Archive for April, 2011

Ken Russell: The Old Devil

Posted in Culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

It’s been 40 years since Southampton boy Ken Russell filmed his notorious The Devils. Stuart Jeffries asks him about saints, sinners and the most frightening film he ever saw

We’re meeting because Russell’s notorious film The Devils will be shown in a rare uncut screening on Sunday at the East End film festival. Filmgoers will be able to savour its so-called “rape of Christ” sequence in which 17th-century French Ursuline nuns defiled a statue of Jesus during an orgy – not to mention the scene in which Sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave) masturbates with a charred bone from a burned priest played by Oliver Reed. Plenty of other sequences kept censors the world over in business. The Devils had the singular fate of winning a silver ribbon for best foreign film from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists in 1972, while being banned throughout Italy.

Russell’s film was adapted from Aldous Huxley’s 1952 non-fiction novel The Devils of Loudon, as well as John Whiting’s follow-up 1960 play The Devils. They were all inspired by the notorious case of supposed demonic possession in 17th-century France, in which a charismatic Catholic priest, Urbain Grandier, was accused of bewitching nuns. The accusation was trumped up by Richelieu as an excuse to destroy a Protestant stronghold.

Russell takes even more liberties with this material than Huxley. Why portray the king as a cross-dressing homosexual who shoots Protestants dressed as birds in his royal park for fun? “Because that’s exactly as I saw him,” says Russell.

(Source: Grauniad)

BBC Proms 2011: Highlights

Posted in BBC Radio 3, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Pianist Lang Lang, described by BBC Proms director Roger Wright as “arguably the best known classical artist in the world”, will become the first artist ever to perform at both the Proms in the Park and the Royal Albert Hall on the same night.

Classical music meets comedy at the Proms for the first time. Tim Minchin, the Australian performer, presents an evening of music and laughs with Sue Perkins, cabaret duo Kit and The Widow, pianist Danny Driver, soprano Susan Bullock and the BBC Concert Orchestra.

Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra will take requests from the crowd in a highly unusual late night Prom. The audience will choose from a list of up to 300 pieces, none of which the orchestra has rehearsed.

The Spaghetti Western Orchestra will use rubber gloves and coat hangers to perform extracts from Sergio Leone film soundtracks. Roger Wright, controller of BBC Radio 3 and the director of the Proms, called them “five cracking musicians”.

Havergal Brian’s vast Gothic Symphony which has been rarely performed since it was composed in the 1920s will be played on 17 July when the 1,000 musicians required – including two orchestras and 10 choirs – are marshalled. Wright said: “Once we have fitted in the performers there will be hardly any room for the audience.”

Rossini’s William Tell is another work hardly ever performed. The opera lasts nearly five hours. Audiences will have a rare chance to hear this gripping story of Swiss nationalism conducted by the Royal Opera House music director, Antonio Pappano.

I can’t go on …

Carlos Kleiber conducts Die Fledermaus

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , on April 24, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Carlos Kleiber: Music’s Perfectionist Recluse (New York Times obituary)

Cauliflower Cheese

Posted in Food with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

1 large head cauliflower
8 tbsp butter
10 tbsp plain flour
2 pints whole milk
salt & pepper
freshly grated nutmeg to taste
2 rashers bacon, diced
200g smoked cheddar, grated
200g breadcrumbs

Break the cauliflower into florets. Steam it for 15 minutes until tender, and set aside and keep warm.

Sauté the diced bacon in a wok on high heat until crispy – then remove from wok with slotted spoon (so fat is drained) and set aside. Reserve bacon grease for other uses.

Make a béchamel sauce: melt a stick of butter in a pan over a moderate heat and then stir in flour a spoonful at a time until you have a thick paste (a roux). Cook the roux for a couple of minutes, stirring, stirring all the time and watch it expand. Slowly add milk and keep stirring until you have a smooth, thick sauce. You may want to switch to using a whisk. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Gradually stir in two-thirds of the grated cheese. Save the rest to sprinkle on top.

Put the cauliflower into a baking dish and then pour the sauce over it. Then, sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. In a small saucepan, melt 3-4 tbsp butter and then mix it through the breadcrumbs to moisten them. Sprinkle the buttered breadcrumbs on top.

