Category Archives: Culture

Why The ‘You’re Too Young To Understand’ Argument Just Doesn’t Stand Up

I have recently encountered, in various different areas of my life, an argument being thrown around by the older generation towards my own age group, that says we are ‘too young’ to be getting  involved in serious political or social issues.  Perhaps it has been one of those things where, once you notice it happening once or twice, you start to see it all over the place.  Regardless, I find so much at fault with this mentality, so many important messages to be taken from it, that it sparked a blog post within me, so here we go!

To give some context, I thought I would talk about a couple of examples of when I have directly faced an argument like this.  The first happened a couple of weeks ago.  I have been planning a concert in London for a while now, with my newly formed, diverse and ‘cutting edge’ ensemble, Hauptstimmen.  The goal of this group of classical chamber musicians is to bring our music to a wider audience, to break down boundaries that we have experienced in our world of classical music and make it an all-inclusive art form, something that everyone can share in and take something away from.  We have organised a concert ourselves in London next week (see all the details here, please come!!), and the theme of our programme is ‘war, time and death’.  I know it sounds a little dark and depressing, but actually it is really fascinating; we are going to be performing unique music that is very rarely heard, including Gideon Klein’s string trio, which was the last piece he ever wrote, just two weeks before being deported to Auschwitz.  It isn’t just going to be a concert – it is going to be a real experience, with cool lighting, sound effects and stage design, where the audience will be encouraged to feel completely at ease with drinks and snacks and also totally engaged with our performance.  In short, this is an event that we have put a lot of thought and work into and one which we think will really create huge impact.

Now, in organising this concert, finding the right venue has obviously been extremely important – the space is paramount to the whole experience, and so it was something we knew we had to get right.  We were overjoyed to find The Red Hedgehog, a cool and intimate venue with easy access in London.  When our group leader met with the venue director, she seemed totally on board and supportive of all of our ideas, so everything looked bright for us.  Two weeks ago, we received an email from this same director and let’s just say that it completely contradicted everything that had been agreed on previously and everything we are striving to achieve.  Her overarching message to us was that we were far too young to be presenting a concert that placed war as its central theme.

My initial response to the email was anger, of course, followed by a real sense of sadness.  I felt so sad because, here is a group of young musicians who are trying to do something different and creative and combine their art with important world issues, only to be shot down by someone older and with more ‘power’.  Today, after having dwelled on it for a while, I feel so strongly the error in her way of thinking!  The fact is that war and death are very much part of our world, and unfortunately this is something that is becoming  more of a scary reality everyday.  To think that only people of a certain age should be talking about it is naive; I am in my twenties and part of a generation that will have to deal with the remnants of what is left post-Trump, or with whatever the future holds for North Korea, Syria, ISIS etc.  We are exactly the ones who need to be talking about it and understanding what is happening and why – we are the ones who can help the future.  As musicians, we have such a special way of sharing these ideas.  Through music, we can reach out to people and bring people together, we can talk about fears of war and death through our playing and use music to make it relevant to everyone, no matter their age.

The second example I wanted to mention was something that I saw on a social platform a few days ago.  A friend of mine had posted an article about veganism – a topic sure to fire anyone up, I know, and of course it did.  But the most offensive response to the article, in my opinion, was from someone from a slightly older generation who advised my friend that she was too young and shouldn’t be concerned with issues like veganism, rather she should just live her life and spend her time ‘dreaming’.  I am just so confused how anyone could suggest that talking about veganism is only for people of a certain age!  What is this age, exactly? Because I am definitely not looking forward to turning this mysterious age when suddenly the weight of the world will be on my shoulders.  And, as my friend pointed out in her reply, isn’t bringing up issues such as veganism on social media exactly what ‘dreaming’ is? Dreaming of a better world, dreaming of what the future could be.  I am not purporting to be an advocate of veganism or not – that is not the point here – only that I certainly think that anyone who wants to talk about veganism, or war, or death or any other huge political or social issue absolutely can and even that we, as young people, should!

And this ‘young’ thing… I mean, I’m 26! I am not exactly a spring chicken.  I have been old enough to vote for a long time, and I have definitely held strong political views for pretty much my whole life.  I am lucky enough to live in a society where I can freely express my views, so who is to tell me, or anyone else in my generation, that I shouldn’t because I am too young?!  In fact, in recent elections, basically all the ones where shit really started to go down, it has been shown that young people really do have a voice and really do know what they are voting for and the consequences of what they are voting for – it’s the older generations that have really screwed things up for us all.

Basically, I want to make it clear that, yes, I am young and yes, that absolutely means I will continue to use my voice and my art to share ideas and fears and issues that I believe in or that I believe are important.  I hope that if young people like me are also facing this ridiculous argument from our elders – that we are too young to be concerned with these important topics – that we can feel inspired to rise above and speak even more loudly.  Age doesn’t equal power, and with our youth comes a responsibility for the future, so let’s engage with each other NOW and make the world a better place.

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A Mesostic on Kerouac

On creating a mesostic poem using a” Mesostomatic” – a mesostic poem generator.  Try it out here!

I decided to choose one of my favourite passages of writing from Jack Kerouac’s infamous novel, ‘On The Road’, as my source text for this mesostic.  Here is the original passage of writing:

“…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

I paired this passage of writing with ‘Kerouac’ as the spine word; I originally wanted two spine words – ‘Jack Kerouac’ – but this could not be achieved as there is no ‘J’, nor two ‘K’ words, in the text.  After playing around for a long time with different formulations, adjusting the sparseness of the text etc., this is the result!

I found it quite difficult to produce a poem from this generator that I was happy with; I think this was largely due to the many repeated words in the source text, such as ‘mad’, ‘ones’, ‘burn’.  Many of the poems I received on the first few attempts were so repetitive, lacked variety and were just not very interesting!  Because of this, I decided to go with this very sparse  and simple mesostic which I have come to love!

