Friday, November 30, 2007

Fair and Open Elections - Everywhere

This article in today's Guardian talks about fraud, bribery and intimidation in Sunday's parliamentary election in Russia. People are being rounded up at workplaces and made to go and vote in a particular polling station; they are told they might lose their jobs if they don't vote for Putin's party (which is actually quite popular, so does he need this?).

Never mind; the Georgian election will be open and fair, just as the Lithuanian president urged them to be. So it'll be pure rumour that people in the army have been told that their personal loans will be paid off if they vote a particular way and that the leading party approaches businesses asking them for money or else they will be closed down (they need to get the money for those loans somewhere). And the fact that people go round houses and places of employment asking their neighbours and fellow employees to sign that they will vote in a particular way, is pure imagination, no?

Will the former Soviet Union ever get out of this immoral morass? I'm glad I live in a country where such things are not quite so possible any more (though we do get some duffers as politicians sometimes...)


Thursday, November 29, 2007

At death's door...

that's democracy and press freedom in Georgia. The president has now resigned, in accordance with the election process, and now another TV station, Maestro, has been closed. Apparently it's an entertainment channel (cable), but it was closed just before its one politics/investigative journalism show.

Oh dear, the credit in the world community. It's going down and down.

The credit of the Lithuanian president, at the end of his presidential career, is only going up. He is now European Statesman of the Year, for brokering a deal with Poland which was ready to go for a battle with the EU. Apparently the Polish president tells anyone who wants to get a deal with him, to speak to the Lithuanian President first. Adamkus was in Tbilisi a week ago, telling them to behave themselves and be open and fair in their elections so the president can have a proper mandate ...no-one seems to have listened.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Georgian poliltics - or is it?

Irakli Okruashvili, the former Defence Minister, whose verbal diarrhoea started all the present upheaval in Georgia (will they never learn to keep their mouths shut?), was arrested in Berlin last night.

To recap; in early October he alleged that Saakashvili, the president, was involved in some murders; then Okruashvili was arrested on the grounds of corruption, after a week or two in prison he was let out on bail of 6 million USD, he retracted his statement, and went to Germany 'for medical treatment'.

His court case was on 16th November; he failed to turn up, his lawyers said they needed more time, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Now he was arrested in Berlin. Again there is uproar.

But the question to be asked is - what's so surprising about a guy, who failed to turn up for his court case, to be arrested? People think it is all political.

It does not seem to surprise many people that a politician in a poor country, who denies being corrupt, can get together a bail sum of 6 million USD - average per capita income is about 60 USD per month. At one stage there was a collection for his bail -' please give a lari, or two laris' - 0.6 to 1.2 USD.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

'Murricans on the move

Conversation overheard on the bus taking the passengers from Istanbul airport to the Tbilisi plane between three Americans:

'what's the time difference'?

'1 hour' (actual = 2 hours in winter)

'how long will the flight take?'

'About 3 hours' (actual less than 2, must have had a rear wind'

'What's the predominant language in Georgia? Mostly Russian?'

'No idea'.

Question from the others to the original enquirer, who on boarding the bus has stuck his thumb almost up my left nostril and thus bugged me: - 'Are you going there on holiday or to work?'

'I've been on holiday for 9 years; I'm retired and wanted to do something useful'.

Well, lucky old Georgia, no?, to get the benefit of this well-informed gentleman and his cohort. I would not normally either know the time differences and flight lengths between countries on a loooooong overseas journey, but basic stuff like the language...

Another guy, on the other side of the aisle from me, was reading extracts from the CIA World (No-) Factbook on Georgia. He won't know anything then - the World Factbook is notorious for misunderstandings. Produced by the same organisation that found the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

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The Music of the Minarets

I actually don't mind being surrounded by singing spires. It's like the church bells in the West. And so what, if the iman gives his first (recorded?) call to prayer at 6 am, Sundays and weekdays? It's nice to know that you still have an hour or two in bed.

I was listening to them a bit more this time in Istanbul; at least partly because I often found myself in hearing distance of more than one mosque. They obviously have their watches set differently and so they go off slightly after each other. Which would sound like a canon, except that different Imans obviously have different voices and thus can sing only at the pitch which is comfortable to them.

I assume the calls to prayer are different for each prayer. However, at least in the same neighbourhood they all used the same tune for each prayer time. Couldn't exactly memorise it yet, but it would be nice to write it down and then check against it. Or just ask a knowledgeable Muslim....

In western liturgical tradition there are, I think, many ways to kill a cat, and the standard liturgy of, say, the Anglican church can be sung in different ways (though perhaps here also many people stick to the same sequence of notes).

Once written down, it would be interesting to see if such a 'tune' could be written in the style of Bach, Mozart (alla turca....) etc. Or would that already be blasphemy? From what little I understand about Islam, we all worship the same God...

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Istanbul Miniatures

- the fat cats of Istanbul, with their sleek and glossy bodies. No wonder they are fat, given the dishes of cat food everywhere. Some have signs of having been neutered. They can be quite aloof; one chubby tabby in the rather posh part of town called Nisantasi tolerated, with some disdain, being tickled on the head. Not a whisker moved; his chubby little bottom did not lift itself off his comfortable stone wall, the tail remained where it was. Maybe so would the human residents of that neighbourhood.

- the very stylish older woman with short cropped hair (unusual in Istanbul), and very bright and enterprising brown eyes, who sold pens sitting on a doorstep just down the road from my hotel. She would not have been out of place in a theatre or a bookshop. It was when she smiled that I noticed the lack of dental care; she also did not have the basic salesperson's skills of giving the price in English. A day later I spotted her twice, wandering around town with a very smart, lacquered shopping bag. There's obviously a story behind that.

- did not find Orhan Pamuk's apartment building, but spotted 3 sets of Pamuk Apartments (all the wrong size for the one he describes - or was he leading people astray?). In Istanbul apartment blocks seem to be named after the owner. Also often houses have two numbers; a red one and an older one. Which is the right one? Who knows....

- spotted a heavily veiled mother with two chubby boys in a cafe in Nisantasi (in Nisantasi all boys are chubby, to put it mildly); they reminded me of Pamuk and his older brother, who grew up there, and might still have lived there if it had not been for the thing with Hrant Dink, whereupon Pamuk left Istanbul . (Haven't yet finished his book 'Istanbul', when all can be revealed).

- the trouble of the smell in the hotel bathroom(s) is, I am told, due to the wind which blows the canalization smells back up. Right.....Maybe they saved on u-bends during the construction, which would have prevented that.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Villa Zurich

Villa Zurich is a beautiful hotel in Beyoglu, Istanbul. Down from Taksim Square, past the German Hospital, turn left at the little mosque (leaving, regretfully, the cafe with the wonderful chocolate smell on your right), past a fruitshop, a little cafe with the most amazing mix of tiles at its entrance, a high class deli, and before you know it, there it is in front of you.

