As subtle as a Spielberg track
MUSIC REVIEW Igor Toronyi
An admission, straight off: Dmitri Shostakovich is not one of my favourite composers. His music is so cold and whiny that I hardly ever want to listen to it, though I do acknowledge that some of it is significant and even beautiful. Now, you may not think this is a very generous statement, especially during his centenary year –especially at Christmas –but I would have to say neither is his music. What aggravates these feelings is the attempt, by academics and marketing agents alike, to politicise his oeuvre as much as possible, all done with the express purpose of persuading me to like his music. Programme notes do their best to stuff his music full of political guff. The Sixth Symphony’s oddness is “an ironic comment on the appalling contradictions of life in Stalin’s Soviet Union”; the C major chord is his favourite musical symbol for authority; the eleventh is an Aesopian fable, “really” commenting on the suppression of the Hungarian uprising of 1956. Really. The point is that none of this matters; none of it tells me whether I should like or dislike the music. Of course, whenever Shostakovich did provide a political narrative to his works, either in towing the party line or in vehemently reacting against it, he tended either to rant or to drift into apologia, and in both cases the music suffered. But we should not attack (or defend) his music simply because of its political content or associations: astounding
Dmitri Shostakovich: He knew how to party when he wanted to
works are often produced in the most inauspicious of political circumstances – think of Carl Orff in Nazi Germany. Rather, we should judge music on musical grounds alone. Fortunately, Valery Gergiev and his
Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra provided the perfect experience for this sort of analysis, emphasising the musical at the expense of the satirical as they performed a cluster of Shostakovich symphonies in their three-day sojourn at
the Barbican. For Shostakovich’s reputation this was mostly bad news. In the symphonies that are unavoidably political the performances exposed a poverty of interesting musical ideas. No 12, dedicated to the October Revolution, appeared boorish, simplistic and lopsided; while No 11, describing the brutal events of 1905, was as subtle as a Spielberg soundtrack. What saved me from the interminable boredom of these suffocating brutes was the orchestra. It was not just the players’ distinct features that engrossed, their big noses, short foreheads and greasy ponytails; it was also their ability to produce sounds that were quite different from those of any other orchestra in the world. The brass section was so technically assured that an air of flippancy crept in, adding a real buzz to their playing. In tutti climaxes they would produce a huge noise, full of crackle, as if a forest of trees was being felled stage right. Indeed, everyone was pretty impressive: the flutes and piccolo wailed precisely in the finale of the 11th; the timpanist went ballistic in the 10th, every carom showing in his stupefied face. A truly sympathetic and attractive portrait of Shostakovich, however, only emerged in the two earliest symphonies that they performed: the Second and the Sixth. Despite its final glib paean, the Second revealed more orchestral innovation than the rest of the symphonies put together: 12-voice polyphony, a caterwauling factory whistle, and melodies that breathed. The Sixth, even with all its apparent incongruities, seemed wonderfully clear: prolonged introspection disappeared into a cloud of perfectly executed, vodkafuelled rambunctiousness, In the rowdy final bars, as the double basses started to lurch and sway, the revelry became infectious. Shostakovich certainly knew how to have a party when he wanted to. Pity he didn’t want to more often.
A timid Death and a mildly irritated mortal
BALLET REVIEW Dennis Chang
Ever since I saw Roland Petit’s Le jeune homme et la mort at the Palais Garnier two years ago I have longed for a visionary impresario to bring the work back to London. It seemed like a prayer answered when Sadler’s Wells announced that the iconoclastic 1946 shocker –based on a poem of the same name by Jean Cocteau –was to be staged for Igor Zelensky and Darcey Bussell, the most celebrated Russian dancer and English ballerina of the last two decades. But, with the Wackhevitch set and Karinska costumes meticulously
reconstructed by La Scala’s production team, it was a monumental disappointment to leave the theatre feeling that the entire enterprise had been a big damp squib. In Cocteau’s poem, a young man hangs himself after he is rejected by his lover; in Petit’s adaptation, the girl who causes his anguish becomes a more ambiguous figure –part fleeting acquaintance, part romantic interest, but ultimately a messenger of death, who returns to lead the soul of the young man over the rooftops of Paris. On paper, Bussell has all the attributes to make an ideal Death –tall, statuesque, and powerfully athletic. But when she extended those endless legs into her now trademark “six o’clock” position, it felt more like the blossoming of an English rose than the unfolding of a switchblade in a Parisian back alley. When she arched her back, her melting silhouettes recalled the romantic exclamation of an Ashtonian tragedienne, rather than the contemptuous laughter of a femme fatale. Most devastatingly of all, Bussell’s gazes lacked conviction. She was timid looking into her victim’s eyes, and, in Petit’s graphic simu