From this poem, I get a sense of being alone, perhaps in an exclusive or lonely way.  The first and last words, ‘only’ and ‘Centrelight’, are somehow connected as both words indicate a uniqueness ; a ‘Centrelight’ is one single object, by itself, and ‘only’ gives a feeling of one, of something limited, alone.  Perhaps the poem itself also reflects this idea of loneliness; many of the lines are just one single word, it is a very sparse, simple and limited poem, excluding many words from the original text and enhancing the feeling of being alone.

The first line of the mesostic is extremely interesting to interpret; ‘only the mad talk, mad’ could mean that only mad people talk in a mad way, and no one else can talk as ‘mad’ as the ‘mad’ people ‘talk’.  Note also the word ‘the’ attached to ‘mad’ – ‘the mad’ are a set of people, not just anyone but ‘THE mad’ people.  Because of the use of punctuation in this line, it could also point to the meaning that it is ‘mad’ that ‘only the mad talk’, as in, it is crazy that ‘only the mad’ people ‘talk’ and people who aren’t really ‘mad’ don’t really ‘talk’ – you have to be one of ‘the mad’ to ‘talk’.  Perhaps ‘mad’ also means angry, like ‘only the’ angry’ people ‘talk’ – this interpretation reminds me of how people generally tend to speak up and complain when they are angry, or write bad reviews because they are angry about their bad experience and the rest of the time, when people are content, it is easy to stay quiet and not ‘talk’.  One last possible meaning for this line could be that ‘mad’ refers to lunacy, and the poem is really telling us in its first line, that this is just silly, ‘mad’, non-sense writing and not to bother trying to make meaning out of it!

Punctuation may indicate that the words ‘be’ and ‘burn’ come together; this could symbolise that to ‘be’ is to ‘burn’, like to live is to ‘burn’ and if you are alive then you are burning, really living each moment, and if you are really ‘mad’ and really ‘talking’ then you are being and burning.  Could there also be a dark religious undertone here?  We live and then we die, we ‘be’ alive, living ‘mad’ and talking ‘mad’ and because of this – because we didn’t live a normal, chaste life but rather a ‘mad’ one – we ‘burn’ in hell when we die.

The burning ‘yellow’ and ‘blue’ flames could suggest that to really live and to be an extraordinary person, as Kerouac aspired to be, we must ‘burn’ not only ‘yellow’, like normal people’, but we must ‘burn blue’ hot like the ‘mad’ people.

With the words, ‘pop And goes the Centrelight’, perhaps here is an idea that the ‘Centrelight’ goes out and we arrive in darkness at the end of the poem.  This darkness, lack of ‘Centrelight’, further supports the idea of loneliness, being alone, in the dark, alone in your own thoughts and dreams.  In this way, perhaps this poem does relate to Kerouac and his original text; maybe Kerouac really did feel alone and that he couldn’t find his people, ‘the mad ones’ who ‘burn, burn, burn’.

‘Centrelight’ could also refer to a stage light; maybe at the end of the poem, this stage light goes out because we have come to the end, and all of this ‘mad talk’ has just been acting, from a script of a theatre piece, and not real life.  When the ‘Centrelight’ goes out, we are plunged into the darkness of reality, with no more ‘mad talk’, or burning ‘yellow’ and ‘blue’.

The ‘yellow blue pop’ also makes the poem highly sensory – we can see these colours and hear the ‘pop’ sound.  Perhaps this is a further indication that this is a play on the stage, full of colours and sounds that we are watching and hearing before it comes to an end.  Maybe we are watching the play of life!

I find this poem hugely dramatic; each single word and each line builds the tension… as we wait for some kind of culmination.. and with a pop, the words explode ‘like spiders across the stars’.

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My Reading of ‘Nantucket’, by William Carlos Williams

Nantucket

Flowers through the window
lavender and yellow

changed by white curtains –
Smell of cleanliness –

Sunshine of late afternoon –
On the glass tray

a glass pitcher, the tumbler
turned down, by which

a key is lying – And the
immaculate white bed

 

The first question I ask myself on reading this poem is: where are we?  The peaceful, small island of Nantucket immediately conjures images of summer by the sea, solitude, a place of refuge from the normal hustle and bustle of the city or everyday life.  Is this a positive image?  Nantucket could symbolise a joyful holiday spot, but equally, this could be a place of loneliness, cut off from the rest of the world.  After reading through the poem I also imagine someone to be inside a room, looking out through the window.  Who is this person?  It could be William Carlos Williams, or perhaps the reader of the poem, or maybe just an undefined person, observing this moment in this room and the view that is visible through its window.

This imagist poem, evident in its conciseness and its clear visual descriptions of the objects named in the poem, reminds me of a still life painting. The image of lavender and yellow Flowers that are framed by the window could in itself be a painting and this somehow reminds me of a colourful Cezanne.  I very much feel a sense of peace in the moment around which this poem is centred; the observer in the room is looking out through the window, the Sunshine of late afternoon beams into the room, nothing moves and the immaculate bed awaits.

William Carlos Williams plays with our senses throughout this poem; the colours of the Flowers are a spectacle for our sight, we can almost smell the smell of cleanliness ourselves, feel the warmth of the Sunshine, hear the silence and even taste the drink inside the glass pitcher.  The image that William Carlos Williams offers us in this poem evolves as he makes use of our senses.

My interpretation of this poem is that it does not emote positive feelings.  If one were to read this as a meta-poem, and assume that the observer standing in this room is William Carlos Williams, we might ascertain that he feels in some way entrapped in this room which is devoid of life; the white curtains offer a paradox next to the vivacity of the colourful Flowers outside, the tumbler turned down emphasises that it is unused and perhaps even evokes the image of death, and the immaculate bed also seems to lack any sort of life or joy.  The key, which lies On the glass tray, further supports the idea of being trapped in this room.  Does Williams feel locked in? Locked into this room as he is locked into his job as a physician when his passion really lies in writing poetry?  The key is lying, in the sense of the imagist poem, clearly points to the obvious image of the key resting On the glass tray, but the key is lying could also mean metaphorically the key is lying; keys typically represent freedom, the freedom to choose to go outside or to stay in and the freedom to privacy.  But perhaps this key is lying because Williams does not have this choice – he is locked into his life.  Perhaps this room is, in fact, a hospital room, as emphasised by the white curtains, smell of cleanliness And the immaculate bed

Outside, Williams sees colour and Sunshine, life and warmth.  But in this cold, lifeless room, he feels only a sense of entrapment.  The closest thing to the freedom of the outside world that this room can give him is the reflection of it that appears in the glass tray, glass pitcher and tumbler.

