Sunday, July 31, 2011

London Weekend

We set off for London on Saturday afternoon and dropped the bags at our hotel before making our way to Byrons for burgers before our Prom. Tonight we were treated to a performance by the CBSO with Andris Nelsons. They began with Strauss's Don Juan followed quickly by Midori playing the Walton Violin Concerto, a piece new to us. Midori turns forty this year, but was a child prodigy who performed with Zubin Meta in New York aged eleven. She played beautifully and received quite an ovation from the Proms audience.

After the interval the orchestra played Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky Cantata along with the CBSO Chorus and soloist, mezzo-soprano, Nadezhda Serdiuk. It is a wonderful piece of music, which they interpreted with all the necessary drama of the tale. Finally we heard Strauss's Salome - Dance of the Seven Veils - but there were no dancers!

 On Sunday we dropped the suitcase at Waterloo and went for breakfast at Le Pain de Quotidien, delicious granola with yoghurt and fruit. After this we went up to the Royal Academy to see the Summer Exhibition. It seemed a little 'thinner' than in previous years, but there were several highlights such as another amazing Anish Kapoor piece, some lovely floral pieces from Dame Elizabeth Blackadder and some Michael Craig-Martin 'words'. In the courtyard was an amazing sculpture called Colouring Book by Jeff Koons. It is made from high chromium stainless steel with a transparent colour coating. It gave the illusion of being transparent, but really reflected the courtyard off its colourful surface.

Now we had time to stroll down to and through Hyde Park, along with thousands of other people. Lots of visitors enjoying the sun by walking, sitting on the grass, boating on the Serpentine, eating ice-creams or even listening, 1960s style, to Indian chants in romantic dress under the trees!  As we came to Exhibition Road the phone rang and our friends were already at Carluccio's, so we quickened our pace, not to keep them waiting. After a quick dinner, we walked up to The Royal Albert Hall and our next Prom, which was all Rachmaninov and mostly choral as we had the Chorus of the Mariinsky Theatre singing with the BBC Philharmonic under Gianandrea Noseda. It was a wonderful performance from the choir that has such a rich tone, especially singing those Russian syllables. The bass, Alexei Tanovitski was excellent and the little we heard from tenor Misha Didyk was also very good. Soprano Svetla Vassileva sang very well, but rather spoiled it all by trying to steal all the glory, and even had to be asked to leave the stage by the conductor (very politely, of course!) as she didn't seem to know how to retire gracefully!

And suddenly it was time to leave the RAH, get the tube down to Waterloo, collect the suitcases and make our way back home again. What a great weekend!

Prom 21
Walton Violin Concerto Notes
Midori biography
Prom 22
Chorus of the Mariinsky Theatre
BBC Philharmonic
The Royal Albert Hall

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Prom 11

A pleasant afternoon and we took the train up to town, the tube to South Ken. We strolled over to Carluccio's for an early dinner before walking up to the Royal Albert Hall to attend Prom 11. Tonight the Prom was based around the BBC series 'Human Planet' and the music composed for this series by Nitin Sawhney. We would also be entertained by some of the music featured in Radio Three's parallel series, 'Music Planet'. Special screens had been installed all around the Albert Hall so we could watch some of the film sequences while the music was being played.
The orchestra was the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Charles Hazlewood, who managed to appear on the platform without anyone noticing, and he began the introduction almost before the audience had time to applaud. After the first piece, Paul Rose introduced himself as our presenter for the evening. The first performer of the evening from ' Music Planet' was Rasmus Lyberth from Greenland who came on dressed in a grey suit with a straw hat along with a fiddle player and an accordionist. He performed two songs about Greenland straight from the heart, which the audience loved, then Paul Rose came back to set the scene for the next piece of Nitin Sawhney's soundtrack. This was the format for this first half, alternating ethnic music with the orchestra, with Paul Rose setting the scene. The groups we were treated to were from Zambia and Mongolia, with Enock Mbongwe performing with a kalumba, a traditional Zambian gourd instrument coming on next. He wore traditional dress with a patterned shirt that had a special hole cut out so that the gourd could resonate against his tummy. He introduced himself and told us that this was his first time outside Zambia. His performance was so full of exuberance. The last performers before the interval were from Mongolia, the group called Khusugtun. They are six musicians who play morin khuur, the horse head fiddle; ikh khuuur, the horse head cello; yatga, the Mongolian zither; guitar; dombor, a Kazakh folk instrument; limbe, a Mongolian flute; djembe (African drum played with bare hands). They also sing, using the Mongolian throat singing technique. They were wonderful, and the audience really enjoyed their music and all the music of the first half of the concert.
Before the interval, Charles Hazlewood had announced an extra piece to begin the second half of the concert - the 1812 Overture performed on instruments made from scrap. This will apparently be a feature program on BBC Four later in the year. The instrument makers were all in one of the boxes to hear the performance, which was OK considering the difficulties of playing and keeping these instruments in tune. But, it was a bit strange putting this piece in the middle of this special Human Planet concert.
So once this was done, we got back to Nitin Sawhney's music on real instruments, and also two more ethnic performances. The first was from the group of three women from Sakha region, Siberia, Ayarkhaan. Their costumes were truly fabulous, ethnic cloth with gold lame and fur sleeves, gold headdresses and horsehair switches in their hands. They played mouth harps and made extraordinary noises with their mouths as they performed, first, the Horse song, and then the tribute to the patron of the blacksmiths, Kudai Bakhsy. The audience loved them. The final ethnic performers were the shark-calling group from Papua New Guinea's New Ireland, Bibilang. The eight performers entered, dressed in yellow traditional costumes with amazing straw headdresses. Their instruments seemed fairly recognisable as guitars but also included various ethnic percussion instruments. Paul Rose introduced them, and as they were named, they each waved to the audience who cheered them. Then they performed a series of songs, to the last of which two of the band danced the shark dance. Everyone really enjoyed the performance and the band didn't want to leave the stage, but were finally led off.
Nitin Sawhney now came on to address the audience about how he went about putting the music for the series together over an eight week period of hard work. He tried to capture all the different moods from desert to arctic conditions, rainforest to steppes; people living on the edge. He then re-orchestrated the score to put together performance pieces (and he could make a symphony from it, one would think). At last it was time for the finale, another wonderful piece of Nitin Sawhney's music, after which all the groups came back on stage for a final bow. The audience applauded, then gave them a standing ovation, well deserved for a wonderful evening of music from all over this planet.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cake Weekend

