Sunday, June 29, 2008

I'm going out on very thin ice here...

It's very rare that Lithuania's tolerance to its minorities exceeds that of Western Europe, and I suspect the festival of Roma culture is but a very small sticking plaster on the rather open sore of prejudice, especially given the low attendance of non-Roma at the event. But it happens, and it's good. The Lithuanian organiser of the festival speaks of conflict during the setting up of the event, of culture clashes, but he, too, thinks that's great since different cultures and differences are needed. More power to his elbow.

Meanwhile in Italy, as Jessica and others report, based on an Independent article, the Roma, regardless of nationality, are being fingerprinted, children included. Though I'd want those Roma living in London, whether Jessica's description of 'happy multicultural London' feels quite as happy to them.

Of course, what's needed is respect, not mere tolerance.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Europe's Shameful Honoring (sic) of Vilnius?

This article in the Jewish Daily Forward (of the US, one assumes) suggests that Vilnius does not deserve the title of European Capital of Culture.

It's linked to the continuing difficult relationship between Lithuanians and Jews (I know, I know, I go on about it often enough), the murder of 200,000 Jews in the holocaust helped by Lithuanian collaborators, the lack of restoration of Jewish community property, the march by the neo-nazis on Independence Day in March (they walked past my house, I was there), and that continuing debate about the former Jewish cemetery on which was built, by the Soviets, a sports complex, and now housing.

Which is all fair enough.

Some of these things foreign Jews are more fussed about than Lithuanian
ones, but maybe Lithuanian Jews prefer to keep their collective heads down? And I know Lithuania is far too intolerant of minorities, be they of the 'racial' or the 'sexual' variety. The appointment of fiercely heterosexual mayor Juozas Imbrazas to Vilnius city council has not really helped either.

But still, I think the author is going just a little too far. The capital of culture is about more than just minority cultures, though of course the event must be inclusive. No doubt about it. I believe also that during the capital of culture year a huge Litvak (foreign Jews of Lithuanian origin) congress will take place. They can complain then.

The decision to award the status to Vilnius was made in about 2005, when we still had the good Arturas Zuokas as mayor. Alea iacta est, as Cesar used to say in Asterix.


And another Saturday in Tbilisi

This afternoon strolled out for a coffee somewhere, sitting outside. Not to my usual haunt of the last two Saturdays, Prospero's bookshop in Rustaveli, but went further along round Pushkin Street, and Gudiashvili Square (ok, so not exactly in a straight line), to find myself in a little square at the side of Leselidze (which runs from Freedom Square to the Metekhi church), now known as Kote Abkhazi. Is that a person's name? 'Kote' almost certainly is a first name, but 'Abkhazi'? Reminds me of 'Abkhazia', the region that all the current trouble is about. I bet all the taxi drivers will only respond to 'Leselidze' which it was until very recently.

Anyway; the little square was full of life; lots of art exhibited, people buying some beer and sitting back in the square - but there was also a string quartet playing! Interesting! First they did some classical music, eg a bit of a Mozart divertimento, but then, when they plunged into the 'Tales of the Vienna Woods' and a smart, middle-aged, probably artistic lady began to dance, they stayed on this repertoire. Note that the sheet music for this was hand-written in an exercise book....

They were clearly professionals. Some of the playing left something to be desired - kind of random use of bows, occasionally skittery intonation, and lack of dynamics, never mind the use of what was, I hope but not sure, their second-best instruments (you should have seen the viola, with one peg sticking out on the far side almost one centimetre beyond the scroll, and the joins of the body work a little rough), but it was fun, and very unusual to hear a string quartet. I was looking for somewhere to put some money, but there was nothing - were they paid or was it just for fun?


3 weeks and they're on stage!

The Raploch 'El Sistema' experiment has started. 3 weeks ago, and already the children have played in a concert!

While it might bring tears to the eyes of professional musicians to have children performing who are just past learning to hold the instrument, those who are participating are loving it. The long-term unemployed father of 7-year-old twins (one of whom plays the double bass!) says the first he heard about it was when the children came home singing. Now that school is breaking up, there will be a summer school and then the work will continue, mostly with 5-8-year olds, to catch them young.

It's wonderful, no? Brings tears to the eyes anyway. Let's pray that it continues successfully.


Friday, June 27, 2008

We lift 'em higher, we chuck 'em further ....and we catch 'em

Wow! But I mean, really, WOW! What athleticism!

