Saturday, 27 September 2008

Kronos at the Barbican

To the Barbican. The Kronos String Quartet is sharing a concert with the Alim Qazimov Ensemble from Azerbaijan as part of the Barbican's Ramadan Nights season. First the Kronos perform an eclectic mix of short pieces from afar as Iceland and Iraq. Most are played with a backing track of stray voices, drums and electronic bleeps and blobs with members of the quartet doubling up on percussion. My highlight was the the yearny Raga Mishra Bhairavi, originally written for the sarangi, a bowed string instrument from northern India but here transcribed for viola and played exquisitely by Hank Dutt. They're a versatile lot the Kronos who thoroughly deserve their reputation as original thinkers. I've always been a bit weary of their fondness for amplification because I think it can obliterate the finer nuances of sound but tonight the clarity of production was crystal clear. Up next was the singer Alim Qasimov. Sitting in the middle of his ensemble like a small firework, he and his daughter took us on a journey of unhappy love based on the texts of the 16th century Azerbaijani poet Fuzuli (the surtitles were a great help btw) that were interspersed with busy instrumental interludes. It all added up to one long sustained musical weep, all of it intoxicating stuff.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Singing Bach

Choir this evening and a work by Bach is offered up, Ich hatte viel Bekummernis BWV 21. It's about 40 mins making it the longest piece this chamber choir has tackled. I actually know it from a programme I made about the singer Emma Kirkby for ITV a couple of years back. She made it sound so effortless then but tonight, oh God, it's like putting together a giant musical jig-saw. Being the slightly austere choirmaster that he is, Nicky insisted on running it at a faster tempo than any of us could really manage. Still, you do get some sense of the overall picture doing it this way. Continuing the jig-saw comparison, by the end of the rehearsal I'd say we'd found all the pieces with straight edges. A small start then. Thank God we've got until April to perform it. Earlier some dispute as to whether we should perform Beatus Vir by Monteverdi. Yes, said some, it's a lovely piece. No said others, it's too populist. What's wrong with that etc be decided. The world wants to know.

Monday, 22 September 2008

An Intro

Hello. A well intentioned friend thought I should start one of these because, jealous of the amount of freebies that come my way, he thought it was time I kept a record of some of my cultural wonderings. You see, by trade I am a TV producer that specialises in the cultural high-end of things, y'know, classical music, opera, and jazz. So the odd freebie does come my way, all in the name of work. They come and they go though, it's not like I'm out every night hob knobbing with Bernard Haitink or some hot new pianist from South America. And I sometimes go to things I actually want to see, so it's not all freebie-on-sea. Anyway, whatever, this blog is an attempt at bringing you some insights and thoughts on the small slice of cultural life I occasionally encounter.

So let me begin in Budapest. I've just spent a weekend there. I have a soft spot for this city; in 1983 I visited it for the first time while inter railing and having been ripped off royaly in France, Switzerland and Austria, arriving in communist Hungary was the best thing me and my companion did - it was sooo cheap. I went again in 1986 to an international music summer school and had a wonderful time mixing with music students from all over the Eastern block. I remember being introduced to Matt Bianco by an East German who I later discovered was a STASI informer. Strange. Anyway, that was then. Now I'm in Budapest on a short weekend break with a mate. It so happens our visit coincides with the Budapest Jazz Festival. So, dutifully, friend and I walk the streets of this very grand, if slightly scruffy, city to check out the Budapest Jazz Club. So what did this venue, the very epicentre of the jazz fest have on offer? Well, nothing that night, even though it was a Saturday, save for a few studenty types jiving away. We didn't stay. However, happy to report much more activity on the Raday utca, a sort of Budapest Soho. Bars and restaurants were crammed to the brim while jazz ensembles of varying styles and abilities played away. Be warned though, the smoking ban hasn't hit this city yet and I can't say I've missed the smell of tobacco. Sniff.