This is the weekend of making the wedding cake. 3 tiers of fruit cake from a family recipe with the help of Mrs. Smith for the quantities and cooking times for the big cakes.

Some of the ingredients.

Adding the egg to the butter cream with flour to stop it curdling.

Cake tins prepared with butter and greaseproof paper, then brown paper outside and on top to prevent burning. The largest cake takes 5 1/2 hrs to cook.

Mixture in the tin and almost ready to go.

Brown paper covering and it's in the oven!

Two down and one to go. Wrapped up in greaseproof paper, I feed them with a tablespoon of Brandy each week until they go for icing.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Surrey Sculpture Park

What we thought would be a quick stroll on a Sunday morning turned into a mammoth walk and we still only covered half of the extensive area of the Surrey Sculpture Park. A winding path (a bit IKEA-like) takes you around the sides of the valley, with sculptures every step of the way. Definitely a place to return to many times in order to take it all in.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2011

This week has been HCPFS 2011, the world's largest flower show and put on by the Royal Horticultural Society in partnership with the Daily Telegraph.
We visited as members of RHS on Tuesday - a sunshine and showers sort of a day - and I volunteered for RHS on Friday which was really quite wet! The Show Gardens were once again very impressive and we liked the Chris Beardshaw Garden: The Stockman's Retreat with the Worldskills London 2011 Team. The Naked Garden (David Domoney) where the plants had their roots exposed in perspex containers of aerated water was something completely different, as was the World Vision with its grass dome and inverted dome floating on a blackwater lake. There were six English Poets' Gardens where we came across the Duchess of Cornwall on a private visit, as well as a host of small gardens, the best of which was a sunken garden with a vertical planted wall of heathers. There was one called 'Cultivating a Palaeontologist' with rocks from the Cretaceous period and a satchel with a dinosaur poking out of it. The schools' Scarecrows were very jolly and the Conceptual Gardens provided food for thought.
This year the RHS has a great area divided into three sections: The RHS Experience that explains all aspects of the work the charity carries out as well as how these projects are funded through the members and RHS Enterprises; the Edible Garden with its beautiful plantings - a hop garden, vineyard, reed bed, orchard and decorative veggie garden, with some live geese as well; and lastly the GYO Marquee with some amazing displays from many nurseries specialising in vegetable and fruit growing. There was also a display of landscapes painted using all sorts of food instead of what one would usually expect.
Here are a couple of videos with my impressions of the show, which despite the weather did not disappoint. I hope you enjoy the videos.

Hampton Court Palace Flower Show
Miles Davis
Ravi Shankar
Don't forget that you can buy the music on iTunes, eMusic etc.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Return to Alresford

Today we made a return trip to Alresford, visiting Long Barn again, where the lavender is looking very good, just in time for their Lavender Week, 16th - 24th July. We bought a couple of pots of jam, and I bought some gifts for friends and family.
Then we went off into Alresford village for coffee at Caracoli and a stroll via the church to the station and the age of steam. The freight train was running today and the volunteers were enjoying chuffing up and down from Alton.
Lavender at Long Barn