Mahler 8………..Mirga and the CBSO

I have been following with interest the career of  Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla the young Lithuanian conductor since she was appointed Musical Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) in 2016.

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Her appointment seemed to be very “left field” although there were very strong rumours in Birmingham that the orchestra had been extremely impressed with her when she guest conducted them.

Since then she has enhanced her reputation with her dynamism on the platform, enthusiasm and willing to take chances with programmes that embraced modern music and that of “lost” composers e.g.  Mieczysław Weinberg.

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Earlier this season I travelled down to Symphony Hall in Birmingham to see her perform Mahler 2, possibly my favourite Mahler symphony. A very good performance was almost spoiled by a mother and pre-teen daughter sat in front of me who talked throughout the performance and the young girl was also eating and playing on her iPad! If you are going to introduce children to classical music (which I would support) I suggest you don’t start with one of Mahler’s longest symphonies.

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When I found out that there was to be a performance of Mahler 8 (Symphony of a Thousand) I immediately booked tickets as it is performed rarely because of the huge forces required.

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So, on Sunday 19 January 2020 I travelled down to Birmingham for the evening concert. It was almost a full house with just the odd empty single seats here and there. There was a great deal of anticipation in the air as the orchestra came onto the stage and then the five choirs that are needed for the piece.

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Finally the eight soloists walked on accompanied by Mirga, it seems that she is simply known by her first name these days by concertgoers and indeed many music critics simply refer to her by her first name.

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Although I have all of the Mahler symphonies on CD I would say the eighth is the least played one. Hearing it live is another matter altogether, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla plunged headlong into Part I, a setting of the hymn ‘Veni, Creator Spiritus’. The opening few minutes were an explosion of sound (think Phil Spector and his famous “wall of sound” but x 5) and when the music relaxed somewhat for the first entry of the septet of soloists there was a simple transition without losing momentum.

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The start of the second section of the symphony featured some stunning playing by the orchestra and it is easy to forget how beautiful this part of the symphony is. One could not fault the soloists who all sang with passion and commitment, but for me the stars of the evening were the five choirs assembled for this demanding piece of music. Tremendous plaudits should go to Simon Halsey, probably the best chorus master in the world today for his work with the choirs.

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The end of the symphony is enough to reduce anyone to tears, as it did with some of the audience sat near me. 85 minutes (without a break) passed so quickly and at the end the audience responded with rapturous applause.

It was noticeable that Mirga shunned the limelight and took her bow with the soloists and in front of “her” orchestra. She is an extraordinary talent and the orchestra and musical public of Birmingham should value what they have got. Let us hope she remains for a good number of years and doesn’t get “poached” by one of the leading international orchestras.

A magnificent evening of music from all concerned and I look forward to attending my next Mirga concert.

Photographs (c) Kindadukish 2020

 

 

 

Posted in Cklassical music. Female Conductors, Classical Music, Lithuania, Music, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Foxes and Fossils revisited (2019)……

 

Three years ago (in 2016) I wrote a blog about a group I had discovered on YouTube, namely Foxes and Fossils. I had come across them doing a cover of Suite Judy Blue Eyes by Crosby, Still and Nash.

At the time I was of the opinion that no one could ever do justice to this song other than the original group, as it requires exceptionally good harmony singing. Well, as I was to discover I was completely wrong and was blown away by a live performance by the group in a small club.

What was even more remarkable was that the two young ladies singing with the group were just 15 and 16 years of age at the time but sang with such assurance and maturity.

I later discovered they subsequently left the group to continue their high school education and the personnel of the group changed on a number of occasions.

But joy of joys, I recently found another performance on YouTube of the group with the original young ladies back with the band and still singing wonderfully well. Moreover, they happen to be performing Harvest Moon by Neil Young, which just happens to be one of my favourite songs.

I think they have done a wonderful job with this, but give it a listen and make up your own mind.

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Douro Valley……….and Oporto

In November 2018 I attained the ripe old age of 70 and I explained to my family I did not want a party or any gifts, My request was for a quiet meal out with my wife, daughter and husband and my two grand children.

So off we went to El Gato Negro a will known Tapas Bistro in Manchester for an informal evening. As we were finishing our meal my daughter handed me what I thought was a birthday card. Instead it was a card with a photograph of the Six Senses Hotel in the Douro Vally in Portugal and she said casually, I have booked you into a luxury suite for 4 nights, there will be a special meal arranged for your last night and a taxi will collect you in Oporto to drive you to the hotel 120 kilometres along the Douro Valley, and then drive you back to the airport in Oporto at the end of your visit. This has been arranged for May 2019 and everything is paid for.

To say that I was taken aback would be an understatement, I was utterly speechless, and according to my daughter for the only time in my life.

We decided to make the most of the trip and booked an appartment in Oporto for three days so that we could see something of the city before our journey to our hotel in the Douro.

We tried to pack as much sightseeing in during the two full days in the city including a “port tasting tour”, a visit to the wonderful tiled railway station, a walk across the spectacular bridge plus a visit to the photography museum which is housed in an old prison but is quite beautiful architecturally.