Bake at 200°C for 30 minutes or until breadcrumbs are browned and casserole is bubbling. Sprinkle the reserved bacon on top when it comes out of the oven, and serve.

Brown Bread: Elisabeth Sladen

Posted in Culture, Obituaries with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Elisabeth Sladen has died of cancer aged 63.

This stark sentence is perhaps the saddest thing I’ve read this year. She was the reason many dads watched Doctor Who in the 1970s, and The Sarah Jane Adventures in more recent years.

As a 12-year-old boy, I suppose I had a crush on Elisabeth Sladen, who played Sarah Jane Smith in the TV series Doctor Who. My daughter loves The Sarah Jane Adventures. So Elisabeth Sladen’s a big part of my telly childhood and hers.

Oddly enough, the only other actor of whom I can say this is Tom Baker (my own favourite Doctor Who, who had a great rapport with his companion/sidekick/assistant Sarah Jane Smith – as he points out (read his tribute below), it helped that they both came from Liverpool); my children watch Little Britain and quote his random voiceovers for that show.

R.I.P. Elisabeth Sladen 1948-2011


Tom Baker’s personal tribute to Elisabeth Sladen

Let’s all listen to Schoenberg …

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

I enjoy a lot of Schoenberg’s music, in the broadest sense of “enjoy”. It’s not really music to relax or wind down to, it can be so intensely personal and subjective, especially the works of the free atonal period, exhibiting a plethora of intense emotions which tend towards the dark side. I don’t expect any more than a minority of classical music listeners will ever want to listen to it on a regular basis, but I think it is unique and meaningful music (if very much a product of a particular time and place) and does have an importance for that reason.

Certainly all art is very much a product of its time and place – the question is whether it still has anything to say to people here and now? That sort of sensibility that comes through in Schoenberg – rootlessness, alienation, inhabiting a certain precipice within “high culture” and the social world it inhabits, etc., certainly speaks to me, but I don’t find it wholly surprising if many others don’t find it relevant to them.

Schoenberg’s life beyond the concert-hall – his listing by the Third Reich as “degenerate”, his escape to the United States, his life as an émigré, his teaching there, his prominent position as a Jewish refugee – brought his name to a greater prominence than many of his contemporaries. His name became a byword for a kind of purposed complexity and intellectual rigour in music … to a wider public who’d never heard a note of it, but had heard of Arnold Schoenberg.

And they fervently believed that this Schoenberg man represented the very summation of everything they wouldn’t like in music, and should be avoided like the plague.

Nectarine sorbet with crushed blackberries

Posted in Food with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

This sorbet is quick and simple. The crushed blackberries on the top lend a tart finish that is most satisfying.

6 ripe nectarines
200g caster sugar
juice of half a lemon

For the blackberries:

200g blackberries
2 tbsp icing sugar
zest of one orange

Slice the nectarines in half, remove the stone and chop into one-inch pieces. Place in a blender with the sugar and lemon juice. Purée until smooth; it will have little specks of skin throughout, which is very pretty. Place in an ice-cream maker and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

If you don’t own an ice-cream maker, freeze the mix in a low-sided container for two hours. Then remove and drag it with a fork, working from the outside in. Replace in the freezer. Repeat this every half hour three or four times, until all the mixture is formed of ice crystals. This makes a granita; its texture is slightly chewy, but it is just as delicious as any ice-cream.

Place the blackberries in a bowl with the icing sugar. Using the back of a fork, crush roughly; it should have a slightly coarse consistency. Stir in the orange zest and chill. To serve, spoon into chilled glasses and top with the blackberries.

John Cage: Idle Thoughts

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 13, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Of course he’s not a composer, but he’s an inventor … of genius.
(Arnold Schoenberg)

A composer with often serious intentions, who was perceived a bit too gimmicky by many people.

Too many musicologists and journalists have had a field day spewing out more column inches about Cage’s ideas than his music (which perhaps says something about the influence of his ideas vis-à-vis the value of his music) and in so doing elevating his status disproportionately high, versus contemporaneous musical explorers such as (for example) Cowell, Harrison, Hovhaness, Partch or Rudhyar.

History tends to sort itself out within a century or two.

Aria and The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs, both performed by Cathy Berberian were the first works by Cage I ever heard. I was hooked. Aria is a wonderful, beautiful musical work. I recall a particularly effective performance by Sarah Walker, as part of a Cage retrospective organised by Tim Souster, if I recall correctly, back in the 1970s. Her superficial visual resemblance at that time to Cathy Berberian was exploited to the full.

