Edinburgh Diary – Thursday 24 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 hate writing the date. It seems so late in the year. Summer is running out of juice. Autumn is on the horizon. Festivals are coming to an end.

EIF and the Edinburgh Fringe concludes on Tuesday next week, the Proms a couple of weeks after that. Sad. Freedom is slowly being extinguished.

Academy of Ancient Music / Edinburgh International Festival

I have a tendency to bite off more than I can chew.

I agreed to go to the Academy of Ancient Music’s Thursday concert at the Queen’s Hall before I’d accounted for the distance between the concert venue and Rose Street where the podcast is recorded. The podcast started an hour after the concert started, and it takes 25 minutes to get from one venue to the other.

I heard the first twenty minutes of the concert (which had in itself taken half an hour to walk to) and then I had to head back.

Listen to it on BBC iPlayer. The first work – the Telemann – is amazing.

Oh, and I made it to the podcast with 5 minutes to spare. Nice.

Second Edinburgh Fringe Podcast

I thought this morning about the joy of the podcast process.

I realise that I’m not especially keen on the technicalities (although I do understand them), and I really do despise editing.

That’s why I like recording things in one ‘stab’ – know as ‘as live’ if you’re interested in the jargon. I like sitting down in front of a microphone and sparring with someone. I liked doing it at LBC, and I like doing it here. There’s a running order, of course, but in the space of 60 minutes things just happen. Questions naturally arises. Banter bubbles up without warning. It’s quite an amazing thing.

What interested me this morning was the memory of me doing it quite a lot in the workplace too. Treating the office environment like a platform, joshing, bantering, and cajoling people I came into contact with.

I remember how draining it became.

Being ‘up and perky’ during the working hours was exhausting.

I did it for a hit – I got something back from it. But the more I do it, the more I became aware of my underlying feelings of droopiness. What I was saying out loud didn’t equate with how I felt deep down.

There’s an analogy that might help here. Think of the experience of stepping into a church and suddenly being aware of the fustiness in the air. It’s not a pleasant smell especially, but its one we’re all familiar with. In theory, its a smell we don’t want to have around. You’d think we’d want to do something about the damp and eradicate the smell, but we don’t because we’re OK with it.

Same with the banter thing I did at work. Habitual. Addictive. Inauthentic.

That said, the third podcast was great. I got to meet a professional broadcaster, a playwright, an actress, and a man with a very deep voice. It all went rather well. Loved it.

Brutal Cessation / Milly Thomas

This was the highpoint of my day.

I’m fascinated about the playwriting process, how a writer has to conjur up characters, issues, and dialogue, and then trust other people to bring those elements to life.

It is a remarkable collaboration, and something I think I’d struggle to feel comfortable with.

Brutal Cessation is unrelenting story about a disintegrating relationship. It’s uncompromising, necessary, and inspiring.

It’s also a brilliant thing. I walked away from it with a new resolve, and a copy of the script under my arm.



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.


Edinburgh Festival 2017: Alfred Brendel Lecture

Alfred Brendel was a lonely looking man sat behind a wooden desk, downlight by bright white light at the King’s Theatre.

Throughout his 75-minute lecture at the Edinburgh Festival, he maintained the sturdy appearance that belies his 86 years. The familiar look of curiosity remains about his face – an invitation that draws you in to look at the world from his perspective.

He is a fascinating character. A man who, intentionally or not, keeps you at a distance.

From time to time during his lecture – elbows squarely on the table, hands propping his head up – he appeared perplexed, as though this was all too much, something he was doing reluctantly for us.

When we listened to musical excerpts from his recording career, the table became an imaginary piano keyboard. Subtle movements in his hands seemed Irresistible to him. Nothing ostentatious or self-indulgent. Touching.

But there was an edge to his lecture. The mischievousness and modesty – trademark Brendel – was tinged with the hint of sadness.

His soft Austrian accent created a hypnotic effect. Witty anecdotes spanning a 60 year career – delivered methodically, but softly, made it seem as though he was reading a first draft.

This and the dramatic stage setting, gave proceedings a sense of finality.

During the musical excerpts he would look out to the audience, with a squint that at times felt as though it was meant entirely for you. Mildly terrifying.

The audience cooed knowingly at the witticisms and the absurdities. Applause rang out after every recorded excerpt too. There was deference, love, and warm appreciation from the audience.

For all the detail Brendel gave us of a hard-earned, illustrious career, we never got to know him. A tough exterior of self-deprecation made that an impossibility.

In that way he remained true to his opening gambit that, “I do not believe that the merits of an artist can be explained or illuminated by my private life.”



Edinburgh Festival 2017: Mitsuko Uchida plays Mozart, Schumann, and Widmann

There are performances that are so transfixing that to review them seems churlish. If the performer succeeds in transporting you, there’s little else to do but put your pen down and submit.

Mitsuko Uchida is one of a handful of musicians who has achieved that for me and, save for the occasional choking, coughing, and general spluttering, for most others in the Usher Hall too.

Mozart’s Piano Sonata in C Major K545

Uchida’s jaw-dropping technical mastery brought the playful innocence and joyful naivety in Mozart’s Piano Sonata in C Major K545 to the fore. In a matter of moments it felt as though everyone in the hall was hanging off every note she played. A remarkable achievement.

Robert Schumann’s Kreisleriana

She continued to demonstrate her masterful control of the piano in Schumann’s eight-movement homage to author ETA Hoffmann.

In this work in particular we didn’t just marvel at the sound Uchida produces, but the relationship she forms with every single note the piano sounds. Each one is given its moment before she has to part company with it and move on to the next.

Here too she created epic drama with dazzling dynamic, tonal, and textural contrast.

Robert Widmann’s Sonatina facile

Premiered in Hamburg in January 2017, Jorg Widmann’s Sonatina facile paid homage to the Mozart piano sonata we heard in the first half. Widmann’s harmonic language has a wilfulness and playfulness, that part-ridicules, part-celebrates.

There are moments in the work when the harmonic language not only honours the original creation, but highlights the absurdities and contradictions of modern-day life too. A fun and entertaining piece. Loved it.

Robert Schumann’s Fantasy in C Major Op. 17

Uchida concluded her recital with a performance of Schumann’s C Major Fantasy that tantalised. Heartbreaking slow movements, contrasted with fiery dexterity, and deft pedal work. A performance that brought tears to the eyes.