Looks like it has recently been renovated, everything spotless. The restaurant on top of the hotel, which serves as a fish restaurant at night, and the breakfast room in the morning, is enclosed by glass and has a stunning view across the water to the old town (which is quite well enjoyed from the distance).

My room, 604, just below the restaurant, also had a wonderful view across roof-tops, little roof verandas, into flats (though I was too high to really observe....) The beds were wonderful, clean white cotton, and everything was spotless.

Shame, then, about the smell from the bathroom. I've met this before in places, but usually running some water through the drains has fixed it. It's not offensive, just unpleasant (and I suppose I could have asked for another room). As a result, the window is often wide open after the cleaner has been, on these November days in Istanbul. Bit of a shame, then, that the heating (the airconditioning), which appears to be older, sounds like a plane ready for take-off after a few minutes of gathering its strength. But luckily there is a spare duvet in the cupboard.

After a night in the room underneath the restaurant you get used to the noise of people walking above you (strangely, the evening I was in the restaurant, I listened out for their footsteps but could not hear them), and the moving of the tables at 3 in the morning, to prepare for breakfast, you only hear in your first night.

The restaurant has the slightly unfortunate habit of not appearing to have a menu, and of whisking you past the price list by the entrance when you enter, as well as assuming you want to drink quite a lot of wine, and water, so the bill can be a bit higher than you might anticipate.

But it's a great location, and I am sure if you have another room, you'll be fine.

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Yaşamın Kıyısında

Went to see this film, called 'Auf der anderen Seite' in German. It's made by a Turkish-German film-maker, Fatih Akim, and includes stars like Hanna Schygulla, playing a concerned mum. It's kind of a strange film, and of course I saw it in Turkish, with the occasional bit in German subtitled. Hence I now know the Turkish word for 'sh*t'.

It's sort of three stories, which are connected. An old Turk in Germany goes to a prostitute and falls in love with her. Not sure if that actually happens at the first visit, or when she is threatened and asks him for help. He invites her to live with him, and introduces her to his son, who is a 'Germanistik'-professor at Hamburg University. Not sure if he wants the single son to marry her. But before anything develops, disaster strikes....Cut.

A young woman, Ayten, in Turkey is involved in some political upheaval, including the carrying of a gun, and when she sees her flatmates arrested, she flees the country to Germany, where her mother lives (lived?- and guess who is the mother??). She comes in as an illegal immigrant, cannot find her mother, goes to the University where she sleeps through a lecture by the professor (see above) and is finally picked up by a young woman, Lotte, who falls in love with her. The young woman's mum looks on with concern. Eventually Ayten is caught, fails her asylum seeker test. Lotte follows her to Istanbul to try and get her out of prison; she rents a room in the professor's flat who has by now moved to Istanbul....disaster strikes....Cut.

Lotte's mum travels to Istanbul to find traces and memories of her daughter, visits the professor to see her daughter's room, and ends up staying there.....And then what? Search me!

The end was very much in the air - all in all the film seemed to be about many missed opportunities, lack and loss of communication, sadness. It seemed slow to me, but not understanding the words may have had something to do with it. Beautifully acted and filmed, in Istanbul as well as in Germany (which indeed has a German-Turkish bookshop not far from my hotel, as described in the book). But it had a bit of a non-ending, with many questions left open.

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I hardly leave the country...

...Georgia, that is, and all hell breaks out! Again the multitudes were marching, this time to call for the reinstatement of the TV station Imedi, which the authorities had closed down at the start of the state of emergency. 'Closed down' is not quite the appropriate word, given that the equipment and even the employees' private cars were smashed up. Will they get compensation? Not until the courts go against the government, and in the most recent court case about this the judge(s) confirmed that the closure had been correct. Hmmm. The station is (was? there may have been a very recent change of ownership) owned by Badri Patarkatsishvili, a multimillionaire who made his fortune in Russia (I'm never quite sure about multimillionaires who make their fortune in Russia), as well as News International, Rupert Murdoch's outfit. Which of course would make anyone with any sense of quality close down the station, but the question was about free speech, not about quality of broadcasting. Since I don't have any TV in Georgia, and would not understand it anyway, I cannot really comment on quality...

Meanwhile, electioneering of the crudest kind is going on. Unbelievable how naive the politicians are, and what they think of the intelligence of their electorate (a negative IQ). They have promised to raise pensions from 1 January (election is on 5 January) - potentially this might have an undesirable effect on the poverty benefits many people get, but they might not notice it until after the election. In addition, a programme has been announced, whereby 100,000 unemployed Georgians will get a 200 lari stipend to get 2 weeks work experience between 15 and 31 December (the monthly minimum wage is 38 laris); possibly in addition afterwards they will get another 250 laris. Pity the poor employment office, having to find work experience places for 100,000 people within the next two weeks; someone has to interview people and place them roughly in the right type of work. Are there enough formal places of employment for 100,000 people at all in Georgia?

Still, the pensioners and these 100,000 people and their families should swing the election, no?

It's as if the government is playing monopoly.


Saturday, November 24, 2007

The handsome Turkish men

...are all in Istanbul. The ones in Germany are so so, especially the young ones who gel their hair to withstand all assaults and must spend hours every morning shaving each hair individually.

In Istanbul you get some really very nice-looking men indeed, and they are also very gentlemanly. (You do also get some very nice-looking Georgians and Armenians in their relative capitals, but here there is more financial equality between a western woman and a nice-looking Turkish man. [Editor's note: dream on!].)

The contrast between Beyoglu, where I am staying this time, and the old town (Sultanahmet) is awesome; not just in the architecture, the quality/class of shop, cafe and food, and the cultural life, but also in the freedom of a woman to walk along a street unhassled. Let's see, though, what happens tomorrow morning when I go for a run. Haven't seen anyone run here....

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El Violin (Keman?)

Give me a film with the word 'violin' in the title and I'll go to the pictures. This film was in south american Spanish and had Turkish subtitles. Another triumph for the reading of body language....The film was advertised as 'Keman, El Violin', but I don't know if this is a Turkish word or whether it's a name. Internet now up - it's a name....

I came in a bit late, but essentially it was about some internal war situation in a South American country with the regular army and the guerilla army. Neither of them too sensitive about what methods they employ....we saw the regular army taking over a village; the village women and children decamped, it seems surprisingly calmly (no news cameras about, no opportunity for histrionics). At this stage I was ready to leave, thinking it would be a gruesome war film. I suppose it was, but not all that gruesome after this scene.