After being a bit depressed about the future of Tbilisi ballet a couple of weeks ago, tonight's offering of Minkus' 'Don Quixote' completely persuaded me otherwise! A packed, doubly packed opera house was in total rapture over this energetic, lively, stunning performance. My Greek companion had seen Nina Ananiashvili, the ballet company director and the star of the performance (and you thought it was about Don Quixote, didn't you?) dance the same part at the Bolshoi in Moscow. He could not wait to see it again.

The synchronicity was better than I had ever seen it; ok, there was the moment when one toreador flicked his cape to the left while the other 7 flicked theirs to the right; and sometimes the minor jumps were a bit like organ pipes, but this was all overcome by Ananiashvili and particularly her male soloists (the ladies were very good, too, but a bit too distant for me to identify). But the guys! It's a long time since I've seen dancers jump so high, and for so long, David Khozuashvili (? or was it Vasil Akhmeteli?) lifting Ms Ananiashvili up on one hand, as high as she will go, catching her as she threw herself at him through the air from quite some distance, and Lasha Khozuashvili doing things with his back that you did not think were humanly possible, apart from doing the most complicated spins and jumps (a lyrical ballet it is not, though he does that wonderfully, too). By the time Irakli Bakhtadze joined them and we had 3 male soloists spinning all over the stage, joined by Ms Ananiashvili, the place erupted.

If you are in Tbilisi, go and see it - it's a lovely classical ballet in a fairytale set, and watch out for these dancers. And if you are abroad, go and get the show to come to you!


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Eeeek - wtf?

My piano teacher appeared the other day with a book called 'Easy Piano Classics'. Looks shiny, has all sorts of easy pieces in it, and yes, ok it's more or less my level. Though in intellectual/emotional content rather below my level. It will not stay here long.

So she picked out a couple of pieces, one called 'Solfegietto' which is labelled on the front page as by Bach, as indeed it is, but CPE of that ilk. It is just about bearable, and in any case easy enough that I can get shot of it soon. It probably has some Valuable Pedagogical Point. Of course she plays it like the clappers. My problem is that I learn the sound very fast and then don't look at the notes, so I often spend weeks and weeks working on the same stuff because I don't learn proper fingerings. Which one really should at this stage.

But she also picked another one, by the same Bach, a Rondo Expressivo. I cannot believe that it is by any Bach, even a classical one, as CPE was. It is such total, trivial sh*te that I took one little practice at it and thanked my lucky stars that I am an adult and can throw these things back at her. Strangely, the piece sounds like very romantic s.....(you get my drift), well ahead of the time it should be. Which makes me think it is a fake, like some of those viola concertos, eg the JC Bach (?) which was written by Casadesus in the style of that Bach. I'd want to see the manuscript, and test the paper for age and for Bach's DNA on it, before I believe it is any Bach at all.

Thankfully I have lots of inventions and the whole well-tempered clavier (by JS) to keep me occupied for years, plus enough Mozart sonatas. Now all I need is the motivation to practice when the teacher and I are in different countries.


Friday, June 13, 2008

Glad I stayed!

The air in the Tbilisi Zakharia Paliashvili Opera and Ballet Theatre was heavy with the scent of a thousand blooms today. The seats were crowded with children of all sizes, adults, former and current dancers (with males that's really difficult to tell, females you identify by the pulled-back hair and by the age of 60 high hairline). But I know the males were there; one was sitting beside me, the other in the row behind a few seats away, and conversations were carried on regardless. ('Do you see - three boys!' 'Three boys - do you see them? Right at the back' 'Look at those three boys - wow, only three boys'). My Georgian is getting quite good, really!

It was the annual end of ballet school performance - the Tbilisi V Chakubiani State School of Ballet, since you are asking. (For those in the new EU it's worth mentioning that a couple of years ago the university terms were shifted by about 6 weeks, and not start in mid-October. At the moment the conservatoire is just finishing its exams - whereas Vilnius students are ready to lie on the beach).

We'd been there before, last year with my mum. I have to admit that in the first half of the first half I felt sorry for Ms Ananiashvili, the director of the Tbilisi ballet, who recently took it on tour to the US, where she got a lot of sympathetic reviews (how's that for damning with faint praise). What an uphill struggle she'd have working with this lot, I thought. They were all ok dancers, some better than others, but oy vey, the synchronicity! Every mass move was more a Mexican wave than a human machine. Positioning on stage, equal distances? You know how you arrange naturalised daffodils? You throw them on the ground and plant them where they fall. This, at times, was the arrangement of the dancers on the stage.

