Archive for the ‘art’ Category

With the press and media so preoccupied with snow stories, and whether Gordon Brown will be ousted from No 10 ahead of a general election, the small stories struggle for space.

But today there is a small story which really matters:    The Festival of British Youth Orchestras which has taken place in Edinburgh and Glasgow for the last 30 summers does not have funding to continue.     Every August, some 2000 musicians from across the UK flock to Scotland with their groups to perform grown-up concerts in front of critical audiences.      Many professional musicians started here, perhaps playing their first concerto.

It will be a very very sad day for schools music if this is allowed to go under.    Surely we need to nurture our young talent, not limit opportunities?      It is a paradox when funders are falling over themselves to support the several el sistema initiatives which are being run in the UK, including the wonderful Big Noise in Stirling, that our Youth Orchestras are being left high and dry.

Perth Youth Orchestra has performed every year since the festival started, and the Glasgow and Edinburgh concerts are a big highlight of the year for our local young musicians.      There will be a big hole and a lot of disappointment this summer.

Perth Youth Orchestra

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It has been a rich year in the arts in Scotland, although the  exceptional has remained elusive.

23 plays seen.    In Perth, the year kicked off with an excellent adaptation of Tam O Shanter, and took in the tour of Be Near Me.    With a good cast, Silver Darlings promised much but never quite produced a sum of its parts, which was a disappointment.       In Glasgow, at the Citizens, we enjoyed Ghosts, and a pre-Edinburgh festival production of a Rona Munro’s new play The Last Witch.   At the Tron, we liked That Face, and White Tea.    In Edinburgh, Gregory Burke’s latest play Hoors was not a patch on Black Watch, or Gagarin Way, but we liked The Dark Things a lot.     National Theatre of Scotland’s big autumn production of House of Bernara Alba was interesting, but just did not quite work.   For consistently good theatre in Scotland, Dundee Rep is punching way above its weight exemplified by a really excellent Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ? which gets my best of the year vote.     There was also a very good production of The Elephant Man, directed by Jemima Levick  – the incoming assistant director, who also directed a touring production of Baby Baby (seen at Macrobert), which was enjoyable, but had rather weak material.   Dundee also put on a really special version of  A Christmas Carol.   Nationally, we enjoyed Ken Stott in a View from the Bridge when it came to Glasgow, Theatre de Complicite’s Shun Kin at the Barbican in London, and Inherit the Wind at the Old Vic.       We missed Sub Rosa, at the Citizens which was a pity.   

9 Operas.    RSAMD opera school continued to entertain with The Love of Three Oranges and the Tales of Hoffman.   Scottish Opera produced another set of five fifteen minute operas at Oran Mor, and will have a third set in May 2010.    Main house, Scottish Opera has had a good season with solid productions of Cosi, Manon, the Elixir of Love, and the Italian Girl in Algiers.    Concert performances of operas don’t do it for me usually, but there was a one performance only of I Puritani at Glasgow City Hall, which was outstanding.    We enjoyed the new opera Letters of a Love Betrayed which had one performance at The Traverse.

We have been to quite a few Youth Orchestra Concerts this year, which we have enjoyed.   The Scottish Ensemble continue to tour with well thought out programmes and general excellence.   In Perth, we heard Theatre of Voices with Bang on a Can playing Steve Reich pieces and David Lang’s co-comissioned (Perth Concert Hall with Carnegie Hall in New York) Little Match Girl Passion.     But outstanding performance of 2009  was actually caught on holiday in Krakow where the Wroclaw Symphony Orchestra played a stunning Mahler 9.

We did not get to much by way of dance this year, but enjoyed Michael Marra and Frank McConnell’s Wee Home from Home – first performed 20 years ago , and revived by original director Gerry Mulgrew with new designs by Karen Tennant.

2009 was a memorable year for film, and we liked the genuinely unusual Slumdog Millionaire, the quirky 35 Shots of Rum, Katalin Varga’s smouldering revenge, Jane Campion’s Bright Star, Cannes winner White Ribbon, Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, and even Opera on the big screenCosi fan Tutti (Salzberg festival production).      I was less sure about Moon, the sci-fi film from Duncan Jones (David Bowie’s son).   An Education and Let The Right One In were special highlights.

We visted the Anish Kapoor exhibition in London – great dods of bright red wax being fired out of a cannon every 20 minutes  into a corner of a room – lots of other stuff too.   Highly entertaining.

2010 has some interesting things ‘coming soon’, and the New Year’s resolution is to write about them here in more detail.

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I have wondered about Tracey Emin for a while, and have seen various pieces of hers as they have visited Scotland over the years.     I have never made up my mind about her, so I wanted to catch the Retrospective at the Modern Art Gallery in Edinburgh before it closed.    And I had not seen her famous unmade bed before.

