Thursday, February 28, 2008

Pleasing to the eye

The policemen in Timisoara, Romania, are not pleasing to the eye whilst directing traffic, says today's Guardian. Drivers have complained of lacklustre and imprecise directions.

What is the inspired response of Timisoara Police Department?

The policemen (only men) are sent to ballet lessons run by members of the Timisoara ballet.

And no, they are not just learning to wave their arms about, but dancing to the works of Tchaikovsky, Swan Lake apparently being the best role model for this kind of work.

Feel free to feel sorry for them - they have to do this in full uniform, on account of having to wear that while on their day jobs.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The lone man

As a teenage Anglophile, when I wanted to emigrate to England, naturally I landed in Scotland - and remained for most of my life in the UK.

Recently I started studying Spanish, so what's the first book of 'Spanish' literature that fell into my hand? It's by a Basque author, of course.....solidarity of the downtrodden nations and all that, I suppose. No, I'm not reading it in either Basque or Spanish - Spanish may be easier than Lithuanian, but a language which uses 'deportisto' for 'sportsman', rather than what you might think is its meaning more logically, is a language with elephant traps.

Bernardo Atxaga's 'The Lone Man' takes me into parts of history (not that much history, really) which I have known little about. (Though sadly, I remember that my Scottish friends, with whom I spent my first years in Scotland, lost a friend in San Sebastian through ETA activities in about 1975 or so).

The book is set in 1982, during the Football World Cup which took place in Spain (how did this happen - it must have been awarded during Franco's reign which finished in 1975? They knowingly awarded the cup to a dictatorship, and a country in relatively deep decline?). In the story, the Polish team (with the real team names - gee, the research one does for a review) is staying in a hotel owned by a group of former members of 'The Organisation', presumably ETA. They are all rehabilitated, amnestified and free men - though no-one should ask about the start-up capital for the hotel; to obtain this they had used previously gained skills.

The leader of the group, a bit of a dreamer and philosopher, has got himself involved in hiding some fugitives within the hotel complex, for old times' sake, without telling his co-owners. The police is on to him, somehow, and it becomes a race against time to get the fugitives out.

The blurb says it's an entertaining thriller. Not sure about that - the book is paced quite gently with not a single car chase, and very little violence, if any. The main protagonist, known as 'Carlos' is given a book of Rosa Luxemburg's letters and spends much time quoting them and drawing parallels between her situation in prison and his current condition. He goes for walks, with his much-loved dogs (the author's much-loved dogs? They are very dog-loving descriptions), spends much time chatting to his colleagues, whose own lives are unravelling and re-knitting themselves just a little, and spends much time alone in the bake-house, where he produces the hotel's famous bread. But of course in the race against time there's the thriller element.

The book is thin on description, but heavy on relationships, and contemplation of the present and the past, including the recent past and that of Rosa Luxemburg. But it is not dense. It is much more demanding and interesting than an airport novel (though these have changed in recent years), but at the same time becomes increasingly unputdownable as you go on. It's very readable indeed.

And after getting stuck at 24 pages into Theodor W Adorno that is very nice, too!


Music - and the mind - and the body - and the science

This 'music and...' thread is rapidly developing potential for a dissertation, though perhaps not necessarily today's contributions, thank you (unless one of them gets more substantiated).

Today's snippet is contributed by my friend Pat who found this article in the Grauniad about music 'to stand bold upright to'.

Some chap in the US, called Carrick (as it happens, that's where Pat lives and where I used to live, albeit in Scotland) has found that a particular singer's CD helps people to stand upright.

So what, you may ask?

If you are an older kind of person (not mentioning any ages, but you'll probably have been drawing your pension for a while) falling over is actually quite dangerous. Ask my mum. Though in one case she was pushed - off her bike - and in another she should not have been on a piece of ice at minus god knows how many degrees...but I'm sure everyone knows of someone who fell and broke their neck of femur, and before you know it, they have a huge hospital bill (if not in Europe), a new piece of metal in their body and if they are lucky, they are back home after 6 - 8 weeks in hospital. If they are unlucky, they end up in a nursing home or dead.

So staying upright is very useful indeed.

