Friday, 27 November 2009


I'm off at the crack of dawn on Sunday for a week in Cyprus; nothing fancy, a tourist hotel in Paphos; but the temperature there at the moment is about 22-23 degrees Celsius - that's the low seventies Fahrenheit, for those like me who still shamefacedly convert temperatures to "old money" in their head.

The sun is shining over there at the moment and the humidity is low. I aim to spend my week eating tahini and grilled fish and baklava, swimming in the hotel pool, drinking cold beer, walking, birdwatching and sketching.

Have a good week, everyone!

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

A philosophical moment...

I went to "The Dream of Gerontius" last night. It was a bit cool and uninvolved at first, perhaps from the fact that I am used to Elgar's music coming on with umpteen hundred strings and all the stops out, if you know what I mean, rather than with the crisp, cool, rather small sound of the OAE. Adrian Thompson's heartfelt, lyrical Gerontius sounded terribly alone without that consoling cocoon of lushness around him. But when Roderick Williams stood up to sing the Priest, my hair stood on end. Gods, what a voice - golden velvet, warmth and clarity and ardour, wonderfully controlled, riding over the chorus like a magnificent roan horse, full of feeling but without a scrap of ham. And he's good-looking (understatement!).

& Please excuse the bad mixed metaphor there - I have no desire in truth to see the Ex Cathedra choir trampled by a horse, even one that can sing like Mr Williams.

Part two was full of such moments; right from the start, those delicate solo strings and Gerontius' hushed wonder at his awakening, a real shivers-down-the-spine moment. A slightly underpowered angel, I'm afraid; but the chorus of fallen angels, the big chorales, and the moment at the Judgement Seat, lifted the roof...

I don't always know in advance what is going to move me and sometimes get caught out, especially by music, which can open a direct current into my heart without my realising it is happening. At the interval I went out onto the balcony above the Thames for a breath of air, feeling vaguely melancholy, and by chance I looked up.

There were huge clouds rushing by overhead, and the stars came and went as they passed. The beauty and grace of the clouds, and the magical way that their speed did not in any way reduce their serenity, seemed to me to convey the majesty and wonder of divinity as beautifully as any church or prayer I have known. I have been in great churches, shrines and mosques, places that were full of hallow-ment and prayerfulness; yet that Cathedral of racing clouds, and the great edifice of music, equal them all.

But I can't subscribe to my late father's view, that because "Musik ist eine heilige kunst" it must therefore be protected from anything other than quality performers and reverent, strictly-controlled performances and forward development. Any art that is unable to live in the real world, the world where people experiment (& sometimes get it wrong) and where amateurs are having a go for personal pleasure and without any expectation of greatness, is an art that will die, shut away in its safety box far above the rest of us.

Sorry, that was another mixed metaphor...

I cannot bear to consign the creative and performed arts to the realm of Sacred Objects, relics in glass cases with "Noli me tangere" written on the label. Even if some - even if a lot - of the living and developing of an art is painful to the ear or the eye, it must still live. It must live. If the Almighty, whatever we conceive him or her or it to be, is living, then so must everything we do that works with god be living, or it must fail.

Music is a holy art; and so are all the others. But they must be free to race under the clouds, as well as to be made anew each time in the concert hall, slightly-low-key angel and all.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

A sketch! A sketch!

Can you tell what it is yet (because the quality isn't great)?

I don't know his name, but he plays the double bass with the Philharmonia and he was resting and having a little think, mid-"Rite", so I drew him.

Many thanks to Viveka Gaillard for her help - but I can see I'm going to have to find a better system for this. Still it's a start - this is what my thumbnail sketches look like and I have a gazillion more of them, as well, now, as two large A1 mixed-media drawings worked up from them.

Choir practice...

Yes, it's that time of year again. I am a trembling wreck after an hour and a quarter of trying to pretend I can read music - and that is with Margaret Ramsey, a "proper" choral singer who has a good voice and can sight read, standing directly behind me so that I can hang onto her voice as to a life-preserver. Why is something so nerve-wracking enjoyable? I must be crackers.

This year we're doing a French carol I learned at school - I have to keep a stern grip or I start singing it in french - plus "Unto us a son is born", The Somerset Carol, and a sweet one with a tune by Praetorius and lyrics about the virgin Mary being "a rose e'er blooming". Plus a chunk of "Messiah", which is a real buzz, but also scary - it's "And the Glory of the Lord", so the contraltos kick off. Help.

