Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Trolls ‘R’ Us


 
Confronted by the latest trolling scandal, Sophie said to me: ‘Of course, we just used to shout at the radio or the tellie when people said things that annoyed us.’
 
And it’s true that the situation has been transformed by the availability via social media of direct access to the targets.
 
So, while threatening dire retribution on some public figure is horrible in all circumstances, at least in our own lounge rooms no one else is affected (aside from our own immediate family, who know already what loud-mouthed bigots we are).
 

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Getting to Yes in Europe



David Cameron talks about reforming the European Union and getting a better deal for Britain. But it seems that his only negotiating skill on view is to use “strong-arm” tactics ‒ grandstanding, making unilateral demands and threats ‒ and then to appear surprised that other countries are failing to fall into line.

If he were to make any progress at all, on any of the issues that matter, he would have to build alliances founded on mutual interest and mutual trust. This could only be achieved behind closed doors, not in open session. In reality, he seems to have no friends in Europe at all and minimal leverage.

The fact that he seems either unwilling or unable to build these alliances suggests that his real agenda is to create a situation where Britain’s exit from Europe is inevitable.

If this is not the case, perhaps a basic course in negotiating skills would be appropriate. I’d suggest starting with a close reading of Fisher and Ury’s Getting to Yes*.

*Getting to Yes: Negotiating an Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury

Saturday, 8 November 2014

White Horse – Number 1



I wrote about the new management of our local pub in King’s Sutton (or gastro-pub I should say), the White Horse, not so long after they moved in and transformed the place – food, drink, service, value, ambience etc.

I walk past just about every day, and we go in to eat there with pleasure on a fairly regular basis, so it’s become clear that business has steadily grown under the watchful eye of front-of-house Julie and chef Hendrik.

What I hadn’t realised is that they are already Number 1 on Tripadvisor out of no less than 147 eateries in the Banbury area. What a gift for our lovely country village.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Slooshying Schubert



Richard Sykes writes to me in response to my question (following the Schubert Project at the Oxford Lieder Festival):  "Where were all the students in this great city of learning...?"

Roger, have you read A Clockwork Orange? Alex, reformed by the drugs and aversion therapy to which he is subjected, finds that his musical tastes have changed:

"It was like something soft getting into me and I could not pony why. What I wanted these days I did not know. Even the music I liked to slooshy in my own malenky den was what I would have smecked at before, brothers. I was slooshying more like romantic songs, what they call Lieder, just a goloss and a piano, very quiet and like yearny, different from when it had been all bolshy orchestras and me lying on the bed between the violins and the trombones and kettledrums. There was something happening inside me, and I wondered if it was like some disease or if it was what they had done to me that time upsetting my gulliver and perhaps going to make me real bezoomy."

I rather suspect that this is Burgess reflecting on his own experience of evolving musical tastes and the ways in which we experience some musical revelations only as we age. Certainly that was my experience with Lieder. As an Oxford undergraduate I loved "classical" music, and attended concerts in the city. But I would not have seriously considered attending a Lieder recital. Now, in my late 40s, something has happened inside me, few things give me more pleasure, and I love to slooshy Lieder in my own malenky den and in Oxford's malenky concert hall too. In years to come, I'm sure some of those students will, too.

So good to be reminded of the extraordinary polymathic Anthony Burgess, who regarded himself as both composer and writer, although his compositions have rarely been given airtime.

I came to lieder rather earlier than Richard Sykes – in my early twenties ‒ but if I’d been a student in Oxford before connecting with the genre, I’d have missed out too.

My own epiphany came when I bought Saga’s 1966 recording of Janet Baker singing Schubert, Schumann and Brahms. Still essential listening. Here she is with pianist Martin Isepp in Schubert’s ‘Der Musensohn’:

 

 

Sunday, 2 November 2014

The Last of Schubert



To the final concert of the Oxford Lieder Festival. My ninth in the series a mere sampling of the 109 events on offer over the past three weeks.

It’s been a magnificent achievement, including all of Schubert’s 650-odd songs the first time this has been done in Britain. And not just concerts, but also masterclasses, family events, study days, lecture-recitals, socials and so on.  

It has been the brainchild of the excellent accompanist Sholto Kynoch, who recruited the finest singers and pianists, old and young, organised the whole thing into brilliantly-conceived programmes, recruited a band of cheerful helpers, performed personally in many of the events, and was around meeting and greeting throughout. What a stunning achievement.

My own special memories?

The young Swiss baritone baritone Manuel Walser singing Schlegel settings and the even-younger Slovenian soprano Nika Gorič singing Schlechta; the Swedish mezzo Maria Forsström singing Schiller; Schubert’s Octet, brilliantly played by the Principals of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment; from the older generation, Sir Thomas Allen singing Winterreise and the great Dutch bass Robert Holl singing Mayrhofer settings.

And, in the final concert yesterday, the seventy-something year old Sarah Walker, melting hearts with a superb all-female chorus in one of Schubert’s Serenades, and the last thoughts of Schubert in the Heine settings from Schwanengesang, sung with profound stillness by Jonathan Lemalu (above). Lastly the intimate playing of clarinettist Mark van de Wiel in “The Shepherd on the Rock”.

But… where were all the students in this great city of learning? Just a fiver for them on the door. Conspicuous by their absence.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

How's your German?


 
I am currently steeped in German Romantic poetry – in particular Schiller, Schulze, Mayrhofer, Hölty, Heine, Müller and the Schlegel brothers preparing for concerts in Oxford filled with Schubert’s settings of their work.
 
This brought to mind one of those forks in the road that confront us from time to time. I was working very happily for Garland-Compton in its pre-Saatchi days, running our biggest client, Rowntree.
 
They had recently taken over a leading competitor, Mackintosh’s, and the brilliant, glamorous young Tony Mackintosh had become leader of their merged European division.
 
Tony would sweep into our offices in Charlotte Street, brought there in his black-chauffeur-driven white limo, a vision, all blue jeans and fur coat. The latter he would hand immediately to our receptionist, she on the verge of meltdown, and ask for me.
 
It was all very 1969.
 
In due course, Tony summoned me to his offices – not in Halifax or Norwich or York, where the major factories and offices were (and are), but in a fine Georgian house in Park Lane, Mayfair. There he invited me to leave the agency and join his team in a senior marketing role. I was flattered, of course, but turned him down graciously, I hope.
 
At one point in the meeting, we discussed European languages. The plain fact is that, although I have some words and phrases in most of them, I am reasonably fluent only in English.
 
“How's your German?” he asked.
 
“Well, I’m familiar with a good deal of Romantic poetry,” I said, “but I’m not sure that the vocabulary would be very useful in marketing meetings.”
 
Here’s a sample, useful in recent days in Oxford: Abendstern (evening star); Einsamkeit (solitude); Abschied (farewell); Klage (lament); Weinen (tears); Heimweh (homesickness); Sehnsucht (longing); Erwartung (anticipation)…

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Hurdy-gurdy man in Oxford



To Oxford again, latest in the Schubert lieder recitals. This time it was the wonderful baritone, Sir Thomas Allen, singing the great song cycle, Die Winterreise – the Winter’s Journey.

Schubert set this tragic series of poems by his contemporary, Wilhelm Müller. Although the composer admired Müller’s work immensely, he only set one of his poems as a single song, ‘Der Hirt auf dem Felsen’, the Shepherd on the Rock. But he set two long series by the poet which together established the song-cycle as a major form within music – Die Schöne Müllerin and Die Winterreisse.

Curiously, although I’ve known the Winter's Journey intimately from recordings over several decades, it was the first time I’d heard it in the flesh. And what an ideal introduction this was by Thomas Allen. He brings a lifetime of experience to it, not just of singing and acting, but also of life itself.

The journey starts with a young man, disappointed in love, and ends with him observing an aged street musician, an organ-grinder:

There behind the village,
stands a hurdy-gurdy man,
with stiff fingers,
he plays as best he can.

Barefoot on the ice,
he staggers to and fro,
and his little plate
remains empty for ever.

No one wants to hear him,
no one looks at him,
and the dogs are growling
around the old man.

And he lets everything go on
as it will;
he turns, and his hurdy-gurdy
never stands still.

Strange old man,
shall I go with you?
Will you turn your hurdy-gurdy

to my songs?

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Hyperventilating with Lord Carrington



Everyone associates Saatchi & Saatchi with Mrs Thatcher and the Conservative Party, but in fact Garland Compton, in the days before it became Saatchis, pitched and won the business in the run-up to one or other of the previous 1974 elections. Both were effectively won by Labour, so it’s not surprising that there’s no residual memory.

But I recall the pitch. It was one of the most frightening experiences of my life. The great and good of the party, led by the terrifying Lord Carrington, were lined up in front of me, waiting for my words of wisdom. I hyperventilated, scarcely able to get a word out.

How on earth did we win the work? I've no idea.

Afterwards, I told one or two people what had happened to me and got consistent advice, best summed up as: ‘You’d probably be better off not doing presentations. Stick to what you’re good at, whatever that is.’

Of course, that made me determined to get better at presenting – and at dealing with my nerves in such scary situations.