Monday, April 28, 2008


Pianists become different beasts as they hunch over the keyboard. It's as profound and total as that switch from nice young student to beast in American Werewolf. I saw it again last Thursday as Ian Pace gave a seminar and performance at Plymouth.
He wound up gradually, illustrating his talk with bursts of piano playing. The talk, on notation in twentieth century piano scores, was pitched above my head though I appreciated the passion. I picked up that every note in a chord can be played at different volume for different effects, and appreciated how modern composers have to work against performance habits that are engrained yet inappropriate. The talk moved on from the promised sixty to ninety minutes, Ian Chase clearly disappointed at the lack of subsequent questions, but we all wanted to get on to the playing. And that was phenomenal. Stockhausen left me vibrating ... I've never enjoyed him before, but this timne around it was as though my own body was an instrument that was being played by the piano. Thrilling.
In a varied three days, Thursday saw me at an event at Brian Eno's studio in Notting Hill. It was an event for Basic (of which Brian's a patron), essentially a lobbying organization arming policy makers with arguments against the prolifertation of nuclear weapons. Their director made a plea using terror-fear tactics (a bomb will be dropped on Washington, New York of London if we keep on going this way ... a dirty bomb maybe, but I see one aim of 'western civilzation' is to make sure the bombs are exploded elsewhere if anywhere (even Hillary Clinton promises to take out Iran)). He also stressed how the nuclear threat is more immediate than global warming - well I don't see those two causes as oppositional. But I am frustrated that our government allowed no voices against renewal of Trident. It's an obscene waste of money in urgent times. So I signed up onto the whiteboard as a patron ... alongside Annie Lennox, who gave a fine speech about her own passion for the cause. The evening, a Lebanese buffet, moved through conversation into acappella singing, spirituals and rocksongs led by Brian. A great fun way to round off an evening. I've not sung so much in years.
Then on to the National Theatre and George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara for the third evening out in a row. I thrilled to the play when I last saw it ... but that was about thirty years ago at the Nottingham Playhouse. This did seem rather a static production, and painfully didactic ... but I wonder if it's not just that I've grown older and learned stuff along the way. Shaw had a lot to teach me once, but in time you learn it. The audience did their best to enjoy themselves ... I'm always struck by audiences' eagerness to laugh, to have a good time. The production bit home at one particular point, the industrialist (well played by Simon Russell Beale) noting how he was the government, how politicians danced to his tune - everyone noting that Shaw, from a century or so ago, was speaking about our governments now. It was a largely wearying evening for me though, lightened by a few brisk comic touches. I think I'll give up serious plays. Give me an intelligent comedy (Speed the Plow with its pitch perfect Jeff Goldblum Kevin Spacey double0-act was terrific the other week) or a feast of farce (Boeing Boeing a recent goodie). I go out for an evening, I've found I want a good time.

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