lation of sex, seemed simply embarrassed. For the most chilling (and the most glamorous and alluring) Death, one has to turn to an old film of Petit’s wife, Zizi Jeanmaire, who raged through the despicable proceedings with a frightening smirk. In the face of Bussell’s limp-wristed opposition, Zelensky’s Young Man was an inevitable non-starter. Instead of being crushed by her cruelty, he seemed merely irritated by a nagging girlfriend. With short-cropped hair and a pasty torso, the 37-year-old Zelensky embodied little of the sexuality exuded by Jean Babilée, the role’s original creator. Without a smouldering rebel holding court, Petit’s tablebanging, chair-throwing, and cigarettesmoking hothouse drama looked like outdated nonsense. Across town in Bussell’s natural habitat of WC2, the Royal Ballet was staging its most adventurous programme of the year, with brand new works by Wayne McGregor and Christopher Wheeldon sandwiching George Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments . Never before had it struck me so profoundly that the survival of a
dance work can often hinge on the strength of its music. In the case of The Four Temperaments , Balanchine and Paul Hindemith’s mastery are matched. If the McGregor and the Wheeldon were never to be performed again, the feeble new scores may well be the chief culprits. They revealed the Royal Ballet’s desperate need for a musical director who can exercise artistic control over commissioning decisions and inspire a capable but complacent orchestra to play at its best at all times. Michael Nyman’s structurally repetitive and harmonically banal music killed whatever inventiveness and subtlety Wheeldon might have envisaged for his Danse à Grande Vitesse . Wayne McGregor’s Chroma fared better with Joby Talbot and White Stripes’s brashly effective soundtrack. It has since emerged that McGregor has been appointed the Royal Ballet’s resident choreographer, a title left vacant since Kenneth MacMillan’s death in 1992. To be the heir apparent to Ashton and MacMillan is more pressure than any 36-year-old deserves, and one can only wish him luck.
DECEMBER 22, 2006 THE CATHOLIC HERALD
Arts Editor: Mark Greaves Tel: 020 7448 3603 Fax: 020 7256 9728 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
MEDIA MATTER Trivia to clutter a young man’s brain
Last week, as part of the festive socialising that seems to start just after Remembrance Sunday these days, I ran into a young friend of mine now in his second year reading English at Cambridge. Next term he has to get going on an optional dissertation, and the topic he has submitted for the approval of his masters concerns the depiction of “the state” in television drama. The inverted commas are mine, of course. I have always been uncomfortable with the notion of “the state”, as opposed to a state, for it is an abstract credited with volition, like “society” and “media” used as a singular noun. Noble Romans invoked the term as an ideal greater than the corrupt and murderous egomaniacs who often acted in its name. But in our own time it became, in its National and International Socialist forms, an object of veneration supplanting God, a vacuum swiftly filled by the demonic. But it is not a doctorate this guy has to write. My first reaction was joy at the opportunity to be of some assistance to a young man in his academic career; that is to be a rambling old bore, cluttering his eager young brain with trivia I just happen to know. Over the years the Christmas edition of this column has often been filled with a quiz; but this time I’m adding a new twist, by inviting readers to supply the answers I can’t remember to questions, arising from the subject described above, that have only occurred to me, briefly, when I’ve been nowhere near a library or a computer. In the early 1970s there was a drama serial called Enemy of the State , in which an Englishman was induced to do a bit of informal spying in Moscow, and found himself up before a Soviet court. I can hum the theme tune, and I can see the lead actor’s face and hear his voice, but I can’t remember his name. Who was cabinet secretary before Sir Humphrey Appleby, when Jim Hacker was just Secretary of State for Administrative Affairs? What was the name of the prime minister played by Ray
McAnally in A Very British Coup ? What’s the name of the actor who plays Alastair Campbell opposite Rory Bremner’s Tony Blair? He was cast for the happy coincidence of talent and facial similarity, and it’s an added stroke of genius that his northern accent, though sounding nothing like Campbell, reinforces the thuggish persona. But who is he? One show that always reassured me that I was not merely a Tory bigot insensitive to hostile comedy was the Marx and Gran masterpiece The New Statesman . But what were Alan B’Stard’s constituencies in the British and European parliaments? Who were the lead actors in If it Moves –File it ? The premise of this short-lived sitcom was pretty much that of the hit radio comedy The Men from the Ministry , starring Richard Murdoch and Derek Guyler (currently being rerun on BBC7). But I can’t for the life of me remember who was in it. Possibly the ultimate expression, or inducer, of paranoia about “the state” in the 1960s, when revelations about the wondrous things our boffins had done in World War Two combined with a pace of technological progress unknown since the 1820s, was Patrick McGoohan’s enduringly superb The Prisoner . “Oh yes!” you cry, “Wonderful stuff!” So go on, then: name all the actors who played Number Two. If nothing else, this will keep your children busy on the net for a few minutes, and introduce them to a television classic in the process. And finally: did anyone watch The Amazing Mrs Pritchard after the first episode? Merry Christmas. Nick Thomas
Left: Rik Mayall as Alan B’Stard
