Edinburgh Diary – Wednesday 23 August 2017

I’m visiting the Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Fringe from Monday 21 – Friday 25 August.

Whilst I’m here I’m making appearances as co-host on Ewan Spence’s Edinburgh Fringe Podcast.  And I’m keeping a diary, just as you’d expect every good blogger to do. 

I’m feeling a little frazzled. I get like this sometimes when I’m ‘on the trot’ on a trip. I try and pack in as many things as I possibly can, forgetting that part of the process of coming to things like a Festival is to get into the vibe. I end up getting a little wired.

I imagine that if Edinburgh was all on the flat, then my stamina would be a little better.

Second Edinburgh Fringe Podcast

The addition of a full suite of photographs from the podcasts (taken by Vikki Spence) makes this trip to Edinburgh a special thing.

The show goes in a flash, but the visual record makes for a lovely series of picture postcards. My mantra, the roots of which are far too boring to go into here, is always to never assume you’ll get a chance to do this sort of thing again. Treasure the moment accordingly. The pictures (yesterday‘s and today‘s) help do that.

Listen to the second show (well, really it’s number 19) on the Edinburgh Fringe Podcast page on PodcastCorner.com, It’s a bit of a corker. And for the most part I wasn’t rude to any guests.

Alfred Brendel Lecture / Edinburgh International Festival 

I’m fascinated by Alfred Brendel. I find his promotional pictures fascinating and slightly terrifying in equal measure. Listen to his many recordings and you discover another facet of the man – the exquisite musicianship. It’s something I find he distances himself from – or rather he distances himself from the performances and recordings.

It is as though he the master of modesty, taking it to such a level that I get strangely frustrated with him.

He was fascinating again today in his Edinburgh Festival lecture. The audience was appreciative. His considerable back catalogue spanning 60 years is next on my listening list.

Lord Dismiss Us / Boys of the Empire Productions

I said yesterday that it was the writing I was interested in coming to Edinburgh this year. Twenty-four hours later, I think that needs a bit of fine-tuning. It’s the characters I want get a handle on, and more specifically to get a sense of how characters develop during a story. It’s the one area I find really challenging in my writing, because I’m never entirely sure whether I’m being realistic enough. Seeing lots of other characterisations helps – strangely enough – develop confidence.

Lord Dismiss Us (Boys of the Empire Productions) is a case in point. It was a fast-paced stage adaption by Glenn Chandler of Michael Campbell’s famous 1967 book of the same name, about homosexuality in a public school in the late 60s. The dialogue shimmered with wit and emotion. The characterisation was blistering. When you’re sat in an audience and finding yourself emotionally engaged with the protagonist, then you know you’re onto a winner.

If I can subsequently find a way of distilling the immediacy of a beautifully engaging piece of theatre into prose, then I’ll be happy chap.


Alfred Brendel on Radio 3’s Music Matters

A new series of Music Matters has started on BBC Radio 3 this weekend with an extended 45 minute interview with pianist Alfred Brendel. 

It’s a fascinating insight into Brendel’s life, with a window on his mischievous and often unorthodox sense of humour, with valuable insights into the role of the performer. 

I particularly enjoyed his view on how the performer aspires to articulate the emotions of the composer through the music he or she is playing. A performance for Brendel wasn’t primarily about self-expression, even if that’s a by-product. 

The interview also throws light on the renaissance of different musical genres and how audience interest in particular composers differs across Europe. From a UK perspective it hadn’t really dawned on me that Russian pianists would naturally gravitate to Russian composers and how in particular, Rachmaninov is seen as the pinnacle of pianistic achievement. I also had no idea that Brendel had played Schoenberg’s fiendish piano concerto an astonishing 68 times.

The retired pianist (‘my hearing has collapsed’ he says at one point in the interview) has a precision to his thinking that makes this interview a fascinating listen. There aren’t enough places in the radio schedule with extended interviews of this kind, and I hope we can hear more of them.

Alfred Brendel’s Music Matters interview with Tom Service will be on Monday 21 September 2015 at 10.00pm on BBC Radio 3. It’s also available on the Radio 3 website for at least a year, or to keep as a ‘podcast‘.

