GD2 does a selfie session with a fan

Yesterday a big gang of friends and family, me among them, heard G(od)D(aughter)2 do her end-of-year recital, way up at the top of the Royal College of Music just near the Albert Hall. It was terrific. If they picked her up out of the rather small room she sang in and dumped her down in that same Albert Hall, and replaced the pianist and his piano with a huge symphony orchestra going full blast, GD2 would have sounded great and entirely at home and in command, and they’d have cheered like crazy. That’s how good she seemed to me.

Immediately afterwards I of course photoed photos of GD2, but these photos weren’t that good. Closer-up, she was still in performance mode, but looking tired, understandably. Worse, I wasn’t able to get a proper view of her, together with the lady who was also photoing her.

Later, when we all went to the nearby Italian restaurant, GD2 was able to relax and enjoy, and this time, my view of her was perfect. She did a selfie session with the same lady who had photoed her immediately after the recital, and whom I had sat next to for the performance. “What a voice!” said this lady, when GD2 had finished. In the restaurant, she and GD2 sat right across the table from me, and more photoing occurred. I photoed this photoing:

It’s not that I object to the face of the lady on the left, who turned out to be a friend of GD2’s mother from way back. It’s just that I don’t shove faces up here without prior approval. GD2 has already said she has no objection to her face appearing here. Lady on the left has not said this, so her face gets hidden, same as when I photo any other photoers, without their permission.

Lady on the left has, it turned out, a blog, which I have already looked through, partly to see if she has photos on it of herself, in which case I could presumably put a photo of her here without causing offence. No photos of her there, that I could see.

At her blog, she follows a completely opposite rule to the rule here. Here, I say something every day, whether I have anything sensible to say or not. She, on the other hand, seems to follow the strange rule of only saying something when she has something she considers worth saying. I know, very strange. If everyone followed that rule, hardly anything would get said at all.

But I digress. My main point here, today, is well worth saying, which is that GD2 is doing very well.

Note the electric plug sockets in all the above photos. These sockets were all over the place in the restaurant, 4×2 of them at our table alone. I assume that these sockets are for recharging mobile phones, like the one being deployed in the above photos.

Me and my camera at the ENO

Today, thanks to GodDaughter2, who is a singing student, I got to see a dress rehearsal of a new opera being staged by English National Opera called Jack The Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel. I had my camera with me, but these places don’t encourage photography, so I was assuming I’d emerge from the Coliseum with only the memories of what we’d seen and heard.

The story was, of course, gruesome, and GodDaughter2 grumbled about the lighting, which was relentlessly dark and depressing. However, the music was pleasingly tonal, drenched in melodies, and most especially in harmonies, of a sort that seemed, in my youth half a century ago, like they’d vanished from the world of new opera for ever.

Back in that stricken post-Schoenbergian musical no-man’s-land, posh music was thought to “progress”, like science. And it had progressed up its own rear end into unmelodious, unharmonious, unrhythmic oblivion, and because this was progress, no way back was permitted. But then, that was all blown to smithereens by the likes of Philip Glass and John Adams. Iain Bell, the composer of Jack The Ripper, operates in the musical world established by those two American giants.

So even though we were about a quarter of a mile away from the action, up near the ceiling, and thus couldn’t make out anyone’s face, just being there was a most agreeable experience.

And then come the curtaln call at the end, there was another nice surprise:

That being the final surtitle of the show, to be seen in the spot up above the stage where all the previous surtitles had been saying what they had been singing. So I got my camera out, cranked up the zoom to full power, and did what I could.

The curtain calls looked like this:

I was particularly interested in the lady in the yellow dress, on the right of the four ladies (guess what they all had in common), because that lady was Janis Kelly, who is GodDaughter2’s singing teacher at the Royal College.

Rather disappointingly, for me, was that most of the photos I took of Ms Kelly were better of the lady standing next to her when they were taking their bows, a certain Marie McLaughlin:

But I did get one reasonably adequate snap of Ms Kelly, suitably cropped (the photo, I mean) to remove Ms McLaughlin, whose nose had been sliced off in the original version that had emerged from the camera:

My camera now has much better eyesight than I do, and the gap seems to grow by the month. Okay, that photo is rather blurry. But there was a lot of zoom involved. I only managed to decipher about a third of those surtitles. One of the key members of the cast was black, but I only found this out when I got home and saw her in one of my photos (see above).

