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Monday, 30 March 2015

My name sounds so much better when you say it ! ~ Josh

This is a review of While We’re Young (2014)

More views of or before Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

30 March (6, 7 April, Tweets added)

This is a review of While We’re Young (2014)

Whatever Noah Baumbach may have felt about Frances Ha (2012) when he had finished making it (in which Adam Driver (from this film) played Frances’ one-time flat-mate Lev), and whatever he may have felt when he knew how it had been / was being received, may have had no bearing on While We’re Young (2014) : one forgets the likely gestation of things (just as film-makers forget what we may notice about their technique), and unthinkingly wishes to see the next film as some sort of progression from what we previously saw.

For, if that were the reality of film-making, a linear succession of films (with no spurs, dead-ends, recursions), one would be tempted to say that this one is for whatever reason striving to be as little like Frances Ha as possible. That film has its nods, and, staying with Woody Allen, one now feels a touch of Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) at times, but also of all of these, too, at others (in alphabetical order) :

* Celebrity (1998) ~ Jamie Massey (Adam Driver) bears resemblances to Lee Simon (Kenneth Branagh), with his opportunistic, if unfocused, ambitiousness (and to that of Oscar Isaac (as Llewyn Davis) ? please see below)

* Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989) ~ Josh (Ben Stiller) is, occasionally, a little in the vein of the character of Lester (Alan Alda), other times that of Cliff Stern (Woody Allen)

* Deconstructing Harry (1997) ~ Here, Josh mirrors what happens to Harry Block (Woody Allen), which is also at the time of someone being ‘honoured’

* The Double (2013) ~ On which we begin to converge

* The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) ~ Also played by Ben Stiller (as Walter), but on better form, and with a better version of this sort of ‘character-journey’ ?

* The Talented Mr Ripley ~ Please see next item

* The Way Way Back ~ Such seduction / attractiveness, but, from Sam Rockwell (Owen), in reverse, and not for ill and also in and through the retro feel / ethos (rather than, say, invoking the analogue / digital paradigm of The Matrix (1999)…)

** Turtle Diary* (1985) ~ Shamanistic initiations (in Russell Hoban's (@russellhobanorg's)novel, it was rebirthing, probably little included in the screenplay (one forgets), by Harold Pinter)

What, then, would a film look like that had fragments of these other films embedded in it ? Well, one that is trying to find how character can drive plot, perhaps, since Frances depends, as well as on her (Greta Gerwig’s) relationship with Sophie (Mickey Sumner), on the personality of Frances, in relation to that of others, and the film’s direction arises from it. While We’re Young has a much more obvious story-line, which those who could not relate to Frances were presumably missing…

In the event, though, structurally at the over-arching level this film does still resemble Frances (or, equally, Deconstructing Harry) : the bulk of the film is, relatively speaking, at the microscopic level, but the coda (here, with an explicit statement as to the passing of time) puts it in a macroscopic context. One may remember, likewise, how Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) concludes, where Mickey and Holly’s (Woody Allen and Dianne Wiest’s) union is blessed with an unexpected pregnancy or, even getting to that point, how their chance meeting in a record store is able to benefit both from the passing / healing of time, and by Mickey (who finds himself able to share it with Holly) having had an epiphany that has moved him on.

Films that do not do this (both Allen’s and those of others) may still do something that has a similar effect, i.e. of putting distance on what the rest of the film has depicted staying with Allen, and giving another example from his canon, To Rome With Love (2012) starts with the perspective of the traffic policeman, who comes out of his role (directing the traffic) to direct us into the film. After immersing us in the action, Allen ends it with the viewpoint of the householder in another dramatic Roman location, overseeing the Coliseum, who gently reminds us that the four strands of story that we have seen are just part of what he could tell us another time. (Other films may be less explicit in so doing, using part of the language of cinema itself, by slowly zooming in on our locale at the beginning, and then, nigh ritualistically, by taking us back out again by way of conclusion That's all, folks !)

What Noah Baumbach does with While We’re Young is to seek the same misdirection at the close as at the start (along with the literary red herring of Henrik Ibsen's The Master Builder), coupled with whether faked or not a little piece of pure observation about where one generation puts itself in relation to another : how, in the face of the impact of technology*** (epitomized by such films as Her (2013)), sometimes the things that we have in common (as Joaquin Phoenix [Theodore Twombly] does with Amy Adams [Amy]) count for more than what might separate us, and so we are left with the incredulous gaze / expression of Naomi Watts.

Does the film try too hard to be more than one thing, and so dissipate its energies, because, by not being any one thing (arguably, since life itself is not any one thing), it ends up being not very much ? It certainly felt that it did, and it had stylistic features that made one question whether, when they appeared too obvious, they added not to feeling invited to relish the artisanal nature of the enterprise (and, with it, its status as a constructed reality), but, rather, that it was more amateurish in nature, and that Baumbach had employed techniques without (much) regard to what they would look like to those who saw (through) them :

* Such as the patent use of different people being in light and shadow, although in the same, ostensibly undifferentiated setting :

* Or the reaction-shots that foreground, bottom left or right (and extremely out of focus), what is sometimes no more than an impression of a sleeve or shoulder almost as if to parody notions of what a reaction-shot is supposed to include (required by 'industry standards' ?) so that one 'knows' that it is one, but to do so in such a way that, if it is not meant to resemble on the fly documentary footage (after all, this is the genre of the film within a film consistent with using that fast-pan onto Josh when he finds something on Google® ?), it looks incompetently done.

