Friday, February 27, 2009

A Walk in the Park

It has been pointed out to me that this blog — pillar of literary achievement that it is — is getting rather boring. I mean, honestly, who discusses the Israel-Palestine conflict in a post about a comedy show?

Point taken. Here, then, is a post with pictures. They aren't pictures of, say, an adventure trek across Africa, though, just of a walk through my favorite place in London, Hyde Park (Tom, this is still boring).

Spring comes not as an explosion but as an ember.

The Lido, a great little place to get a peaceful lunch next to the water.

A painter by the side of the Serpentine.

This small waterfall is hidden away only a few yards from our favorite squirrel-feeding spot.

And because there can never be too many geese or squirrels on a blog:

Thursday, February 19, 2009

This Week II: Success and... Not Success

Sometimes I think I'll do okay at this whole music thing. And sometimes I just think I'm useless. Let me elaborate:

Yesterday afternoon was the chamber concert that I've posted about here a few times. I made a few errors on the Rzewski piece, but they were minor and on the whole, the concert went extremely well. There was quite the crowd for the small venue (packed in, I'm guessing, to hear the arrangement of the Debussy), and while you can't ever make everyone happy, the general response I got was that even the people who had no idea what they were about to hear enjoyed the bold, hypnotic Rzewski. Most importantly, I think (I hope...) the players enjoyed it.

In short, I could not have asked for it to go better. Then today came along.

Part of the requirement for the composition course is to write a piece for a specified ensemble; the College then organizes workshop days for the ensemble to read through and record them. Today was just such a day, and my piece, 'Difficult Loves', was unexpectedly laden with errors and balance issues. Most of it was simple stuff that I learned how to correct years ago and haven't had problems with since. So why now? My actual time with the ensemble went rather well (especially given my own mistakes in the score) but in general I feel like it's more effective if I conduct my own work — no need to explain to a conductor the nuances that I would just do anyway.

After the workshop, however, when I went up to the conductor to get my score back and ask him if he had any additional feedback or thoughts about the piece, he responded with 'Actually, I haven't given it much thought at all, really'. What a charming and professional thing to say to a composer about his work! Yes, even though it had mistakes, I still put a great deal of thought into it.

This kind of set me off, and I spent the rest of the day fuming about the cold, imagination-free performance practice that has pervaded contemporary music, removed from it any sense of phrase or line, and fostered performers and conductors who don't find it necessary to put any thought into music. If instrumentalists play hundreds of years of repertoire with emotion, vigor, and personality, why not the music of today?

Admittedly though, I am also fuming about my own clumsy mistakes.

This Week I: A Visitor

Teriann's cousin Levi came through London this week (he's studying abroad in Italy this semester), and stayed with us for a few days. I had only met him once before, and that was for about five minutes about five years ago. He's a really great guy and even though he was here on weekdays (I was mostly in school, Teriann mostly at work), we got to hang out a bit.

With a visitor in town, Teriann and I found ourselves doing stuff in London we were surprised we hadn't yet: like playing darts at Mill Hill, the local pub (I was handily beaten), and going to the Churchill museum and the Cabinet War Rooms (where, I ask you, could one find a more colorful, quotable character than Churchill?). And Levi's wandering approach to London prompted me to take an extended walk for which I otherwise would have just hopped on the tube: I had to get to Green Park from the College to meet him and Teriann for dinner, so I just walked through Hyde Park and up Park Lane. It took less than an hour, and by chance I got to walk through the park at a cool, misty dusk. The park is newly green after all the snow and it felt worlds away from the loud, crowded city a block or so away.

You can check out his blog here.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Close Encounters

I love intimate theatre. Shows at Gammage do less for me than the ultra-low-cost production of Assassins I saw at the now-defunct Is What It Is Theatre a few years back.

So the past few weeks have been a field day for me: we saw Spring Awakening at the Lyric Hammersmith on January 31, and tonight we just got back from NewsRevue, a sketch comedy show performed to a house only twice the size of our flat's lounge.

Spring Awakening was exquisite. Both in writing and performance, it is nothing short of a masterpiece, and we got to see it from the stage (part of the set design is space for around 20 people to watch the show on stage). It made the experience incredibly rich, detailed, and intense: we saw emotional, explosive scenes as though they were filmed; we saw Frühlingserwachen (Spring Awakening, the musical is based on a 19th century German play) carefully lettered across the front edge of the stage, visible only to those on stage; and when one of the actors was not in the action, he would take the seat next to mine so that I could smell his hair gel.