A young man, his father and son, are just returning to the village, when they meet the refugees. The young man goes to investigate, his father and son join the refugees briefly, and then they all join the guerilla army. The old man, Plutarco, goes off on a donkey to the regular army occupiers of the village - though he could easily be shot, given that he is a one-handed violinists which stretches everyone's imagination just a bit.

In fact the village commander likes the violin, finds out Plutarco can play by tying his bow to his arm (and gee, it sounds like it, too), and so he holds the violin hostage and Plutarco has to come and play every day. But Plutarco has his own game....

The film is slow moving and shot in black and white. When the language does not work, it becomes a bit challenging...It was interesting, though. Strange thing in this cinema (in Turkey??) - in the middle the film suddenly stopped and everyone went out to get a drink or nibbles. No alcohol of course. We are in Turkey.

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Theatrical donkeys

Off to the ballet on Sat afternoon at the Atatuerk Arts Centre; it was a ballet by, amongst others, someone called Lanchbery. I could have sworn I had reviewed the ballet recently, after a Tbilisi performance, but no internet to check. Well, anyway, let's see what the Turks can do.

I should have remembered - the curtains opened to La Fille Mal Gardee! Oh wonderful! I love, love, love this ballet - it's Rossini on legs (in some cases very Rossini indeed).

It was the same set (maybe the very same?) as in Tbilisi a few weeks ago, but obviously different dancers. The fille was very young and very small; I think under the strict Turkish laws any suitor might have been thrown into prison for interfering with an underage girl. Her young man (no internet to check) was not as good as the one in Tbilisi with the legs up to his armpits - this one's legs just went up to his well-endowed important bits (my op was successful, no?), though whether he was as well-endowed as Nurejev, whose glorious nakedness I spotted on a link from opera-chic recently, I doubt very much. The daft wee boy with his red umbrella was better in Tbilisi; the Turkish mother was brilliant, brilliant, brilliant - totally camp, with a very jutting, manly chin - and 'she' did a great clog dance! Must have watched the British video.

But the star of the show, to me at least, was the live little donkey who pulled mother and daughter to the suitor's home. He, definitely a he, was as good as gold, standing still on his skinny little legs, and then moving off as required. Not something you could say about every donkey. I guess we were in Turkey....

The choreography was slightly altered, I thought; here and there were unexpected steps, and I am sure in Tbilisi we had a double wedding, where at least the daft boy's dad married the girl's mum.

Next to me was a heavily veiled granny with her skinny, belly-button-showing granddaughter; they had a great time! You don't see so many of these veils in theatres in Istanbul - I suspect they all live in Germany....

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Seeing the world with new eyes

...though yesterday this time the heading might have been 'A vale of tears'....

Thinking of what I might do in Istanbul while I am here on an R&R weekend, I looked up 'wellness' on the internet. But it was all fancy foreign hotels when I rather more fancied a hamman, and pummeling by a broad breasted Turkish woman. Did not come across any of that, but came across eye operations instead....you know, that kind where they cut and slash with a lazer and you don't need to wear glasses any more. It's something I had casually thought about before, but dismissed, what with being both shortsighted, like forever, and in the last 10 years or so also long-sighted (arms too short). Then my Canadian friend Anne (about 10 years older than me) had had it done just after last Christmas, in Canada. Interesting.... I then saw her at the viola congress in Adelaide and she seemed happy enough, though she was still having trouble seeing at night (she drives, I hardly ever do). Though when I asked her short-sighted husband if he would get it done, he said - not after all she's gone through! Hmmm.

I read the blurb of a clinic, Eyestar, which sounded good (it would, on it's own website), with the commending words of German pop stars (not to me they would not commend) and others, like journalists. Then I did a rapid piece of research to see what other people said about the clinic, and whether there was anything negative about it anywhere (in English or German) and I could not find anything. On the contrary there were lots of warm words about the VIP service like the limo picking up people from the airport etc. If that makes them feel good; personally I am more impressed with quality medical care...

So I emailed on Thursday afternoon; got a call on Thursday evening, and an appointment for Friday morning for an exam. The snowball started rolling....

The entrance to the place is not entirely prepossessing - it's on the first and second floor of an apartment/office block, and you know what shared ownership is like; no-one takes care of the staircase...unlit, and without a handrail.

What also slightly gave me the willies was the fact that the waiting room and entrance did not look anything as flash at it did in the brochure/on the website, and some of the furnishings had seen distinctly better days. Strange....later I discovered that the brochure showed the operating floor, which it did match exactly. But I mean, you never know, getting info via the internet....having the only eyesight you've got interfered with....scary stuff!

Then off I went, getting the most thorough eye exam in my life (but then my ancestors on both sides have/had some fairly serious eye disease); the usual eye tests, thickness of cornea, which is the dominant eye (which indeed? consensus of opinion was that it was the left, after it first looked like the right one [in me, a left-hander? never!], and so on and so on. It seemed to be ok, and then we had the problem of middle-age - if the sight was made perfect for distance, I would need reading glasses - more trouble than having the same pair on your nose all day. Making one eye for distance and one for reading would not be good either - we simulated it and the result was not good. So we fudged the issue and adjusted both eyes a little bit....The obvious answer, not doing anything and keeping wearing the glasses, was in my mind, but did not cross the delightful Dr
Kahvecioglu's mind, or if it did, he kept it to himself (obviously...it's private medicine). His general bedside manner should be an example to many in the British NHS (not that there was any sign of any bed).

The op was set for an hour later, not enough time to give BUPA a ring to check out the clinic - what was I doing to my vision? As it happens, the procedure itself, 10 seconds with a laser for each eye, plus lots of faffing about setting up each eye and untangling it afterwards, was a piece of cake. Anaesthetic drops, everything was wonderfully explained in English, as had, as a matter of interest, the consent form. But did my eyes stream afterwards? Noah would have called for his carpenter...

Rushed home and poured myself into bed. A few hours later it was good enough to go to a concert....which was middling. Now, 30 hours later, I am typing this with the naked eye, plus I've been to the ballet and to the cinema, reading the Turkish subtitles to a Spanish film from the last row. 'Yes' in Turkish seems to be 'evet', as opposed to 'Kho' or 'K'ae' in Georgian and 'Aio' in Armenian..... No pain whatsoever. Good or what? It's brilliant!

The cost? Less than my last pair of glasses, and it should last for a much longer time....These must be almost the only surgeons, much like appendix surgeons, who never see the same patient twice!

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Alfred Brendel is retiring!

