Wednesday, 23 July 2014

A Day of Mourning

A Day of Mourning

Today is a national day of mourning in the Netherlands. An opportunity to mourn not only the 193 Dutch citizens on Flight MH17, but the tragic deaths of all on board. And an opportunity to mourn the senseless massacre of hundreds of other children and civilians, in Gaza, Syria and elsewhere, to mourn the un-prohibited manufacture of murderous weapons in so-called civilized countries (for sale to thugs world-wide), to express our sorrow at hatred, racism and unimaginable cruelty, to weep for mankind. 

Music helps, they say. Well, it helps to access the feeling, to give form to grief, instead of pushing it away. It quietens the anger. It helps to believe in humanity, despite everything. Colour affects our emotions too. Today the only appropriate fragment I have to offer of music combined with kinetic colour is my Meditation on the first few minutes of G√≥recki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. Take your time. Turn the sound up (the first few minutes are inaudible) and click on the full screen option. You may see strange apparitions as you stare at the colours. Let it flow.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Stravinsky in a Rococo Theatre

Stravinsky in a Rococo theatre

The indefatigable violinist Hugo Ticciati and his team of volunteers, musicians and artists dedicated to superlative performances, have done it again. The 2014 O/Modernt Festival, in the Confidencen (Ulriksdal Palace Theatre) outside Stockholm, came to a close on Tuesday night, June 17th. Everyone was totally exhausted, yet still smiling with the joy of producing art and music together.
                 Built in 1671, this amazing Rococo theatre is the oldest in Sweden.

Stravinsky's Soldier tramped his dusty road, the Devil won (again), the adrenaline and kinetic colours flowed on my glass plates and yes (thanks for all your good wishes), it went very well indeed. The somewhat senior audience came out grinning with astonishment. "We have never seen anything like this!"

Inevitably, a mobile phone went off, interrupting Alexander Oliver's narration. Not quite on cue though - later Sandy's narrative does include (twice) "the telephone rings". I half expected him to say to the offender "Oh, I had better take that - it might be the Devil".

Now back home, I'm reflecting (as usual) on why we are crazy enough to do this. Setting up the gear, solving multiple staging problems, rehearsing and finally performing non-stop for over an hour, was an exhausting dawn to midnight marathon! And I would love to do it again. What's my problem?

Looking out of my hotel window the next morning, the dusty road by the lake saw only a few joggers. The incredibly intense blue of Scandinavian skies and the peace of nature brought some relaxation. But Stravinsky's rhythms are still jogging through my system. I could almost be back on the shores of Lake Geneva, where he wrote l'Histoire du Soldat ninety-six years ago. 

Monday, 2 June 2014

The dead painting

The dead painting

I laid out the wet watercolour on its board to dry and cycled home from the studio, trying to figure out what was wrong. My subject looked stiff and lifeless. A painting of a musical subject has to "sing", but as I worked on this commission to paint the flamboyant French cellist Paul Tortelier in December 1990, using a collection of images and sketches and playing his recordings again and again, it seemed hopeless. I just couldn't get the sensation of movement and music. 

The phone rang as I walked into my apartment. It was my friend the cellist Herre-Jan Stegenga, former student of the man I'm painting. "Have you heard the news?" he says - "Tortelier is dead". The shock was terrible. No wonder I couldn't make my painting live! 

Tortelier was due to perform at Birmingham's Symphony Hall and the commission was one of the first of nearly thirty paintings of prestigious musicians they had programmed. I had been so deeply involved with my subject, it took me a while to recover, but the only thing I could do was to start again (hence the two dates, bottom right). Paint a memorial to this great personality.

The challenge was to use the watercolour more transparently, to let the paper glow through, to "go with the flow", letting him go, as I listened to the music. To use a slightly dryer brush here and there to suggest the "decay" of the sound. To paint the "memory" of that phenomenal energy. And especially, to give him space. Less is more. Born a hundred years ago, he's still playing - somewhere.

Paul Tortelier, watercolour 84 x 56cm, 1990/91. Birmingham Symphony Hall Collection.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Say yes!

Say yes! Say yes! You know you want to!

The brilliant script by C.F.Ramuz for Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale is so perceptive of human nature, so terribly familiar. How we identify with that poor Soldier and his failure to withstand "the wiles of the Devil".  
"Give me your fiddle" says the Devil. "No". "I'll give you this book for it then". "Can't read", says the Soldier. "H'm, this book's not easy to understand. Market quotations for Friday the 20th? What day is today? It's Tuesday the 17th. Why, this book tells you things before they happen! GOLD! .....Alright then - it's a deal!"                     
The Soldier has sold his soul to the Devil and becomes unbelievably rich. I have everything, he thinks, I always will. Or do I have nothing? One day his new partner the Princess (the one he brought back to life with his music therapy) says: "I know so little about you. Tell me about yourself." "Well, it all started a long time ago, There was a cottage I used to share with my mother - far, far away". "Suppose we went there", she says. "No, it is forbidden". She looks at him and smiles and says: "You want to, I can see you do". Say yes, say yes!" (Oh no, here we go again).
They're on their way, they're nearly there. He has gone on ahead to find the frontier (against the rules).
At that moment we hear the Devil laughing. He has the violin again and begins to play. The romance vanishes into thin air and the Devil performs his final Triumphal March.

It's not such "a long and dusty road" to the O/Modernt Festival near Stockholm. Why, the performance of kinetic painting with l'Histoire du Soldat is on Tuesday June 17th! Untold audio-visual riches! It's a deal? Say yes! You know you want to.
Click here and here for earlier blogs on The Soldier's Tale.