I hope a DVD, or perhaps some kind of internetted video, of this production emerges. And I think it might, because this is a show full of pro-female messages of the sort that appeal to modern tastes, and featuring one of the most spectacular exercises in toxic masculinity in London’s entire history.

I’m now going to read the synopsis of the show at the far end of the first link above, to get a a more exact idea of what happened.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Why England are getting better at football

I’ve just watched England beat Montenegro at football, in Montenegro, 5-1. A few days ago England beat The Czech Republic 5-0, in London, and I watched some of that too. England are looking good.

Here is the most convincing explanation I have found of why. In the bit under the subheading “More ball-hoggers”, it says this:

You know that lad in school who never passed the ball? Turns out he was on to something.

Ashworth says English players are already more technical than he has ever seen thanks to a revamp of the academy system in clubs and a more consistent playing style with England.

But the FA wants to go further.

Peter Sturgess, the FA’s foundation phase coach for five- to 11-year-olds, has been telling coaches up and down the country that mastering the ball is his number one priority. Passing can come later.

“We are saying that passing is important but it’s not a priority for foundation-phase children,” he told BBC Sport. “The priority is building a massive connection with the ball so their individual ability on it, in tight and pressurised situations, becomes as good as it can be.

“You put 11 of those players together on a football pitch and they can play any system you want, because they have less chance of losing the ball.”

Ashworth and Sturgess just might be onto something. To have a good football team, start by having lots of “foundation phase children” who are good at controlling a football, with their feat.

LATER: Meanwhile, in Scotland.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Be polite to autodidacts

I like this:

Never make fun of someone if they mispronounce a word. It means they learned it by reading.

One of many items of wisdom from that prolific memer, Anonymous.

And if someone misspells a word, I guess that means they learned it by hearing it.

I know what you’re thinking. How is “memer” pronounced?

And what acts did auto do?

I have a busy evening in front of me. Here, you get what you pay for.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Photoing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre

6k: (I know someone who will like this picture …) Who can he mean?

He’s talking about this picture:

I like it. And like I say, the Age of the Smartphone will be with us for quite a while yet.

I can remember when places like the Louvre used to forbid photoing. But they can hardly complain if students … take notes.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Transcendence

I am now listening to this conversation between Roger Scruton and Jordan Peterson, about transcendence. While so listening, I found myself thinking back to this morning, when I listened to the first half of Bach’s Mass in B Minor, as recorded by Sir John Eliot Gardiner. I found listening to this recording to be an unsatisfying experience, which was why I did not also listen to the second half of it. For me (and I emphasise that this is only my personal take on this recording), what this recording lacks is … transcendence. To me, it sounds too brisk, too lively, too mundane, too earthly, too humdrum, too fussy. Too businesslike. Too lacking in legato. Not enough grandeur.

To repeat the point in brackets above: many, listening to this same recording, will hear exactly the virtues which, for my ear, it lacks. Gardiner himself was certainly aiming at transcendance:

That is the cover of this Gardiner recording, which is put out by Gardiner’s own label, Soli Deo Gloria, and Gardiner will definitely have approved that cover.

Neverthless, tomorrow, I think I will search in my CD collection for a different and older recording of this work, a less “authentic” one, the one conducted by Eugen Jochum. This one.

Pause.

During that pause, I conducted that search, so that tomorrow morning I won’t have to search, or to remember that I must so search. The CDs will be there, next to my CD player.

I also encountered, in one of the Amazon reviews of Jochum’s Bach B Minor Mass, praise for his recording of the Bach Christmas Oratorio. I also placed this next to my CD player.

Christmas is, after all, coming.

And, what do you know? The B Minor Mass gets an explicit mention in the Scruton/Peterson conversation. 1 hour 18 minutes in.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Roof clutter viewed through an RCM window

Yesterday I attended a Master Class at the Royal College of Music, in which five singing students, GodDaughter 2 among them, were publicly instructed by distinguished tenor and vocal teacher Dennis O’Neil. It was fascinating. He spent most of the time focussing on the art that conceals art, which meant that I couldn’t really understand what he was saying. The minutiae of sounds and syllables, and of where the sound comes from, in the head or in the body. All like a foreign language to me, but it was fascinating to expand the range of my ignorance, so to speak. I am now ignorant about a whole lot more than I was.