The Guardian tells us he will play his last concert on December 18, 2008 in the Vienna Musikverein. A fitting location for 'Britain's greatest living pianist', as the Guardian describes him, considering his emphasis on Austro-German programming. He will be 77 by then and will have performed on stage for 60 years - perhaps enough for anyone.

He used to come to all Edinburgh festivals while I lived there (ok, so it was only 3 that I experienced). Concerts at the Usher Hall are known for their democracy where the great and the good, including Brendel and the then First Minister, Donald Dewar, would mingle with the general public and not a security person in sight. People would report on the chap in the front row of the circle whose fingers would be playing on his knees what the other pianist on the stage also played.

Once he did a words and music programme, maybe at Snape Maltings, which was broadcast on the BBC - clearly he has a wacky sense of humour, though it sounded a little forced (was it his own poetry, or musings?); maybe he's not a natural stand-up comic, but then he has no need to be.

Thank goodness for CDs!


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Late family

Not in my case, it wasn't. I'm talking about Zeruya Shalev's latest book 'Late Family'. Not yet translated into English (I read it in German), but her books 'Husband and Wife' and 'Love life' are - go and buy them! She's a brilliant, brilliant author. 'Love life' has been turned into a film.

'Late family' is a nearly 600-page, tightly printed (and excellent value for money) book set in the head of a young woman who decides one day to separate from her husband (actually to put him out). They have a son, Gil'ad, who is six and starting school. From this point on the book goes through all the agonies, the fears, the worries, the excitements of her decisions, her doubts, her desires, her new ways of thinking, the concerns of her friends interpreted by herself correctly or otherwise, the domination by her father, her loneliness, her slow change of focus from her son to herself, the changes in the family relationships, her attraction to a psychiatrist with (no doubt gorgeous) dark eyes, the attempts to settle down together with what is left of his family. These mental processes - probably most women have been through some of these at some stage in their lives - are observed minutely and documented in exacting detail. As the reader you feel you are on an emotional rollercoaster, and you will her on to make the right decision. The people the narrator is involved with are themselves very complex and thus very real people - you feel you could just go over to some of them for a chat.

Like all Shalev's books this has not a single quotation mark, but is full of dialogue, internal and external, and you have to read it really carefully not to miss anything, or to be sure who said what. Scanning a paragraph does not do - you'll miss key information. The dialogue, all for that it looks from the distance like a descriptive paragraph, extremely well reflects the ways of speaking of the different characters, from six-year-olds to 75-year-olds, from slow to fast talkers.

In passing you also pick up some of the realities of current life in Israel; when parents pick up their children from the locked school playground and wonder if one elderly guard is enough; when people won't sit near the guard in the cafe, and when they will not take their children into public spaces like a shopping centre.

It's brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! I waited for ages for the paperback version to come out, and it's been absolutely worth getting it. Sadly, Ms Shalev seems to be a slower writer than we are readers....


Norn Iron

Those not in the know will not know that this is the way some people refer to Northern Ireland. People with extremely short memories will not remember 'The Troubles' there. I won't go into them here.

This all came up because in the flutenet discussion group I asked a question about building stamina - not running out of puff after playing just a few notes. To be honest, it is getting better all the time, I'm just a bit impatient. At the time people had mentioned different techniques, including buzzing (like when you play a trumpet), playing with a chopstick under your tongue (which you can't but apparently afterwards your embouchure is just so!), and someone wrote about 'GFC'. I asked 'what is GFC'? He replied 'don't confuse GFC with KFC'. Well, of course, why didn't I think of that. Any suggestions on what the acronyms might mean? I reckon 'GFC' means 'good flute care' - but KFC - Kentucky Fried Chicken?

Then he goes on about SJG, who he describes as one of the leading flute players of the world. Who is S....J. G....? Finally I work out that he is talking about Jimmy Galway, he of the golden flute. I suppose you can't blame foreigners for not knowing that 'Sir' is not actually on the birth certificate, except for some people. Of course people rave about Galway's wonderful playing and about his helpfulness with his chat group etc, giving advice on playing the flute, much like flutenet. So they should. I also know, having read his biography in the very distant past, that he learnt to play the flute in a marching band (ouch!). But of course, I am thinking, he has overcome all that and now uses his golden flute for peaceful purposes, bringing the sides together and all that.

So why does it make me feel uncomfortable finding on a website put up by a boy from Norn Iron a link to the British monarchy and Westminster Abbey websites? Ouch, ouch and triple ouch! Won't be buying any of his CDs then.....


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Moliere via Rossini

Went to the Marjanishvili Theatre (Tbilisi) tonight for a play advertised as Moliere's 'Vain Doctor'. My colleagues told me the title would have been better translated as the 'Fake Doctor'. Whatever.

Had not been able to find any reference in the internet to a play of either title, so I tried to memorize the names of the characters - and now I've found it; it was 'Le medecin malgre lui' (imagine the accents in the right places). Did you know that this site apparait a avoir les textes complets de tout ce qui Moliere a ecrit? Merveilleux! So I could just quickly read what I have just watched.

It was a generally traditional performance, as far as you can get 'traditional' in Georgia. Certainly the frocks were traditional - the stage was rather bare, with bits and pieces hinting at this corner of countryside and that bourgeois living-room. I think the play is about a chap from the country who is paid to pretend to be a doctor, to cure someone's potential wife (or perhaps his daughter) of her stutter; she is in love with someone else (as she should be if she is his daughter), and when the right couple finally gets together ....and so on. It's a short play - with the interval we were out in just under 2 hours. I suspect the big red pencil may have gone through some scenes.

Like all plays in Georgia, it turned into a musical - but a Rossini musical! When the curtain opened, I thought - does this theatre use the same music for everything? But then I remembered that last time I had heard that tune played on a piano it was at the Russian Drama Theatre in Vilnius, when they put on Beaumarchais' play 'The Barber of Seville' to the same music, in the style of the Swingle Singers. I must see if it will be on when I will be in Vilnius next month.

Here they went further, sometimes with orchestral interludes, sometimes with the piano, often singing the arias, sometimes as they are, sometimes adapted to one word, and sometimes in Georgian. Naturally it was not the quality of singing you'd expect in the opera house, but it was a pretty good effort. Probably Moliere had also not written into his play the group of belly-dancing girls which were extremely effectively accompanied by one of the actors playing an Arabic string instrument and singing. (The Marjanishvili theatre seems to be blessed with multi-talented actors, though the young flautist is not the best actress...).

Even though I had not a word of Georgian, and no idea what the play might be about, other than that I know a bit about Moliere's plays and had some idea from the title, I could follow it more or less. Probably if you know the plot it would go even better - but it was a lovely show, and a lovely evening out! Worth doing again.


Friday, November 16, 2007

Ishq and Musq

Excuse me?, you'll say? What's she been taking? Can I have some of that?