This evening, for Valentine's Day we went to NewsRevue, a perpetually-changing sketch comedy show about current events and supposedly the longest-running live show in the world. It was a great time in an unexpectedly small venue, full of high-energy songs and is-that-too-far? comedy. They made fun of just about everyone, and if the sketches were hit and miss, they went by quick enough for me not to mind, and again, I was close enough to smell the unpleasant old-blanket smell of one prop.

Of all the questionable jokes of the night, by far the most startling thing was their song about Israel's recent invasion of Gaza and their ensuing disregard for the international community and human rights. The United Kingdom joins the US in sharing a 'special relationship' with Israel, which amounts to giving Israel a diplomatic blank check, but many commentators (and myself as well, if my opinion is worth anything) think that we'd actually be a better friend to Israel if we kept our objectivity and let them know if we thought they were making a bad decision. In the government and the media it is all but a heresy to suggest that Israel may be capable of doing wrong, and I think it's a huge step forward to discuss — and poke fun at — Israel the way we do all other nations.

Friday, February 13, 2009

...Is Responsible, For the Speed, Of the Passing Time...

Much of the course at the College thus far has dealt with how a composer can manipulate how a listener experiences time in music. In fact, Rzewski's piece that I'm performing on Wednesday (see the post below) deals almost exclusively with the perception of time (the text is a letter a prisoner wrote to his brother, and the 20-minute piece uses only 5 notes to make the listener feel trapped —if you ask me, it works brilliantly).

So it's ironic that time seems to be moving so quickly lately. I find it hard to believe that our wedding was more than 8 months ago, that we moved to London more than 5 months ago, that it has already been more than a month since we got back from our amazing trip home. I don't think it's that we've fallen into a rut: we get out pretty much every weekend to take advantage of London's never-ending activities. Maybe it's just that the first few months of every year seem to fly by. Who knows?

Chamber Concert

Putting together a chamber ensemble to perform new and neglected music is something I've been wanting to do for years. I never got around to it in Phoenix, though, partly because I had other outlets for performance, and partly because my (limited) training as a conductor has taken place relatively recently.

I've done it now, however, and though we are as of yet unnamed, our first concert is Wednesday afternoon. We will perform Benno Sach's arrangement of Debussy's Prelude sur l'apres-midi d'un faune and Frederic Rzewski's Coming Together. I am aware that the Debussy is neither new nor neglected, but I wanted to start off with something everyone would be familiar with, a toe with which to test the water before the Rzewski, the musical equivalent of a cannonball.

It's not my first public concert as a conductor, but it sure feels like it. Conducting in London at the College seems to be — even if it isn't — far more high-pressure than in supportive Phoenix. I have a great group of players assembled — including the unstoppable pianist, Antoine, that I met at the Cortona festival two summers ago — but the Rzewski is a fiendishly difficult piece to keep together. We'll see what happens.

For anyone interested, here is the College's blurb about it on their events listing:

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Because 10 Pounds a Month Wasn't Cheap Enough

Living in London is expensive. In fact, moving to another country is probably always expensive. Visa fees, deposits, home essentials, and let's not forget the exchange rate.

We do, however, get a break from time to time. No ATM charges for instance. Anywhere (makes you wonder why US banks impose those fees to begin with). And cell phones are cheap. On a pay-as-you-go plan, we were paying just over 10 quid a month which included free Skype-to-Skype calls (a godsend when our internet wasn't working). Even after the currency conversion, that's far less than something similar in the States.

Even so, 3 Mobile (our provider, and the only one with Skype capabilities) decided that 10 pounds a month was too expensive, and had a sale: 9 pounds a month, more minutes per month than before, and free phones that are better in pretty much every way than our old ones. If anyone is actually bored enough, here's Sony's page about our phones; plain ol' black for me, 'hazelnut' (read: lights up orange) for Teriann.

9 pounds a month! At the current conversion rate, that's less than 13 dollars a month! Fantastic! Now if we could only get our rent to follow suit...

Monday, February 2, 2009

Bonus 3-Day Weekend!

Today was my first ever snow day! The RCM, Teriann's work, and most of London and the UK is pretty much closed down today after the heaviest snow London has seen in two decades. For a kid from the desert, it's pretty impressive, and we went down to the local park with the flatmates this morning to have a snowball fight and make a massive snowball (about six feet in diameter!).

See our pictures here!