Sunday, January 25, 2009

From the depths of the pit

Coming to you live from the orchestra pit at the Peacock Theatre... It's finally London show week for the panto, so a full day of delights is lined up. It began with the sound check (an enormously lengthy exercise where each instrument plays into its allocated mic for a couple of minutes while the sound man pretends to adjust the levels. I say pretend, because ultimately only the electric instruments can be heard in the final mix) at 11.30 this morning. We're now at 2pm and have reached song number two. It is likely to be a long day, enlivened only by the consumption of too many sweeties, the odd game of Scrabble (well, that's the french horn section anyway) and the reading out of snippets from Heat magzine (thanks, Dan).

The rest of the band has already done one weekend of the show a couple of weeks back in Glasgow, but I was doing concerts so couldn't make it. That was a shame, because the trip away is normally the sweetener for doing the London run. Not that the London run isn't fun, but combining it with attending credit meetings during the day is likely to be somewhat knackering. The fascination of spreadsheets and conference calls, fairly thin to begin with, dwindles entirely away when one is spending the evenings bopping along to Alphabeat..

Ok, I confess I'd never actually heard of Alphabeat. In fact, I reckon I've heard of about two-thirds of the songs this year (a pretty good ratio for me), but even so I know from experience that I'll find myself hearing some of them in shops and bars over the next few months and startling companions by going "aaaaaah! THAT's how this one goes!"

Right. I suppose I'd better go. Take That coming up...

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Busy week this week - and can't stop now as I've got to get to the shops, find a chair from somewhere, visit my reed man, cook lots of food, put away the laundry and generally acquire a state of readiness and zen calm (either that or gin) for the arrival of hundreds of dinner guests...

But in the week I tested the Entertainment / Economy scale to the max, with freebie tickets to a tremendous and electrifying concert at the Barbican on Tuesday, and one free ticket for the theatre (musicians' comps, dahling!  It was the play I recorded some music for) on Thursday.  The play was great, and the music as a whole (which I had never heard more than the tiniest portion of) was amazing* with some incredible tabla playing, apparently done by 'a mate of Dave's who lives in North London'

You should go and see the play, particularly as it is on in a tiny low budget and very cute theatre for actors / directors / composers who are trying to build a CV.  Support the arts!  Put your money where your mouth is!

The Recognition of Sakuntala
Union Theatre, Union Street - nr. Southwark Tube.

*Even the bits I was playing.  Although every time I could hear myself it did distract me from what was happening on stage...  Oh, the vanity!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Fourth century sanskrit and Sleeping Beauty

So I spent this morning recording music written by a friend of mine for a new adaptation of the fourth century Indian tale, The Recognition of Sakuntala, which is on at the Union Theatre at the end of the month.

What I heard of the music was fantastic, although it was only me there - the other instruments will be added later - so it's hard to get the full sense of what it will be like.  Lots of cor anglais stuff, which would have been delicious in the hands of a more competent player...  Although I believe with the wonders of modern technology they can move around the actual notes I played until they are in tune.  Isn't that lovely? 

Anyway, I am hoping to go along to see the play and will fight the urge to leap up and shout "That's me!  That's me!" every time the music comes on.  Of course, if it all sounds farty and horrible then I'll keep my head down.

From the sublime to the (intentionally) ridiculous, tomorrow:  panto rehearsal.  Which means I'll have that damn Take That song stuck in my head for the rest of the week.  Aargh!

This year is Sleeping Beauty.  Typical aggravating plot:  the hero arrives to woo her because he's heard that she is beautiful; she gets to marry him because he's rich.  That'll do a lot for the bloody celebrity-obsessed WAG-aspiring young girls in the audience, won't it?  

I appreciate that it would be a little far-fetched for him to rock up for her engaging and intellectual conversation, but it wouldn't hurt if her reputation was for, say, kindness or generosity or something, would it?  Bah!  Still, despite him courting her with his unfeasibly gorgeous eyelashes and sweet rendition of aforementioned song, he's [shhhhhh!!] not really into princesses (beautiful or otherwise).  So it will all end in tears when he dumps her for the next handsome prince that comes riding up...  Don't tell the kiddies, though.  It would break five hundred pre-pubescent hearts in a single stroke.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Elegant juxtaposition

Well, hot on the heels of an evening of Brandenburgs, I spent new year's eve at Horse Meat Disco.  Was there ever a finer juxtaposition of cultural events?  I think not.  

It was a great night, although I'm told that there were fisticuffs in the gents toilets over a missing pot of glitter.  No such trouble in the ladies, although I did get complimented on my outfit by a drag queen while I was in there.  I've yet to decide whether that is a good or bad thing.  

The following night I went to August:  Osage County at the National Theatre.  Fantastic.  It's sold out, but what with all the lurgies flying about there are a good smattering of returns to be had.  I highly recommend it if you can get there before it closes in a couple of weeks.   It's an epic 3h 20m long, but the time just flies by as you become completely engrossed in this crazy disfunctional family gathering.  I absolutely loved it.  

Tomorrow will be interesting: I'm recording some music for a play.   Very exciting!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

I'm now ensconsed on the train home - slightly later than anticipated due to one of the solo violas spectacularly de-tuning in the middle of the piece, forcing a restart.

The second half comprised:

- the one with two flutes and a violin

- the violas

- the violin, flute, oboe and squeaky little trumpet one. Lots of fun, although in reality despite lots of earnest sawing from the violin and tootling away on the flute and oboe, all you can hear is that trumpet. Good job he was pretty sound. In the wrong hands I suspect one of those tiny trumpets could be a serious eardrum hazard.

Thought for the day, prompted by the multiple soloist scenario: how much artistic weaving about is too much? In the two flute piece, the first flute stood rooted to the floor, barely dipping at the crucial cadences. Whereas the second flute did the whole knee-bend (they were all standing) and weave about thing. Meaning that there was a disconnect between what you were seeing and hearing. Most troubling.

I'm not sure where I stand on all that artistic emoting. There was a clarinettist I was at university with who would peer over the top of her music stand at the audience in a most annoying manner, as if to say "I'm playing this for YOU... and YOU and YOU and... [Ba-ba-baaaaa! Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-baaaaa! Sorry. Carried away for a moment there]. Not that I prefer the cadaver look, mind you. It doesn't seem right for a tremendous sound to appear to emanate with zero input from the player. I have no idea what I do, either. I'd like to think it was a happy medium, but who knows? I daren't ask anyone in case they tell me.

So far we've had:

- the one with the three comedy oboes. You know the one: it's also got a couple of french horns sounding like they've wandered in midway through a hunt, tantivvying across the rest of the music like they haven't worked out what's going on.

- the one with all the strings. Last time I heard this was at Prussia Cove with the KCO lot, where we had a glorious abundance of bass instruments. So it was done with a fairly regulation quota of fiddles and violas but about seven cellos, a bassoon and a bass. Of the two versions, I have to say I preferred the Prussia Cove one for its humour.

- the flute, violin and demented harpsichordist one. I don't know about two skeletons copulating in a cupboard. This one's more like a frenzied skeleton orgy.

Anyway, the five minute bell has gone, so I must tuck away the rest of my mince pie (nasty) and mulled wine (nice) and hie me to the balcony.
I have treated myself to an evening of Brandenburgs tonight, at St Martin in the Fields. I only rarely go to cultural things by myself, but this was a last-minute decision with no time to book tickets. So since I was only buying for one, I find myself in something of a prime spot (the front corner of the balcony) making up the third in a box of three, and no doubt discombobulating the couple that were expecting to have it to themselves...

I haven't picked up a programme (damn!) So will be none the wiser as to which Brandenburg is which, since I know they are not playing them in order.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

from the train

A startlingly swift finish in the office (le grand fromage obligingly departed just after lunch) and quicker-than-expected packing means that I am already on the surprisingly empty train bound for Family Central.

Of course, now that I no longer commute, I've got out of the habit of always having a novel in my handbag. This means that I am bookless for the whole of the next hour and fifteen. Hmm. Plus my mobile phone decided to pack in this morning after several years of worthy service, so I am feeling slightly cut adrift. Well, apart from the two Blackberries, that is. And the pristine new phone sitting snug in its box in my suitcase. But apart from those things I'm practically in the dark ages. Nearly.

The charming parentals have formulated the plan-to-end-all-plans for Christmas day. More on that anon should it come to pass.

They are also picking me up from the station, which is helpful as I am burdened with many presents. And my oboe. And laptop. And a bunch of other unnecessary things. This is my first carless Christmas, which didn't occur to me at all when choosing presents. So I've managed to pick at least two that are spectacularly unsuitable for lugging around on trains, being variously heavy, large, fragile or a combination of these things.

Righto. I've successfully killed a proportion of the journey. Time for a bit of looking out of the window. Yay!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Family Reunion

In preparation for my own festive family reunion over the coming days, I went to see TS Eliot's The Family Reunion at the Donmar Warehouse on Monday with lovely Nick who buys lots of theatre tickets and sometimes invites me along.  Now isn't that nice of him? 

The cast was a fairly impressive who's who of British acting, including Sam West, Una Stubbs, Penelope Wilton and Sir William Lucas from the BBC Pride and Prejudice (kept expecting him to clap his hands and exclaim "Capital, capital!".  But he did not.)

I wasn't really sure what to expect from it:  it's written in verse of sorts, and has Greek Chorus sections - both of which facts I found slightly daunting.  Nick had sent me a crib sheet in advance which was pretty useful for keeping track of all the various dusty uncles and aunts.  But couldn't help much with the language.

However, the first half I found to be completely fabulous - the poetry of the words was glorious (I could mostly work out what people were getting at), and the atmosphere tremendous.  Unfortunately it got more and more bizarre as time went on, with lots of talk along the lines of '..and the crosses shall be uncrossed... and the circle shall be broken...'  or somesuch.

So when the matriarch started complaining about everyone leaving her alone in the house, it all became just a little too Cold Comfort Farm (something narsty in the woodshed!) and then slipped from tantalisingly ambiguous into slightly opaque.  However, given the heavyweightitude of the cast, it was an exceedingly well-delivered opacity. 

That's the end of culture vulturedom for now.  Although I confess I am typing this while listening to myself on the (only slightly dodgy) EC4 Music recording of Mozart Mass in C Minor.  But tomorrow will be subjecting myself to the hell that is South West Trains, armed with lots of Christmas presents that I haven't wrapped yet as I keep forgetting to buy tape.  Ahem.

Oooh - I've just reached the Et Incarnatus Est.  Big oboe bit!  I'm sure someone cleverer than me would be able to post a snippet.  But there you go, I'm not that smart at this technology lark.  Imagine a tremendously fabulous sound and pretend that it's me...  And not at all out of tune.  No sir.