'Ishq and Mushq' is a book by Priya Basil - gee, she is only just 30! I suspect she has passed through Berlin recently since that's where I was given a very personally signed copy for my birthday. Thanks, guys.

'Ishq and mushq' means 'love and smell', and the heroine of the book (hmmm, heroine??? not totally convinced about that!) is told that these are two things she can't hide. Though the evidence suggests that she hides the first one very well, even from herself, though with the second she is not so successful.

The book is the life story of a woman, Sarna, from India, who marries a Kenyan Indian just after the partition, and as life gets complicated for the Kenyan Indians in that country, they move to the UK. Sarna is a young woman with exquisite tastes both in clothes, picking the most vibrant, flamboyant saris, and has a knowledge of cooking and spices that surpasses everyone's skills.

And yet. And yet. Her downfall begins as she moves into her husband's family, as is the custom, and finds another daughter-in-law already there. Two noses are well out of joint. Her husband goes off to London 'to study' but it seems he also had some extra-curricular activities as she discovers in the bedroom. He is never forgiven for this.

Somehow he manages to make enough money in Kenya or Uganda to buy a house in London, and the whole family moves into the house with two lots of sitting tenants. Sarna does not speak English at first, and since her cooker and spices do not arrive for weeks, they have to eat take-aways - this lays the foundation for bowel problems that plague her for the rest of her life (....mushq....). Nothing much pleases her; her children adapt to British life, including her Sikh son with the little topknot, and life looks like it might go on in a dull kind of rut.

But then her dark, very dark, secret from the past catches up with her, first causing her to take to her bed for weeks, and then she begins to cook her way out of the crisis - with the whole family/neighbourhood being assaulted by food and smells. The family relationships grind along against each other with her getting on with no-one, what with her speciality being blaming others for her own problems. Actually, she's a right bitch, and quite a conniving one, too, but there are people who live in their own universe like that! Let me start the list.....

It's a lovely book, very readable, and very funny, with some lovely turns of phrases. It's not quite the class of Monica Ali's 'Brick Lane', perhaps also because as the reader you don't engage so much with the main character (heaven forbid!) - and it does not quite have the same level of detail, spanning a much longer time period; one can also tell that Priya Basil has not herself experienced most of the historical period she writes about. The story of the dark secret is eventually rather skipped over - the situation could have been dramatised much more. But it's a fun read and quite unputdownable.



Tried to get a Spanish accent in the headline, but failed miserably. Need to learn it soon, though!

So for the last few weeks I have been studying Spanish; again with the OU, with the aim of speaking da lingo, and combining it with my music courses to get a full degree, eventually. You may ask, what does she need a degree for at her age? You are right - but what fun it is to learn just for learning's sake.

The course is quite different from all other 21 OU courses I have finished so far - what with it starting about 5 minutes after my last exam, instead of in February, like all normal courses, and there are no units that might last one or two weeks, just a few books. Also, it seems, no exam at the end (though whatever test it will be, it will be hard). And of course it's cumulative, not like those nice easy courses where for a while you study this, and then you study that. But that's how my music course was, too.....

And then, what with me being used to the East European way of learning languages (you learn the rules first and then put it together) I find it weird going backwards - you learn the phrases and then work out the rules! But it's interesting....

So while in Germany I bought myself a Langenscheidt vocabulary training course on CD-Rom, for remembering those frigging words. They are much easier in Spanish than in, say, Lithuanian, though...It's a wonderful programme where you can do all sorts of things from memorising vocab (the words pop up in front of you and you give the other language), to vocab memory, phrases (I ain't there yet!), learning the vocab in a certain period (25 and more words a day, but with much repetition), apparently also having the computer check your pronounciation, plus you can load yer wurdddzz on yer Ipod - it's pretty cool! Every night I now spend a night in front of the computer learning a few more words. Shame they don't do it in Lithuanian, too. Did I mention the course is in German? Something similar probably exists from English to Spanish, too....


Free Rice!

Here you can test your vocabulary skills and donate free rice to the world food programme at the same time. It's hard, and maybe even addictive....


Wednesday, November 14, 2007


There are statistics, and there is experience.

In Georgia, where inflation since last December is reported to be 6.2% according to the statistics office, the experience feels different. In my favourite Adjarian khachapuri restaurant first they slapped on a 10% service charge, and now the smallest khachapuri is noticeably smaller. Another place selling take-away khachapuris has slapped 20% on them. Theatre and concert tickets have gone up, too. With other food it is difficult to tell - fresh food changes seasonally every week, and sometimes I pay the foreigners' prices, too. But of course gas etc have gone up considerably. I also hear that the price of flour has gone up, but the government has not allowed for the price of bread to rise - a wise move in view of last week's unrest.

In Lithuania, too, price increases keep rising, with an inflation rate of 7.6% in the year to October 2007 (compared to an upper limit for Euro membership of 2.6%). We'll have no chance to join the Euro (though thankfully the currency is fixed to that already). My mortgage interest rate is below the inflation rate - does that mean I am making money? I don't know. Opera ticket prices in particular have doubled over the last few years, as have some concert prices. Then there are nasty tricks such as putting 2 litai on each ticket you buy, even at one concert hall. Restaurants have increased their charges considerably, and I notice the prices of milk and bread have increased a lot, too. The service charges for my flat seem to have doubled recently. Of course in the last 6 years the minimum wage has increased from 450 lt to 700 lt, and many of the public sector workers, and pensioners, get considerably higher incomes - I hope that for them there is a real increase in ability to spend (or save) and that they are not earning more and buying less.

I wonder where it will end and whether Lithuanian prices, and incomes, will have to approach the EU average before it all stops. If incomes got there, then at least many of the expatriates would maybe return...


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Pressure, pressure....

Oh boy, what pressure over the last few weeks! (Incidentally, why is blogger suddenly speaking German to me?)

I had planned to have a relaxing three weeks between Georgia postings, once I had had my exam, but relax? Got a call to do some work on Moldova, ideally in Moldova, but my lovely friend Gordon rescued me from that, so at least I could do that at home. Thanks, Gordon!

It meant building a mathematical model about something - which I had only just done in Tbilisi and never wanted to see another spreadsheet again...(though it has refreshed my Excel skills). In between I kept getting calls about my Georgia model, up to a few hours before I left for Germany. Plus umpteen doctor's appointments because my doctor fretted about my weightloss (I didn't). Then in Germany I was busy, non-stop, reading some hardback books which I did not want to carry back home (the luggage was bursting already) - apart from having some lovely times with some lovely people. Otherwise non-stop information - do we really need to know everything?

