Archive for January, 2009

Banking the Modern Way 2

Ring, Ring

(Yorkshire accent)

“Hi, this is Tracy from Halifax Bank of Scotland calling.    I wanted to see if you are interested in signing up for our Internet Banking Service.”

“Thanks Tracy, but I am already both a personal and business user of HBOS’s  Internet Banking Service.   I have been for some time, and use the service regularly.”

“It does not say that here………. ”

The call goes on, and ends politely.   I did check that the caller was genuine, and she was.    But what on earth is going on?    Perhaps Lloyds’ Black Horse is champing at the bit rather.    

Not good PR however you look at it.

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3 Oranges

3 Oranges

Take Andy Warhol’s soup cans, think of an army of Magritte’s headless men marching towards you, add Salvador Dali’s  giant telephone with a lobster on top, a stained urinal as a public fountain (Marcel Duchamp perhaps) and roll these together with a boisterous fairy-tale about  a prince who won’t laugh, and you have something of the  flavour of an extraordinary night out at the opera.

Following on from Eugene Onegin last year, Prokofiev’s The Love of Three Oranges is the latest collaboration between RSAMD, the Rostov on Don conservatoire in Russia, and Scottish Opera.       Here, students from various courses at RSAMD get together with their Russian colleagues to  create and perform a large opera in a big theatre with a professional orchestra.     It is a huge undertaking:   1 conductor, 15 principal singers, 33 Chorus, 75 in the orchestra (including 26 RSAMD), 9 off-stage band, with their own  conductor.    And that is just the performers – there are at least 50 others credited backstage, or involved with the production.    And that is before adding in the staff from RSAMD who tutored the student musicians, singers, costume makers, set constructors and so on.      Good value for £20.

Lee Blakeley directed the large forces on stage, with considerable attention to detail.   (He also directed Scottish Opera’s A night at the Chinese Opera) There was simply never a dull moment, from the Prologue with the well drilled chorus divided into different audience types who wanted tragedy, comedy or  romantic drama out of the evening.      The chorus  had a busy time of it, playing an army of doctors,  men with no heads (baddies), and lots more, including the  mad rag-bag procession of assorted people in the famous March.        I liked the painting references throughout – the duel between Fata Morgana and the Magician was a painting competition, and later the Magician spattered the set with his paintbrush before throwing the whole can at the wall.     Portraits revolved to reveal sinister Magritte-type bowler-hatted men.    The design by Emma Wee was visually exciting, and took us into dark places, for this was a dark tale of good vs evil.

The principals all sung well, with some very fine voices.   It is unfair to single any of them out, but suffice it to say that they  were ably led (at this performance) by Jung Soo Yun as the hypochondriac Prince, and Reuben Lai as the off-beat party fixer Truffaldino.    They made a stunning double act as they literally got blown off on their orangy quest by the demon Farfarello, sung by Andy Warhol lookey-likeyMichel de Souza.    

In the pit, Timothy Dean conducted the large Scottish Opera orchestra, which was sprinkled through with top players from RSAMD.    It must have been tempting to really let rip at times, but this was a measured performance, allowing the young voices to be heard.   It was thrilling music all the same.

All in all, this was such a fun evening.       Two more performances, both in Edinburgh on 28th and 30th January.     Opera fans should not miss this, but this Love of Three Oranges is very suitable for those who think they might not like opera.

I persuaded very keen theatregoers, but opera total newcomers Waldorf and Statler over at View from the Stalls to give this production a try, and am pleased to say that they pretty much enjoyed the experience, and would give RSAMD opera a try again in the future.

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All last week, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra were ‘Out and About’ in Perth and Kinross.    This is an annual exercise for the RSNO to take their music to parts which they may not normally reach, and this has been the orchestra’s  largest community project ever.

So amongst the events was a brass concert in Crieff, a tea dance in Perth, traditional music with Pete Clark in Birnam, a string quartet in Blairgowrie  and a full RSNO concert in Pitlochry.    But RSNO players were also out and about in schools, Rachel House – a children’s hospice, sheltered housing and hospitals.

But on Thursday night, there was a rather wonderful concert in Perth Concert Hall featuring Perth Youth Orchestra and the RSNO.     For some weeks now, Perth Youth Orchestra’s weekly Monday night rehearsals have been taken by David Danzmayr, the RSNO’s assistant conductor, working on a specially commissioned piece for PYO, Tapestries by Kenneth Platts.   

This concert, called ‘Side By Side’ was a groundbreaking chance for our young musicians in Perth and Kinross to rub shoulders with top orchestral players.   For the first piece, Mendelsson’s Hebrides Overture, the RSNO were joined by the front two desks of strings from PYO – 16 handpicked players.    And rather than sit at the back of each section, each was partnered by a RSNO player.    It sounded great.    It must have been a thrilling experience for these young musicians.   

Next, the whole Youth Orchestra came on to play Tapestries, and they had a good sprinkling of RSNO players in their midst.    They fairly rose to the occasion with a splendid spirited performance.    A quieter Cradle Song completed the first half.