#Classical365: 39 – Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition

I haven’t listened to any classical music for a week. Consequently, I wasn’t sure whether to number this the next in the sequence of works I listen to, or the next day on which I did listen to something. I’ve opted for the latter. That way when I get to the end I can see how many days I missed out on.

It’s not difficult to see what broke the listening routine. I haven’t been to the gym for a week, not since I noticed that painful twinge in my back when I bent down to pick up 10kg. Visited Debbie on Monday to get it sorted out. It wasn’t until Friday evening I felt able to return. Gave myself the weekend to fully get over it. Good job too, as I’ve had a cold to expel. Tomorrow will be the day I get back to listening, and back to exercising. I’ve missed it.

I haven’t missed the listening. It had become very nearly a chore. One more thing which needed to be done during the day. If it fell out of the schedule then it quickly became the equivalent of school detention. Where’s the joy in that exactly? Maybe the break was healthy.

What’s reunited me – kind of – has been spending part of today cleaning the kitchen. It’s long overdue. It hasn’t had any kind of close attention since the week before Christmas. So today, out with the hand-held steamer, scrubbing away the stains (and the varnish) on the kitchen top, rubbing away the grime on the kitchen floor. That and the bathroom gleams now.

And whilst I was doing that, Steve Osborne playing Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition in a lunchtime re-run of a Wigmore recital broadcast by Radio 3 earlier in the week. Brought back all sorts of memories.

First, page-turning for Caroline Dowdle at Snape in a concert combining Pictures with Carmina Burana. An extremely uncomfortable experience – for pianist and page-turner. It sealed the fate on our relationship. Very sad.

Second, meeting soloist Steven Osborne after an invite to the Polish Club by a Radio 3 presenter – I should have said no immediately after receiving the invite, but the alcohol I’d already consumed tricked me into thinking I wouldn’t make a fool of myself. As it turned out, Obsorne’s then record producer lived down the road from me in Hither Green, so a shared car ride home seemed like an option too generous to turn down. Everything was fine until the car stopped somewhere in Peckham to pick up another passenger, who, when she stepped into the car proclaimed, “dear God, it smells like a brewery in here!” I haven’t been able to listen to Osborne perform since.

Ended up listening to a different recording of Pictures made by Alfred Brendel. The fourth movement – The Old Castle – was the one that transported me. There’s something irresistible about a pedal note, the musical equivalent of repeating the same phrase at the beginning of every sentence in a piece of prose. Agonising and beautiful all at the same time. I can’t imagine I’d ever enjoy listening to the orchestral arrangement again.

I was listening to Alfred Brendel playing Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition via Spotify.

#Classical365: 10 – Mozart Piano Sonata No.1 in C Major

Late up today. Didn’t want to go the gym to begin with but shortly after my coffee, the prospect didn’t seem like such a ball-ache. This was partly made easier by me having stated last night, ‘I’m going to the gym at midday tomorrow. That should give me enough time before we go to Into the Woods.”

Workout was good. Trainer in the gym volunteered some tips for getting a stronger back. Was really struck by his generosity. Had started the workout with 20 minutes of cardio on the rowing machine listening to Alfred Brendel playing Mozart’s first piano sonata in C Major. Like string quartets, I tend to give sonatas a wide berth. Something about it being the direct opposite to what generally excites me about classical music – if its not a symphony orchestra its going to struggle to get my attention. There’s also something about the mainstream adoration of Mozart that turns me off the majority of his compositions. That’s not based on familiarity with his music, more to do with my perceptions.

The piano sonata was surprisingly engaging. Fiendish too. Once I get past the daintiness of Mozart’s writing, there is a fascinating complexity to it which makes the prospect of listening to more surprisingly tempting. Either I’m a classical music nerd (some have said I am) or there’s a depth to the music which poses more questions when I listen. How did these works – 20 written between 1774 and 1789 – come to be written? What were they for? Who listened to them?

I was listening to Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 1 played by Alfred Brendel on Spotify. 

If you’ve got a suggestion for a work for me to listen to, leave a comment below or tweet me@thoroughlygood.