Backstage in December
Beethoven and an Ice Palace, Websites and a Woolly Hat
I am listening to …
a podcast series I recently discovered, called ‘backlisted’, where the presenters give ‘new life to old books' (so dangerous, as if we don’t have enough piles of books around the house we want to read). The current episode does discuss a book about music, Bob Dylan’s latest book – The Philosophy of Modern Song. However I was more drawn to the discussion around one of my favourite books, ‘the Ice Palace’ by Norwegian writer Tarjei Vesaas. Apart from so much that is wonderful about this novel (and I will let you discover that for yourself), it is the restrained musicality of the prose, in its original language but also often enough caught in the English translation that goes along so wonderfully with its content. You will hear a couple of paragraphs read in English and Norwegian to enjoy it for yourself.
“The pine needles stretch their tongues and sing an unfamiliar nocturnal song. Each tongue is so small that it cannot be heard; together the sound is so deep and powerful that it could level the hills if it wished.”
“They were floating, almost at one with the darkness, reflecting no light. Their footsteps could not be heard. But their breathing could, and perhaps the heart. They mingled with other almost inaudible nocturnal stirrings, like a small vibration in long wires.”
I am reading …
Beethoven Variations, Poems on a Life, by Ruth Padel. A different take on a biography, more personal, as Padel’s poetic observations are intertwined with her own musical experiences. Padel knows the history and the music, the book came to be through her work with the Endellion String Quartet. But as a poet she has also the artistic freedom to imagine, and to elaborate on guesses. They catch a spirit.
On my screen is the château
where Beethoven is finishing his last quartet
staying with his brother
and the sister-in-law he hates
near a village whose name,
he says, sounds like a breaking axle. …
And I am here with him, plummeting into the past
to find some blessing in it. When he plays duets
with his nephew, I make sure
he enjoys it. I want him to glide
through his close relationships
like a falling star
I am looking at …
classical music websites. There is Manchester Collective, which draws you in with powerful images and a few words that get the imagination going, even if you are fairly new to the genre. Individual concert descriptions use language that does not borrow heavily from music historians. The feel is definitely not dumbing down but reaching out to connoisseurs and newcomers alike. Most of it is fun and informative to read. Past concerts of the season are linked to online programme notes that do not have a last minute haste about them but are really well curated. This is the way to go.
I am thinking about …
the Arts Council here in England, and their recent funding and de-funding decisions. One question in their application form stood out for me:
This is to measure the social economic background of the person applying and seems to have been taken from the Government guidance for employers ( see Social mobility commissions recommendations, updated in 2020). However that report mentions options to tick which the funding application does not. It also does not take into account what happened when the main applicant turned 15 …
I am with Andrew Mellor when he says that
The Arts Council used to be a turbocharger for artistic excellence. Now it dabbles in social engineering to improve the look of the incumbent government... (@operalastnight)
The line between excellence and elitism is getting dangerously thin, especially in a country still so obsessed with class.
and I like …
how violinist Fenella Humphreys and I connected: there is quite a bit of waiting and hanging around involved when backstage. Some read, some eat, some catch up with friends online, or do all of the above; I collect stories and Fenella Humphreys knits. Not enough of being fantastically creative on stage, she creates lovely warm soft scarves, hats, hand warmers etc back here, and fittingly her enterprise is called BackstageKnitsByFen. I am super happy to share her space ;-) … and listen to her music. Check out her Caprice collection she commissioned and curated around Paganini’s famous 24th caprice. Inspired!
Thanks for reading and have a joyous December
PS There is a lot of reading, listening, research and travel involved in my line of work; I stumble across many interesting things and ideas I can't just leave behind so I decided to write about them and share with you.