As this blog has probably made apparent, I have all the enduring attention span and constancy of a hungry butterfly with ADHD. This might explain my preference for short plays and musical evenings offering an eclectic range of performers: they allow me to flit from one cultural bloom to another in my endless search for spiritual nectar. Having said that, this selfsame blog does demonstrate my ability to stick with a project over the long term, despite (until recently) very little encouragement from outside the prison of my own skull.
This post will celebrate my ability to attend, and more importantly enjoy, an artistic monoculture, leaving me with the hope that the gift of attention has not entirely fled.
Long term readers will recall that last year I spent most of an afternoon and evening becoming one with Philip Glass‘s Music in 12 Parts. Recently, BBC4 has produced a two-part documentary on Minimalism and I was watching the second part on the plane as I flew home from Belfast earlier in the week. This covered Music in 12 Parts and I was excited (and more than slightly surprised) that I recognised the tone row in the final part: its inclusion an example of Philip’s impish sense of fun. Clearly, even many hours into the hypnotic musical meditation, some part of my brain was still paying attention: go me!
While I was in Belfast, I was determined to go to a music gig but the options were rather limited. I had the choice of seeing the “Irish one” out of One Direction or a night of traditional Irish music with three of the giants of the scene (none of which were familiar to me). I went for the latter, but was nervous about the potential for a whole night of diddly-eye music. All was well and in ZoDoMo I definitely chose very wisely. ZoDoMo are Zoë Conway, Donal Lunny and Mairtín O’ Connor: she is a young (by my standards – but I think objectively too) fiddle player and they are a much older bouzouki/guitar and box player respectively. They were stunningly good musicians – Mairtín, in particular, did things with the melodeon that I had never imagined were possible – and the music covered the folk tradition of Ireland but also of the US, the Scottish Islands, Bulgaria and even a hint of Brazil. This being an Irish music gig, there were also stories from all the musicians, but Mairtín was the primary offender – and a lot of fun he was too! I can imagine him entertaining a snow-bound pub full of people for a week (perhaps much longer) with an endless string of entertaining anecdotes and jokes. It was a gloriously enjoyable evening and despite the claimed 80 minute run time, still managed to finish in just under two hours – and I, for one, would have happily stayed for more!
On Thursday, inspired by my piano teacher who is tackling one of his piano pieces for his own pleasure, I decided to attend an entire evening of Debussy played by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (what a glorious name!). I knew a small amount of Debussy, the Estampes and La Mer, but not much more and so a whole evening was a slightly daunting prospect. However, it turned out to be a delight and there is a lot more to Debussy than I had imagined. He also seems to have been quite a character. I foolishly thought that his Études might be a good way in for me, but having heard them and read his description that they should be “a warning to pianists not to take up the musical profession unless they have remarkable hands” perhaps I’ll seek another point of entry! It’s not that my hands aren’t remarkable, in their own way, but I’m not sure their best features are on display when applied to the keyboard. Debussy also seems to enjoy rather eccentric markings of tempo (and more) in his pieces, with distant trumpets called for in one Étude. Hard though the Études may be, the Book 2 Préludes looked even more of a challenge and I was lost in admiration for JEB’s pedal work and ability to handle sudden changes to (or simultaneous contrasts in) tempo, accent, dynamic and articulation. JEB was also great fun as my guide to the much wider world of Debussy: his introduction to the Études added to my enjoyment and understanding of the pieces – plus, I’m a sucker for English spoken with a strong French accent.
This week has proved that there is joy to be had in sticking to a single theme for an extended period, even if that theme is (as it was late on Wednesday evening) trying to mine as much humour and, frankly, filth from the difference in the structure of the competing cream teas of Devon and Cornwall. Sometimes leaving my preferred shallows and plumbing the some actual depth (though I’m probably still only snorkelling, to over extend this briny metaphor) brings its own rewards!