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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Country towns and rural landscapes (Part I)

Last Friday through to Tuesday we got away from London down to Sussex. Friday was the Eastbourne air show, which finished with an excellent display by the formidable Red Arrows. The precision of their flying is incredible, but these days it seems more difficult to enjoy watching them without thinking about the military machine that makes them possible. I realised for the first time the propaganda value derived from these sorts of displays.

On Saturday we took a leisurely drive along the coast, stopping off in Bexhill-on-sea for coffee and to look at the De La Warr Pavilion, a Modernist arts centre designed by architects Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff in 1935. The recent renovation has restored the sleek magnificence of the building, the low, simple form of which is accentuated by the promenade and beach at Bexhill. Strangely, it does not look out of place against the Victorian sea front cottages next door. The pavilion now contains a theatre and two art galleries, one of which was hosting a thought-provoking exhibition by former Turner Prize-winner Jeremy Deller.

On the way into Rye we stopped off in Winchelsea, which claims to be the smallest town in Britain. It certainly is picturesque and unspoilt, its houses, pub (the town once claimed four), and community shop clustered around a large churchyard. Winchelsea has an excellent tea room, which, for anyone who knows Rosemary and me, was obviously not to be avoided!

Friday, August 18, 2006


I've just begun a new project to produce a Sibelius engraved score of Howard Haigh's Saeta. The piece was commissioned by Crouch End Festival Chorus in 1990 and re-performed at the Barbican Centre in 2004. It is scored for large chorus, soprano soloist and chamber orchestra, and is an eclectic mix of Spanish influences and avant garde performance techniques (including "body music" improvised by the singers!). Tremendously original and exciting to perform. Howard recently wrote a Spanish flamenco piece called Land of Light for chorus and his band, Lava (commissioned by Hertfordshire Chorus), which CEFC performed at the Barbican in July.

A big challenge with Saeta is the unconventional notation used in the score, so it's a great piece to cut my Sibelius teeth on. I'll keep you posted on progress here.

We're off to Rye for a long weekend later today, so no more posts until Tuesday or Wednesday next week.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Carpet crawling

Sitting down to supper on Sunday evening I managed to spill an entire glass of rather nice red wine on our honey-coloured carpet in the sitting room, so I've spent the last day or so on my hands and knees spraying, mopping and dabbing with various bottles and cans of carpet cleaner. One of them has a lethal smell and I'm convinced that the 'flu-like symptoms I'm now suffering from are a result of the noxious cocktail of fumes I've been inhaling. It is working though - the stain is almost completely gone, which I would never have thought was possible.

I forgot to mention on Friday that I had been at the British Museum for most of the day. Apart from doing some work on my essay, I also spent some time in the Africa Galleries and two excellent (and free) temporary exhibitions in the Prints and Drawings Gallery devoted to Rembrandt and early French prints and drawings. Rembrandt really was a stunning draughtsman and observer of the nuances of human expression: the character and psychological power of expression in his drawings and sketches is in some cases just as compelling as in his finished canvases. The French drawings were interesting as this phase of the exhibition covered the early academic period, in which there were some fine examples of work by Le Brun (one of the founders of the Academie royale) and Poussin, as well as later works by Claude Lorrain. Later in the year the exhibition will cover drawings for the period to 1900.

iPod music today (mostly at the gym) - Sam Brown and Rickie Lee Jones (who I never tire of).

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Music and essays

The panic is over: I submitted my essay at midnight last night. Boy, was it tedious. Most of my course focuses on western art history, but the last block was about non-western art. The essay was supposed to be about colonial and post-colonial art in India and China (which was never a colonial country in any case, although subject to western influences). The problem was that the course material provided by the OU was (a) sketchy and (b) confusing, which made the construction of a coherent argument a touch tricky. Something tells me this won't be one of the blocks I choose to revise for the exam in October. Still, I'll be happy if I get over 60% for the essay, which is much lower than the marks I've had for the others in the course.

Tonight we're off to Robert Hugill's house to sing through some of his new choral settings. It's been a while since we've sung anything of his, so it will be interesting to hear whether there has been any change in his style over the last couple of years. More on this later...

iPod music over the last few days - Peter Gabriel, various early punk songs courtesy of MOJO magazine, The Libertines, a superb compilation of the best of Weather Report, Blondie's early Plastic Letters album, Supertramp's Breakfast in America (which was one of the first albums I ever bought as a kid), Sinead O'Connor, The Beatles' Blue Album of greatest hits, Kate Bush, The Divine Comedy, Eric Clapton, Green Day, Pink Floyd, and Nirvana.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Two to speak of: I’ve just acquired Sibelius 4 as I want to do some choral score setting. Anyone who has used Sibelius will know that it works best if you use the keyboard for most input (rather than the mouse), which involves getting a USB number pad to work with my notebook. Little did I know that not all number pads emulate the numeric keypad (which Sibelius is picky about...), and of course I bought one that was unsuitable. My second niggle is with this blog. I’m experimenting with Word 2007 beta to generate and post my blogs, and the help in the beta is, to say the least, sketchy. I’m sure I’ll work it out eventually, but in the time things are a bit slow and cranky.

Day 1

Lots to do this week – the summer is an ideal opportunity to catch up with all of the CEFC admin that gets pushed to the bottom of the list during the singing year. We’ve also got a break from the BBC Proms this year, so all-in-all August is looking like a quiet month. Mind you, I do have an essay to complete on Indian and Chinese art by Friday (for my excellent Open University Art and its Histories course), so panic is starting to set in. Help!