* Most curious of all, the scene at Lincoln Center when Josh confronts Jamie a wide, low long-shot that, looking dead, has absolutely nothing going for it, either in itself, or within the edit. Suddenly, it feels that someone unused to making the impact of a setting tell (such as the scene behind the windows) has stepped too far back, and lost the subjects... Or as if it had not been deliberate to take it to use it, it had to be used for want of anything better.

If, though, one just unquestioningly consumes what is exemplified above in viewing the film, maybe the result is that one just dips in and out of Josh’s life as a more likeable and less fractured type of Inside Llewyn Davis**** (2013), which, conceivably, is Harry Block (from Deconstructing Harry) with the softer features that Stiller has as Walter Mitty ?

So even if maybe for the wrong reasons (unless Baumbach is actually trying to please, and to work through theses for an elite about being mimetic in cinematic style / technique ?) this is a film that does / can get one thinking : it has a slow-burn of a response, which, for others, persisted, beyond the immediate three hours afterwards, following Under the Skin.

Yet, unlike that dismayingly dazzling ending, the one here could be seen (in the same way that Frances 'deals with her issues') as normalizing the paranoia / projection that Josh vividly gives us (and which, although we may be slow to believe that Stiller is a film-maker (let alone Watts), we buy into, it must be said which is the real power of the film), and endorsing a rather tame message that Time heals ?

* Frances and Sophie did make one laugh, whereas one is aware that Josh (Stiller), Cornelia (Watts), Jamie (Driver), and Darby (Seyfried) are (being) amusing ?

** There is some speculation, here, about a re-make :

*** The cover-all word (along with technological advance) that indulges / excuses everything, and makes it seem acceptable to be drawn into having the latest ‘device’ (another such word), rather than dismissing it as gadgetry ?

**** Another point of contact with Adam Driver, who there is Al Cody, Llewyn Davis’ friend / fellow musician.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Thursday, 26 March 2015

A tight, five-piece band of incurable romantics ?

This is a review of a mystery gig at The Stables on Wednesday 25 March 2015

More views of or before Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

26 March (29 March, much-needed textual revision)

This is a review [sort of] of a mystery gig at The Stables (@StablesMK) on Wednesday 25 March 2015 at 8.00 p.m.

Declaration of interest : If you can work out the genealogy (which will be deliberately made confusing), you are better at it by far than The Agent : to the father of whom one member of the line-up is a second cousin (and, customarily, vice versa), and whom The Agent saw in a related band, at this venue, probably six years ago (as well as once before, in childhood)

Handshake I :
Nowadays, despite the loss of Sir John Dankworth, he is still there to point the way, as ever, to good music at The Stables (@StablesMK) ! :


Well, at least it is legible (even if its compiler reports being ribbed for using >36pt bold caps !) whereas previous sets of gig- or screening-notes have looked daunting (with comments written across, or over, others), the ones from last night, inexplicably, are much more likely to be pretty impenetrable to interpretation, except, when properly construed, to provide an odd reminder.

An odd reminder, that is, as to when Andrew Davis had treated us to a generously rich solo (most often, but not exclusively, on electric guitar), or to poignant phrases in the lyrics (now sadly but scribbled), or to how James Warren (usually, but not exclusively, the lead vocalist) rendered them James’ vocal quality being almost unchanged from when The Korgis (@TheKorgis) were in the charts in the UK (and significantly so*), as well as elsewhere in the world …

For, yes, we are talking of The Korgis (but also not exclusively, for there is also to bear in mind), whose current personnel (by surname, in alphabetical order) are, and to whom reference will be made, through propinquity, by Christian name :

Andrew Davis ~ guitars (electric and acoustic), vocals
Glenn Tommey ~ keyboards
Eddie John ~ drums
Clare Lindley ~ violin, guitar, vocals
James Warren ~ bass, vocals

The main event

For reasons elaborated, trying a number-by-number canter through the (impressive) set-list may not lend itself easily to The Agent’s ‘hand-written’ material (and, no, it is not a legacy of the gig !). Yet, although it would be better by far not to look to rely on it, if at all, beyond passing comments to give a flavour of the two sets (where possible), shall we venture what can be conjured up... ?

Despite familiarity with The Korgis’ canon, only 40% of those played were not new to The Agent (four songs in each ten-song set). (Some of these would not have been known to anyone outside their usual entourage, because they had, one was told, needed to run over them new in the sound-check.) To begin with, numbers 1, 2, 5, 6, 8, and 9 were unfamiliar (those without an asterisk) :

Need to check titles / add dates

First set (dates in parentheses are release-dates of singles, or (if not) of albums [in square-brackets]) :
1. One Life (1992)
2. Rainy July
3. * Art School Annexe [1979]
4. * I Just Can’t Help It (1980)
5. Lines
6. Hold On
7. * Young 'n' Russian (1979)
8. The Road to Venezuela
9. Rover’s Return
10. * Mount Everest Sings the Blues (1980)

‘One Life’ (1) had an opening riff (from Andrew ?), and was our introduction to Clare with strokes on violin, though by no means illustrative of her later demonstrations of dexterity, such as, gypsy style, in ‘Rainy July’ (2), with its quirky feel (hardly unusually for The Korgis, which have made a base-camp in Quirky), and tapping rhythms this first song, though, spoke (and perhaps dreamily) of One chance to make it work, and referred to ‘power and dominion’.