I might have had one day to just sit and think, or faff about....horrendous! This evening (Sunday, 7.24 pm) I finished the Moldovan work - phew! What a relief! Now it's just one job, practicing up to three instruments, studying Spanish and later again music.....I feel I'm in control again....


Getting into the Musikverein, Vienna

It's a piece of cake! What do you mean 'you need to book months ahead and it costs a fortune!'? Absolutely not.

Well, sometimes it does - you just need to pick your concerts...

On Wednesday afternoon I landed in Vienna, and on the way to the Cafe Landtmann I read one of those dirt cheap (actually free) Austrian papers, and spotted the name 'Poppe' under 'Musikverein - even the dirt cheap papers say what's on at the Musikverein, that's Kulture!

'Poppe who?' you'll ask? If you are in the music business, it's worth knowing about him. He's the rising star of German music making, having won lots of prizes and awards. I've talked about him before, seeing as he is also my music-and-maths teacher's son. We were scandalised when young Enno appeared a good long time after his sisters, and what a name 'Enno'....This photo by Mark Nyffeler could be a photo of Dad, especially with all that wonderful hair (Mum's colour, I think) - though young Enno looks as if he could do with a good square meal.

So I thought 'oh well, I really can't be bothered', went off to Landtmann and had my Wiener Wuerstl and my Kaiserschmarrn (the Wuerstl allow for this), looked at my watch...it was early, flight to Tbilisi not till after 10....so off I shot to the Musikverein. I bought my 19 Euro ticket at 19.29 - concert started at 19.30. Seating was unlimited, so I could sit wherever I liked. Brilliant or what?

Then I discovered that Poppe's piece, an Austrian premiere, was right at the end of the concert, after Georg Friedrich Ha....as, and Luciano Berio. I had to leave at the interval. Haas' piece was interesting; for full orchestra plus piano, much into tone colours. Starting with the pianist hitting a note, for 1.5 minutes the note was handed round the band, sounding different from each instrument, and then the next note....the pace picked up. Occasionally the pianist had some playing to do, too - it was interesting and colourful. Not too much life about it, though.

This was followed by a piece by Berio involving a harp soloist, two other harps, and some fiddles placed right at the back of the orchestra. I wish I could remember more about it; I know that I did not die of boredom, and it was not shocking either, so it must have been all right. And if I had had a programme, I could tell you much more about it....


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Autumn runs

Tbilisi is back to normal, with the usual percentage of policemen about (though up a back street I spotted a bus full of soldiers and riot gear). Buf of course we still have a state of emergency. (In Lithuania we were near it once, due to a drought, but the government could not afford it because it would have had to pay back the pensioners their rouble reserves. Don't ask, I don't understand it either. Anyway, no such worries in Tbilisi). I had worried about going for a run, but actually, it's ok.

In terms of lurking soldiers, at least. There are other challenges, however. It seems that it has rained a lot. This has lead to mudslides. Not big ones, just the mud around the cobbles has been washed all around them. So you are running on muddy cobbles, which are wet, and with the sun relatively low, you can't actually see the ground very well. In Tbilisi you definitely want to see the ground if you don't want to break your legs!

Add to that the fact that I have run on relatively flat ground for the last few weeks and you can see why today's outing was a bit of a struggle - quite amazing, really; I thought I had not done too badly in recent weeks, but there we are...


Thursday, November 08, 2007

Quietening down...

At 6.30 pm tonight the vast majority of soldiers had gone, leaving behind maybe 20% of their colleagues and four little Portaloos at the end of Rustaveli Avenue (clearly a sign of good planning). Probably because the opposition has called an end to their protests - amazing how they can mobilize and de-mobilize their people. Mr Sakaashvili blames the Russians and has thrown out some Russian envoys; bit of a cracked-record technique, this, and not contributing to local peace. The Russians are calling on the UN to tell Sakaashvili to sort things out.


The worst acting ever!

I'd been trying to get some film with my favourite Georgian actor, Zaza Papuashvili (he), and found a film called something like 'Georgian Grapes'. Unfortunately, it comes only in a compilation called 'Erotic Tales 5'. So I turned on the DVD with some trepidation....

The first film 'Will you be my Bratwurst' you see is absolutely, absolutely dreadful! It's produced by Rosa von Praunheim (also he) who is a gay German filmmaker. I think he should be banned from film-making! It's about a goodlooking (and well-hung) young guy who spends his Christmas in a hotel full of very strange people, all of whom are sex mad. They include the gay security guard, the big black transvestite, a person with height challenges and a hump back, a granny and various others. Each has their own fantasy of what they might do with him. It has a slight flavour of 'The Cook, the Thief, the Wife and her Lover', particularly at the end of the film. The acting is atrocious - a paper bag could act better than some of them! I wonder if that is intentional and an ironic take on such films. I fear not.

The 'Georgian Grapes' film, while also pretty trite, at least has some better acting (though not the best from Zaza Papuashvili and I think his dad, David Papuashvili, among others). It's about a downtrodden young woman in a village somewhere in Georgia, who meets a film star (as one does in a Georgian village) and is told how to make the most of her assets; thus surprising her husband (Zaza) who did not realise she had it in her.... Nakedness here does not extend beyond tits, and Zaza keeps his T-shirt and trousers on at all times. (Isn't it painful to act sex when she is half-naked and he keeps on his trousers and his belt?) The film really does not make much use of the talents of the actors either, but I suppose in Georgia in the late 1990s, when the film was made, one had to live. It's fairly forgettable, though.

Would not recommend either of the films - and glad that this one excursion into this world has satisfied my curiosity. Now back to loftier matters....


State of Emergency

Finally got back to Georgia this morning; flight was delayed, driver not available, but taxi was promised. No taxi, just some guy with a sheet of paper with my name on it, who then called a taxi. Me not happy. Taxi driver appears, says 'can't lift your case, have a bad back'. Then I tell him my address, he says 'can't go there, place is closed by soldiers'. I tell him let's go and see. While we are moving towards the town I am building up a head of steam over the idea of having to drag my suitcase for two kilometres, steeply uphill, from where I assume the 'front line' is. We get to the actual front line, the taxi driver tries another way round, and we progress smoothly towards my front door. No problem!