The lack of any punctuation whatsoever at the end of this poem perhaps signals some kind of hope for Williams; he is leaving the possibility there for further imagery, a ‘to be continued’ kind of ending.

 

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A Close Reading of Emily Dickinson’s ‘Love reckons by itself – alone’

Love reckons by itself — alone — [826]

by Emily Dickinson

 

Love reckons by itself — alone —

“As large as I” — relate the Sun

To One who never felt it blaze —

Itself is all the like it has —

[written c. 1864]

 

 

The first thing that struck me about this poem was its subject: Love.  But what does Love mean in this instance?  Is this poem a dedication, a love poem for a lover or friend?  The poem certainly does not resemble a sonnet, and throughout it she never adresses anyone else directly; there is no indication of there being another person, a ‘you’,  or something else besides the one singular Love.  Her use and repetitions of itself, One and I lead me to think that this poem was not about anybody else, and perhaps was a more introverted reflection on herself.

My interpretation is that Love is a metaphor that she uses for the poem itself; she writes the poem alone, she alone feels it blaze.  When she uses the word Sun, the Sun being all powerful and the giver of life to all worldly things, we can take this to mean that Love or the poem is, for her, the most powerful, the most important.  The Sun is high up in the sky as, for Emily,  poetry is the highest art form, and she emphasises this all-powerful importance, as well as it’s uniqueness, with capitalisations on LoveSun and One.

The use of the word reckons is very interesting; a possible meaning could be that she is implying judgement, as in the day of reckoning or day of judgement.  Love can only judge itself, as this poem can only judge itself, alone – nobody else can judge Love or this poem from the outside, it is unique and you have to be it, itself, to judge it, to reckon it.  Another meaning of reckons could be to confront, as in to be reckoned with, to confront Love, the poem, itselfin writing this poem Emily is confronting her own poem.

In Emily’s language she may also be indicating herself as the poet; her use of alone, itself, I, One could all be alluding to her reclusiveness.  She spent all her time alone, by herself, so only she will reckon with this poem, she is alone in writing it and feeling it’s powerful blaze.  As we know, she never wanted her poems published or publicly read, so, again, she alone will read this poem  – only she will reckon with it.

Emily puts herself in the present, in the poem, with her exclamation, “As large as I”.  Perhaps, again, as she was completely alone, she felt she needed to bring the poem off the page and into the room, to say it out loud and make it present here, now.  Putting herself in the poem also introduces this meta-poetic idea; she is the poet, this powerful Sun and Love is hers and in reading this poem we must remember where it came from.  In the line relate the Sun to One who never felt it blaze, is she speaking to her younger self?  The young Emily who had not yet truly discovered the Love and meaning of poetry, and had yet to feel it’s blaze? Or is she trying to convey her feelings about her work as a poet to someone else who cannot understand this passion?  Perhaps she is even reaching out to other young and budding poets in the world.

Is blaze a positive word?  It could refer to a blazing fire, blazing heat which implies something aggressive, powerful and even hurtful or painful.  Perhaps she is saying that this poem or this Love or Sun is not always beautiful and lovely, as emotions that we might associate with a typical Love poem, but can sometimes be painful.  Blaze is also almost an action word; to blaze is to be alive, so Emily is bringing life to her poem, it is not laying still on the page but is blazing with energy.

Itself is all the like it has could mean that there is nothing else like this poem, each poem and each Love is individual and unique and only like itself.  It is interesting that like has not been capitalised; I take this to mean that she wants to differentiate between the Love as the poem, the subject, and like as in the description of the poem as being unique, aloneLike could also suggest that nobody else likes this poem except her, because nobody else will see the poem – only she can like it and appreciate it because only she will read it.

Emily has used dashes throughout this poem.  This punctuation reinforces the meta asoect, indicating the poem itself; the subject of the poem is the poem (referred to as Love or Sun) and the dashes emphsise that this is poetry as opposed to prose.  The dashes also open up her ideas to a whole range of meanings, where other punctuations would limit them.  As usual, Emily wants us, the readers, to work to find all the possibilities of meaning in her poetry and to keep looking for more, as is represented by the finishing dash, leading us further into the unknown.

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5 ‘To Read’s This Autumn

Is it just me, or are there SO MANY great looking books out right now?!  The literary world seems to be booming this Autumn and it’s totally fantastic for all of us book worms.  My Amazon basket (yes, I’m sorry, I sold my soul to the devil) is absolutely full of new titles waiting to be ordered and my pile of ‘to read’ books gets longer and longer every day.  I decided share a taster of the books that are on my list in a blog post here to help me to organise my thoughts as well as give some reading inspiration to you if you are looking around for something new to read.  There is quite a mixture here – fiction and non-fiction, old and new – so I hope you will find something that sparks your interest as it has mine!

 

Men Without Women – Haruki Murakami

I am huge fan of Murakami’s dark, twisted, fantasy style of writing so I was  really excited to read this new release of his.  Having just finished it, I can say that it definitely lived up to its expectations – it is a masterpiece.  This is a small collection of short stories, all about men who, for many different and interesting reasons, do not have women in their lives; one is a widower, another is a house-bound invalid, there’s even a character who has gone through some kind of metamorphosis and woken up completely alone and in a man’s body (could that be any more Murakami?!).  Murakami has a very unique way of storytelling; the urges and curiosity of his characters propel the narrative forward and involve us as readers.  Sometimes he even tells stories within his stories, creating this kind of wonderful meta which feels so addictive – once you begin a new story, it really is hard to stop.   It’s interesting too, how the book progresses darker and darker and how the stories connect to each other and evolve.  It’s gritty and sexual and weird and I love it.

