A sad post to note the passing on of Charlotte Joko Beck (1917-2011), musician and Zen teacher. Her books, full of practical wisdom and psychological insight, have been constant companions, as I alluded here.
I have previously posted Judith Wright’s famous poem South of My Days, here. For anyone growing up in rural eastern Australia, this poem with its stories of the great cattle droves of the late 19th and early 20th century resonates.
The SMH recently carried an obituary for John Atkinson (1940-2011), a mechanical engineering lecturer at Sydney University and member of the Matherati. Atkinson’s mother, Gwen Wilkins, had been a university friend of Judith Wright (1915-2000) at Sydney University in the 1930s. Atkinson’s father Tom managed a cattle station in Southern Queensland for Wright’s father, Phillip, and Judith apparently introduced Atkinson’s parents to each other.
This long-ago connection of farming families reminded me of the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Stinson aircrash in the remote and treacherous sub-tropical jungles of the Lamington Ranges National Park in Southern Queensland in February 1937, a commemoration I attended. The crash was the occasion of a famous rescue by bushman, Bernard O’Reilly, trekking alone on a hunch, recounted on the O’Reilly Guest House site here. My father, with me that day in 1987, was surprised to encounter a work colleague also present. It turned out that the O’Reilly family had farmed in the Kanimbla Valley in the Blue Mountains in central NSW, on a property adjoining my father’s colleague’s family property, before moving up to the McPherson Ranges in 1911. Despite the distance (about 600 miles) and the remoteness of both locations, the two families had kept in touch through the intervening 76 years, with each new generation becoming friends.
POSTSCRIPT (2011-12-23): I remembered that Judith Wright wrote a poem about James Westray, who initially survived the Stinson crash, a poem I have posted here.
Bernard O’Reilly : Green Mountains. Brisbane, Australia.
The report and documents of the official Queensland Government Inquest into the Stinson crash are here.
A remembrance of John Atkinson by a bush-walking friend is here. Apparently, Dr Atkinson drowned in the surf.
I just posted after hearing a talk by economic journalist Tim Harford at LSE. At the end of that post, I linked to a critical review of Harford’s latest book, Adapt – Why Success Always Starts with Failure, by Whimsley. This review quotes Harford talking about markets as feedback mechanisms:
To identify successful strategies, Harford argues that “we should not try to design a better world. We should make better feedback loops” (140) so that failures can be identified and successes capitalized on. Harford just asserts that “a market provides a short, strong feedback loop” (141), because “If one cafe is ordering a better combination of service, range of food, prices, decor, coffee blend, and so on, then more customers will congregate there than at the cafe next door“, but everyday small-scale examples like this have little to do with markets for credit default swaps or with any other large-scale operation.
Yes, indeed. The lead-time between undertaking initial business planning in order to raise early capital investments and the launching of services to the public for global satellite communications networks is in the order of 10 years (since satellites, satellite networks and user devices need to be designed, manufactured, approved by regulators, deployed, and connected before they can provide service). The time between initial business planning and the final decommissioning of an international gas or oil pipeline is about 50 years. The time between initial business planning and the final decommissioning of an international undersea telecommunications cable may be as long as 100 years. As I remarked once previously, the design of Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) packets, the primary engine of communication in the 21st century Internet, is closely modeled on the design of telegrams first sent in the middle of the 19th century. Some markets, if they work at all, only work over the long run, but as Keynes famously said, in the long run we are all dead.
I have experience of trying to design telecoms services for satellite networks (among others), knowing that any accurate feedback for design decisions may come late or not at all, and when it comes may be vague and ambiguous, or even misleading. Moreover, the success or failure of the selected marketing strategy may not ever be clear, since its success may depend on the quality of execution of the strategy, so that it may be impossible to determine what precisely led to the outcome. I have talked about this issue before, both regarding military strategies and regarding complex decisions in general. If the quality of execution also influences success (as it does), then just who or what is the market giving feedback to?
In other words, these coffees are not always short and strong (in Harford’s words), but may be cold, weak, very very slow in arriving, and even their very nature contested. I’ve not yet read Harford’s book, but if he thinks all business is as simple as providing fmc (fast-moving consumer) services, his book is not worth reading.
Once again, an economist argues by anecdote and example. And once again, I wonder at the world: That economists have a reputation for talking about reality, when most of them evidently know so little about it, or reduce its messy complexities to homilies based on the operation of suburban coffee shops.
This week I heard economic journalist Tim Harford talk at the London School of Economics (LSE), on a whirlwind tour (7 talks, I think he told us, this week) to promote his new book. Each talk is on one topic covered in the book, and at LSE he talked about the GFC and his suggestions for preventing its recurrence.
Harford’s talk itself was chatty, anecdotal, and witty. Economics is still in deep thrall to its 19th century fascination with physical machines, and this talk was no exception. The anecdotes mostly concerned Great Engineering Disasters of our time, with Harford emphasizing the risks that arise from tightly-coupling of components in systems and, ironically, frequent misguided attempts to improve their safety which only worsen it.
Anecdotal descriptions of failed engineering artefacts may have relevance to the preventing a repeat of the GFC, but Harford did not make any case that they do. He just gave examples from engineering and from financial markets, and asserted that these were examples of the same conceptual phenomena. However, as metaphors for economies machines and mechanical systems are worse than useless, since they emphasize in people’s minds, especially in the minds of regulators and participants, mechanical and stand-alone aspects of systems which are completely inappropriate here. Economies and marketplaces are NOT like machines, with inanimate parts whose relationships are static and that move when levers are pulled, or effects which can be known or predicted when causes are instantiated, or components designed centrally to achieve some global objectives. Autonomous, intelligent components having dynamic relationships describes few machines or mechanical systems, and certainly none from the 19th century.