Our taxi ride along the Douro Valley took in some spectacular scenery, stunning bridges before arriving at the Six Senses Hotel. Well, I have been to some up market hotels but nothing like on this scale. Our room was enormous and with a very large window overlooking the River Douro where we could sit and watch the boats going up and down the river. The hotel oozes luxury and the breakfasts have to bee seen to be believed.

During our stay we got a taxi up to the small town of Pinhao and then took a leisurely boat trip up the river past many of the vinyards and wonderful scenery.

We also managed to fit in a visit to the Quinta da Pacheca to do a tour of the winery and ended up tasting around six red wines plus a variety of Ports , including a stunning 40 year old one, courtesy of the wonderful Pedro who was our very knowledgeable guide on the tour.

I have visited around twenty five different countries in the world and there are some where you see sights that you say are beautiful, others you say quite breathtaking and others the response is stunning. But never have I visited anywhere where all these three comments could be made at once, but in the Douro valley this is certainly the case.

It was difficult to think how I could say thank you to my daughter for providing me with such a wonderful birthday gift, but on the last day my wife led me to the verandah overlooking the river and I thought we were going for afternoon tea. Imagine my shock as I opened the door to see my daughter sat there with her husband drinking a glass of wine. They had flown out to Portugal for one night to have dinner with us on our final night…………..such a beautiful end to a wonderful holiday.

Below are some of my photographs from the trip taking in Oporto and the trip down the valley.

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Looking down to the boats on the river at Oporto

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Riverside in Oporto

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The magnificent tiled railway station in Oporto

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The view from our bedroom at the Six Senses Hotel

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Boat trip up the River Douro

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One of the many vineyards along the Douro River

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The Six Senses Hotel

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Cellar at Quinta da Pacheca

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Wine bar at the tiny station at Pinhao

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The “little train” that travels along the valley

Photographs (c) Kindadukish 2019

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The Triana Ceramics Museum ………..

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During our recent trip to Seville we set out one morning to just wander down the side of the river (on the west side) starting at Pasarela de la Cartuja bridge. After a while we came to the area known as Triana, once one of the less salubrious areas of the city and indeed was known as the “red light distrct” but all of that has changed now.

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It is being redeveloped and rapidly moving upmarket (not dissimilar to Uzupis in Vilnius). It was here that we stumbled on the Triana Ceramicas Museum and decided to explore it. But first a little back ground history.

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The Triana Ceramics Museum is the most recent chapter in the long history of the Fábrica de Cerámica Santa Ana (Ceramics Factory of Santa Ana), which has lent itself to the design, production, exhibition, and sale of ceramics for a long time. The new centre offers a space for interpretation in the heart of the historic quarter of Triana.

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The workshop was in production up until the end of the 20th century, which permitted the preservation of many of the elements including: seven firing kilns, a well, pigment mills, workshops, and storerooms. An archaeological survey uncovered remains of another 8 kilns, the oldest of which were in use until end of the 16th Century.

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The project develops on an old pottery complex, an exhibition centre of ceramics, an interpretative centre on different tourist routes in the quarter of Triana, as well as different areas for the commercial and productive activities of the Santa Ana Pottery Factory.

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As you wander through the various rooms you get a real feel of the extent of the industry and many of the artefacts on display are stunningly beautiful, and if you are the least interested in tiles and how they were used to create artistic masterpieces, then this is a place you must visit.

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I realise that many would shake their head at the idea of visiting a tile museum, but this place is about history, industry and the creative arts and has excellent and tasteful displays. The video showing the work of the hand painters is worth the entrance fee alone, the skill factor is amazing and shows what a lost art it has become.

Photographs (C) Kindadukish 2018

 

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Flamenco, Street Style in Seville…………………………….

On my recent visit to Seville in Southern Spain I spent many happy hours wandering the streets of the city as well as those in Cadiz, Cordoba and Jerez de la Frontera. With trusty Pentax K50 camera (with 18 – 250 Sigma lens) in hand I set about shooting all the things that interested me.

My favourite photographs from my visit were the ones I took late one afternoon in Seville and near the cathedral. In a square there was a camera crew shooting a video featuring a young woman who was dancing traditional flamenco. It was a bit of a stop, start affair as the cameraman kept asking for certain moves to be repeated.

The young lady in question looked absolutely stunning in her long black dress as she practiced her dance moves. I tried to get up close to try and take some photographs but was warned off by one of the “minders” for the shoot. However, as more and more people got out their phones to take photographs I think he just gave up, so I was able to get reasonably close to get some shots.

I have no idea what the video was about but it did feature quite a number of Japanese participants, so perhaps it was to advertise something back in Japan e.g. more tourism, although I have to say there was no shortage of Japanese tourists in the city whilst I was there.

I hope the photographs posted capture the spectacular dancing and also the stunning dress.

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Photographs (C) Kindadukish 2018

 

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The Greatest Jazz Pianist……………………….

I have been listening to jazz music for the best part of fifty odd years and have developed a love of most genres of the music from early New Orleans to the Avant Garde, although I have to confess that I still cannot get to grips with Be Bop, despite spending many hours trying.

