Monthly Archives: April 2008

Rendezvous in Prague

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Just back from beautiful Prague, a flying visit to play for Daria Klimentová and Arionel Vargas in Wayne Eagling’s Duet for the 15th anniversary of the Philip Morris Ballet Flower Award gala (called, appropriately, ‘Rendezvous in Prague’ – which is exactly what it was for us, as well as them), done to the Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde, on this occasion, to Liszt’s piano transcription.

I don’t think I have ever been quite so gut wrenchingly (literally) nervous before a performance (and I mean before – I hardly slept for a week). Performance nerves are so similar to fear of flying, that I manage to survive flights by doing what I do before before the tabs go out in a performance. And like flying, once you’re in the air, it’s usually OK.

In the end, of course, we all enjoyed it, and there were golden moments among the nervy ones (it didn’t help that I brought two right-shoes with me, and had to rush out to Tesco to buy another pair in the 40 mins between the tech-run and our slot in the dress rehearsal).

Amazing how many memories you can have of a two day visit, and here they are in my Prag in Scherben gallery. I had a book years ago called ‘Antike in Scherben’ which for some reason was on my mind today. Prag in Scherben describes this gallery rather well, as it happens. And as it happens, Antike in Scherben was compiled by a Czech, too. What a small world.

Oh, and after the show, I bumped into Yannick Boquin at the stage door for the first time in 14 years. Now that is a small world.

Measuring out my life with coffee-spoons

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Caffe Nero in Tottenham Court RoadI’ve always liked the line ‘I have measured out my life with coffee spoons’ from Prufrock, even though I’ve not a clue what it means. I think it’s probably not supposed to be a very positive thought, but since I like coffee, and the thoughts that go with it, to me, it’s as romantic and reflective a thought as Wordsworth’s daffodils.

Spent today at the Bloomsbury Theatre in Gordon Square playing for the final of the Fonteyn Nureyev Young Dancers Competition, All very busy and exciting, but as the theatre’s bang in the middle of my old stamping ground (round the corner from S.S.E.E.S.), I spent most of my day reminiscing about my student days. And since there’s now a Caffe Nero next to the American Church in Tottenham Court road, I measured out another week of my life in coffee spoons. Sundays in a Caffe Nero somewhere seem to be a bit of a habit these days.

Escaped the theatre long enough to try and buy a book by Murray Rothbard, but Waterstones (what used to be Dillons – that one is still one of my favourite bookshops in London) didn’t have it so I got my second choice, Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty, which I’m now reading alongside Wolfram Fleischhauer’s latest, Schüle der Lügen and Laura Olson’s Performing Russia. It’s ironic that in life, reading and books become more attractive in inverse proportion to the amount of time you have to read them.

Rhythm and ‘rhythm’

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RhythmFunny how you can be blinded by your own prejudices. I’m afraid I probably am the kind of person who says “I don’t use that button”, pointing to the drum rhythm pattern selector on my electronic keyboard.

What a dumbo. For ages, I’d struggled with the problem of using a metronome when you’re wearing headphones, not to mention struggling with the boredom induced by practising pages of arpeggiated semiquavers where only endless repetition and gradual increase of speed works.

It was only because I’d been working with a producer who advocated making rhythm tracks to record to rather than simple metronome clicks, that it occurred to me that I could use the rhythm selector on the keyboard as a metronome, notes & rhythm all coming through headphones at the same time.

And of course, it works like a dream. Not only is it much, much easier to practise to something that has a pattern and push to it, it’s a lot more fun. And most importantly, rhythm patterns also mark out the beginnings of bars, and frequently have a bit of a turnaround in them too. And depending on the music, and the beat you’ve selected, you might get a little pattern all to itself for each quarter-note, which gives extra life to a single note – something a metronome will never do.

And then there’s the fact that you’ve got about 200 rhythms to choose from, and an easy way to push the tempo up a beat at a time. When you’re a bit out of practice (as I am), it’s really annoying to play through stuff when you know that you’re being unrhythmical, so I decided to treat myself to a rhythm pattern while I played through one of my favourite pieces, Bach’s Italian Concerto (I happened to love Jacques Loussier’s Bach albums, so it was great fun). To my astonishment, with the benefit of a rhythm pattern, I discovered that I’d completely misconceived the rhythm of two bars in the first movement, because I’d misplaced the beginning of the bar in my head. A metronome click, ironically, doesn’t tell you anything about metre.

But just as some people think that you can only possibly practice ballet to piano music that sounds like something Hummel would have written when he was 12, there must be an invisible Berlin Wall in the minds of classical musicians that divides ‘rhythm’ (metronomes) from ‘rhythm’ (in the sense of ‘I got rhythm’), otherwise why would anyone want a simple metronome?

TFL cycle maps

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Cycle maps I’ve recently become a fan of the TFL cycle routes page, where you just put in a couple of postcodes or locations, and let the website draw your route for you in a series of maps & descriptions. The one that sold it to me was the route from Battersea to the Opera House, which showed me an amazing cut-through that takes you from the Chelsea embankment to Birdcage walk in a way which ought not to be possible but it’s there. And it takes you past Horse Guards Parade which I swear is one of the most magnificent sights in London – but you’ll never see it unless you walk or cycle.

Unlike car route planners which often churn out routes that only a madman would  take,  and give you journey times that you ‘d only achieve if you left at 3.30 in the morning and all the traffic lights were on green, the TFL cycle routes are good ones, and the timing is remarkably accurate.