The singer is one Nolwenn Leroy, and the effect is called the Nolwenn effect, also mentioned here, though Mozart's music features too on a CD they have brought out (but you can't call it the Mozart effect since that's already applied to young children). The latter site states that 'Only Mozart and the Nolwenn Leroy conditions improved a substantial
percentage of the subjects to the normal stability range. The success
rate for the Nolwenn Leroy treatment conditions was greater than Mozart
and all other music at 71.8% plus/minus 10.7%. If repeated samples were
drawn from the population, the expected success rate for the Nolwenn
Leroy treatment conditions would fall between 61.1% and 82.5% for 95%
of those samples.'

The site goes on to say that even a number of people without any sign of disequilibrium, when tested, were found to be at severe risk of falling. How did they test that? By poking them in the arm?

While hunting for the original article on the Guardian website I found this little audio file on music and science; all about how atoms sound. Don't find that topic altogether interesting, but noted that the composer David Horne, amongst others, had written music around this. I remember a TV programme about him as a boy at St Mary's music school in Edinburgh, and later hearing a huge and very complex piece written by him in a concert of the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Roger Vignoles sings??

Amazon told me 'Get "Shostakovich; Rachmaninov - Songs" by Roger Vignoles for £13.99'. Looking at the site, it describes Roger Vignoles as the 'artist', and one Iris Oja as the 'performer'. Oja's name is slightly larger on the disc than Vignoles'. At the bottom of the page there is a 'sponsored' link to Roger Vignoles' CDs. Seeing that, as far as I understand, he's primarily an accompanist, and a very fine one, a number of noses might justifiably be out of joint.

I suppose for those who don't know Roger Vignoles, it does not matter whether he sings, dances or plays the piano.....


Monday, February 25, 2008

Men and women listen to music differently

says the head of popular music at the BBC, with men listening more intellectually, and women more emotionally.

Sounds like the kind of science applied to everything, including car driving.

Note that this little gem comes in response to changes at BBC radio 6 which, it would appear, male audience members have switched off.

Can't quite work out the raison d'être of Radio 6 from its website. But 'intellectual'???

Methinks Lesley Douglas (a woman) knows not what she is talking about.


State Ballet of Georgia - on tour in the US!

Here's the review. Kind of middling, but praising 'my' Lasha Khozashvili (as well they should!). I reviewed this set of performances here.

Did not know Ananiashvili had danced for the American Ballet Theatre. I had seen their Cinderella a couple of years ago at the New York Met - it was brilliant! But that explains the strong links between Ananiashvili and Balanchine.

I hope, as the new director of the company, she gets the show on the road. Hope she does not lose lovely Lasha, but who would want to stand in the way of a career in the US, should it be offered to him?


Music and the mind - or - plug me into my Ipod

Music aids brain recovery following a stroke, is the initial conclusion of a study by Helsinki University.

It makes sense, really - they have been using music for coma patients for years (or getting your relatives to talk to you, but how much conversation is there in a virtual corpse on a bed?). Having people wired up to music or to audio books gives the brain constant stimulation, quite apart from making life a hell of a lot more interesting while you are 'being' rehabilitated.

So, should I ever have a devastating brain injury, just plug me into my Ipod!

Though having said that while my brain is not injured (and it is not at the moment, as far as I can tell...) I also









Sunday, February 24, 2008

Staff reductions at the Marjanishvili Theatre

The Tbilisi home of the wonderful 'Doctor despite himself' (Moliere), 'Midsummer Night's Dream', and 'Threepenny Opera' faces staff reductions, the Messenger tells us. These things happen, of course. It's never nice, though, and especially since the theatre, like most other theatres in Tbilisi, has recently been done up expensively. Admittedly also at least one actress is not entirely pulling her weight - like, she can't act.

But the reasoning is strange.

“Until now, the theatre did not have a fund for salaries. We were
meeting expenses either through loans or other resources. Now, the
theater has state funding and salaries can be raised”, the theatre's artistic director said.

So.... when they had no salary fund, they could afford to employ more actors than now, when they have a salary fund? They covered their running costs by loans? It makes your hair stand on end.

They are planning to give the remaining actors a raise. Erm, forgive me, but wouldn't there have been another solution - like all of them agreeing to continue on their existing salaries and having more jobs, or is that too simplistic?

Maybe there were other reasons for the cull?