I suppose that, over the years, I must have listened to at least half of Cage’s output at one time or another but, whilst I see no reason not to take him seriously, he deserves to be taken seriously on his own terms, not those of someone else. It is hard to forget what Schoenberg said of his one-time student but, for me, it is Cage’s way of taking nothing for granted that marks him out as someone worthy of note; Albumasar has put it succinctly with the words:

Something that could be characterised as a “musical” quality of attention, a heightened awareness of the relation between sound(s) and time which we associate with music … it isn’t a question of learning special techniques as a listener so much as opening listeners’ “sense of music” to a much wider range of experiences, whether a frog plopping into a pond as in the famous haiku or a pneumatic drill on a building site …

This, to me, is what characterises Cage’s rôle in the musical life of his time.

My own listening experiences nevertheless have led me to get little out of Cage, but that’s a very personal matter and not intended as any kind of value judgement. Whilst a good deal of the gimmickry of which Cage has been accused by some has its origins largely in the imaginations of the accusers (i.e. I do not see Cage as the kind of artist who would set out to do that kind of thing for its own sake), I have to admit that the Cage pieces that I find the most disappointing of all are those that would perhaps be least likely to attract such accusations in the first place, such as the string quartet pieces and the Freeman Études.

As to the “frog ploppng into a pond” and the “pneumatic drill on a building site”, I cannot help but think that Cage did himself few favours or helped his real cause when he stated that he had never heard any sound that he hadn’t enjoyed; I’m not for one moment suggesting that this wasn’t true but, taken purely at face value, it could be interpreted as seeking to undermine a sense of discrimination.


John Cage’s 4’33”

The Greggs Adventure

Posted in Food with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 12, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Greggs, Piccadilly Station, Manchester

The Greggs Adventure is a food blog by Jim Groome. He describes it thus:

A long-running series in which I review every sandwich and pastry sold by Greggs.

Greggs has been around for as long as you’ve been alive. Always there on the high street ready to offer sandwiches, soup, buns, whatever. You’ve had a Greggs lunch at least once in your life. It’s earned something of a dodgy reputation due to the, ahem, varied quality of the food on offer. I realised one day that I really had no idea what’s good and what’s not good at Greggs. This blog is my attempt to change that.

What more can I say? Visit this blog, it’s excellent!

Overheard @ Concerts

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 11, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

A violist friend of mine tended to have comments for every occasion. After a run of the mill, decidedly average show she’d say: “Of all the concerts I’ve ever played in – that was one of them.”

Overheard at the end of a London Sinfonietta Prom: “Well, that’s two hours less I’ll have to spend in purgatory.”

I overheard this at Covent Garden, leaving the auditorium at the end of La Traviata about 20 years ago – a little old lady to her companion: “It must be difficult if a singer forgets their lines; at least if you are a dancer, you can jump around a bit.”

After a concert of minimalist music at the Bridgewater Hall (again from my viola playing friend): “That music must have taken almost as long to compose as it took to play.”

Overheard during the first interval of Parsifal: “Don’t worry, it gets jazzier from here on in …”

Overheard during a performance of a piece by Philip Glass: “I’ll be glad when we get to the middle eight.”

A member of the band before Act 2 of Philip Glass’s Akhnaten: “Here we go … another 45 minutes of bloody A minor!”

During a performance of Harrison Birtwistle’s The Mask Of Orpheus where a female character had to do little more than come to the front of the stage and scream, a man turned to his neighbour and said, “I know exactly how she feels!”

Normally the Promenaders annoy me with their stupid chanting, but I remember a chant from many years ago, after a performance of Melancholia II: “If that was melancholia, give us depression!”

I remember overhearing a lady in a cut-glass accent give her opinion on Wagner during an interval of Der Ring des Nibelungen at Covent Garden: “I don’t know what all the fuss is about Wagner. All he does is keep repeating the same tunes.”

In the early 80s in the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, I think it was the BBC Philharmonic (then called the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra). Conductor (probably Edward Downes – can’t remember now) comes on stage to conduct a Shostakovich symphony. A woman sat in front of me turned to her companion and said loudly: “We always have this modern rubbish when he comes here”.

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