It was an interesting and very personal exhibition.   Emin has had a troubled upbringing, including being raped at an early age, having underage sex with too many people and having two abortions.    She got into art colleges in Maidstone, and in London, where her experiences were not always happy.   She destroyed a large amount of her work, stopped painting for several years and had a string of unstable relationships.

My Bed.   Photo Murdo Macleod, used with permission www.murdophoto.com

Tracey Emin: My Bed. Photo Murdo Macleod, used with permission http://www.murdophoto.com

So against this background, her art emerged, as a reaction to her circumstances.   Emin’s art reflects her life, and concentrates on sex (often violent), Margate, pregnancy and her grandmother.   I found it difficult and awkward.   A series of drawings explained what she felt like after a particularly nasty abortion.    There was a touching video explaining why she never became a dancer.   There were A4 panels of her handwritten thoughts – describing in detail her early teenage girl experiences – too overwhelmingly personal for me to get through them all.

There were lots of blankets with with the familiar writing stitched onto them, and perhaps these were the most accessible works.    Also, several pieces in neon lighting – a seedy medium reflecting a tacky past.    And some more recent paintings, which I tried but failed to completely understand.

And suddenly, there was her famous unmade bed, right in front of me.    Complete with stains, and all the mess of stuff on the floor.   It is by now so iconic that it has lost its initial shocking power, but it was exciting to see such a famous work right there in the room.

I enjoyed the exhibition, and understand Tracey Emin all the more for visiting this.   Her life has been pretty extreme, as her art reflects.    She is as famous for her experiences as she is for her art.     

But I still cannot make up my mind whether she is a good artist.

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An interesting piece on Radio Scotland Cafe programme this evening about who to trust when reading a review of a performance?     The professional critic, or the bloggers?

It is a good question.    I do read what critics say, and some I trust more than others.   It is a long-term relationship that one builds:   if you find one critic tending to agree with you over time, what they say can be very useful.    But not always, and I do find myself at odds with the general opinion at times – usually when all the professionals have given something 5 stars.

I do tend to find that the music critics can be especially hard on performances.   It is more complicated than theatre, and the critics do get down to technicalities fairly readily.     If I am giving my thoughts on music, I just tend to concentrate whether it was enjoyable, and if the rest of the audience had a good time.

So:  critics or bloggers?    I suppose both together give a good guide.   It is a bit like using Trip Advisor to find out about what a place is really like.    Although critics will win hands down on experience, perhaps bloggers have it on authenticity.    It’s a close call.

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Carol Hogel is an American who has been living in Scotland for the past 25 years.    She has been a major sponsor of the arts in Scotland and the UK – to the tune of £20 million through the Dunard Fund which she set up.

She has contributed to the RSNO, most UK opera companies, the National Galleries of Scotland, Scottish Chamber Orchestra and lots more.    It is a big list, and adds up to a lot of money.

For Scotland, through her generosity, she has allowed us to be genuinely ambitious with artistic projects, like the building of the Playfair project at the National Gallery, like bringing Peter Stein’s Parsifal to Edinburgh, and so much more.      She helped rescue the Edinburgh International Festival from a financial black hole.   In short, she has made a major contribution to the UK arts, particularly in Scotland.

But now, faced with what she sees as a tax for bringing her wealth to the UK – the Brown/Darling  non dom tax of £30,000 pa, she has announced that she is moving to California, where philanthropists giving to the arts are appreciated.

Shamingly, it was not the tax itself which tipped the balance, but a chippy article written by Robert McNeil in The Scotsman which concluded by saying “The rich are leaving, and good ruddy riddance to them”.   Hogel wrote a letter back accusing McNeil of “taking ethnic cleansing to a whole new level” and calling him “destructive, spiteful and philistine”.    

A civilised country is measured in part by its artistic and cultural status and aspirations.     A vibrant arts sector contributes to the high quality of life we enjoy in Scotland.    It encourages others to visit, and it provides many jobs.

So, this is to say thank you so much to Carol Hogel for her generous contributions.      I am so sad it had to end like this.     NcNeil and The Scotsman should be hanging their heads in shame.

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Arts Round-Up 2007

24 Plays seen – I can’t manage a favourite, so pick of the best:   Black Watch, All My Sons, Volpone, Wonderful World of Dissocia, Rhinoceros.      We have some really good theatre in Scotland.

9 Films:  best ones:   Lives of Others, Tell No-one, The Counterfeiters, Babel, Atonement.

15 Concerts:  Scottish Ensemble lunchtime concert with Toby Spence in Glasgow takes the prize, although RSNO Mahler 3 was good.

7 Operas:  Barber of Seville at Scottish Opera was great fun, but Albert Herring and Don Giovanni at RSAMD every bit as enjoyable.