A friend reported that during the curtain call of the most recent performance of the Moliere, one of the actors looked 'livid'. To be fair, I've never seen him happy while taking the curtain (though he acts a happy little camper during the play, mostly), but maybe the news had just got out? Though he is also Puck in the Midsummer Night's Dream - surely he could not be asked to go...


Friday, February 22, 2008

Play the cello with the Berlin Philharmonic

My friend Lynne from the US sent me this little gem. Learn to play Saint-Saenss' Swan like a Berlin Philharmonic cellist - with your computer moushka!

What will be the next instrument they'll feature?


Dreams are the windows of the unconscious?

Having taken a bit of a note of my dreams recently - mine can be quite funny, and you never know what you might need funny, or crazy, ideas for - I'm surprised at just how much music features in them.

Out of 8 dreams noted so far, only one had no musician or music (though the chap concerned is a member of my singing group...). Of the 7 others one included a music building (the Vilnius Filharmonija), one was an outdoor dance event (agricultural fair meets waltzes, sort of thing - band not seen), four involved performances more or less formal; there were a number of named pieces though apart from some Bach I would not want to be certain that what I heard in the dream was the piece in question, another included a chat with Nobuko Imai (a viola player, of course), and I played in the final one (and sat a written music exam).

Seeing as I don't work in music that seems quite a lot. Though these days I often work with my Ipod (I'm training myself to be able to do that) to not be disturbed by other, often loud, conversations in the same office.

What, then, goes on in the heads of those closer to the music business? (Can't discuss it on the viola list; they have a lurking psychiatrist!)


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Life in Mono

This Guardian article describes the experiences of the music critic Nick Coleman since he woke up one morning last August and suddenly could not hear in one ear, having suffered 'sudden neurosensory hearing loss' (an unexplained hearing loss, it would seem), plus there are problems with balance (I assume they have excluded Meniere's disease as a possibility). Obviously not good for his profession (hence lifestyle and everything). In addition he has some form of tinnitus which is extremely noisy and gets worse if there is background noise, such as music. Terrifying stuff, no?

He finds his responses to music, when he can bear to listen to it, now very two-dimensional, ie hearing the music does not bring the same emotional response that it used to do, except that sometimes it does. This he is currently exploring with Oliver Sacks, the psychiatrist (who has just lost the sight in one eye) and David Levitin, both of whom have written books on the interactions between the brain, the mind and the music.

It will be fascinating to follow his journey and to see where it leads him - but who would want to be in his shoes?

Interestingly, in Germany there is a condition called 'Gehoersturz', also a sudden loss of hearing, for which people are admitted to hospital very urgently. It is usually curable, from what I hear, and often it is linked to stress. Strange, though, that other cultures don't know about a condition which would be, one would think, extremely measurable.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Did he actually read the book?

This review of Alex Ross' 'The Rest is Noise' is so thin, that a) I wonder if the reviewer, 'OMM' knows anything about music anyway, and b) whether he actually read the book. Given that it came out well after the book suggests that he may have done - the book is very dense and quite hard work, but what he writes about it he could have found on the dust jacket or in the introduction. Or did the Grauniad cut his review?

I'll review it once I've worked my way through it (left it behind on my current travels, and I need it just now for an essay), but all I can say it is incredibly densely packed of fascinating detail, which must have taken a huge amount of research. Although it gives the appearance of being an easy, and colloquial read, when you get into it, it is anything but. And the fact that it deals with so many composers makes it very easy to put it down after each....


Sunday, February 17, 2008

The arrogance of the man!

Skipping through 7 centuries in 7 weeks in my music course (topic, roughly - the social location of composers) right up to punk, Kraftwerk and other such music - which I find quite interesting, actually - I find myself nose to nose, or eyeball to eyeone with one Theodor W. Adorno (a German philosopher who has also done a lot of work on music). He was a mate of Schoenberg's, amongst others.

Hey, I think, I have a book of his essays, so I dip into it. Have done well to get to page 24....

Typically German philosopher, he writes in an extremely dense, turgid style. If I were in a bookshop and saw paragraphs of that length, I would just put the book back. In my course materials he is described as a Marxist; I would have noticed without being pointed in that direction with a huge plank of wood....I suspect he's also a Freudian, using quite a few Freudian expressions (fetishism, infantile, regression,sadomasochistic and so on). All very interesting, if it weren't such hard work. I wonder if his work, translated into English, is more accessible? Also I am planning to read some Freud, who I gather won the Goethe-Prize for his quality of writing - but will that be more readable?