Lucky Nigel, our choir master, is his usual patient & encouraging self, though occasionally even he is daunted by the ineptitude of the noises we make - at one point today the only thing he could think of to say was "Well, you all got the words right"... Bless him, he must be crackers, to take this job on in the first place; never mind me for thinking I am qualified to take part!

Friday, 20 November 2009

Hero Worship

I know that I am
A blur to you, a dark
Voice from the back of the room
Grinding like a stiff door
In troublous song.

To me you are like
A day bright with excitement;
Leaping hands, and blue
Eyes sharply lit, witty
With the song’s delight.

I am okay with this.
My adoration snares
A real man behind shadows,
Absolving me from shame.
Regrets are unshed tears.

I hero-worship, I know.
You are the keeper
Of all wonders, the sun-bright
Face; I, the unseen
Shadow, falling at your feet.

Technical hitches and dream hopes

I'm trying to find a way to get pictures of my drawings onto this blog - without having to buy a pile of expensive new kit, that is (!!). So far, no luck. The friend who used to have one of those Blackberry glorified-phones has got rid of it, and I don't seem to be able to text 'phone pictures to anyone else who has the technology to convert them into jpegs and email them to me.

I refuse to buy a home computer plus scanner plus digital camera, just to play with. Rrrah! I have better things to do with my money, seriously.

So in the meantime, you'll have to be satisfied with my gushing descriptions of my own work, which is pretty surreal.

I had another great drawing session last night, once again working from my "re:Rite" sketchbook; assisted by a couple of U2 albums. I drew violinists and viola players this time, about eight of them layered one over the other. When you draw something, you look at it with an attention to details that is different from everyday looking; I've now noticed that the concert master, who revels in the glorious name of Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay, looks in profile as if he could be related to the sexy vampire in "Twilight". I wonder if anyone has ever pointed that out to him?

Maybe I am going to have to bite the bullet and get a digital camera, just for this. Nobody blogs about doing art work and then fails to provide illustrations... Ah well.

On a more cheerful note, I had a wonderful dream a few nights ago. I was on a walking tour in Greece, and had been taken by boat to an Aegean island where I climbed a magnificent limestone gorge full of garrigue and singing birds, up into a mountainous hinterland. Suddenly I found a small village hidden away in the mountains. A little boy was charming the wild birds and animals; he called his parents and they made me welcome and gave me cakes and raki to celebrate my birthday, which was the same day as their son's. They put me up for the night in a little guest room with a view across the fields to the village church, and gave me the key to their home, saying I could come back any time I wanted to stay with them. Compared to my last two memorable dreams (one of which was about a certain Maestro and was, ahem, sexy, and the other of which involved finding a frog in my handbag), this was a pretty good dream-world place to wake up from. Every image in the dream was joyful and life-full, and offered hope and love and welcome. Admittedly I could say as much of the sexy dream, but lusting after married men does not make me feel good about myself, whereas this left me feeling a benediction had been passed upon me as I slept.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Haven't vanished...

...just rather busy. And I have had a bad attack of cystitis (you all really wanted to know that, didn't you?!). The constant nagging discomfort, verging at times into real pain, is beginning to get me down after four days.

Think positive, Dent.

I had a wonderful Drawing Day last Friday - I booked a day off work so I could indulge myself totally. I went back to "re:Rite", used up almost a whole A5 sketchbook, and worked a brand-new 4B pencil down to a stub, drawing musicians. I managed to get everything from detailed portraits to the most flailing Zen-Spaghetti drawings; to me, these all say something worth saying. There are no failures; there are only interesting experiments. Everything takes you somewhere, even if only to a place of knowing that "That didn't come off". Most of it, at least to me, carries so much resonance - of the music and the energy of the performance - that it fairly zings on the page, whether the image is a recognisable face and identifiable instrument, or Zen-Spaghetti loop-lah chaos.

I listened to the whole of the conductor's commentary on the headphones provided (& it was absolutely fascinating) and took advantage of this to also draw The Maestro, about fifteen times - again, managing to produce everything from a proper thumbnail portrait to a couple of Zen-Spaghettis. As he is a moving target, to say the least, the Spaghetti drawings were only to be expected. Some musicians sit comparatively still, others move about a certain amount, but in most cases they were moderately simple subjects, with at most face and hands in movement. The Maestro bounds about like a dancer, grinning, pulling faces, and waving his arms, never stopping the entire time. Wonderful to watch - and his commentary was illuminating, funny and oddly touching - but a tough challenge to draw.