Art School Annexe (3) was the first piece to utilize three-part vocal harmony (from Clare, James, and Glenn), and both guitars had a ‘twangy’ feel to them (for want of a technicalese term). This was by no means an attempt to reproduce, note for note, the track from the self-titled album in 1979 [link to the web-page on Wikipedia®] where James' vocal characterization is more 'eager' but to work with the musical forces and personalities in the group.

It also provided the gig’s point of entry both for the expression of, and our appreciation of, what are, probably, quite candidly lyrics in relation to the Englishness of maybe not Sir John Betjeman (just too whimsical ?), but the likes of P. G. Wodehouse, or Dame Edith Sitwell. And quite, quite different from ‘I Just Can’t Help It’ (4) :

More so than (3), this song feels like hallmarked Korgidom [a word that sounds better than it looks !]: both James and Andrew were now singing, Clare had switched to (acoustic) guitar, and we had soaring synths. Sometimes with three-part, sometimes with four-part harmony, it was calling out for a solo from Andrew, which came to meet us, then reverted to the latter, only for us to have an even finer solo from him, closing with the four voices a captivating combination of the already experienced and the spontaneous, as befits a title such as ‘I Just Can’t Help It’.

After these well-known numbers came ‘Lines’ (5) and ‘Hold On’ (6). The first, a calypso, had another riff from Andrew, a wow-wow effects-pedal that altered Clare’s playing (and which we heard, later, in (10)), and a floated vocal from Glenn the music was mesmeric in style, choosing to conflict with throatily telling us that the song’s persona knew, because he was right behind you (reminiscently of threat, of retribution, in Matthew Fisher's solo album I’ll Be There [Fisher as in that litigated organ-solo in 'A Whiter Shade of Pale'], and the track of that name ?)…

A very different tone from that of ‘Hold On’ (6) (which characterized the contrasts, in this set, between neighbouring numbers), solidly in the band’s repertoire of what is reassuring and (non-pejoratively) ‘easy’. In three-part harmony (Clare, James, and Glenn again), a sincere pleading of being ‘without love’ : Please don’t leave me, and an invocation of Just a little magic.

Not to be lightly passed over is ‘Young and Russian’ (7), but, for the nonce, remarking on the Moscovian, sub-zero blue hue to the lighting, and Clare playing violin motifs with a pronounced intonation a song as relevant as ever to the rise of post-Soviet societal normative aspirations, with a nod to Pravda newly heard in The truth is revealed. Another change of mood, not to mention continent (and in unknown song-territory), was in ‘The Road to Venezuela’ (8), with its ‘multi-coloured smiles’, and a most welcome mention of Lewis Carroll’s Bandersnatch (from ‘Jabberwocky’) whatever exactly that may have been about, guitars alternated sections with violin, leading to a distinct military beat, and, before the tragic feel of the close (?), very lively playing from Clare.

The set closed, in ‘Rover’s Return’ (9), with an instrumental, complete with red lighting, Clare’s psychedelic violin, and (at the end) sampled bark (and a bell) from Glenn [all of which, with these good people, may have been some allusion to the sonnet / programme that underlies the Largo of Vivaldi's Op. 8, No. 1 (RV 269) ?], and with ‘Mount Everest Sings the Blues’ (10) : up tempo, and a funky solo from Andrew (back on electric guitar after 9), and then from Clare (after more wow-wow pedal).

A good place to end the set and one where to tempt you if you want to catch The Korgis live ?

* * * * *

Need to check titles

Second set (dates in parentheses are release-dates of singles, or (if not) of albums [in square-brackets]) :
11. Fundamentally Yours
12. Perfect Hostess (1980)
13. Dumb Waiters (1980)
14. If It’s Alright With You, Baby
15. * Cold Tea (1979)
16. * Boots and Shoes [1979]
17. Something About The Beatles (2006)
18. * Everybody’s Gotta Learn Some Time (1980)
19. * If I Had You (1979)
20. True Life Confessions (1985)

After tea with Johnny D. [a coinage offered to The Korgis for a tribute-song to @StablesMK], the first four numbers were all unknown, and, as Clare was to comment afterwards, some songs are rather short (and she also plays with @Stackridge, who have some epic tracks, in absolute terms**), particularly, one agreed, nos 11 to 13 (which had in common that they created ‘a mood’, before ‘If It’s Alright With You, Baby’ (14) :

Fundamentally Yours*** (11) was played ‘straight ahead’, with violin embellishments from Clare, and came directly from base-camp at Quirky. Conceivably as with ‘O Maxine’ (? from the 1979 album), a meditation on what some will do to satisfy [their] friends, but not for themselves (or, more specifically, those nearer to them) or, put another way, on partners to whom we are [allow ourselves to be ?] drawn, but who frustrate us ?

Andrew took the lead vocal on ‘Perfect Hostess’ (12), which came at this subject of relationships / partners from a yet more ironic (even sombre ?) direction, despite Clare elegiacally weaving an extended violin solo over it. Then James resumed with ‘Dumb Waiters’ (13), which was the ‘A side’ from the single that these two songs had shared, and where the irritated mood seemed to be with life generally, but transferred (as Freud might say) to waiters [not a Pinteresque Dumb-Waiter, but the ordinary, two-legged variety] as if it to break it, before we moved on, Clare remarked in passing That was a fast one !