A better category of failure metaphors would be ecological and biological. We introduce cane toads to North Queensland to prey upon a sugar cane pest, and the cane toads, having no predators themselves, take over the country. Unintended and unforeseen consequences of actions, not arising merely because the system is complex or its parts tightly-coupled, but arise because the system comprises multiple autonomous and goal-directed actors with different beliefs, histories and motivations, and whose relationships with one another change as a result of their interactions.
Where, I wanted to shout to Harford, were the ecological metaphors? Why, I wanted to ask, does this 19th-century fascination with deterministic, centralized machines and mechanisms persist in economics, despite its obvious irrelevance and failings? Who, if not rich FT journalists with time to write books, I wanted to know, will think differently about these problems?
Finally, only economists strongly in favour of allowing market forces to operate unfettered would have used the dirigismic methods that the LSE did to allocate people to seats for this lecture. We were forced to sit in rows in our order of arrival in the auditorium. Why was this? When I asked an usher for the reason, the answer I was given made no sense: Because we expect a full hall. Why were the organizers so afraid of allowing people to exercise their own preferences as to where to sit? We don’t all have the same hearing and sight capabilities, we don’t all have the same preferences as to side of the hall, or side of the aisle, etc. We don’t all arrive in parties of the same size. We don’t all want to sit behind a tall person or near a noisy group.
The hall was not full, as it happened, so we were crammed into place in part of the hall like passive objects in a consumer choice model of voting, instead of as free, active citizens in a democracy occupying whatever position we most preferred of those still available. But even if the hall had been full, there are less-centralized and less-unfriendly methods of matching people to seats. The 20 or so LSE student ushers on hand, for instance, could been scattered about the hall to direct latecomers to empty seats, rather than lining the aisles like red-shirted troops to prevent people sitting where they wanted to.
What hope is there that our economic problems will be solved when the London School of Economics, of all places, uses central planning to sit people in public lectures?
Update: There is an interesting critical review of Harford’s latest book, here.
For about 300 years, and especially from the introduction of universal public education in the late 19th century, western culture has been dominated by text and writing. Elizabethan culture, by contrast, was primarily oral: Shakespeare, for example, wrote his plays to be performed not to be read, and did not even bother to arrange definitive versions for printing. One instance of the culture-wide turn from speech to text was a switch from spoken to written mathematics tests in the west which occurred at Cambridge in the late 18th century, as I discuss here. There is nothing intrinsically better about written examinations over spoken ones, especially when standardized and not tailored for each particular student. This is true even for mathematics, as is shown by the fact that oral exams are still the norm in university mathematics courses in the Russian-speaking world; Russia continues to produce outstanding mathematicians.
Adventurer and writer Rory Stewart, now an MP, has an interesting post about the oral culture of the British Houses of Parliament, perhaps the last strong-hold of argument-through-speech in public culture. The only other places in modern life, a place which is not quite as public, where speech reigns supreme, are court rooms.
The Grauniad reports on the death of adventurer and writer Patrick Leigh Fermor, aged 96. I recount a story about him and an ode by Horace, here.
Fermor attended Kit Marlowe’s old school, King’s School Canterbury, together with Alan Watts, who apparently wrote his first book about Zen Buddhism while still at school. Fermor famously was expelled from this school.
As part of the diverse mental attic that this blog is, this post simply lists live music I have heard, as best my memory serves. In some cases, I am also motivated to write about what I heard.
- Gulce Sevgen, piano, in a concert at the Gesellschaft fur Musiktheatre, Turkenstrasse 19, Vienna 1090, Austria, 15 November 2018. This venue turned out to be a small room holding 48 seats in a converted apartment. There were 20 people present to hear Ms Sevgen play JS Bach’s Chromatic Fantasie & Fugue in d-minor BWV903, Beethoven’s Pastorale Sonata, excerpts from Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet”, Mendelssohn’s Variations Serieuses, Op. 54, and Liszt’s Concert Etude E/M A218 and Zweite Ballade, E/M A181. Ms Sevgen’s performance throughout was from memory, a quite remarkable feat. Her playing was perhaps too loud for the size of the room, even with the piano lid half-down. The Bach, Beethoven and Mendelssohn were all excellent. I have remarked before that I do not “get” the music of Prokofiev. His music for Romeo and Juliet is a prime example: the famous dance with its large-footed stomping bassline conjures up, for me, Norwegian trolls not feuding Italian merchant families, as if the composer had read a different play altogether. (Mendelssohn’s and Shostakovich’s incidental music to Shakespeare, by contrast, both make perfect sense.) The playing of the Liszt works was fluent and articulate, but devoid of any meaning; it is perhaps unfair to ask performers to add meaning where there was none, since these are simply show-off pieces, all style and no substance. But it is not unfair to ask performers not to play such vapid, meaningless music in public.
