One Kemble Street and the ME Hotel Radio Bar photoed from the Royal Festival Hall

Yesterday, before Gurrelieder, I had twenty minutes to fill, and ran up to the top of the RFH and took photos.

This was one of my favourites, of a favourite London building, and a favourite other place to photo London buildings.

That’s Richard Seiffert’s One Kemble Street, with its seldom noted other than by me hairdo of roof clutter. And lined up right in front of it, the ME Hotel Radio Bar, from which, a while back, I photoed those seven London bridges:

There is also some older-school roof clutter to be seen there, in the form of a chimney array. You see those a lot. If you want to, that is.

The funny thing is, I didn’t need to be attending a concert in order to make this short climb. I could just go to the RFH, go in, go up to that viewing spot, photo my photos, go down again, and leave. Memo to self: do this, soon, and quite often.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts Gurrelieder at the Royal Festival Hall

Yes. Last night I went to the RFH, to see and hear Esa-Pekka Salonen conduct Schoenberg’s mighty Gurrelieder, something Salonen has done at the RFH, with the same orchestra, before. GodDaughter 2 was somewhere off in the distance, singing in the chorus, and had got me a seat near the front. So although I still heard lots of seats creaking and programmes flapping and coughers coughing, I also heard Schoenberg. And only Schoenberg, when Gurrelieder got loud, as it often does.

What a piece! If all you know about Schoenberg is twelve tone discordancy, all passion spent, but on the other hand if you like how the likes of Wagner and Mahler and Debussy sound when they get really worked up, then if you’ve not done so already, you really should check out Gurrelieder. Likewise Verklarte Nacht, if you like Brahms chamber music. Schoenberg greatly admired Brahms, I believe. When GD2 told me about this Gurrelieder concert, I mentioned Verklarte Nacht to her and she tried it, and loved it.

So, what does Gurrelieder sound like? Try: Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde meets Zombie Warrior Apocalypse meets Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream turned nightmare, meets some mad Russian novel with mad drunkard clowns and with Ring Cycle theology inserted, meets (and ends with) Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. Hence GD2 and her friends, singing in the chorus at the end.

I don’t go to many live concerts, but I am extremely glad that I went to this one, long and interval-less though it was. And there is now something particularly odd about my concert-going history. The dullest performance of a great piece of music I have ever witnessed (Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at a Prom) and the most exciting performance of a great piece (this), were both of them conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen.

I think this says something both about Beethoven and about Gurrelieder. If you just play the notes, exactly right, when playing a Beethoven symphony, but are not excited by the idea of playing this piece yet again and wanting people to like it yet again, the result is totally boring. Playing the notes exactly right (which in my opinion is a much under-rated musical virtue) is Esa-Pekka Salonen’s particular speciality, so his Beethoven 9, a piece the performance of which, yet again, seemed not to interest him, was the definition of tedium. But if you play the notes, exactly right, of Gurrelieder, and if you are interested in performing it, once again, and want everyone present to be astounded, then it is astounding. It has a lot of notes, and they are really difficult to master and play, all exactly right, all together, all as loud or as quiet as they should be. Salonen made all this happen, or so it sounded to me, and was also very excited about performing this amazing piece, once again. Accordingly, the result was amazing. As I thought it probably would be, because the less well known piece that Salonen also conducted at that Prom was almost as exciting as the Beethoven 9 that followed was crushingly dull. And you are not going to supervise a performance of Gurrelieder unless you totally believe, as Esa-Pekka Salonen clearly did, that this is a piece that should be performed, once again. Too much bother. Far too much bother.

A great concert and a great occasion. I was lucky to be there. GD2 was even luckier to be actually performing in it. I trust she realises this. Early emails following the concert suggest that she does.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Scalpel – close up – not finished

On that day recently when England ruthlessly crushed Tunisia, 2-1, with a late goal in extra time, I was checking out the Big Things of the City.

In particular, I wanted to see how the Scalpel was looking, close up. Here are a selection of the photos I took of it:



I especially relish those window-shaped gaps in the soon-to-be-pristine surface.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

The bride wore red

Whenever, in London, I bump into Chinese couples doing a wedding photo session, I join in and photo away myself, taking care to include the official photoers in my photos.

