composition course; my tutor said my work reminded him of Schnittke. At least I think that's what he said. Arf) at the QEH. He's described in Time Out this week as 'polystylistic' which is as near as dammit: the composer piles in all sorts of musical references (blues, Viennese waltzes, hymns) to a point of near-vulgarity. Still, vulgar or no, it was mostly pretty enjoyable, barring the first piece for solo viola and string orchestra, dull as dishwater. The strings were from the RCM, though all looked about 12; they remained for the rest of the first half, both for the Piano Concerto and Concerto Grosso 1. The concerto featured Boris Petrushansky, surely the Russian Jerry Lee Lewis of the 20th-century classical world, coming right off his stool on a couple of ferocious occasions. The concerto grosso starred a lovely bit of clunky prepared piano, and two violinists who were supposed to fizz with romantic tension; however, the leads lacked the necessary Brangelina vibe, though they did belt out some niftily mental Baroque flourishes. The Yellow Sound was a more convincing affair, fitting nicely alongside music-theatre works by Berio with a muttering cast of vocalists, unusual chamber ensemble and drifting soprano soloist messing about with lights. Though the Schnittke vulgarity couldn't hold be restrained, and the whole thing ended with a scream and rather doom-laden schlocky organ chords, like the finale to a Hammer Horror film. Love it!