3 major art exhibitions:  enjoyed Millais at the Tate, and more recently, the Joan Eardley in Edinburgh.    Also saw a huge amount of art in Paris this summer.

But I think my event of the year is one which straddles categories and was the wonderful production of The Soldier’s Tale seen recently in Glasgow.     Runner up was Rhinoceros at the Royal Court.

Looking forward to an equally interesting 2008.


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Anyone who has been to the Royal Museum in Edinburgh in Chambers Street – that’s the old museum, will remember the spectacular building.    If you were taken there as a wee child, you will remember the two floor-level fish tanks immediately in front of you as you enter the building.    You will probably remember the stuffed animals and the push-button working models of various bits of engineering, but the fish you pass on your way in, and on your way out.   You may have even added a penny or two to their pools.

Everyone looks at them.    I actually spent time watching people there last week, and it was amazing how many stopped to look at the fish.   Parents being guided by young children, older children crowding to point at the bigger more active fish, and people simply sitting down and passing the time of day – the fish provide much amusement and a focus to the ground floor.

The museum is closing in the spring for a massive refurbishment, and sadly, the fish are not to be part of the the new look museum when it reopens.

Which is a shame, I think.   

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We went to the excellent Millais exhibition at Tate Britain.   It was Saturday morning, and really pretty busy to begin with, but crowds thinned out as we went on.   I did find taking the big print pamphlet for each room was very useful, as it saved having to get close enough to the wall read the captions for each picture.

The famous pictures were there, like Bubbles, which was used for Pear’s Soap, and Ophelia.    But the breadth and depth of his work was amazing, and the detail in some paintings breathtaking.     I learnt a lot, including that Millais was instrumental in setting up the Portrait Gallery in London, and he persuaded Henry Tate (of Tate and Lyall fame) to found the Tate Gallery.

I also had not appreciated the Scottish connection.   Millais used to rent property round Dunkeld every autumn and paint, as well as hunt and shoot.    The final room of the exhibition was of Perthshire landscapes – mostly round Dunkeld.   

The final picture of the show is called “Blow Blow Thou Winter Wind” – it is a bleak wintry scene near Perth.   In the foreground is a woman sitting on the ground cradling her baby wrapped against the cold.    Her bundle of clothes is beside her.     In the background, a man is walking away into the sleet, flat cap turned against the wind:   he has abandoned them.   In the middle, between the man and the woman, a collie dog points its muzzle to the sky and howls.    The rest of the quotation, which comes from “As You Like It” is  “Thou art not so unkind as man’s ingratitude”.   It was one of my favourite paintings there, and is on loan from Auckland.

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The Naked Portrait

We went round The Naked Portrait exhibition at the Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh today.    Almost 200 portraits of people in the nude – paintings, photographs and so on.     And all shapes, sizes and ages were on display.

It was quite a challenging exhibition.    We are presented with endless sexualised images of scantily clad beautiful people everywhere.   Advertising, magazines, newspapers and so on.   So to appreciate  all sorts of people in their natural state required a rather different mindset.

Most portraits were of people the artists knew really well;   themselves,  their partners or close relatives.   There were some others:  Peter Howson’s portrait of Madonna was there,  the iconic photo of Christine Keeler in that black chair by Lewis Morley and David Bailey’s portrait of Jane Birkin.

There was a lot to enjoy in this.    However, all in all, in the end I think I prefer people with their clothes on.   And I did ask myself as I went round how I would feel trying to paint a nude.   I can’t draw/paint for toffee, but I imagine  the outline would be OK, but the details would be …. difficult.   How on earth do you go about painting all the detail on those hairy bits?

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Pixar – 20 Years of Animation

Caught this exhibition at the Chamber Street Museum on Sunday.    I think that we are now supposed to call it the National Museums of Scotland – have they ditched the Royal title?

The exhibition was pretty crowded, and featured lots of Pixar artwork, with explanations about how characters are developed, and stories storyboarded.    I can’t say I’ve seen many Pixar films:  I did not like Toy Story, but liked The Incredibles, and might have enjoyed this more if I had seen more of the films.   I was hoping to learn much more about the actual process of animation – how the characters are made to move, how the voices are chosen, how the backgrounds work and so on.

Pixar clearly have moved animation on to a different plane, but I wanted to know more.    I am a big fan of animation, particularly films that address serious subjects, as you can often say things there that would be simply impossible  using natural photography.     Clever though Pixar are, I think I actually prefer the attractiveness and childlike quality of simpler techniques.

Best thing in the exhibition was the Toy Story Zoetrope – a revolving sort of merry-go-round of animated characters which go faster and faster until they are a blurry whirl.   A strobe light is then turned on and the whole thing animates.   It was great to just stand and hear the gasps of astonishment from the crowd.

Probably worth it if you are a Pixar fan.   If you want more, this is a bit disappointing.

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