This all happened way down at the bottom of the RCM, in the Britten Theatre (which you go down to get into but the theatre itself stretches up to the top again), On the way back up the numerous stairs to the street level entrance, I saw, through a very grubby window, and photoed, this:

Okay the window is indeed very grubby, but, you know, how about that? All that roof clutter, buried in the middle of the College. Although, I think that this particular clutter is part of Imperial College, which is next door.

Backstage architecture, you might say.

The Royal College of Music is as amazing an accumulation of architectural chaos as I have ever experienced. It must take about half of your first year to learn where everything is, and years later you are probably still getting surprises. I never knew this was here! Etc.

That corridor made of windows, bottom left, with the light in it, is something I have several times walked along, to a canteen or a bar or some such thing, I think. By which I mean that I think I have walked along it, but that this could be quite wrong. Like I say: architectural chaos. I took a look at the place in Google Maps 3D, but I still have only the dimmest Idea of where I was on the map.

The night before, I was at the Barbican Centre, also for some music, and that’s almost as architecturally chaotic as the inside of the RCM. But there, they don’t have the excuse that the architectural chaos accumulated over about a century of continuous improvisation. At the Barbican, the chaos was all designed and built in one go.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Two faces of Bruce the Real Photographer

Last week Bruce the Real Photographer (regular name: Bruce Nicoll) dropped by and we went out for a coffee. While we coffeed, we got onto the subject of how faces look different depending on how far away the camera is. By which I mean: Bruce the Real Photographer told me about this. (He mentioned this famous photo, on the right here, to illustrate what he was talking about.)

Inspired by this portraiture lesson, I at once took a very close up photo of Bruce the Real Photographer, which looked like this …:

…, and then I walked away and took this next photo, with lots of zoom, so that his face occupied most of the photo in the same way as it did in the above close-up:

The contrast is remarkable. His face is a whole different shape, depending. And look what happens to the background.

I sort of knew all this. But sort of knowing something and knowing it for sure are two distinct things. Knowing it and really seeing it are also two distinct things.

I photo a lot of buildings, close-up, and from a distance with lots of zoom. But these tend not to be the exact same buildings from one moment to the next, and the above contrast very seldom jumps out at me.

Mostly, what I see is another equally clear contrast but what looks like a very different one. I see extreme angle differences, like when verticals converge, or not, depending on how far away you are. I mentioned in passing, yesterday, how buildings do less of this when you are further away. When you are far away, you cam get exact horizontals and exact verticals, the way you don’t when you are close-up. See the first photo below, which was done with lots of zoom from far away.

It all makes perfect sense. When you work it out, it becomes obvious. It is obvious that, if you are far away from someone who is wearing glasses and he is looking straight at you, you are more likely to see his face through those glasses and less likely to see the background beyond his face through his glasses. It’s all a question of angles.

It is obvious that if you are close up, you see only the front of his face. Further away, and you also see the sides of his face.

And it’s obvious that if you are far away from a rectangle that is at a slightly higher level than you are, it looks more exactly rectangular the further away from the rectangle you get. Again, the angle changes.

But that’s what knowledge is. When it becomes “obvious”, that means that you know it.

Here is another photo of Bruce the Real Photographer, which I took immediately after taking the second of two above, but this time with no zoom:

This shows that I was never actually that far away from Bruce the Real Photographer. It’s merely the difference between very close and not so close, two places which are only a second apart from each other. With buildings, you need to get a lot further away to make much difference.

To show you just how Real a Photographer Bruce the Real Photographer is, go to this long ago posting here (LINK TO THE OLD BLOG), which has a whole clutch of some of his best looking stuff, but small enough to fit on this blog and not to be worth anyone serious about copying to copy.