Next came what James announced as an homage (though one forgets now quite to whom / what…) in ‘If It’s Alright With You, Baby’ (14), singing very raw and high Is it asking too much / To be more than a friend ?. And, there, The Agent's notes evaporate in incoherence, but the song was, again, in this vein of the kind of relationship that one wants, but wants to be different.

It was followed by an exceptional version of the noir ‘Cold Tea’ (15), not employing the Doppler-like siren of the 1979 single, but played laid back, and easy on the beat, and with Clare using effects-pedals (reverb, and slight distortion ?). At one point, near the end, her playing went stratospheric, with her violin a foil to the all-male voices of Glenn, James, and Andrew. Once more, too, a counterpoint to the romanticized idealism (?) of ‘I Just Can’t Help It’ (and two numbers to come (18 and 19)) ?

‘Boots and Shoes’ (16) set its tone through driving violin and synths, and vocals from Andrew (supported by James) the band was really rocking this song ! And it had an eerie, lengthy coda, complete with soaring and accented solo from Andrew, playing with spirit, but it did not stay with him, closing instead on Clare.

The unknown ‘Something About The Beatles’ (17), which asks Why did the apple fall to the ground ? (reminding us of Newton at Trinity College, as well as of the demise of Apple Corps), had quiet, spacy synth from Glenn, and Clare on acoustic guitar. It seems to allude to George Harrison’s ‘Something’ [You stick around now, it may show] in But I do not stick around The Beatles [lyrics caught there or thereabouts ?], and, after a suspension, we had another vibrant solo from Andrew, groovy synth from Glenn, and a ritardando to end.

The international hit ‘Everybody’s Gotta Learn Some Time’ (18) was brought to us in a moody vein****, Eddie John playing cymbals and the smaller drums with padded beaters, and Clare on obbligato violin to James’ lead vocals. In a solo from Andrew, he made intense use of vibrato, and, when Clare came back to prominence, it was with material in the mode of reflective jazz.

Andrew then played meditatively and sweetly in a second solo, and the high sheen of the original recording was brought to us by Clare with bright, shiny effects-pedals, as James sang I need your lovin' / Like the sunshine, closing with chorused repetitions of the title-words. From, perhaps, a slightly dark opening trio of songs, we had been brought into solid, delightful territory from The Korgis and, as it is ideal for a gig to build, and for one to be left with strong sensations, there had been no harm in that, for the audience at The Stables was solidly behind this band.

Probably The Pleasure Principle had thoroughly consumed the approach to making notes by now, because they reveal only that Andrew played slide guitar on ‘If I Had You’ (19). Which, however, can be supplemented by the fact that, for much of the song, the band sang the chorus thus (i.e. changing the last word although, because of its inflection, it is not natural for one to sing it so) :

I could change the world
if I had to
I could change the world
if I had to

‘True Life Confessions’ (20) had the feel of a fiesta to it, with colours from Glenn and Clare, and developed in an easy-going manner : in Andrew’s vocal, we heard True life is just like that. But, even if that is life, things could not stop there, as the crowd called out for more

Encore / reprise of :
21. Mount Everest Sings the Blues (1980)

The Korgis genuinely seemed not to be expecting this (but to make a get-away to The South-West ?), yet, to a little light-show, they gave up this number vigorously, this time with solos that had more jazzy intonations.

All in all, a good night out with a musical cousin of some sort, plus talented and pleasant chums, deserving of a break for cold tea...

Handshake II :


* ‘If I Had You’ (no. 13, 1979), and ‘Everybody’s Got to Learn Some Time’ (no. 5, 1980), to name the greatest successes (in those terms) [courtesy of Wikipedia®].

** ’Revolution 9’, eat your heart out ?

*** Tellingly, or for want of space, rendered on the set-list as ‘Fundament’ ?

**** And, we were told, James was going back to what had been the second verse when the song was written, but he had been overruled…

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Thomas Gould ~ Tom Coult ~ Glenn Gould* : Part I

This is a review of a concert by Britten Sinfonia at Saffron Hall on 22 March 2015

More views of or before Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

25 March (updated 5 May)

This is Part I (finally complete !) of a review of a concert given by Britten Sinfonia (@BrittenSinfonia) at Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden (@SaffronHallSW), on Sunday 22 March 2015 at 7.30 p.m. Part II is here

The programme was directed by Thomas Gould (@ThomasGouldVLN) in Locatelli and Bach (arr. Sitkovetsky), and conducted by Carlos del Cueto in works by Tom Coult (@tomcoult) and Hans Abrahamsen

Concerto Grosso in C Minor, Op. 1, No. 11 (published 1721) Pietro Locatelli (16951764)

1. Largo
2. Allemanda, Allegro
3. Sarabanda, Largo
4. Giga, Allegro

Locatelli’s all-string Concerto Grosso features tutti that scale down to writing for the traditional forces of a string quartet in which one was to find a link with Dmitry Sitkovetsky’s arrangement (from 1985) of Bach, Britten Sinfonia’s (@BrittenSinfonia’s) glowing performance of which occupied the second half of the concert at Saffron Hall (@SaffronHallSW). (In addition to Thomas Gould (associate leader, @ThomasGouldVLN), the quartet comprised Miranda Dale (violin), Clare Finnimore (viola) and Caroline Dearnley (cello).)

As first violin in that quartet, Gould was charming, and yet feeling, and the playing overall was nuanced, with a steady pulse from Finnimore and Dearnley, and good intonation. When we came back to full-string sections, the effect of the ensemble was being made aware of what Locatelli is doing, here, with our sense of time passing.