I see this site states that ' Adorno's writing is notoriously difficult to understand'. I'd say!

But he, having fled Germany during the Hitler period, arrives in the US and begins in 1937/38 by telling people what to think - and feel! - about music. Now, remember that the US got a huge influx of intellectuals from Germany during that time - did they all behave like that? (Answer, if they were German, they probably did).

So he tells people that the question of 'taste' is out of date, that all 'light and pleasant' art is a lie, that music should not be enjoyed (I see he concedes that Schoenberg's music is not enjoyable), and that if cultural goods are cared for by radio stations, this will turn them into something bad. Basically he suggests, if I understand him right (which might be doubtful), that music must only be listened to for its own sake, not because your company is sponsoring the concert, and not because you happen to like it. Instead you should listen to it as a reflection of the state of society at the time it was written, and it should also act as a critique of social developments. Now, the latter makes me think about the huge difference between English music in the first half of the 20th century (all imperial, when not pastoral) and effectively post-revolutionary German and Austrian music. He's probably right on that one. As far as composers writing earlier are concerned - did anyone tell them this?

Will I read the rest of the book? I will try - there are just so many distractions....


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Intriguing piece of music

During today's run the Ipod shuffled past a very strange piece of music. The music was pure classical, at the baroque end of it, and a chap was talking along it (like a spoken aria with gaps) in German, I think, about impending death, something about the wings of death enfolding. At the time I was on a bit of an icy path and not in a position to check it out.

But surely in classical times you wouldn't just have a speaker accompanied by an orchestra?


Friday, February 15, 2008

Music for running to

Apart from flying, running is for me the best way of listening to music, too (though currently I am training myself to listen to music while I am working; that's only possible if I'm doing something that does not require exceptional use of brainpower).

Randomising is nice, so I hear different things; also because it goes on and on, and I generally run for longer than the average CD. If it does not shuffle I'll have to shuffle my feet instead while finding the next desirable track - and that messes up my time. It would be lovely to run with one of those tiny ipod thingies, but at 1 Gb hardly anything fits on it at all, and I'd spend all my time administering and reorganising music from the big 'un to the the littl' un. So instead I hope I won't get robbed.

It needs to be continuously reasonably loud - so the Schnittke viola concerto and Kancheli Styx are out. They may have loud moments, but also extreme quietness, and that's no good. A bit of a beat is nice - does not have to match the pounding of my feet.

  • Rossini operas are great for running - they have a nice pace and you can do the actions very nicely...in Tbilisi women running in the streets are a rarity anyway, so it does not matter if you look a bit more crazy.... just have to make sure that although my lips may move that the vocal chords are at rest. For a while the Barber of Seville was my constant running companion - now I know the first hour and a bit very well.....
  • Big symphonic music is lovely; today I was listening to Schumann's symphonies 2 and 4 at my desk; they would work well. As do Shostakovich symphonies, probably also Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky (bit shocked to see I have none of his music..Probably not the ballet music, though, especially the dance of the four little swans). I discovered the Nielsen symphonies...
  • Bach's got the beat, and the relative loudness, but his music can be a bit dry for running, unless it's a Passion or the Mass in B Minor. The Ciaconna would not really lend itself. Also most baroque pieces are relatively short, and that throws the rhythm. Though in those passions those endless boring chorales really are quite a passion killer, especially when he uses the same tune all the time (even if it may be treated differently each time).
  • Chamber music is probably not ideal, though I remember hearing some piece played by Geringas with Nemtsov which was rather powerful stuff - but can I find it now? ...Have I lost music off my Ipod???


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Whither Lithuanian music education?

Here comes a very serious topic.

While at home in Vilnius my running route took me across Lukiskiu square facing the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre (LMTA). Every time I looked at this imposing building, with the former KGB building (some sort of court nowadays and the KGB archives) next to it, my heart sank.

Why? The KGB building was fully renovated a few years ago, new roof, nicely painted, that sort of thing. The music academy has had some new windows. What makes it worse is that the Tbilisi conservatoire is totally spic and absolutely span, very recently renovated, with a beautiful concert hall with a huge organ, and everything just perfect. Georgia is not richer than Lithuania, in fact, according to the CIA world factbook (ok, I know facts and it can be a bit disjunct, but maybe they are consistently disjunct), Lithuania's GDP in PPP is four times as high as that of Georgia (though the prices of food in supermarkets seem to be much the same).

In addition to the main building, the LMTA has what looks like a semi-derelict building across the road (both in prime position in Vilnius), and a much more clapped-out building quite some distance away, up the road from the Cathedral. Plus a bit of a modern building which was done up about 5 or 6 years ago and where the walls are so thin that if you are playing you can be accompanied from the room above or next-door.

That's the buildings, old, clapped-out or cheap and nasty. Then there are the teachers. Most of them have a brilliant history of training in Moscow (in the Soviet days) or Berlin or other places. Some trained with famous people, like Rostropovich (though the last one of that group left a few years ago). There are quite a few wonderful, and really enthusiastic and committed teachers. The problem is...almost all of them are over 60; some have not seen 60 for a decade or more. It's a pity we cannot conserve, or can, their teaching approaches.

Salaries at the academy are, frankly, hardly worth the paper they are written on. How people survive on this, I would not like to consider. The odd young teacher here or there gets paid a pittance, and they have to work hard to continue their concertising (though they should, anyway).

Students? The best young students now go straight to Western Europe, like they went to Moscow fifty years ago. Only those who insist on remaining in Vilnius, or who cannot get to European universities for one reason or another, study here now, though some students also come over for an Erasmus term or year - but we do have a bit of a language barrier.

Once the best young people have gone abroad, they tend to stay abroad, though the odd one or three comes back - usually due to family ties. Anyone who wins an international prize would probably have a higher standard of living outside Lithuania. And is the academy still bound by national salary scales that it cannot pay good young, and even foreign, professors? A few professors who have come to Vilnius on exchange schemes return time and time again, mostly unpaid, just for the love of it. That's not right - Lithuania is no longer a charity case.

So what has the academy to offer? Clapped-out buildings, older (though very charming, and some very good, teachers), I would not like to think about the student hostels....At least, I suppose, the teachers are usually on site, and not like many international stars, pop in once a month or so. And Vilnius is a small place so you quickly get to know everyone if you are a foreign student.

How can it survive? I don't understand why the academy does not make use of those billions of Euros flowing into Lithuania from European funds. The specialist music school makes use of it (it's undergoing a huge renovation), the conservatoire I am sure has used them, other universities and public buildings are using the funds. Why not the academy?

Another obvious option would be to get rid of some of the real estate and consolidate holdings. Problem may be that the properties are owned by the state, as a kind of anonymous blob, rather than by the academy, so getting rid of stuff would not do the academy much good.

One wonders about specialising. The string players are generally still very good, and maybe the academy should team up with the other Baltic academies, with one concentrating on strings, another on winds, a third on conducting etc. (Lithuania has not produced a star conductor for some time, if ever. Though the Latvian Maris Janssons trained in St Petersburg, as did Neeme Järvi; and his many conducting children probably grew up in the US. So not sure if we could call the other Baltic States a conductor's cradle either - may need to look to Helsinki for that).

Brass teaching we should just close; it's dreadful; woodwinds have their moments, yes, indeed, that Juozas Rimas produces some very nice oboists. About the ballet and theatre I don't know, though clearly we need actors and dancers - where else could you start an acting career in Lithuanian? And the Opera and Ballet Theatre is in constant need of dancers, taking them in all sizes - not everywhere does that. Also our singers are quite good; there's Urmana Urmanaviciute, Liora Grodnikaite, Edgaras Montvidas, all of whom have international careers, though this class of singers usually goes on to other schools once they finish their BAs in Vilnius. Maybe Vilnius should just do BAs and provide fodder for other universities? But then who would be the future homegrown teachers? Those doing their post grad work abroad might not come back.

Getting good professors from abroad to come and give classes once a month? Probably could not afford that, unless someone sponsored that. (Many foreign professors do visit through the Erasmus Scheme, but not consistently month after month).

Find ways of raising funds? 'Our students don't have money' - I was once told. Some do, and they might also lobby their friends for funds. The academy is approaching an anniversary in April - that would have been a wonderful opportunity for a major fundraising effort. Often the investment in a fundraiser's salary pays itself back many times; ask UNICEF in Germany.