- Adrian Brendle, piano, in a re-creation of a wartime concert by Myra Hess in the National Gallery, in St. Giles-without-Cripplegate, 27 June 2018. The program was: J. S. Bach: Prelude and Fugue in C# minor, BWV 849; Beethoven: Piano Sonata ‘Appassionata’ in F minor, Op. 57; Brahms: Three Intermezzi from Op. 119; Chopin: Nocturne in F# major, Op. 15 No. 2; Chopin: Waltz No. 1 in Eb major, Op. 18; and J. S. Bach: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. Sublime.
- Francois Dumont, piano, in a lunchtime recital of Debussy at the Recording Studio in Flagey, Brussels, Belgium, 8 June 2018. This was a fine performance in a room with good acoustics, perhaps 70% full.
- Carducci Quartet and Reiki Fujisawa, piano, at King’s Place, London on 6 May 2018, playing Haydn’s Quartet in D (Op. 20, #4), Mendelssohn’s Quartet No. 6 in F minor, Op. 80. After the interval, Schumann’s Piano Quintet in Eb was scheduled, but I wanted to leave with Mendelssohn in my mind, not Schumann. Oddly, this was a very similar program to a concert almost exactly a year earlier (see below) – a Haydn quartet from Op 20, Mendelssohn’s 6th quartet, and then a piano quintet.
- Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Mark Padmore, performing Bach’s St Matthew Passion, Royal Festival Hall, 26 March 2018.
- Theatre of Voices performing Stockhausen’s Stimmung (Copenhagen Interpretation), King’s Place, 9 February 2018. Although this is one of my favourite works, I have only heard it performed live once before. That occasion was a decade ago in Cottonopolis in a performance preceded by two hours of unadvertised medieval plainsong, which I am sure not a single person in the audience came specially to hear. That bait and switch offended me. This time, before the performance, the lead singer spoke and led demonstrations of overtone singing for about 10 minutes, which was both interesting and helpful. But he also promised the work would last 70 minutes, but it was closer to 100 minutes. What is it about this music that leads performers to mislead their audiences? In any case, the piece has all the long-windedness of the 1960s; it would be a much better work if it ended after 50 minutes.
- Virginia Black, piano, with the Bristol Ensemble, at King’s Place on 18 January 2018, in Haydn’s Symphony #49 in F minor (La Passione) and Bach’s Concerto #4 in A, BWV 1055. Hall One of King’s Place, like most modern concert halls, has been designed on the assumption that the performers will be seated. The Bristol Ensemble stood which meant their sound was directed over our heads. As a consequence, the higher pitches disappeared. I was seated in the front row, and had a very good appreciation of the cello line, but could barely hear the higher instruments. For the Bach, Ms Black used a foot-controlled iPad for her score, instead of paper and a human page-turner; perhaps using this is what caused her to lose her place in the opening movement. Without a conductor, the orchestra managed to keep playing, with soloist and orchestra somehow finishing the movement at the same time. Live performances can be thrilling, but this was too many thrills in too short a time, so I did not stay for the second set. The D minor concerto BWV1052 was scheduled but that piece is too important to me to hear it misplayed.
- Castalian String Quartet at the London School of Economics on 11 January 2018 playing Haydn’s String Quartet in D minor (Op. 76, #2) and Schumann’s Quartet No. 3 in A (Op 41, #3). A fine performance.
- Handel’s Messiah by the Orchestra of St John’s and the OSJ Voices under John Lubbock, at St John’s Smith Square, December 2017. A fine performance in fomer church with very good acoustics.
- A concert of Mendelssohn performed by stars: Mendelssohn’s Cello Sonata No. 2 in D, Op. 58; Piano Trio no. 2 in C minor, Op. 66; and String Quintet No. 1 in A, Op. 18. Performers: Joshua Bell, Arisa Fujita, violin, Amihai Grosz, Rachel Roberts, viola, Steven Isserlis, cello, and Denes Varjon, piano. Wigmore Hall, London, Monday 24 July 2017.
- Niel Dr Preez, piano, playing Beethoven’s Sonata in Fminor, Op. 57, Scriabin’s Preludes Op. 11 numbers 1, 10, 21 and 6; and Liszt’s Ballade No. 2 in B minor, at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, London on Tuesday 4 July 2017.
- Drew Steanson, piano, Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 54 and excerpts from Schumann’s Carnaval, Opus 9, St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, London, 2 June 2017. Superb performance from memory. The acoustics worked better for a piano than I had expected. Mr Steanson spoke before each work about the themes, which most of the audience probably appreciated. I would prefer just to hear the music. And I had to struggle to forget his mention of Donald Tovey’s description of the complexity of the intricate passagework in the second movement of the Beethoven, as being “like a dog chasing its own tail.”
- Solem Quartet, and Maksim Stsura, piano, at King’s Place, London on 14 May 2017, playing Haydn’s Quartet in Eb (Op. 20, #1), Mendelssohn’s Quartet No. 6 in F minor, Op. 80. After the interval, Frank Bridge’s Piano Quintet in D minor was scheduled, but not being a Bridge fan, I missed this.
- Adam Brown, solo guitar, in a program of Latin American works – Barrios, Callado, Lauro, Morel, Salgan, Villa-Lobos – in St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, London, 9 May 2017. Excellent performance of some very poignant music, heard by about 25 people.
- St Matthew Passion, Bach, London Bach Singers and The Feinstein Ensemble, Kings Place, London, 8 April 2017. The acoustics of this room are soo good that a chorus comprising one person per line (8 singers in all) filled the hall and made it resound. Superb.
