The Tuesday evening here of the day over there of the US Presidential election, at Watford Colosseum I see the Czech National Symphony Orchestra performing Dvorak‘s New World Symphony – you know, the one with all those old world immigrant folk melodies woven in. Also featured is his Cello Concerto, the dramatic Natalie Clein soloing, which I enjoyed immensely when the cello was to the fore but was less keen when the composer chose to turn it up to 11 – I’ve got a full orchestra big bass drum’n’all and by God I’m gonna use it! – something that also, to these ears, spoiled the New World, and maybe a problematic predilection for some nineteenth century composers. It still deserved more than the barely half-full hall they got. With a raised stage and not much of a rake to where we were sitting it was slightly disconcerting to not have a minimal view of that full orchestra behind the string section, even when at full blast. I hardly ever see classical music live but always find it amusing to watch the percussionists hanging around waiting for the odd triangle tinkle.
The first Scribal Gathering after the Brexit vote the audience felt flat, unbelieving, devoid of energy. Scribal Gathering the day after the Trump presidential victory was a vibrant what-else-can-you-show-me? affair, with interesting first timers (hey, a strident flirting with finger-style rendition of Come together), Taylor Smith keeping up the developing Scribal tradition for featured duos of one half thereof being ill – no probs for Michell Taylor to solo – and a lively and colourful set from featured poet Tina Sederholm, including her Prediction (“I’m sorry / but you have just given birth / to a poet“) and her contribution to the self-help industry, Let your dog out (try this YouTube link for a taste). Then the surprise treat of a storming end: two blues, a John Martyn song and ‘a bit of gypsy jazz‘ from Bella from Cardiff – great voice, great guitar – who was, it seems, just passing through.
Next day’s Vaultage saw a welcome extended set of striking originals (“It takes its toll, toll, toll“) from co-host Lois Barrett and what was probably a first for the Vaults bar, a rendition of a Take That song among the originals from the hard rocking solo John Michael Davies; decent song that, Gary Barlow’s Back for good.
Friday and – I’m no opera buff, but, joy of joys – it’s touring Glyndebourne at MK Theatre. Doing Mozart! A La Dolce Vita era Don Giovanni, no less. The set was a strikingly clever cube – revolving, expanding, contracting – adapted as the action unfolds. As always with Glyndebourne there’s the energy, fun and fine detail of the party scene, and while it has to be said I wasn’t the only one who thought the second act went repetitiously on a bit, the conclusion – the Don’s scary comeuppance and his descent into the fires of hell was nicely done. I appreciated how at the start the splendid orchestra broke straight into the overture without the indulgence of the conductor having to arrive to customary applause – why? they haven’t done anything yet! I was strangely disconcerted when the surtitles (‘subtitles’ in English projected above the stage) suggested someone was effectively singing, “I am strangely disconcerted by what you say“. Self-proclaimed opera-phobes: give Glyndebourne and Mozart a try; you never know – it happened to me.
After all that I needed a week to recover.
Really enjoyed Graham Greene‘s late novel Monsignor Quixote (1982). Here is a great novelist and chronicler of his times having fun in his old age with the themes – faith and commitment to a cause or belief – that dominated his life’s work.
Set in post-Franco Spain, Don Quixote, a Roman Catholic priest upgraded to Monsignor by a stroke of luck and to the disgust of his bishop, and a godless Communist ex-mayor who inevitably becomes Sancho (though it’s not his name), embark on a road trip, a modern reflection on the experiences of the priest’s namesake in the Cervantes’ seventeenth century Spanish novel, Don Quixote, whereby his tired old horse, Rocinante, becomes in Green’s hand, a knackered old Seat 600 (a Fiat 500 made under licence in Spain).
They drink a lot as they venture – sometimes perilously – along, debating one another’s allegiances and beliefs, increasingly acknowledging their common decency. As well as arguing against the tenets of each other’s beliefs, they discover a shared scepticism of their respective institutions and dogmas that have clouded their hopes and aspirations. The priest is pleasantly surprised by what he reads in the Communist Manifesto, has more time for the mystics than the rigid moral theology of his textbooks. The places they pass through all have their lessons. There’s a lovely running joke of their drinking to the health of the Holy Trinity – come on, you remember: the father, son and holy ghost – and short-changing the holy ghost with only two and a half bottles of Manchegan wine.
Behind the humour there is a seriousness and a rueful anger concerning how life should be lived and enjoyed, but it never gets in the way of the fun. Though the mayor still prefers ‘Marx to mystery’, no-one wins, both are changed; the atheist in me can easily live with that. It’s also subtly educative along the way. To say it ends poignantly is an understatement.