Still Life – Louise Penny

I spent a lot of time in Canada this summer where everyone was talking about Louise Penny.  I’m not sure why, but I avoided her work for a long time… it was probably due to the very fact that she seemed to be so popular and I usually don’t tend to get on with fashionable trends.  However, I finally decided to hop on board of this hot new Canadian author’s train, and I’m glad I did because I’ve just finished the first novel in her Inspector Gamache series and loved it! This is a story about the lovable and endearing Chief Inspector Gamache, always to be found in his tweed coat and hat and with a fondness for brioche, and his investigative team from Montreal, who find themselves in the tiny Quebecois village of Three Pines, inhabited by the likes of artists and poets, after a mysterious murder has occurred.  If you like crime fiction, you will love this book, but even if, like me, you don’t normally go for this genre, I highly recommend this novel for its adorable characters, heartwarming sentimentality and cosy feeling.  It’s a real page turner, perfect for Autumn, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series!

Indivisible By Four – Arnold Steinhardt

Although, as I am a musician (and particularly a violinist with a passion for string quartet playing), this book has a true relevance to me, I think it could be an interesting read for anyone who likes auto-biographical accounts of special historical lives.  Written by the first violinist of the infamous Guarneri Quartet, it tells the story of these four players, their backgrounds, how they came to be together and what playing in this hugely successful string quartet for so many years was really like.  Reading this book is like getting the scoop from the inside, and it gives such a wonderful insight into these characters and what they got up to.  Steinhardt really was an incredibly gifted writer, as well as an amazing musician, and the humour and joy with which he recounts his stories of his quartet life bring such charm to his book; it doesn’t feel at all stale or heavy-going, as these kinds of books often do.  I’m only a chapter or two into this book but I highly recommend it.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne

This is the new release from this author, probably most famous for his book, ‘The Boy in the Striped Pajamas’, and it promises to be just as heart-wrenching and emotional.  What I know about it so far is that it is set in post-war Ireland, where homosexuality is still illegal and is about a man who struggles with his identity in this society.  What I also know about this book is that people have called it life-changing, the BEST book they have EVER read, the most deeply meaningful read of their lives and the best book of 2017.  I don’t know if it’s because of my Irish connection that I felt drawn to this book, or the fact that it has been compared to Angela’s Ashes, which is a book that I absolutely loved, but I feel totally compelled to read this book this Autumn.  I’m ready for some powerful writing, tears of laughter and joy and that adrenaline that a great book gives you.

No Is Not Enough – Naomi Klein

In my last blog post, I asked lots of important questions about what we should be doing in the world of today, full of social discrimination and fake facts, with the privilege that we were given at birth – you can read it here.  These were questions that I really don’t have any answers to – I just don’t know what to do in the face of social austerity and it’s frightening.  But my lovely aunt recommended to me that I try reading Naomi Klein, and immediately I thought, if anyone has answers to these kinds of questions, it must be her!  I haven’t read any of Klein’s work before but I have heard her speak in interviews and I think she offers some great insights into what is going on in politics, the terrible social problems of today and how we can treat them and act in ways that could improve the state of current affairs.  Klein is all about putting ideas into action and this is exactly what I want to get on board with, and I think the first step to this is educating ourselves which is why I believe it is extremely important to read as much as possible by people who really get it.

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6 Reasons Why I Loved ‘Atomic Blonde’, And Why I think You Should See It

It’s not often that I recommend new movie releases, either here on my blog or to people in real life, because, well, to be completely honest, I find most of what I see at the cinema to be pretty mediocre at best.  I absolutely love seeing movies in theatres – I probably go to the cinema about once a week – but I have to admit that it’s never really because of a movie itself that I enjoy this hobby; like many other people, the reasons that I love going to the movies so much are because of the fun experience, the social aspect of watching films with other people and, my huge weakness, the buttery salty popcorn 🙂  It is extremely rare that a movie ever makes a real impact on me or truly captures my attention.  BUT, just every now and then, I am totally caught off-guard by something fantastic.

The other day, I saw one such movie, ‘Atomic Blonde’, and… I LOVED IT.  After thinking it over, I decided that when such a movie comes into my life, one that I think about long after the showing, that I want to go back and see again immediately, that I play the soundtrack to over and over again at home, then I really have a personal duty to inform others about it!  I have ordered my thoughts about Atomic Blonde into 6 concise points or reasons why I particularly loved it and why I think you should go and see it right now.  Enjoy!

  1. Strong Female Lead.
    A while ago I started to notice a trend in my decisions when it came to choosing books/TV shows/movies etc.  I discovered that I am highly partial to anything with a strong female lead, and this is totally fine by me!  I love a girl boss, a top-notch heroine, a fierce femme, and I’m not ashamed to admit that such a character as this can either make or break a storyline for me.   The lead role in Atomic Blonde, played by the goddess that is Charlize Theron, embodies all of the above.  She is a bad-ass spy, she’s dangerous, smart, intense, sexy and generally all-round awesome.
  2. Set in Berlin.
    When a movie is set in one of my favourite cities in the world, how could I help but love it!  Maybe I felt a personal connection to the movie because I have been to so many of the places that were featured in it, or maybe it’s just because I KNOW how cool and hip Berlin is and this gave the film an extra depth for me.   The city of Berlin would be, in my opinion, a brilliant backdrop to any movie, but gave particular significance to this one because of the era in which it was set.  This brings be to my next point…
  3. Berlin in the late 80s.
    So, the plot of the movie is centered around the rise of the people in Berlin in the late 1980s , which led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  In Atomic Blonde, we got such a feel for the atmosphere in this city at that time, and it was incredible!  It was an era of punk/grunge/rock, underground parties, drugs, living for the NOW because you didn’t know if you would be alive tomorrow, power to the people…  Seeing this story unfold in the movie made me WISH I could have been there to experience it all.  One line in the film really stuck with me; ‘What a time to be in Berlin’.
  4. Music.
    I absolutely had to feature the movie soundtrack in this list because it is a complete winner.  The lineup includes music by David Bowie, REM, Eurythmics and German/Austrian Artists Falco and Nena among others.  The music captures the energy of the 80s, it drives the storyline of the movie, it brings the characters to life.  I wasn’t such a fan of 80s music before seeing Atomic Blonde, but it’s pretty much been on it our house every day since and it just makes me want to DANCE all the time!
  5. Fashion.
    Atomic Blonde is dripping with sex and sensuality, and I am pretty convinced that the sizzling, smoking, fashion in the movie plays a large role in that.  Long trench coats with sunglasses, racey metallic dresses, lace stockings and hold-ups and patent black high-heeled boots star throughout and I love it all!
  6. Twisty-turny plot.
    OK, so, I wouldn’t put the plot itself at the top of my list of reasons to go and see this movie.  We have all heard of the undercover spy agent completing a complex mission in a foreign country before.  However, I will say that there are a few surprises in this movie and, without spoiling anything, the twists and turns that we are taken on make for quite a ride – don’t write the movie off as just another average spy thriller.
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Summer at The Banff Centre