And, with a suspension led by Gould, he even lulls us into the tempo of the second movement (and, maybe, catches those not following the programme unawares ?), in the warmth of his scoring, and of the Sinfonia’s playing. There are calls, and responses, between the divided strings, and they felt quite natural, the articulation giving the music room to breathe. Gould, as leader, had strophic contributions to make, which were compelling and intelligent, along with lovely resonant ones from the double-basses (Stephen Williams and Roger Linley), in this Rondo-type Allegro.

A hesitancy about the Sarabanda allowed Gould to lead the players into giving us the depths of the music with great insight, as Locatelli once more brought down the scale to smaller groupings. This time, he gave us a trio (without viola), then expanded the texture, before reducing to a quartet, and back to a trio. His transitions, and how they were performed, felt despite being so Protean utterly assured.

In that second trio, Dearnley’s cello-tones provided yearning under-currents to Gould’s violin, whilst it lasted, for Locatelli's additive impulse was to bring Finnimore in, and then more and more strings. Very expressive writing for, and playing from, Gould resembled a cadenza, before the gesture of a cadence (no pun intended), and bows raised, brought the movement to a conclusion.

The closing Allegro was full of joy : it had a lively beat from the basses and four cellos (whose Caroline Dearnley could be seen, smiling at a felicity in Locatelli’s part for her). There was tremendous momentum in this Giga, and it was brought to us with such wit, grace and charm not to take us away from the tenderness of the preceding Largo, but to validate and reinforce it.

In essence, a piece of music as worthy, in its compactness and concision, of our attention as those of Vivaldi, yet they far more often receive it.

My Curves are not Mad (2015) Tom Coult (1988)

The exhibition of Henri Matisse’s cut-outs at Tate Modern (@tate) was massive in its influence and attraction, so no wonder that it reached out to composer Tom Coult (who quotes Matisse’s publication Jazz in the title)…

His work opens teasingly, with string-effects (however they may be notated) that felt like snatching, and something that was not quite howling, and to which were added notes given pizzicato. As it wound up, there was the realization that the textures started to stand out against the full string-sound, and that there were antiphonal elements, with writing for double groups of strings [as also utilized by Sitkovetsky, in arranging Bach, and by Locatelli (please see above)], as well as a low throb, or hum, from the double-basses.

In what followed, where we had violins and violas, alone and separated, we became quite clear why there was a conductor, for, rhythmically, this was a vivid music of juxtaposition, giving rise to an extreme sensation of floating. Already, by now, reminiscent of Ligeti, the use of string-tapping put one somewhat in mind of his Clocks and Clouds, but in a whole other place, which was fragmentary, as well as free and pure. We were led to a very still experience of what was, maybe, movement, melting, growth…

Then Coult brought us back to the feel from earlier on, and to the throb, and the hum : this time, the treatment of the thematic material was in longer, lower note-divisions, with upper adornments and accompaniments. An initial impression of concord gave gradually way to one of dissolution, almost perhaps disintegration ? At this point, very earnestly and sincerely, the theme appeared to be picked out, alongside the low strings of the basses, and with nascency in the use of harmonics.

Fleetingly, in what had gone before, Coult seemed to allude to Copland (in the last setting in Appalachian Spring, ‘Simple Gifts’), but now, bringing out the simple harmony of it, the quotation seemed patent, heralding a huge suspension, with the feel of some sort of call of the wild. Coult left the harmonies unresolved, and, returning to prior motifs, gestures and fragments, evoked hunting-calls, before reducing to, and ending on, one instrument, one string.

The work was received with enthusiasm, as was Coult to the stage, who, in turn, acclaimed conductor and players, before taking bows himself.

This had been an accomplished piece of writing, co-commissioned with donations to the Sinfonia’s campaign Musically Gifted, and it fitted well with its early-eighteenth century antecedent in Locatelli as much the skill and style of these musicians to make this seem right, though not to take away from Coult’s approach to composition. In his programme-note, he had credited his appreciation of that of Matisse himself, erecting invisible, objective structures, and modestly left us to make what we would, uninfluenced, of his art and sound, though we were in no doubt how well the Sinfonia responded to the opportunity to play his piece (now for the third time in performance).

As one looked afterwards at his write-up in the programme, and (via Twitter (@twitter) at his web-site (at, it was evident that this is already an experienced British composer, one in whom to be much interested.

Double Concerto for violin, piano and strings (2011) Hans Abrahamsen (1925)

1. Sehr langsam und ausdrucksvoll [Very slow and [if distributive, very] expressive]
2. Schnell und unruhig [Quick and restless]
3. Langsam und melancholisch [Slow and melancholic]
4. Lebhaft und zitternd [Lively and trembling]

Befitting the marking [sehr ?] ausdrucksvoll, the strings built in intensity, then we heard Alasdair Beatson on piano : we might already have noticed the beater that he had on the top of the instrument, resting, waiting to be deployed, and then when we had already seen and heard it we were aware of him reaching, deep under the lid, for a low note to set resonating… The movement proper then began, with patterns that alternated between him and, on solo violin, Thomas Gould. We then moved, following piano-leaps in octaves, to extremely high and very quiet touches from Gould, echoed in the top keys of the piano, and that was where the movement ended.