This morning I go to work, and have to talk my way around the soldiers blocking the main road that I need to cross. They are not armed. Beside the opera house there is a huge pile of cobblestones from the renovations which are still not finished - if I were them I would have removed them yonks ago. But no-one in power is old enough to remember 1968. My colleague staying in a hotel in the main road tells me that last night there was a strong smell of tear gas in the air, and that the US embassy moved all their citizens from that hotel, and it's busy emailing all its registered citizens. No word from the UK embassy. Yesterday there were (fist) fights in the streets between soldiers and people, and someone has mentioned rubber bullets. The box office of the theatre on the same street is closed; lots of soldiers are lounging under its canopy, as they are protecting the opera house a few steps along. All events are cancelled, I hear. Meetings of more than 4 people or so are illegal, all independent TV channels are shut down. People complain that they cannot get news. People are also very nervous, and find that both the government and the opposition are behaving very badly. Apparently the state of emergency has been applied for the 15 days from earlier this week. Let's see what happens.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

books, books, books

In Germany, when I was not eating or talking to people, I was reading, reading and reading. I don't like carrying hardbacks in my luggage (too much weight per word), so I tried to read all those passed on to me, to leave them there for other people. They were all in German....

I read Daniel Hope's book (in German, already reviewed here), two biographical books involving Israel, another about Italy, and Pascal Mercier's novel 'Lea'.

Michael Degen, the wonderful German actor, had as a Jewish boy, survived the war in Berlin as a 'U-boat' (hiding, often literally, underground), and then got himself to Israel to look for his brother at a time just after the war when the Brits generally did not let the Jews in; somehow his boat managed. Immediately he was recruited for the army, but his rather stroppy temperament made him unsuitable for this, so he did various bits of work, met various relatives, and found himself as an actor in a theatre company months after his arrival. Consider that he did not speak Hebrew before then, and that a German accent might not have been much appreciated. It's quite an achievement. Degen writes very entertainingly; it's his second book after the first one which described the war experiences - you wonder whether his is going to produce a book for every year or two of his life? Only in German.

Saul Friedlaender's (he just got the Peace Prize of the German book trade [association])book 'Wenn die Erinnerung kommt' (when memory comes) is about his war time experiences as a Jewish emigre child in France, which the family had fled to from Prague. Eventually he is placed in a boarding school, and his parents are taken to the camps where they perish. After the war [in France], he goes to live with his state-appointed guardian, before at a rather young age making his own way to Israel. He interleaves this with current scenes in Israel in the 70s, where he now lives. It's interesting; the writing is of a rather higher class than Degen's - Friedlaender is now an academic. The book exists only in German.

Franca Magnani was the Italian correspondent for a German TV station for many years (it would appear). Her book about An Italian Family (only in German and Italian) describes her childhood as the daughter of two anti-fascists during Mussolini's reign. I had not really thought about when Mussolini started operating, but it would seem that it was in 1926, a year after Franca's birth. Her father flees immediately to France, then her mother follows with the older daughter over the mountains (despite being closely guarded by the police and the carabinieri) - later young Franca's grandfather gets permission to take her to join her parents. For a while the family lives in Marseille, but in the early 30s they move to Zuerich in Switzerland where they stay until the end of the war. (Lenin also lived in Zuerich, earlier, and is reported to always having paid his rent and taxes on time). Money is always tight - her father does not have a work permit so the parents keep having to work illegally. There are very active in the anti-fascist movement, and many well-known activists visit their home, many also regularly landing in prison, or occasionally ending up dead. They are constantly observed or spied upon, and the Italian authorities cooperate closely with the Swiss police. You tend to forget that fascism affected many countries directly; Germany maybe got off lightly with 12 years only ... except....

Pascal Mercier's book 'Lea', also only in German, is about a widowed father whose daughter suddenly develops a passion and a considerable talent for the violin. In this case, unlike in Jessica's 'Alicia's Gift', the child is driven not by the father but from within herself. Like all Mercier's books this one is unputdownable, though it does not have the usual density of texture that his other books have, and it is read very quickly. The good news is that his 'Night Train to Lisbon' which I have not reviewed, but I've read, is now almost available in English. Paperback version out in February. It's a tour de force about a teacher from Berne who is close to retirement but suddenly decides, after meeting a suicidal Portuguese woman on a bridge, to go to Lisbon, to find out more about her (or to find her?). It's a great book, very dense, and takes a long time to get through. Ideal for taking on a journey. Make sure you don't accidentally buy Emily Grayson's book of the same name! Here's a fuller review of another Mercier book.

Finally I read Emine Sevgi Ozdamar's book 'The Bridge of the Golden Horn', out in paperback in English this month. It's a novel, though with an autobiographical flavour, about a young Turkish woman who comes to Berlin to work in a factory for a year in the late 60s before returning to Istanbul to study acting. It's very interesting, and very funny about the period in Berlin, her struggles to speak German, learning it from newspaper headlines (of the 'Sun' type of paper), the relationships in the boarding house where they live, with 6 women to a room, and their attempts to preserve their virginity (their 'diamond'). The main character, being quite liberated, makes every effort to lose her diamond... Already in the boarding house she gains an interest in acting, since the chap in charge of the home is an actor himself, who later returns to Turkey to run a theatre (people in exile nearly always do jobs they are overqualified for). On her return to Istanbul she gets a place at theatre school and then becomes very involved in consciousness raising, and trying to experience life as others live it, at one stage making a treck towards the Iranian/Iraqi border to see for herself the conditions of farmers who are reported to be starving (as opposed to trying to help them). Her diamond? She lost that yonks ago.

This book is a bit like Orhan Pamuk's books in that it is quite complicated, particularly so when it reaches Turkish soil (or is the world there less familiar to me?). She has a wonderful way of writing, using very distinct images, eg at one stage describing the students revolting in Berlin as 'chickens' and going off in a long flight of fancy describing Guenter Grass as a famous chicken, the city of Berlin as a chicken shed and so on. Is it something Turkish about using imagery? The author now lives in German working as an actress. It's worth getting!


Monday, November 05, 2007


Terezin, as I had to explain to the shop assistant at Dussmann's in Berlin, is better known to the Germans as 'Theresienstadt', a concentration camp near Prague. (Usually Dussmann's shop assistant's are pretty well informed). Theresienstadt gained notoriety, apart from the usual reason, by being used by the Germans in a propaganda film along the lines of 'we have built a city for the Jews', showing people partaking of a cup of coffee outside a cafe and so on. The truth was of course different, and if you want, you can go and look at the place next time you are in Prague.

In Terezin many artists and musicians found themselves, amongst them Erwin Schulhoff, Gideon Klein and many others, all of whom composed and all of whom perished. This CD by Anne Sophie von Otter and others is not the first with Terezin music; I have another one somewhere. It has a series of songs, as well as Daniel Hope playing Schulhoffs solo violin sonata (did they not have enough songs to fill the disc?). It has been highly praised by Jessica in her blog, as well as in the German media (who under the circumstances will never be able to do anything else).

It is indeed very beautifully sung and performed, and heartbreaking at the same time, eg the lullaby for the Terezin children going to....sleep...., or 'farewell my friend, ...I'm going on the Poland transport' [to Auschwitz, presumably].

