Kultura as Partial Relief from Dismal Times

 A really outstanding musical event was Riccardo Chailly conducting the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester with all of Beethoven’s Symphonies. A crisper rendition was never heard in the Barbican Center. Extreme tempi (reportedly Chailly applied Beethoven’s metronome directions literally) changes, extreme contrasts between piano and fortissimo (with everything in between), very clear non-vibrato sound – all this showed how radical Beethoven was. No swooshing sounds, nothing mellow, but beautiful dynamics and lyricism. And: Chailly and the orchestra seemed to be one, his very dynamic conducting eliciting perfect responses from an absolutely fabulous orchestra.

The small Tricycle Theatre in one of the seedier districts of London performed a memorable cold-war play “A Walk in the Woods” by US author Lee Blessing. All of Tricycle’s plays have a strong social or political content. This play shows the prissy female US negotiator attempting to counter the nonchalant and jovial chattering of her very experienced Soviet counterpart negotiator during a short break, in which he suggested they take a short walk in the park. While the Russian plays the not-very-serious-human negotiator, the American repulses all small talk and questions about her private predilections, hobbies, etc., by reminding her counterpart about their globally important negotiations about arms reductions. He plays the slightly cynical, disillusioned one, she the super-professional one, who, however many awards she has as a negotiator (“at a lower level” – frequently repeated by the Russian), has never experienced a bi-cultural environment. After several walking episodes – which she purports to detest as distractions from their immensely important task – they both realize that they are only puppets on the strings of their authorities – who, they agree, are not interested in reaching an agreement. Absolutely enlightening!

The 103rd performance in the Royal Opera House (they always list that in the program sheet) of “Der Fliegende Hollaender” (The Flying Dutchman) by Richard Wagner, is convincingly sung by Anja Kampe’s Elsa. One only wishes that her acting abilities were not of the sort of the old Wagner cliché (“standing, standing, standing and when moving then with the grace of a walrus”), but a little bit more like her singing. She manages to project with her voice the dreaming, slightly hysterical girl yearning to “save” the immortal Dutchman, convicted to sail the seas forever until a faithful woman saves him, as well as the torn woman between Dutchman and Erik, with breathtaking intensity. The two male tenors were excellent, Egils Silins as the Dutchman vocally too weak in duets, otherwise very good. He was standing in for Falk Struckmann who might have made a stronger Dutchman. All in all, a remarkable performance which received standing ovations from the audience.

Finally, Christoph Eschenbach with the London Philharmonic Orchestra performing Brahms Double Concerto with Nicola Benedetti on the violin and Leonard Elschenbroich on the cello. Better than the soloists who were good, but not excellent, was Eschenbach and the Orchestra. The second piece was Bruckner’s 7th symphony where the 20 strong brass compartment made the Royal Festival Hall shake in its foundations (“The trumpets of  Jericho?”). The 2nd and 3rd movements were played with absolute perfection, the 1st and 4th slightly less so. The many crescendos seemingly coming to a culmination, but instead falling into whispering retardandos  were grandiose, if slightly taxing for 1 hour and 20 minutes. The audience loved it and gave rewarded the magnificent Eschenbach and his orchestra with many, many shouts of bravo and long-lasting applause.


On a different note an interesting piece of Englandica, set in Old Bailey:

Recently, I received an invitation from “Sheriff-elect Wendy Mead” to have lunch with her and Her Majesty’s Judges at Central Criminal Court Old Bailey in Central London. The Sheriff, as I found out, is not a gun-toting law enforcement officer, but part of the institutional governance structure of the Corporation of the City of London, chaired by the Lord Mayor, supported aldermen, who get nominated by large City financial and other firms and to a small extent elected by the 9000 inhabitants of the so-called Square Mile, the financial center of London. Their task is to promote and enforce the interest of the City of London. This goes so far as the right to place an “remembrancer” behind the Speaker of the House of Commons, an official lobbyist who makes sure that no law is passed which infringes on the prerogatives and interest of the City.

The Sheriff received me and two other external guests in medieval robes, offered us drinks and small talk while the judges (15) were assembling, all in gowns and wigs. Among the 15 judges were 2 women. It turns out that this is a daily ritual, i.e. the two sheriffs or sometimes the Lord Mayor himself, have dinner with the judges of Old Bailey and outside guests every day. We guests were placed strategically among the judges around a beautifully set table and had a simple and light, but tasty dinner and – at least on my part – very interesting conversations. The judges, in spite of their appearance, turned out to be very “normal” if educated people. They asked about skiing, Austria, opera and – most of all – about my assessment of the financial crisis, which I gave them very openly, not sparing my criticism of the gratuitous advice which non-Euro Osborne and Cameron had been dispensing.

At clock 2 p.m. the Sheriff finished lunch, the judges retired to their chambers or courtrooms, all in a very pleasant manner. The external guests were asked whether we were interested in attending a court procedure – which all three of us agreed to. We were led into a courtroom where one of my previous discussion partners was presiding over witness testimonials on a horrid case where in March 2010 a group of around 12 youths, ages between 15 and 18, had attacked and killed another youth in Victoria Station. A gruesome contrast of the downside of London life with the medieval tradition of the Sheriff’s lunch.


1 Comment

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One response to “Kultura as Partial Relief from Dismal Times

  1. Jane Calvert-Lee

    What a fantastic city is London – to have enjoyed all these delights in 10 days is wonderful! Thank you for broadcasting these delights to a wide audience. I am pleased you got to sit in an Old Bailey trial – rather grander than my modern magistrates court.

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