At the start of the faster, second one, Beatson had to reach under again, this time to modify notes played with one hand with the other. Next, came chords on the piano, with violin cadenzas the chords were redolent of Messiaen’s sound-world, and, before a caesura, the composer dwelt on rhythms and patterns. Afterwards, a jazzy riff from Gould gave way to muted piano sounds, and then manual ‘twanging’ of its strings. As the movement grew louder, with a bell-like fervour, the double-basses brought out dragging effects, before we reduced to Caroline Dearnley on cello, and the close.

The marking Langsam und melancholisch was hardly untrue, with the movement beginning with the soloists Beatson playing a repeated note, to which, at an interval, Gould added. All of this was setting up an entry from the ensemble, complete with plangent, open piano-chords, and a telling contribution from Gould, before descending gestures that evoked Arvo Pärt (in Fratres). Next, a string-group meditated alone quietly, and, when the piano came in, with further descending gestures, the violin part supported it.

When strings came back up to full, with Gould to the fore, he handed over to Beatson, bringing us measured bell-tones, then muted piano-notes, alongside the orchestra. As the strings took time, the piano gave occasional inputs, and, once we had reduced in intensity to bring Gould momentarily to prominence, we closed, first with him, then with Dearnley and Beatson, and, finally, the string-principals.

The last movement seemed to want to establish a squeaky role for the violin, in the mould of being zitternd, with writing for Beatson, by now, notable by its absence. Throughout, the fact when we know the ‘big’ double-concerto works of having two soloists had focused one on the contrastingly narrow compass of the piece : although the stated markings imply that the transient moods are where we are to dwell on, it tended to draw attention to technique, especially the virtuoso elements in the violin-writing.

Later, Gould’s role was giving us what resembled, by look and sound, violinistic gestures, whereas that of Beatson was to allude to peals of bells. The piece concluded unshowily, almost as an antithesis to how many concertos have ended… and felt as if might have been written for these soloists / players, this conductor, this occasion…

A caveat : Yet, by contrast with the end of Part II of the concert, our being held off from responding by hands and bows kept raised somehow made one’s responses abate, and feel that one’s insight had diminished, or was perhaps less secure. Yes, however well played it had been on the concert stage, the concerto had been what it was, and the hesitation seemed to over-plead for it :

No shorter than the newer work that preceded it, and with a place established in the repertoire, nonetheless this double concerto now felt a little more like a sweetmeat (although, just before the interval, not inappropriately ?). Maybe the programme-note had always suggested that the composer has a depth of feeling, but did the extended gesture of delay overemphasize it (or even make it feel gimmicky ?).

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Thomas Gould ~ Tom Coult ~ Glenn Gould* : Part II

This is a review of a concert by Britten Sinfonia at Saffron Hall on 22 March 2015

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

22 March (24 March, image added)

This is Part II of a review of a concert given by Britten Sinfonia (@BrittenSinfonia) at Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden (@SaffronHallSW), on Sunday 22 March 2015 at 7.30 p.m. Part I is here

The programme was directed by Thomas Gould (@ThomasGouldVLN) in Locatelli and Bach (arr. Sitkovetsky), and conducted by Carlos del Cueto in works by Tom Coult (@tomcoult) and Hans Abrahamsen

Known as The Goldberg Variations***, BWV 988 - Johann Sebastian Bach (16851750), arranged by Dmitry Sitkovetsky* (1954)

Dmitry Sitkovetsky, conductor and violinist, is the uncle of British violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky (born in Moscow)

In 32 further paragraphs, an attempt to characterize Sitkovestsky’s arrangement and the performance, whose principal players, other than Thomas Gould himself (TG, associate leader of the Sinfonia), were (in order around the stage), Caroline Dearnley (CD, principal cello), Stephen Williams (SW, principal double-bass), Clare Finnimore (CF, principal viola), and Miranda Dale (MD, principal second violin) :

1. The aria à 5 for the principals too early to say what Sitkovetsky has done ?

2. A cleanly executed bass-line, and, with orchestration as clear as Schoenberg’s of Brahms, this is going to be a pleasure !

3. Listening to the separation of the lines across the various string-groups…

4. A longer treatment of this variation, with a feel of a duet with TG, after CD has initially been to the fore (and in a style of voice that is reminiscent of the Cello Suites, BWV 10071012), and then with SW and MD joining in

5. Beautiful bass-lines, plus perfect tutti

6. Fun with fast writing for CD, playing with TG, who then duets with MD

7. A sensation as of swooning, to which touches from the double-basses are added, and then back as we were, before further slight touches, this time within the texture

8. The ambience passes to TG and CD again (and BWV 10071012 ?), with sympathetic accents from the former on what the latter is playing

9. An alternation between Lightly skating and Straight

10. A trio of TG, CD and MD, and with a gracious tone from him

11. We are passed from the desk of cellos to other desks, to bring out the line

12. CD duets with CF, with CD’s part, at first, complicated, till the complication moves to CF, and then TG enters, with a brief duet with CF

13. The mood that Sitkovetsky accesses is triumphant, but the tone and intensity ease off and back again, bringing out the detail in Bach’s writing

* 14. A scoring for obbligato violin (TG) and a small group (the violas and cellos)

15. A sense of energy, and Sitkovetsky identifies the tension, not least in the skittish cello-writing

16. Sparingly deploying the violas, against the brightness of the violins, then reducing to forces of TG’s heart-wrenching violin (with CD and CF), before going back up to full strength (minus double-basses), and back to trio mode and are we not a little reminded of how BWV 1080 (Die Kunst der Fuge) seemingly ends mid air ?