If there is one place in the world that could remind you about ‘the bigger picture’ in life, it’s the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.  And if there was ever a moment when this reminder was especially important, I think right now is it!  In this era of Trump, Brexit, racism, sexism, prejudice, social division and everything else, I find it all too easy to get lost, to forget what’s really meaningful and why it is that I do what I do.  However, having just spent a couple of weeks with some of the most interesting, creative and intelligent minds on the planet, in one of the most breathtaking-ly beautiful places on earth, I feel completely inspired and reinvigorated.  I have come away from my experience with bucket-loads of new ideas and a renewed drive to bring them forward into my work, and I can’t WAIT to start sharing them here on my blog!!

In case you didn’t know, the Banff Centre is an artists’ hub, a platform for creativity and imagination, a space to work and put your ideas and projects into action, and I think it must be the closest thing to paradise that there is!  It is like a campus where anyone who is interested in ‘creating’ can go – whether you are a musician, a dancer, a writer, a poet, a literary journalist, a photo journalist… And it provides all the facilities and resources that you could possibly imagine and more!  Something that I really loved about my experience there this summer was the connections and friendships made between the different disciplines; dancers became involved in contemporary music performances, journalists sat in on rehearsals and interviewed other artists, I got to work directly with composers and perform their music.  Sharing different perspectives in this way was so inspiring, and I feel like this is something that can be very difficult, if not absolutely impossible, to do in ‘normal’ day-to-day life.

Banff is full of wildlife!

It is said that your experience of something, however good or bad, is made by the people with whom you share it, and the people whom I got to meet and work with at Banff definitely made my time there incredibly special, in so many ways.   These are musicians who have all taken the paths and led their lives in directions that I dream of.  They are the risk-takers, the ones who take a chance on an idea, are never satisfied with something that isn’t great or isn’t what they believe in.  I have increasingly felt over the past few years, as I have come to the end of my ‘student’ days, that there is an expected or normal route that I should be taking, and that all of my colleagues around me are following.  And it has given me so much angst and grief because it is NOT what I want, which in turn has made me question my whole career choice and even my life decisions.  But being able to spend time with musicians who feel the same way I do has shown me that there is more out there, there are so many options and if you have a fire and if you believe in what you do, then you can make them happen.

But I don’t want to get all airy-fairy here!  It’s not all about ‘chasing your dreams’ and believing that good things will come if you just wait for them.  The artists that I met at Banff talked about how to be savvy, how to have a business mind, what exactly needs to be done in order to realise your goals, and these were some of the most important lessons I took away from Banff.  Even being coached on things like how to speak to my colleagues, how to have meetings, what exactly the important points of discussion are – these are all hugely important in life but when have we ever been taught these things?!

I attended the Banff Centre once before, five years ago, when I had the opportunity to spend a month at the masterclasses there.  This was a whole other amazing experience in itself, but since then the music programme at Banff has been completely redesigned, offering a totally new style of residency for all different musicians, and this year was the first in its new format.  Led by new co-artistic directors, the fantastically inspiring Claire Chase and Steven Schick, this summer I attended the brand new ARC Chamber Music Residency. From day one, Claire told us that she was looking to design a programme that would be completely separate from typical masterclass-style festivals, something that was very far away from a ‘school’ structured curriculum.  Her idea of the new programme at Banff was to give total artistic freedom to the participants, and to give us the space to play whatever music we wanted in whatever form we wanted.   It was up to us to create our own timetable, plan our own repertoire and rehearsals, decide what we wanted to perform and when.  I have never been put in such a liberating setting as this, and I can honestly say that during the programme, I felt so artistically fulfilled and had a real sense of purpose.

I thought I might write a (somewhat) brief account of what a typical day for me in the ARC Chamber Music Residency at the Banff Centre looked like, although each day was totally different so I will just give a general overview as an example!  I would wake up at about 8am and grab some AMAZING breakfast in one of the restaurants that overlooks the mountains.  At around 8:30 a few people would meet for the daily morning hike up Tunnel Mountain, whose trail leaves directly from campus.  The hike takes about 30 mins to go up and 20 to come down, with an inevitable few minutes at the top to just sit and take in what you are seeing.  I remember one time sitting up there and saying to a friend how difficult I found it to be really present, in that moment, looking at those awesome mountains – it felt overwhelmingly unreal – so this was something that I was continually striving to achieve; total awareness of the present.  Rehearsals started as soon as we got back, and for me these varied between Haydn Quartets, Beethoven Quartets, Boulez ‘Livre’ for string quartet and quartets that I was working on with composers themselves – I got to work with Marcos Balter on his quartet called ‘Chambers’ and with Camila Agosto on her piece, ‘Blemish’.  At 11am everybody would gather for the ‘Daily Meeting’, which would be taken by a different faculty member each day; we heard from the musicians of ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble from New York), the Concert Master of the Handel and Haydn Society – Aisslinn Nosky, the Miro and JACK quartets, Imani Winds, Suzannah Clark (one of the world’s leading musicologists), Maros Balter (composer) and many more besides.  I loved these meetings, as each one was totally unique and each artist had something so interesting and different to say; I really learnt a lot here.  After the meeting I would head down to the cafe for lunch and then straight back to more rehearsing.  During the afternoons I would usually find time to visit the simply incredible library, or to practise by myself in one of the little practice huts (frequently visited by deer or elk) until dinner, which I would eat in either the main restaurant or at the chilled ‘Maclab’ bar.  After-dinner time would normally consist of concerts, more rehearsals, hang-out ‘beer’ time and fantastic conversations with colleagues and new friends, or making use of the free and unlimited access to the gym or swimming pool/hot tub facilities.