That clutch of photos was photoed in September 2014 on Westminster Bridge, and is one of the nicer Chinese wedding photo sessions I recall joining in on, largely because of the splendour of that red dress. (And yes, she herself looks pretty good too.) Usually, the bride wears white.

Just like the official photoers, I lined up a landmark behind the happy couple in one of my photos. And note how another of my photos is just her, without him. That seems to happen quite a lot.

Until now, it never occurred to me to research this delightful Chinese custom, but today, I did. And I quickly found my way to this BBC report, published in October 2014, which explains that actually, these photos don’t get taken just after the wedding, but before it:

It’s a Chinese custom for couples to have their wedding photos taken before they are married, rather than on the day of the nuptials. “We wanted to take some sweet moments to share with the guests,” says Yixuan. On the wedding day, the photos will be shown to the guests on cards, via big screens and perhaps on video.

In China, pre-wedding photography is a huge – and lucrative – industry. …

Usually I hesitate to feature the faces of strangers at this blog. But my rule is, if you are making a spectacle of yourself, you are fair game. And these photoers often make a huge performance out of getting the exact shots they want.

I think I have mentioned here before that I believe someone should do a ballet based on the contortions that digital photoers twist themselves into. It would make sense to include a Chinese wedding couple in such a ballet.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

The Peak and its window cleaning crane

It is called, at any rate by the people who built it, The Peak. What it is called by others, in the event that they notice it at all, I don’t know. But it’s more likely to be something along the lines of “that peculiar and asymmetrical lump outside Victoria Station with the big curved metal roof on it, that looks like it was stuck on the top during a refurbishment of some ugly old block built in the sixties or seventies”.

Today, personal business took me to Victoria Station, but before descending from the main concourse of the station into the Underground, and encouraged by the spactacular not-a-cloud-in-the-sky weather, I took a look around outside.

And saw this:

That being the top of “The Peak”, and on top of that top, the rather splendid window cleaning crane that periodically emerges from that bizarre roof. I love these cranes, especially when they have odd hats on the way that one has, to make them merge right back into their roofs, when they resume their hibernation.

But today, that peculiar curvey metal bit that sticks out on the left, as we look, was also looking wonderful.

Although almost any building looks good on a day like today was, that particular combination of sights particularly appealed to me, and made me particularly pleased that I had interrupted my journey.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

A Euston pub fire from the top of the Tate Modern Extension

Yes. After photoing Cromwell, and much else besides, and having been lifted to the top of the Tate Modern Extension, I mostly then photoed my fellow photoers.

But I also photoed this:

Yes, a fire. There were absolutely no clouds in the sky of any sort, except for that cloud, and it had to be a fire on the ground.

Another photo taken seconds later told me more about where this fire was:

Whenever I photo something interesting or out-of-the-ordinary, I try to remember to photo as much context as I can, so I can find out more about whatever it was when I get home. Signs and street names can help a lot, to pin down what and where it is, if I’m right next to it. You think you’ll remember, but what if you are only investigating years later, when all you have is the photos. With a story like this, several photos with varying zoom are a good idea, to make location easier to identify.

In the foreground there is the Blackfriars Station Bridge. That tells me what particular slice of London the fire was in. Even my googling skills were more than sufficient to tell me that the fire in question, given that I had the time of it as well as the approximate place, was one that broke out at the top of the Somers Town Coffee House.

It would seem that everyone in there got out, and there were no fatalities or even serious injuries. I say this because the only news about this fire happened while it was raging and for about half a day after. No fatalities or serious injuries were reported in those early reports. After that early news: no news, or none that I could find. No news, with news of this sort, is surely the best sort of news.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

BMdotcom and email problems – now sorted

No posting here yesterday, because from mid afternoon onwards this site could not be reached, either by readers or by the writer, i.e. me. Sorry about that, but all seems to be sorted now, as it had to be for me to be able to post this.

