Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Pagan Serenity Prayer

I love this. An unfamiliar version of a familiar yet perennial plea..

God & Goddess grant me:
The power of water, to accept with ease & grace what I cannot change
The power of fire, for the energy & courage to change the things I can.
The power of Air, for the ability to know the difference.
And the power of Earth, for the strength to continue my path.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

On Friday 8 July...

...the place to be is the Wigmore Hall, where a concert is taking place that's rather special to me. If you introduce a violinist to a cellist over dinner one day and suddenly they're playing your favourite piece of music together at the Wigmore Hall, you can't help feeling a little responsible! Anyway, this performance by the Razumovsky Ensemble is the result. Online booking here via the Wigmore website, or phone the box office on 020 935 2141.

The Razumovsky Ensemble is Oleg Kogan's baby. He's hit on a most unusual but highly creative modus vivendi for it, drafting in top-notch musicians who don't often have the chance to get together and play chamber music, but give everything when they do. The line-up is never exactly the same, but the combinations are always intensely combustible - every one of their Wigmore gigs that I have heard has absolutely raised the roof. For this concert, Philippe and Asdis are joining the line-up for the first time. And I am so thrilled that they are playing my beloved Faure C minor Piano Quartet that I'm ready to turn somersaults.

Here's what The Times said about the Razumovskys a few concerts ago: "They open up a world of music-making fabulously rich in tone colours, ensemble precision and lyrical sweep of a kind rarely met this side of paradise. Each Razumovsky member may be king of their chosen instrument, but they scale the heavens as a team."

Need I say more? Except: BE THERE!

Saturday, June 25, 2005


I reckon it's the beginning of the end.

I've been reading what I initially thought was a wonderful book, published in a serious literary imprint, with an exotic setting and a nice arty photo on the cover. I was riveted from the first page. But a little way in, the brakes screeched: I was reading - and I'm not making this up - the words "he was stood". The hero was standing in a doorway. In a literary novel he should not have "been stood" anywhere. In NO novel purporting to be written in halfway decent English should one see the expression "he was stood" - or anything similar. Nor was this a one-off accident. Later, I found a reference to a bunch of characters who "were sat" in a bar. It's not as if this writer was trying to create a colloquial local voice (the novel's hero is supposedly a writer himself and would probably rather have died than use this moronic construction). And the author's biog suggests he's someone who should have known better.

No doubt there'll be plenty wrong with my own book - but at least not that...

I would like to excise from the current use of English the following turns of phrase"

"was sat/stood" - in every permutation;

"concertize" - you don't concertize. You give a concert. Please note that I use 'z' here and not 's' for a reason;

"I'm, like,....and she's, like,....and then I'm, like,...." as a way of explaining who said what;

"Buy your CD's here" - note incorrect use of apostrophe. Not long ago I had an email from a youngster working for a reputable music agency who didn't have a CLUE where to put his apostrophes. If I were the artist he's working for, I'd be worried about my chances.

Oh heck, there has got to be a better way than this to spend a Saturday evening...

Friday, June 24, 2005

Return to the old country

Oldest church
Originally uploaded by Duchenj.

It's a little like meeting people: it can take two encounters to make the penny drop, a double dose to take in the full measure of somebody special. So it was with Vilnius.

Above, the oldest church in Vilnius, or so it says inside. You can see from this picture the kind of loving care that has been lavished on its restoration. There are around 130 churches in Vilnius and they are all architectural gems (though I can do without the Russian orthodox one that contains a glass casket of three pickled 14th-century saints in white stockings!).

Only one synagogue is left. And it's closed. It appears that the old divide between the mystics and the intellectuals has resurfaced in a rather unexpected way. All very complicated... I hear, however, that there is a long-term project to restore the old Jewish sites of the city and a very long-term hope that perhaps one day the Great Synagogue, destroyed by the Nazis, could be reconstructed. At the moment there is an open basketball court where it once stood.

I'm very, very glad that I went back to Vilnius to re-order my impressions after the vaguely surreal experiences I had there during my first visit last year (see archive for June 04). It was an incredible trip, full of extraordinary music and wonderful people. I met most of my friends from last year and made some new ones too. Tom came with me and was bowled over by the whole experience; we both feel that this place, in one way or another, gets under one's skin. You can't escape the horrors of the past, however much you try to look forward rather than back; but maybe this is why the place has such a sense of soul.

It was once a melting pot; and perhaps it will be again, since during two days we encountered Indian classical music (the incredible Wahajat Khan in collaboration with the Ciurlionis Quartet), a travelling Norwegian choir, a free concert of Lithuanian premieres and Mischa Maisky performing Bruch's Kol Nidrei looking extraordinarily like the Vilna Gaon himself. Whatever the programme notes had managed to dredge up about the lack of Jewishness in this piece of music, I can think of little that would be more moving than listening to it being performed in "Vilne". Several members of the audience around us were in tears too.

The language seems impenetrable at first - it's like nothing you've heard anywhere before (unless you happen to know Latvian). I've managed to remember Labas (hello), Aciu (thank you - sounds like you're sneezing) and I svekata (cheers - memorable not only through quantity of use but because it sounds like "is the cat here?"). As for the food, I'm still not keen on the potato pancakes, but can heartily recommend my favourite soup EVER: Saltibarsciai. Essentially it's cold borscht with hot potatoes. Here's a recipe, which I'll be trying at home shortly...

Vilnius is, in one word, extraordinary. Don't ask how or why, but something tells me that this won't be my last visit.

A thought

Have just leaned via BBC Breakfast news that tickets to the Glastonbury Festival this year cost £125 each. Thunderstorms forecast for today. So much for that old argument that opera houses are elitist because of the price - though that's often less than this pop bonanza in the English countryside. If people are willing to pay £125 to go and listen to loud noise in the middle of a field of mud, why should they be told they're elitist if they pay the same money to hear quality stuff in beautiful surroundings? OK, it rains at Glyndebourne too, but the mud factor is considerably diminished...

Just back from Vilnius. Will report fully when I have put my brain back together.