I've done one large drawing since (cello section, focussing in, as it developed, onto the figure of principal cellist Karen Stephenson) and begun a second last night. It feels good to be doing some big drawings again.

I also danced my feet off a concert by Vieux Farka Touré (who was corking) and Rachid Taha (who may have been drunk; but his set was great fun, like a north-african-inflected early Rolling Stones). And I did some useful domestic things like grocery shopping and cleaning as well. And defrosted the freezer. I don't think this had been done for about two years. It took five and a half hours. Ugh. I deserved my whiskey and my drawing session, after that.

I also went to the triple bill at the Royal ballet. Melissa Hamilton is wonderful. Yuhui Choe is wonderful. Eric Underwood is wonderful.

So are quite a lot of the company, actually.

"Agon" looked a bit untidy at first - Balanchine needs precision and clarity and both were lacking somewhat in the opening ensemble - but then they got it together and the second pas de trois and the pas de deux were spot-on. The score is Stravinsky at his most spare and taut and spiky, the choreography appropriately a back-and-forth shifting, between lyrical beauty and angular abstraction. "Sphinx" was bonkers but terrific, Edward Watson was as stunning as ever despite a very silly mask, and the playing of the Martinu Double concerto was a treat. "Limen" was also slightly bonkers, and I'm not too sure it meant as much as it meant to mean, if you know what I mean. But it was splendidly danced, the staging was weird but very effective and the music (Kaija Saariaho's Cello concerto) was simply amazing.

On the way home, I found myself walking into the tube station just behind Gary Avis, also of Royal Ballet fame. I don't know if he'd been at the performance or doing something else (he wasn't dancing that night, at least not in the triple bill). He is less tall, handsomer, and more melancholy-looking in person than he appears on stage. He got on a different train to mine and stood there waiting to go, with a sad, downcast gaze. It would have been rude to bound on board and grab his arm and tell him I think he's wonderful; but I do. Gary Avis, you are wonderful; and I hope whatever was making you feel blue on Tuesday night is soon sorted out.

Now I'm off home to reheat last night's fish stew and get some more charcoal under my fingernails. Drawing board, "re:Rite" sketchbook, stinking fixative and all; here I come...

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Drawing madness

I spent yesterday evening working from my orchestra sketches, developing some of them into more carefully-worked drawings, trying to find ways to explore the things that fascinate me about the orchestra.

I can't express the music!! I haven't got the space to express the scale of this huge group of people and their monumental work. I can't do a portrait of each individual musician, I haven't got the time (though it would be tremendous fun). So where do I go with this? Because it has to go somewhere; I am fizzing like shook champagne at the moment, and this energy has to be poured out and made use of, or I will pop.

I am interested, visually, by the tension between the individuality of the players as people and the fusion of those individualities into a harmonious ensemble. Looking along the fiddle section, for example, every instrument is the same shape, every bow is the same shape, and every player is making more-or-less identical movements; but the individual human beauty of each player is unique. In formal visual terms there's an intriguing balance there.

I think what I am going to do is to work up to making some A1 drawings, like the pieces I did years ago based on sketches I had done in Canterbury Cathedral. Big, nuanced, multiple-overlayered charcoal pieces. I am excited just thinking about it. I am excited. I don't know who it was who thought of this idea, this crazy "digital residency" that has given me licence to draw musicians without getting in their way, but whoever you are, thank you! and blessed be!

Monday, 9 November 2009

Re "re:Rite"...

I'm so sad to see that only the Daily Telegraph have bothered to send someone along to have a look and listen to this extraordinary project. Darn it, I don't want to turn into a Telegraph reader; that would be embarrassing.

I have to agree with some of Ivan Hewitt's remarks, too. I think it's the first time anyone has done something like this, on this scale. It is hugely ambitious; and they certainly didn't pick a nice, safe piece of music to use, either. I used to use "The Rite of Spring" on my headphones when I was an art student, playing it over and over; staying late so I could get the studio to myself, dancing and drawing together, getting filthy with charcoal and acrylic and practically hurling myself at the walls as the energy built up and up. I got a touch of the same fever yesterday, and I was just doing pencil studies in an A5 sketchbook. What I want is for someone to make over to me a final, unused room in the Bargehouse, and give me charcoal and paint and a sheet of paper about six feet by twenty, and let me loose for the duration. I know that isn't going to happen; but I can go back and draw some more, at least.