I also had email problems, and just when I really did not need them. The Sunday evening before the last Friday of the month is when I do a mass(-ish) email about my forthcoming Last Friday of the Month meeting. (This time: Prof Tim Evans on Corbyn.) But, it would seem that the emails all got through, even if replies to them were only getting back to me at around midday today.

When you have problems like this, then as soon as they’re sorted the worrisomeness graph nosedives from VERY BAD!!!! to profound happiness:

Which is always a better feeling than, logically, it deserves to be, considering that all that happened was that something bad happened and then stopped. But when badness stops, that feels very good, even if, logically, it is only things getting back to normal.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Cromwell with a plain background

Yesterday I walked, in bright sunshine, along Victoria Street to Parliament Square, and then across along the river, ending up at the top of the Tate Modern Extension. In total, I took one thousand four hundred and seventy two photos, most of them at the top of the Tate Modern Extension, and most of those of my fellow digital photoers.

But here is just one of the photos I took yesterday, not of another photoer, and not anywhere near to Tate Modern:

That’s the statue of Oliver Cromwell, outside the Houses of Parliament. Read more about it here.

Usually, the background behind this photo is complicated Parliamentary architecture. But just now, work is being done on this architecture, so Cromwell’s background is unusually plain and unfussy, like Cromwell himself, I believe.

I like temporary stuff. And a nice variation on temporariness is when the temporariness is in the background behind something permanent, like a statue outside Parliament.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Creature contrast in the City

On the day that England ruthlessly crushed Tunisia at football, with a very late goal, I was checking out the most recent Big Things of the City of London. But there are other things in the City of London besides Big Things, and this is, you sense, deliberate. They’re trying to make the City more than a place of work which becomes deserted when everyone buggers off to the suburbs early on Friday evening. They’re trying to make it stay alive at evenings and weekends. They’re trying to make it the sort of place that people might like to visit, as opposed merely to a place that lots of people find it profitable to work in.

One of the things that signals this effort is sculpture.

On the right is a photo I took of the first sculpture I encountered during my walkabout. Frankly, I wasn’t impressed. The colours are quite nice, but the sculpture itself is too much like a miniature and pretend Big Thing. And why would you want that when you have real Big Things all around you? Standing as it does next to the Lloyds Building, this pile of coloured rectangles just looked feeble and sad.

I much preferred this carthorse:

And this goat:

Here is a link to information about the goat.

Strangely, I could find absolutely nothing on the www about the carthorse. This may be because, rather than being Art, it is merely a 3D advert for alcohol. Those big giant courgettes it is dragging along in its cart are for making booze of some sort, or such is my guess. Or, the silence of the internet may be because this carthorse has only very recently arrived at the spot where I encountered it. Or, the internet is full of stuff about this carthorse and I merely failed to find it, which is the most likely explanation for this not-link.

Whatever. The thing I liked about both the horse and the goat is that they are simulated biological entities, rather than man-made structures like that pile of coloured rectangles. They do not compete with the Big Things, because they are different from them. Instead, they make a welcome contrast to the Big Things.

Big Things on their own are very dull, I think, and little Big Things don’t change that. Sculpted creatures do change this, I also think.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Now you see it – now you don’t

Here is a recent Scott Adams Dilbert cartoon, although Dilbert himself is not involved in this particular one:

I’ve always thought that one of the many things that won the Cold War for Civilisation and doomed Bolshevik Barbarism to defeat was stealth stuff. By its nature, stealth stuff is undetectable, and the better it is, the more impossibly undetectable it is. So, if you cannot detect it at all, it could still be there, and really really good at being stealthy. Hell, it could be anywhere. It could be right outside the Politburo’s front window.

Of course, it probably isn’t this clever. But, how would you be sure?

This was why, when the Americans had got these contraptions working reasonably well, they revealed their existence. They took lots of spooky photos of these spooky things, and made sure the whole world could see them. Where, at any particular moment, they were, for you to photo, they did not reveal.

How can you defeat an enemy like that?

Same with Star Wars. Shooting down all incoming nuclear missiles with all-powerful death rays. Bollocks, right? But, again, how could you be sure.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog