Monday, January 29, 2007

South Bank rising

In today's Independent, Jude Kelly, the South Bank (or Southbank?) Centre's artistic director, gives the run-down on the gear-up, with reopening of the Royal Festival Hall scheduled for the weekend of 11 June, in grand style. There's a remarkable amount of good news, besides the Korngold stuff I just had to yell about first. The press conference the other day had one of the best atmospheres I've ever encountered at a SBC event; people were positive and excited, as well as broadly supportive of the new team including Jude herself and music supremo Marshall Marcus; the only slightly tetchy note was sounded by one journalist who wanted to know what's happened to the Lieder recitals we used to have in the Good Old Days (I'd like them back too, come to think of it). I'm particularly pleased that they're putting on Carmen Jones this summer, because the LPO will accompany and it means fewer late nights for me while Tom comes back from playing at the South Bank (20 mins) instead of Glyndebourne (1 hr 15 mins).

But the best thing of all was when Jude, wrapping things up, wanted to make sure everything had been included and said "Is there any fairy that's been left out?" The press conference must have consisted of at least 50 per cent gay critics, so everyone cracked up laughing. "I mean in the Sleeping Beauty sense," Jude added gracefully.

Seriously, though, this is laughing with, not at, because Jude is not only a Very Good Thing, but she's also emblematic of long-term, forward thinking. It's hard to believe that in over 50 years, nobody's thought of giving the SBC an overall artistic director before. Jude is the first. Now she's there, the absence of such a post beforehand seems all the more astonishing - and rather typical of 20th-century arts management British bungling. Let's hope that we're in a new era in which people are going to do things properly. The Royal Opera House is a good example of how matters can be turned around; now the South Bank has its chance; and if ENO can follow suit, and someone can transform the Barbican into a place that one actually wants to go (programming is the least of its worries), then London will be the all-round world class player that it ought to be.