- Candide, opera by Leonard Bernstein (1988 version), King’s College London Symphony Orchestra and King’s Opera, Chapel of King’s College London, 4 February 2017.
- Quattro Rueda Libre, comprising Catherine Smet p & composer, Benoit Leseure v, Ignaas Vermeiren db, Pato Lorente button accordion, Sounds Jazz Club, Tulipstraat, Ixelles, Brussels, Belgium, April 2016. Through-composed Argentinian style tangos, with even the solos written, with performances of great ability and warmth. No good ever came from playing an accordion, however, and one small drink’s worth was enough.
- The Necks, at the Union Chapel, Highbury, London, 12 April 2016. As usual, a superb set. Pity the warm up was some experimental organ music, lacking charm or musical form or interest. With the exception of some pieces by Philip Glass, this preface was a waste of time and of the organ.
- Bach Collegium Japan, under Masaaki Suzuki, Concerto for Two Violins in d minor and Manificat, Barbican, London, 9 April 2016.
- Bach Collegium a Japan, under Masaaki Suzuki, Mass in B minor, Barbican, London, 8 April 2016.
- Catherine Manson, violin, Partita #2 in d minor, King’s Place, London, 1 April 2016.
- Feinstein Ensemble and London Bach Singers, Brandenburg Concerto #5 and Concerto in C minor for oboe and violin BWV 1060R, and Cantatas BWV 82a & BWV 55, King’s Place, London 1 April 2016.
- Medici Choir and Brandenburg Sinfonia, under John Baird, St Matthew Passion, St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate, London, 19 March 2016.
- LSE Orchestra and Choir, under Matthew Taylor, Mozart Requiem and Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in e minor, Raphael Todes, violin, St. Clement Danes Church, Temple, London, 15 March 2016. The strings displayed some shaky intonation at the start of the Mozart, but this improved as the evening advanced. Todes used a score for the Mendelssohn. There were about 400 people in the audience, but this fell to about 300 once the choir was no longer needed. Why do choristers and their friends so often show their lack of interest in orchestral music, I wonder. The acoustics were mostly okay, although the sound was quite muddy at times.
- Gooden.Semble, under Michael Poll and Ray Chan, in a concert on Thursday 22 October 2015 in the Great Hall of Goodenough College, as part of the Bloomsbury Festival. The programme comprised David Grahame’s Embiosis, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #2 (soloist: David Malusa), and Dvorak’s Symphony #8. Energetic performances in a room with great acoustics, the orchestra filling the room superbly. Grahame’s slow, chilled-out dissonances were very relaxing to listen to. Dvorak, as always, avoided any irregular rhythms and phrase lengths, lumbering square-footedly from the opening bars to the very end. One listens in vain in Dvorak’s plainly symmetrical music for anything dappled: nothing here is counter, original, spare, strange, or fickle, freckled.
- South Brisbane Federal Band, under Patrick Pickett, in a concert of classics, in the Old Museum Concert Hall, Brisbane, 4 July 2015. Good to hear Sousa on this day! But also Land of Hope and Glory, in a theme and variations arrangement for tenor horn solo; strange that no variation allowed the band to fully rip. Overall, very good performances to a thin audience of friends and family. The band was not as loud as I expected it would be, even in the war horses, such as the 1812 Overture. Perhaps the sound disappeared into the high ceilings.
- King’s College London Orchestra and current and former members of the King’s College London choir, performing Haydn’s Nelson Mass, in a Memorial concert for David Trendall, Chapel of King’s College London, 17 June 2015. This was a thrilling performance with about 60 singers, ranging in age from late teens to over 70 years. This ornate room has superb acoustics, and the walls shook with the force of the sound.
- Christian Tetzlaff, playing Bach’s violin Partita #2 in Dm BWV 1004 and Sonata #3 in C BWV 1005, at LSO St Luke’s, Old Street, 21 May 2015. Masterful and deeply moving.
- Jayson Gillham, piano, and the Australian Piano Quartet, in a recital in the Chapel of King’s College London, as part of the Australia and New Zealand Festival of Literature and the Arts, 30 May 2015. Gillham played the piano in the first half, competently if flamboyantly. Bach, some arranged by Percy Grainger, was followed by Grainger, Vine, and Matthew Hindson’s exhilarating AK47. The second half was a performance by the APQ of Sculthorpe’s Landscapes II, Faure’s Second Piano Quartet, and, a great find, a movement from Frederick Septimus Kelly’s String Trio in Bm, of 1911. I could hear the strong influence of Mendelssohn in this music, evidence no doubt of the training Kelly had received at the Schumann-Brahms-informed Hoch Conservatorium in Frankfurt. The audience comprised perhaps just 40 people, and included the Australian High Commissioner and family, wine glasses in hand.
- Chilly Gonzales and the Kaiser Quarter, at Milton Hall, Barbican, London, April 2015. This music was not to my taste at all, and I struggled to stay to the end. The music was technically undemanding and intellectually shallow, the very opposite of Jazz. Is there such a genre as Light Jazz? Perhaps Kenny G would appreciate this music, although G’s music can be used to chill out, while Gonzales’ music is generally too raucous and emotionally roller-coasting for that. Almost every number had a piano ostinato, often starting quietly and then becoming loud and climactic. It was not easy to listen to this pattern repeatedly, although the witty lyrics on the rap numbers were enjoyable. The treatment of Reich’s Different Trains, by imposing a strong 4/4 beat over the top of what became yet another piano ostinato, destroyed completely any possibility of appreciating the minimalist subtleties of Reich’s original sound world. I was reminded of a 4/4 version of Desmond’s Take Five that I once heard. For shame!
- Bach’s St Matthew Passion, performed by the Academy of Ancient Music, under Richard Egarr (director & harpsichord), at the Barbican, London, Good Friday 2015, with James Gilchrist (Evangelist), Matthew Rose (Jesus), Elizabeth Watts (soprano), Sarah Connolly (alto), Mark Le Brocq (tenor), Christopher Purves (bass) and the Choir of the AAM. This was a very good rendition on original instruments, which led (as always) to some dodgy sound moments.
- Manhattan String Quartet, playing Haydn’s The Horseman Quartet (Op 74, No. 3), Craig Walsh’s String Quartet (2010), and Elgar’s String Quartet in E Minor (Op. 83), Westminster Cathedral Hall, London, 16 January 2015. Sadly, the acoustics were terrible. The quartet were positioned at the side of the hall, instead of on the raised stage at the front. The first violinist was sitting with his back to me, and I could hardly hear his playing at all. Prior to the second quartet, the cellist spoke about the music. Even 20 feet away, I could not make out a word he said.
- Messiah, BBC Singers and the Norwegian Wind Ensemble, arranged by Stian Aareskjold, under David Hill (conductor), with Fflur Wyn (soprano), Robin Blaze (counter-tenor), Samuel Boden (tenor) and Mark Stone (bass), in Temple Church, Temple Winter Festival, 19 December 2014.
- Sacconi String Quartet, Friends Christmas Concert, December 2014: Mendelssohn’s String Quintet in A, Op. 18, and Ravel’s String Quartet, with Lisa Bucknell (viola). Queen’s Gate Terrace, London.
- Bach Magnificat, Barbican, December 2014.
- Salon de Swing (Jan Van Dijkstra, violin, and Miranda Deutsch, guitar) with Peter Walters, bass guitar, Oz Manouche Festival of Gypsy Jazz, Brisbane Jazz Club, 27 November 2014.
- BBC Symphony Orchestra, under Sakari Oramo, with Javier Perianes (piano), playing R. Strauss Don Juan, Grieg Piano Concerto, Sibelius En Saga, and Stravinsky Firebird Suite, in the Barbican, London, 24 October 2014.
- Wien und Venezia, a concert comprising mostly German choral music, by the Anton Bruckner Choir, under Christopher Dawe, at St Clement Danes Church, Strand, London, 11 October 2014. Chitarrone played by Richard MacKenzie, violin Liam Shinar, viola & violin Andrew Stern, organ Paul Ayers. The Bach and Mendelssohn stirring. (HT: WP)
- Anthony Marwood and friends, including the Heath Quartet, at the Wigmore Hall, playing Mendelssohn’s Octet, London, 7 October 2014. A thrilling performance, certainly one of the best I have heard. The last movement was taken faster than usual, so it much better invoked the feeling of a wild fight between Good and Evil for Faust’s soul. Good prevailed, but the speed meant that it was only by a whisker. Those speedsters Felix Mendelssohn and Eduard Reitz would have loved this version. The programme also included Enescu’s Octet, but I wanted to leave with the Mendelssohn in my ears, so did not stay for the Enescu.
- St James Sinfonia and New London Singers at St James Anglican Church, Picadilly, London, under Paul Goodwin, 2 October 2014. The programme comprised:CPE Bach – Magnificat
JS Bach – Singet dem Herrn
Nystedt – Immortal Bach
Zelenka – Miserere
Pärt – Collage sur B-A-C-HSoloists were:Grace Davidson soprano
Martha McLorinan mezzo soprano
Nathan Vale tenor
Stephen Kennedy bass.The acoustics of this church suit choral and orchestral music much more than they do chamber music (see below), and this was a superb concert. Zelenka’s Miserere is spine-chilling in its harmonies. Nystedt’s dissonances are also tender and moving. It is a wonder that CPE Bach’s Magnificat is not performed more often, so good it is. The suspended seconds are achingly beautiful, and the final Amen chorus has to be the greatest, most rousing chorus of the whole 18th century – better, even, than The Messiah’s Hallelujah. With the simple scale-like melodies of the first and last movements, one can hear that the young Mendelssohn must have had this work in mind when he composed his own Magnificat. How great it would be to hear them both performed together.
- Members of Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, at King’s Place, London, playing Brahms String Sextet #1, Shostakovich’s Two Pieces for String Octet, Op. 11, and Mendelssohn’s Octet in E flat, Op. 20, 25 September 2014. Hall 80% full. The Brahms proved to me again how conservative and turgid this composer is, a Henry James of the acoustic, without James’ irony or sensitivity. If I never hear another chamber work by Brahms, it will still be too soon. The Shostakovich was exciting and thrilling, as he always is. The Mendelssohn was marred by the American woman sat next to me, acting as if attending her first ever classical concert, who drank too much too quickly at interval, and returned to her seat with hiccups: there were thus 9 people in this octet! Even closing my eyes gave no relief, as her hiccups could be felt all along our row of seats. Hard to concentrate on the playing with such rhythmic overlay.
- Quartet Volute, at St. James Church, Picadilly, playing Hayden Opus 50 # 1, and Beethoven Opus 18 # 6, 27 August 2014. About 150 people present. The resonant acoustic of this Church make it most unsuitable for the delicacy of chamber music. The playing was fine, but the sound arrived muddy and echoing. Pity.
- Pekka Kuusisto and Teemu Korpipaa: Improvisations on Bach’s Partita in D minor, at St Eanswythe’s Primary School, Folkestone, 24 May 2014. Review here.
- Sacconi Quartet, RCM Chamber Orchestra under Christopher Bucknall, and Pekka Kuusisto, performing Stephen Deazley’s Folkestone Road, Richard Strauss’ Metamorphosen, and Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, at St Mary and St. Eanswythe’s Church, Folkestone, 24 May 2014. A review here.
- L’Orchestre du Monde, under Janusz Piotrowicz, and Giovanni Guzzo (violin), performing The Hebrides Overture, Violin Concerto in Em, Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Symphony No. 3, at Cadogan Hall, London, 20 May 2014. A very fine performance, although the conductor seemed to be following rather than leading. Or else, perhaps, I was sitting in a zone where some laws of physics were suspended, because the sound of the downbeat reached me sooner than the sight of it.
- Sinfonia d’Amici, under David Alberman, performing Mozart’s Overture to Don Giovanni, Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto (Konrad Elias-Trostmann), and Beethoven’s 4th Symphony, at Jerwood Hall, LSO St Luke’s, 21 April 2014. Among the best performances of the Mendelssohn I have ever heard, Elias-Trostmann’s tone was warm and rich. His instrument is by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume. The acoustics helped – this hall is very intimate, as befits a Hawkesmoor Church, and there is no stage. Thus, sitting in the front row is the next best thing to being an orchestral member oneself.
- London Symphony Orchestra under John Eliot Gardiner, performing Mendelssohn’s Ruy Blas Overture, Schumann’s Violin Concerto (with Alina Ibragimova), and Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony, at the Barbican, London, March 2014. What an awful piece of music is the Schumann! Although its performance, like that of the two Mendelssohn pieces, was excellent.
- Handel’s Semele, by King’s Opera and King’s Baroque, directed by Jordan Theis and conducted by James Way, in the Chapel of King’s College London, Wednesday 12 March 2014. A superb production, and well worth seeing in the two remaining performances. What is the opposite of po-faced? This is a witty and funny production, one which does not take itself or opera too seriously. Clever use of ipads as (video) mirrors and for selfies, and of lights and video monitors generally. Excellent use of the physical space, especially up and down the central aisle. Some of the singing was simply stunning, and filled the Chapel gloriously. The long reverb of this room, however, sometimes made it sound as if orchestra and singers were not perfectly in synch, which was perhaps an artefact of where I was sat.
- Re-enactment of Benny Goodman’s famous 16 January 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert, by Pete Long and His Goodmen, at Cadogan Hall, London, 26 January 2014. I grew up listening to a recording of this concert, so I greatly enjoyed the music. The re-enactment, however, had some oddities. Goodman was famous for playing with black musicians, but the band on stage at the Cadogan was entirely white. Many of the musicians also appeared quite old – in their 70s and even 80s. In this regard, they matched the audience, who were almost entirely over 50.
- The Vienna Piano Trio (Bogdan Bozovic – v, Matthias Gredler – vc, Stefan Mendl – p) at the Wigmore Hall, London, 18 January 2014, playing: Beethoven’s Trio in D “Ghost” (Op 70, #1), Henze’s Kammersonate, and Mendelssohn’s Trio #1 in D Minor (Op. 49). For an encore, the second movement of another Beethoven trio was played. Absolutely superb and thrilling playing, this was the performance of a lifetime. Bozovic’s tone was treacly and sublime, especially in the Mendelssohn. Oh, to achieve such a tone! His face was also very expressive, and he kept looking to the cellist, but received little response. Despite this, the performance was extremely tight, and demonstrated the strength of dedicated ensembles over ad hoc collections of stars; I was reminded of the disappointing performance of the same Mendelssohn trio by Vadim Repin, Mischa Maisky, and Lang Lang at the RFH in 2011 (see below).
- The Messiah, by Mousai Singers and Solistes de Musique Ancienne, directed by Daniel Cook, in The Chapel, King’s College London, 11 December 2013. Another superb Messiah from this orchestra, albeit with a different choir.
- Rolf Hind, at the Milton Concert Hall, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London, 5 December 2013, playing: Liszt’s Nuages Gris, James Weeks’ Gloomy Clouds and Siciliano; Mark Simpson’s Barkham Fantasy, and John Adams’ Phrygian Gates. As when I heard him perform the piece in Liverpool, Hind’s performance of Phrygian Gates was sublime.
- The Magic Flute, by the English National Opera, in a production by Simon McBurney, London, 3 December 2013. As with all his theatrical work, this production was visually stunning. I particularly liked the actor shoals – flocks of birds, a group of people moving around the stage, each person dressed in black, and each rustling paper.
- Maggini Quartet at King’s Place, London, 1 December 2013, playing quartets by Mozart (Hoffmeister), Bridge (#2 in Gm), and Mendelssohn (#3 in D, Op. 44-1). Performance spoilt by poor intonation of the first violinist, and a lack of togetherness. The two middle movements of the Mendelssohn were so loose they sounded as if played by two ensembles with slightly different timings – one comprising the first violinist, and the other comprising the rest of the quartet. I had not thought of these movements as difficult, until hearing them done poorly. Perhaps more rehearsal together would have helped.