17. An opening of flourishes, with first violins, cellos and double-basses, then to MD, across the stage from TG, and adding in CF and CD an excitement to this, with the rare use of the basses

18. A variation for quartet, closing with a big smile from CD to TG

19. Restraint, and restrained elegance, which quietly come down

20. Pizzicato, played pp, to accompany the violas the proverbial pin did not make its drop heard

21. With a pulse from the double-basses, a notion of tumbling, and with fast writing, alternating between TG and CF

* 22. The sadness is in the cellos, but moves to CD playing with CF, and with colour from TG blended in

23. A sprightly variation, with tremulous / trilling string-dazzle

24. TG opens, links with CD, who passes to MD, and with colour from SW

25. The mood of dance, with a pulse of basses, and Sitkovetsky brings out the writing through the second violins, and with further trills, but not dazzlingly this time

* 26. CF (joined by the violas), to which CD (and the rest of the desk) adds, is heard under TG, playing feelingly, and with a slightly jazzily inflected tone as the section recurs first, one is beyond grief, and then, the second time, TG renders it very finely and tenderly

27. A stately treatment, moving to fast writing for CD, then for CF

28. CF alternates with MD, joined by SW, and then their desks alternate, with the strength of both double-basses, until we end with TG and CF

29. The variation has a clear quality of sheen to its opening section, but it becomes somewhat spiky, with TG playing against pizzicato strings, before the sheen reverts (for a while)

30. CD was clearly enjoying the cello gestures at the start, and it then went back and forth from TG to CD to MD to CF

31. Low and slowly paced bass-notes grounded a sense of unity, and, in the tutti, the ensemble as a whole became softer, fractionally quieter

32. To close, we had the quartet of TG, CD, CF, MD (later joined, in the under-texture, by SW), and, as Gould played molto espressivo, there were beauty, and pathos, and tears in this aria

Inevitably, there have to be a few more words than the 32 paragraphs…

No one quite felt free to applaud afterwards, such was the impact of this tremendous performance and in no way restrained by the performers.

For, in her programme-notes, Jo Kirkbride had written ‘As the listener is led back, after Variation 30, to the Aria once more, its simplicity shines anew, basking in the reflection of all that has come in between’. Yet, although we had probably been there countless times before, with different performers and versions (Keith Jarrett’s recording, for ECM, on harpsichord had accompanied the journey to the venue), nothing felt quite like this :

The pride at our Britten Sinfonia, with this insightful performance, and our pleasure in the players whom we have not only followed down the years, but also come to know and to trust their judgement and intuition.

Two jazzers, one Bach

And, as Kirkbride says, this arrangement has been lovingly and painstakingly done, which was originally for the 300th anniversary of Bach’s birth, but we can always say that this was for his 330th (his birthday was 21 March, after all) !

In the first half, were works by Locatelli and by composers now alive, Tom Coult and Hans Abrahamsen : reviewed here (as Part I)


* Sitkovetsky dedicated his arrangement to Glenn Gould (no relation ?).

** As it stands, the account given is of this one work, in the second half of the concert the rest of the review is a work in progress...

*** Printed, in 1641, as Clavier Ubung bestehend in einer ARIA mit verschiedenen Verænderungen vors Clavicimbal mit 2 Manualen

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Happiness is a warm gun ~ The Beatles

This is a short-form review of x + y (2014) plus Q&A with director Morgan Matthews

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

21 March

This is a review of x + y (2014), as screened at The Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge (@CamPicturehouse), followed by a Q&A with director Morgan Matthews, on Thursday 19 March at 6.15 p.m.

NB This is the edited version (without the Pre-text, and the Sub-text) the full version is here

This is a charming film, which rotates the notions of what hinders, and what assists, communication and, although the question put to director Morgan Matthews suggested that x + y (2014) has a convergence with the story of Good Will Hunting (1997), it does very much more than what is, in essence, a two-hander for Robin Williams and Matt Damon*.

Actually, x + y sometimes feels as though it is doing slightly too much, both for its running-time** and own good, in trying to touch upon the immense issue of self-harm only in passing, and also as to whether it unduly offers hope, even if rooted in one person’s life (please see below), for overcoming what seems intractable behaviour of an autistic nature. Thus, we hear the words ‘the spectrum’ several times, as well as a cynical attitude from Richard (Eddie Marsan) about disability, in specific relation to (intellectual) achievement and whether MS (multiple sclerosis) is [being used as] an excuse :

In common with What’s Eating Gilbert Grape ? (1993) (reviewed by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen for TAKE ONE), a connection is found in the experience of loss. There is, though, a further one in that Baron-Cohen (who also appeared in Matthews’ documentary Beautiful Young Minds (2007)) introduced that screening at The Arts Picturehouse for SciScreen, as well as, as we were told, being at one of x + y a week ago. Baron-Cohen, pre-eminent in his field, is hardly immune as a practitioner in promulgating his own 'take on' autism, which is, let us say (and as recollected from 2013), somewhat suspicious of some notion of not colluding with the sort of diagnostic findings that are made by, amongst others institutions not as rigorous, perhaps, as his / our Cambridge Lifespan Asperger Syndrome Service (CLASS)... ?