With some of the male dancers I thought that yes, once again, there is a dearth of male dancers, isn't there? The little children were cute, of course. Aaaaaah. Some of the choreographies were a little far-fetched, but ah well, they won't all become dancers, will they. With some of the more adult young ladies the same structural problem arose that had been visible in the previous day's concert.

Then we got a bit of Swan Lake, complete with the full set, in that dark wood glen scene with the swans, and of course, the four little swans. It was the first time that it occurred to me how difficult that little thing must be, with legs going all over the place, heads nodding - if someone gets her legs in a fankle, they'll all fall down. That did not happen. The dancing of the soloists was good, if uninspired, and the other swans did their bit, keeping more or less together.

The second half was 'Cinderella's Dream', an excerpt from Prokofiev's 'Cinderella'. It was wonderful! What a transformation! Again there was the full opera house set, and the delightful Lasha Khozashvili was 'a fellow' as it says in the programme - ie the prince (he got very good reviews in that US tour). It was great! Cinderella was good, but the two ugly sisters, and especially their mother, were wonderful (not exactly at the level of the guys dancing the ugly sisters at the Berlin Staatsoper, but never mind), as was the good fairy. Khozashvili just had a ball jumping and athleticising all over the place. It was worth going for that alone! And it will still be on tomorrow.


Full marks for trying

Wow, I'm really out of practice with writing concert reviews - haven't done one for so long. Though for my current music essay I'm having to compare performances by Kreisler and L Mordkovitch (plus pianists) of a Grieg violin sonata - my main impression is that his interpretation is male, with plenty of balls, and hers is feminine and simpering - but that probably will not give me full marks!

Anyway. In Tbilisi Opera House last night the String Quartet of the Tbilisi Zakharia Paliashvili Opera and Ballet Theatre played, together with soloists, Schubert, Weber and Schumann. I think that the names of string quartets should not contain more words than players in the quartet.

I have to say that even though I sat in the second row, I could only see half the band, what with the rather large head of a Tbilisi music worthy in front of me, blocking my sight. But I did see this chap emote for the whole band...

The Schubert was the Quartettsatz (not that the programme specified that, I only realised that when people applauded at the end - though I know the piece well, but putting numbers to pieces....). Oooh, the start was rough! Serious nerves in the first fiddle, I think. It settled down, was better at the repeat, but just a bit wobbly. The cellist for the whole evening lacked darkness in his tone (and probably while he plays with that instrument, which may be part of a set of new instruments given to the theatre some time ago), in addition to lacking power - so the cello did not ground the pieces as well as it should have done. It was ok, not brilliant.

This was followed by Weber's clarinet quintet, with Shota Gogodze as the soloist. He really lifted the game and drove the music on, with the quartet just about following him. There were hair-raising tempi, but he was having a lot of fun and let us all enjoy it (and I could see him, too!). Some of his pianos were a bit iffy, as if he had technical difficulties with his instrument, maybe? But he made a huge difference.

The opera house is on the main street in Tbilisi, with a bus stop right outside it, so noise levels are not high. At the beginning of the second half I could not stand it when the balcony door of the concert room was left open! So I shot over, while the first fiddler had his bow held high, and shut the door. I mean, really!

Finally Schumann's piano quintet, which I had only heard in Vilnius a few weeks ago. I am sorry, here I need to divert into operachic country and give some health/fashion advice. Tamar Licheli, the soloist, came on stage in a bright red dress, which only afterwards I realised was cut at the back down to her behind. Tamar appears to be a very slim lady, but rather curvaceous. The line of her supporting underwear went right across the back and showed clearly that it was not adequate for the job. Two pieces of advice - get yourself measured for said garment, and don't wear dresses that are quite so low-cut at the back. Consider the front instead.

Could not see her posture what with the emoting chap in front of me, but my friend said it looked unusual. However, she fitted well into the ensemble and did not drown out the string players. Also communicated with them well. The quartet played their hearts out - it did not always fit together that well, but mostly it did, and the violist (who I am sure I've met on a flight once) did his bit quite nicely in the second movement (though perhaps a little too roughly), and so it was quite a pleasant evening.

I mean, we are in Tbilisi, there's not that much scope for very high quality, but it's great that opera orchestra members come out of their pit, like moles, and expose themselves playing chamber music. That can only improve the quality of the orchestra.