- Matthew Jorysz, recital on the organ of King’s College London Chapel, 18 November 2013, playing JS Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C Minor BWV537, Dieterich Buxtehude’s Canzonetta in G BuxWV 171, William Cole’s Broken Chaconne (world premiere), and Edward Elgar’s Sonata in G, Op. 28, Movement 1: Allegro Maestoso.
- Unfunny music: BBC Symphony Orchestra, under Sakari Oramo, with Olli Mustonen (piano) and Sergei Nakariakov (trumpet), at the Barbican, London, 2 November 2013, playing Tristan Murali’s Reflections/Reflets and Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto #1.
- Members of the Philharmonia Orchestra under Alejo Perez, at the Royal Festival Hall, London, in a memorial concert for Christophe Bertrand, playing his Virya, Madrigal and Yet (all UK premieres). The concert was part of a series on Music of Today, curated by Unsuk Chin, who spoke before the music.
- Ljova and the Kontraband, at Jamboree, Cable Street, Limehouse, London, Wednesday 23 October 2013.
- Matthew Searles, recital on the organ of King’s College London Chapel, 21 October 2013, playing JS Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B Minor BWV544, Nicolas de Grigny’s Recit de Tierce en taille, and Camille Sant-Saens’ Sept Improvisation, # vi and # vii.
- Sacconi String Quartet, in The Temple Church, Tuesday 15 October 2013, playing Puccini’s Crisantemi, Verdi’s String Quartet in Em, Purcell’s Chaconne in Dm and Britten’s String Quartet #2 in C, Op. 36 (the last two played without pause).
- Alex Goodwin, recital on the organ of King’s College London Chapel, 7 October 2013, playing JS Bach’s Prelude in B Minor BWV544 and Ebarm’ Dich Mien, O Herre Gott BWV 721, Louis Vierne’s Berceuse, #19 from 24 Pieces en style libre Op. 31, William Walton’s Three Pieces from Richard III (arr. Robert Gower), Frank Bridge’s Adagio in E Minor and Kenneth Leighton’s Paean.
- Christopher Woodward, recital on the organ of King’s College London Chapel, 30 September 2013, playing Simon Preston’s Alleluyas, Bach’s Passacaglia in Cm (BWV 582), Finzi’s Forlana (from Five Bagatelles for Clarinet and Piano, arr. Robert Gower), and Louis Vierne’s Symphony #1, op. 14, movements iv and vi.
- quartet-lab at London’s Wigmore Hall, 15 September 2013, playing Mozart’s Divertimento in D K136, Bartok’s Duos for 2 Violins, William Byrd’s Sanctus, and Beethoven’s String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 95, “Serioso”. The quartet comprises Pekka Kuusisto, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Lilli Maijala and Pieter Wispelwey. With the exception of cellist Wispelwey, the quartet stood, with Kopatchinskaja playing in barefeet. Byrd’s Sanctus was played as a short prelude, without pause, to the Beethoven. The Grauniad review is here, the Independent here.
- Pekka Kuusisto (violin) and Olli Mustonen (piano), at London’s Wigmore Hall, 11 April 2013, playing Beethoven’s Violin Sonata in A (Op. 30, #1) and Mustonen’s Sonata for Violin and Piano (world premiere).
- The Choir of King’s College London and Baroque Ensemble under David Trendell, in Bach’s St. John Passion, with Rupert Charlesworth as the Evangelist, Chapel of King’s College London, March 2013. The bright and resonant acoustics of this chapel were filled perfectly by this warm interpretation. In the German Lutheran tradition, the Rev. Richard Burridge gave a short sermon before the interval, on Bach’s imperfect use of John’s gospel text.
- Chilingirian Quartet and Bulgarian Friends, at King’s Place London, as part of the Second London Festival of Bulgarian Culture, November 2012, playing Moreni (Dobrinka Tabakova, composed 2007), Piano Quartet in Eb (Schumann), and the Octet (Mendelssohn). The additional performers in the Octet were Ivo Stankov and Yana Burova (violins), Dimitar Burov (va), and Tim Wells (cello). As an encore, the performers replayed the Scherzo of the Octet.
- Solistes de Musique Ancienne, in St James Church, Picadilly, directed by Joel Newsome, playing Leclair (Recreation Deuxieme de Musique), Corelli (Christmas Concerto, Op. 6, No. 8) and Bach (Cantata BWV 132), October 2012. The second half (which I missed) included Allegri’s Miserere Mei, Deus and Vivaldi’s Dixit Dominus RV807. Another fine performance from this great ensemble. Of the music, the Leclair was justly forgotten, the Corelli very well known but not profound, and only the Bach worth the effort of braving the heavy rain to hear. The acoustics of the church, with its barrel roof and its wide balcony on 3 sides, supported by 5 stone columns down each side, had a strong reverberation. The sound was thus strong and clear, although the bass soloist in the Cantata did not project his voice well: that he was looking down at, instead of out at, his score, meant his voice hit the floor instead of the audience. Why do singers in churches so often not project their voices, I wonder? Does singing in a church make them timid? The soprano at this concert was an exception, superbly filling the length of the church to the top of its high ceiling with her voice. (The program notes do not, sadly, name the soloists.)
- Brass in Tyalgum: Queensland Conservatorium Brass Band at the 21st Annual Tyalgum Classical Music Festival, Tyalgum Literary Institute Hall, Tyalgum, NSW, September 2012.