Enjoying a local beer at Maclab with a spectacular view!

Practice hut with elk visitor

I want to write separate and much more detailed accounts of each of these experiences, as they were all so fascinating and important in themselves and there is SO much more to say about all of them! I simply can’t fit it all into one blog post though, so I have decided that this will do for the first ‘overview’ of Banff and I’m looking forward to writing several more posts, each focusing on a different aspect of Banff, in the next few weeks.

The lasting impression that the Banff Centre and the artists that I met there made on me is how important art is in today’s world.  Art makes connections, brings people together, highlights profound issues in very pure, human and accessible ways.  Art can be found anywhere and there will always be space for people to create it, one just has to find it and remember the value that it has.  Banff has nestled itself right into my heart; it has given me inspiration and courage, it has refilled my life with colour!

The JACK Quartet, performing John Luther Adams on top of Tunnel Mountain at sunset. This was a moment I won’t ever forget and sums up my whole Banff experience!

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An Artist in Focus: Sara Cubarsi

It’s such a crazy, wonderful thing to be able to say that your friends inspire you.  Although each of my friends live in different corners of the globe, I feel so connected to them through this inspiration and through a deep, profound respect for what they are doing and their work.  My friends are creating new art and music, asking new questions, re-inventing answers to old ones, revealing new paths and I absolutely love and value these things, besides the wonderful people that they are!

One old school friend of mine – violinist and artist, Sara Cubarsi – came to visit me in Germany last year (she is originally from Barcelona and is currently living in California).  She was then right in the middle of a huge project that she had created and developed – actually, the project is still not finished!  The other day I got to catch up with her and asked all about how the project was progressing.  As she told me about it, I found the ideas behind it and everything she has achieved thus far so AMAZING and so COOL, that I decided I just had to write a blog post about it and share it!  This is the story of the ‘Wax Painting Project’, by Sara Cubarsi.

Something to know about Sara, right from the beginning, is that she is not only a clever and talented violinist, but she is also an artist.  Remember in my post about Picasso’s Mad Man (read it here), I mentioned that I had a friend who drew her own mad man on her bedroom wall – that was Sara!  She has done some really wonderful paintings (I’m still waiting for one that she promised to make for me one day) and her style of art and emotion is really present in all of her work, whether its through music – her own compositions or more classical pieces – paint or any other art form.  So, Sara had the idea that she wanted to create a painting to go in one of her performances, and that’s where the origin of this project stemmed from.

The next step of the project came about purely as a joke.  Someone said to Sara, what would happen, though, if your painting would accidentally melt under the heat of the stage lights?? In the moment, Sara laughed, but then realised that that was a fantastic idea and EXACTLY what she wanted!  So she began to research what would make the best material for a painting that needed to melt, and wax became clear as the most ideal option.  Another thing to know about Sara, is that she adores the work of Francis Bacon – you can probably see this in a LOT of her work!  She absolutely loves his organic and raw style and wanted to capture this in her own painting and wax seemed the best, most fleshy and human-like material for her to use.

The first wax painting that Sara created was called ‘The Blind Cow’ and the performance of it took place late one night in February of 2016.  It was a small painting of a cow with a bloody eye that hung from the ceiling of a dark classroom.  To accompany it was a white noise track,made by one of Sara’s friends, with Sara speaking on top of it into a microphone, with distortion; she was reading poems by T.S. Elliot and a Catalan poem about a blind cow.  Sara used candlelight to melt the painting and it worked!  The painting melted completely.  Although, the funny thing was that Sara was facing a wall and unable to see the painting while she was performing the poems, so she had no idea if it was working or not!  This was also what made it so exciting, though, as she just had to have hope that it was all going to plan.  And so went the ‘first public melting’.

After this success, Sara thought – OK, this works, now let’s make it big.  She decided she wanted  to make a new wax painting, big enough that a string quartet could hide behind it, and melt it using electric heaters.  The painting that resulted, which Sara called ‘Ludwig’s Ear’, was 12 x 8 feet and the performance was planned to take place in a bigger concert hall in March 2016.  Sara composed a string quartet to go with the painting, which was very much related to it; she told me that her music emanated the feeling of wax melting, its pace and it’s colours.  Now, here is where is starts to get really exciting.  The night before the performance, the heaters broke – smoke came out when she tested them!  Running out of time, Sara went out to buy six irons and planned to have people standing behind the painting, ironing it to get it to melt!  However, during the performance, there was SO much electricity being used (six irons, speakers, heaters etc.) that the electrical circuit broke!  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), at the end of the performance, when Sara stepped out from behind the painting, she saw that it had barely melted at all and the public reaction was extremely awkward – here were all these people who had come to see this monster wax painting melt… and nothing happened!  But isn’t this the nature of experimenting?!  We have to try stuff out to see what works and what doesn’t.  Sara called her ‘second public melting’ a “successful un-happening”!

Ludwig’s Ear, pre-wax

Ludwig’s Ear, post-wax

Sara was nowhere near finished.  We have to remember that, while all of these wax adventures were going on, Sara was still trying to live her life, as a musician and an artist dealing with all of her own insecurities.  At around about this time she was playing a LOT of contemporary music and was feeling really anxious about her classical playing – she felt that she had lost touch with Bach and with the violin and was trying to find herself as a violinist again.  She decided that she had to force herself to put on a concert and perform some Bach, as this would simply MAKE her practice it.  Connecting all of her work together, she created a new abstract painting for a performance at Art Share, L.A., to which she would play Bach’s Second Partita.  This piece is made up of four smaller dance movements and a monumental Chaconne final movement.  The day before the concert, Sara freaked out – she was feeling so uncomfortable with her playing that she decided to cancel the four shorter movements and just perform the Chaconne.  The very last note of this movement ends on a very powerful ‘D’ chord and at that point in the performance, Sara held this ‘D’ note as a drone, on top of which she sang microtonal intervals, all reflecting the huge Chaconne movement, in a kind of slow motion, while her little painting melted.  I see this concert as a sort of interlude from the main project, but nevertheless very important and relevant to Sara’s personal development and also to show her own personality in relation to the rest of the project.

