Sunday, January 17, 2016

Music to fly you through a hurricane

We've been away for a couple of weeks, escaping British winter (the Pierre Boulez appreciation was written on the beach).

For the last couple of days, the weather on the island was distinctly odd. The sea was delivering surfing-style breakers instead of tranquil bathing water and everything turned slate-grey instead of turquoise. The wind was strong and rain fell from otherwise clear skies. The hotel put up a notice saying that, very unusually for this time of year, we were experiencing "strange sea conditions" and one shouldn't bathe when the red flag was raised. Perhaps, we wondered, something far away to the north was causing problems from a great distance, since there is nothing between except ocean across which all that energy can cascade unhindered.

The other night we flew back - and some very uncomfortable things began to happen around 2am, somewhere mid-Atlantic.

The sensation that everything is shaking. The feeling that the dipping and plunging might be limitless and there's a wild ocean beneath offering more of the same. The impression that at any moment you might be turned upside down or knocked sideways out of your seat, and you don't really know what's going on because it's officially night-time on board and all that has happened in the cabin is that the pilot has turned on the Fasten Your Seatbelts sign.

We got back in one piece, just about. "Sorry about those few lumps and bumps along the way," remarked the cheery pilot.

This is Alex. Say hello.

On the train back from Gatwick we read this:

We'd clearly flown through the effects of Storm Alex. Honest, guv, I will never understand those people who like going on roller-coasters at fairgrounds for fun.

So what do you do when you're on a plane and you think you may die and you can't do anything about it? Some people pray. I sing Bach to myself. I got through Storm Alex by imagining this.

Highly recommended. Thank you, Johann Sebastian.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Adieu, Maestro

Pierre Boulez has died at the age of 90. A visionary who owned a muse of fire. Farewell, Maestro, and thank you for waking us up and changing our lives.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

The piano prodigy determined to beat Hitler

I had a lovely interview the other week with the American pianist Mona Golabek, whose mother started out as a child prodigy pianist in Vienna. Once Hitler had annexed Auatria, though, she was fortunate to escape, one of the several thousand Jewish children permitted to come to Britain on the Kindertransport - but leaving their families behind. Mona wrote a book about her mother and now performs an inspirational one-woman show telling the story through words and music. She's bringing it to the St James Theatre, London, later this month.

My piece is in The Independent today:

Monday, January 04, 2016

Greatest Living Biography: now in song

The pianist and composer Ben Dawson has written a song about all those xxest of the xx artist biographies. You know the ones.

Ben says: "Being a musician for a living means you have to write, and then keep re-writing your professional biography to put in concert programmes, on websites, for publicity etc. It's unbearably tedious and painful having to stretch the truth about oneself in the third person without sounding like a d*ckhead. That doesn't, however, stop numerous musicians from calling themselves 'the greatest/most admired x of his/her/their generation'. They can't all be the greatest living whatever, can they? Someone, somewhere is lying... 
Every lyric (almost) is from a real biography I have seen in print over the past year or so."

Here's Rachel Weston singing it, with Ben at the piano. Enjoy.

And on that merry note I am off to do some intensive writing for a week or two. Back soon...