Meantime I'm missing the Vilnius festival.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Winners and ...losers

While on 5 June the young pianist Evelina Puzaite from Lithuania played in the Wigmore Hall, London, for the 5th time (quite an achievement, but she's the winner of the 2006 Abstract Securities Landor Competition) and has brought out her debut CD, on the other side of the Atlantic there's the sound of sour grapes being sucked.

It seems someone is not happy with the results of the Primrose competition, possibly the highest level viola competition in the US. Our own Ula Ulijona won a prize there a few years ago. The problem is that one of the jury members, Bruno Pasquier, had his son also competing in the competition, and the young man got as far as the semi-finals. Someone, who is very anonymous, is not happy with this, and shows it here, on an anonymous website. Those who have listened to the young Pasquier, though, think that he is quite good really. One assumes that the poster of this website did, er, not make it.

To be honest, though, it does seem a bit of a misjudgement to have your son in a competition in which you are in a jury. Even if you abstain, might it not influence other jury members? I would not do it (nor am I likely to), but then again, if you think he's good at what he does, and it's the most prestigious competition in the country, what choice do you have.

Let's not start talking about teachers on juries and their pupils in competitions. Really, let's not......


Thursday, June 05, 2008

and talking of spelling....

this article talks about a dishwasher which went on fire in the Swedish embassy in Vilnius, saying that 'There very no victims. Four firelighter teams extinguished the fire in 20 minutes'.

Lithuania can do better than that!


Funky Vilnius

Many foreigners who visit Vilnius think it's very beautiful and very old, but do they know it's funky? They should, if they look at the young people in the street.

Just to confirm Vilnius' funkiness, here's a lovely little TV advert for next year's Capital oof Culture, targeted at upper and middle class audiences in France, UK and Germany of 18-40 and 50+ (what's wrong with people in their forties?). Not entirely convinced that those serious over 50s Germans one sees shlepping round Vilnius will be totally impressed with it, but anyway. Also it probably does not entirely reflect my idea of 'culture', but I can live with that - cultures are different and have to coexist. And it is a fun advert, with a lot of meaning for those who understand Vilnius and Lithuanian history.

Shame about the spelling mistakes, though.


Classics under the Stars

Got a mailing about a rather strange concert that will take place near Vilnius on St John's Night (23. June - a serious day in Lithuania).

It's strange because it's a collaboration between the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, the Human Rights Monitoring Institute, and a golf club - the strangest set of bedfollows that I can think of. Did not know that golfers were big into human rights.

It's kind of a society event (does not hurt society to know about Human Rights) with a matching programme, Bizet, Mendelssohn, L Berstein (sic).....

This combination does make me worry a bit about the political leanings of the HRMI; I see its supporters are some Western embassies, the Soros Foundation, the EU Commission, a lawyer, a hotel, an airline and iki, the supermarket. Their press releases include something on 'the draft act on the protection of life in the prenatal phase' Though I see that they say that prohibition of abortions is not a way of solving the problem of high abortion rates. Jeeez, someone is talking about prohibition of abortions? Are we Poland? In fact here it says that the draft law might be even stricter than in Poland. Unbelievable! Though of course we are a catholic country.

Other work they do is on the question of the skinhead's march in Vilnius in March this year, on integration of the Roma into the labour market, on racism, on gender reassignment (Lithuania's personal code, held by each citizen including me, starts with a figure identifying gender, which is not much good if you change gender and can't change the code which you have to use everywhere). And it seems they respond to events quite rapidly.

So it's probably quite a good organisation to have in Lithuania.....Nice of the music world to inform us of these things, then.


Monday, June 02, 2008

This week's Arts Journal

Bit of time on my hand before departing for Georgia tonight, on a direct flight from Vilnius (yeah!), so here's some stuff from the Arts Journal:

The ballerina Irina Baronova, one of first ever to dance in Australia (one of three Ballets Russes dancers who went to Australia in about 1936) as possibly the first classical ballet there, here tells this lovely story:

"I remember at a matinee of Cinderella, a family left
after 20 minutes. The papa told the theatre manager, 'We want our
money back … We've been here 20 minutes and no one has said a
word.'" She also talks about sitting on the floor during an amateur silent movie recording of some ballets, humming the music to match the steps on the screen.