- 68th Annual Composers Conference and Chamber Music Center Concert in Jewett Arts Centre, Wellesley College, Wellesley MA USA, August 2012, including performances of: Concertino by Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942), Year without Summer by Jacob Gotlib, Excerpts from 44 Duos for Two Violins by Bela Bartok (1881 – 1954), fluttuazione/attimo by John Arrigo-Nelson, Trio for Piano, Oboe and Bassoon by Francis Poulenc (1899-1963), Reves Transcendants by Hendel Almetus, and the Horn Trio in Eb Major by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897). I last heard Brahms’ horn trio 37 years ago (in Murwillimbah, with the piano part played by David Urquhart-Jones) and even after all these years I think this combination of instruments perverse and unpleasant; those aspects of the horn timbre that combine well with the piano sound clash with the aspects which combine well with the violin sound, and likewise for the other two pairings. What a shame nobody listens to this piece: If they did, no one would play it.
- Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire playing Mozart (Piano Concerto #20 in D minor) and Villa Lobos’ Momoprecoce, Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra, and Mussorsky/Ravel’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Boston Symphony Orchestra under Marcelo Lehninger at Tanglewood, July 2012. There is a review here.
- Mendelssohn in Mansion House: Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, under Edward Gardner, with Alina Ibragimova, in the Egyptian Room of Mansion House, London, June 2012.
- Organ and Trumpet: Richard Hall, organ, and Robert Landen, trumpet, in St Mary le Bow Church, Cheapside, London, June 2012.
- Brahms’ String Sextet #2 in G and Mendelssohn’s Octet, performed by the Piatti and Castalian Quartets in Duke’s Hall, Royal Academy of Music, 3 May 2012. The Sextet was performed by the Castalian 4tet together with David Wigram (viola) and Jessie Richardson (cello) from the Piatti. The Octet had some unfamiliarities: chiefly, an extra note after each ascending phrase in the 1st violin in the theme of the first movement, the extra note being lower than the top of the phrase. The first time, I thought I heard a mistake. A second time and I thought perhaps I was hearing some acoustic artefact, an echo perhaps. By the time the theme returned, with these extra notes still to be heard on each phrase, I thought either a deliberate affectation or perhaps the performers were not playing the standard score. Was this the original manuscript version, perhaps, which Mendelssohn later revised? In any case, the standard version is better, as the force of the ascending phrase is reduced with a lower note after each top-most one.
- Bach’s St John’s Passion, Solistes de Musique Ancienne and Siglo de Oro in St Stephen’s Church, Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead, London, April 2012.
- Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Britten Sinfonia and Sinfonia Voices, under Andreas Delfs, London Barbican, March 2012.
- Bach’s Mass in B Minor, Baroque Ensemble of The Royal Academy of Music and the Choir of King’s College London, under David Trendell, King’s College Chapel, London, February 2012. An excellent and moving performance. The acoustics of the KCL Chapel are very clear, with little reverb, and the sound was full. The organ continuo part was shared by Christopher Woodward and Richard Hall, the current College Organ Scholars.
- Pekka Kuusisto (violin) and Britten Sinfonia under Thomas Ades, in a program of Couperin, Stravinsky and Ades (Violin Concerto), Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, February 2012. PK also briefly played the piano.
- Baiba Skride (violin) and Lauma Skride (piano) in Mozart’s Violin Sonata in B-flat (K454) and Mendelssohn’s Sonata in F, Wigmore Hall, London, December 2011.
- Moscow Soloists Chamber Orchestra under Yuri Bashmet, London, December 2011.
- Bach’s Christmas Oratorio (excerpts) and Mass in B Minor, Brandenburg Baroque Soloists and Medici Choir, St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, London, December 2011.
- Handel’s Messiah, Solistes de Musique Ancienne and Siglo de Oro in the Church of St Giles-in-the-Field, Holborn, London, December 2011.
- Mendelssohn in Wigmore Street: Scottish Ensemble and Alasdair Beatson playing Stravinsky and Mendelssohn, Wigmore Hall, London, October 2011.
- Queensland Conservatorium Chamber Orchestra, under Michael Morgan and with Cameron Jamieson (violin), playing Mozart and Arriaga, Brisbane, August 2011.
- String Fest 2011, including Grammar Chamber Strings, Ferny Grove State High School Chamber Orchestra, Mansfield High School Camerata, Brisbane Girls Grammar School Senior Strings, Somerville House Strings, and the Festival String Orchestra, at Brisbane Grammar School, August 2011.
- A Celebration of 125 Years of the Salvation Army in Bundamba, Queensland, August 2011.
- Premiere of Two Boys, opera by Nico Muhly, performed by English National Opera, London, June 2011: I say thee, Yay, Mr Muhly, Yay!
- Daniel Hope (violin) and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in Mendelssohn’s E-Minor Violin Concerto (original version) and Respighi’s Pines of Rome at Royal Festival Hall, London, May 2011.
- Mulatu Astatke (vibes, keyboards, percussion) at Jazz Cafe, Camden, May 2011.
- Luka Sulic (cello) and Nadav Hertzka (piano) at Wigmore Hall, London, May 2011. Winner’s Recital for the RAM Patron’s Award 2011. Program included Debussy Cello Sonata, Sibelius (Valse, Berceuse and Rondino) and Britten’s Cello Sonata in C. A superb performance. I could only catch the first half, which meant I left humming the catchy final theme of the Britten. Both these artists will be worth watching in the future.