Unfortunately mammon and music need to go together; it's the way the business works - and it is a business. Really the academy needs some serious advice on how to improve its condition, its quality and develop a future. It cannot slide on as it is.

(I can now forg
et ever doing a post grad there).


Monday, February 11, 2008

Wuppertal - a recent creation?

Looking up Julia Fischer to see who taught her (will comment her wonderful Brahms recording later), I come across this blog. Apparently the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is on a tour of Europe, and in it the city of Wuppertal (Germany) is described as '... seventy minutes from Cologne. Wuppertal is a fairly recent creation. Several cities were joined together, like Pittsburgh, Allegheny City and Lawrenceville. It’s an industrial city along the banks of the Wupper River. Tal means valley. The two biggest cities joined in a long, narrow stretch were Elberfeld and Barmen. Not everyone was happy with the merger, naturlich. Sollingen, the company that makes the fine German steel cutlery, is just up the river.'

As it happens, I grew up near Wuppertal (before I became Scottish). Not sure what they mean by it being a recent creation; it has always been Wuppertal as long as I can remember back - that's almost 50 years. Both Germany and the UK have had at least one local government reorganisation since then.

Wuppertal provided a favourite outing to the nearest zoo, and it has a famous overhead railway going along the river; there's some story about a baby elephant being transported in it and falling out - years ago. Wuppertal should also be famous for the Pina Bausch Tanztheater, and it also has a fine concert hall, though I see it offers a wide range of music...For an industrial city to have a ballet company like Pina Bausch's suggests that there is some intellect behind the money.

Luckily for the burghers of Cologne Wuppertal is nothing like 70 minutes from that city; it's nearer 35 minutes, though Cologne has its own fine artistic world, what with that delightful Semyon Bychkov and others.

And oh yes, we won't quibble about the spelling of the name 'Solingen'.

After spotting 3 errors in six lines of text, decided not to check the rest of the blog. Still don't know who taught Julia Fischer, though.


Saturday, February 09, 2008

Brumel to Denisov

I can't believe that a group called the 'Speculum Ensemble' records a piece by Brumel called 'Missa de Beata Virgine'. Not surprisingly it's an all-male band, and the music is a capella polyphonic, what with Antoine Brumel being a French renaissance composer. Can't quite remember how this music comes to be on my Ipod, but I must have bought it. (The title of the piece gives a little clue.) My latest course goes from about Tallis to Kraftwerk and later, and my musical horizon is expanding rapidly. Never thought I would like renaissance music, having had some bruising encounters with Gesualdo (the person who he murdered had a much worse encounter), but the church music is actually very interesting and moving. My faith goes through music.

Whilst I was pounding the treadmill this morning, the Ipod was shuffling along from Brumel via Bach's double violin concerto to Denisov's concerto for 2 violas, harpsichord and strings. During the Brumel I was comparing the polyphony of Brumel with Georgian polyphonic music (of today, though I am not sure when the pieces we sing first arose). Georgian music has 3 voices and different kinds of harmonies, and tends to end in unison (bit symbolic that, after going round all the polyphonic lines). People say it can't be written down because the notes don't fit a keyboard. I'm sure someone could try today, when people write in quarter tones etc. And then I went on to wonder what the renaissance music would have sounded like to their ears, given that at the time they did not have tempered instruments. Subject of massive debates, of course, but I suppose we will never know. Even then it was written down and now we approach it with modern voices, instruments (mostly) and recording techniques.

The Denisov was interesting, though I found myself rather stuck with it. It's a long piece when you are running to it .... but that's the point of shuffling in a captive atmosphere. First I thought it would be Schnittke, especially when the harpsichord exploded on the scene, but then out of the corner of my eye I could just make out the name of Denisov. Is the harpsichord amplified? Only just now I spotted the viola component. That's very interesting. The middle bit which had some resemblance to Bach's Ciaconna, though probably not the structure, did show some very powerful chord crunching (and not ever, even on my Ipod, expecting that much viola music, I thought they were just some very powerful violins, though why I thought 'Gidon Kremer' is beyond me - he does powerful playing but his sound is often little). It's Nobuko Imai's recording with Annelie de Man and the Amsterdam Nieuw Sinfonietta - and it's certainly a very powerful and energetic piece which deserves to be performed much more; it gets you out of your seat! And there is so little repertoire for 2 solo violas....


