Wednesday, September 27, 2006

All over Germany

Was in Germany for a few days, for a family party and to meet the Girlfriend (went well). The birthday queen was 90 and full of life and fun. In her speech she talked all the time about the fun she had had in all her life, even though she also faced some difficult periods. About 30 /40 guests, ranging from 30 to more than 90. Long evening in a restaurant, including speeches, a magician, fireworks and a sketch based on "dinner for one" with the birthday queen and her nearest people being very well represented by two of her relatives. "Dinner for one" is a German TV programme which runs at Christmas every year. It is about an old lady and her butler celebrating Christmas; all her relatives have died and the butler has to represent them all - giving and drinking a toast for each of them in each course of the 5 course meal. Inevitably, he gets very drunk.....It is supposed to be set in the UK, but is a totally German programme. Very funny.

The night before going to Germany was at home briefly and found an invitation for the premiere of the British film 'Elizabeth'; an event run by the Lithuanian Euro MP Margarita STARKEVIČIŪTĖ to celebrate the cultural cooperation between the UK and Lithuania. I thought this was the film about the current Queen and her annus horribilis, but in fact it was the film made in Lithuania in June 2005 about the first Elizabeth. Confusingly in both films both Elizabeths are played by Helen Mirren. Reception went well; it seems our MEP is an academic who has done research into differences in cultural funding between UK (and other European countries) and Lithuania. It needs to be mentioned, though, that with governments like we have had in the UK for the last almost 30 years there have been few politicians with any interest in matters cultural.

Anyway, the film was.... very very long; in total it lasts 3.5 hours. We left after the first half (seeing I had to get up at 4.30 am the following morning) which seemed to have told all that there needs to be told. The queen was portrayed as a very spirited lady, though also with a sense of what one should and should not do as a queen which sometimes exceeded her political considerations. Patrick Malahide was in the film; I did not recognise him (probably because I thought the name belonged to another actor's face). There were quite a few funny moments, but by the time we had been through the Queen's lovelife (chapter 1), her relationship with Queen Mary of Scots, and the Armada this seemed to cover all necessary facts. It was a bit odd knowing that the film had been entirely made in Lithuania, so one tended to look out for bits of Lithuania. Apparently 13500 square (metres/feet?) of set had been built in Lithuania, and knowing this, the sets did not entirely properly represent the UK buildings that they were meant to be. Sometimes the sets meant to be in the far distance were smaller than other things in the foreground, eg where people were rowing about in a lake and the boats were well out of proportion with the buildings behind. However, not everyone might notice this, and for a costume drama it was a pleasant enough film. Good for a history lesson or three.

On the Sunday in Iserlohn went to the final concert of the 'Herbsttage fuer Musik' in the local theatre. The Hagen Symphony Orchestra played, first the Magic Flute Overture and the Brahms 2nd symphony; later after the rehearsal the music school orchestra played, very carefully, Saint Saenss' 'Carnival of the Animals' with the soloists Antony and Joseph Paratore from the US. Joseph has an amazing resemblance to Harpo Marx. They were rather hampered by the caution of the orchestra, but came fully into their own when performing with the Hagen Orchestra Poulenc's Concerto for two pianos (d-minor); the impression was that it was 'their' piece. Finally they performed a piece of Jazz music, by special request apparently - did not go as jazzy as it might have been, perhaps also because they played from sheet music.

In the evening to Dortmund to hear Mihaela Ursuleasa (a website still under construction) play the piano in the Konzerthaus. This was part of a series of concerts in honour of Shostakovich's 100th birthday. She played stunningly. She has a particularly calm way of playing, very far from histrionics. Started Beeethoven's variations on the Eroica Symphony awesomely quietly and calmly; she made the Steinway sound almost like a hammerklavier. (Not sure the Steinway was in the best of health). This was followed by 14 of the 24 Shostakovich 24 preludes. I think these are based on the same principle that Bach also wrote 24 preludes, ie going through each major and minor key. It was interesting to hear how much more different types of music were available to Shostakovich than to Bach, eg waltzes and other dances (but perhaps Bach's were also based on dances, of his period). A very enjoyable work. Finally she played Mussorgsky's 'Pictures of an Exhibition'. To reply to the standing ovation she picked up a theme from the Shostakovich Viola Sonata (thank you, Mihaela) which briefly quotes a Beethoven piano sonata (and other Beethoven pieces) and she played this piece in an extremely calm and controlled manner; very beautifully.

Other participants in this mini-festival included Julian Rachlin and Itamar Golan (both born in Vilnius and emigrated as babies), and Julian's partner from the NL, Janine Jansen, but we did not hear them. Outside met an acquaintance who on being asked how he was told us all about his cancer, and that he did not expect to live till Christmas. The treatments seem to be giving him hell and so he is not sure whether he really wants to 'fight'. Is on some sort of experimental treatment; presumably the others are not considered to be effective for him.

On Monday to Berlin Friedrichshain which is continuing to come up; went again to the beautiful restaurant 'Schneeweiss', and were able to eat outside. The place was quite busy for a Monday night. On the Tuesday we went to an Italian restaurant in Kopernikusstr in Friedrichshain (or it might have been at the beginning of Wuehlischstr, on the side nearer the river). A very tiny restaurant, slightly pricy for the neighbourhood and Italian food, but very exquisite, too. The menu was very short, but had something for everyone. It was entirely in Italian, so the padrone explained it to us. The three of us first shared an assortment of starters (for two people, meaning that of some items there were only two); then individual main courses, and then an assortment of sweets, two of which contained coconut (not my favourite). We had a wine called primitivo something which was very nice, and served in rather a special way, whereby the first tasting shot was swilled through all three glasses, a bit like preheating a teapot.

After Tuesday being a bit of a shopping day, Wednesday was spent getting food for dinner that evening, and a trip to the Martin Gropius Bau to see an exhibition of contemporary French painting since 1972. Very interesting it was, too. Mostly very huge paintings, often borrowed from official French government buildings, and both figurative and abstract paintings. I preferred the calm abstract ones, such as Genevieve Asse's Atlantique (half light blue, half darker blue, not like the one in the link). Also Sylvie Fachon's blue painting with a series of connected red do-nuts in the bottom half (looked a bit like a map of the roundabouts going round East Kilbride). There was Gottfried Honegger's painting consisting of a series of brown stripes (he makes very beautiful sculptures, too!); someone else had done a series of 66 black squares arranged round a room in three rows (have lost my notes of the exhibition), another person had made some picture frames which could then be painted in the colour of the walls of the room which they hung on. Incidentally I was very surprised by the ornateness of the Gropius Bau, which I had expected to be rather Bauhaus. However it seems that Martin Gropius is an older Gropius, having died in 1880. Walter Gropius of Bauhaus fame was born in 1883.

Then on to the Neue Nationalgalerie to see an exhibition of Berlin and Tokyo and the artistic links between the two cities. Very interesting, particularly the contemporary part. The exhibition looked back to about 1900 - it is clear that there were links between the cities; when in Berlin it was the Dada movement, in Tokyo it was the Mavo movement, both countries had happenings during the happening period and so on. Rather interesting upstairs was the exhibition architecture, where they had built with wood something like a Japanese garden with small hillocks. One of the most interesting displays was like a little house made of sheets on which was printed the story of pet architecture. This is the kind of architecture where people squeeze into the tiniest and awkwardest of spaces a building; for example an estate agent who had a space 1 metre wide; a build supplier who had his business on a place where a road forked into two (perfect for storing long building supplies objects) or small shacks for the homeless (made by themselves) which represented in miniature all that not homeless people aspire to. Very interesting.

Dinner with friends in the evening, and home this morning.