And yet, and yet, I have a small problem with it. I find it too beautiful. My gold standard for Jewish music singing is Judita Leitaite's singing on the soundtrack for the film 'Ghetto' about the Vilnius ghetto theatre. You can listen to bits of it here. It's the sheer rawness and hunger for life that I find so impressive. Liora Grodnikaite, a stunning young Lithuanian singer, has also been heard to perform these songs (mostly transcribed/composed/orchestrated by Anatolijus Senderovas) incredibly movingly. But then again, am I being fair?

Much of the Terezin was written by very high class composers, cultured and maybe assimilated very much into the Austro-Hungarian ways. The German songs in the collection are in high German (like BBC Standard English if it still exists), whereas the songs I hear in Lithuania are generally in Yiddish. Maybe that makes the world of Terezin totally different to the world of the (further) East European shtetl, and maybe I should not compare these two worlds. But then again, the people singing these songs/performing the pieces at Terezin will not have been in the best of health, unlike the present-day performers with their well-cared for voices and fine instruments. I don't know.

It's certainly a CD well worth getting if you want to get a feel of life in a camp (omitting the dirt, disease, death, hunger, cold, ill treatment, overcrowding etc), particularly if you study the texts of the songs where some raise themselves above life in the camps, and others very clearly describe the reality of life (the meat you can only see with a magnifying glass). It's interesting that now there are young Germans who do not wish to get information about this period - apart from the neo-nazis maybe other people cannot deal with it emotionally. It's nice to have that choice -in the 1930s many people in Germany had no such choice.


Bratsche forever!

I want to review a film I've just seen but I cannot put it next to something as tasteful and sensitive as Daniel Hope (who, incidentally, has had some quite mixed reviews of his Mendelssohn CD, with particularly BBC Radio 3, the somewhat obscure German music magazine 'Partituren' and something else not being altogether impressed by it. Never mind; I am told he has had great reviews elsewhere - he has his own very specific style of playing, which is a change from the many faceless interpretations one gets nowadays).

Just back in Vilnius after almost a fortnight in Germany, doing different things....very different things....

Last weekend had the German Bratschistentag in Muenster, Northrhine Westphalia. (Bit of a spelling nightmare, no?) Muenster's other claim to fame is that it is the capital of Westphalia, and the place which set the curricula (actually, they only advised) of the school I went to several centuries ago. Oh yes, and they signed the Peace of Westphalia there in 1648, after the 30-year war. It is a lovely place to go and see at Christmas, with the old town beautifully decorated. I was pleased to note that the municipal decorations are not yet up.

The music school at Muenster University is not that well known. First I had heard about it was when Reinbert Evers, who appears to be the head of the music school, appeared in Vilnius playing the guitar. Reasonably well, though you tended to hang at the end of the chair at times in suspense, wondering about the next note. I guess much of his time is taken up in administration.

The head of the viola department is Hartmut Lindemann, who has a particular interest in the playing style of about 100 years ago, Kreisler, Heifetz and Primrose. Well, ok, 50 years ago. The Deutsche Bratschistentag united members of the German viola society and others in 48 hours of intense viola playing, with three concerts, masterclasses and the usual play in, apart from quite an extensive display of violas by different and very enthusiastic makers.

In the first concert students from Tabea Zimmermann's class gave it laldy. I think she goes for students who can not only play the viola, but who also have a personality - and they did her proud with the world premiere of a fun, energetic and rather noisy piece by Gordon Kampe, '15 white pictures by Guenther Uecker'. I don't think anyone could count all 15 - they rather merged, but it was a fun piece, and great for energetic young people. (I could digress further and tell a story about Guenther Uecker, but I won't). This was followed by a rather uninspiring performance of Milhaud's 'Quatre Visages' for viola and piano. Milhaud, for a French composer, writes some nice music - my friend Omar played a lovely piano, clarinet and violin trio (with the delightful Trevor Bray on the piano and a great unknown violinist) at the OU summer school. This was a lovely piece, too, played rather school boyishly. Oh dear, and then there was another world premiere of a piece called 'En' by Nicolaus Huber, performed by Hideko Koyabashi, who teaches in Mannheim. Well, er, what can I say. It's not a piece that would work on a CD seeing as for large stretches of time there is not much sound. Don't ask my why there isn't much sound - I only saw the back of the soloist; it's all about strange noises. Supposed to reflect meditation in a Japanese garden....Again you ask why does it need a viola. Ms Koyabashi showed what she could do in Hindemith's 1939 sonata which went very well.

The next day we had two first performances of classical works. We think. We are not sure, though I cannot immediately find a recording of the Sperger viola concerto in E flat major. The piece is ok. Not brilliant, though; in fact rather weird. The first movement tootles along ok for a classical piece (Sperger lived around Mozart's lifetime). The second movement is strange, with a sort of baroque way of getting the soloist to play all the time - but not always the tune. There you have the piece starting with the orchestra playing the melody and the soloist the accompaniment. And then in the final movement, which goes on and on, there are a couple of places where the solo line just kind of hangs in the air. It must have been meant. But. I would not rush out to buy it, nor would I have published it particularly. The soloist played very beautifully but not with that much personality or power; but she has won many scholarships and other forms of support. Both issues were more than made up for in the Stamitz sinfonia concertante for violin and viola in D major, recently republished from the manuscript (I see there are recordings of a sinf. conc. in that key - is it the same one or a different one?). This is a brilliant piece, very virtuosic and very very long. Played in beautiful togetherness by Noah Bendix-Balgley and Benedikt Schneider (look out for him) with lots of panache and lots of personality. Finally we had Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante (my third live hearing this year) with Karin Wolf and Susanne Rabenschlager. It was ok; could have done with a little more enthusiasm and spirit of togetherness, but was of course totally secure.

The final concert had Hartmut Lindemann doing what he does best, playing Kreisler (the Praeludium and Allegro on which I came a serious cropper in a competition), a Primrose transcription, pieces by Bax, Stanford and one of the Brahms sonatas. Not being a lover of English music, particularly of that period and those composers, this was a bit of suffering; but the pieces were interesting and would add some variety to students who also always play Brahms. Lindemann certainly played very beautifully, and, as is his style, very virtuosically. Got loads of applause and was unstoppable on the encores.

In between that we had the group playing together, some masterclasses and a talk on viola music of the early classical period - plus many happy get-togethers. It was great! Next year it will be in Cologne, where I hear Antoine Tamestit is the new professor of viola at the ripe old age of 28, rubbing shoulders with star teachers like Zakhar Bron (vile-din) and Frans Helmerson (cello). Wow!!!! And very well deserved indeed!