Friday, 22 July 2011
Photographs, music and meetings
An all purpose post. Yesterday we went down to the Royal Academy exhibition, Eyewitness, for which I had written one of the three essays, and in which some of my poems are displayed or quoted. Colin Ford, the curator of the exhibition and the writer of one of the other essays, met us for lunch and showed us round. There is a poetry reading planned for 2 September in association with the exhibition with Timothy West, Prunella Scales, myself and another actor (not sure who yet) and we sat down with the organiser of the event, Pele Cox, who turns out to have been a close friend of Steve and Trezza's in the late nineties. She asked about them and the news came as a terrible shock.
The exhibition itself is marvellous in its selection and layout. I couldn't see it before because I was away so much but will certainly see it again. André Kertész is clearly the greatest master among them, but Marton Munkácsi shows up very well too, not to mention Capa. But all the photographs hold their own. It must be galling for the right wing press that all the top four figures in the exhibition were Jewish.
Which takes me on to the concert with András Schiff playing Bartók's Third Piano Concerto. But first to the BBC Prom Plus talk with Malcolm Gillies and Louise Fryer at the Royal College of Music. This was one of my most frightening gigs since my knowledge of music is next to nothing. Malcolm G however knows everything there is to know about Bartók, having written extensively about him, being the leading authority on the subject. I wasn't sure what my function was likely to be, apart from a bit of background babble on Hungarian history and some ideas on exile - matters that could have been dealt with by Malcolm alone, he being a naturally entertaining speaker. But I hobbled through on one wing and several prayers, just about avoiding answering each question with 'Ask Malcolm'. The poor editor, Ellie, was left with the job of cutting our forty-five minutes down to twenty-one and she got straight on the job as soon as we had finished because the programme had to go on air in the concert interval. I mean it has already gone out, and I am half dreading listening to it on BBCi (but I will.)
I should say we arrived at the RCM through a tropical downpour so our legs and shoes were soaked through. It had, thankfully, stopped raining by the time we ran over the road to the Albert Hall. Very nice to be in BBC reserved seats, and next to Malcolm again. The programme is here. The first Sibelius I could take or leave, a bit amorphous and slighty colourless. I'd have liked it with a bit more ketchup really (in music I am a vulgarian with little or no sense of refinement - well, OK, some minimal refinement), the second, the 7th was more stirring, all horns and brass and freezing forests with steely-eyed huntsmen desiring independence. Grand and monumental. Much more bracing.
After the interval it was Schiff and the Bartók. I can leave the ketchup off Bartók but, being the Hungarian Vulgarian I am, I do sometimes want more paprika and goose fat than I am likely to get in a perfectly-laid five star restaurant, or, as is sometimes likely in England, plain fare in an elegiac Brief Encounter railway buffet. Schiff did it beautifully and better, more lingering and lyrical, but when the big tunes - because there are big tunes in this very late work - come in, proper chunes as Joyce might have called a good melody line, especially with those marked rhythms and syncopations, with appropriate thunder, I was moved to tears. I know Malcolm has reservations about the retrograde, possibly pot-boiling nature of the 3rd and I could see what he meant, but, as I confessed to him, there are times one can't help being Hungarian. The fact is a real musicologist can't take me anywhere classy. Ketchup on the floor, a blob of goose fat on the table cloth. I hardly dare speak English in decent places. Schiff is, of course, Jewish, and his letter in the Washington Post on 1 January, lamenting Hungary's presidency of the EU on grounds of racism, has made him very unpopular in parts of Hungary. As the first taxi driver in Budapest asked, 'What does Schiff want to go pissing on the country for?' The driver is a nice man in other respects but I will not be voting for the Taxi Drivers Alliance next election.
Which reminds me of Nicky Campbell's Radio 5 phone-in on Europe yesterday. Three anti-Europeans including Farage with one defender, maybe one-and-a-half, and at the end a female taxi-driver rings in. She wants out of the dictatorship of the Europeans regarding which the working class never had a vote (1975 doesn't count). It is a dictatorship that has changed everything for the worse, she says (Farage keeps praising and encouraging her, telling her she speaks for the great majority). Finally she gets on to the greatly put-upon English race. Race? queries Campbell. Farage keeps encouraging her. She means the people who live in England, he quickly adds. Or some such thing. And encourages her again. He declares he wants separate parliaments for England, Scotland, Wales and, possibly, Northern Ireland. A good platform for the United Kingdom Independence Party. Vote Farage, vote Taxi Driver and the English race.
Today the Poetry Society's Extraordinary General Meeting. Enough has been said elsewhere on this, but I will be there, hoping to be able to make some sense of events. First get the ship off the rocks.
Next Tuesday I do the Proms again, this time on telly. People's faith in me continues to astound me. They seem to have far more of it than I do. I know I am capable of a certain eloquence but remain deeply suspicious of it. Still, it is only a couple of minutes at a time on this one.
And Lucien Freud dead. More on that maybe.