Then the RSNO on their own played Mendelsson’s Scottish Symphony, with the Youth Orchestra lining the back rows of the balcony to listen to their new found mentors.   

The concert hall was packed, and the RSNO got a prolonged round of  applause and cheering.    It was a big event for our musicians in Perth, and must have really meant a lot to them to have the chance to play along with a professional orchestra.    Something they will always remember.

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I am amazed by the fuss over Prince Harry using the work Paki – three years ago in a playful self-shot video of army life.    Sky News last night, in the wonderful way it does,  had ‘Breaking News’ scrolling across the TV in a ridiculously massive red font, as if the world was about to end.

In the 1970s, it was common to call corner shops run by Pakistanis, Pakis.   As in “I am going down the Paki shop for some milk – are you wanting anything?”    There was no malice or racist intent.    If you can remember New Year in Edinburgh not so long ago, absolutely nothing moved on January 1st at all – except that the shops run by Pakistanis were open.

Of course I accept that we have moved on, and there is a whole new set of words that we are rightly hesitant about using, simply to avoid causing offence.    Times have changed.

But I think that Prince Harry intended to be friendly rather than racist.   And what would have happened if he had called a Scottish army officer colleague ‘Jock’?     Red scrolly Breaking News on TV?   The Army dealing with the incident?    Race relations people looking into it?     I think not.   It is not so different, is it?

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Banking the Modern Way

I opened a ‘grown-up’ cheque account with the Bank of  Scotland in 1977, graduating from a childhood Deposit Account.    I have held onto this account since then, even through the Halifax disaster which will result in a merger   takeover by Lloyds TSB.   It is such a shame to see a well liked pillar of the establishment with over 300 years of history behind it going down the tubes.

Bank of Scotland HQ building

Bank of Scotland HQ building

But banking has been heading for a fall, and we customers no longer get the service we once did.     In the farming world, things are done fairly traditionally.    As a farming customer, I met my bank manager anually, where we talked about the past farming year and discussed requirements for the year ahead.    This was sometimes at the bank branch, and sometimes at the farm.    A nice civilised way of doing things.    Nowadays this  is done by a phone call from someone I have not met in an Edinburgh office and who does not sound like she has been on a farm, ever.      It is just not the same at all.

And what has happened to my bank statements?      For years and years these came in monthly – one sheet of paper just over half a size of A4 showing money in and money out.     What more do you need?    Well, statements suddenly grew to A4 sized and had money in and out, but now the bank takes two double sided sheets of A4 to provide essentially the same info.    Not only that, but there is a message telling me to  Save Paper.

No, I don’t want my statement online, and if the Bank wants to save paper and do the green thing, it can cut it by over half by getting back to simple statements, once a month on one bit of paper.    Is it so hard?    The key information fits on one side of paper, leaving 3 sides of utter guff.

In December, I received a statement from 30th November to 26th December (2 sheets) and another one for three days from the 27th December to the 31st December (another 2 sheets of A4) covering all of three transactions.    And in case you think this looks like the bank was squaring off the year, November was also a two statement month (4 sheets).

Perhaps we will get back to normal in January.    I am not anti HBOS – I have been a customer for years, their online banking is good (‘business’ is much better than ‘personal’), and they support lots of sports and arts in Scotland (surely under threat now?).     It is just that they seem to have forgotten all about customer relationships:   face to face really matters.

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NYOS – Perth

The National Youth Orchestra of Scotland, fresh from their New Year music school, performed their January concert at Perth Concert Hall (and the following night at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall).    Edinburgh’s loss is Perth’s gain – the Usher Hall is still being refurbished, so Perth is getting some relocated concerts.   I hope that a few of these stick to Perth even once the Usher Hall is up and running.

They were conducted by Christian Mandeal who was new to the orchestra, and who is something of an expert on the composer Enesco;    so it was with Enesco’s first Romanian Rhapsody that the concert began.     Quite a wild piece, with lots of folk tunes, and the players clearly enjoyed themselves.    

Then the mood changed for Poulenc’s Piano Concerto, which was much more subtle altogether.      Pianist Ian Fountain produced impressive sweeps across the keyboard, and gave a good performance, and the orchestra supported with maturity.

But the meat of the evening came in a performance of Prokofiev’s 5th Symphony, a mighty fierce dark work making huge demands of the young players, which they took ably in their stride.      

I did not know any of the music beforehand, so it was exciting to hear works I have not heard before.     The conductor was interesting to watch, as he had a slightly unusual technique of turning his back on most of the orchestra and urging on a particular section.    I did spy both of his feet off the ground in the Prokofiev!

I do have an issue with the orchestra uniform, which was jet black shirts and trousers for the boys, jet black skirts (or trousers) for the girls.    While many professional orchestras look like this, I felt that this lost the ‘look and feel’ of  a traditional Youth Orchestra, which was a shame, as being different from professional orchestras is one of any Youth Orchestra’s key strengths.         Time enough for the ‘all black’ look  in professional life.

The orchestra is 30 years old this spring – an impressive milestone to have reached, leaving a valuable and ongoing legacy of providing our best musicians in Scotland with a wonderful opportunity to play together and develop their careers.

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