One problem is that it was full of kids, and the "try out the percussion" room was consequently a nightmare of toddlers and parents squabbling over the gong, the tambourines and the bass drum, and a fearful racket was resulting. One had to simply tune it out. Then there is the problem that the screens in each room do not recreate the experience of being in the middle of an orchestra, because almost without exception they each show only one section of the orchestra - violins here, clarinets there, and so on. It is still amazing to get up close and personal with some of the best clarinetists, violinists, etc, out. But one doesn't get the surrounded-by-musicians feeling, the awe-inspiring sense of a huge collaboration, and the tension of that collaborative effort holding together, that I remember being such a buzz when I was a terrified and inept teenaged percussionist.

The up-close-&-personal thing is a little strange, too; it is odd to be so close to life-sized filmed poeple, and their indifference is somehow of a different order to that of filmed people on the small screen of the tele. I felt at times as if I were snooping on them; and I did catch myself once or twice muttering "Give us your profile again, lad" or "Please show me that fingering again" at the screens. And even (forlorn hope indeed, this!) "Keep still, Maestro!"

So I'm not sure the project accomplishes all that was hoped for it, but I still think it is exciting; and it has given me a chance to do something I haven't done for ages. I'm now so fired up about drawing I don't believe myself. Good heavens, did I actually go through a phase recently when I no longer carried a sketchbook around with me? Weird.

When you come to work for a rest...

It's been a busy weekend. I wouldn't change a scrap of it, but it has all been a bit rushed. I managed to do at least some of the week-in, week-out sensible jobs, like grocery shopping and clothes-washing. I made a disgracefully good risotto, and an even more disgraceful chocolate & chestnut mousse. I had lunch with my mother and went to an exhibition at the Royal Academy - an odd yoking of cool, formal, very-knotted-up Eric Gills, powerful early Epsteins, and a roomfull of stunning pieces by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. Then on Sunday I passed several blissful hours standing drawing musicians at "re:Rite" - I'll probably never again get the chance to draw members of an orchestra that close up, and I intend to make the most of it, so I'll probably go back at least once. Then I went to a live concert to follow up the weird filmed and played-in-a-warehouse one ("re:Rite" is really rather peculiar altogether; more of that in a moment), and finally crept home, via my local indian takeaway, because I was too knackered to think, let alone cook. And I like their Saag Paneer.

The live concert was lovely, luckily. I was concerned that I would have wired my brain to modernism at "re:Rite", which is, as the name suggests, a performance of "The Rite of Spring". This is one of my all-time favourite pieces of music, and that is a good thing, since if I am going to spend a lot of time at it, drawing, I'll be hearing the piece several times over. I got about two and a half rounds of it yesterday, and didn't stop thinking it brilliant.

But I did worry, as I dashed, wolfing a small sandwich, back down the South Bank to the Festival Hall, that Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov and Sibelius were going to sound a tad, well, conventional, in comparison with the Total Immersion Stravinsky Experience I had just had. The Tchaikovsky "Voyevoda" overture, to be frank, did (& I may now have added insult to injury by spelling it wrong); loud and jolly. Then Nikolai Lugansky came on and played Rachmaninov (piano concerto no.3) and blew me away; it was as though my brain had hopped across a bridge and come into a perfect place for this. Utter lush romantic passion, manly romantic passion that is, not sugary gambolly stuff in the manner of Hollywood. Mr Lugansky was wonderful - and he is delightfully ornamental (his picture in the brochure is very unflattering - he turns out to be about 6 foot four and fair, with a long nose and ravishing hands >sigh<). If he had been feeding me champagne and christmas cake on the side (between cadenzas!) I could hardly have been happier. And the Sibelius (no.2) went down a treat. The last time I heard this, it was played (with brio but a distinct feeling of "oh christ we are out of our depth now") by the amateur orchestra my stepmum and baby bro play in, so it sounded rather more clear and polished here in the hands of the Philharmonia. On whom, I have to admit, I am developing something of a collective crush...

It was a good curry, too.

All in all a great weekend; but I am tired, and a steady day answering silly emails seems restful in comparison. Tonight I am off to a performance of bluegrass banjo music. Ickle Miss Eclecticism, that's me.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Only tangentially relevant...

I am just finishing a lunch of something wonderful: bread, with
Delphi Fresh Aubergine Dip.

To see that picture, you have to scroll to the furthest right of the selection at the bottom of the page; this is the next to last one. Not that seeing a picture is helpful - it's pale brown goo. I just like the fact I have now learned how to do hyperlinks.