Friday, February 08, 2008


sign the petition.


Music and Karaoke

Had to go to a Karaoke night last night; really, had to. Wasn't actually as bad as I thought - managed to escape as not the first leaver of the party, and it was not bad. There were good singers and some rough ones. Food was very symbolic, so the three very little looking beers hit the spot rather more effectively than they should have done.

Bit bizarre, though, that in a middle of all this a friend and I started talking about Messiaen - probably the composer most remote from anything popular culture that I can think of. Not that I know much about him except that I don't like his music, but I should probably try again. And maybe he has written popular stuff.


Monday, February 04, 2008

Might be a small hiatus....

...now back in Tbilisi, where the concert life is limited, and there is no point reviewing plays when I have seen them three or four times already.

Would love to review Alex Ross' 'The rest is noise' which I have been reading since Christmas - but seeing I forgot it at home (when I would have had a perfect opportunity for some concentrated effort during my flights), that'll have to wait for a while. All I can say so far is that it's hard work, but very interesting and inspiring me to have another listen to that dratted Debussy - and maybe even Messiaen (but have not come across him yet in the book).

Meantime I'm reading some other books which I am not reviewing here. And studying. And practicing piano (next lesson tomorrow after a break from practice which should not have been one). But not running. Vertical Tbilisi is covered in ice.


Sunday, February 03, 2008

Something for everyone...

....or a mixed bag, at the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre today. World Premieres, they tell us.

Bit confusing, since the 'playbill' (don't you love those Americanisms?) shows two pieces, but four took place. No wonder I was ready to rush home at the second interval....

The first was standard ballet school stuff set to classical minuets, many from Gluck, some more stately than others. Pretty costumes, standard classical ballet stuff, pleasant music, but not that much inspiration. In the only movement with 4 beats the final few steps suddenly fired up, but otherwise it was just pretty all over. Not too much athleticism either, but if you like pretty this is your show. Did not quite understand the tutu that looked like a cabbage.

Then followed a piece of unkown origin with a violinist and a pianist on the stage, and very simple costumes - as if they were in a ballet studio. The delightful Lasha Khozashvili (who, it would appear I have always in my reviews so far mistaken for (his brother?) David and a young lady dancing various pas de deux, very modern and quite interesting, though it was a bit intense, with a rather bare stage, for the Sunday afternoon audience.

The next one was a pas de six called 'George Bizet' with the men dressed as sailors; Nina Ananiashvili, the ballerina who 'returned from Moscow' and who is rather high class, outdanced her colleagues. This was very nice and very modern. Not sure about the music, played on a piano, sounded like Chopin (variations on a theme of Bizet?). Very powerful dancing, with the cream of the crop of fine, proud Georgian manhood. (Not sure this sounds entirely correct....).

Finally the folk ensemble 'Changi' joined a group of 14 dancers in a melee of Georgian folk music and classical ballet meets Georgian folk dancing. Very popular with the audience. Spectacular leaps, severe Georgian steps (that Georgian men's dancing comes across as quite agressive at times, all pointed elbows and heels). Great fun. I wonder how it would transfer to a non-Georgian ensemble?

All a bit of a long session, though - and they know to keep the best bit to the end!


Saturday, February 02, 2008

Negative noise

...is the only way to describe noise reducing headphones. Apparently they pick up the sound waves, pop the opposite sign in front of them (turn plusses into minusses, sort of thing) and it eliminates much of the noise. My friend Wu Wei had drawn my attention to this, and ever keen to hear every note on the classical spectrum, especially when I am flying, I've invested a huge amount of money in the Bose Quiet Comfort 3 headphones. About the comfort I'll talk later.

Already at home I noticed it, while using them for some studies - in between emissions the room had gone all quiet, the computer was almost not buzzing any more....interesting! At the airport, too, it became so loud when I switched them off. I could still hear noises, but very quietly - I would hope you can hear a fire alarm. For the music they were great, as long as you did not eat chewing gum or let your head slip to the side, when they might move slightly off the focus of your ears. And in the descents I had real trouble hearing the music - which was kind of weird. But they are a vast improvement on the ultimate ears which fell apart within 4 months, and were far from cheap.

On comfort - they do give your ears a good squeeze. If you wear glasses as well, after two or three hours you can do with a break.