The first photo there is a particularly good one of the actor Dudley Sutton, who nrecently died, causing much lamentation in the antiques trade.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

An ideal Showboat

Recently I bought a CD set of Showboat, and yesterday I listened to it. Showboat is not really my kind of thing. When it comes to singing, I tend to prefer either Schubert or the Rolling Stones. I bought this Showboat to learn more about a lady called Janis Kelly. As you can see to the right there, she is one of the star singers in this recording.

Janis Kelly is something of a legend in the classical singing world. She is a fine singer in operas and music dramas of all kinds, and she sang the part of “Magnolia” in this performance of Showboat. She is also a much admired singing teacher, of the sort that singers she has taught spend the rest of their careers boasting that they were taught by, in their CVs and programme notes. And, Janis Kelly just happens to be GodDaughter2’s singing teacher at the Royal College of Music. (GD2’s graduation recital being further evidence, to my ears, and eyes, of Ms. Kelly’s teaching prowess.)

Janis Kelly sounded great on this recording, but what surprised me was how much I enjoyed the recording as a whole. I am used to hearing shows like Showboat performed in a style that is aimed at audiences who basically prefer pop music to classical or orchestral music, and which typically uses pop brashness and pop exuberance to cover for the small number of musicians being deployed. This version of Showboat, however, was “orchestrated”, by Robert Russell Bennett. The sleeve notes claim that this orchestration is based on the “original 1946 score”, and (I’m guessing) might well be closer to what its composer, Jerome Kern, would have wanted than was any performance that Kern himself ever heard. This is a performance which makes clear the direct line from opera to operetta, to the music of Kern. Under the baton of John Owen Edwards, the orchestra makes a far lovelier sound than the din I was expecting.

Mercifully, what has not been opera-ed, so to speak, is the singing style. Where an operatically-inclined manner is appropriate, that is what happens, as when Janis Kelly sings, for example. But when it comes to a character like Ellie, sung by Caroline O’Connor, we get the full Broadway closely-microphoned belting style, a style that someone like Franz Lehar, or for that matter Franz Schubert, could never have imagined.

Further proof of the excellence of the singing in this performance is that, in the best Broadway style, and even when the singing is rather operatic, you can hear every word they sing. Had this show been sung in the full-on operatic style throughout, to emphasise that this is directly descended from Verdi and Wagner and Puccini, that would never have happened. (I’m still grumbling to myself about a performance of Madam Butterfly at the English National Opera (where everything is sung in English), where most of the solo singers might as well have been singing in Japanese for all the sense I could make of what they were singing.)

My feeling about opera is that I tend not to like how it is sung (too wobbly and verbally incomprehensible (see above)), but I love the sound that it makes, in between the singing. When it comes to singing, I tend to prefer the Abba style to the noise made by the average opera singer. (Above average opera singers are a different matter entirely. (Today I listened to Act 1 of this, also on CD, and it sounded stupendous.)) But as for what accompanies that singing, give me the sound of an opera orchestra every time, over the brash, jazz-band-based instrumental belting, banging and twanging that you mostly get when listening to “music theatre”, provided only that the music is the kind that works orchestrally, which in Showboat it is.

This Showboat, then, is for me the ideal compromise, between Broadway and the opera house, being the best of both and the worst of neither. Not bad for a fiver, which is all Amazon charged me for it.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Photoing architectural change

I distinctly remember photoing the old Pimlico School, which was a walk away from where I live, just the other side of Vauxhall Bridge Road. And today, I came across those photos. Just the two, of which this, after a bit of rotating and cropping, was the better one:

At the time I photoed it, way back in 2004, I had no idea that it would be demolished, in 2010, and replaced with an Academy. Read about that here.

On the very same day I took that photo of the old Pimlico School, I also took this photo:

That was a scene that I knew would change, and now, many years later, it is changing. But that’s quite unusual. That was a landmark building that was definitely going to be “redeveloped”, and the only mystery was when, and in what way. More often, buildings just get smashed down or transformed without warning. Big scenes get rebuilt, without warning. Oh, there is warning, if you spend your entire life looking out for such warnings. But, I don’t.

This being part of why I take lots of photos. Especially, now that it is so easy to take lots of photos, and so easy to store them. That way, I am more likely to get lucky with photos of things which no longer exist, or which do still exist but which later look very different.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog