Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Cool is the word

Interesting article* by David Skinner about how ‘cool’ became one of the main words in the counterculture signifying approval. It started out earlier than I’d imagined – in the 1930s – gaining traction in the 1950s and 1960s, mostly in those days associated with jazz, but swiftly broadening both its meaning and its usage.

The question not addressed by the writer is why, among a whole slew of slang words from that era – hip, hep, groovy, square and so on – it should remain such a doughty survivor over half a century later. Most of those other ones are now uncool and can only be used with at least a hint of irony.

Any ideas?

*David Skinner, ‘How did cool become such a big deal?’, Humanities,  

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Idle Hands Blues

We came together again, 50 years after the start, falling quickly into the roles and relationships we had had together all those years before. The Idle Hands.

Lunch at Bibendum in South Kensington.

A bloke came up to us towards to end of the meal asking who we were. If he was disappointed that we weren’t some starry band from the 1960s, he hid it well. A lone groupie.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Endymion’s composers of choice

In the time that I was chairman of Endymion Ensemble, we put on a lengthy series of ‘Composer Choice’ concerts at the South Bank Centre in London. The groundrules for the composers were:

1.      Choose anything you like in the programme provided that it involves a chamber ensemble. (This generally made the concerts more expensive to mount than usual, involving a wide mix of players.)

2.      Be prepared to go up on stage and introduce your choices.

Over the years we had Peter Maxwell Davies, Harrison Birtwistle, Hans Werner Henze, Judith Weir (just now appointed Master of the Queen’s Music, succeeding Peter Maxwell Davies), Oliver Knussen, Marc Anthony Turnage, Jonathan Dove, Alexander Goehr, George Benjamin, John Woolrich, Colin Matthews, Gavin Bryars, John Tavener, Thomas Ades, Howard Skempton, John Casken and others.

Most of the concerts were fascinating, but the most memorable introduction was from Birtwistle, who shuffled up on stage and mumbled: ‘I’ve been asked to tell you why I chose these pieces, but I’m buggered if I can remember.’

Monday, 14 July 2014

Paradigms, tropes and memes

In the nineties we seemed to have paradigms, particularly shifts in them…

Then in the noughties it became necessary for all papers and lectures to include tropes

Now we seem to be awash with memes

Each of these, in turn, can provide a handy label (and convenient bucket) serving to convey a cloak of academic respectability, but at the same time frequently reducing the need for any real thinking.  

Friday, 11 July 2014

Dealing with Macbeth

A friend, feeling under threat from a direct-report colleague, asked me how King Duncan might have dealt with the situation more effectively, rather than be murdered by Macbeth. Of course, it is a universal question as well as a personal one.

I made seven suggestions:

1.       Study Machiavelli, who focused particularly in The Prince on the retention of power: ‘The fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous.

2.       Bring about major strategic disagreement.

3.       Move Macbeth to another country.

4.       Appoint a Prince over Macbeth.

5.       Accuse Macbeth of treason and lock him up.  

6.       Abdicate the throne (who needs that kind of exposure anyway?)

7.       Murder Macbeth (before he murders Duncan).

And, finally, lamenting that the great Russian poet Pushkin died young, Clive James recently proposed: ‘If you are a poet, do not get into a duel with someone who is a better shot than you are.’


Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Bravo Figaro ‒ bravo, bravissimo

To Longborough Festival Opera again, this time for Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, together with daughters Kate and Dora, granddaughter Isobel, and wife Sophie Wilson.
Longborough is a country house opera, built into a large converted barn- a less polished version of the Glyndebourne experience – and none the worse for that. They have created an outstanding reputation in a few years for musical excellence, not least managing to find and employ fine young singers.
Perhaps the standout among these is the soprano Rachel Nicholls, who had a good reputation as a singer of Baroque music, but who has been transformed by Longborough’s Musical Director, Anthony Negus, into one of the leading Wagnerian sopranos of our time. She was an outstanding BrΓΌnnhilde in the Ring Cycle there last year, and this season sang Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder superbly, an enticing sample of what we may expect next year, when she will sing Isolde for the first time.
The Barber turned out to be a good choice for eleven year old Isobel’s first visit to an opera house (last year she sang in Britten’s The Little Sweep). And it was second time for twelve year old Dora. In a lively, witty, well-acted and sung performance, both girls picked the Figaro of Grant Doyle as their favourite.
My own pick was the brilliant coloratura and subtle acting of mezzo-soprano Helen Sherman (above) as Rosina. Both Doyle and Sherman are Aussies, continuing the great tradition of outstanding singers from that country from Nellie Melba to Joan Sutherland and onward.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

The legendary Prince Ranjitsinhji in the first-ever film of cricket

My father used to talk in hushed tones of the graceful elegance of the great batsman Prince Ranjitsinhji. There was no Indian cricket team in Ranji’s day, so he played for England. In truth my father never saw him play, except maybe briefly on a news report at the cinema in the 1920s.

But Ranji had been filmed earlier, much earlier in the nets in Sydney during an Ashes test match in December 1897, a match in which he scored a brilliant 175 runs in the first innings, the highest score yet made by an England batsman in a test match.

There is some dispute about who made that brief pioneering film. I had always assumed that it was the Australian photographer, H Walter Barnett, briefly returned to Sydney after setting up his studio in London. But, as Sally Jackson in Canberra shows in a current essay*, Barnett did not in reality make that trip home, so the film must have been shot by someone else associated with his business, Falk Studios, there perhaps Frenchman Georges Boivin, Sally suggests.

I was lucky enough to see the film at a presentation at the British Film Institute some years ago, and to a cricket-lover it is fascinating. Without the protection of either pads or gloves, Ranji plays with the softest of soft hands, turning the ball deftly to fine leg. Of course, he was the perfector of that stroke, the leg glance, now a standard part of every good batsman’s technique. 

Surely it’s time for this historic footage to emerge from the darkness of the BFI’s archives into the public domain?


Thursday, 3 July 2014

Cutting knife crime

I learn from a review in the Literary Review* by Christopher Howse that

In Germany it is rude to cut potatoes with a knife; in France, rude to cut salad with a knife; in Spain, rude to cut a fried egg with a knife.

So now we know!

*Henry Hitchins, Sorry! The English and Their Manners, John Murray