This article from the Chicago Tribune wonders how Ricardo Muti will get on there, or rather how the orchestra will get on with him, given the rather tempestuous way in which he left La Scala in Milan. Seems like he needs a permanent orchestra, even though he seems to have had plenty of work since he left Milan 3 years ago. I wonder, too.

The Guardian has an article about choices of funeral music (for mine, start with Verdi's 'Dies Irae' and finish with 'Ruhe sanft' from Bach's St Matthew's(?) Passion). Apparently in the UK 'Always look on the bright side of life' (Monty Python) is one of the favourites. And why not - I bet it'll get plenty of people smiling in the church - though perhaps it also says something about which generation is dying off these days.


Sunday, June 01, 2008

Mendelssohn in Scotland

Flicking channels this afternoon, I came across an ancient documentary where a couple of likely lads (actually fairly middle-aged guys) traced the steps of Mendelssohn and his mate Klingemann when he travelled through Scotland in 1929. Boy, these two guys put themselves through the works.

Scenes in Edinburgh (Calton Hill and Arthur's seat) - and their warm clothes were hanging off them horizontally; gales or what? Was it really filmed in the summer (of 1983 or earlier?). They had a look round Holyrood Palace (which they called 'House'), and looked at the room where David Rizzio, one of Mary Queen of Scots' husbands/lovers was murdered. This, Mendelssohn opined, put into his mind the beginning of his Scottish symphony.

They went off to see Sir Walter Scott, only to find themselves pinned against his gates, as he shot off with his horse and cart to somewhere more important. Pleased they were not.

Then they started a treck into the highlands, with pony and trap. Took 10 days to get to Fort William, via incredibly inhospitable roads. Roads? Dirt tracks, more like. They noticed, in passing, the incredible poverty highlanders lived in; houses without windows, houses without roofs - (but the highlanders were not to suffer this for much longer, what with, in the Highland Clearances, being shipped off to Canada, Australia and New Zealand - without much consultation). There was a lovely scene where it was chucking it down, and the two gentlemen were found sheltering underneath their none too big trap.

Not quite sure what happened .. they went to Glencoe, and then to Fort William and got the Waverley (boat) to Oban. I thought if you go from Glencoe to Fort William, you pass through Oban? Never mind.

Then they went, on a boat in a very rough sea, to Staffa, the island of 'Fingals' Cave' fame. Actually, it seems that Mendelssohn had the idea for the theme of this overture before he ever got to the island... but certainly bits of the music reflect the (considerable) swell of the sea.

After that, on the way back to Glasgow, they passed a hostelry (oh, what a contrived scene - they went in to the very busy pub, order a couple of drams [of whisky], and the barmaid just turned around and picked up the glasses that were sitting there, waiting for them). As our visitors (in 'modern-day dress' - of the early 1980s) wandered round the pub they spotted a guy having a usual highland breakfast [and the pub was full???] - dipping his herring in his coffee.

And finally in Glasgow they went to George Square, looked at the statue of Sir Walter Scott, and visited a spinning works, like Mendelssohn had done.

Mendelssohn writes at the end that they had had incredible fun, but that they have also experienced weather like you would not believe. I believe it!


Irina Palm

Her talents lie ...in the palm of her hand.

This film review is going to have people looking at my blog for the wrong reason again.....'Irina Palm' is a film about a widow (Maggie) in her fifties, living in an English village not far from London, whose grandson is terminally ill with cancer. The family is trying everything to get him treated, trying out all sorts of new treatments. Finally the only treatment possible is in Australia; but they have to pay to get there - and already they have no money. What to do?

The parents and Maggie ask for loans and are turned down; Maggie looks for a job, the people in the jobcentre almost laugh at her (no skills, no work history), and then in Soho she passes a sex club which is advertising for hostesses.

The Eastern European owner, much the same age as her, does not quite know what to do with this silent middle-aged frump sitting opposite him, until he touches her hands, and gets an idea.

So she gets a job wanking off men. But she cannot tell anyone. Turns out she is very good at it. Meanwhile back in the village people her rather set-in-their-ways friends cannot work out what kind of work she has.....

It's a very quiet little film - there was a moment when I wondered whether Marianne Faithfull (Maggie) would actually have a speaking part. But not many people speak in the film....A bit of a typical British film, kind of bitter-sweet, with the sad story about the child, and a few funny scenes in the sex club and particularly back in the village, where the village shop assistant, who possibly really never says anything, has a face that speaks volumes. And it's very tastefully filmed - you never see a willy....

Well worth going to see!