During my listening lifetime I have developed a love of pianists and my favourites are wide and varied. I think the first real jazz pianist I heard was Oscar Peterson playing “Night Train” on a Verve LP I bought back in the 1960s. I loved how Peterson took a melody then created a whole new musical world with his improvisations, often displaying phenomenal technique that was reminiscent of Art Tatum at his finest.

In more recent years I have become a Keith Jarrett acolyte, even forgiving (partly) his outrageous and intolerant behaviour towards audiences. In the early part of his career Jarrett played with Miles Davis and was part of the jazz / rock scene of the late 60s and early 70s. Much later he moved towards playing solo concerts of which the iconic “The Koln Concert” is probably the best known. My own personal favourite is the “Vienna Concert” which contains improvised melodies that Rachmaninoff or Tchaikovsky would have been proud of.

The man who shook the piano world up was Cecil Taylor; he was classically trained and was one of the pioneers of free jazz.  His music is characterized by an energetic, physical approach, resulting in complex improvisations often involving ne clusters and intricate polyrhythms. His technique has been compared to percussion.  I remember buying the LPs “Conquistador” and “Unit Structures” back in the 60s and being assaulted by music that I found difficult to comprehend. Extensive listening (and perseverance) enabled me to work out what Taylor was trying to do with his music. An undeniable genius but not easy listening.

I must also mention the godfather, namely Duke Ellington, who I still believe is extremely under rated as a pianist, primarily because he focused on composing and arranging for his band but would play the occasional solo with the band. The LP Money Jungle made by Ellington with a rhythm section of Max Roach and Charlie Mingus gives some indication of what he was capable of. Moreover, there is a video on YouTube of him playing a solo concert, which is simply magical.

Other pianists I would throw in for consideration are Bill Evans, Thelonius Monk, Stan Tracy, John Taylor, Michael Garrick, Kenny Barron, Brad Mehldau, Hank Jones and Count Basie. My own personal choice is quite easy and here is the reason why. During the late 60s I was a regular visitor to the old Free Trade Hall in Manchester where I saw a number of great jazz artists, Basie, Gillespie, MJQ, Earl Hines, Budd Johnson amongst others. I became inspired hearing such good music that I had serious thoughts about learning to play the piano.

Shortly after this I went to another concert in Manchester and managed to get a seat a few rows from the front of the stage so I could see the performers up close. For close on two hours I sat and watched Oscar Peterson give a performance of such technical virtuosity and musical creativity it was difficult to comprehend at times.

I came out of the concert hall shaking my head and thinking “forget the piano lessons, you aren’t ever going to get close to playing like that.” So for me Oscar Peterson is the finest jazz pianist and I have posted a video of him playing one of his own compositions from the Canadiana Suite.

 

 

 

 

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“China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors”- Liverpool

 

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Last week I went to view the exhibition currently in situ at the World Museum in Liverpool, namely “China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors”. I wasn’t really sure what to expect so went with an open mind, fully cognizant that the exhibition had been sold out for some considerable time and thus extremely popular.

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So a little background to the exhibition:- “For over 2,000 years, an underground army of life-sized terracotta warriors secretly guarded the tomb of China’s First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, until a chance discovery in 1974 unlocked the mysteries of a vanished empire.

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Showcasing objects from one of the world’s greatest archaeological discoveries, this exhibition spans almost 1,000 years of Chinese history; from the conflicts and chaos of the Warring States period, to the achievements and legacy of the Qin and Han dynasties.

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The exhibition includes a number of objects that have never been on show in the UK before including material from museums and institutes from across Shaanxi Province, excavated over the last 40 years from the Imperial Mausoleum and selected tombs.

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These spectacular artifacts shed light on the Emperor’s pursuit of immortality and show how he prepared for the afterlife, as well as help us to understand more about everyday life in China more than two thousand years ago.

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This exhibition was organised by National Museums Liverpool, United Kingdom and the Shaanxi Provincial Cultural Relics Bureau and Shaanxi History Museum (Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Promotion Centre), People’s Republic of China.”

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I have visited many museums in many countries and one thing many seem to get wrong is the idea that they should “bung as many exhibits on display as possible”. What impresses about this exhibition was the limited amount on display, and I have to say it is one of the most beautiful exhibitions I have ever been to.

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The rooms are tastefully lit, not ideal for us photographers but one can understand the need for this, some of the images are breathtaking. The warriors on display are utterly magnificent and you can only stand back and admire the incredible workmanship that went into creating the figures.

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Additionally there are other artifacts e.g. a golden horse, coins with Greek script, cooking pots and my personal favourite, the utterly magnificent wine jar.

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What are incredibly helpful to the viewer are the various explanations and maps relating to the history and background of the Emperor and the creation of the warriors.

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After about two hours I emerged into daylight from the exhibition, still trying to take in the full beauty of what I had just seen.

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So, well done to the organisers and in particular those who designed and created the exhibition………..simply stunning.

 

Photographs © Kindadukish 2018

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