And now back to the main wax project.  What came next was a painting that Sara called ‘Concerto For A Painting’ which was composed to 9 string instruments and piano and performed in April 2016.  Sara’s music was somehow Wagnerian, but with no rhythmic gestures, and the painting was ambiguous – it could have been a womb or even a woman’s breast (I guess it depended on one’s own personal interpretation).  What I find really cool about this painting is that Sara really made the wax look like flesh, so that when it melted, it left the painting red.  She told me that this made it look like a baby had been born, almost like there was now no baby left in the womb.  Only two heaters were needed to melt this painting and it worked beautifully – the painting melted.

Concerto For A Painting

But remember that huge painting, ‘Ludwig’s Ear’, that didn’t melt? Sara had no idea what to do with it.  This was the point at which she visited me and we discussed what she could possibly do.  She had the idea that she wanted to burn the painting somehow (an idea that also stemmed from a joke comment made by a friend!) and had a vision of doing this in a desert space where there is nothing, no life, around.  My boyfriend, who knows California pretty well, suggested Salton Sea.  It is right in the middle of the desert, it’s not very populated so she could find a space to be alone, and it’s not a ‘nice’ place – she didn’t have to worry about being too careful there.  So when she went back to the States, in October 2016, she took her monster painting to the desert and set it on fire by throwing gasoline all over it.  Of course it was impossible to make music to go with it in this context; the desert was too hot, this escapade far too dangerous and extreme.  While she was burning the painting she was also filming it all and I think the silence aspect and having no music will come across amazingly well on film.  She described to me that by the end she was so light-headed and hot, worried about what she was doing and if she would get caught, heavy from so much physical work… she actually couldn’t finish and had to leave her painting burning there in the desert (it was found and some reports of it turned up on social media and the internet by people wondering what it was!).

Ludwig’s Ear in Salton Sea

Sara’s final wax painting performance, titled ‘Exvoto Study’, happened in November 2016.  On a trip home to Barcelona, she went to visit the gothic cathedral at St. James’s Square, Cereria.  This area is really, really old and very religious.  When someone is suffering some kind of ailment or wound, here they can offer an ex-voto – a votive offering – of the wounded body part, made of wax, to the deities, hoping that they may be cured.  Sara found a little wax ear and took it home, where she decided to film herself melting it.  Her new idea was to project this little film onto a screen for her performance.  However, this wasn’t to be a normal screen – she planned to make a screen of wax!   She got hold of a canvas, which she covered in black paint with white wax on top of it, and this became her screen.  The score that Sara wrote to go with her film, which she performed with two colleagues, reflected what the ear hears; bubbling, gurgling, coughing.  It wasn’t a totally smooth concert; smoke started to come out of the heaters that were melting the wax screen and somehow, because of the light and darkness in the concert hall, this became very visible to the stage managers – they turned off the heaters!  This was a bit of a disaster because Sara needed the screen to melt to achieve her effect, so she got up herself during the performance to turn the heaters back on.  Because of this, the screen only melted partially, but the overall effect of the video of the melting ear being projected onto a screen that was melting LIVE definitely came across – I WISH I could have seen this!

Exvoto Study

The thing that I find really interesting about the whole project and in all of the performances, is that there are two elements going on all the time; the music and the melting painting.  The process of composing and performing the music is very calculated – there’s a score and a system and musicians know what they do, it’s very organised and clean.  But the painting is always a total risk.  For one, the musicians can’t ever see it, so there is no way to ever know if it is melting or not and if the performance is working.  And secondly, it’s always unpredictable – Sara can never know if the heaters will work, if the wax will melt.  These two art forms are continually working together and against each other during her performances, and this is what makes it so truly exciting.

Another thing to think about is that these are performances that are ephemeral; they can only ever be done ONE time, because the painting can only melt once.  It really is amazing, because Sara then puts absolutely everything into this one performance, but there is also a sad quality to this; the painting melts and will never again be what it was, it gets lost to the moment of the performance.  This is performance art at its most real, most meaningful, most alive!

And now? I don’t think Sara is quite finished with her wax painting project yet!  She told me that she wants to master it so that it can be done anywhere.  She also wants to make a film of the Salton Sea experiment, of which she has many hours of footage.  I can’t wait for the next melting episode!

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June: Freya Chooses…

Over past the few weeks I have made many wonderful discoveries that have given me real joy and added value to my life.  I know that these ‘Freya Chooses…’ posts are largely personal to me, but I so enjoy reading similar kinds of blog posts, where bloggers write about what they have been loving recently, or about small ways in which they have been able to improve the quality of their lives; I love taking inspiration from other people and am just a bit nosy about the kinds of things that make others happy!  So, here are just a few of the things that I have LOVED throughout the past month!

Bonjour Tristesse & A Certain Smile, by Françoise Sagan

I actually had this book of two short novellas by Sagan sitting on my bookshelf for a few years without realising it!  A moment came about recently when I had finished my current book and was waiting for the new one to arrive.  At a loss, with nothing to read, I turned to my bookshelf and found this absolute gem!  I really didn’t know anything about Sagan and her writing, but I fell in love with these stories, which were published when she was only nineteen!!

The first, Bonjour Tristesse, is probably her most famous work.  It is about the relationship between a daughter and her father, who live a carefree and somewhat hedonistic lifestyle, full of love, sexuality, passion, and contemporary political attitudes. This all gets sharply interrupted when the girl’s father suddenly decides to remarry, creating huge conflicts that result in some shocking consequences for both characters.  Although I adored this novel, it was the second one in the book, A Certain Smile, which I totally devoured.  In many ways it is a quieter, slower, more intense story and for me, this is what drew me in and got me immediately hooked.  It is about a young French girl, living and studying in Paris, full of her own ideas about life and love, although a little bored with her own lover and situation.  An older, married man comes into her life and shows her emotions and feelings which dramatically change the direction of her life, in many complicated ways.