It's melitzanosalata. Quite a smooth one, and not too smokey - obviously mass-produced, so not perfect - but a pretty good substitute, for a raving philhellene stuck in damp, chilly London in November. The first bite filled me with memories of holdays in Greece. Sigh...

I bought it by accident - I thought I was getting two pots of hummous but I didn't check the labels properly and the second one was this. Now I'll be looking out for it.

Eating melitzanosalata is tangentially relevant to writing about the creative life, honestly. I won't go on about Proustian moments (this wan't quite of that order!) but anything that makes me think of Greece gives me an emotional boost, and an emotional boost always helps to keep the creative fires stoked. I think I must have been a Greek in a past life. Several past lives, even. Or maybe I just love the place anyway.

And it has reminded me with a little thrill of anticipation that I am off on holiday to Cyprus in just over three weeks time. I'll need to get out some lighter-weight clothes, and check I have some sun lotion to protect my now autumnally-pale skin. At the moment, the BBC website's weather page gives the conditions out there as being sunny, with temperatures in the mid-twenties C and low humidity. Good food and wine, sunshine and hopefully some birdwatching, wildflowers and a few ruins. And the hotel has an indoor swimming pool, so I'll get to go swimming even if the sea is cold (which it well may be). Heavenly.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Watch this space...

I am about to issue my second small self-published collection of poems. "The Date Indicator" will contain recent poems about love, music and the wheel of the year. I hope to have it out soon (barring misfortunes in internet cafés). I may also do a second edition of "Downriver" since that was so succesful (ten copies "sold" - or rehomed at any rate - not everyone paid for it!).

The official price will be a mere £5, and with fifteen poems that is a snip at three poems for a squid; but you can probably blag a copy if you talk to me sweetly enough.

And it may, just may, be illustrated... Still working on trying to get the hang of the technology of that (with a lot of help from my colleague Viveka), so don't get too excited...

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

This looks really interesting...

I haven't played in an orchestra since I was 17, when I acted as Assistant Percussionist in the University of Kent student orchestra (my father was their timpanist and he needed a spare pair of hands he could trust sometimes). I've always remembered it as tremendous fun, and absolutely terrifying - something of the same terror that goes with trying to cope with life in a foreign country when one knows almost none of the language.

Now my favourite orchestra, The Philharmonia, are doing this
and it looks bonkers but incredibly exciting. I shall have to go and see... I hope it isn't too much aimed at kids - always a possibility these days when accessibility is the top criterion for so many arts-based activities. But I'll take a sketch book along - if nothing else, I can draw double-basses (& double bassists) to my heart's content...

Monday, 2 November 2009

Tengo un coliflor...

Yum. Reheated cauliflower with cheese is the tops. I am ridiculously hungry.

This has been an interesting weekend. The first thing that happened was that on Saturday morning the laptop suddenly decided it was no longer ill, and in fact was as good as gold. I am now right up-to-date with my backing up on disc, as I no longer have complete faith in it. But I am baffled as to why it decided to behave again in the first place. I took nothing out, put nothing in, gave it neither reiki nor toast, and was unable to remove its bottom because although this unscrewed it did not come off. Yet it decided it likes me again. I am not complaining - this is not complaining! - this is rather a bemused cousin of joy. With a sidelong glance of deep mistrust.

Still, I have rescued the latest versions off all my projects. That is a Good Thing.

To celebrate I went shopping, no longer for a new laptop but for, appallingly, some shoes. Didn't buy any; bought a jacket instead. Then bought a cd of "MGV"; a marvellous, beautiful, thrilling piece of music by Michael Nyman; restrained myself from buying the whole of the original three "Star Wars" movies on dvd; got the ineffably silly but thoroughly enjoyable "Stargate" (which was in a sale) instead, as well as "Let the Right One in", which will undoubtedly scare the living daylights out of me but is based on a terrific book and is probably worth seeing - just the once, at least.

Then yesterday morning I got all the cutting-out, tacking and fitting of a new skirt done, which just leaves the main sewing (I do this by hand, so it's a slow job, though durable when done). In the afternoon I worked in the garden, and in the evening I went to Club Night at the Chiswick Scottish Country Dance club, which meant several hours of non-stop dancing, plus a slightly odd supper of smoked salmon sandwiches, shortbread and tea.

I am exhausted, and I ache all over, but it was a good weekend.