Not that, though, the film is all Asperger’s / autistic spectrum, because without wishing to make it sound any more top heavy, when it really is not, but, as Made in Dagenham (2010) does (with this fim's Sally Hawkins), treats of non-childish things there are also significant resonances with portrayals of grieving, mentoring and awkward patterns of behaviour, which may have us mentally referencing (to name a few, in alphabetical order)***  :

* Another Earth (2011)
* The History Boys (2006)
* The Imitation Game (2014)

Matthews, asked about Good Will, did say that he had revisited the film since its release, and positively so, but did not identify with the convergence* (whose elements will not be argued for more here, beyond that we see finding oneself become more important than ‘success’, and Will being helped to work out, by others, what really does matter...). What Matthews did agree, which he later summarized when answering another question as three films, i.e. (1) the one that one writes, (2) the one that one shoots, and (3) the one that one edits, is that, at stage (3), that he had felt it necessary (not his words) to open up Nathan from the start with a voice-over, which tells us that, whatever Nathan says / fails to say, he is feeling things, but is afraid to say them.

When asked about the character of Luke***, and his role in the film (played by Jake Davies), Matthews was very careful not unlike with Daniel Lightwing to name the person, but said that he had met someone on whom Luke was based in the same (or a similar) connection. (So it is possible that one could identify him from Beautiful Young Minds, if one wanted ?) In the context of the film, it felt as though Luke might have been a not totally assimilated version of what Matthews had observed when making that documentary :

As if expecting we human-beings to be consistent (and live lives in obedience to rational principles, such as in mathematics ?), Matthews, talking to the Picturehouse audience as he oulined the origins of Luke, still seemed struck by the fact that, although some of the young mathematicians had been treated badly at school (as also evoked in The Imitation Game) for being (not his exact words) ‘nerdy’ and ‘not fitting in’, they were apparently blind to the fact that they then did the same to a fellow competitor. (Hardly uniquely, given a part-Cambridge setting, the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO – with its whizzy web-site), was shown as edgily competitive, and not above 'dirty tricks'.)

Matthews acknowledged that, at times, Luke does exclude himself, but said that, when he desires to do otherwise [studying Cleese and Palin, with The Norwegian Blue, and attempting to bring comedy in at the wrong time and in the wrong way], his clumsiness brings him rejection. Almost as if (as fellow IMO competitor Isaac [Cooper***] (Alex Lowther) wants to assert and as Baron-Cohen had seemed to want to allude to, when talking about people such as Arnie Grape (Leonardo di Caprio) in relation to Johnny Depp, as his brother in Gilbert Grape)) there are acceptable 'faces of' autism, and those where people are treated as if they are not making sufficient effort to normalize how they are…

Not for the first time (e.g. Tyrannosaur (2011)), bullying and Eddie Marsan come together. Here, in Richard, it may be of the ostensibly nice variety, which wants nebulous, noble things such as the best for the UK team (whatever the cost to individuals ?), and relishes the competitiveness of life in the IMO village (complete with immediately ominous, but not threatening, Big-Brother-type eye mural), but who vicariously desires a win from those who, he hopes, will be medalists. So he is not uninvolved in what happens and can thus casually seek to side-line the man who has been Nathan’s teacher for seven years…

As for a few other things, such as yoking Keats ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’****, in asserting the beauty of mathematics (when the syllogism that cites an equality between ‘truth’ and ‘beauty’, and vice versa, does not even mention mathematics, and the last two lines are the urn’s apostrophe to another age ?), the very overt symbolism of lights, signals and other sensory overload, and whether Nathan’s problems are really autistic in nature (and / or psychological, in some other interpretation ?), the viewer must judge the weight to give them.

However, what cannot be denied is the centrality and power of what Sally Hawkins brings to this film : heightened, certainly, by the emotional valleys in which we have to be so much, nonetheless the sense of what she feels in this film as Nathan’s mum Julie is very present, and almost bursts through 'the third wall' of the screen, with her fervent wish to find a way to relate to him and for him to understand that she loves him, not that she is a nuisance, or an embarrassment, to be rejected.


* Quite apart from anything, this film does not have Minnie Driver (however funny she is, telling the joke with the black coffee), but the splendid Sally Hawkins, whose acting seems to get ever deeper and more moving, though it has always engaged and entranced (in Happy-go-Lucky (2008), for Mike Leigh, and Made in Dagenham (2010), to name but two).

The convergence itself is also in where the pivotal (and equally therapeutic relationship) between Nathan Ellis (Asa Butterfield) and Zhang Mei (Jo Yang) ultimately leads**, which results in finding something within Nathan that neither Richard*** (Eddie Marsan), nor he, had been hunting. (Even if the story-arc (though maybe for lacking a clear sensation of the passing of time ?) feels as though it truncates the real-life story of Daniel Lightwing, who, we learnt, features in Matthews’ documentary Beautiful Young Minds (2007) (a title that references the Russell Crowe portrayal of John Nash in 2001 ? – with all its implications for linking, as The Imitation Game does, genius with otherness and separateness ?).)

** Even one of 111 minutes, which – confidently – do not flag at all.

*** One could mention Fill de Caín (Son of Cain) (2013), but, after all, there is nothing new under the sun, and it is unlikely that this would have been known to Matthews and James Graham, on which :

Graham was named by Matthews as his co-writer, but IMDb gives only Graham a writing credit. However, it provides no surname for Marsan’s character (Richard), only the surname for Rafe Spall’s (i.e. Humphreys), yet tells us that Nathan’s fellow competitor is Luke Shelton (whereas Nathan is just given as Nathan, but Martin McCann as Michael Ellis)…

**** The poem ends :

When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)