These stories are simply beautiful, witty in that charming French way and very, very emotional.  They are so sweet, yet they have a way of tugging on your heart.  I’m so glad I found this book on my shelf, and I definitely recommend getting a copy!

Seattle

I recently got the chance to visit Seattle for the first time, and I just loved the city!  I wanted to write about it here as, for me, I never really considered Seattle as serious contender for one of the cities at the top of my list of places to travel in the U.S. – those spots are always filled by cities like New York or San Francisco.  But I have to say that this is SUCH a fantastic city, and if you have the opportunity to visit the States, definitely consider taking a trip there!

Seattle is a very vibrant city that has a drive; it’s busy, it has a hustle and bustle, everybody is out there, doing their own stuff.  There is a lot going on, in its business as well as culturally, but it doesn’t have the chaotic, stressed feeling of New York!  Seattle has all the ‘busy-ness’ but still with that wonderful, relaxed, west-coast vibe, and it’s just great.  There are so many cool little corners in the city too; great markets, coffee shops, bookstores, cool little international shops, and many, many, fantastic micro-breweries (if you are a beer fan, this city will be your heaven).  And all of this is set in an incredibly beautiful part of the world; the mountainous backdrop and ocean views follow you all around the city.

Dvořák Cypresses, Performed by Miró Quartet

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to hear a performance given by some of my current FAVOURITE musicians, the Miró Quartet, of a piece I had never heard of: a set of songs called ‘Cypresses’, arranged for string quartet, by czech composer, Antonin Dvořák.  This was originally a song cycle for voice and piano, set to poems by Czech poet, Gustav Pfleger-Moravsky,  that Dvořák composed when he was just 24 years old and later transcribed for string quartet.  At this time in Dvořák’s life, he had fallen deeply in love with one of his students – a love which, unfortunately, was not returned.  Although I have not heard entire work in its original form, I found the string quartet arrangement to be incredibly beautiful and totally capturing of Dvořák’s sad and passionate feelings of unrequited love.  There were so many truly special moments in the music, moments of darkness and light, intimate melodies, sounds coming from within the heart of the quartet – this was truly spellbinding.  It seems weird to me that this is a work that is not performed more often… but I am so glad that I got the chance to hear it and I really recommend looking it up if you don’t know it!  My particular favourite was song/poem number 9:

‘Thou Only, Dear One’

Oh, you my soul’s only dear one,

Who will live in my heart forever:

My thoughts circle around you,

Even though cruel fate separates us.

Oh, If I were a singing swan,

I would fly to you, and with my last breath,

Sing my heart out to you,

Ah, with my last breath.

What beautiful words, and music!  On that note, I have to also say that the Miró Quartet are absolutely wonderful, as people and as musicians.  They live and breathe the music in a way that make it come alive and I found this very inspiring.  This is a quartet of big personalities which shine through in their playing; their audiences love them and it’s easy to see why.  I can’t wait to work with them again in a couple of weeks time!

Catch my last Freya Chooses… post here!

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Favourite Paintings: The Mad Man, Picasso

Art is not the application of a canon of beauty but what the instinct and the brain can conceive beyond any canon.

-Pablo Picasso

I don’t remember the exact point at which I fell in love with Picasso.  I have had pictures of him and his paintings hanging in my bedrooms/apartments since I was a teenager – including that famous image of him pointing a gun in his studio (which might seem a little strange, now that I think about it… most teenage girls have pictures of pop stars and celebrities looking handsome in their bedrooms, while I had Picasso holding a gun).  But the truth is, as I discovered more and more about him and his work, and although I found his paintings absolutely fascinating, it was him, the artist, that totally captured my attention and my heart!

I very distinctly remember visiting the Picasso museum in Barcelona when I was about 18.  This point really sticks out in my memory, mainly because I saw, in real life, the painting of the Mad Man.  Before this moment I had only heard rumours of the Mad Man.  A dear friend of mine had painted her own recreation of him on her own bedroom wall and had told me all about her obsession with this character.  I didn’t know quite what to expect from the painting (you never know with Picasso, do you?) but I remember feeling swept away by it when I finally saw it for the first time.  Whatever ideas that had formed in my head of what I might see in this painting were forgotten IMMEDIATELY!

What a crazy image it is!! Look at the shape of his spindly body, and his long, spidery fingers and toes – can they be real?  Perhaps strict academics and critics will assert that these projections are not true to form, that they are augmentations of real bodily limbs.  But, to me, in the sense of the whole portrait of this lunatic character, they seem totally correct and real!  He looks absolutely wild; his hair is unruly and feral, his clothes are barely clothes at all, just pieces of torn cloth here and there, hanging off him.  His eyes have an incredibly intense energy piercing out of them.  What is his story?!  How did he come to be like this, to look this way?  Was he always mad or was he driven to madness, and if so, by what?

The position of his body is also amazing – standing perfectly straight but making this strange, incomprehensible shape with his arms and hands.  I just tried to make the same shape with my body and I instantly felt mad in character!  I don’t really know why.  Perhaps because this position is so abnormal for our bodies, or because there is no situation or reason in life when anyone would, in their sound and sane mind, make this shape.  It feels totally unnatural and un-organic.  Incidentally, I looked at myself in the mirror while I did this, and my fingers seemed to have doubled in length (at least, by what I saw), which shows how the mad man’s long fingers really MUST be that long in real life.

Picasso created this painting in 1904, in the height of his ‘Blue Period’, during which he painted many sombre, almost-difficult-to-look-at images of characters reminiscent of the Mad Man; prostitutes, alcoholics, beggars, sick people… These are definitely some of my favourite paintings from Picasso’s entire collection – there is something so real and raw, so imperfect about these characters which makes them kind of addictive, although it can be dangerous for your mental health to because too obsessed with them.  If you love the Mad Man, I definitely recommend checking out more from Picasso’s ‘Blue Period’!

Check out my last post in this ‘Favourite Paintings’ Series: Wheatfield With Crows, Van Gogh, here!

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