DESPERATE APPEAL FOR HELP Your Christmas gift will be gratefully accepted for a Vehicle urgently needed for a Clinic in a remote village of Ethiopia (Africa) to supply medicines to Aids and Leprosy patients in the neighbouring areas. Please make cheques payable to: PARK PLACE APPEAL FUND Gift Aid Declaration to:Charity:Congregation of The Franciscan Sisters of St. Mary of the Angels. Reference:XR 13955 Please reclaim tax on the donation of £....................... Title ..................... Name ............................................... Surname ......................................................................... Address .......................................................................... ........................................................................................ ............................................Post Code............................ And send it to:Sister Juliette, Park Place Pastoral Centre, Winchester, Fareham, Hants, PO17 5HA. Tel: 01329 833043
Rabbits in woolly hats
More than a few eyebrows were raised when it was revealed that Mark Ravenhill was writing a pantomime for the Barbican. Throughout his career as a playwright Ravenhill has delighted in upsetting people, and the thought of him let loose on the world of children’s theatre was sure to have sent a shudder down a few spines. But, for all the hype, Ravenhill’s Dick Whittington and his Cat is a traditional affair. The closest he comes to shocking is with a few Carry On style innuendoes that thankfully fly over the heads of the children in the audience. Despite the odd concession to modernity (with references to Tony Blair and the congestion charge) he remains on safe ground. His main intention seems to have been to tick all the necessary pantomime boxes. As a result we get a thighslapping principal “boy” (Summer Strallen) in the title role, accompanied by a memorable, kung fu fighting cat (Derek Elroy). A riotous slapstick kitchen scene set on a swaying boat sees the food fly and the house come down, and all of the call and response scenes are present and correct. The production has a somewhat ramshackle quality which works both for and against it. A hilarious fairy godmother (Debbie Chazen)
appears high above the stage on wires and the actors rush into the audience, soaking all and sundry with giant water pistols. Occasionally the atmosphere of organised chaos slips and there are times when the show feels like it is going through the motions. Danny Worters takes the name of his character too literally and his performance as Totally Lazy Jack displays a disconcerting lack of energy for a part which is supposed to be the children’s main means of engaging in the show. Roger Lloyd Pack also disappoints. As a huge fan of Only Fools and Horses (Pack was Trigger), I was impressed with his performance in The Winterling at the Royal Court earlier this year, and was looking forward to seeing him unleashed in the role of Sarah the Cook. However, he never fully embraces the part and throws away many of the best jokes. You get the distinct feeling he doesn’t relish playing a dame as much as Sir Ian McKellen when he appeared as Widow Twanky at the Old Vic in 2004. Nevertheless, the pace doesn’t slacken and the production succeeds its job. My sixyear-old cousin had a fantastic time and that is probably all you need to know. The Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith has a less traditional Christmas show on offer. Watership Down , Richard Adams’s book about a group of rabbits who search to find and then protect a new warren has been brought to life by Melly Still, who directed the National Theatre’s
successful adaptation of Coram Boy . The production sparkles intermittently. Barry Aird’s General Woundwort is suitably chilling and Richard Simons is superb as Kehaar, the pugilistic seagull. The cast also makes good use of strategically placed trampolines and in one joyous scene invades the stage on carrot-shaped pogo sticks and bouncing lettuces. However, the production is ultimately unsatisfying. Even though it is a children’s show there is an age limit of seven, and for all the physical flourishes there are too many staid scenes and the dialogue is unconvincing. Still has also made the baffling decision of making the rabbits distinctly un-rabbit like, losing much of what made the original story so charming. The actors wear woolly hats and berets; it is easy to forget they are supposed to be animals as they stomp around the stage. The only time they are remotely rabbit-like is during some graceful kung fu scenes similar to those in Dick Whittington (kung fu is obviously the fighting style of choice for any self-respecting animal this holiday season). Still was understandably keen to avoid all-out animal impressions, but, rather than find an interesting theatrical solution, she has instead chosen to completely avoid the challenge. The decision is made more bizarre by the fact that the other animals portrayed in the show, including a ferocious dog, are brought to life vividly.
Working in Pastoral Ministry, Religious Education & Leadership in Schools, Catechesis?
M A in Pastoral & Educational Studies A 30 month, distance-learning course with short residential schools commencing January 2007.
There are four pathways from which to choose: Personal, Moral and Spiritual Development Religious Education and Catechesis Chaplaincy for Catholic Schools Educational Leadership for Catholic Schools
Validated by the Open University
The Institute welcomes all students whether or not they are from the Catholic community.
For further details please contact The Postgraduate Secretary, Maryvale Institute, Old Oscott Hill, Birmingham B44 9AG Tel. 0121 360 8118 e-mail email@example.com website www.maryvale.ac.uk
MARYVALE INSTITUTE International Catholic College for Theology Religious Education and Catechesis